Finding Your Voice

Finding your voice

finding your voice title image
Finding Your Voice As an Artist

I regularly write new articles to support independent visual artists and members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Directory, The Artists Lounge and The Artist Hangout. This week, we find our voice and look at how we should be striving to become the master storyteller when it comes to marketing our art!

The Gateway To Your Art…

When it comes to using words to attract the eyes of art buyers, can you think of anything more important than capturing their attention? Once you have it, you can begin to tell the story of your art, you can begin the process of marketing and you can ultimately ask for the sale. But when you don’t have their attention, well, the potential buyer moves on and your art gathers dust.

Art doesn’t sell itself and it only speaks to the viewer if the viewer is tuned in to the same frequency as the artwork. The art and the buyer need to become connected in some way. In my last article, we looked at how colour plays a pivotal role not just in the composition of the artwork but also in everything that is related to it. The psychology of colour can guide and persuade the viewer to connect and maybe even make the purchase. It can make the viewer feel an emotion, it can change the story, provide drama or add calmness, it can also be the difference between a sale and no sale. Words can be even more powerful, words are how we naturally engage and persuade.

As artists, we use words all of the time. We have to write descriptions that engage the viewer, we document our processes, and if you don’t, you should. We might even add some beautiful typography into the work to reinforce a message or further explain the story that we are trying to tell. When we create posts on social media we have to wear even more hats, those of being the artist, a narrator, a marketer, and a master storyteller and we have to learn the subtle art of knowing when to let people in and deciding just how far.

Coastal Flight art by Mark Taylor
Coastal Flight by Mark Taylor - Available on my Pixels Store and Fine Art America! The first in my brand new series of land and seascapes!

Words are what we use to tell people about our art and if we didn’t use them, how would anyone know our art exists? If they do find your work by some off chance, how will they know it is for sale if we don’t tell them? As an artist our primary role isn’t always a role of creating beautiful images, nor is it always attending artsy events where we mingle with eager buyers even if we are socially distanced while sipping prosecco and nibbling canapes. Those are important things, although to be fair, I have never loved canapes, but those things are not always what we do in the pursuit of selling our work. To do a lot of what we do when it comes to marketing our work, we require the use of words, either verbally or written.

We can tell our stories through a blog, a podcast, we can even become presenters hosting our own channel on YouTube or we can post our work on Insta or the Facebook thing, but as a long-time blogger, I can tell you categorically, that simply posting something is often never enough. It’s not enough to have great content or fabulous art, it’s not enough to work all of the hours in any given day, if you are not telling people that you and your art, your blog, your podcast, your whatever are there and where to find them.

YouTube, blogs, websites, art, they’re all destinations, those are the places we want people to visit but until we tell those people where to find those places and give them direction and a compelling reason to visit, no matter how many hours you put into the venture, no matter how hard you work, no matter how great that work, without those first words of ‘I am here’ and ‘this is who I am’, no one will know you are there.

Words are important, our first words even more so, and once those first words are spoken we have to repeat them time and time again. Directing and guiding visitors to a destination, to a story, to our channel, our art, and when they begin to care about you and your work, they will arrive at a destination where it becomes slightly easier for them to arrive at a decision. I have said this over and over, art is a process of repeating things that work and learning from the things that don’t, that goes for marketing our work too.

Art rarely if ever sells itself no matter how good or bad it is. The artist sells the work, and if the work is in a gallery, the gallery then takes a little but nowhere near all of the burdens away. But even then, the artist had to sell themselves and their work to the gallery before the gallery knew the artist and their work were there. In short, no matter where your art is placed, you have to tell everyone exactly where it is and that applies to everything you do, be it art, content, a podcast, a website or a blog.

Build it and they will come. Sadly, they won’t. They won’t because we haven’t told them what it is or where it is, we haven’t told them about the value, we haven’t persuaded them, we haven’t spoken those first words that entice the viewer to take a glance, we didn't give them a hook. Here I am, and here is my art, here is who I am, and here is the value I can bring. If we haven’t said it, we can’t repeat it and no one can find us. Once you have told them, tomorrow you have to tell them all over again.

How you do this is by using the tools that you have to hand. Conversation, engaging with people more broadly than hi, here’s some lovely art. Networking, and building up relationships and trust, engaging and being around when no one else is, those things are a given when you attempt to sell anything. None of this is solely predicated in the online world, actually meeting people (obviously where we’re allowed to in these strange times), networking at events, communicating with others in the industry and beyond, and getting yourself noticed in a positive way, are all viable strategies in introducing those first words and then continuing to share your story.

Adrift on a building Sea Art by Mark Taylor
Adrift on a building Sea Art by Mark Taylor -  Prints available through my Fine Art America and Pixels Stores!

