Wildlife Art – Imitating life & the art business

Wildlife art in recent years has become very much a specialty market, not like the surge in the 1970s and ’80s when buyers were grabbing handfuls or whole editions for investment.

First Light Canvasbacks by James Hautman One of the best side benefits of representing DECOR magazine and the Decor Expo shows in their heyday was the opportunity to get to know so many talented people who helped transform the art print market from a cottage industry to a booming market segment.

While changes to the art print market reflect the same economic, technological and distribution dynamics that in general have disrupted so many industries and careers, past relationships remain strong. Such is the case with Larry Richardson, your guest blogger today, and me.

An avid conservationist and artist, Larry has been involved with funding conservation programs through sales of wildlife art for two decades. He provides perspective on the wildlife art market today. Here are Larry’s thoughts:

Wildlife art – a specialty market

Wildlife art in recent years has become very much a specialty market, not like the surge in the 1970s and ’80s when buyers were grabbing handfuls or whole editions for investment. When the boom ended, most art fanciers and speculators quickly learned much of the art they had rat-holed was worth about as much as the cost of paper, sometimes less. The current economic conditions make it extremely difficult to move the flat line for wildlife upward on the chart, particularly for art prints on paper.

Giclees and print-on-demand dominate the wildlife art market

Marketers have shifted to canvas, perhaps to avoid the paper glut and create a new spin to entice potential collectors.Giclee canvas and paper has become the buzz, especially now that artists can set up shop in their back room for the cost of running a conventional paper print edition. Printing tons of paper seems to be a thing of the past. Print-on-demand avoids overrun and storage of unwanted paper. If you can sell the original and get a good return on your look-alike giclee….why not?!

Non-profit sector remains vibrant for wildlife art prints

The exception for wildlife art lies in the non-profit sector where some organizations still enjoy success in selling framed prints at their fundraisers. Most organizations have gone to a selection process where they get a good number of entries and they can select the cream of the crop. More canvas transfers and giclee canvas are showing up in these venues. Some of the canvas reproductions are signed and numbered, however, that’s no guarantee that higher prices will be paid at auction.

Outlook for becoming a known artist with a publisher is sketchy

The short-term outlook – – nothing replaces hard work and becoming savvy to the market trends. Aspiring wildlife painters will find it hard to “become published” by the few big houses that remain. Let’s face it…the target market for these publishers has also changed, and they are looking for the very best work and unique approaches to enhance sales to the retail trade. As always, talent will open some doors, but even then only the most aggressive entrepreneurs will keep them open. The competition is stiff.

Internet and social media offer new opportunities for wildlife artists

The growth and continuing development e-commerce, personal websites for artists, email marketing and social networking have extended the contemporary walk-in gallery approach. Still, the trick is driving the buyer to your site specifically. That too requires a lot of work to set up and keep up. How many hours does that leave to be creative and paint?  Of well, who sleeps these days?  Unfortunately, wildlife artists, for the most part, need a “real job” to bring home the bread.

Many thanks to Larry for taking his time to provide insights into the wildlife art market these days. Something that seems the same to me, no matter which genre an artist uses, is the transition to full-time artist requires the same amount of energy, talent and ambition as in the past.

Larry has been involved in the wildlife art profession for over 35 years. Currently, Larry heads up Larry R Richardson & Associates. It is a public relations and communications firm. The company provides exclusive representation for Wild Wings, a 40-year old leading wildlife art publishing company, to conservation organizations in North America. He previously worked as Director, Field Operations, Ducks Unlimited for more than a decade. Ducks Unlimited conserves, restores and manages wetlands and associated habitats for North America’s waterfowl. These habitats also benefit other wildlife and people.

One constant over the years is the most acclaimed wildlife artists manage to paint realistically while adding a majestic artistic quality to their subject matter and their work. James Hautman’s work above is a perfect example.

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