Build a Better Art Business

BUILD A BETTER ART BUSINESS

build a Better Art Business and be a better artist 
This week I was surprised when someone asked me just how much coffee I get through in a day. I had no idea, I knew it was a lot, but on average about eight or nine cups seem to liven me up enough to tackle an average day. 

If you think that this week's blog is going to be about my coffee addiction, it's not. I was only asked the question because I had jumped between three other conversations which were taking place at the same time in three different conference calls, and I was participating seamlessly in each one. I had kind of over committed myself a tad more than usual. Getting the timing right was a bit of a chore though because the calls covered three different subjects. It could have gone completely wrong. 

So here's the jump from coffee

I have written many times on the many ways you can promote your art and hopefully you will have gained at least something that has been at least a little useful. I have been in the business and initially on the fringes of the art industry for more than 30-years, so I have made many mistakes along the way. Some of them have cost me dearly, others have provided me with opportunities that have helped me.

It has only been in the last five or six years that I have made any real progress, this year for example my work will be available through two curated art sites as well as Fine Art America, Zazzle, and Pixels, and I will be having some of my work featured in a gallery soon. Just agreeing the contract, but soon. 

There is no doubt in my mind that the art world is difficult to get in to. I have previously spoken of friends who have been using print on demand for years and have never made a single sale, and I have friends who make a nice living from using the same sites. It’s not that their work is necessarily better, but the people who are making a decent living are working really hard on promoting their work. They seem to have also developed a sense for the next art trends, and that is a very difficult skill to master. The level of art produced from each of my friends is outstanding. 

So this week I thought I would go through a few things that I have learned over the years and tell you about some of the mistakes I made in the past. I’m sure I will make mistakes in the future too, but they will be dealt with as they are made. First thing first, never be afraid to make mistakes and if the plan doesn’t work, change the plan and not the goal.

If you are using your artistic skills to make money you are a professional, and your work should be viewed as a product of your business. You should also have passion and everything else, but ultimately if you rely on selling your art to make a living, it is a business, you need to think of it as a business, and one of the first things I ever learned was to separate my personal attachment to my work.

The price you set for your art should never be linked to psychological attachment to the piece. You need to consider what else is comparable to your work, how your experience compares to other similar artists, and paying attention to what other artists are creating, all play a factor in deciding how much to charge, but your personal attachment to any particular piece should never be a deciding factor in how you price your work. If you are so attached to a piece of art, hang it on your own wall and don’t sell it until you feel less attached.

As with any business you need to have a written plan. When I say written it doesn’t need to be anything overly elaborate, but writing it down makes it easier to follow and you are less likely to forget what it is you need to do.

What you write is down to you but generally you need to identify any specific objectives, any particular strategies you know that will help you achieve those objectives, any financial considerations, and be realistic about how much finance you need to do what you do. That is the biggest thing I hear whenever I speak to small businesses and not just from artists, they often underestimate just how much money they need when starting out.

If you are an artist, supplies don’t come freely, and you kind of need essentials like paint, canvas, or for digital artists, computers and software, but it is easier to manage if it is written down.
You and the plan are not married, and there is no legal obligation that says you cannot change it if things aren’t working out. I so often hear that the plan is the plan and I am sticking to it, but sometimes the plan is the plan that will never work. Never be afraid of adjusting your plan. Even the best laid plans sometimes don’t work out, so if it needs changing, change it.

You need to engage properly with social media and the internet. Whilst you think you are doing well with social media posts, remember that you can always do better. Take some time to properly learn how social media can be used in business, and how the analytics you can get through even simple things like the Facebook Pages app which can really show you who your audience is.

So many people set up a fan or business page yet don’t know of the incredible tools that come with the product from the off. Using these analytics platforms is a steep learning curve sometimes, but even the simple analytics available in the Pages app for Facebook can be used to help drive your business. I am about to embark on a journey completely refocusing how my Facebook business page projects, you can follow me here

art by Mark Taylor 

Learn how to use the internet too. It is tempting to go down the route of just populating a few pieces of art on your artists website, but unless you are using the site to actually sell your art when you are asleep, you will be missing out on potential sales.

