One of the biggest obstacles to overcome as an artist is self promotion. How do you market yourself as an “unknown” artist without sounding wanting, desperate, overly critical of your own work or just boring? The term “starving artist” has become way too common and seems to have been instantly associated with anyone who dreams of creating art. I personally know it’s a BS term, and I hope to show you why here.
My father has been an artist before I was born. Growing up I saw him sit in his studio every day and create amazing illustrations for different clients. I always thought that was the coolest thing ever. I can tell you that growing up, I never wanted a regular job…
He literally got paid to create art. He supported 3 boys as a single father. While there were some hard times, we never went without.
He was able to do this because he had an agent. He started his career way before the internet was even a thing. His agent had a ton of connections in NYC and fortunately for my dad, he was a talented artist who was able to hit deadlines. There were many nights when my father worked until the sun came up finishing rush jobs for clients.
This earned him a great reputation in the magazine industry and he became a go to guy for a number of high profile magazine, newspapers and other publications.
Where am I going with this….
Well, after decades of working with his agent, my father found out she had pocketed over $10,000 in owed commissions from work he had done. Also he was never going to see that money because the agent didn’t have it to give to him.
Needless to say, after he found this out he no longer had an agent.
After 20+ years as a professional illustrator, my father had to start negotiating his own deals. He also had to start marketing himself as an artist to potential clients. The print industry in the late 90’s and early 00’s was not what it was in the past. With the introduction of digital art programs, a lot of my fathers consistent clients went digital as well… and at that time he wasn’t a digital guy.
Learning to sell myself
I watched my father struggle with selling himself to clients. He had an insane portfolio of work and great reputation, but he had a soft spot (like many artists) when it came to being firm on his pricing. There were plenty of nights where he was working on projects that he undersold himself on.
As his eldest son, I heard all about it. As a solutions based thinker (even at a young age), I promised myself I would learn how to market and sell myself.
After a number of failed entrepreneurial attempts at running my own business (I was 20 something and partying more than I was working), I got involved with a company that sold art and promised to teach me how to sell. At the time it was a perfect fit.
I learned the (now almost dead) art of door to door/ business to business sales. I literally loaded framed prints and photos into my ’92 Honda Civic and went door to door selling them.
While this may sound like the worst thing in the world, it taught me a lot about myself. I worked day and night perfecting my approach, how to read people, how to read a situation, and most importantly how to ask for the money.
I was able to travel all over the US and make money. I broke sales records. I was the top sales person in the country 4 years in a row. I trained some of the top sales people in the country. I was selling art and making money.
During that time I was able to build long term client relationships with all different types of business owners, decorators, furniture stores, home stagers, etc. It was awesome.
We had the best price on framed art and while the approach was unorthodox, the people that bought (usually) loved us.
But like any good thing; the business model started to die.
Rising gas prices, internet art print stores and cheap knockoff art in discount home decor stores, business politics and a failure to adapt to the new market quickly killed our business model in a few short years. After 15 years of hardcore sales, I shut down my business.
Understanding your digital presence as an artist
Prior to the imminent demise of our business, I started learning new things about the internet. I learned how to build sites, create videos that converted, sales funnels, and just about everything there was to learn about digital marketing. I started putting out videos on YouTube and at first they were terrible… but after a video challenge where I had to make 50 videos in 7 days; I got the hang of it.
I also started loading up my own art that I painted and selling it. I would take a weeks work of art, frame it or stretch it onto mounted; then put it in my van and sell it. I was able to quickly make a couple grand a week off my own art.
I created a website to sell my art, and given what I learned doing SEO, I ranked the site with ease. I was getting calls for art and custom commissions every week.
With my new found success with selling my own art, and doing all the digital stuff; I started doing videos teaching all this and eventually launched a course that trained in all of this.
Overcoming the pitfalls of technology and being creative
While the course launch went well, and I had over 3 dozen artists from around the plant join; there was still an obvious block for some of the artists involved.
The block was technology.
Quite a few of the artists in the group had a hard time creating a website. Customizing themes, optimizing themes and writing content about yourself is a real pain.
I can honestly say that writing content about yourself is the toughest thing got me. It’s taken me years to be able to write something like this and it generally comes in waves of inspiration.
It took me a few years to figure out how to properly do this. Having a local listing is crucial to your art business.
Right now there are people in your city who are looking for an artist to commission or purchase from, and if they cannot find you they are going to spend their money elsewhere. Having a local listing on a site (like LOCAL ART SHOP) is a great way to grow your following, support other artists and attract clients in your area.
I built this out with the technologically challenged artist in mind.
I wanted a cool name and an easy to use platform… and now I have it.
This is me giving back to the art community.
Take it, run with it and don’t forget to pay it forward.