- by Barney Davey
Will the art print market work for you?
Before artists jump in the art print market, it is crucial they know the most important questions about breaking into it, and if it is right for them. Reading this post will challenge you to start organizing actions based on what is important, as well as what is most urgent, in launching your print-market career.
Basics for success in this market are the same for any entrepreneurial endeavor. It comes down to understanding the business and opportunities, and then organizing and executing around them on a daily basis.
Are You Print-market Ready?
- How can I tell if my work is appropriate for publishing?
- Are there reasons to avoid the print market?
- Which media best suits my art?
- Should I be thematic or show a range of work?
- Should I self-publish or seek a publisher?
- Can I do both?
- Is there another alternative?
How Can I Tell whether My Art is Appropriate for Publishing?
You may instinctively know that your work is appropriate for being published; it is likely the reason you are now reading this post now. Nonetheless, you can use the following to help make this determination. You will know your art is right for the art print market if:
- Your originals are getting prices that take too many collectors out of your buying pool;
- Your art is in such demand that you could have sold your originals many times over;
- You cannot produce on a schedule to meet the demand for your originals;
- You desire or need a secondary source of income from your artwork;
- You are creating art specifically for the print market.
If you answered with affirmative responses to these questions, you are an excellent candidate to jump on the art-print bandwagon.
Are There Reasons to Avoid the Art Print Market?
Yes, and the reasons to avoid this market include the following:
- Your subject matter is too esoteric or inappropriate to be workable in the mainstream print market.
- If your original work is not moving, you may compound your situation by investing in the print market. If this is your case, most publishers will grasp this whether you tell them or not because it is their job to have a finger on the pulse of the market. This is not to say you would never get a bite from a publisher, but it is far less likely if your originals are not already selling well.
- Alternatively, upon investigation, it could be that you decide not to pursue publishing.
Which Media Best Suits My Art?
Deciding which media best suits your art can be tricky. If you are painting novelty or whimsical motifs, or similar content, then open edition prints or posters are where your art will find the greatest acceptance. Red Skelton was a famous and well-liked comedian who was also an artist with a successful career.
Skelton’s paintings of clowns were sold as limited edition prints. His celebrity allowed him to move beyond posters with this genre. Without it, I think the art would have had far less appeal to collectors. That is not to say he would not have been successful as a visual artist without his celebrity, but he might have had to choose open edition prints or posters.
When I wrote the first edition of How to Profit from the Art Print Market 2nd Edition: Creating Cash Flow from Original Art in 2005, I said it takes some thinking and investigating on your part to decide where you think your work fits in the mix of art-print alternatives, and that there were price points across the board.
Artists could be in inexpensive limited-edition prints, medium-priced giclées or sky-high-priced serigraphs – or the inverse of any of those scenarios – and would still have made the right decision. While these things remain true, the poster and the limited-edition-on-paper market are not as feasible now as they were just a few short years ago. The opportunities for artists to capitalize on them have dwindled with their decline.
Then, as now, you have to choose what feels right for you and listen to what the market is telling you. You may get feedback from collectors and publishers that differ with your own perceptions of where your art fits in the marketplace. Should you get such advice, pay attention to it.
Traditionally, attending tradeshows and consumer shows along with studying trade magazines were the best, quickest and easiest ways to learn what was going on in the industry. You could notice changes in prices, subject matter, sizes, media and many other tidbits that together would inform you of the overall trends. With the dominance of the giclée medium, being aware of these changes in the industry is not as necessary for helping you pick the right medium for your work.
Should My Work be Thematic or Show a Range?
Many artists are talented in that they can paint a variety of subjects and themes equally well. They enjoy stretching themselves to try new things. However, displaying a command of unrelated subjects and media does not make success in the print market easier.
The way to success for artists in the business is to become recognizable for something in particular. If I say “romantic cottages,” then unless you have been living in the proverbial cave, you are going to reply, “Thomas Kinkade.” LeRoi Neiman’s work became synonymous for its vibrant, colorful, impressionistic sports images. Kerne Erickson has carved out a niche with a vintage travel poster motif.
When it comes to collectors and keeping your galleries happy, being thematic is a huge plus. Your dealers and galleries need to know you are willing to work hard at creating more images for their buyers. This is not to say you cannot paint what you want to paint, but if you are making a business of it, you need to establish a look and style that is uniquely yours.
Once established with a look or style, you need to stay with it. Being recognizable for a style will take you far in the art print market.
Alternatively, you can look for a publisher who will feed you ideas on what is needed to meet developing trends, but it becomes much more of a hit-and-miss proposition for all involved, and the probability of finding a publisher who would take you on in that kind of capacity is small. So pick something and stay focused on it. If, after a while, it becomes apparent the fish are not biting, you can change to something with better marketing prospects.
