What stops us promoting our art

What stops us promoting our art?

the art of self promotion art marketing


I can’t believe where this year went. It was last Christmas just five minutes ago and in just over a week’s time, it will be 2019, and another brand new year. I have noticed that three things happen as you get older. Firstly a year becomes approximately five minutes long, secondly, you start to wonder how on earth people could stay up past 9pm if they’re not working on a commission, and thirdly, you ask a lot of ‘what even is that thing’ when another lone random hair appears to be growing somewhere it wasn’t yesterday.

When it comes to having birthdays you now get apologies like ‘I’m sorry it keeps being your birthday” and we have zero interest in getting high because to get a rush when you’re older, all you have to do is stand up suddenly. In 2019 I will be turning half a century old, which I am told is like the new 40, which was the new thirty, which was the new twenty, this is where I stop counting and start celebrating every new day moving forward.

Time flies by when you get older and I am sure there’s some reason that explains that phenomena but when you are trying to fit in an art career and make a few sales, time seems to pass by even faster. The phenomena for this is called having so much to do. There are just never enough hours in the day to do everything that you have to do as an artist and that includes the important stuff like promoting what you have already made. 

Not too long ago I asked a question in one of our three groups on Facebook and that question was: If you could suddenly have one skill that you haven’t got now, but would help you with you art business, what would it be?

I kind of knew what the answer would be before anyone wrote it down because it is the only answer I give myself whenever I ask myself the very same question. Self-promotion. We all really seem to struggle when it comes to promoting our work as independent visual artists and creatives.

Some of the issues are down to not having anywhere near enough time to do such things, we’re too busy creating or juggling life outside of art but at other times there are a million and one other things that hold us back from doing the promotion thing altogether. Over the years I have experienced every single one of those things or at least it feels like I have, and even some thirty-plus-years in, I have to say that promoting my work is my least favourite part of the artistic journey or whatever it is we are on. 

So what are some of the reasons we all seem to think that self-promotion is some kind of dark art? 

I don’t want to be seen as being spammy, or I don’t want my Facebook friends to only ever see my art, or I don’t want it to be all about me, me, or me. Those are three common reasons speaking to artist friends who have been through this too. But there are many other reasons and often we don’t recognise what those reasons are, but they are reasons enough to stop us from doing what we need to do. 

So it is really important as an artist to start thinking about what really might be holding you back from getting your artwork out into the world. For some it is fear that they are not an artist when the fact that they picked up a paintbrush in the first place and put their work out into the big wide world makes them an artist, for others it is simply about not being able to find enough time, and for others something completely different. 

I’m never surprised when I hear some really talented artists say that they never self-promote because they don’t have enough confidence in their work, or that people won’t like it, or that people won’t get it. None of those though are reasons not to get your work out there. The market needs to decide if your work is good or if they get it, or more specifically your people need to decide. 

When it came to promoting my work even just five or six years ago, I would sometimes hold back or not promote it if I thought there would be some amateur art critic who had read a few pages of a ‘For Dummies’ book who would call me out for being a digital artist. That’s not art, or if you don’t paint with oils or haven’t attended the Royal Academy you’re not an artist. I worried because I’ve been on the receiving end of some of this stuff in the past. 

I have always been primarily a digital artist who sells prints but I also paint using traditional tools too, and yes I did study art but not at The Royal Academy and I do still use a real paintbrush with real paint, on a real canvas occasionally too. I have also learned to extend my middle finger to the naysayers and move on. I just prefer to create digitally these days because that’s where my passion is and also it is where my primary market sits. I do sell the few originals I create on canvas with a brush each year but my primary market has always been in producing prints of my digital work.  So why do things like this hold artists back from doing what they need to do?

There’s always been that noise in the background saying that digital art isn’t an art form, that it takes less effort and that it is really, really, easy, so easy that even a five-year old can do it. Yeah, they say that about Jackson Pollock’s work too and don’t even get me started on assemblage and other art forms that are not seen as “regular art forms” as one amateur critic put it not too long ago, or “not real art” as another self professed art expert phrased it on Facebook. 

