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by Jack White on 12/10/2015 7:29:12 AM

This post is by Jack White, regular contributing writer for FineArtViews.  Jack has enjoyed a forty-one year career as a successful fulltime artist and author. He has written for Professional Artist Magazine for 14 years and has six art marketing books published. In 1976 Jack was named the Official Artist of Texas. He has mentored hundreds of artists around the world.  Jack authored seven Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art.


Shortly after deciding to become an artist, I realized the work I was doing would not sell. I quickly came to the conclusion it could take two or three years to master the craft of making oil paintings that connected with buyers. I was almost thirty eight, dead broke with a sickly wife and three small kids.  I had to SELL. After two months without a hint of selling any of my ‘dazzling’ oils, it became clear what I was doing was going to get us evicted.



In college, I had helped an elderly sign painter, cleaning his brushes and carrying his supplies. I watched him lay lots of gold leaf signs, learning the process in doing so. Remembering that experience, I came up with a concept to make art by applying gold leaf on the backside of glass. By adapting my medium and style, I immediately began to make art folks wanted to buy. Without that switch you would not know my name. I give credit to God for dropping the idea into my head.



That was 1970. After inventing the gold leaf process, my sales began to soar. The first one came on Valentine’s Day for $10; by Christmas I had sold over $43,000 worth of my new gold leaf on glass. This was 1970's money. The second year selling the gold leaf art, I passed the $100,000 mark. Within six years, the Texas Congress voted me the Official State Artist and a major city named a small lane Jack White Street.



Looking back, I know if I had not adapted I would have ended up selling shoes or driving a truck. My willingness to adjust saved my art career, providing me with an obscene amount of income. However, I grew tired of people calling my gold leaf a gimmick, even though it was. So at the end of 1978, I set the gold leaf process aside to learn to paint in oils. If I may say so, I became above average as an oil painter. Since I’m from Texas some of you may think I’m bragging, but I speak the truth.



When I began teaching Mikki to paint, we decided equine art would be perfect for her. She had owned horses all of her life and illustrated three equine medical books. I grew up a cowboy.  She knew every bone and muscle of a horse’s anatomy, I could read their mood. Sales were okay and several magazines did articles on her equine art.  Her work graced the cover of seven or eight publications. We visited at least forty horse ranches photographing various breeds. In short, we became equine experts. We attended the Virginia Gold Cup Steeplechase, Three Day Rolex Event and the Kentucky Derby, where we spent a week on the back stretch. The publisher of Equine Images asked her to do a series of short stories for their magazine. I ghost wrote the articles and they were very well received. The Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington commissioned Mikki to do a portrait of the great Secretariat. Accolades abounded but sales stagnated.



Shortly after this, my right arm was injured in an automobile accident so I was trying to learn to paint left handed. I was splashing big bold, brightly colored flowers on the canvas while Mikki was struggling to paint an equine portrait. Even if people don’t know much about horses, they recognize if the anatomy is incorrect. I suggested she have some fun painting one of the California Missions we had visited. It turned out pretty nice so we sent it to her gallery; they sold the mission painting out of the box. The gallery owner wanted more missions with flowers. After selling ten of the garden pieces and not one horse, I suggested it was time to adapt. We put the horses out to pasture. Mikki’s career soared.



The decision to change was the wisest move we ever made with her career. In almost no time, Mikki was selling more than she could produce. Her galleries were thrilled with the new voice and strong colors. We had no problem finding additional gallery representation with the new work.



I often wonder where we would be if she had not been courageous enough to adapt. When the economy went into the tank about six years ago, Mikki made another change. Instead of painting giant show stoppers, she adapted, producing suitcase paintings. These are small pieces a client can carry home on an airplane. She makes sure the galleries have a couple of major show stoppers for their walls; the large paintings help to sell the ‘little gems’.



Last summer, I suffered a mild stroke. With the quick thinking of Mikki, I was at one of the top stroke centers in the country within fifteen minutes. The only lasting side effect is I lost vision in my right eye. In order to write, I enlarge all text to 16 point bold on an extra-large computer monitor. It looks like a small television.  I adapted the size of the text to be able to continue to write. A wise person once said, “Where there is a will there is a way.” This is true if you are willing to adapt. As evidence I have attached information on my latest book, ABRAHAM LINCOLN, His Dark Side Exposed. The cover is a portrait I painted shortly before I stopped doing easel work. I feel this is my best book so far. The book I’m currently working on, Apostle Paul, will be out this spring.



This is my suggestion, take an afternoon and examine your current marketing plan. Is your art connecting with enough clients? The truth is if your work doesn’t emotionally connect with a large swath of people then you can’t expect to have success. We have to make things people want to own. It drives me up the wall to hear artists saying, “No one is going tell me what to make.” With that attitude you are programmed to fail.



