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Six Tips to Get More Money For Your Paintings Without Hurting Sales

GETTING

Pricing is the least understood facet of any business, but it’s one that can easily be fixed — without a negative impact. Most of the artists I know are underselling their art, struggling, having to paint too many paintings to keep their heads above water. They are on an exhausting treadmill because their prices are too low.

How would your life change if your prices were higher? If your immediate reaction is that you would sell less work, we need to work on your pricing strategy.

Most people in business get into business because they want to provide a good, quality service at a good price. They want to offer what they would want. Yet the number one reason for business failure is that profit margins are too low because of low prices.

Of course, low prices are necessary in some businesses because that’s their business model. Think Walmart. Yet the perception of Walmart’s prices and the reality are often two different things. Some companies promote low prices on high-volume items to get people into stores, yet other items may not be priced than you can find them elsewhere.

But as an artist, you’re not in the commodity business where, you produce lots of low-cost items. What you produce is a single, unique, handmade item by a well trained craftsperson — you. But do you think of yourself that way?

I can buy a chair for $20. I can buy a chair for $200. Or I can go into a craft gallery and buy a beautiful hand-crafted wooden chair for $1,500, knowing it’s one of a kind. That chair won’t be for the person who buys chairs at Walmart, but there is a market, and there is a special person who will buy it.

You Are Not Your Customer

One of the hardest things to overcome for anyone in business, including artists, is understanding your market and understanding that you are not your market. An artist once said to me, “I want to sell my paintings cheap so that people like me can afford to own them.” Though that’s admirable, people like him are not likely to want to own them. A painting is a luxury item, and the people who treat themselves to luxury items are not the average Joe. When I asked this painter how his sales were going, he told me they weren’t going well. He couldn’t understand it, because, as he said, “My prices are much lower than everyone else’s.”

Tip #1: Low-priced luxury items typically don’t sell to luxury buyers.

Let’s look for a moment at the typical art gallery visitor. Perhaps it’s a couple, and both are lawyers making a half million a year. Instead of owning a Jaguar and a Lexus, they could afford to own four or five Kias. Why don’t they buy them and save their money? That takes us to tip #2.

Tip #2: Price is a signal of perceived quality.

In my art marketing seminar, a man told the story of being at an art show. A woman asked, “How much is this painting?” He responded that it was $4,000, and she said she would “take it.” She handed him a check for $40,000. When he told her she had made a mistake and added an extra zero, she ripped up the check and said, “I don’t want it, then. It can’t be very good if it’s only $4,000.”

Tip #3: Certain people always want the best.

There is always an element of society who perceive themselves as needing the very best, and if it’s not the best — often signaled by the price — they won’t buy it. They don’t need bargains.

One of my mentors, Dan Kennedy, says that rich people have quirks. They will be cheap in one area and extravagant in others. For instance, he paid a million dollars to own a classic collectable car that had been owned by his favorite celebrity. He had no price resistance when told how much it cost — he didn’t even negotiate. He simply wrote a check. Yet he also said, “When I buy shirts, I hate the idea of paying more than $30, so I always buy my shirts at Walmart.”

So how do you get your prices up?

I have two theories.

Tip #4: Build a luxury image and brand, and reinforce it constantly with everything you do.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 12.31.37 PM

First, luxury selling is all about perception. A Louis Vuitton bag is not a purse, it’s a handbag. A large coffee at Starbucks is a venti, and it’s not served by a clerk, but a barista. These and other companies focus on selling image. My favorite Louis Vuitton ad (at the top of this blog post) doesn’t mention the company name. It’s all image. People buy image, and people want to reinforce self-image. People want others to see what they own. That’s why, when I visit some collectors, they’ll say, “Do you want to see my Mundy? Or my Schmid?” or their “Warhol or Hockney” or their “Sergeant or Zorn.”

Building your brand matters. Giving meaning to your name, ensuring your paintings are perceived as the best, is a critically important process. People will pay more for it.

Even in the lower price ranges, the person who buys a $1,500 painting is just as likely to buy a $3,000 painting. So if you’re in a gallery, giving up half your profit means doing without either $750 or $1,500. Which is better?

Let’s do the math.

Let’s say you sell 10 paintings a year at $1,500 each. Your total sales are $15,000, and your profit is $7,500.

Now, let’s say you raise your price to $3,000 and you lose 20% of your buyers, so you sell only eight paintings a year. Your total sales are $24,000 and your profit is $12,000. Which is better?

Let’s take it further. Raise your price to $4,000 and lose 30% of your buyers. Now you sell seven paintings a year, for a total of $28,000 and $14,000 in profit. You made double the profit of selling at the $1,500 price and you only had to paint seven paintings instead of 10.

The snowball effect also kicks in. First, your paintings get better because you can spend more time on them. Second, the gallery is making more money on you, so they push your paintings more. Third, because your prices are higher, you are perceived by the buyer as more valuable. Fourth, by painting less, you create scarcity, which actually boosts sales and prices. “Jane only paints seven paintings a year. You can own one of the seven” is a powerful statement, the kind galleries love to make.

Have Some Guts

I had dinner this year with a very famous artist who produces about four paintings a year and makes close to a quarter million a year from them. I asked how he got his prices up, and he told me that he had no idea what he should be charging for his paintings, so he just picked a number out of the air. He sold his first painting for $40,000 because he didn’t know he couldn’t. It only went up from there.

Most price resistance is in your head because you can’t afford to spend a lot of money on a painting. Your customer can. I have readers of Fine Art Connoisseur who don’t think twice about dropping 100 grand on a painting.

Tip #5: Go for it. Raise your prices. Be bold.

The way to get your prices up is to have some guts. And if you’re not raising your prices every year, you’re losing money because of inflation. Have you noticed how much more groceries cost?

Some galleries will give you resistance, and it’s the kiss of death if you have low prices at one gallery and high prices at another. So you have to notify your gallery of your universal price increase. If the gallery does not support you or believe they can get that price, it’s time to leave and find someone who thinks your new price is perfect. People cannot sell what they don’t believe in. Find believers.

Lipstick on a Pig?

I’ll end with a story a dealer once told me. He said he had a beautiful painting that sat in the gallery for a year, priced at $1,400. He could not understand why it was not selling, so he took it off the wall, put a $1,500 frame on it and raised the price to $14,000. It sold within a week. Same painting. Was it the frame or the price? I suspect it was both.

A painting in a cheap frame won’t be perceived as being worth much, but an elegant frame sends a signal. Who would you rather do business with? A financial adviser who drives up in a Hyundai, or one who drives up in a Bentley? It probably depends on your value system, but I’d pick the adviser who appears more successful. For people who use their cars in business, cars are like picture frames. If I’m selling a $10 million house, I want the agent in the most expensive car.

Price also impacted that sale. A painting is better if it’s more expensive — that is the perception of luxury buyers. The combination of great frame and great price cemented that deal.

Tip #6: Framing sends a signal to support your prices. Expensive frames allow you to increase even more.

In summary: You will lose some customers at a higher price, but you’ll make more money and work less. Build the importance of your brand with constant repetition over years and a luxury appearance. (A great trick is to put your high price in your ads, which instantly packages you as a more expensive artist. Again, this takes guts.)