The assumption is that somehow I must never have touched the art or had a hand in its creation or put any of me into it, despite that my traditionally produced art can be almost always be produced in half the time it takes for me to create a digital work. Yet here I am writing this blog in between creating a new piece of art and working out exactly how to reproduce it as part of a limited edition series, all signed by me and all printed by me, and dispatched in packaging and taken to the local post office, all by me. 

It’s not just digital artists who hear this noise, many artists selling through print on demand or working as independent visual artists frequently get similar noise too. The noise that suggests that this is all just mass produced art, or consumer art, or decorative art, disposable art, and another hundred words that are meant to be derogatory. Maybe the art feeds into a certain market in the art world that isn’t represented by the gallery system, however you want to describe the works there are some extremely beautiful works from independent artists that are positively astonishing. 

It’s a really tough job when you are an independent visual artist. Just getting your work out there is a brave step for any artist but when you are an independent artist and have to do everything yourself it can become a whole heap tougher. If you start to think that you should for one second shy away from promoting your work at all, that will not only leave a particular market without art, but it will feed the naysayers who have had a huge voice for too long and your art will go unnoticed. The old adage of build it and they will come just doesn’t apply with art but the minute you put your art out there, these voices seem to turn up out of nowhere. 

The result for some artists is that buyers purposely avoid considering the work of independent and unrepresented artists because they don’t want the taint that comes with the kind of criticism that their art always seems to get from the naysayers and amateur part time and weekend art critics. They also stop buying because they start to believe that there is something inherently wrong with the art that they like. This makes the job of an independent creative even harder and the task of self-promotion even more difficult. Often we battle against all odds and then we have to battle with these voices who dismiss the work of independent creatives. 

What has any of this got to do with self-promotion? Well for me and others I know, these are just some of the reasons that sometimes stand in the way of doing any kind of self-promotion at all. We are inwardly afraid that we will be called out for not being represented by the gallery or not working in a particular medium, but these issues are not barriers, they’re perceptions from others that will be there whether we self-promote or not. 

It was only when I started to put these pieces of the puzzle together that I started to get anywhere near having enough confidence to put my work out there in ways that I hadn’t before. I had for years looked to the art world for help but I hadn’t looked for my people, the people who wanted to buy my work and who didn’t always want to buy from the gallery. I think certainly at the start of my career it was ingrained to an extent that to be taken seriously, an artist had to have the representation. I’ll happily take critique, but not when it’s totally missing the point or not recognising or respecting the market I’ve built up over many years, honestly you should do the same. 

That still didn’t wipe away some of the other fears I had about promoting myself and my work, but what it did was to tick something else off the list that I knew was holding me back from promoting my work in certain areas. The next bit though is where I really struggled, and to this very day it still often makes me feel uneasy. 

That next bit of course is that I never want to come across as being a pain, or a nuisance or even worse, being such a pain with constant self-promotion that the message I try to convey gets me, my message, or my work placed on mute.

Step back from this though and that might just be where the problem is. I don’t want to be a pain or a nuisance, or I don’t want to be spammy or pushy. There are a lot if I’s here and maybe, just maybe that’s where some of the problem rests. Perhaps we just need to talk about the “me” in a way that connects better with people. Of course art buyers do love to connect to the artist so this is difficult, but if buyers aren’t hearing the message because we are being placed on mute, then we have to start doing things a little differently and this is where telling the story becomes your best play.


kindness and respect for artists


Why tell the story?

Stories are how humans connect and remember things. Telling stories is a timeless human tradition from sitting around a camp fire to sitting in class at school. But alas the art of telling the story has been lost by many businesses who prefer to show a bunch of stats in a PowerPoint slide and have the presenter read what’s on the screen. Everyone else has read it before the presenter has and by the time the presenter has finished, the audience stop hearing the message.

Your story and the story of why you create what you create can only ever start with you. If you don’t know what that story is then how can anyone else ever know what that story is either? Imagine being represented by one of these mega galleries and the gallerist not having the first clue about your story. If they then have to fill in a lot of the blanks there is every chance that your story will become diluted or will turn out to not be your story at all. You have to let everyone know what the words are so that they can be amplified many times over in the same way.

