The Art of Self-promotion for Visual Artists

The facts are without marketing and promotion what you have is a pleasant hobby

Retro TV Pitch Man For some visual artists, the idea of self-promotion is near anathema. They have a hard time believing good will come from it and look upon it as it is akin to being like the cheery cheesy fellow on the left of this copy.

The facts are without marketing and promotion what you have is a pleasant hobby

This is
the last in a series of blog posts that the professional and exquisite artist Lori McNee and I have written on the topic
of whether artists should work with galleries, self-represent or do both. Once we agreed in this day and age artists should do both, we got to work.

Most
of the prior pieces were collaborations between Lori and me. This one is solo
as was Lori’s insightful last piece: 3 Tips for Artists to Promote Themselves
& Their Galleries
.

While this post
is about self-promotion for visual artists, nearly all of what is
offered would work for any creative person seeking to market themselves. The suggestions here are offered to help artists improve the art of self-promotion. The suggestions are brief as many could be worked into a full-length post on
their own. As a matter of fact, such is the case and will be
linked as you read along.


Self-promotion is a learned skill for most artists

It seems
to me most artists I know are either extroverted expressive personalities that
demand attention or they are introverts who shy away from it. From the outside,
one easily can be fooled into thinking extroverts have an advantage in this
department. Further inspection proves this is not the case. Many shy people are highly successful in visible careers. The late King of Late Night, Johnny Carson, is a perfect example. He was a quiet private man who eschewed the limelight when not commandeering the desk on The Tonight Show. Meanwhile, his alter ego Art Fern persona was an always hilarious over-the-top send up of what a pitch man could be.

I do
believe there are some folks who have a better knack for self-promotion than
others, and they are not always the extroverts. This is is human nature. We are not all equally blessed in the same ways.
However, in the art business having the knack for self-promotion is not the key to success in growing
awareness for yourself and your art. It is determination and ambition that
drive career success for artists. This includes learning to harness the power of self-promotion.

Self-promotion
and self-belief are twin traits

You might want to read my blog post: The Power
of Believing in Yourself.
Self-belief is a powerful trait that can help propel your career and
keep it moving when it appears to everyone but you that you are against all
odds. If you
possess self-belief, it will help you be authentic and sincere in your
self-promotion, and that, sprinkled with talent, will take you far.


Self-promotion and success go hand-in-hand

Most of us
don’t mind someone who promotes themselves when we can see it is coming from
authentic self-belief as opposed to braggadocio. This is especially true if we can see they have the talent to back up
their self-belief. In fact, we are likely to want to see them succeed. Do we
think less of Lance Armstrong knowing he was proud to be the most successful
professional bike racer of all time? Do we despise the Rolling Stones who
cockily strutted their stuff as being the world’s greatest rock n’ roll band?
Did we think Picasso was out of if with outrageous and ego centric behavior?  When Jack Nicholson won the Golden Globe for “As
Good As It Gets,” he said it was a license for ten more years of bad behavior
and we laughed with him.

Do I think
anyone reading this is on the level of the above mentioned greats? Of course
not, but that should not stop you from learning from them, from being able to
grab that scintilla of purpose that can be applied to you in your job as a visual
artist. That is what you do as an artist anyway. You assimilate and emulate
styles and techniques until you have one of your own. You borrow from the
masters who have paved the path in front of you and use what you learn to go
your own way.

Here then
are some things that all fall under the area of art marketing that you can
begin to do to self-promote your art and your career:

  • Comment
    on designer's or galleries blogs, or other important folks who can influence your careeer. Making nice with other artists and commenting
    on their blog and Facebook is great for your ego, but it is not nearly as
    important as making nice with people who can buy your work or help your career.
    Find influential people and comment on their blogs or write them personal notes
    congratulating them or offering meaningful tips, insights or ideas. Lather, rinse and repeat.
  • Make
    friends
    with a local media person who covers culture, entertainment, or even
    politics. Don’t try to approach them for a story. Approach them to try and help
    them and to get to know them just to know them. If you do, the residual effect is bound to be positive and worthwhile for you.
  • Do
    something outrageous
    that you would never do. A great brainstorming technique
    is to take a large piece of paper and write as many ideas as you and your
    family and friends can think of to do. I guarantee you will come up with some
    good ideas to promote yourself.
  • Start
    an art event for charity
    . It does not have to be elaborate. It can be in your
    living room, or at a local coffee shop. All you need is an idea, a few fliers and
    a little gumption.
  • Print
    your art large
    on some unusual substrate such as metal or wood, clothing. Make
    it twice as large or twice as small as you have ever made. Then challenge
    yourself to find a way to promote what you have done.
  • Seek help in high places. I
    wrote a post titled Six Degrees of You. Think about someone who, if they
    took an interest, could seriously help your art career. A museum curator, a top
    interior designer, a magazine editor, the head of your state cultural
    organization. If you can’t think of someone like this, especially after getting
    clues offered, then question yourself about how much being successful really
    means to you.
  • Collaborate
    with another artist.
    Lori and I collaborated on this blog post series. Yes, we
    know many of the same folks, but there were many others who came to know more
    about us by doing the series. There is no reason you can’t do the same with
    other visual artists, or performing artists, poets or musicians. Learn to be
    inspired by someone and do likewise and look for ways to explore how to channel
    that inspiration to new work and new vistas for your art marketing efforts.
  • Get
    a .com domain with your name on it.
    Your name, if it is at all common, is
    probably taken. So, get one with mynamestuidio.com or mynameartist.com, or
    mynamefineartist.com. Then start using it. Your name is your brand. People will
    remember your name far more than some amorphous company name.
  • Write
    articles,
    or have them ghost written for you on entertainment, design, travel,
    dining, wine collecting, playing poker, or anything that interests you. Or, write
    about an art experience that is profound to you. Make sure it is clear you are
    an artist with a website and/or a blog.
  • Use social media. Do
    I really need to tell you to get a website and blog and Facebook fan page? If
    you haven’t do not fret, there is still space available on the Internet and
    Facebook for you.
  • Pay
    it forward.
    Get involved in ways to promote other artists. The good karma that
    will come from it will easily be worth the effort.
  • Market Locally – Grow Where You Are Planted. Use the Internet's power of local marketing. Network.
    Get involved in your area, become part of the local chamber. Many chambers have
    social memberships. Volunteer at a local charity. Visit every picture framer in
    50-mile radius. Ask each one how you can help them or if they have ideas how
    you can promote yourself.
  • Use
    handwritten and hand-drawn marketing pieces.
    I’ve seen a terrific marketing
    piece that was printed to look like an elaborate brainstorming session that led
    to a great idea. Use a series of sketches to illustrate an idea that leads to a
    suggestion to contact you or visit your website.
  • Believe
    in yourself
    .
    If you lack self-belief how can you expect others to believe in
    you?
  • Be driven, no can want success more than you. Do
    not rest until you have the success you want. You are the captain of your ship.
    It will go where you steer it. You your own true North Star to guide your
    careers. It won’t all be smooth sailing, but if you persist the end result will
    be like a day at the beach.
Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, we will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, we only recommend products or services we believe will add value to our readers.

