Ten Questions for Lori Woodward.
I have had the pleasure of knowing Lori Woodward for years. It has been fun to watch her art career grow as a successful artist, a writer and teacher. She combines artistry, passion, skill and quiet confidence into everything she does.
To her collectors, she is an artist who delights them, to her growing audience of fellow artists who follow her own blog and on Fine Art Views, which is published by Fine Art Studios Online, she is a fount of knowledge and inspiration. Recently, I asked her ten questions about her art career and her life as an artist. I found her responses intriguing and informative. I am sure you will, too.
1. When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
I didn’t think seriously about what my future occupation until I was a junior in high school, but I started drawing at about age three. At that tender age, I knew I wasn’t allowed to draw on the walls, so I decided to enhance a small oil landscape that my family owned… with a crayon. I don’t think anyone ever cared to remove the crayon. But more seriously, at the age of ten, my cherished Christmas present was the instructional book, “How to Draw Dogs” by Walter Foster, and although I had no real art supplies, I copied just about every dog in the book with a number two pencil on loose-leaf paper. I remember thinking, “Wow, I can actually draw”. It was then and there that my adventure with art truly began. I was hooked! Soon I started drawing people.
2. How did you decide what kind of art to make?
I’m not sure I’ve ever settled on one medium or subject matter. I love the outdoors, mountains, lakes and trees, so those subjects attract my attention most; that said, I find painting landscapes the most difficult. Still life and people are easier subjects – just because it’s easier to design the setup. While I am skilled at observation and copying what I see, I have difficulty with making up images. I paint in watercolor (my first language), acrylic, and oil. Acrylic is probably my favorite because I enjoy the fact that it dries fast and is opaque. Oil is my least favorite because it’s messy and requires time-consuming cleanup. I switched to oil in the early 2000s because my galleries requested it. Since leaving galleries, I’ve sold more watercolors and acrylics than oils – probably because my skill is better with watermedia.
3. You have an Art Education degree from University of Arizona; did that interest help you start writing instruction articles for artist magazines?
My degree has done little, if anything for my art career. I didn’t pursue teaching in public schools, being too meek and looking younger than the students that would be in my classes. Shortly after college, I married, moved from Tucson to New Hampshire and worked for a computer company for the next decade, doing very little art. We relocated to Albuquerque in 1991. I decided to stop working in computers then and get back developing my art skills by enrolling in local watercolor classes and then by taking workshops that were held in Albuquerque.
I got started writing for art magazines in 1996 when I attended a watercolor workshop with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal at their home in upstate NY. I had been reading articles in American Artist Magazine’s Watercolor issues for several years, and I had noticed that many of the students who took workshops with Sondra and Jack magically had articles written up in Watercolor magazine. That’s because the editor-in-chief, Steve Doherty has been good friends with Jack and Sondra for most of his adult life.
I suspected that Steve would be present at least one of the days of the week-long workshop, so I decided that I’d bring some slides with me to show Steve (not my own work but the work of friends from the Nashua area. My own work was not in any way ready for publication at the time. Steve looked over the slides (yes we used slides in those days), and since he didn’t have enough writers at the time for all the new American Artist publications, I offered to write the article myself, stating that if mine were poorly written, the editors didn’t have to publish it.
Longer story shorter, not only did I get that first article published, but the project manager gave me my own column in watercolor. I could pretty much write about any artist I wanted. I wrote for that publication on and off until 2010, and wrote a half-dozen articles for Workshop Magazine, as well. In 2007, I contacted Steve and asked if I could write an instructional column for Watercolor Magazine, using my own step by step examples, and he said yes.
4. Did writing about the art business and offering art marketing advice come about as an offshoot of writing about art instruction?
I’ve always had an interest in marketing – it just fascinates me. What I’ve come to realize over the course of my professional career is that artists who have a variety of skills, and are “fun to work with” end up with great opportunities. It helps if the artist is socially comfortable and of a positive frame of mind. In 1999, I interviewed Calvin J. Goodman, a long-standing art-marketing consultant, for an article in American Artist Magazine. During the phone interview, Calvin talked me into letting him coach me (at $200/month), but eventually we became colleagues, and he asked me to author a chapter in his Art Marketing Handbook in return for free coaching.
I learned an incredible amount about art marketing from him. At about the same time, I ordered Jack White’s art marketing books… Jack and his wife/artist Mikki Senkarik lived in Arizona, and I had the opportunity to visit them while I was out there on vacation. I also learned a ton from Jack’s experience – which was a little different than what Calvin taught. It was then that I began offering art marketing workshops and interviewing artists who were making a respectable living with art sales.
5. You offer both art instruction and art marketing advice. What came first?
Marketing and instruction came simultaneously because I was writing both kinds of articles for American Artist publications, and I taught art and marketing workshops simultaneously at my studio in Manchester NH. In 2013, I taught both a watercolor workshop and a separate art-marketing seminar at Scottsdale Artist School. I enjoyed both – because I was helping artists.
6. How do you balance working on writing, advising, painting and marketing your own art career?
Good Question! Actually, I don’t balance these things well at all. It’s a constant struggle, and I’m in the process of simplifying my life and tasks. Painting takes an immense amount of time. I’m realizing that as I get older that my mind doesn’t multi-process as well as it once did. It’s becoming an either/or choice, and I’m moving toward choosing my art over marketing.