I believe most artists could double their prices and not lose any customers. Your prices will rise. But it all starts with your understanding of pricing — and having the guts to do it.

 

By | 2017-10-05T16:23:23+00:00 July 22nd, 2015|Uncategorized|20 Comments

Double Down on Direct Mail

An Art Marketing Message from Eric Rhoads

DOUBLE DOWN

A wise mentor once told me that “whenever someone declares something as dead, its probably a great time to embrace it.”


Experts long ago predicted the death of direct mail. These days when social media is so cheap, email so cheap. Why bother doing direct mail?


Simply because it works.


In fact at a direct marketing conference recently the experts were saying “it works better than it ever did because there is no one doing it anymore.”


As I have mentioned in the past, a smart marketer never has all their eggs in one basket. Things change. Things can go wrong. Once long ago I had a business which relied on email to sell a product, when suddenly there was an email problem, which took months to solve. Sales stopped. Had I had other sources of marketing going it would have not only prevented the loss of sales, it would have been working for me as well.


As an artist Direct mail to your “customer list” is a great tool. Printed oversized postcards with images of your artwork are terrific tools to announce new artworks. You can keep the front beautiful and unencumbered and place a selling message on the flip side.


A Great Direct Mail Trick

I once launched a direct mail campaign. My goal was to cement four ideas in the minds of my target customer, who were potential advertisers of my radio magazine. So I made up four postcards, one for each point. I mailed one postcard a week with a different message each week. But every 4th week they got the same post card again. I repeated this campaign knowing that they would receive each post card five times.


Not only did we receive no complaints, we noticed an uptick in our business related to those messages the more times those cards hit. Repetition works.


Direct mail experts will tell you to do a mailing, then repeat the exact mailing to the same list a week or two later. It improves results the second time and again the third time. It’s been tested.

 

In media there is a tendency to declare things as dead or outdated and be seduced by the new. Though there is nothing wrong with the new, my goal is to get my product sold or my message sold, so I’ll employ lots of different media alternatives to get that done. Today I get almost no direct mail from artists or galleries, but I do get a couple and they stand out, and I tend to read them or keep them if the images are nice. Its an open opportunity you should consider.

By | 2015-07-17T10:21:16+00:00 July 17th, 2015|Direct Marketing|3 Comments

Christmas In July: A Money Tree for Artists

 

SantaSkis
Want to Make Some Christmas Sales This Month? This story gives you a step by step plan.

Santa on water skis? Yes, I admit to doing it. In the 1980s, I owned a radio station. I had just taken it over and needed to bring lots of attention to it. So I invented the “Summer Santa” promotion. I had learned that our news director played Santa at Christmas time to make a couple extra bucks. He already had a suit. He already had a belly full of jelly, a jovial laugh, and a Christmas-like spirit. It was an instant promotion, and it was easy. Spot the “Summer Santa,” recite a phrase about the station, and win a Christmas gift in July. We took “Santa” everywhere, including the lake where everyone was spending time on July 4th. And yes, he did actually water ski in the Santa suit. I know because I drove the boat. Have you ever seen a wet Santa? It’s quite a sight.

 

Eric, Are You Suggesting I Do a Christmas in July Promotion?

No, not exactly, though there are some elements you can employ to get attention.

 

Money Does Grow on Trees
Instead we’re going to do something really Christmas-like together. Money does grow on trees, and we’re going to plant a money-making Christmas tree in July. Are you in?

 

Everything in marketing starts with a seed. Plant a seed, nurture and water it, expose it to sunlight, watch it grow and blossom, and it grows money.

 

Getting Early Attention from Christmas Shoppers
What does everyone do around Christmas time? They sell like crazy, they promote like crazy, and it is darned near impossible to get anyone’s attention at Christmas to sell something. So we’re going to get them thinking about a Christmas gift in July, when they're not thinking about Christmas.

 

Now I’m presuming that you’ve already got a list of previous buyers. If you don’t, this won’t work.

 

A Step By Step Plan You Can Do This Week To Stimulate Business
Here is the move. Ready?

 

You write a Christmas letter. You can make up your own, or you can copy mine. You mail it out to your list and wait for the magic to happen.

 

Oh, and the critical thing is that you send it to the spouse or partner of your buyer. For instance, if the one was the one who loved and bought the painting, send the letter to the other. If they both bought the painting, send it to one of them. Note, I did not say e-mail this. I want you to use mail. E-mail is too easy to delete.

 

Step 1. Get a red mailing envelope. Put your name in the return address area. Put these words on one side of the envelope: My First Annual July Christmas Letter. Open immediately.

 

Step 2. Enclose a candy cane. It makes the envelope lumpy and creates curiosity. You may want to wrap the packaged candy cane in some foam or paper. People cannot opening resist a lumpy envelope.

 

Step 3. Get some Christmas letterhead. You can usually find it at a craft store like Michaels, or at an office supply store like Staples or Office Depot. It’s stationery with a Christmas theme.

 

Step 4. Write the letter (copy to follow). Make sure to have a strong headline. Sign the letter.

 

Step 5. Easy to Find Contact Information. Make sure you have put your mobile phone number and e-mail on the letter so they can find you.

 

Step 6. Enclose a photo of a recent painting you’ve done. Place information on the back: “Thought you’d like to see one of my recent paintings. This one is called NAME and might look great hanging in your home.” With your contact information. If they throw out the letter they might keep the image. Nothing but the image should be on the front.

 

Step 7. Put it all in the envelope.

 

Step 8. Lick it, seal it, stamp it.

 

Step 9. Mail it.

 

OK, here is the letter. You have my permission to use it or adapt it, copy it into your word processor, personalize it, and print it. My letter below is written as though it’s personalized to the wife, mentioning the husband. You need to adapt to the persons and titles you are sending it to. (Note this could be sent to corporations too).

 

Why on Earth Am I Sending You a Christmas Letter in July?
I Promise It Will Make Perfect Sense in About 20 Seconds

  • Your Name Here

 

Dear Jane,

 

While you’re enjoying this candy cane and remembering last Christmas, I want to give you an idea. Remember how stressful Christmas shopping can be? Sometimes it just robs the joy from the holiday, trying to find the perfect gift.

But I think I’ve found it for you: Me.

Well, not me, exactly. But my artwork.

 

Wait, before you crumple up this letter, here’s what I was thinking.

 

You once bought one of my paintings, and I remember that your husband loved it. For this Christmas, I can do a custom painting based on something your husband really loves … a special place, a special memory, or something meaningful to him. Since he already likes my art and my style, he’ll love a custom painting done just for him.

 

In fact, I daresay it may be the most memorable Christmas gift he ever receives.

 

Of course, the reason I’m contacting you in July is so we have time to put our heads together on the subject. I’ll do some sketches till I get it the way you want it, then I’ll begin the painting. And it will be ready for Christmas. (I also do birthdays and anniversaries.)

 

Here’s the catch.

Yes, there is always a catch. Paintings take a long time to paint and a long time to dry, which is why I’m contacting you in July. Hey, that rhymes. Santa would be proud.

 

The catch is that I can do only three custom paintings before Christmas. Once I book those three paintings, I probably won’t be able to do more. So if you like the idea, give me a call, tell me the size you’re thinking about, the scene, the colors, and I’ll quote you a price and give you time to think about it without feeling obligated.

 

Your husband will get the world’s most special Christmas gift, custom-painted for him. I hope you like the idea. And I promise I’ll keep it a secret.

I’ve enclosed a picture of a recent painting to remind you of my artwork. But I can paint anything you want, painted in my own style. Just call the number below and let’s talk turkey … well, Christmas turkey.

 

Merry Christmas … in July!

 

Artist Name

Contact information

PS: This is our little secret. I haven’t sent the same thing to your husband. Imagine how his eyes will light up when he sees a painting of something meaningful to him. Maybe his childhood home, the old farm, your favorite vacation spot, his Aunt Nellie. Anything. But if you like the idea, call, because I can do only three custom paintings for this Christmas, if I start soon.

 

-end letter-

Side Benefits to the Letter

Will this work? Absolutely. And if nothing else, you’ll get talked about, create attention, and get a chance to put a photo of a painting you’re trying to sell in front of a potential buyer. It will be a great image piece because of your creativity, and, yes, you should get a few orders. Be sure to get a deposit and explain terms of deposit so you don't work for free. The deposit will get you some of your money up-front and the rest you'll get when the paintings are done, usually way before Christmas.

Can you do more than three? Probably, but you want to create scarcity and time pressure. Plus, no one wants what everyone can have. This is special.

 

You’ll need to be ready for the call. Know your prices and sizes and be ready to e-mail the information when they call. Most important, get them talking about what scene they want painted. Get them imagining the excitement. Get them thinking about where it will hang and how the recipient will think of them every time they look at it. It’s an easy sale, and a great way to communicate that you do commissions. (Don’t use the word commissions, though; that’s an unknown insiders’ term to most people.)

Will you have the guts? Some of you will, and I think you’ll see great results. The best results will come from previous buyers, and the more recent, the better the response. Don’t be afraid to send out a few hundred of these. You can always paint more, and not everyone will bite, but I guarantee they’ll be talking about you.

Oh, one more thing. If you mail the exact same letter 2 weeks later you will increase response.

 

Merry Christmas from your Summer Santa friend, Eric Rhoads

By | 2015-07-13T10:55:33+00:00 July 13th, 2015|Direct Marketing|2 Comments

How Do I Know If My Ads Are Working?

An Art Marketing Message from Eric Rhoads

 

Screen-Shot-2015-05-21-at-2.00.34-PM

 

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don't know which half."

— John Wanamaker (1838-1922)

Founder, Wanamaker Department Stores

Advertising seems simple. Buy an ad, get results, right? Our lives are so filled with advertising, coming from so many directions, that we all feel fairly comfortable engaging in it ourselves. How difficult can it be? Especially for artists, who have strong graphic instincts, and many of whom have graphic design backgrounds. Some have even been doing work for advertising companies.

 

But when you are advertising, how do you know it's working? Sadly, the answer is not cut-and-dried.

Easily Trackable Results
In the direct marketing world (direct mail, direct e-mail, direct Internet), they test like crazy, comparing one piece of copy against another to see which sales letter or campaign worked best. They have industry standards for returns on "mailings" and are very disciplined about tracking sales as correlated with campaigns. In the direct marketing world, results are easy to track. You know what you purchased and when, and whether people purchased something after seeing it.

 

But as an artist, you're not selling widgets, gadgets, vitamins, videos, or books. If you were, the question would have an easy answer: Track results.

 

In the world of art, here is what you are selling:

 

  • A specific image that will have a narrow appeal to a small group of people

  • A brand name as an artist

  • A status item (in some cases based on the notoriety of the artist)

  • A piece of decoration for a home or office (sorry to be so crass as to bring it to the level of commodity)

  • A memory or a dream, something that represents an emotion to the viewer

  • The feelings stimulated by your painting

  • A solution to a problem (we need something to go over the couch)

  • A souvenir of a place visited

  • An investment or a hedge against inflation

 

Artists who advertise often think their primary goal is to sell a particular painting. And of course selling something is the fuel that keeps the business moving forward. Yet finding one single buyer to like and buy one single painting is a pretty narrow focus. Though you want to sell that painting, you really need to develop a deeper and wider vision.

 

The Importance of Trust-Building

Imagine you meet someone for the first time at a cocktail party. Twenty minutes later, that same person comes up to you and asks to borrow $500. Would you give it to them? Of course not. Why not? No trust has been built.

 

If, on the other hand, you get to know that person, see them frequently, and a few months later that same person asks to borrow $500, you might consider it.

 

In fact, if you know someone well, feel comfortable with them, have known them for years and they ask, you would probably not hesitate if you had the money.

 

This highlights the importance of building trust, which is a big part of what branding is all about.

 

When someone sees your work for the first time, they may like and respond to your art, yet not take action. Why? They don't know or trust you yet. Over time, the more they see you, the more evidence they see that supports their desire to buy your work, and the better chance you have of selling them.

 

It's the primary reason I'm so insistent on focusing on trust-building through branding.

 

Branding Is Not for Wimps

I was coaching an artist on her first advertising campaign. She said, "I'll buy an ad and see if it works, and if it works, I'll buy more."

 

I said, "How will you know if it works?"

 

She said, "If I sell this painting."

 

I said, "Respectfully, that won't work. Save your money. Though you might get lucky and sell it, no one has heard of you. You have to build trust, you have to build awareness, you need to create and maintain a brand. It won't happen overnight, and there is nothing you can do to make it happen faster because trust requires time."

 

I told her she needed a campaign that would build trust by advertising consistently to a single audience (mine or someone else's) and that she would not see much, or any, result for about a year.

 

Gulp.

 

That's a tough sell.

 

To her credit, this artist wanted to be successful so badly that she found a way to commit to an every-issue ad campaign.

 

I then told her this: "Though you might get lucky and sell the paintings you advertise, your primary goal needs to be trust-building — branding. And about six to nine months into this, I fully expect a phone call with you cancelling your advertising because it's not working. The reason I'm telling you this now is that at the point of your greatest fear and frustration, you'll be just starting to build momentum, even though you can't see it. When you get to that point, don't give in to the temptation to cancel. You'll lose the momentum, and if you come back later, you'll be starting over."

 

I said, "At about the one-year mark, you'll start seeing some activity. You'll start getting invited into shows. At about a year and a half, after consistent trust-building, you'll start being invited into galleries. You'll start seeing paintings sell, and your workshops will start selling out. At about two years, you'll hear from more galleries, sell more paintings, and you'll be invited to bigger shows and have a waiting list for your workshops. At three years, you'll see your prices double, you'll see the very best galleries seek you out, and there will be so much demand on your time you'll have to cut back on shows and workshops. And you'll be selling more paintings than you ever imagined possible."

 

Then I cautioned the artist, "At that point you'll be tempted to stop advertising because you'll start believing all the press clippings and think it is you making all this activity happen. And it is, but it's because you've become like a giant magnet, pulling people toward you with your marketing."

