Matt Glover over at Chewing Pencils had a quick tip last Tuesday about combining what you know with what you draw.
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From his experience as a cartoonist, blogger, and pastor, he’s found that his best cartoons are based on subjects he’s familiar with – for him, church, the internet, and blogging. As you can imagine, this leads to some pretty unique cartoons. (And I would guess sermons as well.)
The niche he’s made for himself with his subject-specific cartooning got me started thinking about how that same idea also applies to fine artists.
Many artists get discouraged when their art doesn‘t sell or when they get turned down by galleries. Is it because they’re not good enough? Maybe, but more likely it’s because their art is inconsistent, without a unifying theme for the whole body of work. In other words, they haven’t clearly defined their niche.
To be successful, an artist should either make art in a particular style, about a particular subject, or by distinct series.
For instance, if you’re an artist that consistently paints in an Impressionist style, you’ll be able to market your work directly to galleries that most often show that type of paintings. You’ll also still be able to paint any subject matter that you like, since your identity as an artist comes from the way you paint.
The downside is that if your style is common (like Impressionism) you‘ll face a lot of competition from other artists. Many times artists find that it’s easier to succeed by making their particular style quirky or offbeat, but skill in a traditional style can certainly lead to success just as well.
On the other hand, if paintings are all related by subject, the way you promote your work will directly influence how successful you are. Instead of only submitting to galleries, you should find people that are already interested in your subject matter.
If you paint dog portraits for example, contact pet shops, local dog shows, dog owner groups, breeders associations and so on. Their desire for your paintings (or willingness to exhibit them at events) will not be based on an interest in art, but because of their interest in dogs. As a bonus, these types of artists often receive commission requests once their niche becomes known.
Of course you may then be pigeonholed as an artist who can only paint dogs (or whatever your subject is) and the galleries might ignore you because of that. Luckily, specializing in subject matter sometimes eliminate the need for galleries anyway.
A third option is to create individual series that maintain a consistent style or subject for at least ten to fifteen paintings. That’s enough for a solo show and means you’ll have a better chance of getting into galleries. Plus, having multiple series available will broaden your appeal among the different types of galleries you submit to.
For instance, I just recently completed a series of firefighting paintings which has a strong niche appeal, and I’ll be moving on to something different, next. The problem of course, is that it’s harder to become identifiable with the general public, and you may have to depend on new buyers for every series you create.
The bottom line is, if you want to earn a living as an artist, take a good look at the kind of art you’ve been making and see where your passion and skills are. Then choose for yourself what kind of artist you want to be. Pick a medium that you like (and are good at) and a subject or style that you think you’ll enjoy for a while.
If you stick with those decisions you‘ll not only see specific art skills develop, but your improved artistic identity will leave you better able to exhibit, promote, and sell your work.