My brother is a clinical pharmacist. This type of job was created in the 1970s because doctors couldn’t keep up with the changes in medications. Doctors began to work hand-in-hand with pharmacists in order to keep current. The pharmacist’s job is to keep up with new medications and their complications while the doctor makes the diagnosis. In the same way, art marketing is becoming a complicated field of study – something which requires a huge amount of reading, research and study. If I am to pursue fully getting to the next level of expertise with my artwork, I can’t possibly keep up with researching marketing. So.. I’m leaving that part up to the experts, like you Barney.
7. How did you get a name for yourself in the world of art instruction and art advice?
Mostly through magazine articles early on. In 2002, I interviewed Clint Watson (creator and owner of Fine Art Studios Online Websites) for the chapter that I was writing on websites for Calvin Goodman’s art marketing handbook. Clint was just getting started with offering websites for artists, but he knew a lot about selling art from his previous experience as a gallery owner/manager. Later, Clint and I would cross paths online again.
Around 2007, I decided that it was time to take my software engineer husband off the hook from updating my custom website and go with a FASO (Fine Art Studio Online) website from Clint Watson. It was then that I started using the blogging software that came with the site. I love to write, so I started blogging every so often whenever ideas popped into my head. Somehow (neither Clint nor I can remember) Clint started reading my blog and asked if he could publish some of my writing on his blog, Fine Art Views. About 6 months after that, he asked if I’d officially blog weekly for Fine Art Views for pay. I was elated! Writing for FAVS gave me a platform to share what I’d learned about art marketing and living the artist’s life. At about the same time, I began writing blogs on similar topics for American Artist’s Online Site, Artist Daily. That was around 2009, but eventually, I chose to write exclusively for Fine Art Views since Clint was paying me, and I didn’t feel that it was fair to him if I wrote for free on other sites.
8. Your own art marketing seems to have evolved from primarily selling in galleries to selling directly to collectors. Are you still doing both?
I stopped selling in galleries in the early 2000s because I was busy with writing and could no longer supply my galleries. One local gallery sold nearly ten of my paintings to one collector, and I was suddenly out of an inventory. That gallerist was a print dealer and framer, so I had some giclees made which she bought at wholesale price. She framed them nicely and sold all of them. Since then, many of my former galleries have closed for one reason or another. I started selling to my students when I taught workshops, at some outdoor shows, and at a B&B in Tucson where I was their artist in residence for a month each winter. I priced small unframed works quite reasonably, and the guests bought most everything I painted while there.
On two occasions, the guests later bought additional works from my website. I’ve also sold works from a shared studio in downtown Nashua, and most recently from a rented booth in a high-end antiques shop where the owners also sell deceased artists’ works. Because my paintings are traditional, they fit well with antique paintings and are priced a whole lot lower. My life is far less complicated when I sell my work myself. The gallery owners I know as friends are not taking on new artists right now. In fact, I know a handful of masterful artists who have worked with galleries in the past, and these artists are having trouble getting into galleries. I think I’ll continue selling where I know it works and see how the gallery system performs for the next few years.
9. How do you manage your gallery relationships while selling direct simultaneously?
That’s not a problem for me as I’m not currently working with galleries, but many artists (whom I call friends) who do sell both directly and through galleries tend to sell smaller works – 8×10 or smaller, unframed for very reasonable prices online while they sell their larger works – for much higher prices at their galleries. The gallery owners have no problem with this setup, and artists have two markets.
10. Any final words of wisdom for artists seeking to become successful today?
It seems that artists can no longer depend on gallery sales alone to make a living. Sure, a few are doing that, but even among those who’ve won national awards and have had magazine articles, are scrambling for income beyond galleries. The world of art sales is changing, and it’s a fact that much art is purchased online, even when it’s being shown at a gallery. It’s interesting to note that mostly artists who show up at show receptions while the collectors stay at home and phone the gallery to purchase.
Even when works are sold by draw, a collector can phone the gallery and have their name put in the box for a certain painting. My advice to artists is to learn to sell your work on your own. Get a website or blog that people can subscribe to (so you can build your email list). There’s no one recipe or venue – experiment. What works for one artist, may or may not work for another. Always consider your potential long term return on investment when entering a show or placing an ad.
Spend most of your time making the best quality work you can, and seek to continually improve while developing your own recognizable, consistent style. That doesn’t mean you can’t sell art while you’re gaining experience. My studio-mate, Karen Bruson started selling her unframed originals three years ago for around $20 online. She recently showed me the kind of work that she was selling at those prices, and it was on the amateur side. Today, three-short years later, her work is astoundingly brilliant, and her prices now range between $150 for very small works to $900. She has never sold through a gallery, and yes, she sells ‘em like hotcakes. She also sells at antique and jewelry stores, and from her blog/website. In fact, I got the idea to sell at an antique store from her. I also paint at farmers’ markets – where I’ve made a lot of friends and get quite a lot of support from the local community. That has led to local articles in newspapers.
Marketers once said raise your prices so your sales will increase. If that ever worked, and I’m not sure it did, It didn’t work for me. I have to say that today, collectors are well educated, and now that folks buy from the Internet, they can compare value and price easily. I believe that it’s easier to sell art than ever before, but much harder to make a 6 figures with art sales. That said, don’t despair – because if you’re an emerging artist, you can sell at reasonable prices and grow your followers and prices over time.
I tend to raise my prices by 10% after a good sales year. As I said, I’m moving toward leaving the marketing part of art up to the experts these days so I can set aside more time to paint. Just like other artists, I’m experimenting with sales, prices, and venues. Above all, I’m looking at what works and what doesn’t – measuring results by actual sales. If something doesn’t work well for me, I try not to take it personally. It’s a brave new world and kinda fun too!