 

Sure enough, at the six-month mark, she called to cancel. I reminded her of what we'd discussed, and to her credit, she stayed in, based on faith.

 

At the nine-month mark, she started getting invited into shows and selling a few more paintings. At the 12-month mark, she started being contacted by galleries. It snowballed from there, and everything I predicted came true, almost exactly. (It's only because I've done this so long that it's that predictable.)

Trust-building — branding — is not for wimps. It takes courage and patience. Yet if you do it, and you keep it alive, you can become a major name in about three years' time, and within five to seven years become known as a master. Keep it alive for a decade or more, and you're an icon.

 

So How Do I Know It's Working?

As you can see, all this relies on momentum building quietly in the background, and it's hard to see it and measure that. Yet it's a powerful tool and is the very reason big brands hammer their name and message in the media, over and over, forever. There are always new people entering the market who don't know your brand, and the minute you stop, another brand takes your place.

 

You'll know it's working when you start seeing the activity level rise and other signals begin to show, about a year into a good campaign.

 

Critical Elements of a Marketing Campaign

All campaigns have critical elements. If those elements are out of balance or not fine-tuned correctly, the results will vary.

 

  1. Powerful Headlines
    Lots of research has been done on this topic. A headline is designed to pull someone into your ad. Without a strong headline, they won't stop and look; they will simply keep turning the page until a headline does get their attention. I recently attended a conference where a speaker said a change of headline can impact an ad's results by 700 percent — when the only thing that changed was the headline. (The same is true for a subject line in an e-mail.)

  2. Powerful Copy
    The copy in your ad, short or long, matters. Every word counts, and every word needs to help accomplish your goal. Most ads are weak and meaningless emote-y drivel. Ever hear these lines?

    1. The best quality

    2. The best service

    3. All your ___ needs

Your copy needs to cut through.
The problem for artists is that they primarily want to highlight their name with a big image of a painting. But it's hard to stand out by doing that alone. If you study who is getting lots of attention these days, you'll notice they are writing strong headlines for their ads.

 

3. Audience Saturation and Repetition

It's important to pick a single media outlet (a publication, a website, etc.) and dominate it as much as you can, with ads as large and as much frequency (repetition of ads) as possible. Most of us are tempted to move to other publications after a couple of ads to reach a new audience. But that's a giant mistake unless you can stay in the initial publication, add the other, and dominate in both. Few can afford to do that, so stick with the one outlet. It's time + repetition of message that builds trust, which builds your brand and your sales.

 

4. Audience Target
Contrary to what others would like you to believe, size does not matter. What matters is that you reach a relevant audience for what you're selling. Though you will get a bounce from advertising anywhere because you can gain customers from any audience, a relevant audience will speed your success. For instance, if you were selling gold, you'd want to reach people who can afford gold. Being in Investor's Business Daily or the Wall Street Journal will be better for that than People magazine, even though People has a bigger audience. In your case, you want to reach people who can afford what you sell, people who are known buyers of paintings.

 

5. Emotion

All decisions are emotional and only later supported by logic. Never forget this. If your ads don't have an emotional element to trigger strong feelings in your potential buyer, you'll reduce your success. (Of course, paintings themselves trigger emotions, so you have that to your advantage.)

 

6. Call to Action

Ads that don't ask for the order don't work. It seems simple, but most people simply include their contact information and never ask for the order. Research indicates that results will increase if you simply ask someone to pick up the phone and call to make a purchase.

 

7. Overcome Fears

Ads need to overcome the fears of a buyer. What fears do people have when they buy a painting? "Will it retain its value? What if I get it home and it looks bad with my couch? What if the gallery goes out of business?" The best way to overcome these and other fears is with a guarantee, such as: "If you decide for any reason the painting is not right for you, you have 60 days to return it for a full refund, no questions asked." Of course, everyone is afraid to do this, yet this one line will put some buyers over the edge and help them pick up the phone to call.

 

There is no one easy answer to "How do I know if my ads are working?" To some extent you have to trust that they are, after you've made sure the right elements are in your ads and the repetition and commitment are there.

 

Two Ads, Different Results

Most media works, or they wouldn't still be in business. Yet I can have two advertisers call me on the same day, and one will say their phone has not stopped ringing, their sales are strong, and they are getting amazing results. The other will tell me their ads are bombing — and they'll want to blame the publication for not having the audience. What's the difference?

 

It all boils down to the elements we discussed above. A great, well crafted ad, with the proper elements, and the proper frequency over long periods of time, is the difference. Badly crafted ads don't work.

Unfortunately, everyone tends to be in love with the ads they create. But most advertisers lack deep experience in creating great copy and the right elements for success. Then when their ads don't work, they want to blame someone other than themselves.

 

In closing, before you ever buy one drop of advertising, you need to ask what your primary goal for that advertising is. If you could accomplish just one big thing, what would it be? Once you understand that, it will make the message you craft crystal clear, and clarity is critical to make advertising successful.

By | 2015-05-21T15:41:19+00:00 May 21st, 2015|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Is Marketing Manipulative? How Re-framing Your Beliefs Will Change Your Career

An Art Marketing Message from Eric Rhoads

 

Recently and artist friend proudly told me “I don’t do any marketing, and I’m proud of it.” She then suggested that she felt marketing was manipulative and that as an artist she did not want to be manipulating people to buy.

I fully respect her opinion and the choices she is making.

Much later in the conversation she asked these questions:

  • I need to add another gallery or two, do you know anyone I can get into? I’d appreciate an introduction.

  • Do you have any ideas on how I can sell a few more paintings every year?

  • “How can I make painters more aware of me?”

  • “How can I get more people to my workshops?”

I respectfully did not point out that marketing could solve all those problems.

Somewhere along the line some of us have picked up the idea that marketing is manipulative and that branding isn’t necessary. Many artists feel the same about the concept of selling.

Recently a gutter guy came out to our house to sell us gutters. I did not want or need gutters, yet he demonstrated to me why they would be valuable, how they prevent the boards from rotting, how it reduces wear from water dripping on my decks, etc. Suddenly I was eager to buy, and did buy. Now that I have gutters I’m thankful he showed up at my door to sell me on gutters. Does that make him manipulative?

Sitting around one night I was reading a local magazine when I saw an ad for a water filtration system. Something that’s been on my mind for months now, but I did not have a clue where to look. The ad was convincing, was just what I wanted, and I even folded the page until I decided to call. I never did. That is, until I saw the magazine a month or two later, saw the ad again, which was my reminder to call. I have not called yet, but I fully intend to when I find the time. I guarantee I’ll be looking for that ad and that magazine when I find the time. Is that manipulative?

The important point is that marketing or selling is a service to help others discover what you have to offer. Sometimes people need to be nudged, and often people like me appreciate seeing something that nudges me and peaks my interest.

The best definition I’ve heard is this:
Marketing is sharing something you believe in with people who need it.

Some of us have bad impressions because of bad marketing that is manipulative.

That is no reason to think that all marketing is manipulative.

Is writing a thank you card to a buyer manipulative? Of course not, yet its part of marketing.

