Musing for Emerging Artists Notes
I’ve been musing more about steps for emerging artists. Last week’s post brought a flurry of ideas from my loyal friends who read this blog. Thanks each and every one of you for sharing your own perspectives for emerging artists. Let me say that there are always better ways to approach this topic than mine. I’m just writing from my own perspective and sharing what has worked well for me. Your path will be different based on your skill level, work ethic and attitude. Sometimes I inadvertently step on toes. It is never deliberate, but I must say that brutal honesty is my trademark. I’m not much for pussy footing around about the way I see the world. Since I am equally hard on myself, I think it’s ok to give my own perspective about the business of art and painting.
There is something else I have been musing about. There are too many artists beating themselves up because they are not a Rembrandt or Sargent. There is a tendency among artists to think they are not good enough because they are not at the top. Many are taking this class and that class, trying to be everything. My advice is to pick something you like and study it for all you are worth. For example, I like landscapes,trees and florals. That’s what I study year round endlessly. That’s what I expect of myself, that I get as good as I can in landscape painting. I don’t take equine painting classes or portrait classes because that takes a lifetime of study too. I don’t have time to try to be good at everything. Some artists have enough talent to do all things well, but I don’t. I’m not going to beat myself up about it either and neither should anyone else.
Some of the questions about emerging art that readers sent me:
What should I charge?
Pricing is tricky because there are many factors, not just the quality of work. Brand name is part of the equation. Is the artist a locally known, regionally known, nationally known or Internationally known? If the artist is just emerging or beginning the prices should reflect that. The medium will affect the pricing as well. Paper support mediums are always less valuable in the market than oils or acrylics. (I don’t make the rules here, I’m just the messenger.)
Start looking at other artists’ paintings who are comparable to you in stature and skill level. Try to start your prices just under theirs or about the middle range. Some artists use a square inch price but as you go up in size you will need to adjust the square inch price to keep your price from going off the scale.
Consider the area where you are selling. Is it a rural area, or more urban, Is the style of your work appropriate for the setting and the market where you sell? Urban dwellers will be much more interested in contemporary work than the rural areas. Small town America tends to be more traditional.
Remember, there is a market for every style and level of art, you just have to be patient until you find your market.
Start your prices right and the paintings will find a home. You will be better off to start a bit low and raise prices incrementally as the market improves. It is always a mistake to overprice your work because then you must live with it until the market comes to you. A good time to raise your prices is when just about everything you produce is selling fairly quickly. You can always go up, but it is very hard to go back down and devalue your work. Slow and steady is the pace for pricing.
I have been very careful not to go up too high with my work. I’m about in the middle of the pack that I paint with. Many of my colleagues are suffering now because they allowed dealers to inflate their work when the economy was booming. I have a couple of friends who are big named painters who allowed this to happen and now they teach for a living because they can’t sell anything. They can’t go back down in price and they are not selling so they are stuck.
I would rather roll along at my modest prices than to starve. Of course there is the other end of that, which artificially deflates your prices. I know a local painter who is essentially wholesaling her work. She screws everyone else at gallery shows and Paint Outs because her prices are so low. She sells, but not as well as you would expect in those situations, and essentially ruins sales for everyone else. She wants to make clear that it is her territory and she will undercut everyone there to remain the top seller. She brags about being the queen of the community artists. So, it is more important to her to have bragging rights than to have her prices at a reasonable level. She survives on volume sales.
Once you establish your prices, leave them there until you start selling consistently, then bump them a bit once a year as long as you are still selling well. A lot depends on the economy and other factors. Election years are traditionally poor for art sales. People are uneasy. I usually bump my prices every other January. I always announce the hike a couple of months early, which encourages sales before the price raising. I always know there is going to be a period of sticker shock for a month or two. Realize that when your prices go up you are leaving one market and moving into another. It takes time to build up the new higher end market for your work, so be prepared for lean times for a month or more while the transition goes from one market to the next.
Inevitably you will get remarks from people that say they cannot afford your work anymore. I always say ” Isn’t it wonderful that I can command decent prices for my work? Now I can support my family as I should.” That shuts them up immediately!!!
How and Where to Show?
When you have built a consistent body of work, you can begin to make CD’s of the paintings and enter a few local juried shows. Your local art leagues often have shows around the community and they are a place to start. Restaurants, hair salons, book shops and business offices are all good starting places. First prepare your PR package. Print out your artist statement and bio along with a thumbnail sheet of images and your business cards to put in a manila envelope. Take that with you to your appointments with possible vendors. Call first and make a proper appointment. Take a nice framed painting with you in the car if the want to see one.
Do I need a Web Site?
Web sites can be expensive to produce and to optimize. I believe every professional artist needs a web site. There are alternatives to building our own. Fine Art Studio Online builds a dandy one for you at a reasonable fee. If you are starting out that’s a good way. For emerging artists, I believe the blog is a good route to go. It is like a web site and can be managed by you. It is easy and popular. Most importantly, it’s free!!
You talk about gallery representation versus self-promotion. But galleries generally take a large percentage – 40 to 50 percent. Does that mean artists need to boost their prices in order to make a decent profit? I would love to read about how artists deal with this disparity.
If you are going to show both in galleries and self rep, you must price the same for galleries and your own studio. If you are self representing without gallery affiliation, You have the advantage of setting the price for yourself. Since you don’t have to pay commission fees you can set your price range at a more reasonable amount. Without gallery affiliation, you are entirely in charge of your pricing strategy.
How do you learn to talk about your work?
Some marketing experts advise that you practice in front of a mirror and memorize a speech about your work. I guess that works for some folks, but for me there is a falseness about that method. Canned if you will. To me, the secret to talking about your work is three fold.
1.You must believe whole heartedly in your worth as an artist. You must believe that you have value and that your work is meaningful to others. Without that core belief in yourself, you will not be able to talk intelligently about your work. You must feel passion about being a painter and desire to share that passion with others.
2. You must feel passion and excitement about your subjects and the stories and culture that weaves through the subjects you choose. These are equally important to the work itself.
3. You must deeply care about the person who purchases your work or who is interested in you. Their interest and input is vital to your success, They should never be marginalized. Art is really about sharing with those who have an affinity to your work. If you focus on them instead of yourself, you will be able to talk more freely without a formulaic approach.
These questions are some that all of us as artists must spend time musing about over a career. Be thoughtful in your choices of career, but never feel you are not good enough.
More musings for artists and collectors to come…..