Monday, October 31, 2011

Do You Need Marketing?

I like to ask my students, 'Where are you?" That is, where are you on these axes?

  1. The more your practice is based on commissions, the less you need marketing (unless you are driving the commissions with a sales generating strategy). The more you work "on spec" (creating work with out a predetermined buyer), the more you need marketing.
  2. The more your practice is based on creating work for which there is a proven market, the less you need marketing. The more you make work to soothe your soul, from within, or that you "have to"make, the more you need marketing.
  3. The more unique your talent, visual language or technique, the less you need marketing; the less unique your work, the more competition there is and the more you need marketing.
The blue dots is where I see a majority of my students positioned.

Marketing is a science. It is a significant skill when done well and good marketing is supported by many other business practices such as effective sales copy writing, demographic studies and consumer research. Take a course, hire or trade/barter for marketing advice.  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

When Times Are Tough

Consumers seek price reductions when times are tough, but savvy manufacturers are careful to provide discounts rather than price reductions. Price reductions are “invisible” unless they are advertised with original pricing and it is hard to put prices back up. Discounts, however, can be time-limited, qualified and do not require a change in pricing. This is something artists should consider—discounts provide a far greater psychological incentive for customers than do price reductions when it comes to selling art. And make your discounts event- or time-specific.

Another change in professional practice that is a good idea is to create work that takes less time to make, or to do some multiples—doing either can produce inventory at lower prices thereby protecting the prices of existing work. Or selling on installment with consumers you know and trust is another effective idea to consider in lean times. Monthly or bi-weekly payments can be easier for some customers and have little negative impact on you. Or you can rent your work out.

And you can use your artwork like money. Barter with it. One of the more active barterers I have ever known was Toni Onley who was certainly anything but “starving.” It was just something he learned to do early in his career and he never stopped, even when he was far more successful. Another artist I met began bartering when she was faced with a bill for veterinary services she could not afford. Necessity pushed her to try bartering for part of the fee, and her veterinarian was receptive.

When the global economy was shaken up in the 70s, one enterprising artist took everything—I mean everything—off her walls and totally de-cluttered the main floor of her home and turned the walls into her art gallery. She labeled and priced everything as though she was running a professional space and just continued on with her life. There was a quick and dramatic effect and, as she increased her entertaining, she increased her sales. It was subtle and effective; she did not push sales, her work sold itself to her friends. All she had to do was get them in the door.

The point is, the larger the role that sales plays in your artistic career, the more you must consider change if the economy does what it is predicted to do. You can’t carry on as we did during this millennium’s first decade and expect the same outcomes. Sometimes, a bold strategy in tough times is to find new markets or to create new products.

Here are some strategies for the bold and confident artist:

  •        Move “up market.’ This is a great strategy if you have a methodology for reaching people or professionals who still have a lot of disposable income.
  •         Leave your gallery and being represented in order to sell directly to clients and avoid paying a commission. During recessionary times, galleries often suffer. Assess your future with your gallery with an open mind—especially if you have a large network and roster of past customers.
  •       Consult. One of the greater problems artists face is that they must be good at so many things. You need writing expertise, financial skills, advanced computer skills, communication and publicity skills and sales and marketing expertise—you need the full palette of skills all self-employed entrepreneurs need to succeed, but rarely do the artists I know excel in all these fields yet learning from other professionals is not part of their practice. Some investment in learning about sales and marketing is very wise in economic climates such as these.