The leaflet drop as old school as it sounds is still one of the best ways of engaging the local population, if you are online, build up relationships and trust before you attempt to go into full-on marketing mode. Build relationships with respected websites, write an article for the Huff Post or ask to write a guest blog, comment positively on artists blogs and gain the trust and respect of bloggers, ask questions of your audience and of your peers, and never think for one moment that buying your way to the top of a search engine is a good strategy, it’s most definitely not, the algorithms in use today know when that happens and they don’t like it.

Traffic to anywhere online today is hard to come by until you begin to get returning visitors who specifically want some of what you have, you then have the massive task of keeping them on-board. SEO is becoming more complicated than it has ever been before and there is no long-term golden panacea that can be promised by the SEO experts unless it includes some element of agile SEO. That means analysing and responding almost in real-time to the whims of the search engine algorithms and that’s not really a task for the faint of heart or an artist with 5,000 descriptions of their images. The smart route is building up some good old organic trust, and doing that online, offline and everywhere in between, and not just providing some spam-like filler material. If the marketing effort doesn't reinforce the story, move on and come up with something that does. 

Your voice has to resonate beyond the “hey, I’m over here” or the overly dramatic social post, making sure that alt-tags are placed into your images online and on platforms such as Facebook, that your presence is made known in every email, and not sending out daily/hourly/minute-by-minute emails, and more than that, making sure that those who see you, remember you for the right reasons. Having a voice is telling the story of much more than just your art, and timing is everything.

Adrift Under the Northern Lights art by Mark Taylor
Adrift Under the Northern Lights art by Mark Taylor - Available from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

How do we find our voice?

Hard work and commitment are no guarantee of success, they’re just a couple of the many incidental costs of running a business and the minimum fee that you have to pay. Being good or great doesn’t guarantee anything either, not unless there is some mix of serendipity and synchronicity going on, and in art, even that can be a lottery.  

To find your voice, you have to be heard above the noise of everything and everyone else and you have to be heard repeatedly, over and over again. That’s not quite the same as posting the same message on social media over and over again, it’s also not quite the same as telling someone how great your art is over and over again, instead, it is about reinforcing the message of you, your art, the value you bring, and ultimately your brand, and giving people the confidence to want to care, over and over again. Just to complicate that a little more, you then have to reinforce that message, act on it, and then you have to make sure that message is listened to by the right audience.  

It’s also about telling your audience what they want to hear and giving them a reason to believe it. It’s about telling them what they didn’t know they wanted to hear but will be glad you told them. It’s about giving them something they didn’t know they needed along with something they absolutely knew they needed. It’s about giving them a value and a benefit that’s a bit closer to what they want than they could get from someone else. It’s about giving them exactly what they want and a little more, and it’s about selling you and creating that all-important connection. 

That’s not a single message, it’s a process and one that takes more than a day or a month to run through, and to set some expectations here, some brands can take decades to fully evolve. It is a sustained series of messages that reinforce you, your art and your brand, year after year, after year. It’s a long game, but hey, you could just spend those years doing what you already do and then try again later. The words you use to amplify that message should be the first words you ever use in business, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but the thing is, hindsight isn’t as important if you want to move forward from here on in, learning from past mistakes and remembering what doesn't work, those are things that will keep you hedging forward.

Adrift at the Golden Hour art by Mark Taylor
Adrift at the Golden Hour art by Mark Taylor - Available now from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Easy is easier to find than finding a voice. We are guided by our experiences, our peers, and in art, the gatekeepers, the purists and the rules that have never been written in some biblical stone. More than that, we are guided by what we have been told we need to do and how we need to do it, some inner voice is holding us back in fear of getting it wrong or at least, not quite getting it right.

Finding your voice means that you have to have a strategy that lets people know you are there in a way that they will remember you beyond today.

The brand of you…

We have a choice, we can use our voice to invite the market in, or we can stand aside and let others fill the void. There was a time when I would ponder if artists really are a brand or whether there was something deeper, and the more I pondered this, the more I began to believe that yes, absolutely, artists are their own unique selves and yes, they are their own brand. If you are not marketing the brand of you alongside your art, you will be missing out.

Branding is another one of those, not quite a golden panacea things. Sketching out a logo and calling yourself a brand firstly isn’t, going to make you a brand, and secondly, nor will it make you into an instant success or a great artist. Brands evolve and grow, building a reputation, trust, and relationships as they manifest into something that is recognisable as a brand. When you have it, the brand will always then be a juggling act between running a business and creating art.

The art of that particular balancing act is to work out who your audience is and what they might find more interesting about you and your work, what they might connect with, and equally, what they might not connect with so that you can at least avoid mentioning that. We need to remember that a brand is only as strong as the people who believe in it and your biggest role is to make sure that they continue to believe in it.

