Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Two Niche Market Marvels

Marina's work.

Trish's work.

As a guy and as a modest art snob, I have been surprised by my response to the work of Marina Bychkova and Trish Kostian. I would not have expected myself to be drawn to figurative work at all, but both women bring an artist's sensibility to their creation of figures. It just happens that their unique passions also serve massive, well-connected niche markets.

Marina makes characters (articulated dolls) out of porcelaine. They are imbued with a unique history and integrity that Marina endows on each creation. Trish creates 3-D fables. Each woman is a master technicians. Trish is new to this work; Marina is running a rip-roaring international business already. It's only a matter of time before Trish is enjoying the same degree of success as Marina.

Niche marketing is efficient and much easier than general marketing. I do it as a writer. I focus on the visual art market to earn a living and I write creatively on the side. We all know the tension of the wallet/soul continuum.

Failed Impressions

Above is what it was supposed to look like. To see it, I had to download it and open it up. (I have only Macs.) Below, is what it looked like embedded in my email. If I weren't interested in visual art marketing, I would not have opened up the attachment and missed the message altogether.

CHECK YOUR WORK, before you send it, my friends.

Mailing List Management

Dear Artist,

How can someone who creates such beautiful work, create and circulate such unappealing and visually dull communications? As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I got several messy or incomplete email communications inviting me to visit a studio during the Crawl.

Please recognize, dear artist, that writing and graphic design are just as demanding a discipline as art making, and seek some professional assistance. There are some fabulous web tools to bring a professional look to your work; two of my favourites are Mail Chimp and Constant Contact.

These sites offer you incredible tools and support to make your communications look and read professional. Beyond the mailing list and communication design services they offer, they are communities that allow you to connect to other users and they have remarkable tutorial services to teach you the basics about direct marketing.

Finally, ALWAYS send your communications out to someone you know to proof your work before you circulate it widely. And not to friends who will be polite; send it to acquaintances who will be honest, perhaps in exchange for the same service for them. I am a professional writer and no one sees my work until my proof-readers do (except for my blogging).

Monday, November 29, 2010

Crawl 2010: Beautiful Chaos

Patricia Chauncey has a studio at the end of a series of corridors at the William & Clarke Studios that made me feel like I was in a maze as I walked them. But her work was a fitting reward at the end. It is wonderful to be strongly attracted to an artform that doesn't fit comfortably in one's preferences; the beauty of her eye, her process and her outcomes overwhelmed the sense of chaos in the space. It was crowded when I was there and Patricia was having trouble finding something at the time. It was an art marketer's nightmare, but I look forward to visiting her studio again. It was so real and wonderful to be there surrounded by beautifully recreated nature.

Crawl 2010: Ying / Yang

Note: three red dots.

Ban Wei is another rule breaker who makes breaking the rules work for him. I could see the plus and minus of his decision to show work that was not for sale, very tactile and visually alluring. Ban was offering lovely black and white ink drawings for sale in his studio, and they appeared to be selling well. Unable to hide another project he was working on, he put it on display. The display consisted of two table tops full of tiny ceramic pieces that will be assembled into a whole.

The table fulls of ceramic artifacts were highly appealing to visitors. Everyone who came it, looked first at these tables, then the ink work. Is that a good idea or not? The ceramic work was either a fabulous attractor that worked for Ban, or it was a distraction from the work offered for sale. It all depends on your point of view. Overall, I think their inclusion worked for Ban because they provided another stimulus for visitors that offered them another portal into a conversation with Ban.

Crawl 2010: Nomenclature

Christopher Rodriguez is a digital artist. He creates work on his computer and it is output on Cibrachrome paper. The resulting images were arresting to the many visitors to his tiny studio. His space was buzzing with visitors asking questions about his process and offering their compliments. Christopher is a thoroughly engaging person, with ready answers to everyone's questions. He likes telling people about his process. He is doing very well, he said. He is living off sales of his work.

But I wondered what the customer was buying? Is it a digital print? Is it an altered photograph? The print world is changing. There are so many methods of making prints now, way beyond the traditional printmaking techniques, and these new forms of art making are forcing the market to develop new nomenclature and customers to expand their understanding of what is a print, what is a reproduction, what is original and what is part of a limited edition series. Luckily, Christopher is represented and his gallery finds him customers, but what I saw in his studio tells me customers need to know what they are buying. And in printmaking this is getting harder and harder to do.

Crawl 2010: Smart Studio

Rene in their studio.

