"If you always think what you've always thought, you'll always get what you've always got." Henry Ford

Twelve Art Marketing Tips
© 1999 Nita Leland

Marketing for artists isn't all that different from any other kind of marketing. You're simply promoting a product and, along with it, yourself. However, most artists find it hard to sell their own art, let alone go all out and sell themselves, but that's what a collector is buying. You may feel awkward talking about your art process and describing your techniques to non-artists. It seems pushy. Artists often claim they don't want to sell their art because they're just painting for personal satisfaction, but I've met very few who aren't pleased when somebody likes a piece well enough to put hard cash down for it. Once that happens, they usually begin to think about how they can make it happen again.

You may just need a little shove in the right direction. Here are a few tips to get you started. Use these recommendations as a starting point for your art marketing plan.

  1. Do you know what you do?
    You must have a clear picture of yourself as an artist. Describe yourself in 25 words or less, for example, "I paint watercolors of wild baby animals and sell originals, prints and notecards at art fairs and in gift shops." If you run on describing four different media and ten assorted subjects, you're in trouble. You need to FOCUS.

  2. What is your goal?
    To join the art fair circuit? To sell in a gallery? To have your work in museums? Each of these goals calls for a different approach. But you can't plan your strategy until you know exactly where you're heading. FOCUS! And be realistic about what is actually doable for you.

  3. What is your market?
    Be very specific about this. Not just any gallery, but the XYZ Gallery in Roanoke; not just any art fair, but the Navy Pier show in Chicago. And not just any customer, but those interested in wild waterfowl, mammals of the Southwestern desert or baby animals in the wild. Did I mention FOCUS?

  4. What tools do you need?
    The basics are business cards and letterhead. They don't have to be fancy, but a logo is nice if you have one--it helps people to remember you. I used to have a Canada goose on my cards and customers frequently recognized me by that image. Indicate what you do (remember #1?) and refer to it on your card: "Watercolors of Wildlife." Once your work is selling, have a brochure, flyers or color postcards printed. Carry a small album with you, showing photographs of your work. (Use only top quality photos for this.) You may eventually want to put up your own web site.

  5. How will you use these tools?
    Join art groups and network at art events whenever possible. Pass out cards to everyone within reach, whether you're at an art event or a PTA meeting. Visit trade shows and mingle with other artists and art industry people. Write letters to people you meet in galleries and at art fairs and send out press releases about your shows and activities--on your letterhead. Do community service, offering a free class or demonstrations at the natural history museum or community college. What you do will be noticed.

  6. Start a mailing list.
    List everyone you know and everyone you meet. Keep the names on index cards or, better yet, on a database, if you have a computer. Mark the names so you know what their connection is and what their potential is as a possible customer or exhibition sponsor. Keep the list up to date. You'll be glad you have it every time you plan a show or introduce a new painting or print.

  7. Budget your time.
    You must allow adequate time for marketing--some say as much as fifty per cent--but don't get so caught up in it that you haven't time to make art. Your art has to come first. Set priorities.

  8. Budget your money.
    The money aspect has at least two sides to it. First, you have to make your prices fit your market. Are you near a college campus? You can't expect college students to pay Sotheby's prices for your art, but if they like wildlife, they will buy if you make it affordable. Second, you have to pay for your marketing materials so you can get more customers to buy your work. It's true that word of mouth is your best advertising, but you need to prime the pump. Once you're established, you can adjust your prices upward. But don't stop doing the marketing.

  9. Write out a step-by-step plan for your art events and promotion.
    Don't leave anything to chance when planning your exhibit at an art fair, for example. Plan your display, decide how to handle sales, prepare for inclement weather, have handouts ready and plenty of change. Set out a pad to collect names for your mailing list. Give every exhibition or event the same careful attention.

  10. Follow up.
    Write notes to customers and show sponsors. Remember their names and they'll remember you. Above all, don't procrastinate.

  11. Be professional.
    Once you decide to go for it, do it right. If you're framing your own artwork, do it well with clean, beautifully cut mats and suitable frames. Otherwise, have it done professionally. If you're approaching a gallery, check it out to be sure it's suitable for your work. Don't take your wild baby animals to a gallery that features abstract art. Make a clean presentation with an organized portfolio and don't show up without an appointment.

  12. Review your marketing plan again and again.
    Evaluate what you do and refine your program on a regular basis. Look for new opportunities and venues for your art marketing. Success won't usually come overnight, but if you keep at it, your efforts will be rewarded.

For more information on art marketing, check out the listings in the Marketing section of my Links pages and Business section of my books pages.

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