The reason that you need to promote your work is obvious, that’s why you have read this far. It is because you want to sell your work or you at least want to get your work out there, and the only way to do this is to promote in a way that convinces people that they want to connect with you and your art. Stories connect people and listening to a story isn’t the same as listening to just another spammy post, so long as the story is honest and connectable. 

I have written many times before that we artists are not selling widgets that solve problems. Art has to solve a different kind of problem to the problem a widget has to solve, or it has to provide a value or a feeling or an emotion but knowing what it solves is not always obvious. The story is the key to triggering those emotions and reactions and ultimately convincing people that they want to own your work. In short, the story should inspire people to take a positive action, not put them off. 

We need to tell that story to the right people too. They need to be our people but finding those people isn’t easy and especially if you don’t have a story to tell them. When it comes to self-promotion what we often tend to do is go fishing. We bait the line with every kind of bait and the fishes swim by and never bite. That’s because they’re confused, they can’t smell the bait that will attract them because its smell is disguised by a hundred other scents or more often in our world, a million other social media posts. 

What we don’t need to always do with a story is talk about the “me” or the “you”, unless you have a great story about why you started to create art in the first place. Using the line of I started drawing at the age of three and knew then that I wanted to become an artist, well that’s way too similar to so many other stories and honestly, I can’t even remember being three. 

The story could be within the art that you produce. A friend of mine is obsessed with the weather, to the point that he can tell you exactly to the second when it is going to rain. His works are all related to the weather and they’re all connected to weather events, and the stories behind those events. Another friend creates art to remind people of where they grew up, not just the buildings and places but the things they used as a child, they toys they played with, and they all have a familiar feel. Behind every piece of art there’s usually a story, or a compelling reason why the artist wanted to create it but too often we forget the why and we forget to tell the story.

We can use lots of stories and build up an ongoing narrative too, but what we have to stop doing is thinking that self-promotion either has to be about only the me, or writing only the words, “24x30 oil, $300, IM me for details”. You need to switch the bait around and decide which fish you want to catch.

There are millions of reasons why we think art doesn’t sell yet in all my years in the business there are three things that have stood out more than anything else.

  1. Art doesn’t sell itself. Someone has to do that.
  1. Art doesn’t speak for itself. Someone has to do that.
  1. That someone starts with you.

So how does this all feed into a promotional strategy?

When we look around on social media we can see that there are many businesses making some noble attempts to self-promote whatever it is that they do or sell. Well we would see them if they were getting this bit right. For the most part they aren’t using the right bait and they’re certainly not using the right hook and the result is that we place them on mute and scroll on past. There are no hooks that keep eyes on the post, and nothing within them that engages us or makes the post stand out as being anything other than an advert. Sure they might use nice fonts, great images, and the posts might be technically brilliant, but there is still something missing that makes us want to move on and scroll past them.

Whatever all of these top five must do this or must do that websites always tell you and the only thing they generally agree on, is that you have to spend some real time building relationships and trust. I’ve mentioned this on this site more than a few times, especially when it comes to interacting in groups. 

Join a Facebook group at 7:03am and share your 20-latest works into that group by 7:05am and then you wonder why no one took the bait. This is like moving into a brand new house and without ever meeting the neighbours turning up and expecting them to invite a complete stranger in and then asking them to buy your work every time you both go outside and empty the trash. It might be nice to introduce yourself first, make sure that the neighbour isn’t some serial killer, that kind of thing, and start to build up the relationship.

I get it. Starting those conversations and engaging people is so difficult especially when people don’t want to engage back. This goes back to finding your people, and if engagement is a particular issue it might be that the message isn’t reaching your people in the right way. They are usually there but finding them can be hard, but if you have a story that your people can connect with it makes things a whole lot easier. 

