2 Things Every Artist Should Know About Marketing Their Art

By Carrie Lewis in Art Business Advice > Art Marketing Tips

Let’s talk about two simple facts about marketing.

• Marketing is necessary (yes, even for artists)
• Anyone can be a marketer

I’m an artist myself and I happen to look at marketing as a necessary nuisance. Most artists would probably agree with me. But let’s take a few minutes to determine whether or not each of those statements are true.

1. Marketing is necessary

There is no way around the plain truth of this statement. Sales are vital to creating income. (If you’re not interested in earning income from your art, you can stop reading now.) Whether your primary studio income is from originals, commissions, reproductions, merchandise (t-shirts, mugs, calendars, etc.), licensing, teaching, or some combination, you must have sales in order to have income. Agreed? Good!

Marketing is absolutely vital to making sales. Doubt that? Consider the following questions:

How many times have you sold anything to anyone who didn’t know you existed?

How often have you sold a painting or drawing to anyone who knew you, but didn’t know you were an artist?

I’m guessing the answer to both questions is never.

People who become your customers have heard about you and about your work. Marketing in some form was responsible for that, whether it was casual marketing by word-of-mouth or intentional marketing via an advertisement in an art magazine, a press release in a newspaper, or a website.

Bottom line: If you want to sell art, you MUST market. So the first statement is true.

2. Anyone can be a marketer

I can hear the protests already! I made them myself in the past. They go something like this:

“I don’t like to market.”
“I’d rather stay in the studio and let someone else do the marketing.”
“I’m not a people person.”
“I hate sales.”

Believe me, I’ve heard almost everything there is to hear about artists and marketing. Nearly five years as gallery director exposes a person a lot of artistic philosophy on this topic.

But I didn’t say “marketing will be easy for everyone.” I said “anyone can be a marketer.”

And believe it or not, every artist will market their work sooner or later, in one form or another, and most likely on multiple levels. You really can’t prevent it, even if you tried.

Let’s get rid of one false perception:

Part of the problem artists have with marketing is a false perception of what marketing really is. When most people—artists and non-artists alike—hear the word “marketing,” a specific image leaps to mind. Usually, it’s the used car salesman in the loud suit pushing the latest “deals on wheels.” Sometimes it’s a huckster canvassing the neighborhood selling encyclopedias (remember those?) or a late-night infomercial or some similar caricature.

Erase that image. Paint it over. Dump it into the nearest trash can. That is not what marketing really is and it’s most definitely not what I’m talking about.

Understanding this one concept is what turned me from a marketing-is-a-necessary-nuisance artist to someone who can market herself fairly well. It can change the way you look at marketing, too. Here’s how:

You’re already marketing, you just don’t know it

We all market every day whether we realize it or not. How?

• When you talk about your latest painting with a friend, you’re marketing.
• When you talk about your work with a stranger, you’re marketing.
• When you update your website, post new pictures on social media, or join an art conversation, you’re marketing.

Those are what I refer to as passive marketing. The everyday stuff that happens spontaneously.

Then there’s intentional marketing. Buying advertisements, writing press releases, attending an art show or trade show, participating in an exhibit, or any of a number of other ways of promoting your work are all intentional marketing. You go into the activity with the goal of making a sale.

What type of marketer are you?

The fact of the matter is that most of us are naturally inclined to one of those types of marketing.

Since it’s a well-known cliche (and possibly true, as well) that most artists are introverts who prefer to be left alone to create, most of us are naturally inclined to passive marketing. We love to talk shop. We can discuss our methods, our subjects, our mediums, and our inspirations for hours.

The problem is that we’re usually talking to other artists: people who are unlikely to buy our art.

Some artists also love to promote their work more actively. They actually enjoy the business side of the studio and can talk about their work to anyone who’s interested, fellow artist or not. These are the kinds of artists who can connect directly with a buyer, who approach sales with ease, and who make the rest of us green with envy or drive us to distraction!

Is there help for the rest of us?

Of course there is, or I wouldn’t be writing this article!

And the solution is ridiculously easy (at least on paper). Simply start talking shop to people who are not fellow artists. Speak with the same enthusiasm about your methods, your subjects, your medium, and your inspiration to the people who are interested in your work. The more of a connection you make with them, the better chance they’ll buy something from you. Maybe not today, but there’s always tomorrow.

Here’s how it works:

Create an introduction for yourself

Come up with a simple, short sentence that summarizes your art. Something you can memorize and speak with ease at a moment’s notice. Something like:

I help people make art they can be proud of.

(That also happens to the tagline on my website.)

Or maybe. . .

I try to capture on canvas the unique character of the city landscape.

Or. . .

My horse paintings capture a moment in time.

(That’s my old tagline from when I was primarily a portrait artist.)

What does that do for you? First of all, it gives you a stock answer to anyone who asks what you do after finding out you’re an artist. It also breaks the ice.

If they’re interested, then you follow up with a little more explanation and the conversation goes from there.

If they’re not interested, no big deal. You move on to another conversation.

Sound cheesy? Fake, maybe?

Could be, but if you work on finding your single sentence introduction, you’ll at least have taken the first step toward talking to perfect strangers about your art. Just make sure it suits your work and your style, and give it a try!


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