Look at your prices. I have been helping a twenty-three year old female artist. She began to sell and immediately raised her prices. Sales ceased the moment she increased them. $1,200 is a tad high for an 8x10 by an unknown, novice painter. She adapted in the wrong direction. Someone gave her unsound advice.



I teach, “Price your work to sell.” Each time a painting sells, we need to paint a replacement piece. We only learn to paint by painting. The more you sell the more you must produce. A wise master artist once told me, “Jack, let clients pay you to learn to paint.” His rule was only raise prices when people are buying more than you can produce.



Consider making changes to your framing. If you paint watercolors that have to be framed under glass, switch to an aqua board that requires no protective covering. Art under glass is the most difficult to sell. Remember, oils are the top sellers of all the mediums. Pencil and pastels are harder.



All successful artists have adapted somewhere along their career path. Looking back, I realize I made several adjustments along the way. I rode the litho print horse into the ground and then focused on selling oils. Mikki tried giclees but soon found clients would rather have originals.



I know one artist who switched to painted post cards. She can paint ten an hour at $25 each. She is selling all she can produce, so if my math is correct, she is earning $250 an hour.



We have been putting more effort into marketing on social media with nice results. So instead of hanging your head down, find a way to ADAPT. Be inventive, you are making a product to sell. Think of ways to make your art connect with buyers at a price they can afford.




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Topics: advice for artists | Art Business | art marketing | FineArtViews | Jack White | sell art 

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Karen Burnette Garner
Jack, another timely article, full of truth. The art market has evolved in a very short amount of time, and if artists are not willing to adapt, they will find themselves high and dry. Good advice to look at what you are doing right, look at what is not working, and adjust your marketing strategy. Thanks for sharing with us all. Blessings to you and Mikki!

Mark Brockman
A couple points: I agree that we need to be able adapt, but one needs to be cautious, if one paints a particular subject or in a more popular medium just to sell you may create inferior work because your hearts not in it. Inferior work is not exceptible. You need to decide your path in this, paint to sell, or paint to create. The choice is the individuals. You might be lucky, what you want and how you paint just might be a seller.

As to medium; yes, shamfully oil paint is king. Now I worked in oils for years, stopped due to an allergic reaction, but oils are not always the most archival of paints. Glass does make selling harder, so watercolors and pastels often suffer in terms of sales. But not always. Using Aqua board for watercolors is ok but it must be protected, varnished or it can be damaged. Varnishing a watercolor can change the look. That's only a problem if it's a concern to the artist.

Yes adapt, but be sure the new path you take is the one you can live with.

David King
I can't say I've found my formula, but obviously you need to adapt until you find what works, however adapting isn't just about making what's easiest to sell, adapting can be just changing your marketing plan to help you find the collectors who will buy what you make. As Mark says, your heart has to be in it in order to produce quality work. So, just painting what's easiest to sell when it's not something you enjoy painting isn't likely to result in success either.

As for the oils thing, there are artists that do quite well with pastels and watercolor, though I'm sure they have to work harder on their marketing. I paint with acrylics, usually on panel, I don't have to frame under glass. Most people don't realize that my paintings are acrylic until I tell them, even oil painters with decades of experience. The argument could be made that acrylics are more archival than oils, but time will tell for sure. I don't paint with acrylics because I'm allergic to oils, though I don't find the smell of the solvent or the paint to be pleasant, I paint with acrylics just because I enjoy the process I've developed more with acrylics than I do with oils. Anyway, just putting it out that that acrylics are a viable alternative.

Lori Woodward
Hey Jack, such good info and reminders. I'm in the process of adapting... Smaller works. I varnish my watercolors after adhering them to a panel. The varnish is UV resistant, the colors are vibrant, and the varnish is acrylic, so I can wipe the painting off with a damp cloth. Been doing this for 12 years, and none of those I sold (to the folks I know and keep in touch with) have faded at all.

I also paint in oil, but don't enjoy it as much as watercolor/acrylic. Besides, my watermedia works look just like my oils. Never had any trouble selling them.

My prices are lower than when I worked with galleries, which was before the economy tanked. All but one gallery has closed anyway. Now I'm happy selling directly and have sold quite a few from my website in the last decade - and many as artist-in-residence at a luxury BandB in Arizona.

I think I'm experiencing the same trend as Mikki right now. It's harder to sell my larger canvas works, so I'm concentrating on smaller, quicker work that's more affordable. I still do an occasional large work (like Mikki does to attract attention)l but sell mostly the smaller works

. My prices have come down, and none of my previous collectors have complained... In fact, they see it as an opportunity to buy more of my work.

Thanks again Jack for sharing your wisdom.