Branding is something that is way more difficult than it looks, that’s why big organisations have teams and entire departments filled with branding experts who know about things such as this cognitive bias thing that I have been talking about for the past few weeks. Even then, they don’t always get things right. The artist silo doesn’t really help the cause either here, our own cognitive biases might not resonate with our audience and the messaging, we want to present becomes lost in translation.

I have seen this over and over, a business which could be anything and everything other than an artist, or a business that is an artist, will decide to create a brand. They might spend some time doodling logos or will even go out and spend some big bucks on having a professional logo created, and then nothing. The brand falls flat and doesn’t do what the mind behind it intended it to do. A brand can fail because the mind behind it has no idea at all about what they intend to do. There are a heap of steps that need to be taken long before a pen is put to paper to sketch out the logo, yet the logo is something that is often the first thing that gets worked out and sometimes long before the idea of the business behind it is born. I have seen this time and time again with new clients who come to me to help them with a logo. When I ask the questions, how do you define what you do, and who are you, few have really thought it through.

A brand is another voice that should be in sync with the voice you use everywhere else. What message are you trying to convey, why do you create what you create, what makes you more unique than any other artist, what is your value add, what is your mission? How are you going to present this, and how do you do it in a way that resonates? 

These are the things that should be driving the logo, rather than a logo driving what you do, they define your business, they define you, they define people’s perceptions and influence their cognitive bias, these are the things that help to create your brand, these are the things that become your brand.

Adrift Under a Fading Sun art by Mark Taylor
Adrift Under a Fading Sun art by Mark Taylor - available from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores! 

A brand is more than a logo. It is the story, the output, and the social proof of the actions that you take and it should never confuse the audience. The moment it does that, your brand suddenly comes complete with a warning sign that says avoid, avoid, avoid. Confusion can kill dreams and businesses and there have been many casualties of this throughout the history of business and branding. Businesses and brands who can’t quite decide what they are, who they are, what they do or what they want, confuse the audience so the audience tunes out.

The business, the brand, or the artist, with a side hustle that’s about as far away as you can get from the core business defined in the brand, shouldn’t even try to meld the two together if they don’t have a logical fit. It becomes confusing and then the dream fizzles and fails. It’s the same thing that happens to many projects, but in a project management context, we would call it scope creep. Project managers around the world, I feel your frustration. Let’s add a wish list of unthought about bells and whistles and let’s do it in the exact same time for the exact same price, let's offer some of this and a mix of that despite there being no logical link between the two things. No, let’s redefine and agree what it now is and let’s adjust accordingly.

Branding is also about having consistency and being recognised for that particular thing or range of related things that you create or do. When you speak and use that voice, you have to use one voice each time, otherwise, the message becomes less clear and the result is either confused recipients of the message or it gets ignored. If you do multiple unrelated things, find the line that exists between them and keep the message clear. In short, wear one hat at a time, keep the messaging clear and leave any ambiguity at the doorstep. As a buyer/viewer/reader, the last thing I want to do is have to work out the what, the why, and the who.

Once you have the answers they will define exactly what and who the brand is, you have to have a belief in what you do and who you are. If your inner belief is that you want to make some fast cash or have an easy life just spending day after day with a brush and canvas while telling everyone around you how passionate you really are, you might very well have chosen the wrong industry and the art audience, in particular, will see right through it. If there’s one thing an art buyer can see beyond the painting, it is the heart and soul of the artist who painted it.

Adrift and Finally Free art by Mark Taylor
Adrift and Finally Free art by Mark Taylor - Thank you to the buyer from Germany! Now available as a print from my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

The rebrand of you…

Sometimes brands do go through a refresh, or more specifically they change the logo and might occasionally make a pinkie promise to themselves that they will try a little harder in the future. Rebrands are more than changing out logos, a logo change is little more than a change of aesthetics, a re-brand involves backing it all up and delivering.

Instead, think about branding as something that is born out of uncovering what makes you and your art unique, and think about who the target audience really is. Even if you have never sold a piece of art, you will at least have an idea of who might like what you do and that at least helps you to start the process of figuring out who your people might be. Remember, they're not everyone!

There are upsides to rebranding, but rebranding often means that an element of rebuilding is required too. The downsides though are plenty. I came across one business a few years back who rebranded, or more specifically, they refreshed their logo and changed the business name. Within a week they went back to the old way of doing things under the old name when they realised that their client's payment systems couldn’t be refreshed in time to pay the bill to a new company. Even though it was a name change, they hadn’t communicated it and so the company who needed to pay the bill couldn’t pay a company that officially no longer existed and there was a question as to whether the contract in place would still be valid. Ultimately it was sorted out but the lack of communication because of a refresh on a whim meant that payments were delayed and it cost the company a fortune to cut through the red tape.

