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The Business Of Being an Artist

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By Eric Sparre, Founder and director of

Selling into a headwind

The economic downturn has made the already challenging proposition of pursuing artistic work as a full time profession even more difficult. This means that you, the professional artist, need to increase your ability to be self reliant. What does that mean? Simply, you need to be the driving force behind marketing and selling your work.

You might say, “but my job is to produce the art; I don't have time to market it (and I am not comfortable doing that anyway).” I understand that your skills, training, and inclination may all argue against doing your own marketing. I have been an artist for 30 years and feel the same way! But you should recognize that the world has changed and you both can and must do a lot of your own marketing. You have the tools to do this ­ tools that no artist had in the past. And the art market is also becoming more competitive. Bottom line: you need to ask yourself, “Why am I creating this work?” If art is your profession as well as your driving passion, the answer combines the desire to see your work shared with the world with the very practical need to keep the lights on in your studio.

See my “Top 10 Tips” below on some tools and ways to market art in today's world. But just as important as these tips is the attitude you bring to your marketing. A positive outlook and some patience are key ­ building a career takes time and persistence. It is a lifelong process and runs parallel to the development of your artistic skills and vision. No question that it can be frustrating at times. But it can also be immensely rewarding - which is of course the whole point of being an artist.

As someone who has been an active artist and has also devoted the last ten years to helping others market their work, the single most important conclusion I have reached is that taking control of your career empowers you as a seller, as an artist, and as a human being. It is central to everything. And here is where you start…

☛ 1. Harness the incredible reach of the internet: get a website. The internet is the most extraordinary event of our time. It holds tremendous promise for us as artists, but it can be a bit daunting. However, it's a lot easier to use than you might think. You don't need a degree or special talents, you just need to spend some time learning to harness its reach. Start by getting your own website. The easiest (and I think the best) way to do this is with a self-managed template website, one that allows you to add images and text, customize the design, and more. A template website, like any other website, should be elegant, full- featured, low cost, and easy to navigate. It should look professional. Remember that your website is where you will introduce people to your work and it's how you will stay in touch with people who already know your work. It should be the hub for all of your promotional and marketing efforts.

☛ 2. Branding: you and your website. You need your own website with your personal domain name: it's about giving your brand the importance it merits. A page or pages on someone else's site is not enough. Again, you need to be able to send people to your personal website. In choosing a domain name, try to register one that incorporates your own name. It's easier for people to remember and people who know you will search for your site using your name as the keyword. Chances are excellent that your site will pop up in the top three on the search results page.

Participating in group sites or creating profiles on social media sites like Facebook can be useful for extending your reach, but, again, you will still need to have your own site.

☛ 3. Make your site easy to find. There are ways you can optimize your site so that it is easier for people to find you via search engines like Google. The relative importance of the different elements that determine search engine rankings is called an algorithm. You can do research on the `Google algorithm' over the internet using that as a search term, but here are three of the most important elements: First, the `Meta title' ­ it's what appears on the top left corner of your browser window and is a description of your site. The Meta title is embedded in the code behind your homepage, but with a template site, you should be able to enter the Meta title yourself. It should be seven or eight words long and include your name and the type of work you do. Second, content is very important, particularly content on your homepage - the higher up on the page and the larger the font, the better. Again, use specific terms. The third element is links. The more relevant (highly ranked) art pages linked to your site the better (and you should also link out to them).

☛ 4. Get out there and exhibit. Show your work as often as you can. Without exhibiting, you won't be able to develop a following for your work and your work won't develop as fast as it could. Most venues are good when you are starting out, though showing at “vanity” galleries and down-scale retail locations can be counter-productive.

☛ 5. You don't need someone else to sell your work, you can do it yourself. You don't need to spend years getting ready (though you will spend a lifetime developing your vision). You can start simply, with the people who know you best - family and friends or acquaintances. Expand your circles out by asking friends and family to send along a link and/or an image to a friend. Getting some marketing training can also be extremely useful and I highly recommend signing up for a seminar with an artist consultant.

☛ 6. Look for new markets and new media. Have you ever taken your work to an art fair? Have you explored new media like archival pigment prints? How about interior designers? They buy a lot of art. Check out The Guild, a source book which reaches 41% of interior designers (and many corporate consultants and others). You can find it at You should also look into regional mailing lists of decorators and dealers. Talk with other artists; compare notes. Check out relevant magazines like Professional Artist and even artist blogs. Be as creative in your effort to market and sell yourself as you are in your work and you will be surprised at the opportunities you will find.

☛ 7. Know your buyer. Ask yourself these questions: “Who is buying my work? Where are they buying it? What kinds of work and what sizes sell most easily?” These are critical questions for a professional artist and knowing the answers can have a big impact on the success of your efforts.

☛ 8. Price your work correctly. How do you know what a correct price is? It should be a function of three things: your market (see #7), your career (you will start low and increase with time), and the size of the work. Be consistent in your pricing (charge the same price for two works of the same size and medium ­ not more for one because you think it's better). Second, price your work to sell. It's better to sell a work at a lesser price (but still a price that is consistent with where you are in your career) than to have it sitting around your studio. Also, consider sales terms. You may want to sell a work to an enthusiastic, but financially strapped, buyer on the installment plan.

☛ 9. Do your homework. If a buyer (or a gallery) expresses serious interest in your work and you are not familiar with him/her, you should find out who they are. In the case of buyers, most particularly internet buyers, you'll want to get full contact information and business references. As a rule of thumb, never ship anything to a buyer you don't know without having payment fully cleared in your account (not just `credited'). If you are dealing with galleries, check with the Better Business Bureau (in the U.S.).

☛ 10. If you are a professional artist, be a professional in all things. You should look at allocating at least 25% of your time to marketing your work. Because the work itself can be so all-consuming, you may want to do your marketing later in the day, after your creative work is done. It's a good idea to set a daily and/or weekly routine that includes marketing. Make sure that you set standards for the business end of your career as you do for your creative work. Then, adhere to them. And as you are marketing your work, keep your promotional efforts consistent in their message.

☛ Bonus tip: Be Bold Art is about finding your voice; it's about growth. You can't grow if you are focused on avoiding mistakes. Pick up the big brush, not the little one. Take a chance. That's what will take you to the next level. Apply the same approach to your marketing. Don't be shy ­ if you feel your work is right for gallery X or buyer Y, tell them why. This is your life!

About Eric Sparre Artspan Founder and Managing Director Eric Sparre believes that the internet is “a great leveler of the playing field for artists,” enabling them to do their own marketing and selling. A successful painter with a career spanning several decades, Sparre looked for a simple way for artists to leverage the power of self-managed websites and launched Artspan in 1999. In the course of his career, Sparre has exhibited in six one-person shows in New York and participated in numerous group shows in both public and private exhibition spaces, with reviews and/or articles in the major art magazines.



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