Is telling the story of your painting manipulative when dealing with a prospective buyer? Not at all.

Marketing is nothing more than helping people find what you have to offer. Many times they won’t find it on their own, yet if you help them discover it, their life will change. I’m a living example. The first painting I bought was not something I would have done on my own, yet once the sales lady at the gallery helped me get past my anxiety of spending money, it changed my life. I stared at that painting over the fireplace every day of my life for a couple years, till I decided I needed more paintings. Then, I decided I needed to learn how to do it. Today, of course I’m publishing art magazines, art conferences, and my work is in three different galleries.

All that because someone helped me find what I needed.

If you look at your marketing as nothing more, suddenly it changes the framing in your mind and helps you realize that if you don’t market your artwork, people who should discover you will never know your name and never see your painting on their wall. Yet if they do find you that painting will bring them great enjoyment.

See how it changes things?

Marketing can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be, but it needs to start out with good intentions. There may be people who do manipulate, but if you follow your heart and your personal style, marketing won’t be manipulative, but you will benefit greatly and your career will soar.

By | 2015-05-12T18:14:24+00:00 May 12th, 2015|Uncategorized|2 Comments

It’s Tax Time: What Artists Can Potentially Deduct

Dear Artist:

If you haven’t done your taxes, you should be doing them now (unless you’ve filed for an extension). In either case, there are art-related expenses you may be able to deduct, and I want you to be aware of them.

(Please note that you MUST check with an expert tax attorney or accountant, and know that in order to make certain deductions, there are particular qualifications. Since being an artist is often considered a hobby business, there are specific guidelines you must follow.)

Here is a list of potential deductions to consider (again, check with your experts):

Magazine Subscriptions for Professional Enhancement
Yes, your subscription to PleinAir and/or Fine Art Connoisseur could be tax-deductible.

Professional Development
That means your attendance at our Plein Air Convention and other development events, including workshops, can potentially be deducted, including your travel costs, mileage, hotel, meals, and registration fees. Also, art-related travel — for meetings with galleries or clients or to other events related to your business — could be deductible as well.

Advertising and Marketing
If you’re advertising in Fine Art Connoisseur or PleinAir, in our PleinAir Today and Fine Art Today newsletters, or on our websites like OutdoorPainter.com or FineArtConnoisseur.com, you should be able to deduct that expense. And you should also check into deducting the cost of your website and its hosting and maintenance.

Training Materials: Videos and Books
If you’re buying marketing videos, such as my Art Marketing Boot Camp series, or if you’re buying videos on how to be a better painter, such as those we create at Streamline Art Video, those too should be tax-deductible, whether you’re using DVDs or downloads. Training books are also usually deductible.

Entry into Art Competitions
You’re entering contests to get noticed, so it’s a marketing expense. Your fees to enter events like our PleinAir Salon may be deductible. (Note that if you win the $15,000 prize, or other cash prizes for your art, you will have to pay taxes on that income.)

Your Studio and Materials
Anything related to your art business, such as a dedicated office or studio space in your home should be deductible — though be careful to make sure the area is dedicated to business, and know that this can be a red flag for audits. You may also be able to deduct supplies, such as brushes, paint, canvas, easels, frames, lighting, etc. You’ll need to check on large items like furniture or printers, which are considered capital expenditures and are often handled with a depreciation schedule.

Dues, Memberships, and Legal
I deduct my membership fees for the National Arts Club, Oil Painters of America, and the California Art Club, and for other professional memberships. You should be able to as well. You may also be able to deduct fees for copyrights, legal fees, etc. 

I cannot advise you on the exact nature of what you can deduct, but these are some things to consider as you do your taxes. Again, there are professionals who specialize in taxes, and even taxes for artists. But you should look into all the deductions you may be able to take; it will be well worth your time.

 

Eric Rhoads

PS: Tax time is always an eye-opener because it places financial reality right in our faces. Why didn’t I make more money? Why was I not more successful? Thankfully, April is early enough in the year that you can still make dramatic changes in your life, focus on your marketing, and increase your art sales for the year. I believe in you! If you’re not happy with your current status, start reading some of the art marketing posts on this blog, and make up your mind to make changes.

By | 2015-04-07T16:37:29+00:00 April 7th, 2015|Uncategorized|1 Comment

8 Secrets To Winning Art Competitions From An Art Competition Judge

 Art Competition Judge

Today, art competitions are all the rage. Yet many artists still ignore them, thinking they're a waste of time. Competitions are tools you can use to build income and career, kind of like selling your painting more than once — only ethically!

More important, if you become a winner, entering a competition is the single most significant thing you can do to make your career soar quickly.

Not only do art competitions give you a chance to win prize money (which is like getting paid twice for a painting, if it's already been sold), it gives you visibility — which is great for your branding to potential galleries, collectors, and other artists. People love to associate with winners. Even if you're not the grand prize winner, just by being a finalist, you're in the category of winners.

And if you enter a painting that sold, let's say, for $2,500, and you win $15,000, it's like selling six more paintings — plus you don't have to share the revenue with your gallery. 

One gallery owner told me, "I find artists by watching who is winning competitions.
I also learn of new artists when I'm judging competitions, and I watch who is advertising."

What are the benefits to entering an art competition?

  • You can win prize money
  • You can win publicity when winners and finalists are announced
  • You can win other prizes (art materials, etc.)
  • You can win the cover of a magazine (in some competitions)
  • You can win a story in some magazines and websites
  • You have something more to talk about to collectors and newsletter followers
  • You have another success to place on your resume
  • You get the recognition you deserve
  • You have something more to talk about in social media
  • You can get discovered by a gallery

Here are 8 secrets I have learned as an art show judge:

1. Every Judge Tends to Favor a Certain Type of Art 
Before you enter, study the judge. If, for instance, the judge is a gallery owner, what kind of art hangs in their gallery? Chances are they will pick the kind of thing they like and respect. If it's an artist who paints tight, they probably will pick tight paintings. If it's an artist who paints loose, they may tend to pick looser paintings. Though everyone tries to remain objective, we all tend to have a style we prefer and are drawn to.

2. What One Judge Rejects, Another Judge Will Embrace
Many artists will enter the same painting every month in the same competition. One artist told me he entered a painting one month and didn't win, but the next month he entered the same painting, and that time he won. What one judge doesn't like, another may love.

3. Entering Multiple Paintings Increases Your Odds of Winning
Most competitions allow you to enter as many paintings as you want. The entry fee usually goes down after the first painting, so you can increase your odds of winning at a lower cost. And more paintings, of course, equals more of your paintings seen by a judge. In theory, if you enter five paintings, you have five times the chance of being noticed. In my Art Marketing Boot Camp, I teach the value of repetition. 

4. Entering Can Result in Editorial Coverage
Once when I was judging an art competition, I kept seeing paintings I liked, and as I studied them, I learned they were all by the same artist. Since I admired that consistency, I notified one of my editors, and the artist ended up with a story in one of our magazines. We've also had other judges discover new talent and tell us about them for stories.

5. Most Winners Never Expected to Win
I have a saying: You can't win if you don't enter. I've had three different grand prize winners in our art competition tell me they never thought they had a chance to win against the big important painters who enter. All three said they almost didn't enter because of that — but were glad they did!