Sometimes having no bells and whistles works! The studio of Rene Sagastume and Lourdes Lara is elegant simplicity. There was no food and no music; there was just a tidy, clean studio of white walls with good lighting and lots of room. The purity of the space made visitors focus on the work, and the work, to me, was very appealing, well done and well presented. As well, the space put focus on their delightful personalities.

Painting by Lourdes, right.

Crawl 2010: Smart Venue

The ARC always impresses me as a venue. What I like is the holistic experience it offers. One year, I remember, I was met at the door by a volunteer and basically directed through the building. The artists worked together as a community to ensure I did not miss a single one of the open studios. This year was not the same experience, but still, I was able to get a list of all the open studios and the names of each participant at the door.

Whereas Parker Street is larger and fabulous, it is a maze and it has an "every man for himself" feeling. I wish they provided a list and directions to the washrooms in a better manner for the public at Parker Street.

Crawl 2010: Public Engagement Award

Lawrence Lowe, like every artist mentioned in this blog posts about the Crawl 2010, was thoroughly engaging. I absolutely love the creative personality and Lawrence is a gentle, warm, wonderful man. His artwork is highly detailed, delicate work; each is a testament to patience and beauty. He is a printmaker and he draws.

He was handsomely dressed, and he sat quietly off to one side of the studio he shares with another personable creative genius, Robyn Ripley. And beside him was one of his little drawings on wood, and a lino plate plus a pulled print from the plate. He also had a huge lino block with him that he was working on: a salmon.

By sitting quietly on the side working, everyone was drawn to him and everyone had questions about his process. When a young man came by, Lawrence took his time and took the young visitor through his whole process. The boy was enthralled and went off to get his mother; together they returned for more from Lawrence. It moved me to see Lawrence, acting like a diplomat for visual art, seducing everyone into a respect for, and education about, art.

Nothing beats a demonstration in a studio. It allows visitors to easily engage, and that is what every artist should be after: engagement, in order to begin a relationship. Besides examples of his work and process, Lawrence might have had his mailing list. I hope so.

Crawl 2010: Art For Men

I admire the energy, passion and practicality of David T. Cho. David loves to pain and he has a unique big, bold, brash style to which everyone was responding very favourably at the Crawl. He is also a boxer. One wall of his studio reflected his two passions: his paintings were huge very close-up portraits of fighters, many of them showing a swollen eye, cut lip or ruined ear.

The art world and market is heavily feminized. It is male at the top of the pyramid, where big egos thrive, but the bulk of the visual art world, from my experience, is populated with female artists and buyers. David produces art that he loves, but it just happens to serve men who like art. Very few artists produce work that appeals strongly to men and those that do, and who advertise and market strategically, can do very well. David has no website that shows this work.

David also does Pet Portraits, and this is another reason I admire this young man. Unable to support himself with the work he likes to do, he has created a second line for income that does well and keeps him learning about paint. His pet portraits are done in his distinctive style; again, they have that masculine feeling of strength. They are not the soft, fuzzy sentimental pet portraits that you so often see.

All in all, this young and charming man, two years out of Emily Carr University, is enjoying a very successful artistic practice. Nice work, David!

Crawl 2010: Successfully Breaking Rules

Huub Keeven is an artist illustrator. (Huub is pronounced "hoop." He is from the Netherlands.) He (and his wife) have their PhDs in charm and you quickly are welcomed into the joyful atmosphere in their studio. I was shocked to see in a corner of their shared space, a table on which Huub's artwork was piled high. There were no sleeves on the artwork, no mats, nothing, and I was taught that this gives an unprofessional message to viewers. My teachers said that doing what Huub does disrespects your own work.

But, what I saw at the table was fascinating and positive. People were drawn to it and seemed to take infinite joy in finding a treasure in the pile. But everything on the table was appealing. My teachers also said, price and label everything. Nothing on Huub's table was priced or labeled, and if you asked him a price, he had no idea. "Ask my wife," he would say. He was breaking all the rules, and it was working very well for him.

I asked people as they left, what they thought of Huub's studio and about their experience inside. Everyone was extremely positive about both Huub and his studio. What they liked about the table, they said, was a kind of "treasure hunt" feeling they had looking through his work. "It was fun." they said, seeing what was there.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Crawl 2010: Superlative Studio Experience Award

Roselina Hung and her work enthralled me. I had the experience every Crawl visitor wants, engagement with a captivating artist. My richly rewarding experience with Roselina was not unlike other experiences I had at this year's Crawl, I have to say, more posts of wonderful interactive experiences are to follow. But perhaps because it was early on Friday evening, and my first unexpected joy, it has stayed with me.

