5 Things You Must Do To Sell Your Art, Assuming That’s Your Goal and…A New Painting!

First Summer, Takhi Foal 18x24" oil hot off the easel

1. Suck it up and accept the fact that you are an entrepreneur and that you are running a business. Artists can handle business stuff. We are not, by definition, airy, fairy flakes. Get organized, get Quicken for financial recordkeeping,  Evernote for keeping track of everything and make the commitment to nurture your career. No one else will do it for you or as well.

2. Create a marketing plan or you won’t have a clue about what to do. Without a context and the bigger picture, how can you know whether or not doing a particular show makes sense or if you should do prints or sign with that gallery? Not having a plan is throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping something (like money) sticks. Find your local Small Business Development Corporation office and take advantage of their free and low-cost services. I did and it’s really paid off. Literally.

Ready for North Coast Open Studios, June 11, 2011

3. Make social media work for you. Yeah, I know “but I already spend too much time on the computer (whine)”. Like it or not, online career-building is where it’s at now and has the major advantage is that it’s often free, unlike traditional advertising and promotion. These days you must have: a website that you can update yourself (I use Go Daddy. There are others that are probably simpler to set up but don’t offer the design flexibility; google “artists websites” to see what’s out there); a blog (This is a WordPress blog. Blogger works fine also, but the backend isn’t as sophisticated); a Facebook public page (easy to set up); a Twitter account (you’ll need to experiment to see how well it works for you); a newsletter (Constant Contact is the way to go); a LinkedIn profile (lots of artists there these days) and whatever else you find out there that can help get the word out about your work. It’s the synergy between all this that is what counts. There is no “one place to be”. The question is “how many places can I be?”

4. Always do the very best work you can that reflects your passion and point of view, NOT what you think the market wants. That way lies imitative, mediocre art that is always going to be two steps behind. Be the best YOU can be and then back it up with numbers 1 and 2.

Work in progress

5. Buy Alyson Stanfield’s book “I’d Rather Be In The Studio: the artist’s no-excuse guide to self-promotion”  and check out her website and blog. She’s the best resource out there for ideas, advice and encouragement for building an art career. One of the things she emphasizes over and over is how critical your mailing list is because these are the people who are interested enough in what you do to let you contact them with news of what you’re up to.

Notice all the links? That’s no accident. Part of the purpose of this post and the links is to drive traffic to this blog.

Feel free to add any further thoughts and ideas in the comments!

Trying Out A New Marketing Opportunity

Mongol Horse #2 - Ikh Nart Stallion

Late last year, a Facebook friend posted something about a new art auction site, to be run by someone called The Brigham Galleries. The short story is that the owners had decided to close their “bricks and mortar” gallery location on Nantucket and instead sell exclusively through online auctions. They saw that there is a price gap between art sales on eBay (generally below $1000) and the big auction houses like Sotheby’s (generally over $500,000). That’s quite a bit of open territory. I went to their site and saw a couple names I recognized on their list of artists and became a fan on their Facebook page.

They announced an opportunity to submit work for the first auction as a “Juror’s Pick” and I decided to submit something. No cost, no risk. Why not give it a whirl? And, the painting above made the cut as a Juror’s Pick!

It’s been a bit of a long road for the women to get it all organized and has taken longer than they expected to get the site up and running. But, as of today, the auctions have begun! The listings are here. Mine is at the bottom of the first page. It’s Lot 35, Lot Item 1102. The auction will be for two weeks.

I’m very pleased with the quality and variety of work that they have for this very first round.

Will I get sales? Who knows? But it’s a new model that I hope will be successful. There is minimal risk to the artist- the work stays in the studio until it sells. And minimum expense- no shipping work back and forth, reasonable listing fees and an extremely reasonable commission upon sales.

Six Months on Facebook and…..

I know a lot of artists are wondering if getting on a social networking site like Facebook is worth it. They know they “ought” to, but see it as just another time suck when they can’t get everything done that needs doing anyway.

I decided to test drive it as part of my low (as in “no”) budget marketing plan. Here’s what’s happened since January:

After starting with a few people I knew in high school and art school, the number of friends I have has exploded to 173, mostly artists, some nationally known. But there are also local friends, some of whom are also gardeners, and people involved in animal welfare/rescue issues. So there I already have two groups that are potential buyers, except I don’t really think of them that way anymore.  Another friend is the editor of a major national art magazine, one writes every month for another art magazine and one is a gallery owner.

People are always posting about their work, interesting links, the shows they’re doing, the trips they’re taking, the new studio they’ve just moved into or an award they’ve won. Their friends hit the “Like” button or leave supportive comments. So if you feel isolated as an artist, Facebook is a great way to get connected and become part of a worldwide community of other artists. We cheer each other on, send virtual chocolate, flowers and sunshine to congratulate or commiserate and just generally enjoy each other’s “company”.

I “Share” my new blog posts and my Ebay auctions each week and I can see the spike in traffic on my blog and the click-throughs to my website after I’ve done so. When I post an image of a new painting, I get lots of strokes and compliments, which I really appreciate and which make the day a little brighter.

I’ve had one sale so far from a Facebook listing. The buyer was a fellow artist, who I originally connected with because we both have and love rough collies. She saw my eBay auction listing, bid and won.

I have friends in 18 countries, besides the USA. Most of them are fellow artists and it’s fun to see what’s going on elsewhere. Yesterday a new friend liked a painting of mine so much that she shared it on her Wall. She is from Argentina and now 59 of her friends, none of whom I know, will see my work. I was very please and flattered.

The countries I currently have friends in are: Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Argentina, Costa Rica, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, South Africa, Kenya, Italy, France, Spain, England and Scotland (UK), Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, India and Mongolia. Plus two friends who don’t list where they live.

Honestly, what other way is there to make those kinds of connections for free? And I get so much more than just an marketing opportunity out of it. That, it turns out, was really only a starting point.

I have set limits on how I participate. I don’t get involved in any of the on-going games. I only use a few of the apps, either to send a “gift” to someone or when participating benefits a good cause like the Surfrider Foundation, bed nets for malaria prevention or saving the Rainforest. I do give in on some of the fun, silly quizzes, finding out that my aura is red, that I would be in Ravenclaw and that if I was a Star Trek character it would be Capt. Picard.

I get the feeds from sources as diverse as the White House (yes, THAT White House) and The Onion.

I have joined a variety of art-related groups, which I haven’t participated in as much as I would like. There also seem to be “fan” pages for just about every artist who ever lived that anyone has heard of. I’m a fan of, among others, Mucha, Sorolla and Waterhouse. These pages do post show and other information about the artists, along with images of their work.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I’m a fan of Facebook. I believe that we are rapidly approaching the point where having a presence on a social networking site will be every bit as necessary as having a phone and a website. Oh, and I’m now on Twitter at http://twitter.com/s_fox too. Still working on what the best use of that will be for me, but I invite you come follow along!


I’m just about a month away from Mongolia and this (I hope)….

Argali rams at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Sept. 2008
Argali rams at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve, Sept. 2008

Marketing Our Art During the Financial Meltdown, Part 4 (That’s It For Now); New Paintings!

Alex "helping"
Alex "helping"

Take Care of Yourself!

Even in the best of times, and this ain’t them, it takes energy and decent health to put in the hours needed to paint and take care of all the other parts of having a career. It’s also easy to get down, if not depressed. You know you have to nurture your art, but you also have to nurture yourself. And that’s a guy thing, too.

I’ve learned this the hard way having dealt with chronic sinusitis for ten years. It manifests in a low grade fever that leaves me too fatigued to do much of anything. I generally have it under control, but always need to be vigilant about getting quality sleep, eating right and exercising. I also get a massage every three weeks to keep me tuned up. I accept that I’m going to have to work at staying healthy and that it is as much a part of my routine as getting to the studio in the morning.

Exercise is really important, especially if you sit or stand all day at an easel. “Studies have shown” that the two most effective forms of exercise are walking and gardening, so you don’t have to join a gym or run marathons. We walk our dog 30-40 minutes every morning unless it’s pouring rain. Longer walks on the weekend. Nighttime walks too, which are fun because sometimes a couple of the cats come along (Fortunately, we’re on a dead end street with very little traffic).

I do like to garden. I just planted some primroses, pansies and tigridia bulbs. This year we plan to do a serious vegetable garden and see how much of our own food we can grow. (Wish we could grow our own peanuts. What will they recall next?)

You need to find what works for you. But being physically active will make you feel less tired.

I do yoga at home, too. It feels so good to stretch, especially my shoulders.

Eating well seems challenging sometimes, but try to have good quality, quick to fix food around. Maybe popcorn for a snack instead of chips. We keep sugar-free pudding cups, Laughing Cow cheese, string cheese and nuts on hand. I have half a protein or energy bar in mid-morning and afternoon so I don’t crash. My evening treat is a few squares of 80% very dark chocolate. We usually have a glass of red wine with dinner. I stay low on the glycemic index to keep my blood sugar stable. We just made our first soup stock from a chicken carcass (new Joy of Cooking) and added wild rice, celery, mushrooms and carrots. We’re still putting raspberries and blueberries on our cereal from what we picked last year and put in the freezer and there are still three bags of apples in the frig for Waldorf salad, cobbler and just eating. As with exercise, see what will work for you.

Even if you don’t have space for regular vegetable garden, you might try salad greens on a sunny window sill or blueberry bushes in containers.

Feel free to post comments to share your own ideas and thoughts and what works for you.


Drawing and painting animals has come relatively easily for me. It’s what I seem to have a knack for, not that I haven’t put in a lot of work at it. But landscape, now that’s a whole other challenge. I finally decided that I was going to get this “tree thing” down. I’ve been hacking away for the last few months doing small studies of trees in interesting light with cast shadows and I believe there has been progress. More next week.

Dubois Cottonwoods oil 8"x6"
Dubois Cottonwoods oil 8"x6"
Wyoming Creekside oil 10"x8"
Wyoming Creekside oil 10"x8"
Wyoming Cottonwoods oil 8"x6'
Wyoming Cottonwoods oil 8"x6'

Marketing Our Art During the Financial Meltdown, Part 3; Two New Paintings and a Drawing

Who’s Your Buyer and how do you get your work in front of them? We’re pretty much all going to have to be lean and mean in promoting our art. It’s called “targeted marketing”. Which means knowing who your buyer is.

When I went through the process of creating my marketing plan with a counselor from our local Small Business Development Administration (SBDC) office, the first homework I was given was to pretend that my buyer was sitting in a chair across from me and then describe them. Beyond the general question of who buys original art, who do you think will be interested in YOUR art? In my case, we somewhat humorously pegged my target buyers as “rich celebrity environmentalists”.

More realistically, it’s someone with a certain income level and probable interests in nature, environmental issues, travel and the outdoors. If you request advertising rate cards from a national magazine, they usually include demographic information on who their readers are to demonstrate the kind of eyeballs you can expect to view your ad. You can create the same kind of thing yourself to help decide where it makes the most sense to put your efforts.

I was talking about marketing approaches with an established artist at a wildlife art festival a few years ago. My specific question was where to look for galleries. His advice was to try place my work in locations where there were people “needing” to furnish second and third (!) homes. I’ve got to say, living in a county where the average income is $38,000 a year, that thought truly hadn’t crossed my mind.

Use the Internet- The world’s going digital. The US Postmaster just asked Congress for permission to cut the number of mail delivery days in the future because they are losing so much money. One reason is email and other types of online communication. I know that there are a lot of technophobic artists out there, but you’ve somehow got to suck it up and check it out, if for no other reason that using the internet takes time, but next to no money. At this point everyone pretty much knows that you have to have a website, same as you need a phone.

But when you bring up blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. the reaction usually seems to be a cri de coeur that there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is. My objection was that I couldn’t imagine that anyone would care what I had for breakfast (homemade muesli with berries from our garden, usually), so why should I take the time to do a blog. But……..when I evaluated it in terms of my marketing plan and learned how easy they are to do and that, unlike the website, I can update it myself at will in a far more dynamic way, I decided to give it a try. I approached signing on to Facebook the same way. An unexpected fringe benefit is the pleasant, informal contact with artists all over the country and the world.

Twitter I’m not sold on yet, but I monitor it with the idea that it will probably be just the thing at some point.

I encourage you to set aside an evening and check out Google’s Blogspot and also WordPress, which is what I use. Blogspot is probably easier to get started with, WordPress is more sophisticated in how it does things. You can register on both Facebook and Twitter, then just lurk around and see what you think. None of this is permanent. You don’t have to tell anyone. You can register and then cancel if you want. Be aware though that Twitter currently makes it very difficult to sign up again if you close your account.