Alannah Kern
Thank you for such a great article on marketing your art. As a retired successful real estate agent I totally relate to your process and worked that process for many years selling homes not art. In this social environment that is precisely what people who need to make a living from their art must do. However some of us are retired. We do not have to make a living from art. So we have a certain freedom to develop our work and to innovate if we have that capability. From what you have described the work that both of you do is marketable but not especially unique. I understand doing this. But it is not making of great art and that is really what we all aspire to. Cezanne did sell in his lifetime. He had the ability to work at his art without doing so. Result: He majorily innovated and influenced modern artists. Cezanne said: There are no amateur or professional artists. Only good artists and bad artists".

Alannah Kern
Thank you for such a great article on marketing your art. As a retired successful real estate agent I totally relate to your process and worked that process for many years selling homes not art. In this social environment that is precisely what people who need to make a living from their art must do. However some of us are retired. We do not have to make a living from art. So we have a certain freedom to develop our work and to innovate if we have that capability. From what you have described the work that both of you do is marketable but not especially unique. I understand doing this. But it is not the making of great art and that is really what we all aspire to. Cezanne did not sell in his lifetime. He had the financial capability to work at his art without doing so. Result: He majorly influenced the modern and post modern artists. We do not all have the luxury of Cezanne. Certainly many artists produce limited numbers of the same piece for sale such as Henry Moore Picasso and others who worked in bronze clay glass from maquettes and produced limited edition lithographs etc. But these are major artists offering major work to an educated group of art collectors. Not too many artists can combine business and greatness. But some do. And some who are absolutely great artists do not. But as Cezanne said: There are no amateur or professional artists. Only good artists and bad artists".

Carl E. boxler
Thank you for another fact loaded advice from "The Master". Thank you for producing these incredibly "loaded" blogs that you write and I keep looking at the webpage daily to be sure I do not miss any. I make images with wires and engrave some glass but perhaps these art forms are not too well known or not wanted. maybe it is time for me to find another way too. (you can find me under and then ScratchesAnWires, my shop name). To be sure, I am not asking for your time other than that you please continue to write your blogs and thank you for any one of them you do.

Paula Christen
Always enjoy reading your articles, Jack. Just curious why you think, watercolors under glass are harder to sell? I always thought that watercolors were more difficult to sell due to a perception that they were somehow less valuable because they were created on paper instead of canvas.

Niki Simonson
Great article, as usual. The portrait of Abraham Lincoln was absolutely wonderful. He looks so alive and tortured.

Mark Brockman
Paula, I'm going to but here, not trying to step on toes.

You are right, art on paper has generally been less expensive for the same on canvas. There could be a number of reasons. One being that paper is inferior to say canvas or board which I my opinion is hog wash. A good paper might even be tougher then canvas, especially stretched canvas. All art is fragile for various reasons, and all art needs to be properly framed and cared for. Some feel the glass needed to protect art on paper is a deterrent. Mostly it is based on prejudice and ignorance.

Yes I work on paper.

Walker Stevens

Great article. You are and your wife are, in my humble opinion, two of the BEST artists God has produced in this country.

I'm a Texan as well, but your talent, and as important, your marketing skills supersede most of the artists who comment on this venue; and, take you well past the "I'm a Texan" category. You and Mikki are a great artists, pure and simple, and we're fortunate that you're both willing to share your knowledge.

You're right, when the game changes, we need to adapt. That's what makes our Marine Corps the best fighting force in the world, and that is what will help artists to succeed.

I've only been a professional artist for ten years, and a full-time artist for 12 years. I began selling photo prints of my originals for $5 to $20 per, and now get $300 to $500 per (12 x 12, 16, 18).

Having been instructed by Thom Kindade, about selling Ltd. 1st Ed. Prints, photo prints, etc., and not 'giving away' an original, just to make a sale, I've been doing extremely well for the past few years. It also taught me to listen to my peers (the successful ones), because it will increase my bank account. I do, and it has.

Like you, I've created a niche for myself by doing 'generation' paintings, using paint, then photographing each painted step, printing, re-stretching the printed piece, adding more paint (as I work closer to the fore-ground), re-photographing, re-printing, and adding more paint. I learned the art from a Japanese glass painter, while living in Hawaii.

Most of my work has ten to fifteen 'generation,' which is costly to produce the final finished original, but the affects are: an astounding background, or multi-level object (trees, etc.), that cannot be produced in a single generation.

I also do many 'sculpted' paintings that are 3-dimensional. I've been signed by a major gallery, and I sell a lot of art. I adapted!

I thank you for your articles, and sharing your advice.

Warm Regards,
Walker Stevens

Carisa Mitchell
Thank you for sharing this article. I believe that is something taking place in my art career now - the need to ADAPT. It's nice to know that other artists have needed to take this step as well. Thanks for the advice.

Ryan Kimba
Jack has been a mentor to me for several years now, even though I've never met him. Art is all about adapting! I couldn't agree more. Jack's best advice to me was that I should switch to oil painting from pastels.

And I've never looked back!


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