It is also tempting to fill your site with content that is below par. Make sure you have a strategy that covers what content you would want to see on your site rather than it looking random.

Also make sure that whatever content is on your site is relevant to your audience. You want people to keep coming back, so you not only have to make it relevant, you have to keep it fresh.

Never underestimate the time you need to create a cool site with relevant content and constantly keep it up to date. As the web is going to most likely be your number one method of getting the word out about your art, you need to dedicate a significant chunk of your allocated marketing time to this and social media.

One of the other big problems that a new or small business can face is the problem of ego. 

Remember that your business is not just about you, it is about the people you serve, your collectors, and those who follow you because they love what you do.

You also need friends who can be open and honest with you, and when people tell you how it really is you will be driven to make things better. Never take anything to do with business personally, and never let emotion rule your business. If you let your ego take control then it’s a safe bet that you will fail much earlier in the process.

Stay on top of the paperwork. I know how tedious filling in tax returns can be, and I know how much I dislike numbers in general. But staying on top of everything by creating written systems can save you a whole heap of time in the long run. Constantly check that everything adds up, and make any key decisions around those numbers.

Sometimes you need to change your business so much that it becomes something different. It’s not about the gross revenue, but the net profit that you make that really counts. If you need to create different types of art and know that it will sell, then don’t be afraid to create different types of art.
Discounting your art is something that you might consider doing to boost sales, but it is just about the worst thing you can do. I used to discount my work all of the time but I find that if people do not want to buy it, a 10% discount isn’t going to make them want it more.

Now the only times I will offer a discount is either on a new piece of work as an introductory offer, or only very occasionally for special events which I have planned. If you discount all of the time then you might as well just lower your prices. 

Collectors do not like you offering discounts because it devalues what they have already purchased, and how annoyed would you be after buying a $300 piece only to find a month later it has been reduced to $75, and then a month later you discount it to $50. Don’t be afraid of putting prices up, sometimes it works better than a discount, and I can never quite fathom why.

You don’t have to do anything to the actual artwork you are selling to increase its value, but you do have to do a little work. You can add value to any piece of art by deepening the experiences people have when they see it.

If you have two artworks sat side by side, both are selling for the same price, but you only have a full range of information about one piece, chances are that is the piece you will buy. But how do you increase an artworks value without doing anything to the actual artwork?

Firstly, explain the work. People really want to know what your art is about, why you created it, the process of creating the piece, what or who the inspiration was, and what emotions you felt creating it. That is a powerful way to convey the meaning of the art, but you need to be careful by not telling people what the artwork should mean to them. What this process does is deepen the viewer’s connection to your work, and it also helps when documenting your work. I have previously written about the importance of documenting your work, and it really will help as your portfolio grows.

Connecting with art lovers has never been so easy and yet it is still a missed opportunity. I love talking to collectors and not just collectors of my own work. It gives me a deeper understanding of what they are looking for, and it gives the collector a deeper understanding of the artist. Connecting with your collectors and fans means that they will remember you and your work. If they know what makes you tick, they are more likely to come to you if you have shared interests and passions. 

Sometimes it isn’t even the art, it is about liking the artist enough to buy his or her work.

art collectors connect with the artist 
Art buyers only buy art. There is a difference between a collector and a buyer. 

Title your work. I am amazed at how often I see a really creative piece of art and then find out that it hasn’t got a title. Would you buy an untitled book or go to the cinema to watch an untitled film? If you title the work as untitled, give a reason as to why, but never leave the title blank. 

A title is important as is dating your work. This is especially important later on and even more so when it comes to retrospectives. Experienced buyers prefer dated work and they prefer it also to have provenance.

As you become established, collectors will also be looking out for your early works. I sold a fair few acrylics, oils, and watercolours in my youth and some of them I mistakenly have no idea if they are still around or where they are or if they are in the bottom of a landfill. There are a few that I know of and I know the people who purchased them and still have them, but this was a huge mistake in my early days and other than document those I know about, there is little else I can do.

