Sunday, March 09, 2008

My Art Advice: How do I market my art?

This is another common question that is asked of me and it is a very difficult one to answer because there are several directions and modules that one can take in order to have art marketing success-- you have to find what works for you. There are also a few pre-marketing steps that must be considered. I suppose the first issue to consider is that it seems that artists often lack business savvy. I base this assumption on some of the responses I've had in the last few years from artists who take on art marketing like a deer caught in a headlight.

Emerging artists often expect a gallery or art dealer to do the marketing for them. The only problem is that most of the emerging artists that write to me do not have gallery representation and are not in contact with an art dealer. These artists spend their time sending messages to galleries and dealers that will never respond to them-- this is a grave error and is often a complete waste of time. By not grabbing the bull by the horns and representing themselves they miss out on opportunities that others take advantage of-- and have great success with --on a daily basis.

People tend to dream about their future... but dreams can place reality within a cell. It is OK to dream about gallery representation, exhibits at top venues, and respected art publications knocking on your door, but you can't expect to establish yourself on dreams alone-- you can waste your life doing that! The simple truth is that waiting for dreams to come true is often the first step toward failure-- that goes for every aspect of life.

Sorry if I have popped your dreamworld bubble, but I've known many dreamers in my years and the majority of them end up living a real nightmare on down the road. While you dream about the future that you feel you are destined to have, others are relying on their own grit and ambition to carve out their own destiny. So what is the solution? How can one market his or her art and make the dreams a possible reality? Simple. Artists need to think of themselves as a CEO of a corporation-- they need to think on terms of business.

I realize that many artists are wary of the corporate mentality-- the public in general is suspicious of those towering economic power-houses.Thus, I want to make three things clear before the hate mail flows to my inbox. First, I'm not suggesting that artists should create work as if it is on a production line (though some artists enjoy doing that). Second, I'm not suggesting that artists should emulate some of the dark qualities of big business (...though it might help!). Finally, you don't need a degree in business to understand basic business modules (though some of us may regret not having one). So what am I suggesting? I'm suggesting that every artist should develop-- and utilize --a basic marketing strategy. Artists should observe some of the tactics used by corporations and adhere to them as far as developing their art career is concerned. In order to have success you must embrace some basic principles of business-- if not, you leave yourself open to being exploited.

When we think of art marketing on terms of corporate business practice we must understand that there is a lot of pre-marketing steps that go into the bigger picture. A successful corporation does not invest in marketing an item that is costly to produce. Corporations make a profit by keeping their production cost low and their merchandise price high compared to the production cost of the item. If you have not noticed, buying low and selling high is the foundation of business. This is a basic aspect of business that every artist should be aware of when creating, pricing, and marketing their art. And yes, creating and pricing come before marketing! It is best to have those issues worked out before placing yourself into a market.

Many emerging artists make the mistake of investing more money into the creation of their art than they should-- this is a bad business practice. Emerging artists need to think about the long-term cost of the materials they are using. For example, painters will often buy pre-stretched canvas-- a single 16" x 20" pre-stretched canvas can cost up to $7 depending on where you shop. Anything larger can cost as much as $60! Thus, it would be more cost effective to buy the loose materials and learn how to stretch your own canvas. With a little effort you can learn how to build your own stretchers and stretch your own canvas.

This is the best economic choice to make. Rolls of canvas will be far cheaper than buying pre-stretched canvas one after the other... and wood from your local lumberyard is often cheaper and of higher quality when compared to those easy-snap stretcher kits found in most art supply chains-- they tend to warp easily. Again, think Big Business, by buying in bulk you will keep your long-term cost even lower and your profit higher. You may have to spend a little money on tools to get started, but in the long-run you will be saving money-- a corporation needs a factory or two, correct?

After you have thought about your product-- in this case your artwork --and have kept the cost of production down while maintaining a high degree of quality (you want to be known as a good business person, right?). What is the next step before marketing? Pricing. Again, take note of what the corporations do... before pricing your artwork you need to think about the hourly wage of your employees-- in this case yourself --and other company expenses... utilities for example. Don't be afraid to consider the hours that you have spent on a piece and the cost of lighting and other utilities when thinking about a price. I can't tell you what your time is worth-- but I will suggest that you keep that added fee realistic. Estimate how much you spent on creating the piece in regards to material cost, energy cost, and time-- make sure that you get as much of that money back as you can!

Once you have a figure in your head after considering the cost of materials, energy use, and time... increase it. You want to do this so that you leave some room for bargaining leverage. For example, if you are wanting $150 for a small sculpture you might want to ask $300 instead. This will leave you some room to negotiate with potential buyers-- you might end up earning more than what you had planned while making the buyer feel as if she or he got a great deal. Never go below your intended price-- in this case $150 --you want to make a profit! You want to earn enough to cover the expense that went into creating the piece AND have a profit on the side. With a little business savvy you might earn a few hundred more than what you had originally intended!

Keep in mind that once you establish a price you must be consistent with it. Nothing turns off past buyers more than to know that you are selling new work to new buyers for less. Collectors who have bought from you in the past want to know that they have invested in something that may increase in value over time. By pricing your work lower for certain individuals you do two things-- first, you lower the collective value of your work as a whole. Second, you damage the integrity of your business. Anyone who wants to be successful with their art-- as far as profit is concerned --will often have an uphill battle to fight... don't take the hill one day only to run back down it the next!

