Being Smart about Selling Art

Being smart about selling art…

Smart about selling art cover image

I regularly write a new article for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artist Hangout and The Artists Lounge. This week, we take a look at some of the practical things to think about when running an art business and keeping your buyers up to date.

The ‘new’ normal…

I hope you are all staying safe and well this week, as we enter yet another period of not quite knowing what a new normal will ultimately be. There is one staple we can rely on and that is the collective ability of artists to do what they do best and produce great art. I’m not sure if it’s just that some might have a little more time on their hands to produce more work or whether artists are taking the time to reflect more about what they do and rethink their creative process. Lately, there has been some outstanding work appearing from artists who work in all sorts of genres, styles and mediums that have suddenly become even more meaningful. A lot of artists really do seem to be doing some of their best work at the moment.  

It really is fantastic to see that so many artists are spending time doing their creative best, but I know from just a few of the many conversations I have been having over the past couple of months with fellow creatives and friends, that for some, times are a little more challenging than usual, not that they’re ever not challenging when it comes to art.

The light in all of this might seem too far away at the moment but if art history has taught us anything, it is that the resolve of artists is a powerful force. The art world hasn’t stopped completely, some markets have been hit a little harder than others and there is a divide between those who continue to get paid throughout the crisis and those who don’t. There’s economic uncertainty, both with artists and buyers and my message this week is very simple, if you can afford to make even a small purchase from an independent visual artist, no matter how large or small, it will mean more than anything to them right now. It gives them a boost financially, but more importantly, it will give them a boost of motivation too. The world needs artists and strong economies need artists too.

Peace Art by Mark Taylor
Peace, by Mark Taylor - One of my latest creations and available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Collectively, the art world has changed over the past few months, some of this change was always inevitable but expedited by the pandemic, the signs were there but hindsight is a wonderful thing if only we had it before the event and not after. Galleries that were once brick and mortar have had to turn online, artists who relied on shows and exhibitions have had to pay out for their now-cancelled spaces and live in the hope that they will get something back, and whilst some markets that had a head start by already being online might be faring better than most and while some of these are definitely thriving, we also have to remember that the art world has never been just one thing. It is many markets, many genres, many art forms, and many other sectors in which, many people are involved.

Artists and those involved in the arts have had to become more agile more quickly and have had to think even more creatively beyond their work, and while art buyers are still out there, they’re not necessarily there in the same numbers in all markets. That’s not some magical art market science, it’s what happens whenever the economy shifts. The numbers begin to change, sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. This is the time when it really helps if we can read the room. Sadly, there is no playbook for this particular period in time, at least not one that will fit every business.

Instinctively, discounts appear but they’re not always useful even in a recession, alternative products that are offered at a lower cost might be a more creative way to go, but knowing what products to offer means that you already need to know your market and not every artist will have enough market information to guide them through and sometimes offering an alternative isn’t even an option. It’s not just artists, many small business owners will be going through similar experiences and making difficult choices. When this happens, it becomes about listening to what’s said by your usual market, and listening even more intently to what’s not said. As I said, buyers are still out there but for the most part, they’re going to be even more difficult to find and we are going to have to work even harder to find them, more than that, we shouldn’t be thinking about giving up.

Courage artwork by Mark Taylor
Courage - One of my latest creations and available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

The usual issues around making sure you have a sensible and justifiable pricing strategy still apply, and it’s important to look beyond the crisis too. Reduce the cost of your work significantly now and by the time the crisis is over that could very well be your new normal. Pricing art is always complex, but there is one stable thing that will still apply, the reason people already buy your art instead of anyone else’s. Not only is that something you always have to understand, but it is also even more important that you maintain a minimum of the status quo in terms of quality, those people should still want to buy your art even if they currently can’t afford it.

Artists are having to show levels of resolve and business acumen that they never knew they had and it’s really interesting to see artistic creativity is being manifested in so many different ways even away from the canvas. But if work isn’t selling and buyers aren’t buying, it is easy to slide into a mindset that it’s game over. This is a regular thought process that happens in normal times and it is one that puts us in danger of not seeing the wood for the tress.

The usual problems of work not selling still exist, they’ll just be compounded by the situation we are in with the pandemic and the economic situation that comes with it. You still need eyes on the work, your marketing still has to speak to your audience who you have to kind of already know, and when your marketing has provided the hook, you still have the job of selling it, those two things are definitely not the same. If those factors aren’t in place then your business essentially reverts back to being a hobby. Essentially, whatever you were doing before the crisis to move your art is even more important today. Now is just not the time to wait it out, you still have to keep moving in every direction you can.

Now is not the time to give up on your art. The world needs art more than ever, even if not so many people can afford to own it right now. Those who can, will continue to buy, those who can’t might just save what they see to a wish list, and in between, there will be those who will find some joy in just looking, those eyes count too. We need to be flexible enough as artists to accommodate all three.