Keep in mind some poster publishers are perfectly fine with the idea of you painting under an assumed name – a Nom de Brusse, if you will. Most are not looking for you to make personal appearances for them anywhere. As such, there is a possibility you can create a look for a poster line that is different from the images marketed to collectors of your originals. Think of it as moonlighting, or guilty pleasures.
Should I Self-Publish or Seek a Publisher?
The question, “Should I self-publish?” started me on counseling artists during my 15 years with DECOR magazine: My short answer then was, “Yes, if you can, but look for a publisher if not.” Just a few years ago, self-publishing was an expensive and daunting task for most visual artists. The lack of financing or qualified help to get to market forced them to seek a publisher.
Today, things are much different. Working with an art print publisher is more complicated and less promising than in the past. Given the current market conditions, in most cases I would not advise an artist to seek a publisher until they have fully explored their options for self-publishing their work.
I say, “yes” to self-publishing because when you successfully self-publish, the rewards are greater and the control of your artistic life remains in your hands. In addition, if you should decide, for whatever reason, that self-publishing is not the best thing for you, then having done it will give you a greater appreciation for what a publisher does when you decide to throw in with one.
Before it seems like I have completely given up on the idea of seeking a publisher, I want to state that there are still opportunities with publishers. I know artists who have made current arrangements with publishers and who are now working towards making a rewarding income, despite tough economic conditions that hurt the art market in recent years.
If you have a full-time job to pay the bills, and do not have help to provide you more time and energy, self-publishing is going to be trickier for you than for those who do and can more fully focus on making art. However, if you have assistance and are already making substantial income from your art, you are a good candidate to move forward with a self-publishing business plan. Do not let lack of staff be a reason to avoid pursuing the print market. Instead, adjust your goals according to your available resources. You can still get there it just may take longer.
Can I Do Both?
Some of you will want to try working with a publisher and do some self-publishing as well. This is perfectly fine, as long as your publisher does not care. Some are open to such ideas; others will be restrictive with you on where else you can sell your work. It is something you will need to investigate and keep in mind as you begin contacting publishers.
Some artists license their images to publishers as posters, while selling other images in different formats on their own. This is an ideal situation for many artists whose publisher cannot handle their volume of creative output. You have to work out what is best for you and your publisher.
Remember to ask many questions when you negotiate with a publisher. Do not be intimidated, and do stick up for yourself. You have the right to make a living. If a publisher insists on cherry-picking your images, then you cannot allow to lock yourself into such exclusivity, unless you really want to be a starving artist.
Is There an Alternative?
Artists often ask if there is an alternative to the choice of self- publishing versus working with a publisher. My simple answer is, no. If you want to gain sales and fame from the print market, you have either to do it for yourself or have a publisher do it for you.
Back in the days when it took a substantial investment of tens of thousands or more to break into the print market, I would cringe when contacted by naïve artists who believed buying a single ad or a single booth in a tradeshow would launch their careers, or just provide a positive return on investment. A typical scenario was an artist who had borrowed money from her parents to make a couple of limited edition prints, and who was then asking about using her credit card to buy some ads and booth space to promote the pieces.
In this instance, we are looking at someone committing thousands of dollars to try to start a career with two prints, a couple of full-page ads in DECOR, and barely enough money to get into a tradeshow. In my professional opinion, this is a prescription for failure. DECOR magazine closed after 135 years along with its highly successful Decor Expo tradeshow division. They were recently resurrected as a digital quarterly publication and as adjunct to Artexpo New York, by Redwood Media.
My advice to that artist take the money and go on the vacation of a lifetime – and make it so exotic and extraordinary that she would talk about it the rest her life. This is because if you choose to go into self-publishing unprepared and under-funded, you are – as they say at the poker table – dead money. I am not trying to scare you; I just want you to be realistic about what you are trying to do. Besides, I already know there is no amount of advice that will stop those fully committed to what they are doing.
Okay, we have described the top-level opportunities in publishing and briefly discussed the merits and pitfalls of each. Although you still need more information about self-publishing and using a publisher to be able to make a decision about which is best for you, you are much closer than you were on page one.
By reading this post, you have begun to determine what is most important in the self-publishing versus seeking-a-publisher decision process. Moreover, you are beginning to gain some insight on other decisions you’ll need to make to get your print career on track. In other words, you have your attention focused on first things first.
This post is adapted from my book, How to Profit from the Art Print Market 2nd Edition: Creating Cash Flow from Original Art. Click the link to order a signed copy from me, the publisher. It is also available on Amazon and in Kindle.