There are lots of reasons why you should be telling the story of your art instead of just the standard stock lines which give people a link to follow you or to buy your work, or an explainer that points out the detail in the work or anything else. As an artist you rely on the visuals and whilst art can speak volumes on its own, it is the story of you and your art that will bear the most fruit. 

How do I start telling the story?

You might not only have a single story, you may have many that intertwine with you and what you do and your art, but you have to know what all of those stories are to begin with. Stories need a beginning, a middle and an end, and they need characters. The art is a character, you also play a role, but your potential buyers can be characters too. What you have to do is figure out what their role is and build them into the story. 

Each new piece of art may have a story attached to it that is completely separate from your personal story. You can introduce those stories into social media, sharing the progress and the processes used in the works creation. This provides that beginning, middle and end that all stories need yet what we tend to do most of the time when we release a new artwork is we entirely miss out the beginning and the middle and we go straight to the finale and provide a link to buy the work. 

There’s no story here and you will forever be relying on that one shared post as the basis for telling the story. There is nothing here that can be retold by others other than a link to buy the ending of the story. In my experience people never remember links that’s why they have bookmarks, but they often remember a story. When we go into a book store and purchase the latest best-seller, we move through the pages one-by-one, the suspense builds and we become invested in the characters before we read the very last page. We take in the whole story and we become more invested and we do that with films too.

The story might evolve over time, we never know how our stories will ultimately end but we mostly always know the story of our work. We might have a process or maybe even a ritual that we have to do before we start every piece of work, so that’s the beginning, now we just need the middle which might be the creative process and the inspiration, and then the end can be, and here’s the final creation which you can buy right here. Often, self- promotion is not even self-promotion at all, we just offer up the work for sale and we rely on nothing other than a low resolution thumbnail image to provide the bait because we skipped straight to the end.

There are other compelling reasons why we need to be telling the story. At its core storytelling is about making an authentic connection and when people become immersed within it they begin to pick out their own role or part within that story. That might be that they take on the role of the art buyer but they don’t have to be financially invested to be invested at all. This happen when they begin to engage with or share your work, they become invested on a deeper level, and they also become your people. If those people are sharing and contributing then this is especially important on social media because this is when they begin to tell your story and amplify it too and that can be equally if not sometimes more important than being financially invested.

Another reason to provide the story other than to connect with people is that once your posts and your promotion become more engaging, the posts become less and less like spam. If you are anything like me then you will be brutally aware that you don’t want to come across as annoying, and I know for some artists there’s a real worry that their posts on social media might end up being reported as being spam when they’re not. 

Self-promotion is difficult to pull off especially if you are anything like most people and your least favourite subject is you, but if you start telling the story then things become much easier and once you have that deeper connection with people it starts to become even easier still. In fact it becomes second nature and it becomes less and less about any kind of promotion or regular marketing that you are struggling with. You are at that point just having the conversation and continuing your story.


six things I need to do to sell more art

Try writing a list of the things you want to try to better market your art!


Finding the story…

Of course, all of this is easier said than done. Mostly people get why the story is just so important and the big brands have whole teams working on figuring out exactly what their stories are and how they will resonate with the public. We don’t have marketing teams and for most of us we might read this and start to think that we haven’t really got a story because our art is just something that we do. 

We forget that we are all interesting in some way. We don’t think we are because we live with our story every day, yet I don’t believe that there is anyone who doesn’t have a story at all. You might need to dig down and reach deep, and the story might have to evolve over many years, but you at least have the beginning. The story is an evolution that grows with you and grows with our art. 

Even if you can’t see exactly what our story is immediately, others probably can. What we can do is to start asking ourselves the questions. 

  • Why do I create what I create?
  • What is interesting and what isn’t about what I create and how I create it?
  • What do you hope people will feel when they view your work?
  • How have you evolved as an artist?
  • What makes you different?
  • What did you have to overcome?
  • What made things easy or difficult?
  • How did you get to where you are today?
  • What do you do that everyone else can relate to?

And that last one can be anything at all. When you build up a story and start connecting with people, you have to be relatable to those people. The mundane things that you do or what you think is mundane such as taking the dogs for a walk, those are the kinds of things that add to the story and prove that you are human. When people realise you are human they can start to connect. 