What now is, is unprecedented and a time when you have to take more positive actions than inactions, it is a time when we really do have to choose what we do in these circumstances and ideally make a choice of being proactive, something that is difficult if your market suddenly isn’t there. It’s demotivating at the best of times, but that’s why it is important to give people the same reasons to buy your art over someone else’s and there’s no harm in giving them a few more.

 Taking Control…

Just as in normal times, we have to take control of our art careers. If markets for your work didn’t exist before, the crisis isn’t going to help, you still need to find out what the missing piece of the ‘buy my art’ jigsaw is, but there are things that get forgotten about that could just tip the balance. Do your customers realise that you are still able to operate while the rest of the world is closed for example?

Facebook, Google My Business, Bing for Business and other platforms are currently offering mechanisms to help you to provide updates during the pandemic. If you change any part of your usual operations during the lockdown then it’s essential to let people know that you are or aren’t currently still taking orders or getting work sent out.

Update your social media channels and let people know what you are up to. Facebook even has some templates available for you to use on your business page, each designed to grab attention and provide critical business updates, and updates are vital if you are currently in a position where your deliveries might be a little slower than usual.

Faith art by Mark Taylor
Faith by Mark Taylor - One of my latest creations and available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Customer behaviour changes all the time even during non-pandemic times. It’s one of the many reasons why it’s always important to study your market and make small iterative changes to adjust to whatever their new behaviour is. Online is more vital than ever and this is where buyers will be heading to figure out if they can still make a purchase, so it’s important to make sure that your website is updated to reflect any changes to your work hours, availability, shipping options and speeds, and to just keep in touch.

Setting up a YouTube channel not with the intention of monetising it but to provide information about your business will add some more value and could even introduce new buyers to your work. Everyone seems to be doing the tutorial at the moment and whilst they’re useful, they’re only useful to those who want to have a go at what you are showing them and I think this is where some of the channels I have seen recently have become a little confused.

There are key differences between showing your process on video and showing people exactly how to create what you create. You might want to share tips, a tour of your studio, or anything that might spark some interest in what you do, but before you decide on anything, you do have to be clear about what ultimately it is that you want to get out of producing a series of videos.

If your intention is to introduce people to your art in the hope that they will buy it, a tutorial might seem a little disjointed and confusing. I must have looked a dozen or more videos over the past couple of weeks and from what I could see, the intention was to sell the work of the artist but this was difficult to spot because the call to action to buy that work felt more like an afterthought, the message was hard work to decipher despite the tutorial being very good. Here’s how you can create my work and by the way, here’s where you go to buy my work which leaves the viewer with a question, do you want me to make it, or do you want me to buy it?   

I speak to a lot of artists who think that the YouTube approach is some golden panacea of attracting new views, the thing is, it’s not but it can be. It takes time to get to the point of monetisation, and for the level of viewers you need to maintain that monetisation it will quickly become a whole heap of hard work that you will need to find the time for.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go down the YouTube route, in fact, I think it’s a great idea and I really wish I had the time to go there myself, but you do have to prioritise and be clear about what it is that you want to achieve. If you ultimately want sales, then you kind of have to ask for them rather than going around the garden path a few times and adding your sales channel in as an afterthought.

Hope by Mark Tyalor
Hope by Mark Taylor - One of my latest creations and available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Get an accountability buddy…

Did you get everything on your to-do list completed last week? I have to admit that it was a struggle but I did fulfil a promise I had made to myself that I would release a complete series of works I had been working on for what seemed like an eternity, in one go. It wasn’t that I finally got myself organised or just because I took a couple of days away from the day job, those days were spent redecorating the lounge and the kitchen, it was that my accountability buddy FaceTimed me and asked me where I was at with getting the work finished and releasing them as a collection.

I really don’t think those works would have been completed and released for another couple of weeks had I have been left to my own devices. The temptation to binge-watch another episode of whatever on Netflix is hard to resist at times like this, it becomes easier to get distracted or sucked into the news.

I have written about having an accountability buddy before, they can be a powerful motivator that you can’t easily hide away from. It’s way harder to hide when someone looks you in the eye even through a virtual lens, asking you how much progress you have made, or reminding you that you made a pinkie promise three weeks ago to get that one difficult project completed.

An accountability buddy is more than just a friend who takes some joy in reminding you that you are falling behind, it’s someone who can also be the critical eye, someone who will tell you how it really is, who can give you a little encouragement and occasionally a well-done, and equally, you have to do the same for them. It’s essentially a micro-network of two people who need to get stuff done without the luxury of being able to hit the snooze button to delay the inevitable for the next ten minutes or ten weeks in the absence of having a traditional boss.

Be smart with your time…

Working From Home (WFH for those of us who are old hands at this stuff) shouldn’t at all mean that there is no delineation between home life and work and that’s something that I always make a point of whenever I talk to new artists. You have to set very firm boundaries between home time and studio time if you are going to make this work in the long-term and that is especially important now.

Managing time is another area an accountability buddy can help with, mine frequently reminds me that I’m only human, something we forget when we say yes to completing a commission by Saturday.

