How Art Businesses Die

Though we like to think of ourselves as artists, if we’re selling paintings, we are running a business.

According to trainer Tony Robbins, businesses go through the following cycle:

  • Birth
  • Infancy
  • Toddler
  • Teenager
  • Young Adult
  • Mature Adult
  • Mid-Life
  • Aging
  • Institutionalization
  • Death

Rather than explaining these cycles in depth, I’ll just say they are much like life. Each of us and our art businesses are at a different point in the cycle. If you’re just launching or planning your art business, you’re pregnant and about to give birth. If you’re a teen, you make reckless decisions. The longer you’re in business, the more you mature, until you grow old.

The part of the cycle I want to discuss today is death — when your business is no longer sustainable and there is no one to support it.

My goal is to help you, or those you know, to prevent death — to keep art selling.

All Cycles Are Predictable

One thing always follows the other. The problem is that we often cannot see when we’ve gone from one part of the cycle to another, and if we’re not paying attention, it’s often too late.

Recently I met an artist who had been a queen in the art world. She was a big seller, she’d made a lot of money, but she came to me for marketing advice because nothing is selling anymore.

How is it that an icon, a success, enters the part of aging where the breakdown in the business has been accelerated?

As I asked this woman some questions, it was clear this had been happening gradually over time, but she had not recognized the signals. And she was in denial about her current circumstances. She was placing blame on the economy, claiming that “people just don’t buy art anymore,” which is completely untrue.

In her case, her business had been aging for years, but since that fact went unrecognized, the aging continued until she may have reached the point of no return.

Though I’m always one to believe any circumstances can be changed, I also believe that once we get comfortable with a certain lifestyle, once we get to that point in our careers, we’re often unwilling to do what it takes to reinvent. We get set in our ways.

Not Seeing Obvious Signs

This lovely woman had not seen the key sign — gradually slowing sales. She had been in a number of galleries, but many closed over time and were not replaced. “People are just not buying your work anymore,” she was told.

The reality is that she did not reinvent herself when the signals of mid-life appeared, and never considered that aging would be next. She did not see that some of her galleries were dying, for the same reason she now faces … they did not reinvent themselves. Had she replaced her aging galleries with new, vibrant ones, she may still have been selling work.

“I tried to get a couple of new galleries,” she said, “but the new galleries had no idea who I was and how big I am in the art world. I tried to tell them how big I was, how I sold hundreds of paintings at high prices, but they did not seem interested.”

What had happened is that success killed this woman’s career.

What? How is it possible for success to kill a career or business?

This woman was so successful that she stopped doing what had made her successful in the first place. When I asked her about her early career and her struggles, she told me how she worked the galleries, how she advertised heavily to get collectors even when she had no galleries, and how that resulted in her getting invited to shows and events, which made her better known. It also made her known to the galleries.

Business Was Booming
Within a few years, she had several galleries, and she couldn’t keep up with all the work they were selling. This feast went on for several years. Because she sold so well, the galleries were advertising her work. That continued to build her name, which made her prices go up because she could produce only so much. In fact, demand became so high that the galleries didn’t even need to advertise. All the collectors knew who she was and wanted her work in their collections.

Over time, sales started to slow down. It took a while, but she would sell a little bit less every year. The galleries told her all her collectors were saturated and there was not as much demand for her work. Of course, they gave that as the reason they did not advertise her anymore. There simply was not the demand there used to be. Yet they still sold some — it’s rare that sales just come to a halt. Death in most cases is gradual.

From Queen to Virtually Unknown

I pointed out to her that new galleries did not know who she was because she had not worked to continually brand her name. I pointed out that as an artist, you have to take some control over your success. When the galleries stopped advertising, there was a gradual decline in her sales. I don’t believe it had anything to do with demand or oversaturation. I believe it was because they no longer promoted her.

A fact of life, as an artist or a gallery owner, is that when you fail to do the things that made you successful, you fail to get the results you used to get. When you achieve success and comfort, you can be slowly dying and not realize it.

She Killed Her Own Career
I believe this woman killed her own career because there are always new people coming into the market and other people leaving. In a typical year, it’s probably 20 percent attrition. That means you have to bring in 20 percent more people every year, because if you lose 20 percent of your customers a year, it only takes five years until you have no more customers.

Furthermore, the galleries not advertising sped up the death of her career. They were comfortable with her sales and did not feel they needed to advertise because everyone knew who she was and who the gallery was. They were dead wrong.

How Customers Act
In my first Art Marketing Boot Camp video, I show an up and a down escalator to make the point that people are always leaving and people are always coming into the market to buy. People leave because they age or die, they run out of wall space, they run out of money due to retirement or going to a fixed income or another change in their circumstances, like the loss of a job or needing to save money for college for the kids.

