I read once that in order to be successful, artists need to spend 80% of their time marketing in order to sell the art they’ve created during the other 20%. I’m not sure how raising a family and living a life fits into these statistics, because I have yet to meet an artist with the time and know-how to put that kind of effort into marketing their art. Maybe that’s why no other profession is so frequently described as “starving”.
But when resources are tight, creative thinking must come into play, and as artists, we have lots of that. If we expend some of that creativity into our marketing and are willing to take a few risks, we can create opportunities for ourselves.
Not all of my marketing ideas have paid off, but I always try to learn something from them. As a result, I’ve put together a list of 6 “no-brainer” art marketing tips: these are small, simple things that cost nothing—or next-to-nothing—and yet often get missed by artists who are looking everywhere else to increase sales and build their reputation.
Here they are:
1. Build your Brand
Your art may be constantly changing, but you should have a consistent image or font that customers can identify—in other words, a logo. Online, you should use it in your website header and as your avatar or profile picture in whatever forums or social networks you’re involved in. Offline, it should show up on your business card, and be eye-catching and professional-looking.
Honestly, you’re better off with no card at all than one that hurts your image as an artist by looking cheap and unprofessional. And use that business card—keep it in your purse, in your vehicle, and glue one to the backing board of all your art for sale. I never sell a painting without my business card attached.
2. Understand your Angle
Part of branding is having an “angle.” Figure out what makes your work special and unique, and think about who would be interested in that.
Use keywords on your web site that highlight your focus and theme. Use a hit tracking program like Statcounter or Google Analytics to find out who visits your site and what keywords they used to get there.
For me, my years in Papua New Guinea and the paintings that came out of that time are the biggest traffic generators for my website because a painting titled “Papua New Guinea beach” is much more interesting than a simple beach painting.
For bloggers, you’ll want to keep your specific angle in mind as you’re writing, and come up with posts that consistently relate to that angle.
3. Use your Mailing List
I wish that I’d started a mailing list from Day One. It was only this year as I sent out my first mailing in years (and got an amazing response) that I realized how important it is to reach out to past clients and contacts.
When you think about it, past clients are your best advertising —it’s like their homes are galleries for your work! They’ll talk about their art with their guests, and they’ll be enthusiastic in recommending you to their friends. Additionally, when they choose to buy art again, they’re much more likely to buy from an artist they know and love (i.e., you!) than find someone new. Recognizing this buyer loyalty, and targeting it with postcard mailings and email updates can only pay off.
You’ll need to ask all your representing stores and galleries to get names and addresses of anyone who buys your art—they’ll usually oblige. Keep addresses of people who email you or comment on your website, and always include a link to your website at the end of your emails.
4. Document Your Work
My goal has always been to scan or photograph all of my finished work. Having a quality digital image of each painting I complete means that when a painting leaves my hands, it’s not really gone.
My digital images live on in the form of limited edition prints, advertising for my website, and note cards (which are especially are a great advertising tool for me). After the cost of printing I only make a small profit from their sale, but the cards are sent all over the world, and you’d better believe each one has my website address on the back!
5. Market your Art Offline
My Google search for artist websites reaped ten to twelve million results. That’s a lot of competition if you’re one artist seeking to make a name for yourself!
It’s never wise to put all your eggs in a single basket, and so, despite the rejection possibilities, you should explore marketing opportunities within your own community. Though my town is small, there is a local art society that welcomes all aspiring artists, and gave me a lot of guidance early on, as well as exhibition and competition opportunities. Look for those in your town too.
In addition to galleries, decorating stores occasionally take artwork on consignment. Our town has set up artwalks using vacant store windows as galleries for passersby, and I’ve had my art exhibited in hotels, hospitals and restaurants.
Find a place that your art would look great in, and then just ask—the worst that can happen is that they’ll say no.
6. Respect Your Art
Finally, be choosy. You’re the artist, and you have to be an advocate for yourself.
If a gallery seems unprofessional, don’t let them represent you. If your prints don’t match the original, fight for perfection. If a price feels right to you, don’t lower it because someone tells you “no one will pay that.”
Sure, listen to the advice, and the critics. . . but always reserve the right to stand by your work and your convictions.