To end on a positive note, an interesting website called Howie’s Brainfood ( posted about taking a positive approach to recessions because they:

  •       Provoke creativity.
  •       Force you to make tough decisions.
  •       Thin out the competition.
  •       Make you remember not to take anything for granted.
  •       Remind you that real wealth is not what you own.
  •       Make it easier to abandon “business-as-usual.”
  •       Bring you back to basics.
  •       Promote efficiency.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Interesting Blog Stats

Andrew Sullivan was one of the earliest bloggers and is one of the most successful. His blog is The Dish (link) and he reports that 95% of blogs are abandoned within 120 days and 60 - 80% of them are abandoned within the first month. A site called Postary (for people who don't want to manage blogs but want to publish a single post to share) has developed a "typical" blog lifecycle:
  1. Euphoric moment of inspiration
  2. Pseudo-manical and self-indulgent perusing of domains
  3. Careful consideration of theme and design
  4. The inaugural post - "Hello world!"
  5. The 2-4 post honeymoon phase
  6. Waning and changing interests
  7. Feelings of desperation and apathy from low engagement
  8. Inevitable abandonment
I retain a lot of faith in the power of effective, well-managed blogs that focus on the needs of the customer and not the needs of the artist. As a resource for buyers—especially when there are numerous postings about all your work and the posts bear the title of the work—nothing beats a blog for the narrative that most buyers want to accompany the piece.

Friday, October 14, 2011

More about That Jobs Graphic

From the October 13, New York Times, by Kevin Drew:

Artists’ Logos Shows Reach and Hostility of the Web

Mr. Mak's version that recently swept the Internet.

Mr. Thornley's version.

HONG KONG — Few personal journeys can shed as much light on the age we live in as the one traveled by Jonathan Mak in the last week.

Mr. Mak, a university student in Hong Kong, went from being an unknown aspiring graphic designer to an Internet sensation after an image he produced spread rapidly across digital platforms after the death of Steven P. Jobs, the co-founder of Apple.
Mr. Mak’s design of a silhouetted profile of Mr. Jobs in the Apple company logo was shared across the Web and reported by media. And then, nearly as fast, Mr. Mak found himself being vilified.
With a speed befitting the technological age that Mr. Jobs helped usher in, Mr. Mak became the subject of derisive Internet postings and negative media reports. His design, it turned out, closely matched one produced earlier this year by Chris Thornley, a British graphic artist.
Link to full story in NYT.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

iSad 2

Re the graphic design above ... this article from the Vancouver Sun via Reuters.
HONG KONG - A Hong Kong design student’s poignant tribute to Apple founder Steve Jobs became an internet hit on Thursday with its minimalist, touching symbolism and brought a job offer and a flood of commemorative merchandise using his design. 
Nineteen-year-old Jonathan Mak, a student at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University School of Design, came up with the idea of incorporating Steve Jobs’ silhouette into the bite of the Apple logo, symbolising both Jobs’ departure and lingering presence at the core of the company.
Read more: Link.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Vancouver Real Estate Costs Driving Out Artists

From the Globe and Mail online.
Vancouver has more artists per square kilometre than any other major city in Canada.
It is also the toughesst place for them to find studios because of the expensive, aggressive real-estate market, where never-ending condo developments eat cheap space. 
Now the city's politicians and staff say they think they've found a solution: Give artists free rein to set up studios on industrial land, where they can add jobs and activity without sparking any land speculation...
 But the city's arts community says that wouldn't be necessary if the city could just stop its staff fromkicking artists out of the spaces where they're already working.
 Read the full article by Frances Bula here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Old Technologies

The object of professional communications for artists is to deepen or strengthen my relationships and a prime concern is to stand out. But whereas not so long ago it was the new technologies that were helping us to achieve these objectives, now I find it easier to stand out and warm hearts with telephone calls and hand-written and drawn notes.

Since reverting to these old forms of corresponding—particularly to important clients/customers/friends—I have been deluged with comments of appreciation and it pleases me enormously to know that my extra efforts are appreciated.

Today, the unsolicited correspondence that fills up your email inboxes are “junk” to some, valued reading to others; and they no longer only come from corporations. Now everyone is creating promotional communications, advertising their lives and activities via Flickr streams, blogs, newsletters and via social media. Consequently, it is hard to stand out, and hence my reversion to old communications practices to achieve that end.

An Artist's Take on Artist Statements

Brienne, a student in one of my classes at Emily Carr University sent me a link to this post written by artist Joanne Matera. It is a fabulous short essay; it is practical and worthy of a read.