Today's Post is by Lori Woodward, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. She is also a contributing editor for American Artist's Watercolor and Workshop magazines and she writes "The Artist's Life" blog on American Artists' Forum. Lori is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group that paints under the direction of Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik. Find out how you can be a guest author.
I majored in fine art at a university in the mid 1970's, but I really didn't learn much there because that school focused on abstract art while I was drawn to representational art. However, this post is not really about getting a poor art education, it's about growing as an artist and getting your work to the point where collectors are lining up to buy it. So... I'll continue... I worked for a computer company for 10 years, but when my husband and I moved to Albuquerque, visiting art galleries there got me yearning to get back into art. So I signed up for some watercolor classes with a local teacher, Dorothy Vorhees. I studied with her for three years, took a few workshops with nationally known master painters, and finally got to the point where I my work was good enough to sell.
That was in 1993. At the time, I was quite naive when it came to selling artwork. There was a frame shop in town that was loosely connected to a gallery right next to it. I imagined that if I had the shop frame one of my paintings, I'd be discovered and the gallery would automatically take me on. I also naively thought I could take one or two paintings (which were pretty good) down to Scottsdale, walk into a gallery and wow
the gallerist. As I said, I didn't have a clue about how to get started selling my work.
It Isn't only Nationally Known Artists Who Make a Good Living
Since that time, I have indeed shown with galleries, hired art marketing consultants, and contributed thousands of dollars to my art education. It was a long road, but today I credit my successful artist friends with helping me chart a course for my art business. Yes, I do count Richard Schmid and Nancy Guzik as personal friends, but their success stories are quite different than mine or those of my friends who are not nationally known. Keep in mind that while some of these artists are not national names, they make an admirable income.
So at the beginning of 2010, I find myself planning a series of blogs for Fine Art Views that will help artists get started at selling their work. Keep in mind that making a living in art is rarely, if ever, a get rich quick occupation. After all, if making and selling artwork were easy, and everybody could do it, it wouldn't be worth much. Outstanding art has intrinsic value. Collectors recognize that value. All the sales techniques and art marketing knowledge in the world will not sell your work if it does not attract an audience.
This does not mean that you have to be the best artist in the world to make a living at it. But artists who make good livings have some things in common - one is that they've developed an outstanding body of work with a consistent style... or a thread of similarity that holds the body of work together. While many of FAVs readers have already developed a body of work and style, there are others that are just getting to the point where they would like to move their work from being a hobby to a business. These are the artists I'll be talking to in this series of articles. However, you more experienced artists - I'd love it if you would chime in with examples of how you made the transition from amateur to professional. I sure wish I had a forum like this when I was first getting started.
The greatest asset for Selling Your Art, is Your Artwork itself
Even if you know the best marketing and sales techniques, these things won't take you far unless your work connects with an audience. As I've said in past posts, put the horse before the cart by getting the quality of your work to the point where it looks professional. This took me about 5 years of constant practice, study with good teachers, learning from books and videos, and painting alongside with friends who were better than I was. I also naturally developed a style during that time, and so it was at that point, I began to learn about how to make that work.
Getting Started: Look Through Your Stack of Art Magazines
When I taught week-long art marketing workshops at Sharon Art Center in New Hampshire, I brought a stack of magazines to the first class. Each student took home several issues. They were asked to look through these and dog ear any image that they loved. There was no need to explain why they were drawn to certain artworks - but just that they connected with them. The next stage of the assignment was to see what all those images had in common... whether it be style, color, or subject matter.
It was not surprising that there was a thread of commonality among the artworks each selected, and in most cases, the work they loved was similar to their own work in some way. If you've never taken the time to do something like this exercise, I encourage you to do so. My friend, artist Dennis Sheehan, keeps a box of torn out pages from magazines and photos of works he's downloaded from art websites - he calls this a morgue. I don't know why it's called that, but it is.
Like it or not, if your work can be recognized as "Your Work", you'll have an easier time attracting an audience for it. Developing a unique style normally takes years, but you can speed up the process by working in a series - by gaining excellence with one subject or composition. Yeah, it can get boring at times, but it's the fastest way to get your skills sharpened.