How to Turn Obstacles Into Opportunities for Your Art

By Aletta de Wal in Art Business Advice > A-Z Art Marketing Guide

Welcome back to “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z. In today’s article, I’ll be focusing on the letter “O” for Obstacles & Opportunities.

Let’s say you’ve been working hard in all the usual ways to market your art. But sales are slow. . . and at times, there’s very little to show for all your hard work.

Then an unexpected opportunity comes along! Sales pick up for a bit, and you feel pretty lucky that you managed to make the most of that opportunity. You just wish this kind of thing could happen more often.

The truth is, many artists wait for opportunities to knock at their studio door, instead of actively seeking ways to make those opportunities appear. The problem with waiting, though, is timing. What if you’re not home when that opportunity knocks? Do you ask them to leave a message and you’ll get back to them? Of course not.

Go looking for opportunities instead

Here’s an inspiring story of an artist who did just that. . .

Artist Edd Cox wanted a studio near the waterfront in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle, and as a result, he got to know a building manager in the area, who was an amateur jazz musician and a Sunday painter. They both saw the possibilities in a 7500 sq. ft. building which had just a single row of light bulbs and a demolished toilet, but also contained some beautiful post beams and great natural light.

With construction materials and labor, the location was turned into space for over 100 artists. And luckily, Edd’s property management venture coincided with the origin of ArtWalk in Seattle, driving sales and bringing extra awareness to the artists in the building.

Then the city began a mega transportation project, and started excavating a 56′ diameter tunnel below the building. The building couldn’t withstand the construction. Within 60 days, 120 artists had to leave their perfect studio with lots of foot-traffic and find other accommodations.

But Edd didn’t give up. When he learned that The Department of Transportation was offering financial assistance of up to $50,000 for relocation, he filled out the necessary papers, and got $35,000 to help re-establish the studio elsewhere. He also planned to co-fund the rest of the relocation project with resident artists.

Like Edd, you can make marketing opportunities happen for yourself, just by having a plan and doing whatever it takes to see it through. Here are some good lessons we can learn from his example:

1. Think big about your art business

Instead of looking for just a small studio, Edd found a large space that he could grow into. When that was about to disappear, he thought HUGE. (You should see the tunneling machines that caused him to think well beyond his means at the time!)

And, because Edd rented a downtown building instead of a single studio somewhere off the beaten path, he was able to capitalize on the marketing of ArtWalk to attract people who might otherwise never have seen his art.

2. Share your vision with like-minded people

Edd and the building owner were able to pool their talents and resources to create what neither of them could do alone. Then Edd brought along the other artists to share the space and the costs.

The tenants formed a collaborative community. Whenever any of the artists marketed their events, it created walk-by traffic for others. The whole became greater than the sum of the parts.

3. Build and nurture relationships

Edd found artists who made his first community possible. The experience and the camaraderie spurred him on to the second project so that none of them would end up without affordable studio space.

To raise funds, Edd met many business people and financial organizations he otherwise had no reason to contact. These meetings created new marketing avenues and exposure for Edd’s art to people with money.

Edd proves that you don’t have to wait for opportunities to knock. . . you can go out and find them. And of course, other times they’re already right under your nose pretending to be obstacles.

So why not create opportunities from those obstacles?

Let’s look at another interesting story.

Did you know that gelatin—the kind you eat—can be used as a plate for printmaking? Maybe you can imagine the problems that go along with this. . .

First, you couldn’t just decide to print something; you have to prepare the gelatin well ahead of time. It’s also easy to dent the surface and have unwanted print marks on your paper. If you leave the gelatin in the fridge without a note on it, someone might use it to make Jello (yes, really). And then there’s the problem of mold if you kept the gelatin too long.

Joan Bess, an artist who had run into all of these problems decided to do something about solving them. So she collaborated with big brand marketer Lou Ann Gleason to create a new manufactured, non-perishable print plate with the same qualities as food grade gelatin, but without the downsides.

You can follow their example and innovate whenever you don’t have what you need to make the kind of art you want to make. Here’s how to do that:

1. Look at obstacles as potential possibilities

Joan wanted a replacement for the gelatin so that she could print “on demand” and eliminate all the problems of using a food product.

Like Edd, she got clear about the vision and then found someone who could help make it happen. In this case Lou Ann had her expertise from larger marketing ventures.

2. Keep an eye out for trends

Joan has had a long career in printmaking and being an entrepreneur. She knew that printmaking has been growing in popularity. If she could solve the perishable gelatin problem for herself, she knew other artists would benefit.

In return, other artists loved the product and the fact that “one of theirs” came up with the idea. (And since I love the story too, even more artists are hearing about it. By the way, I do not have any affiliation with the company so I don’t get paid for this; I just like the product.)

3. Find ways to help others succeed, too

Joan’s approach to solving this problem was, again like Edd’s, to think beyond the present capabilities and find resources that could help bring her vision into being.

Now each artist and teacher who uses her printing plate becomes part of the sales force—which leads to more word-of-mouth marketing, and more sales of her product. By helping others do better, the opportunity grows even bigger for her, too.

So next time you run into an obstacle or have a problem, get your marketing mind working to turn those problems into opportunities. My bet is you’ll find new doors opening everywhere!

Follow the links below to read more articles in “The ABC’s of Art Marketing”—an alphabet guide to marketing your art, from A to Z:

A – Appreciating your Audience

B – Building your Business Base

C – Communicating Clearly, Consistently and Cleverly

D – Diversifying Your Delivery

E – Educate, Entertain, Engage, Enrich, and Evolve

F – Fostering Friendly Familiarity

G – Give to Gain

H – Hiring Help

I – The 5 “I’s” of Art Marketing

J – Joining Juried Shows

K – Creating Good Karma

L – Listening and Learning

M – Mastering your Marketing Messages

N – Negotiating 101

O – Obstacles into Opportunities (current article)

P – Procrastination & Perfection

Q – Quality & Quantity: Creating Art that Sells

R – 8 Rules to Improve Your Artist/Collector Relationships

S – S is for Sales

T – 30 Ways to Say “Thank You”

U – Switching from “I” to “Us”

V – Volunteering in the Art World

W – Write, Write, Write!

Y – Just Say Yes

Z – Zen, Zoom, ZigZag & Zowie


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