Matilija Press
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Published Article
by Patricia Fry

Promotion: Your Success as an Artist Depends on it

I've been writing and talking about book promotion for years. Every edition of the SPAWN Market Update includes tips and ideas for promoting your book. With or without my nagging, authors learn, at some point in their careers, that in order to sell their books, they must promote them. And as distasteful as promotion is to some of us, the truth is that those who promote, sell and those who don't, don't. It's as simple and as complicated as that. And this is also true for artists and crafters.

Just last week, I was talking to an artist friend about my latest book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book. She listened politely and then she asked, "Why don't you write something like that for artists?" She reminded me that she and many other artists struggle most of their lives to get a financial foothold. And she said, "I have Guerilla Marketing for Artists, but it's too aggressive for me. Can't you write something softer for us artist-types?"

[Author's Note: Right Way has been retired. See my most recent books in the left column of this page.]

I thought about her request for about ten minutes and then I began making mental notes. How could I adapt what I know about book promotion to address art promotion? And then I realized that I've been writing for artists and crafters all along. Artists who bother to read my book promotion books and articles may have already picked up on some concepts and specific activities to use in promoting their fine art or craft-art. But for those of you who aren't as skilled at reading between the lines, here's a guide that might help you turn your passion for art or crafting into a paying career. Now isn't that an exciting thought with which to start the New Year?

Keep in mind, however, that I may be offering you a rose garden, but whether it flourishes or dies is up to you.  

Set Reasonable Goals
Do you know what you want to accomplish through your art? Do you want to see one of your paintings hung in the Smithsonian during your lifetime? Or would you be happy earning enough money through your art, crafts or photography so that you can spend all of your days in creation mode? How much time can you carve out of your life for the sake of your art? And here's an important question that I'd like you to ponder: What are you willing to give up? Few worthwhile endeavors come without some sacrifice.

Most artists and authors stay pretty closely attached to their comfort zones-rarely daring to step outside familiar territory. While there will be some promotion that you can do from your cozy, safe place, most of the work necessary to reaching your goal comes with challenges. In order to succeed, you must stretch.

Keep in mind that the level of your achievements as a career artist will be in direct alignment with your level of commitment.

Successful artists continually work at their art. They keep seeking ways to improve. They keep learning. And they cater to their public. Rather than trying to sell something that people don't seem to want, they adapt. They find out what sells, they experiment and they take risks. This concept is a no-brainer, but it seems to escape those of us who are attached to our words and our art. Sometimes all that's necessary in order to turn a ho hum item into a popular one is a minor shift in design.

Meet the Needs of the Public
Maybe you can't get anyone to purchase your lovely get well cards. But when you add birthday greetings and blank notes to your line, sales pick up.

Perhaps your prints aren't selling, but when you design handmade frames for them and raise the price, you sell out at every art and craft show thereafter.

It may take some experimenting to discover what you can add successfully to the marketplace. Before you develop your definitive plan, attend local craft fairs and art shows. Talk to the venders and find out what's selling and what's not. Visit artists' Web sites and galleries.

I live in a touristy town and have noticed for years that anything with Ojai printed or painted or sewn on it and placed in stores that tourists frequent, will sell. This includes note cards with photographs of Ojai, small posters, calendars, tee shirts, paintings, pottery and, yes, my books on local history.

If you look long enough and think hard enough, you're bound to come up with something that people want and that you enjoy creating. Tap into the pet market, for example. Surely, you can sell your dramatic photographs or paintings of dogs, cats, birds and horses posing with unusual objects such as a piano, an old woody station wagon or wearing a variety of different hats, for example. Sell these delightful pieces at art shows and through galleries, of course. But also consider making them available at dog shows, pet shops and veterinarian offices.

Once you've decided on a medium and a topic, work on it diligently. Some professional artists say to paint (sculpt, craft, draw) every day-every single day. Constantly create.

Basic Promotion for the Artist
One thing you will learn at some point as a career artist is that, in order to keep selling, you have to keep promoting. Those who believe that they can give their promotional efforts a lick and a promise are living in a fantasy world. Once you enter into the world of entrepreneurship, promotion will be part of your lifestyle forevermore.

Yes, you heard me right. Once you decide to sell your art or crafts, you've become an entrepreneur. You've entered into the world of business. It is now necessary to act and think like a businessperson. And since, presumably, you don't have a storefront, you must create an aura of business everywhere you go. Think of the world as your market place and take advantage of all that it offers.

Here's the mindset you really should adopt.

  • Talk about your art everywhere you go.
  • Hand out brochures with examples of your work.
  • Carry samples with you, if practical, and show them off.
  • Schedule time slots each week for promotion.
  • Try at least one new promotional activity each month.

Artists and authors are generally good at what they do, but some are not very good at marketing/promotion. I tell authors, if you want to sell your books, you must improve your promotional skills. Artists can and should follow the same advice. Here are some ideas:

  • Join a Toastmasters club in order to become more comfortable talking about your work.
  • Write a sales pitch and memorize it so you'll be prepared when the opportunity arises.
  • Talk to other artists to find out what sort of promotion works for them.
  • Join marketing seminars and/or hire a marketing consultant or publicist.
  • Ask someone from the Small Business Administration to help you develop a business plan. It's free.

Maybe you have a friend who is an excellent promoter. Ask this person to work for you on commission. Or barter for the services that you need. Trade a painting for six hours of marketing consultation or promotion. Or trade housecleaning services to someone who's not afraid to make cold calls to galleries nationwide. Other services you might use in bartering for this work are art lessons, dog grooming and meal preparation, for example. ;

In order to make sales, you must be noticed. Artists, like authors, love their work and prefer to spend all of their available hours writing/painting, etc. When you decide to become a career artist, however, you must leave the studio from time to time and go where you can get exposure for yourself and your art.

  • Join art groups and associations and participate.
  • Attend arts and craft shows and mingle.
  • Subscribe to artists magazines and newsletters.
  • Visit artist Web sites and study the message boards.
  • Join the local Chamber of Commerce.
  • Network, network, network.

Connect with another artist or crafter who has a similar or a complimentary product. Your handcrafted wooden wine rack would be compatible with hand-painted and decorated wine glasses. Your folk art paintings would be complimentary to decorative furniture.

Sometimes it's easier to work in tandem when you're involved in something rather foreign such as promotion. The two of you could become marketing buddies. You can brainstorm about ways to promote your products and share in the actual work. You could travel to shows and fairs together. You might stop at gift shops and other appropriate outlets along the way and see if you can arrange for some consignment agreements.

Promotional ideas don't normally come easily for those of us with an artistic bent. So I suggest that you be observant. What are other artists doing? What's selling and where? Study the way other artists display their arts and crafts. You can learn a lot by watching others. But I also want you to act on your own ideas.

A New York artist, Jenny Krasner, went out on a limb and tried something quite unconventional. She got tired of being an unknown starving artist and opened an art gallery on the street. Yes-she set up shop on a busy street corner in her town and she began to sell her art. In fact, she is no longer starving and no longer working her gig on the street. This wild and crazy activity created just the exposure and the buzz that she needed to jumpstart her career as an artist. What gave her the courage to do such a thing? As she said, "The worst that could happen was nothing and that was already happening."

Here are 10 additional ideas you can adopt to help promote and sell your art

  1. Donate your art. Have you ever been to an auction? The objects that are auctioned off either at a silent or a live auction are given very good exposure. I recommend that you find out about some of the upcoming events to be held in your community and ask if they are seeking donations. Sometimes the items to be auctioned are publicized in the newspaper and/or included in a well-circulated catalog or on the organization's Web site.
  2. Develop a mailing list. Collect business cards from everyone you meet-especially those who express an interest in your art. Periodically, send out flyers, brochures and/or notices announcing an upcoming show or a new line of product. Never underestimate the value of a good mailing list.
  3. If you're an illustrator, locate magazines and books that use art similar to yours. Contact the publishers with samples of your work and a resume. You might land some freelance work with several publishers.
  4. Design a spin off-or a related item that you can sell along with your original product. Spin offs create greater opportunities for sales. Your specialty might be water color paintings. Have prints made, make note cards from your paintings, make Christmas tree ornaments or coffee mugs. Maybe you enjoy crafting and painting doll furniture, add birdhouses and just watch your sales increase.
  5. Offer your art on consignment. Most artists dream of having their work hung in galleries nationwide. And this could happen for you. In the meantime, consider offering your paintings and other art objects for sale through appropriate retail outlets. This might include gift shops, pet stores, bookstores, Christian stores, kitchen stores and/or toy stores.
  6. Get exposure. Maybe your bank has a rotating art display. Find out what it takes to have your art accepted for display there. Approach corporation and hospital administrators. Offer paintings for their lobbies.  One pizza parlor in town hangs photographs by local almost professional photographers. And they sell, too. Some cities have money earmarked for art displayed on city property. Inquire at your city hall and see what's available and how to participate.
  7. Get involved. Start an art appreciation project for your city or lobby to have an art element added to a project that's in the works. This is just one excellent way to build name recognition.
  8. Send press releases to magazines and newspapers. If you don't have news, make news. Start an art class for homeless kids. Present a workshop for local seniors. Or expand on your talents by adding teaching to your resume. You'll earn money while getting your name and your art out there.
  9. Write articles for magazines and newsletters. Surely, you can write on some of the techniques you use with your art or a phenomenal new marketing idea that has worked for you. Sell your idea to a magazine, get exposure for your work and earn a little money while you're at it.
  10. Explore catalog sales. Find catalogs that are conducive to your art and contact them about including your paintings or other items. Here's when it comes in handy to capitalize on your most well-received technique or painting. Transfer this painting or a series of paintings onto coffee mugs and coasters. I mean, how famous is the mad blue bird? You see it on all sorts of items and it's always advertised in catalogs.

Continue researching, studying and experimenting. When you hit on something that works, build on it. When it isn't working, alter it. It is hard to make it as an artist, but it is not impossible. In fact, art is big business. I wrote an article a few years ago featuring Cheri Blum, Suzan Riggsbee and Joy Marie Heimsoth. All of these artists have licensed their art to companies who create various items from their designs. All you need in order to become licensed is talent, an endless supply of artwork and a good licensing firm such as Wild Apple Licensing or C.P. Licensing Corp. at  

What does it take to become a success through your art? The wife of a budding photographer says it is promotion, promotion, promotion. In fact, she arranges for publicity and exposure for her husband. How? She gets him involved in community events. She arranges for newspaper publicity. And she talks him up everywhere she goes. He takes it from there by constantly working at his photography, improving his craft and creating new images. This couple hopes to one day retire and travel the states making money here and there through his art and her writing.

For one artist, becoming successful means taking risks. She says, "You must be willing to fail-to take no and start again."

Resources for working artists and crafters:

Patricia Fry is the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) She is the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

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