Emerging Artists Notes
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from emerging artists about how to get started. Really, the main difference in being an emerging artist and an established artist is brand name and price point. That is a bit simplistic but still valid.
The approach and career path between emerging artists and established have to be quite different. Our age and status as an established professional will often be different from a new professional so there are many gray areas for established painters too. For example, early in my professional career, it was vital to build my resume by doing juried exhibits, being in gallery shows, museum exhibits, paint outs having a visible high end collectors list and so forth. At this stage for me, that becomes far less important than painting and selling my work.
I’m older than dirt in terms of the art industry. Anybody who is still a working artist after 30+ years in the biz has little left to prove. “I yam what I yam” says Popeye Blondheim. The hubris of youth gave me big ambition and dreams of being the next superstar of the art world. Now I am very content in being a full time artist and making a living, while exploring the mysteries of landscape painting. A far different goal than I may have had even 10 years ago. It’s a bit sad that I figured out that painting is a goal itself so late, but I will make the most of my time left in the studio. I plan to learn a lot in the next 30 years and retire at 96 a winner :>)
One of the most important elements of success for an emerging professional is to have a game plan firmly in place. Unfortunately, I did not. In fact I was clueless for a long time, randomly trying this and that.
Pick no more than 5 main goals each year and focus all of your energy on them. As you tick them off as successfully completed, you can add new goals to replace them, but they must be re-addressed often to keep them afloat. Here is an example:
1. Mailing List
Spend a year building your list. I normally have around 500 names on my list at any given time. I used to add anyone and everyone to that postal list but in the last 10 years, I add actual collectors to the postal list. For email, I can add all kinds of folk whether they are collectors or not.
2. Spend time and money getting your biz cards and promotional materials sorted out and professionally done. Don’t scrimp on biz cards. Have a good one made with a nice image of our work. Your biz card may be the only impression you will ever make on a potential patron. Do you really want to give him a cheesy homemade card? Biz cards are not that expensive. I use Moo, who makes a spectacular biz card, one that folk will keep on their refrigerator. There are dozens of companies out there. Now you have to actually use them. Put them in every letter you send out, pass them out at every event. Put them up at supermarkets on bulletin boards, any venue you can think of. At every party, keep them in your hand, give them out when you are introduced. Take them to gallery openings. Leave them as bookmarks in books you lend out or return to the library.
3. Study and paint regularly. This can’t be emphasized enough. There are lots of excellent online lessons and of course, lots of books. Also workshops and classes in your area. Get all the mentorship you can from professionals you respect and admire. Volunteer to be a studio assistant with an artist you admire.
4. Make a decision between the gallery route or the self representational route. You can always switch after a time, but it’s hard to start out with both goals at once.
At one time the gallery route was vital but these days perhaps not. With the Internet things have changed. The most successful way to take the self rep path for me is a combination of Internet and utilizing your own studio space. This method allows you to be attractive to both long distance buyers and local/regional buyers who will come to your space to purchase. This has worked quite well for me. Galleries have become a tertiary income source for me not a primary or even secondary one. I am still selling in galleries but not in significant numbers and I am outselling galleries greatly through my own studio. Frankly there are just so many hours in the day and I don’t have time to tend to galleries as much as I once did. I tend to nurture markets that sell my work and neglect those less successful.
Once you make this decision, you will have different methods to obtain your goal.
Start with a review of your work by a professional who will be completely honest about the level of work you are doing. Frankly, you may not be ready for the gallery scene. Galleries have to be very competitive in this economy and they are becoming more selective, choosing painters with proven track records. Be sure you are ready before you start. You should have established a solid body of work that is coherent and consistent, revealing a clear style. You will need to be producing work consistently. You should have a completed body of work with no less than 25 paintings.
Painting Clouds Tutorial
OK, You have done the work and you are ready to gallery shop. First do some Internet surfing to find likely prospects. Take a gallery tour of regional galleries. Look for galleries who are showing work at your level or slightly above but not with a huge discrepancy. Look for a gallery who has interest in the subject you like. Not one with too many in that genre but at least one or two painters who like your subject. Check their submission policy and follow it to the letter. If there is no policy, send out an image postcard with your contact information. Choose the best image you have and ask professional artists friends to help you choose the image. Send out these cards to the galleries you like. If you get a response, follow up immediately with whatever request they make. If you get no response don’t be discouraged. Once I pursued a gallery for about two years before the finally took me. I sent them an image card every six months with a new image and they finally decided I was a good fit. They wanted to see how long I would try and they began to like my paintings as a body of work. In other words, they wanted to know if I was serious or just a flash in the pan.
This is sort of starter gallery way to get a foot in the door, but unfortunately these galleries are not always respected in the art community. There are exceptional coops of course. It’s a way to get a gallery experience and get your foot in the door. Be prepared for lots of compromises and babysitting the store.
The self rep route:
This is the direction I’m gradually headed in for myself after having done the gallery route for years. Self rep is not for everyone. It takes a great deal of self discipline and self confidence to be successful. It is harder but more satisfying for me personally. I don’t paly particularly well in sandboxes. I am fiercely independent and don’t compromise very well. We all have faults, that is one of many for me.
There are lots of ways to go when you sell your own work and you are the captain of the ship. This also means if you fail, it’s your problem and no one else’s. Planning and experimentation are the game for self represented artists.
Consistent marketing and good paintings are necessary to succeed. You must get your work out in the market place in every way possible at least in the beginning. Alternative spaces work quite well for an emerging artist because you can fit your prices to these lower end markets. Good hair salons, book shops, and good restaurants are all good markets for these shows. Parade of Homes, Dr offices, banks, community theatre lobbies and libraries are also possibilities but with less success for sales. The can be simple ways to get exposure when you are starting out. I have actually sold small paintings in hair salons and restaurants, though I am now priced out of that market.
Don’t leave out the possibilities on the Internet. They are many. Web sites, blogs, and sites like Etsy.com are all possibilities.
This is really important whether you self rep or go with galleries and it is a blog post all by itself. You must establish a friendship which is genuine and comfortable with your patrons. Never forget for a moment that they are directly responsible for your lifestyle. My patrons are the best friends I will ever have. I am grateful to them beyond measure. Never take them for granted. Outside of your biological family, no one else in your life is more important. Take the very best care of them and they will never allow you to fail. This year, my patrons kept me alive because they care for me and I for them. I care about their lives and their ups and downs. They are my friends, not strangers.
More musings for artists and collectors to come…..