Roselina displayed a variety of work which is something you often do not see in a gallery exhibition that often imposes continuity. She was showing wild, vibrant, colourful pastiches of portraits and brighte, almost pychedelic colour, anthropomorphized animals and exquisite, extraordinary self-portraits. She does portraits on commission.

The variety of her work solicited engagement by a diverse audience. Her charming partner, Nicky, with whom she often collaborates, added a further dimension to the presentation in her studio.

Crawl 2010: Marketing Atmosphere Awards

There was music, there was lots of nibblies, there was a very warm, welcoming atmosphere and there was a large table covered with photographs of Judson's work and play in his studio, Straight Line Designs. Judson, himself, is a bundle of charm and energy. His personality permeates his very large studio. The whimsical nature of his work contributed to the "fun," "stick around" atmosphere of his space.

Kyla Bourgh designs jewellery. Her work is small and you have to come into her studio to see her work. As you walk through the busy corridors of the 100+ studios at 1000 Parker Street, there is a lot of visual competition for your eye and attention. To draw your eye to her small work, these lovely large fluffy clouds drew you into her space.

Crawl 2010: Marketing"Best in Show"

I must be true to what I teach. The photo above is the entrance to the studio of Fiona Ackerman. You absolutely cannot miss this plea to sign-up to be on Fiona's mailing list. Her cards are there, pens are there, a little sensual enticement, a little gifting with the candy; the perfect presentation.

Many artists had mailing lists available in obscure corners. Because direct, personal (full retail) sales can come to you via a large mailing list (well serviced with a good communications plan) and because galleries appreciate artists with large mailing lists, Fiona wins "best in show" from me for arts marketing.

Caveat: I saw a fraction of the artists studios that were available for viewing. "Best in show" is a joke, OK! But it was one of the best examples of a marketing principle that I saw in action in the limited number of studios I was able to visit in the time available. (See below.)

Crawl 2010; Overall Impressions

I went to the Eastside Culture Crawl 2010 for a good, long visit on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday. Friday night I spent at 1000 Parker and the Mergatroid building. Although I have been to the Crawl several times over many years, this year was different. Because I am an instructor at Emily Carr University of Art and Design (ECU), and because of my books, a lot of people knew me and if they didn't, by saying I am an instructor at ECU, I earned their interest.

I am capable of being very shy at times, but my new roles of author and ECU instructor motivate me to introduce myself and ask questions. It has changed my relationship to the Crawl. And when I visited the cafeteria areas and asked visitor/customers about their experience, the overwhelming response was about how wonderful it was to be able to talk to the artists.

The Crawl not only gets artists retail prices, it gives art-lovers access to the artists they are very keen to meet and learn from.

The next posts will be about specific impressions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Remember Your Address

I got numerous nice e-newsletters from artists inviting me to visit their studio during the Crawl in advance of opening night. I hate to make the first practical post on this blog a negative one, but three artists did not provide the address of their studio.

This suggests to me that the artists did not send their newsletter out to a couple of close friends in advance of its wide circulation. Having someone proof-read your work is valuable. The other thing this omission suggests to me, is that the artists made a mistake many artists continually make: They are not thinking of the customer. They are thinking about themselves because their minds are full of all the things they have to do to be ready for the opening of their studio for the Crawl. They are too busy and tired, not giving customers the vital information they need.

Now, on to some successes.....

What more fitting way to start a new blog about visual art marketing and merchandising that with a visit to Vancouver's amazing Eastside Culture Crawl.

I have written two books about visual art professional development. The first, Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as Professional Visual Artist came out in 2008, the next one, Making It! Case Studies of Successful Canadian Visual Artists comes out in 2011. As an extension of my work on book two, I attended this year's Crawl opening last night and I had more fun and was more stimulated than I have been in ages.

I revelled in the success and talent of many artists I visited. I also made note of some of the shortcomings in professional presentation on the part of some participants, so I resolved to start this blog about artists involved with direct, person-to-person sales. It is a field that interests me a great deal because of the increased ease with which artists can be entrepreneurs.

Computers, software and internet advances have made sophisticated direct marketing so easy for individuals, and when artists sell direct, my favourite professionals earn full retail for their work. So, with luck and over time, I hope to create a blog that serves artists well as self-promoters.