Leave a Reply

  1. Some good ideas here. I think you need to mention the importance of SEO for your website.

    Some of the ideas here will work in America (I know as I have American friends who do them) and will *not* work in England, where I live.

    I can’t sell from my own home unless I register as a business & pay business tax. Cafes & shops are actively hostile to anyone other than their own promotion managers; I know, as I have spent 9 months going round shops, gyms, cafes, hairdressers, community halls and the like.
    I got a friendlier response from churches but only one actually allowed me to sell there.
    So what works in one culture is not always going to work in another.
    There is generally much more support in America for anyone trying to make their own living, than there is in England. And over the 2+ years I’ve been selling my art and cards online, 98% of my customers are American. The rest are Canadian!
    http://www.lindabutterfly.etsy.com

  2. Great post, Barney – actually a series of posts. I get my optimism dose from reading your blog and these days I’m needing it more often than not. Thanks for reminding me that I am still (supposed to be) in charge!

  3. Great ideas in this series of posts. The main thing for artists to remember is to keep trying. If a promotional idea doesn’t work try another. Successful people are persistent.

  4. Barney,

    I really enjoyed reading your fresh approach to self promotion and the comments. There are some great ideas on this list…and as you mentioned above, you and I have proven that collaboration with another artist can really get you in front of some new eyes!
    Thanks again for collaborating with me on a great series of artist/gallery related articles.

    Lori:-)

  5. I love the list at the end. What a great way to get your brain working on ways to get your name out there.

    ArtWoMan:
    Although I think just making better are and waiting for people to find you is very short sighted and not really practical in today’s world. Plus if you love your work why wouldn’t you want to let people know about it?

  6. Wow, this is some fantastic and super useful advice! I just found you via Lori McNee. I’ll be linking to this post and subscribing right away!

  7. This is priceless advice; thanks for making it available. Every time I think I’m already working most of the angles . . . Okay, I never really think that. There’s always something new and exciting to try! :-)

  8. I appreciate this article. It’s not always so much doing the self promotion, but finding the time to to do it. Once you get the ball rolling, things seems to fall into place. Thank you for sharing…

  9. THANK YOU!!! I am a professional artist, and I have many friends who want to be artists, but when we get into discussions about business & marketing and self-promotion it often turns into an argument. So many of them still carry the old idea of magically being “found,” and think that they are somehow selling out if they think about money and art in the same sentence. I’ll be forwarding this article to several of them :)

    • Hi Lea,
      I’m with you, I don’t think waiting to be “found” is realistic. Nice dream though :). I do want to let you know and any other artists know about a way to expose your art. I order all my supplies through Blick Art Materials and once as I was going through their catalogue, I noticed pictures of artist’s work with the artist’s name under it. I emailed them and after being channelled to a few people, I too was able to get my art and myself on their website as well as in their catalogue. Look for them online and give it a try. Good luck!

      • What a great suggestion. All you had to do was some research then ask for help and look what happened. Repeat that with other venues and publications. Let one experience build your confidence on the next and let the media know your art has already been seen elsewhere, too. They need confirmation themselves sometimes.

  10. Thank you for your inspirational and informative article! I have been trying to think of ways to better promote myself and getting quite discouraged lately. I am the “introvert type” artist and I find it difficult to speak about myself or my art. Your article confirmed that I’m not alone and that I just need to keep pounding the pavement and not give up what I love! I’m going to begin applying your suggestions today :).

    • Thank you for reading and commenting. The first step towards improving is acknowledging you have a problem. The next is working towards fixing or overcoming what is holding you back.Congrats for taking the stand!

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