On the other hand, new people are coming into the market because their kids got out of college and they have money again, or they got a raise, or a bonus, or an inheritance.

New people coming into the market don’t know you exist. They don’t know that galleries that have been around for decades exist. They don’t know who has a good or a bad reputation. They have all of that to learn.

A Million Bucks and Nowhere to Spend It
I once met a collector who asked me who to call because he had a million dollars to spend on art and wanted to buy a John Singer Sargent painting. Imagine that. There were people who had been known for many years as experts in Sargent, yet he was not aware of them because they had not been advertising for decades. I had to tell him where to go. (He bought two Sargent paintings.)

Habits of New Buyers
When new buyers (they are not collectors yet) start to get interested in art, they start picking up books or magazines, or start Googling and studying what they find. They discover artists or galleries that are visible at the time they enter the market. New people enter every day, yet most artists or galleries are not there when those people begin to look. Those who happen to be there at the right time start branding themselves and eventually, over time, get a chance at a relationship with that new buyer. Those who are not there stay invisible.

Of course, there are years when 20 percent is a low attrition rate. In a year like 2008, there may have been a loss of 60 or 70 or 80 percent of customers who never returned to the market.

The Impact of the Election
We’ve seen this happen in election years. Both sides play up fears that the world is not going to survive if their candidate is not elected. Consumer confidence is everything. State of mind impacts spending if you think everything is about to get bad. So people lay low for six months or a year, and sometimes even for a few months after the election, until the sting disappears. In fact, we know a lot of artists who had not seen any significant sales for months and only just recently started to see things selling again.

People with art businesses need to anticipate this and be ready for the storm, whether it’s a short- or long-term storm.

In every storm, there are always people spending money, but you have to hunt them down and find them.

Taking Advantage of a Crash
I know of a very smart and successful couple who started a new gallery in 2008, after the crash had happened. Everyone thought they were insane, but they understood human nature. In 2008, almost all the galleries and many artists stopped advertising because business was bad. This couple doubled down on advertising and managed to draw massive attention from the people who were still spending. The environment was less cluttered, too, so they got more value out of their ads. Like a giant magnet, they drew customers away from other galleries that were quickly forgotten because they were out of sight, and out of mind. This gallery was booming as a result.

It’s counterintuitive to spend when things get bad, but there are always buyers. Even the Depression saw massive spending among the wealthy.

Success as a Sign of Near Death?
My dad, a successful business guy, always told me that companies often go from having their best months ever to having their worst months ever almost overnight. The reason is that they hadn’t recognized problems when those problems were revealing themselves. Plus, when times are good, people tend to take more time off, take longer vacations, do more remote management and more spending, and put less money away for a rainy day. Plus, business is so good they assume they don’t need to advertise or even do as many shows. They don’t follow the practices that made them successful.

Momentum Is Powerful
What they fail to understand is that success is the culmination of momentum created by years of doing things right. Momentum does not stop immediately, but if you don’t continue to feed it, your business starts to slowly die, because you’re not staying visible, and not bringing in enough new customers.

By the time they recognize the problem, it’s usually too late. There is no money or no energy or desire to work as hard as they used to.

Uphill, Downhill

It’s like a car that chugs up a hill, but keeps trying till it gets to the top. Then, once at the top, it heads to the bottom, going faster and faster until it’s going so fast the driver doesn’t need to do anything. But if the driver fails to keep the gas on, they’ll coast until the next hill slows them down and, eventually, they stop.

Death can happen to any business, including yours, whether you’re an artist, a gallery, or any business outside of the art world.

Clues Even When You Are Thriving
The best time to pay close attention to the danger signs is when you’re thriving. Because once you hit your mid-life crisis, things begin to break down. Entropy begins. You have to decide if you are going to reinvent yourself and rejuvenate your business by getting aggressive again, by promoting again — or will you decide to just ride it out as long as you can? That is when you really begin to die.

Once things get bad, you’re in denial. You can’t see the problem clearly, and tend to blame the market, the election, “people not spending anymore,” the state of the art world, etc. You feel like a victim, and you begin to attack and blame others. That’s when good employees bail out, because they’ve been saying it all along: “We need to do things differently.”

Death is usually self-imposed.

It’s rarely about market conditions alone. You see smart operators who are ready for the storm of a bad economy or changes in technology or changes in consumer behavior.

A Tough Decision

My friend was faced with a decision and had a tough pill to swallow. Once famous, once rich, once world-renowned as an artist, she was no longer known by the galleries or collectors, and a whole generation of people in charge of art shows and events had never heard her name. She had not been visible for about five years, and she had been forgotten.

To her credit, she did not just lie down to die. She asked what she could do and said she would do everything she could to get another decade or more out of her art career.

We’re working on a plan, and soon the world will know her again. I’m convinced her wonderful art will sell and she will be embraced as she once was. She is fortunate to be in a position where she is able and willing to work at and invest in her career. And she now wishes she had never stopped promoting herself and given up control of her own career.

How to Prevent Death

Whether you own a gallery or are an artist, your best chance for survival is to always assume people are in and out of the market and that you’ll need a plan to stay visible, stay relevant, and bring new people into the fold each and every day. You need to return to the things that made you successful, and you must always be paranoid and never get too comfortable, no matter how well things are going.

You and I both know artists who have been relevant and at the top of their game for decades. It does not just happen. They work hard at staying visible, doing shows, and continually reinventing themselves and exposing their work to new people coming into the market. If they did nothing, they would be unknown today as many once-famous artists are.

Lifetime Commitment
If you’re young or if you’ve got a lot of years ahead, you need to assume that visibility is a lifetime commitment. Too many people think they can run a couple of ads and everyone will flock to them. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint.

Just like you pay the electric bill every month of your life to keep the lights on, you need to pave the way to keep customers flowing to you for a lifetime. When you slow down, the customers may keep coming for a short period, depending on how much momentum you’ve built, but when the momentum ends, there are no more customers.

Death in life isn’t preventable … but it’s preventable in business.

Even old, established companies can die because they get comfortable and arrogant and don’t continue to do what made them successful in the first place. Yet those in a continual state of customer acquisition and occasional reinvention stand a chance of a long and healthy business life. The same is true for artists and galleries.

I wish you great success.

By | 2017-06-13T08:57:45+00:00 April 16th, 2017|Uncategorized|7 Comments

Your Thanksgiving Demo, and My Thanksgiving Wish for You

Eric Rhoads Thanksgiving Message 2017 for artists

 

A Note from Art Publisher Eric Rhoads

Dear Friends,

 

Life these days tends to go faster than a Porsche on the Autobahn. We’re all busy.


Thankfully, we’re forced hit the brakes and slow down around the holidays. It is at this time of year I try to cool my jets, rest up for the coming year, and take inventory of my blessings and my friends.

 

I feel especially blessed to have you, my art family. Art has changed my life. Just seeing life through the eyes of an artist, viewing life as color, light, form, shape, and atmosphere is a blessing. Translating beauty to canvas enriches our lives, as does painting outdoors en plein air, when we can be a part of nature.

 

I’m very thankful for the “new life” I was given when art entered it many years ago, and for the great friendships I’ve developed as a result of this journey. I’m grateful for your embrace of our magazines, events, products, and videos.

 

I often say you can’t have a bad day when surrounded by art, artists, and people who love art. I feel very blessed each day.

 

But I never say thank you enough, and it’s clear that my family (and the families of my team members) would not eat without your support. I try to remind myself of this every day and try to make it clear to my children that their band uniforms, books, electronics, and meals on the table are a result of a lot of good people who trust us to provide things they need to inspire them or make them better.

 

I am truly humbled by your support and the confidence you place in us.

 

You have allowed me to serve you, and for that I am grateful. It’s my goal to serve you with generosity. My life has been enriched by spending my time around people, like yourself, who have been blessed with a passion for creating or appreciating the arts.

 

You are special people. You see life through different eyes.

 

My great passion is to help others discover what we’ve each found in our own way. Life is more fulfilling with art-making at our fingertips. And it’s my belief that it’s not about inborn talent, it’s about convincing those who say, “I wish I could do that, but I’ve got no talent,” that they can learn it, because it’s a process simply requiring instruction, practice, and passion. Therefore when you’re approached, consider putting the brush in their hand and finding a way to convince them to take a risk on a chance for a better life by trying painting.

 

Perhaps, as you gather with family and friends this week, and through the holidays, you can change a life or two by offering a little Thanksgiving painting demonstration for those uninterested in football. Maybe you can inspire a child, a teen, an adult, or a senior. It’s never too early or too late. Your willingness to take the time to inspire others could give them the gift you were once given.

 

It is my prayer that your Thanksgiving is surrounded with laughter, love, and people who make you happy. It’s my wish that you use these times to rest, regenerate, find inspiration, and take a deep, well-deserved break to get ready for an incredible 2017.

 

Don’t fear whatever the future holds. We don’t know, we cannot control it, but we can continue to make the world a better place by opening the hearts of others through our art. It’s never been needed more, and I see no higher purpose for all of us than healing the world through artwork and inspiring others to find the artist within themselves.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends.

 

Eric Rhoads

Publisher

 

Fine Art Connoisseur * PleinAir * Artists On Art * Fine Art Today * Plein Air Today * Plein Air Salon

By | 2016-11-23T15:10:19+00:00 November 23rd, 2016|Uncategorized|1 Comment

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

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

DSC00119
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.

  20140716_152751

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.

 

20140716_143501

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.

  20140702_104519

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.

  20140806_095523

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