Continue to tell the story… but make sure it is your story…

Any story will have a beginning, a middle and an end. Your story needs to focus on the beginning and the middle and how it ends will be dependent on how well you tell and how well you play out those first two parts. Finding a voice isn’t easy, telling your story can be challenging, and knowing what to leave in and what to leave out are art forms in themselves.

I mentioned earlier that the art gig might be the wrong industry if you are after quick cash, but that’s not to say that you have to forgo making more than a healthy living from your work, that’s exactly what you should be doing and you’re not selling out if you do it. 

Finding your voice and becoming the brand of you aren’t two magical formulas that become exclusively something that artists have to do, those things are the two things that every entrepreneur has to do. As an artist, becoming a brand is also about becoming an entrepreneur and standing out, being different, and not playing to stereotypes that really don't have a fit or aren't attractive stereotypes that the audience can buy into.

The issue for many would-be entrepreneurs, but I think a little more so in the arts, is that the biases we have collected over the years from listening to the “best advice of a snapshot in time” begin to manifest in ways where we become really comfortable in playing up to the starving artist stereotype or the equivalent starving-whatever in another business. It’s a romantic notion of what the arts are thought by many to be about, and again, reflective more so of a snapshot in art history.

Woe is me, life is hard, becomes the story we tell in the hope that it resonates with the biases or beliefs of others because of our own belief or bias. I think much of this is also about “culture in mind” where the associations most prevalent in our individual cultures shape the way we think and we then we believe we have to conform to a specific stereotype or follow a well-trodden path, we don't. Mind-blowing stuff when you think about it.

The issue is, that literally everyone has their own element or version of the ‘life is hard’ story. Yes, life is hard, that’s a fact and 2020 just keeps on giving. Many people have much harder lives than others and fitting into a stereotype because we think it will resonate, or because it’s a trendy thing to do, rather than authentically living or having to live the stereotype or close to it, really is a disservice to those who are going through more challenging times. 

Hard can certainly have a role in the story but we don’t have to use ‘hard’ or ‘starving’ to conform to a stereotype we believe we have to adhere to because we think buyers love that romanticised notion of a starving artist, whether it is down to bias or culture or because it is on-trend. Hard isn’t unique to you, your version of hard might be, but that’s only part of the story and it might or might not need to be told. In short, if the stereotype doesn’t fit, you don’t have to use it, you can instead, just be you.

Adrift on Still Waters Art by Mark Taylor
Adrift on Still Waters Art by Mark Taylor - Available Now!

Understand your own voice…

When you finally find a voice you have to understand it. Being an artist is about being prolific, figuring out how to be kind to yourself when you can’t seem to find the next idea. It’s fine to say I’m not inspired today, it’s fine to say, I’m not okay today, and when you do find your voice, there will be things that come along and poke you,  things that will maybe knock your confidence a little or a lot, that’s fine, you now have a voice to respond with.

I remember back in my early days of hawking my art around galleries and stores, I was turned down more often than a cheap hotel bed. I felt bad every time, but as you develop a voice it gets a lot easier to deal with these kinds of things, and as your voice develops, even more, you can begin to cast way more lines into the water. That’s why having a voice as an artist is important. When you have a voice you can begin to let people know about your story so that they can connect, you can begin to find your people, and you can then begin to sell your work, but you have to get out there, do something, and let them know that you and your art are there.

Adrift on Turquoise Waters art by Mark Taylor
Adrift on Turquoise Waters art by Mark Taylor - Available on a wide range of print options, home decor and gifts from my Pixels and Fine Art America stores!

Finally taking a vacation…

Hopefully, you will have found at least a little of this week’s article useful! When I first stepped out of the shadows of education and joined the art world I really didn’t understand just how much art buyers connected with the artist. It took me the best part of a decade to work it out, yet the signs had been there all the way through those first ten years. My advice to any new artist is to get out there and find your voice.

I hope everyone is keeping safe and well this week, I will be coming out of hibernation and taking a couple of weeks out to spend some time on a socially distanced beach, do a little fishing, and create some new artwork in Cornwall now the world is slowly reopening up. I will be taking advantage of the short window of British summertime that remains and will be hopefully capturing some of the most beautiful British countryside and coastal paths on camera and in paintings. More than that, I’m recognising that I probably just need to completely switch off for a couple of weeks and I’m not too sure how much connectivity I will have when I get there either so I may have no choice! Expect photos, and I am going to attempt to update this website from the middle of a field!

I have got a number of new works that I will be releasing over the coming weeks, and I have just started on a completely new series of land and seascapes! In the meantime, look after yourselves and each other, stay safe, and happy creating!

Mark x

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 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 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 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. wonderful read, and true words. I'm working on it. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Keep working on it and it will eventually grow louder and louder, just 1% louder than everyone else is more than enough to be heard! Wishing you every success. Mark

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