Whilst the questions above seem like a good place to start they are only a start. Your story is made up of lots of things that other people might notice about you and your work so it is important to figure out who and what they think you are too. It is at that point when you can start to add the meat to the bones and head towards telling the middle part of the story. 

Communicating the story…

Your story is a marathon, not a sprint. I have said for many years that we often promote a piece of artwork and we’ll maybe do this five or six times within the first few minutes and then we move on to the next artwork and we rarely if ever go back to any of the older pieces. 

If we move on so quickly then it should come as no surprise when viewers move on too. We have to remind them. Your story never really ends until it all ends and just like a soap opera we want them to tune into the next episode to see how it all plays out. If we are only promoting that one work once, then no one will go looking for it again. Sure they might stumble across it when they carry out a search, but unless it is part of your story then it will often fall to the wayside. 

Just occasionally we have to resurrect characters from our past story and play them into however the story is evolving today and that means not being afraid to share your old works. Yes I am sure we all have works that we produced back in the early part of our careers that we wouldn’t want to be reminded of, I know I certainly have, but we will also have works that have lasted the course and these definitely have a role to play in our story. One of my personal least favourite works is also one of my best-selling works, so I think sometimes as artists we probably aren’t always the best judges of our own works.

Many of the articles found online associate stories with brands. Being an artist is different to the way many brands work or the way many people think of branding, because essentially it is the artist and their style that creates the branding. But that doesn’t mean at all that we can’t apply some similar techniques when we are trying to tell our stories that the big commercial brands do though. 

We also need to remember that people do like some direction. If they see a social media post that initially hooks them long enough for them to read it, not clearly providing the actionable step that tells them what to do or where to go next is something that will put many users off. If they have to negotiate a link to a website that then tells them to go to another website, well people just don’t have that kind of time. We speak of calls to action but we sometimes forget to point people to the call to action or give them direction.

When we think of the number of decisions we all have to make each day, what we don’t want to be doing is making those decisions even harder to make. Back in 2013, Microsoft carried out a study that indicated that most people will lose concentration online within seven to eight seconds, unless there is enough of a hook to keep them on the site. Before that and in 2012, Google did a similar study and found that most people judge a website in less than 50-milliseconds. That’s less time than it takes to blink. What this means is that we don’t have a lot of time to present that initial hook. 

I remember reading an article many years ago in the New York Times where they discussed something called cognitive fluency. I have zero idea where to even start with psychology, but the article I remember made a valid point. Cognitive fluency is a measure of how easy or difficult something is to think about. The easier it is, the quicker a positive decision can be made.

So with this in mind, we should be taking much more notice of things like cognitive fluidity when we create our social media posts. Of course we do have to be really careful that we never turn our social media posts into click-bait or the concern that we will end up getting banned from the social platforms becomes a distinct possibility, but we should definitely focus on making our posts simpler and part of the narrative that makes up our story. 

Over the years I have written many times that we should be using social media to provide value other than marketing and we have discussed the 80/20 rule where much of your content should be value rather than sales driven, but I think that times have changed a little. I still think there is a place for only using social media for marketing for some of the time, but a majority of the time it can be used for the indirect marketing as well as adding value. The indirect marketing could be about creating and telling your story and that doesn’t have to always link to the buy here link. 

The problem of course with this is that it is a slow burner. Content strategies and delivering great content takes time to evolve and it’s not at all helped by the fact that social media platforms such as Facebook keep nagging us to post more content. We all get the notifications from our Facebook business pages that XX number of people haven’t heard from you in a while and that you should post something, but I am a firm believer in that if I were reading my page, I would want to be reading something interesting instead of something posted in response to the nag. Posting content becomes way easier once you are in the habit of posting great content. You might post less, but what you do post should be compelling and engaging. 

The real art of self-promotion…

Here’s the thing. There are no short cuts or any magic tricks that will make it easy to promote your work, and especially on social media. The pay to play option isn’t the short cut to likes and riches that many people think it is either. If you are paying to boost ads and you don’t have relevant content that provides the hook and the story that keeps the audience engaged, you literally are throwing money away. 