Life art by Mark Taylor
Life by Mark Taylor - One of my latest creations and available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Finding Motivation – forget it, find action instead…

It can be challenging to work from home, there are always plenty of distractions. Someone pops their head around the door to ask if you have a spare few minutes to take a lid off something and before you know it you are playing catch up for the rest of the day. It can be challenging to work in a silo too, and the moment we start to feel less motivated to do something, it’s the moment when procrastination can set deeply in.

I think as artists we do need a little procrastination time, it can help with the creative process, as can learning how to be properly  and productively bored. We have to find a mechanism that allows us to escape completely, but we also need to make sure that we are setting boundaries with the time we hand over to doing that too.

We might feel as if we want to paint but we can’t put our hands on the motivation that we need to make a start, maybe we don’t really want to paint when that happens, we think we do but maybe the question is, are we just obliged to think we do?

When procrastination sets in we always turn to inspiration and motivation. Sure, they’re kind of important, but I have a feeling that there are two other things we need to find first, persistence and patience. Procrastinate by all means but stop when you reach the boundary you set in terms of time you give up to do it, and instead, do what the veteran WFH’s have done for years, just get on with the job.

It might seem like a chore to just make a start on something that you don’t feel completely inspired to do, but so is pushing a broken-down car. The momentum gains after the first push or two and the weight of the car helps to propel it forward, that’s something to do with some science thing apparently, and it’s the same kind of thing in art, you gradually fall back into the all-important ‘zone’, but only if you take that immediate action to do something that gets the momentum working with you.

Love art by Mark Taylor
Love by Mark Taylor - One of my latest creations and available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Where to start is knowing when to stop…

There is a lot that you need to do as an artist, so much so that it can be difficult to know exactly where to start. What has helped me over the years has been to recognise the time when I am at my most productive in doing something or nothing and know when I am better off doing whatever it is I do well at a certain time and recognising the time in the day when I am at my least productive and then being good at doing nothing, as I said earlier, we can be productive doing not much of anything if we learn how to become properly and productively bored.

I know that my best time in the day to be creative is immediately after I have got the big stuff that I don’t really like doing out of the way first. It’s easier to get into that all-important creative zone when you haven’t got the dread of doing something you don’t like doing hanging over you. Once I make a creative start, my time is protected rigidly. The phone is muted and stays in a different room, and everyone in my house knows that there are only two reasons to disturb me, either it’s snowing, or it’s a matter of life and death, everything else can wait, except the dogs, the dogs can disturb me whenever they want.

Protecting time not only makes you way more productive, it also allows you to take a deeper dive into your creative self so that you can incubate your thoughts and this, in turn, will help you to open your mind a little more to completely new things. When you can achieve that kind of mindful state even your downtime becomes a lot more productive.

Knowing when to stop is important too, you might have one of the most flexible careers you could ever hope for, but you also have to remember that all work and no play will drain your creativity faster than pulling the plug out of the bathtub. I know I have written about making sure that you look after yourself so many times before, but know this, I will never stop reminding you.

When you rely on creativity to earn a living, protecting the mind that produces that creativity is absolutely key. Lose the one you have and you won’t be able to Amazon Prime a new one. Mind matters.

Structure really helps, it helps with putting things into context too. Hard decisions might have to be made more quickly at the moment but you do have to think about tomorrow, next week, and more importantly, your legacy. You have to take a break occasionally and you do have to stick to the hours you can comfortably do. The whole idea of life as an artist shouldn’t be to artificially increase the number of hours in a day, it should be to focus on your art, the business of your art, and make sure that you still have a life beyond that too. Yes, you have to earn a living and WFH is full of distractions and ooh, shiny, but it does have to be sustainable too.

If you have any tips for staying productive during the pandemic, leave a comment below and let us all know! Until next time, stay well, stay safe, and always stay creative!

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.   

 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! You can also view my portfolio website here

 You can also follow me on Facebook here, 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 here.

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so at my new Go Fund Me link right here

Any donations received will be used to ensure I can continue writing independently for independent artists as my art sales via Pixels and Fine Art America and donations via Go Fund Me are the only way I monetise these pages so I don’t have to fill them with irrelevant ads or ask you to sign up via a paywall!

Comments

  1. Livestreaming is a good source too. I know a lot of talented artists that pay the bills painting live on Twitch and YouTube. But the same rules apply. The motivation and desire have to be there and it's a slow burn. But it is Multitasking to the next level. When I am livestreaming I am talking about my art, let people know what is available, picking up design commissions, and creating content. But most importantly creating new art. Livestreaming to me is the modern storefront. I can have an interpersonal connection with my collectors, design clients and friends without the overhead of a brick and mortar store or gallery cost. The future is now.

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    1. It is definitely a slow burn! If you get the messaging right it makes a huge difference to the numbers, just wished that YouTube would help the smaller creators a little more. I noticed they made a change to one of the tabs which is a start but it’s still two clicks too many for good UI. I’ve seen your live streaming (presuming that’s you Joshua!) and you absolutely nail it, no confusion at all. You’re one of only two YouTube channels I subscribe to, and believe me, that says a lot! Keep doing what you’re doing my friend!

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