6. Some Judges Seek New, Unknown Talent
A judge told me once that even though he has signatures covered when judging shows, he can recognize the work of certain artists by their well known style. He said he likes to help undiscovered artists, so he tends to shy away from such familiar painters. Though not all judges do this, some do — consciously or unconsciously — which increases the chances for unknown painters.

7. Careers Can Soar After Winning One Competition
In our competition, the grand prize winners have seen their careers take off. Each was relatively unknown, or known only among certain groups. And as a result of winning, their stature has been elevated, and they've been invited to new shows, galleries, and events. 

8. You Gain an Advantage by Entering in Multiple Categories
I once judged a major art show and noticed the same painting had been entered in three different categories. Though that painting didn't win in two categories, several of the judges thought it was the best fit for one category in particular, and so that painting ended up a winner. You can gain a big advantage if you have a painting that fits in multiple categories. Some categories get lots of entries, but others get very few, increasing your odds even more.

Art competitions are a great value, a great way to be measured against others — which helps elevate quality overall — and the best bargain going for publicity if you even become a finalist. I highly recommend them as a marketing tool, and a great way to elevate a career fast. A few bucks a month can result in a career that soars like a rocket when you win.

PS: I should mention that the PleinAir Salon will soon be choosing the annual winners of a total of $21,000 in cash prizes, the cover of the magazine, and articles in the magazine and our weekly PleinAir Today newsletter. All finalists for the year in every category are entered in the final judging for the big prizes. 

The very last chance to win for the year ends on March 15, 2015 at midnight Pacific Time. You still have an excellent chance of winning the grand prize. Be sure to enter multiple paintings and categories. You can enter now at www.pleinairsalon.com. Winners will be announced at the Plein Air Convention in April.

 
By | 2015-03-12T19:41:17+00:00 March 12th, 2015|Uncategorized|3 Comments

How I Made the Naughty List

Naughty

My fingers are crossed. Will there be a lump of coal in my stocking this Christmas? Will there be anything under the tree?

 

You see, I was naughty.

 

When you're naughty, you make Santa's naughty list — and that means you don't get what you want.

 

Why was I naughty? Simply put, I didn't practice what I preach. And I learned an important lesson.

 

For 2014, I tried something new. I decided my system for getting things done needed an upgrade, so instead of writing out my to-do list each day and reviewing my goal list in my journal, which is always at my side, I converted to a digital solution. Now all my goals and "to do's" are on the cloud, and I can access them everywhere.

 

Seems like a reasonable solution, but my digital approach failed me — or I failed it.

 

Last week I was killing time on an airplane, poking around all the programs and documents on my iPad because I was bored and didn't feel like working. I opened my goals document for 2014 and started checking them off one by one.

 

Then something terrible happened: I realized I had missed over 30 percent of my annual goals. Gulp.

 

I also realized that I hadn't opened my goals document for several months. Had I opened it and looked at them, I would have achieved most of those missed goals.

 

I'm frustrated.

 

What's the lesson in this?

 

I'm big on annual goals. It's important to have them, but only if they are realistic, measurable, and believable (though we all need to stretch). But goals don't work if you don't refer to them frequently.

 

In hindsight, my new system failed because I wasn't forcing myself to transfer my daily to-do list and my monthly goals to a new sheet of paper each day. I thought I was saving time, but when Charles Hobbs first taught me his system decades ago, the key to success was taking the time to evaluate your goals and to-do list each day so they remain on your mind at every turn. By not doing that, I failed myself and missed 30 percent of my annual goals.

 

What does this have to do with marketing your art?

 

I'm a strong believer in setting and following goals, even very simple ones. You're more likely to achieve them if you look at them and work toward them in small bites. Something as simple as setting a goal of devoting 20 percent of your time to marketing can change your life. If you work an average 40-hour week, you'll make amazing progress if you force yourself to spend eight hours a week on marketing. But if you forget to do it, your sales will suffer.

 

Did you achieve what you want to achieve this year?

 

Did you make progress toward your goal?

 

I made progress, and I achieved some of what I want to achieve (including a new event, which I'll announce in February). But I missed more than I'd hoped to miss. Now I have to add those goals to my 2015 goals, which means I'll have to work harder to catch up.

 

As artists, it's more fun to paint than it is to focus on marketing or other goals. I don't like to take out the garbage either, but there are things we simply have to do to keep the flies out of the house.

 

This was a giant wake-up call for me. Rarely do I miss my goals, but I allowed my system to fail me. My fault — I simply wasn't paying attention.

 

I'd like to encourage you to use the peaceful time over the holidays to do some dreaming, set some goals, and then break them out into small monthly, then weekly, bites. Then look at them every day, or at least every week. It will change the outcome. It's a little thing that makes a giant difference. Just don't make the mistake I did.

 

Because I'm on the naughty list, I'll not be receiving all the things I hoped to achieve this year. Naughty was my own fault.

 

Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Happy Holidays.

 

Eric Rhoads

 

PS: I'm so grateful. Thousands of artists have watched my Art Marketing Boot Camp videos and I have heard from hundreds of them that their lives have changed. It does my heart good to know that my system can help artists live their dreams. In my first video, Art Marketing Boot Camp I, explain my goal-setting system and my system for deeply discovering what you really want in your life. You can find it here. If you know an artist who wants to live the dream, give it to them for Christmas. It's life-changing.

By | 2014-12-16T15:14:59+00:00 December 16th, 2014|Uncategorized|5 Comments

Challenging Myself: Why I Made a Guitar to Celebrate My Birthday

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The Pearl inlay surrounding the guitar I made in the summer of 2014.

As I approach a giant milestone birthday, my friends and family have asked me about my plans. On the past two big birthdays, I've had my closest lifelong friends visit the Adirondacks to help me celebrate, because the Adirondack Mountains is the place I love the most. This year, I wanted to do something different, but I wasn't sure what. Then it came to me. Since I started playing guitar just two years ago and have come to love guitars, I decided to challenge myself to make a guitar to celebrate this milestone.

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Cutting the boards for the side of the guitar.

Making a guitar seemed like a giant challenge and something I'd never do on my own, and that was the attraction. I simply wanted to push myself, as my way of celebrating. I also thought about it a lot and knew it was so far out of my routine that I'd probably never do it. I didn't want to keep thinking about it, and I knew that if I didn't tell others of my plan it would be a lost dream, so I started spreading the word to a few friends, knowing that I'd be embarrassed if I didn't produce.

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Bending the wood with heat.

The problem with making a guitar was that it was bound to take time. I had no idea how to build a guitar or where to do it. Plus, I wasn't sure I could pull it off and run my business simultaneously. How would I find the time?

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Putting the bent edges together to form the guitar body.

Of course, I also had to find someone to teach me to do it. And I didn't want just some homemade guitar, I wanted something special, something with an incredible sound, something visually stimulating, a world-class quality guitar, which meant I not only had to find a top luthier (guitar maker), I had to find one willing to take on a student who knew nothing about making guitars.

