Oil Painting by Philip Frey

Making Art, Marketing It and Being Happy Doing It – By Philip Frey

I would like to explore the business side of being an artist (from the perspective of a painter), specifically, what I do to promote my work. To be very clear, none of this comes from me, I have just paid attention to successful artists, business people and read a few books on marketing art. Also, I have paid attention to wise and content people in my life and so put a few of their methods to develop happiness into practice. That’s it. It’s pretty simple, no big mystery or PhD required.

What I have watched, experienced and put into practice are three main things involved in promoting one’s work:

1.) noticing how things work and being in accord with that;

2.) doing nice and helpful things for others on a regular basis and;

3.) simplicity.

These three factors appear to be the hallmarks of a successful businessperson and even more importantly, a happy, content person.

Oil Painting by Philip Frey

Landscape Oil Painting by Philip Frey

So, noticing how things work and being in accord with that or being in accord with cause and effect. This requires us to slow down and be mindful: look around a little and see how things actually work in the art world, specifically, when you are looking for a gallery to show in, to represent you and your work. I cannot stress enough how important this is in terms making a good match, promoting your work and selling work consistently. Take the time to visit the gallery personally – anonymously at first – to see how they treat you as a potential buyer. Dress nicely and walk into a gallery you like, to enjoy the work. No need to be sneaky about it, but look around seriously at the work there. You can learn a lot about a gallery and its staff and owner by doing this: Do you like their work? Does it fit with your work? Is your work selling in a similar price range? How do they treat you? Are they professional? Are they trying too hard to sell work? Is this gallery and the people who run it a group you want to build a professional relationship with? Do you like them? Do they like you?

The second point is, doing nice and helpful things for others on a regular basis. Others in the art world means your clients, gallery staff and owners, photographers, framers, suppliers, etc. But, don’t stop there, it’s in everyone’s interest for us to do nice things for others. For example, like what happens when we send a thank you note to a client who just bought a painting versus never contacting them again. Odds are they may never buy again. All of this takes a little time, effort and practice, but we are all trainable: we can get used to anything. Trying to develop the attitude that there is plenty to go around (because there really is) we should not only offer our talents as artists to people, but also be generous with our words and actions. Every seed we sow (whether it is a painting, a kind thought or word), grows into something. Again, it is in our best interest to do good work, be kind, and connect with others. It comes back to us in the long and short run.  It makes us happy.  We in turn get good feedback, do better artwork and make money as a professional artist. Quite simple really, so, send thank you personalized notes, cards, gifts, etc. to those who buy your work.

The third point is simplicity. Keep your advertising simple. Paid advertising in newspapers and magazines rarely works and costs a lot. Rather, keep an up to date website. I have sold several pieces directly from my website and many more from people looking at the site (like a portfolio) and they then go to a gallery show to purchase a piece.

Send color postcards to your own mailing list on a regular basis. My consistent postcard promotions have brought me new collectors by referral from current collectors (who tell me they like to receive the cards, keep them and tend to put them up in prominent places). The image on the card almost always sells first.

In terms of the work you make, start with smaller work that is affordable to develop a client base, especially when you are first starting out and when you first start showing at a gallery. Or at least have a variety of sizes of work if you like working large. Having artwork in someone’s house is one of the best ways to advertise. Generally, people who own a piece of your work, love it and will talk glowingly of it to their friends. That’s word of mouth advertising at its best.

Also, create a monthly or bimonthly e-mail newsletter only to those names you have collected personally. It’s free. Clients have said they like my e-mail newsletters, and I have sold many pieces through this method. Send press releases to papers whenever you have a show. It’s also free. Get articles written about your work in local papers. Yep, free again.

Lastly, here is a list of things that I try to do – that are all connected with promoting one’s work in one way or another – whether it be the view of doing things simply and slowly, to being generous, to paying attention to how things work:

  • Start locally and expand out slowly (from your town, county, state, region, etc.) with your PR efforts.
  • Create an ever-growing and changing mailing list from contacts that you have collected personally. Cold contacts very rarely work. Think about how much we all dislike unsolicited calls and mail.
  • Connect with your clients. Try to remember your client’s names (which is hard for me to do) and get to know them a little. It’s fun.
  • Find a couple of good galleries/directors that you like in your area to represent your work and develop your relationship with them. They are one of your support systems.
  • Ask your galleries (as well as your artist peers) for feedback on your work from time to time i.e. what clients like/don’t like about your work.
  • Be organized and act like a professional. Galleries, collectors, framers, photographers, etc. like it.
  • Keep consistent pricing from gallery to gallery, in your studio and at shows.
  • Price your work to sell to your client base. If you aren’t selling just about everything you make, it could be that your prices are too high.
Abstract Landscape Philip Frey

Oil Painting Philip Frey

All these things are just skimming the surface of what can be done in terms of promoting one’s work. But, they are the foundation of my own promotion efforts and have resulted in more and more success in selling just about everything I can make on a regular basis.  My collectors tell me they like seeing the progression of my work via, postcards, website, newsletter and of course through “brick and mortar” gallery exhibitions. I have also had galleries contact me to exhibit through sending them postcards, email newsletters, and from my website.

So, I have relied upon this formula, because it works. I wish you well and hope this has results for you too.

Philip Frey