What I should have done right from the start is document everything I did. My daughter is extremely talented and in a few years when she leaves school I am really hoping that she follows a path in the arts because she loves it so much. Everything she does is well documented or has been for the last five or six years, but she literally has folders full of art she created when she was very young.

Now this is usually something parents do, but if my daughter does eventually follow a career in the arts it isn’t going to be so important to collectors (unless she becomes the next great master and they wish to own a piece of her art from when she was a mere dot) but it is important to show her just how far she has travelled in this epic journey of creating art. Essentially she has a timeline of scribbles with crayons right the way through to her work she is producing to pass her art exams and there is a huge difference between her art each year, it just gets better and better every year. She also won a major award for her work so that also confirms her progress.

If you are starting out or you still have some early works one of the best things you can do is to keep the earliest pieces and put them in a retirement vault. If you become established to the point that collectors really want your early work, these will be worth much more. Collectors love early works.

If the artwork has ever appeared in an exhibition or won any awards or contests, make sure everyone knows and that you reflect this is the art description.

Keeping records of both your art and career is one of the best things you can do. Keep things like measurements of individual pieces because this will help appraisers in the future to be able to confirm the validity of any piece. One day you won’t be around to answer questions or confirm that something is or isn’t your work, so do as much as you can to document what you do. Remember that art careers can continue to be successful even after you have left your earthly shell. When you make art you make history, at least in a small way.  

That sounds a little bleak, I mean we would all rather sell while we are around, but art has always been significant throughout history, so make sure that you at least get remembered for making a tiny piece of positive history.

You also need to consider the numbers game. If you are making editions or multiples and wherever you can, make sure you set the edition size, and once it is set never ever change it. Edition sizes equate to exclusivity and this is something else that collectors really like.

The other aspect to documenting art which will set you apart from many artists is when you list how the art was composed. With the trend of mixed-media this has never been so important.

I say this because as your work gets older there is a very high probability that it will degrade and when mixed-media or even oils and other mediums degrade, people will want to know what was used in its creation so that it can be restored.

Whether it cracks, gets wet, gets dirty, fades, or gets damaged in any way, documenting the process and mediums used in creation will ensure that restorers will know how to manage, maintain, preserve, and restore your art over time.

ADDING VALUE TO ART

All of the above tips are things I like to think add value and enhance any piece of art. There are of course other things that you can do which will enhance any piece of your work.

You can take photographs of yourself creating the work, or create videos, but one of the most useful enhancements you can add to increase value is to put everything in a package that gets shipped with your original art. If it changes hands in the future, the new custodian will know exactly what they have.

So pull together the documentation, photographs, any video, and make sure that you also include your artist biography. These are the little things that make collectors love your work even more.

New York by Mark Taylor at http://10-Mark-Taylor.pixels.com 

HOW TO BE A BETTER ARTIST

There are other things too which will ultimately make not just your art business better, but will also make you a better artist all-round artist too.

Firstly never be afraid to get some practice in by mimicking other artists. My practice sessions are so diverse these days because I try to establish new styles from an eclectic mix of artists.

Currently my practice sessions include recreating Matisse, although to be fair they have always included a little Matisse, Van Gogh, and Pablo Picasso. More recent artists have included Banksy, Andy Warhol, Michael Godard, Anatole Krasnyansky, and Peter Max.

This collection of artists helps me to expand my tool set of techniques and also gives me some additional motivation when I actually pull a piece together in a similar style.

This is all about giving your artwork something new and taking it in new directions. This not only keeps the artwork fresh, but using reference photos and recreating pieces really does help to improve your skill set.

I also look at photographs to see how light interacts with other objects, and I see shapes in everything. Whenever I see something I like and would like to draw or paint, my mind breaks everything down in to very simple shapes. It comes as second nature now.