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Clamping and glue to keep the kerf-lining in the guitar

My research led me to a lucky break. My criteria required a top guitar maker, a top inlay artist, someone willing to teach, and someone who could teach me in the summertime, when things are a tiny bit slower. Though I was willing to go just about anywhere in the world for a couple of weeks, my research lead me to Tracy Cox, who lives just about an hour away from our family summer place. So rather than taking a couple of weeks off at a time, I was able to build my guitar one day a week until it was done, which made finding the time much easier. I took Wednesdays off and worked really late on Wednesday nights and Thursdays to catch up. Tracy has a reputation as a top guitar maker and inlay artist who has worked for Martin Guitar in its custom guitar and inlay department.

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Sanding the edges to the proper radius. Guitar tops and bottoms have a slight bow.

I won't bore you with the sordid details of guitar-making other than to say I'm happy I had previous woodworking experience, which sped my progress substantially. My teacher made me do everything. He showed me how to do something once, then it was up to me to do the rest, though I have to admit there were a couple of critical cuts that intimidated me and that I asked him to do because I knew that if I blew that cut, I'd have to start over or would ruin a priceless piece of wood.

20140709_121839
 Braces to glue in the interior braces on the top.

Though the process was difficult and challenging each of the six days I was building my guitar, the hardest part was choosing what kind of guitar I wanted. I had to select body style, and woods for the front, back, sides, fretboard, and neck. Plus, I needed to pick a neck length and thickness to work with my unique hands and playing experience.

 

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The unique pieces of wood I'm about to glue together for my guitar neck.

 

Three years ago, at our Convergence conference, a guitar player, Bert Keely, was playing a 1938 vintage Gibson guitar. I fell in love with the sound and the worn, vintage look. Further, my friend Rick Wilson plays a 1956 Martin guitar, which is aged-looking and has a rich sound and a deep bass. I'd also played a Collings guitar belonging to a friend, and, loving how easily it played, I wanted that in my guitar. Was it possible to combine the best of all those guitars? It appears so.

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It all starts here. This piece of wood will be shaped into the guitar shape and make up the back.

Tracy took me through a wood selection process. As he flipped though some rare pieces of wood he pulled out a vintage top for a "Triple O" Martin body style. The top had been reclaimed from the Martin Guitar factory in the 1940s or 1950s. "That's it," I said. "It's already aged." Aged guitars tend to sound the best, and this top had been aging for 60 or 70 years, which was bound to give it a special sound along with its wonderful patina. Tracy said, "I've been sitting on this for a long time, waiting to give it the right home with someone who appreciates true vintage." But it was so rare that if I screwed it up, there would be no other top like it again. No pressure.

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The body and the neck, almost ready to put together.

The guitar-making process involved lots of cutting, planning, measuring, sawing, routing, carving, sanding, bending, clamping, and drilling, and at the end of the six days, I had produced a fabulous guitar. We strung it up with Martin Phosphor Light strings, and the sound was magical. In fact, several highly accomplished musicians had a chance to play it when visiting the shop, and each one wanted to buy it from me. The special sound comes from the aged wood and the technique Tracy taught me to craft the bracing on the inside of the guitar.

  20140730_090343

More clamping!

The second tough decision was the rest of the finish. I wanted some high-end appointments, but I wanted to keep the vintage feel while making it my own. I also wanted to represent my muse: the Adirondacks. So we made this an Adirondack Guitar. Tracy taught me how to do inlay work with mother of pearl, so I trimmed the top edge with rare blue pava shell from New Zealand and carefully placed the pearl next to tortoiseshell bindings. I also inlaid birds for the fret markers, which involved my cutting out birds in mother of pearl and then routing out the exact shape. This was pretty intimidating because if I messed that up, I'd have to take the neck off and rebuild the guitar.

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Placing the back on the body of the guitar.

I drew out a special design for the headstock, which was the view from our family Adirondack camp: our mountain, our trees, and our lake and its special Idem sailboats, which are over 120 years old. Tracy cut that inlay for me because I wanted some of his inlay work on my guitar and it was more complicated than I was probably capable of without some more practice. The trees in the inlay are Brazilian rosewood, the mountain is Madagascar rosewood, mahogany, and koi wood. The water is dyed pearwood, and the sky is mother of pearl. Best of all, the sail is ivory that came from fossilized woolly mammoth tusk. This ivory is very rare, but legal.

DSC00125

Inlay on the headstock. The view from our Adirondack camp. 

I should also mention the rest of the wood in the guitar. The back and sides are Chechen rosewood, the fretboard is McCassar ebony from Sulawesi, Indonesia. The neck is made up of local Adirondack cherry, plus some very special reclaimed wood that came from a 19th-century mahogany church pew and from a door from the USS Maumee, which was used from 1968 to 1971 in the Navy's Operation Deep Freeze II, where it was used to transport fuel supplies to McMurdo Sound at the South Pole. The Maumee was the largest ship to visit Antarctica, and was led into the ice pack by icebreakers. I was drawn to it because the Maumee river was one of three that flowed through my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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The neck of my guitar came from a reclaimed door in this ship the Maumee. Maumee is the river, which goes through my hometown of Fort Wayne.

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You can see the woods I used in the neck: Cherry, wood from the reclaimed ship door, and wood from a church pew. I used vintage tuning keys.

Birthdays don't always have to be about parties and gifts. Though making this guitar was a gift to myself, it was the creation of something special and irreplaceable that had personal meaning for me. Challenges and doing the impossible have always been important to me, and I wanted to challenge myself and stretch my brain while doing something with my hands to commemorate this milestone in my life. I've created a family heirloom, and now I have a guitar that has a very special sound, created by the rare guitar top and woods that are unique to my taste. I'm very pleased with the sound and the appearance. The inlay of the Adirondack scene will live on as a reminder of this special place in my life and the lives of my family.

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I did the inlay on the neck using Adirondack birds as the fret markers. I cut them out in pearl, routed the shape in the neck (frightening!) and then laid them in and glued them.

Life is about making and creating special moments and memories. If I just got a guitar as a birthday gift or bought one for myself, it would probably not be remembered years later. I can barely recall what I got for my last birthday. I'll never forget this birthday and the special experience of building a world-class guitar. And I've used this as a special chance to teach my kids about stretching and challenging yourself. Through the process I have a great appreciation for what goes into creating a custom guitar, and, spending many days with a master guitar maker and inlay artist, I made a great new friend as well.

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Pearl inlay of my signature on the neck.

I've had a lot of hobbies over the years, including woodworking, photography, collecting antique radios, and painting. Each had their season. And though oil painting landscapes and portraits is my current passion, it was nice to step away and try something new. Will inlay and guitar-making become my latest obsession? Probably not, but I'm glad I challenged myself to do something out of my comfort zone, and I might inlay some custom frames for my paintings at some point. This guitar-making experience has indeed been a unique way to celebrate a milestone and gives me a new story to pass along to my friends.

If there is a lesson in all of this, it is set your mind on something you percieve as an impossible or difficult goal, share it with others so you're forced to make it happen, then find a way to do it. Though I have plenty of challenges in my life, work and family, I needed a different kind of challenge, something to push the limits of my ability. I wanted to try a new kind of art, which in this case was making an incredible-sounding guitar.

