Five Ways to Market Your Art Direct

I have said it before, but believe it bears repeating. Artists ought to be developing their own direct revenue streams with collectors. Easy to say, harder to do. But when you consider the traditional means are not nearly as robust as before, it provides extra impetus. Here are some ideas for how that might work

We pause this blog for a little shameless self-promotion.

An artist friend who I met after he read my book, which resulted in a series of consulting sessions over the past two years, has decided to take up the offer from a publisher to join his ranks. He had long held the notion that with his considerable business expertise and decent financing he would self-publish his work. He had begun to do that and also to shop giclees of his work to galleries in his local area. Additionally, he also managed to get some of his giclees put in the gift shop of a prestigious venue in his area.

I’m being slightly cryptic here because the ink is not dry on the contract and he has what I consider a terrific idea for an approach to working a niche. If all goes well, he will have a coming out party at the upcoming 30th Annual ArtExpo New York show at the end of this month. When I can share more details,I will be happy to do so.

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My friend has recently been re-reading my book, How to Profit from the Art Print Market. It was interesting for both of us to observe what he was going through with the development of his print career. In many ways, his circumstances were exactly as I described in the book. This was down to my mention of having a marketing maven full-time to help grow the business as a key component of self-publishing success for many, if not most artists. His wife is a gifted driven very successful designer in the home furnishings field. Their company has for more than a decade supplied household name brands with licensed designs of all sorts. While she would be perfect in this role, she does not have the time to put her career on hold to help his. Nor would it make financial sense for her to do so.

Left to his own devices, this artist began to realize the difficulties for an unknown artist to be both marketing maven and full-time artist. Plus, he still puts in time at the design business as needed. The bottom line is the uphill battle was starting to look overwhelming given the plausible vision he has for his art and career. As the luck most often found in the residue of hard work would have it, a contact in one of the galleries led him to perhaps the most ideal publisher for his genre and his circumstances. I’m quite happy for him things are going to work out.

What he found was in reading and re-reading my book was two years after his first reading, the basic advice from what to do, what might happen, what the commission structure offered would be and many other things were still spot on and valuable to him in his decisions and dealings with his new potential publisher. It was heartwarming validation for me the underlying advice continued to hold water even though the business continues to undergo substantial, if not monumental, upheaval and change.

More Signs of Change for the Art Print Market

The state and health of the trade magazines and tradeshows that serve the industry are as much a harbinger of how things are working out as any. In October 2006, I put 20 years of tradeshow experience on the line and predicted the Decor Expo Baltimore show would be a bust. That was harsh given the inaugural show was still six months away in April 2007. While I have no official word, I notice the February issue of Art Business News has omitted the 2008 Baltimore show from its Calendar. Not a good sign things are working out. Further, the Web site for the show has no exhibitor list. Since this is a primary tool for enlisting more exhibitors, one can only conclude the show is being quietly mothballed, or in serious trouble. I’m left wondering if another prediction of a sale for the Art and Framing Group by current owner, Summit Business Media LLC, can be far off.

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ArtExpo Booth Sales Appear to Be Well Off Previous Year Figures

Meanwhile, the aforementioned 30th Annual ArtExpo New York show appears to also be struggling to bring in the same number of exhibitors as last year. A check today shows 374 companies listed as exhibitors. The list has been updated regularly over the past month with more than 100 exhibitors added to it. Nevertheless, it remains well behind the 600 exhibitors published by the show producer last month. The trade magazines that serve the business also are showing a decline in ad pages. These are pretty good indicators it’s rough patch for the art print market these days. The cover story of the ABN issue was on the state of the art economy interviewing some veteran players in the market. While most found some ways to put a bit of positive spin on their outlook, none was overly optimistic.

Five Ways to Market Your Art Direct

It’s a good time to review what you are trying to achieve from a business perspective for your career. I’m not talking about a year end review and goals for the coming months. I’m thinking more about what you want for your career financially and awareness. It could be like that of my friend who seeks to find an audience and appreciation for his work and to get the work to market in a way he could profit from the effort. Besides reaching a vastly larger audience, the appeal of the print market for most successful artists who embrace it is it provides them a way to generate repeat cash flow from the effort in creating an original.

I have said it before, but believe it bears repeating. Artists ought to be developing their own direct revenue streams with collectors. Easy to say, harder to do. But when you consider the traditional means are not nearly as robust as before, it provides extra impetus. Here are some ideas for how that might work:

1. Alternative spaces, such as coffee shops, restaurants, building lobbies and waiting rooms. There is a skin care salon located here in tony Paradise Valley that also offers art from local artists. The patrons are a perfect demographic for art. And, they are spending leisure time in the salon on a repeat basis. It works for the artists and the salon owner on multiple levels.

2. Create your own shows. You don’t have to have a gallery to do this for you. Decide you are going to do it and follow though. You can create a show in a public space; perhaps a local community college, a church, a rented hotel room. Build some excitement around the uniqueness of the show with publicity or charitable components. Plan far enough in advance to get a good date not competitive with other activities. Enlist your family and friends to help you generate word-of-mouth.

3. Web sites and blogs. Are you selling direct from either? If not, why? Of course, you don’t want to compete with any established galleries with an online site or physical location. Why not have exclusives for the galleries that are promoted on your Web site or blog along with exclusive images available only through you? eBay just announced it has new pricing. Apparently, the past year has been difficult with sellers abandoning the once juggernaut for other venues. It might be worth revisiting it for another shot in 2008.

4. Work with other artists. Get other visual artists, or musicians or poets to create a happening. Find ways to collaborate on art and promotion. The group dynamic could be very dynamic and stimulating. You can use something like Meetup that offers tremendous potential to the person with energy and a good idea and a dash of promotional verve.

5. Get in catalogs. The Guild, which is one of my most favorite for indie artists, offers a tremendous platform for sales and visibility for artists through its Artful Home catalog and Guild Sourcebook. It is by far not the only one, but if you are interested, you can act now to submit to its annual juried entry submission process. The competition runs through February 29 and is administered by Juried Art Services, which you should check out for all its offerings. A catalog or sourcebook such as this is one degree of separation, but you ship directly and you get promoted and create a relationship with your customers.

Bottom line is now more than ever, you have to think and act for yourself. The more you take your situation under your own control, the better off you will be. I’m sure there are plenty of other great ideas. If you have any and want to share, the comments section below beckons.


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Barney Davey

I help artists and photographers find buyers, sell more art and operate profitably.

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