Let me know if you start a blog or get on Facebook. I’ll be interested to hear what you think.


Hereford Study  oil  8"x10"
Hereford Study oil 8"x10"

I originally started this as a demo for my painting class and thought it would be fun to finish it. I also have a commission that involves Herefords, so it’s doing double duty.

Afternoon Light, Pismo Beach oil 10"x8"
Afternoon Light, Pismo Beach oil 10"x8"

I did this one yesterday in a couple of hours. Sometimes it’s fun just to smoosh the paint around.

And, finally, a drawing of some grouse that I photographed in Mongolia. Not sure of the species yet.

Sand grouse, Wolff's carbon pencil on drawing paper
Sand grouse, Wolff's carbon pencil on drawing paper

I really like the work of Mark Eberhard, who has a background in graphic design and uses it to great effect in his paintings. When I saw the image I shot of what was a good-sized flock, I was struck by the pure design possibilities. To be continued…..

Marketing Our Art During A Financial Meltdown, Part 1; EBay; And This Just In: Andrew Wyeth Has Passed Away

Alexander, Relaxed
Alexander, Relaxed

Alex jumped up on the sofa next to me last night and flopped down. I grabbed my sketchbook and had about three minutes to do this sketch. He’s doing great. The other three are pretty much through the cat version of the five stages of grief. In their case it seems to be: Shock, Outrage, Hissy Fits, Observation and Indifference or, in Eowyn’s case, “Hummm, he might have his uses”.

Andrew Wyeth, son of legendary illustrator N.C. Wyeth has died. You can read about it here .  We did go see the Helga paintings, along with about half the population of the country.  I personally didn’t connect with them emotionally, but was awed by a really incredible body of work carried out at the highest level. With luck, he will have been one of the last prominent American painters whose representational work was dismissed as “mere illustration”. Since I trained as an illustrator and would have been perfectly happy to have had a career as one, all I’ll say to that is “don’t get me started”.


So here we are in the middle (at least I hope we’ve gotten to the middle) of a legendary financial meltdown. I was talking yesterday with the FedEx guy who was delivering  two paintings that were just in a Society of Animal Artists “Small Works, Big Impressions” show at The Wildlife Experience near Denver, Colorado. The delivery guys can read the pattern of their jobs like tea leaves. First there’s lots of paperwork, followed by lots of boxes. At this point, the paperwork flow has dried up. The boxes are going out. The quantity is starting to drop as business activity slooows down.

He also observed that huge amounts of recycled paper go to China for reprocessing. The paper is just sitting now, piling up. This will have a ripple effect on recycling. Had you heard about that one? I hadn’t.

The only good news I’ve seen recently, money-wise, is that that I can now get over 1300 Mongolian tugrig for a dollar instead of the 1140 I got last year. So the next trip (post to come) should be a little cheaper.

What to do? What to do? I’m fortunate in that we don’t rely on my income for living expenses. I’ve reached the point where the business has paid for itself the last couple of years and was hoping to move to the next level this year. Instead, my goal is to hold the line and make sure I’m ready for when the turnaround comes, which I think (and the FedEx guy believes) is around 18 months away. It’s gonna be a long slog. The good news is that the feckless idiot, otherwise known as “Dubya”, who caused this is FINALLY gone in four days. Don’t let the door hit your butt on the way out, loser.


Spend nothing unless it’s absolutely necessary. I just bought some RayMar canvas panels, but only what I know I’ll use soon,  nothing “just in case”. I’ve done some art festivals the past two years at a net loss, but figured they would pay off in the long run. And I find that I enjoy them. Festivals are out. I haven’t done any of them enough to build up a following and can’t afford the up to $1000 cost (entry fees, gas, lodging, food) with next to no chance of even breaking even. There’s one I pulled out of reluctantly and hope that it will make sense to do next year. New music from iTunes? Santy Claus brought me 10 albums, so that will do for awhile.

Update my marketing plan. There are so many ways to promote oneself and it can be hard to figure out what’s best. Well, THAT  just got simpler. I’m goin’ with the ones that either don’t cost money or make direct contact with people I know to be interested in what I do, like a newsletter. If you don’t have a marketing plan, creating one should be at the top of your To Do List for early 2009. Haven’t got a clue how to go about it? Visit Alyson Stanfield’s site at www.artbizcoach.com and find out. Buy her book, which I think meets the above “absolutely necessary” threshold, “I’d Rather Be In The Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion”.