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 A coat of sealer, then some gun stock oil gave my guitar a perfect vintage feel, especially with this 60-70 year aged spruce top.

 

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Tracy Cox, master guitar maker and inlay artist was very patient to spend six days with me, pushing me to my limits and making me do most of the work on my first handmade guitar. The end result was an unbelievable sound.

By | 2014-08-28T18:53:51+00:00 August 28th, 2014|Uncategorized|9 Comments

Two Roads For Artists: Which Direction Will You Take?

The great debate among those of us who make art is whether we are selling out when we strive to make a living. For some, complete purity is a must. An artist, they say, must never allow outside influences to affect his or her art. It's a very romantic concept.

I know of an artist who lived this life. Let's call him James. Never in his life did James sell a painting — he only worked ON his art. I was contacted and shown his work by a friend of his, and his work was amazing. He had a body of work of hundreds and hundreds of paintings and had determined it was time to sell them. Up till then he felt his work was not ready, and he never want to be influenced by something so crass as a commercial gallery.
James' goal was to sell his entire collection to a museum, showing the progression of his work from a young age to his mid-60s. As I inquired about his life, I learned he supported himself with a job he despised, one requiring hard labor. Most of his life was devoted to this go-nowhere job, and now that he was near retirement, the thought of selling paintings may have actually been motivated by the need for money and the need to downsize for storage. I passed on the opportunity.

This week I attended a celebration of a life cut short by a freak accident. The show, at the Southern Vermont Art Center, was a retrospective of the life of painter Brian Sweetland, who died in October 2013, far too young. It was among the most crowded openings I've ever attended, and it was filled with adoring fans, many of whom had contributed their paintings for the show.

Which is better? To live a life uninfluenced? Or to live a life in which your paintings have brought joy to hundreds of homes and spread your art, your message, your soul to others? Brian lived most of his life as a painter, supporting his habit by selling paintings. James held on to a job he barely tolerated, which enabled him to paint and not be "commercialized." Yet he came to the later part of his life unrecognized, without the encouragement or gratification of knowing people loved his work, without someone helping him gain freedom from his awful job by showing him how to sell paintings.

I didn't know Brian, nor do I know for certain if his galleries made his work more commercial or otherwise affected his paintings, but, judging from the show, his work was strong and consistent.

James, on the other hand, may never see a painting sold because of his desire to sell an entire body of work to a museum. His work was good, but not that good. Further, momentum toward painting sales takes time to build. People buy a brand, and James will have to start building that awareness, which takes time. He is starting late, and, though it can be done, he has lost a lot of years of opportunity — assuming he ever comes to the conclusion that his work can be sold in a gallery.

There is a misconception among artists, I think. We tend to think that gallery people who ask us to paint something that sells are being "evil" in some way because they want to sell more of that kind of painting. Yet gallery people play an important role in the lives of artists. We often do not perceive what they can clearly see. They know when we're ready, and they know when we need to make adjustments to our work.

Galleries are run by professionals who make a living selling paintings and who can provide you, the artist, with a great deal of value. They not only offer perspective, they are your marketing department, your sales department, and your promotion agency. They build your collector base, they hang your work on their walls with no up-front charge, they pay the light bill, they pay the employees who are showing your work, they have their people talking about you, and they pay for food and wine to attract customers. And they advertise, at great expense, to bring people in the door.

Best of all, your gallery is your coach. They'll tell you what you need to hear and help shape your work. Frankly, you'd have to pay a lot more than a 50 percent commission to cover the cost of marketing yourself and the value a good gallery can bring to your work and your career.

I suppose one could make the argument that a gallery is reshaping you into an artist who sells, but it seems that, for most of us, that is important. Maybe there is a limit to what you're willing to do or where you're willing to go, because your soul still needs to be satisfied. But many artists are ready to take some direction, or make some small compromises, in order to eat. After all, doing a painting once in a while to meet a gallery's needs might be a better alternative than working on a road crew. It's kind of like the dad or mom who will take a second or third job to pay the bills. If painting helps pay the bills and you have to stretch out of your comfort zone once in a while, perhaps it's worth considering.

Seeing Brian Sweetland's life cut short and the celebration of hundreds of people who loved his work was an eye-opener. Brian was a local Vermont artist, mostly known regionally. He lived the life he wanted to live, painting and selling art. Had he waited like James, he would have never seen that recognition and may have had to make great sacrifices to keep painting. Neither decision is wrong — but it is a decision.

I speak to hundreds of artists, and most I know are playing it safe and not going for the life they really want to be living. They have a lot of reasons — some of which are practical, like waiting for the family to grow up and move out. Yet I recently met a woman who thought she needed to do that, but found a way in spite of it.

Your life is your choice. Most of us never make choices; we simply live the life expected from us based on our family and circumstances. I have a friend who grew up in a family of line workers in a factory. She is living her life as a line worker in a factory, yet she is a brilliant artist, and she looked forward to retirement so she could paint full-time. When that day came, she decided she couldn't live as an artist yet, so she took another job at another factory. "Someday," she tells me. Yet I predict someday will never come, because her fear is holding her back.

One of my biggest goals in life is to help you take the leap, to give you the encouragement you need, to help you think through the options and offer you the tools to help you make a living as an artist on your terms. But at the end of the day, most will stay in their go-nowhere jobs and groan as they go off to another day of doing what they don't love. Most will give excuses for why they cannot make the leap. I totally understand, I've been there. I wasted a lot of years doing what I didn't love until one day I broke the chains. Now I'm living a dream life. Is it perfect? Not quite, but it gets closer every day because I refuse to let others dictate what my life should be. I went through a process to design my ideal life and a plan to get there (I talk about this in Marketing Boot Camp 1).

A life cut short is a reminder that we need to go for it when we are able and not allow anything or anyone to prevent our dreams from coming alive. Yes, there are circumstances that can block you, there always will be, but a plan can move you forward.

If you're on the fence, if this is speaking to your heart and you know you need to make a decision, take some action every day toward that decision. You can be James or Brian. It's your call.

Eric Rhoads

PS: Last April at the Plein Air Convention I met a young man named Jonathan Luczycki, who told me that by following the advice he'd received in Marketing Boot Camp 1 and 2, he was able to quit his job and become a full-time artist, and he'd sold over 400 paintings in one year. I was approached by dozens of artists who had also transformed their lives. When I hear this, I get energized, and I want to do more and more to help.

So I'll be launching a whole new series (to be announced) at next April's Plein Air Convention, and I'm releasing the third in the series of Marketing Boot Camp DVDs this week (look for an announcement.) This content is not theoretical. I've made a lot of businesses successful with these concepts, which I've applied to selling art. It's different from other art marketing programs out there because it's rooted in marketing products and in business. All I know is that I'm seeing lives transformed and people breaking their chains. I hope you'll respect the fire that is burning inside of you and live the life you dream. It IS possible and ANYONE in any circumstances is capable of it. It starts with your determination to make a decision and make a plan. Go for it.

 

By | 2014-08-05T15:49:08+00:00 August 5th, 2014|Uncategorized|3 Comments