Want to really make your art pop? Here is something else I have started to do. Whenever I create a piece of work one of the first things I do is to set up a colour palette. It doesn’t matter if I am working on screen, paper, or canvas, I always set up a palette first.

What I have been doing recently is to leave out two of my most used colours, black, and white. Usually black is great for outlines, and a combination of black and white is often used for shading. What I now do is replace those two colours with shades of other colours in my work and use those instead.
Right now I am experimenting with leaving out these two colours but the work I am producing is certainly more colourful than it was. There are no hard differences between colour and shading and everything just seems to pop all the more.

Make sure that your workspace is always clean too. Now this is more do as I say and not as I do, but it really does make a difference to the quality of your work when you are creating it on a nice tidy and clean environment.

Not only will you recover the space you need to get the creative flow flowing, it puts your mind in a specific mind set where it becomes easier to focus on detail. I love working at my clean desk with everything in its place, if only I could keep it up. Keep everything in the right place and when you need it you will know exactly where to find it. I know that stuff is really boring, but it works. 

You also need to relax and take frequent breaks. With most of my work being produced digitally I find that I have to take more breaks than I do if I am painting using traditional methods.

If you are sat in front of a screen for too long it’s not only your eyes that become tired, but you do too, and again this is probably more do as I say and not as I do. However, I do try to take a break at least every couple of hours when I am working on my art and if I am working on the iPad or the PC I tend to break off every hour or at least I do when I remember. I am getting better though. 

During this break I will do something that neither involves a screen or having to think too much. That latter bit is hardest to do because I go off and do something, don’t overthink things, and suddenly I get a new idea that I need to get down on canvas before the break is over. That’s not what you should necessarily do, just write down the idea and then try to stop thinking for 20-minutes and go for a walk or just step in to the garden, or just tidy up your work area. Anything that isn’t looking at a screen tends to work.

Art is important to artists and art lovers but you are important too. Never forget to take some time off and completely engage in something different. I have flown drones for a number of years as a hobby but I have started to fly them even more lately. For me, they provide interest and it gives me something that isn’t the day job and isn’t art to do. I’m not suggesting y’all go out and buy a drone, but make sure that you have something different you can do too.

At one time my weekends would be 18-hours of solid working on the blog or the art and often both sometimes even at the same time, now if I need a weekend off I will take it. That is one lesson that I have only recently learned, and whenever I take a weekend off, I am in control again.

Find yourself a study buddy or mentor. Having someone close to hand who will not shine a constant light up your rear is so valuable. Make sure it is someone who can guide you, and offer useful critique and commentary. But be careful that you don’t buddy up with someone who constantly either heaps on the praise, or heaps on the negativity because they might as well be the same people.

Continue to learn. I am constantly learning and I hope that shows through in my art. If I keep producing the same stuff or what I call safe stuff, am I really getting any better?

Last week I learned a completely new technique which was so obvious that I had missed it for years. Next time I create a piece of work I will use the new technique, save time, and produce better results. But the thing is, I now want to learn something else new. Never be afraid to learn because your best painting should only ever be the last one that you ever paint.

It really doesn’t matter these days if you were self-taught or you attended the finest art academy in the world. If you produce something and people like it and feel an emotion they didn’t have before they first saw your work, you are creating art that connects. No one can really teach you this, you develop a trait over time. 

No art professor or artist can teach you everything you need to know. There is a continuous journey of learning that every artist should be on. Just because your three years in art school has come to an end, it doesn’t mean that you are suddenly great. In fact at the end of those three years, that is exactly when you should start to really learn and then never stop learning. Think of those early years as an introduction to art whether it was formal or not. 

Hopefully there is a little something you might be able to take away from all of this that will help you to become just that little bit better as both a business and an artist. If you have any ideas for improving your art business, please do leave a comment or get in touch.

ABOUT M.A

Mark ‘M.A’ Taylor is an artist, blogger and human. He has been producing art for more than 30-years, and you can see and buy his work here

This is one of his many school reports.

Mark Taylor artist 
 

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