I had sending packets to a bunch of galleries on the “must do” list. Not anymore. There’s a shakeout coming and I don’t want to have original art at a gallery in East Frogmarch and find out they’ve gone under. Who knows at this point which ones will survive? If you’ve got an established relationship with a gallery you trust, that’s one thing. But to be the new kid? Nope. Victoria Wilson-Schultz (see the link to the right) told me a cautionary tale about going over to a local gallery to check on a friend’s work and finding the place closed and a pile of art in the dumpster out back. She pulled out and returned what she could. Her advice to me, and this was before the meltdown, was to only sign on with a gallery that either one can drop into oneself or you have a trustworthy friend who would do the same. Now? I think that goes double.

Julie Chapman will be blogging about marketing too. I’m hoping that we can get some synergy going that will be beneficial to us all.

More next Friday unless something really timely comes up.


Regular readers know that I’ve started to list small “Studio Studies” and giclees on EBay to see if I can get a revenue stream going and some work out the door.

Those of you who have wandered over from Julie’s blog will have to be patient. There’s between 2 and 3 hours left (at 11:40am PST) on all but one of the current auctions, but I want to get this post, uh, posted. Two bids on two pieces so far. One painting and one on the giclee of the Jack Russell Terrier. I’ll let you know what happens.

Here’s what I said over at Julie’s about how it’s gone so far:

“I sold one 5″x7″ and two 6″x8″ canvas on board pieces for $30 each, so they went for the minimum bid. I have carefully described them in the listing description as “Studio Studies” or older pieces, so I don’t screw up my pricing structure. They are mostly quick studies that I’ve gone back to and repainted as I’ve seen what I should have done. -)

The listing fee ran between $1 to $1.50 for each one. The sales fee under $2.50. I had packing materials laying around and postage through the US mail for one piece was under $3.00 (I sold two to one person, so postage was more).

So I netted around $20-$25 each. Not a lot, but I also now have original work in Missouri and Virginia that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

I’m don’t know that I’ll make a lot of money at this, but it feels good to DO something to create selling opportunities.”

What I left out, of course, was the cost of the listings that didn’t sell. There were seven and I sold three. I decided to just get a bunch of listings up there, see what happened, run the numbers and then decide whether or not it made sense. To me it does, but I’ve bumped my opening bid prices up $5 to cover costs better and spread the listing fees of the ones that didn’t sell. I can re-list them at no cost and will do that with some.


Clouds Along Goodall's Cutoff, Idaho  oil 6"x8"
Clouds Along Goodall's Cutoff, Idaho oil 6"x8"

A recent study from reference shot on my way back from Yellowstone last October. With cruise control on a long straightaway and no traffic, I got lots of great shots without even really slowing down. (I don’t do this if anyone else is in the car.)

The Party’s Over (for this year, at least)

What a great two days I’ve had here at the OPA event. Everyone made this first-timer feel very welcome. I met so many artists who not only do great work, but are terrific people too.

One of the nicest things about the morning demos, besides seeing “how it’s done” was that we, the artists, mostly had the whole gallery to ourselves. It was so packed last night that it was hard to really appreciate a lot of the work. This morning we could all wander around to our heart’s content inspecting paintings, talking shop and watching the other artists work.

This afternoon I attended` back-to-back sessions presented by Alyson Stanfield who runs artBizcoach.com. She’s written a book called “I’d Rather Be In the Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion”. The morning session was “Getting Comfortable Promoting Your Art” and the afternoon was “How to Use Email, Websites and Blogs to Amplify Your Online Presence.” I’ll review the book after I read it (it only seems fair), but I can safely say that her presentations were packed with useful information.

For any other artists reading this blog who want to make a living making art, let’s face it, we’ve got to deal with the marketing part. Alyson takes the intimidation factor out of it and makes a very convincing case that not only should we being doing proper self-promotion, but that we absolutely can do it effectively and still get in our easel time.

Tomorrow I’ll get to spend time with the Mongolian scientist I met on the Earthwatch project I did there. We have kept in touch, but haven’t seen each other since then. I’m hoping to learn more about conservation work in Mongolia and how my art can support that, along with just getting to learn more about a country that I’ve come to like very much.