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The Business Side of Art

There’s no question that the economy has been a bit shaky these past couple of years. And, with art being a luxury, the art market has also been considerably softer. So I thought it might be interesting to present some tips and strategies that might be of assistance to artists who are looking for new or better ways to market, and promote their artwork.

 I turned to my good friend, and marketing guru, Kristen Spinning, and asked her if she would write a piece or two incorporating techniques and strategies that artists might employ to promote their wares.

Kristen is a web and graphic designer who works primarily with small businesses and professional service providers. She develops strategies for clients and produces all the related material to implement those strategies. She has designed numerous book, CD and magazine covers, using a combination of original photography and original artwork.

She has also worked a number of years in the film industry painting sets, painting signs
and designing the graphics seen on screen – everything from t-shirts and street banners to police car graphics.

Kristen built both of my websites, produced the video for the“Advanced En Plein Air Pro” easel, and has been my “go to” person when I flat run out of marketing ideas. I know you will find these articles both interesting and informative.

Marketing for Artists Part One
a guest article by Kristen Spinning

I recently watched “My Kid Could Paint That:, a 2007 documentary film by director Amir Bar-Lev. The film, which premiered at Sundance, follows Marla Olmstead, a four year old girl from New York who gains fame as a painter of abstract art, and then becomes the subject of controversy concerning whether she truly completed the paintings herself or did so with help and direction. The story will make you question not only if she really paint the pieces, but also what is the nature of abstract expressionism, and what on earth were her parents thinking.  However, there is one irrefutable fact:  Marla’s paintings sold for as much as $30,000 because of marketing.  The New York Times picked up her story, and, thanks to the sensationalism hungry media, it went viral around the world faster than the Swine Flu. The Story of her art became the commodity, and the painting’s prices skyrocketed as a by-product of the story. I do not wish to debate the validity of modern art, I am merely pointing out that you could be the next Renoir, Picasso or John Singer Sargent, but without carefully planned marketing, your paintings will languish in your garage.  Does that mean you need to be on the cover of Time or be interviewed by Oprah to be successful? Not at all.  But you still need to pitch the story of YOUR ART—at a level that is appropriate for your style and acceptable to YOUR MARKET.

Generally I find artists want to create art, not spend their time promoting their art.  There is also a common sentiment that one’s art should be able to stand on it’s own; it doesn’t need to be hyped if it is good. The concept of marketing for many artists is unseemly, and every artist can cite an instance of mediocre art being sold for outrageseous prices because of clever manipulation. No serious artist wants to be glazed with the brush of fraud, scumbled with hucksterism, or stroked with commercialism. But unless you want your garage filled with paintings, or you have a never-ending supply of friends to whom you can give paintings, you had better start thinking of marketing as your friend.  And just like a new brush, you need to get to know what it can do in your hands.

There could be volumes written on marketing specifically for artists, and for each medium, genre and style there are targeted approaches to presenting your art.  But today I am going to focus on just one aspect.  One that has become ubiquitous in our ever day lives, and the one via which you are reading this newsletter: The Internet. A very high percentage of your potential clients use the Internet. From researching a product, to obtaining news, to socializing and entertainment, people are finding their needs fulfilled on line.  If you want your art to be seen, you had better be there too.

A website is now vital for any artist who wants to sell their work. But let me make this part clear: you probably will not actually sell your work through your web site.  It is much more complicated then that. A website supports the buying decision, but rarely will it sell a painting with zero input from you. It is one tool in your over all marketing toolbox.  It lends credibility with clients, gallery owners and show promoters.  It is your on-line portfolio, your biography. It can educate and illuminate. It can showcase other styles, track your evolution, chronicle your successes, and give the viewer a sense of who you are. A website tells your story, and that story goes a long way in selling your art. Conversely, a poor website can send a potential client clicking away to some other artist. Not having a website at all says to people that you are not serious about your business.

Your website is a reflection of you, your vision, and your personality.  Like a painting, it has elements of composition and guides the visitor around the page to discover what you are saying.  It should complement your work, and set a tone for its viewing. Considering all it is doing, you should take great care in its creation, and its ongoing maintenance.

Many options exist for creating or revamping a website these days.  Each has its own benefits and drawbacks.  You must evaluate them based on how involved you want to be in the project, and not just on cost. Be clear on what your end objective is, and choose the option that delivers it.

Hiring a professional designer is probably the best option for any artist serious about their career. Preferably, you would find one who is well acquainted with the needs of artists.  A web designer will create a custom, easy to navigate, pleasing to use site with images and text that you provide.  You will have input on the look, colors and feel of the site.  A great designer will take the time to get to know you and understand your audience, thus designing a site that reflects your style while appealing to your potential clients. The designer will take care of all the mysterious and technical aspects and deliver a finished product, ready to use.

A professional designer will create a site that conforms to internationally accepted standards, and works across all browsers, platforms and monitor sizes.  Most will keep your site current by updating your pictures and text when you need.  People always ask me, “how much does a website cost?” That is the hardest question, since there are so many variables. Prices vary widely depending on number of pages, and types of features such as image viewers, shopping carts, search engine optimization etc. Pricing is confusing because many designers offer a seemingly low fee, but have lots of extras.  Then there are the designers who quote a price of $5,000 for a half dozen pages, and try to make it sound more complicated then it is.  The bottom line is, you should be able to get a nice, basic 5 page art website for between $800 and $1,500. But again, if you are looking for lots of whiz bang features, you will pay more. If you don’t know a good designer off hand, search other artist’s websites, find several you really admire, and look to see who did them. The designer usually will have a link to their own website somewhere on the artist’s site.

If you want to try building your own site, there are many on line services offering templates that allow you to upload pictures and text to a predetermined layout.  Some services cater to artists and photographers, and offer portfolio pages. These services usually have very limited flexibility in the look or design of the page.  That way they can make it easy for a novice to use, but you loose much of the customization.  And face it, we artist love to tweak.  Most template built websites scream amateur, so keep in mind your audience. Do you want a gallery to take you seriously?  If your website is not professional looking, then you may be saying that you are not professional either.  Do a lot of research if you are choosing this option.  Take a test drive of the service and see if you like its usability, and most importantly if you like the looks of the final product. Another consideration is that many template designed portfolio sites are coded such that search engines are not able to access the content. That means you may not be showing up on a Google search. The fees for this type of website are charged monthly. It is wise to add up the long-term cost.  Over time, you will often be spending way more for a less appealing product using this option.

For the ultimate do it yourselfer, software packages are available from very basic to professional level programs allowing you to design your own website.  This does give you ultimate control, but the price tag can be high in terms of both the software and your time.  Professional level software has a steep learning curve, and there are a myriad of stumbling blocks.  Lower end packages have the same inherent problems as the on-line services: template driven page layouts with limited design control.

Lastly you could choose to have a friend or relative build you a website.  Unless they are a professional designer with an extensive portfolio, avoid this option at all cost.  Not only will it lose you a friend, or make Thanksgiving very awkward, it can ruin your business.  Image is everything, so you cannot afford to have someone “practice” his or her skills with your artwork.

The Internet is evolving daily; along with it, Internet marketing strategies are growing and changing. An effective on line presence requires more than posting a website. There are well over 100 million websites today, and in a recent study it was shown that vast numbers of sites were not visited at all. Zip, nothing.  That equates to a whole lot of effort expended, significant money spent, and no results. Just when you are convinced you need a website, the hard reality settles in that not only must you promote your art, you also must promote your website which in turn will promote your art. Sound complicated? No doubt about it, but it is manageable. In a future article, I will give you a number of tips to promote your website through search engine optimization, paid search, blogs, links, social media, article placements, email marketing and partnerships.

Ah, for the good old days when an artist merely needed a wealthy patron…..but remember, most of the masters were broke!

Keep Painting!

(if you have questions or comments on this topic, you can contact Kristen at kromatiksgraphics.com)