There’s also something around thinking that a token gesture of paying a one off twenty bucks for exposure to the likes of Facebook will give you a head start. From experience twenty bucks isn’t going to scratch the surface and bring the results in that you need from a paid post and this is something I have been telling my clients for a few years now. To make a difference then you have to really pay to play, think of a number and multiply it by ten. 

You also have to master the dark art of the paid ad. There are so many variables that will make or break a post when creating an advert that even if you did invest a lot of money, things can still go wrong. Get things like the target audience just slightly wrong or the image or the headline, it all becomes fruitless. 

From my own experience doing whatever you can to first create organic reach is the best strategy, and doing whatever you can that builds both engagement and relationships is a solid strategy. You also have to consider that there are many people who don’t have a social media account at all, in fact only about 20% of my own collectors use social media at all, so you also have to consider how you will reach them with your story too. 

But none of this is easy to do until you figure out what’s holding you back from doing what you need to do. Most of the issues such as not having enough time are challenges that only you can really address. The challenges that prevent you posting more regularly because you don’t want to be seen as spammy, well those are the challenges that become much easier when you have something less spammy to post. 

The challenges we all have around finding our core markets and our people, they can be overcome through building relationships and building trust. The challenge of doing this all within the next five minutes, well that’s never going to happen. 

So here’s the takeaway for today. Figure out what it is that you think is holding you back, figure out what the beginning of your story looks like, and then persevere with building those relationships and trust. When you start doing that self-promotion is no longer self-promotion, it becomes about connecting with your people, and they’re the ones who will confirm when you get this bit right. 


merry Christmas from mark and Beechhouse media


Merry Christmas…

So that’s all for another year. I will be taking a week off over the holidays but will no doubt be around on social media! 

I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you who have supported me over the past year. A special thanks to those who bought me a coffee, and who purchased my art, but I also want to thank every single independent visual artist for making my days brighter with your art.

I’m a big believer in community and that is something that I always get the feeling of whenever I am on social media. The encouragement that you give to me and to each other is heartening to see, and for those who read this blog week after week, you are all a part of that community too. 

My one New Year’s resolution for 2019 is to try my hardest to help independent visual artists to succeed however I can, and to give them a voice. But for now, I wish you all the very best for the holidays and very best wishes for a successful 2019 too.

Mark

xx 

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes towards to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com 

You can also follow me on Facebook at: https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia 

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here.

Comments

  1. Mark, Many thanks for all of your wonderful work, most appreciated. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, have a great one..cheers!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much Jane, and thank you for all of your support too. So deeply appreciated. I hope you have a beautiful Christmas and a hugely successful New Year oh, and please get your work on display in the Tate, it’s where it deserves to be. xx

      Delete
    2. Such a compliment, very kind for you to say that MA. I'll try :)

      Delete
    3. We’ll start a campaign if we need to!

      Delete
  2. No kidding...I have better think faster, work quicker and act like one :))

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did over 300 pieces one year, now I’m lucky to do 30-40. I need to get faster too!

      Delete
    2. Oh wow, '300' that was incredible MA.
      I stayed consistently 90-100 pieces per year except for last couple of years down about half. Need to refine my daily ritual.

      Delete
    3. 90-100 is brilliant Jane, especially for your creations. They’re always such a joy

      Delete
    4. Thanks Mark. When you were in the zone everything seems to flow and easy.
      Well, I am half way through Christmas and half pissed too. I hope you are having a wonderful festival and great success in 2019. xo

      Delete
    5. Thanks Jane, it’s just after 06:30am here and I’m checking emails and doing some creating while I wait for everyone to wake up! Later though I’ll be having a few sips of whiskey and will end up fast asleep watching a James Bond film! Have a truly blessed Christmas and a fabulous New Year! Xx

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great article I will refer to this in my own blog Mr. Taylor if you don't mind, Some great points here

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many thanks Arthur, and you are most welcome! Glad you found it useful!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts