There are ways to work as an artist that do not involve the typical portfolio presentation to a gallery. I know many artists create bodies of work in hopes of winning a juried show or being appreciated by a larger audience, but that usually means a whole lot of waiting for that audience to appear (and a lot of waiting for money to appear as well).
When I started out working for myself as an artist some 30 years ago, I had to be a bit more creative and proactive. I knew that the artist’s gift was not something just anybody had, but a whole lot of my potential customers had no idea how to even find, let alone commission, a local artist.
I decided I would do whatever necessary to make it easy for them to find me.
Commit to making daily contacts
Part of my marketing strategy was to be the kind of artist who was easy to work with, and who approached the making of creative works as a business. For me, that meant making a new contact every day that could lead to more business.
I took my portfolio and a small sample of my work to interior designers and architects and introduced myself. I wanted them to know that if my work and their environments were a match, I would be honored to produce commissioned originals that would enhance their services to their clients.
Within two months I had multiple requests to go onsite and create. Once a relationship is formed, and you are found to be a trustworthy and capable service provider, you may find yourself getting commissions and referrals from every piece you create.
In addition to contacting interior designers, on weekends I went to suburban areas and handed out 4×6 promotional cards about myself and my services. I let potential clients know that the need for art services always comes up at a moment of high inspiration, and rarely can be acted upon unless they know who does custom artwork.
Since I happen to do custom work I urged them to hang on to my card for whenever the need arose. Like any direct mail piece, your actual return is about 1%, but that was not what I was after. People will always talk to people, and word of mouth is probably 80% of my commissioned work today.
No, we’re NOT matching the sofa
The objection always surfaces that doing custom commissions is akin to making art that matches the sofa. I urge all artists everywhere to cast off that jaded mindset!
Today’s art buyer and interior designers are savvy enough to know that when the art just "works" it works on its own merits. Today you will rarely see a photo in Architectural Digest of an environment highlighting matching artwork and furniture.
Once again I think our old notions of what art is for, and who it is for, gets in the way of our success as artists. If you love to create, and you accept that humans love to be visually and emotionally engaged by art, it seems to me that making those daily connections should be the artist’s number one job.
Need another way to connect? Place an ad in your local paper about your work, and explain what kinds of images you enjoy painting.
If you find yourself saying, “Oh I could never put an ad in the paper,” you need to ask a trusted friend if your work is marketable. If they say, “Yes, of course,” then place the ad.
Treat yourself with respect. Other professionals advertise. You may not be used to seeing it for artists, but what difference does that make?
Artists are skilled professionals who offer a unique and valued service. There isn’t a single one of us who couldn’t go on location, ask questions, study and think about the environment, and (working within our own skillset and techniques) render a series of sketches that would make a statement and be appreciated by the client.
Doing these types of commissions from time to time will enable you to make a living as an artist and continue to pursue your own ideas and artistic goals.
Whether a piece is commission work or not, it is your skill and your reputation that is being enhanced every time you step out of your comfort zone and make an art connection in your community.
Will your work be selected every time? No it won’t. Fearing rejection has caused far too many artists to hide in their studios and mistakenly believe that they are being personally rejected. But that is not the truth.
Your art and a buyer will either match up or they won’t.
Think of it this way. I could offer three people a stick of gum. One might say, “Thanks! I was just wishing I had some.” The second might say, “I’ll take one for later,” and the last might say, “No, gum rots your teeth.”
What was offered was the same for all three people—and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the gum. In the same way, people’s reactions to your art are their own and a “no” does not mean your work is suddenly subpar.
When you market your art more aggressively, you do risk more “opinions.” If you put yourself and your art out in the middle of main street, you expose yourself to differing views. But you also expose yourself to expanding your ability and your appeal.
There’s a big wide world out there waiting for you to get a little paint all over it. . . people just don’t know you’re willing. Let ‘em know!