For me, “success” was the necessity to make a living, and exercise what limited creative abilities I possessed WITHOUT being “boss” of an organization and dealing with employees, bankers and demanding clients – as it had been when I started and ran an Advertising agency.
My friend Dick Harrison, who was an artist's rep par excellence for decades, replied to the previous How to Start Your Own Art Publishing Company with his savvy insight and sage advice. Many of you many know him from his Sales Tips for Artists site where he provides a wealth of knowledge.
You can see from the shots of his Florida property he managed to do quite well on his earnings as both a career artist and artist's rep for more than 20 years as he worked towards a well-deserved retirement.
I took the liberty of adding some paragraph headers, I'm sure Dick won't mind. Thanks to him for all his magnificent contributions to artists and for his generosity in sharing his vast knowledge and experience.
Your exchange with "OldeBob" was fascinating and filled with such great advice, it inspired me to take pen in hand and write what follows. Is there any way you can use this? I'll probably post on my blog, for the few who follow it, if you think it is worth reading, along with your post – question and answer – assuming it's OK with you to do that. - Dick
Starting Over in Tough Times
Barney, what an interesting question from a husband and wife team of producing artists! Your answer, as usual, is worth its weight in gold! I haven’t been blogging or podcasting regularly because of home responsibilities, but this struck a special chord so I’m adding my “two cents” to your treasure trove of information.
“What Would I Do If I Were Starting Over In Tough Times?”
As you know, I’m now long “retired” after more than twenty years selling my own art and acting as an art rep for others, mostly to Interior Designers and Architects. What follows is not so much a generally applicable “how to” as it is a call for artists to think outside the usual box about his or her particular talent.
Defining your success is both important and personal
The first step is to decide what “success” actually means to you. If fame, fortune and a worldwide reputation are your “success,” stop reading now. Almost nothing I say will help, or even make much sense.
For me, “success” was the necessity to make a living, and exercise what limited creative abilities I possessed WITHOUT being “boss” of an organization and dealing with employees, bankers and demanding clients – as it had been when I started and ran an Advertising agency. That was challenging and I enjoyed a lot of what I did and had to do as I learned the ropes on my way to “owner.” But, in a scenario like that, one “owns” the problems as well as the rewards. Not what I wanted or had the resources to duplicate when I had to start over.
You are never too old to employ dreams and imagination
Therefore, I’m putting myself in Olde Bob’s shoes and IMAGINING what I’d do if I weren’t seventy-nine and also had the added advantage of a talented wife who shared my passion for art and a special interest in painting animals – along with that modest inheritance to get started.
WARNING! Artists – please don’t take what follows as “your plan” or “the plan.” Yours will be completely different and this is just meant as a “thought starter.”
We live in a beautiful world – when I was on the road marketing art all over Florida, God’s magnificent creation was a constant pleasure and source of inspiration when I got back to my studio to spend time creating art to sell. I loved seeing new places and new sights. My guess is; most artists do, too.
Following in the path of successful enterepreneurs is a time-honored tradition
My START OVER aim would be to find a modestly priced, comfortable, used motor home or drag behind, with enough space in it to live and work on my art. The most successful and happy art entrepreneur I ever met built a marvelous art publishing business by traveling the USA from tiny Guemes Island WA, reachable only by ferryboat. Ria Foster, founder of IIA, Island International Artists, now retired, still travels to beautiful spots in her motor home to create wonderful jewelry in venues she came to love. More than a quarter century later IIA lives on and thrives today as the best etching publisher in the country.
Olde Bob has already found an art niche. People all over the world love animals. Galleries and Interior Designers use animal images consistently to decorate homes and businesses – and those buyers are everywhere!
Artists have great tools to help them sell their work today
The Internet, social media and websites are great ways to sell art and you should use them all. Print-on-demand allows an artist to reproduce any image in virtually any size on almost any substrate – but once produced, the image must be sold to someone if the artist doesn’t want to starve in a garret until fame and fortune stumble on to his work.
Take it from me – and Ria Foster – there is no better way to sell art than to show up on a buyer’s doorstep with a beautiful piece of art they can touch and, perhaps think: “I can sell that!” When that happens, whether it is a pack of greeting cards or a carefully painted original animal portrait, you’ve made a sale! This is a key piece of information every artist should remember – or have tattooed on the back of his hand if he has a poor memory. You can’t sell it if you don’t show it.
You cannot beat the personal touch
Add to that your ability to say: “I have even nicer ones in the motor home parked outside your door. Can you take a couple of minutes to step inside for a cup of tea while I show you more?” Bonus – you’ll get to know buyers personally, find out their likes and dislikes, and YOU WILL BE REMEMBERED and welcomed back on your next trip through. I sold art to many of my Interior Design clients, over and over, for more than a dozen years.
Olde Bob – you already know your images should sell as self-produced cards and there are even more gift shops than Interior Designers – their studios and shops often located almost side-by-side in most affluent areas.
But Bob – don’t get hung up worrying about Archival Inks and permanence for items as ephemeral as greeting cards. They have about a forty-five second life span and then are tossed or tucked away because of the sentiment, never to be seen again. Unless you have a name and collector base – have established a “brand” valued for possible appreciation, Interior Designers aren’t looking for permanence either. They’d just as soon have their clients redecorate every five years – out with the old – in with the new.
If your art measures 8” x 10” the ever advancing Print On Demand processes can blow it up to whatever size your client wants. Using your original as the sales sample you can offer any size required, but don’t you try to print it yourself. There are printing pros galore with the equipment and know how to do it for you. As you sit beside the lake outside of town, enjoying the sunset, just figure out how to price the piece so you can make a profit.
There are riches in niches
Be open to niche markets within your niche. I have a sister-in-law who knits wonderful things using super soft Alpaca yarn. Because of her I became aware of the growing number of Alpaca farmers and breeders. Some of those beautiful, gentle, animals sell for $100,000 plus and their yarn is a high-ticket item. Often the yarn is sold with information or a photo of the animal that produced it. If you owned a $100,000 animal, wouldn’t you be open to a nice hand-painted portrait to make that animal even more special? With your wheels, all you need is a list of Alpaca farms to visit as you travel to sell to the regular trade – or to Art Fairs where you set up to show and sell your work, if that is something you like to do. If you can’t sell an Alpaca portrait, perhaps the breeder would be open to allowing you to order and sell their special yarn on commission to high-end shops.
And, speaking of commissions, Olde Bob, I’ll bet you know other artists whose work you admire who would be glad to have you take their work with you as you visit buyers they’ll never see. Do that and you are an Artists’ Rep, deserving a nice commission, as I was.
Some years I sold $20,000 – $30,000 worth of my own work and earned commissions from other artists that let me build a lovely house and studio with a half-acre pond where I had the fun of raising swans and water lilies. (Which isn’t a good combination because I soon learned swans eat water lilies.) The point is: I was open to and always looking for a new idea, as – as anyone should be – when STARTING OVER IN TOUGH TIMES!