Now that you have a price in mind you will want to market the piece. If you are an emerging artist I would strongly advise that you avoid certain avenues of art marketing. For example, buying an ad in a popular art magazine can cost you as low as $300 and as high as over $1000 based on the prices I observed-- that will not amount to much if you have yet to make a name for yourself! Another tip? Avoid vanity galleries like the plague. That money would be better spent elsewhere. You would be better off displaying your work online and investing in business cards that include a link to a website that contains your art.

Focus on traffic to the artwork that you are displaying online. There are millions of people online that might end up viewing it-- which can lead to a piece being sold. Keep the business cards with your website handy. If you don't want to bother building a personal website there are other options that you can utilize if you are seeking an extra edge in your marketing plan-- such as a Premium account on ( Having an online presence is very important-- it makes it easier for people to learn about your work. I know an artist who recently had a sold out exhibit after she posted links to her art and exhibit information online. A collector observed one of the posts and attended the show with credit card in hand. You can't knock that kind of exposure!

The Internet has opened a world of opportunities for corporations and self-representing artists alike. The difference is that corporations spend millions on online ad space... you can find ways to advertise for free! Sites like,, and have allowed artists to display their art to viewers who would have otherwise never viewed it. These sites offer free resources for artists who want to market their art online-- and they can be intertwined in order to increase the exposure that you gain for your art. I realize that big numbers don't always mean big results, but you will have a better chance at marketing yourself if you have all the online contacts that you can obtain.

For example, you could place a link to your account on your account, embed your gallery on your profile, and place your myspace and myartspace links on your account. Once you do that you can place all those links onto your profile... and after that, make a post about it on or any other site that you are a member of-- it is a chain reaction of exposure for your art! Don't put all your eggs in one basket... smash the eggs and allow the yoke to flow-- fill every online crack that you can.

To sum this up-- try not to get caught up in day dreaming about how you think your art career will mature-- make it happen and do not allow yourself to be discouraged. Rome was not built in a day-- neither was Walmart. Artists will face uncertainty until they learn to build their careers from the ground up. A corporation can be a success over night-- this is why it is important to understand how basic principles of business can help in marketing your art. However, I don't want to trade one hope for another-- realize that any business can go under and that you will need to put a lot of work into getting it off the ground. With that said, it is better to base your art career on terms of business rather than on flights of fancy.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Great advice! And well written. Thanks for posting this, I'm sure it will help lots of people.

Anonymous said...

Very well written. I especially agree that the Internet is an invaluable marketing tool, and if used correctly, can pave the way to exciting manifestations in the non-virtual world. Great advice on determining art prices too...

Anonymous said...

Hi Brian, I made a decent living and built an market for my work for more than 20 years. I give talks and classes on this very subject.
Most of the success I had was by doing fine art shows, gallery shows and commissions.
I have always and still do market myself as much or more than my art.
If requested I have lots of tips on how to do that, which I would be willing to share.
I once did a fine art show in Florida. I was next to an artist that traveled from NY to do the show. After the show, we were packing up and he said, “What a bummer, I traveled all the way from NY and didn’t sell one painting”. I was quick to point out that he sat in the back of his display and read a book for most of the show. I also suggested that if I had been in his display with the quality of work he had that I would have had a successful show.
Give my people who can afford to buy my art and I will sell! Why? I love what I do and I wouldn’t want to do anything else or be anywhere else. My passion is genuine.
I don’t mean to hijack your article, so I’ll stop myself LOL.
Peace & Love, friends, Bob

AL said...

Hello. Thanks for the advice -excellent.

Im an Architect looking for a career change. I`d give anything to be a reputable artist or at least make a living from doing what I am most passionate about...and that is art.

Please take a look at a few of my paintings. ive got as far as this blog. but where to from here? any more advice?

Alicia said...

Hi Bryan as a young upcoming artist, your advice as opened up my eyes. i am very happy i took the time to read your post it was most helpful thanks.

alicia brown said...

your post was very helpful good job.

Robert Currie said...

I must agree with several of the other comments made to a certain degree. However, I do not think the content supported the title “How Do I Market My Art”. Even- though there are some similarities to corporate acumen the concept is more dynamic than what was illustrated here. The first thing to remember is the intensity varies dependent on what stage you are in your career path, secondly, the appropriate exposure, third branding and fourth knowing and believing in your art.
1. Intensity - attends as many art events you can outside your norm that is exhibiting the same genre you claim.
2. Appropriate Exposure - Exhibit your work at art only events and festivals, visit as many flea markets and country markets to see who and what is being exhibit and to motivate yourself.
3. Branding - What type artist are you? What is your style? What is your primary subject of choice?
4. Knowing and believing in your work – practice describing your work, your purpose and motivation – than incorporate the results in your informational documents
5. Use the resources list in this blog- then drive buyers to those resources – Now refer to step one again and again and again.

Remember marketing resources are just that a source then the source must be marketed...what a circle Twelve years in the business of selling visual art...

Ricky Kendall said...

Thank you for that great article. I have printed it out. I have already been marketing myself on myspace and (I have a CD out, photoshop and facebook. I need to work hard to get it all organized and create a good web of information. My biggest problem is pricing. That is difficult but I am learning not to short change myself and, I guess, I have to be patient. I am now working with glass. You have me excited again!