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marketing for artists

Most artists are broke.

And if you’re a broke and struggling artist  (or know one) I’ve found something wonderful for you.

But, before I get to that, let me back up . . .

Over the years, I have come to fall deeper and deeper in love with art. And beauty. When I first began in marketing I dismissed aesthetics and beauty as being irrelevant. What you needed was a good offer. But I’ve warmed to beauty.

I love the idea that we can not only offer something to the world but that we can make it beautifully and wrap it beautifully. That the care we take in our craftsmanship and presentation is a part of our offers not just something we do to make more people buy. It’s a part of the way we feed the soul of the world. Commerce doesn’t just want to be transactional but also transformational.  Marketing doesn’t have to be flashing neon lights, it can be candlelight. It doesn’t have to be demanding, it can be gracious.

I’ve learned this again and again from many people in my life. First and foremost from my colleague and dear one Carrie Klassen of Pink Elephant Academy (author of ‘How to Write a Lovable Homepage’).

So bringing more art into our marketing is wonderful. It helps us more truly expresses ourselves and see if what we’re offering is truly resonant and a fit with people. Our artistic and expressive aesthetic – our style – is just another way of saying our point of view. And a single image or a few well crafted words can do so much to express that.

It’s a considerable tragedy, given how much art can enhance the clarity of our marketing that artists classically struggle financially. Most artists are terrible marketers. Performers in show business are classical great at the show but terrible at the business.

So, imagine my delight when I came across Aletta de Wal – a marketing coach focusing on the niche of artists.

So, I decided I’d do an interview with her for you (and perhaps your friends).

And to make it extra special, I decided that I’d add some art from one of my favourite artists in the world. Jordanna Rachinky (pictured left). All of the paintings you see below are hers. You can check out more and buy things from her at http://jordannarachinsky.com

The interview with Aletta (pictured below right) is below . . .


What is the name of your project?

Artist Career Training: How visual artists can make a better living from making art, and still have a life

What’s the response been so far?

Artist Career Training has served over 4000 artists in groups and 400 individually. I do my best to inspire my clients to do the work they need to do to be successful, provide the detail to take specific action and support them through the ups and downs of life and art. They seem to like it.

What’s the story of how this came about? What was the need you saw in the community that it emerged from?

A Santa Fe gallery dealer who saw that artists needed help with the business side of art founded Artist Career Training (A.C.T.) in 1996. Since then, A.C.T. has grown from a local coaching practice into a virtual university delivering training to part-time and full-time artists at all career stages (emerging, mid-career and established). A.C.T. programs, services and learning products continue to attract a core community of American artists, qualified virtual faculty across North America and a loyal readership all over the world.

Can you share a few examples of how your project works?

Artists in the A.C.T. community learn to be focused, organized and confident in art business matters. Art world insider information is given in lively group telephone classes, on-site workshops and seminars. Personal consultations allow in-depth work on specific projects. Independent study is available through recordings and workbooks at The Art Business Library. 
An example of a client story: I met Connie Bransilver & Nicholas Petrucci through a presentation I did with a former client at The North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA). We began work together by telephone to map out clear goals and actions to achieve them. Over the next 24 months, we continued to work by telephone and e-mail to create a new web site and promotional materials.
When we met again at another NANPA conference, we worked in person on a legacy project “Guardians of the Everglades” that is now gaining national attention. My web wizard Robin Sagara provides hands-on technical support for their web sites and communications.
Interviews with more info here:

Who do you find it’s working best for?

Professional development works best for artists who are willing to look at everything they are doing and honestly assess what is working and what needs work. While they don’t have to love the business side, artists who want to make a living from their art have to become artist-entrepreneurs and do the work that entails.

What are the top three blunders you see artists making in their marketing?

#1. Ready-Fire-Aim: A random approach wastes a lot of your time, energy and money. Just because it is the latest craze, close to home or cheap doesn’t mean it’s right for you. The fix: Use an overall vision of what you want from your career as the unifying factor for your marketing and promotional activities. Select venues, social networks or online galleries that will take you closer to that vision.

#2. “I postcard, therefore I market”: Postcards are a good promotional activity but they will produce limited results if that’s all you do. I define marketing as a series of conversations designed to build a bridge between the artist, the art and the audience. A post card is one part of one conversation. The fix: Be clear about who you are and what your art is about. Then choose the best combination of print and online communications. Link a variety of promotional materials and events to an umbrella theme.

#3. “Been there, done that already, didn’t work”: The first time you send out a message or have a conversation is like putting the key in the ignition. To move, you have to turn the key, get into gear, put your foot on the gas pedal and steer to your destination. The fix: Have 7 – 20 conversations in various media at different times and places. See which messages have results and adapt your messages and frequency. Check the oil often.

What are the top three core marketing strategies you’re most excited about for artists these days?

I get excited about the results that artists can achieve through small, ordinary acts of genuine interest in others.

#1. Be genuine and personal about your brand as an artist. What you create, why you are an artist and who you are in person should come through equally in events, on your web site, in print and social media. There’s a lot of deceit and disappointment in the world of commerce. Your authenticity, honesty and art can be a restorative antidote. 

#2. Have high quality conversations with the right people. Take the time to get to know people who truly resonate with your art. With all the hype about SEO, there seems to be confusion that having a lot of people is the goal. Artists with the most followers don’t always win their hearts and minds. Artists who treat every member of their audience with respect, warmth and integrity win the right to play another day.

#3. Give to get. We’ve all been on the receiving end of generosity so pay it forward. The paradox and delight of giving of yourself to others is that you often get back more than you expected. Get involved in a community project that will help someone who is in need of your head, heart and/ or hands. You never know who will notice and goodwill is one of the most viral ways of getting known.

How does an artist go about building a relationship of trust with their clientele?

Start by trusting yourself, setting your own standards and meeting your commitments to yourself. When you can do so consistently, your confidence increases as well as your competence and results. That makes you trustworthy.

In all of your interactions with others, trust that their intentions are good, meet or exceed their standards and keep your commitments to them.

You probably noticed that trusting yourself and trusting others are mirror images of each other. That’s because mutual trust is the foundation of good relationships.

Build trust with viewers and they may become buyers or tell others about you. Build trust with galleries and they will tell their clientele about you. Build trust with other artists and they will share supplies, information and opportunities with you.

One of my mentors, Dan Sullivan, taught me that the way to be referable is to do what you say, finish what you start, be on time and say please and thank you.

How does an artist get exposure? What good exposure and what’s worthless?

All fine artists perform for the public when it comes to marketing. And that goes double for all of you performance artists. Everything you do to market your art is the performance. You do not need a personality transplant as soon as you leave your studio. You do need to draw on different parts of your personality to get the word out.

Good publicity ignites the interests of everyone from browsers, buyers and collectors, to arts professionals and the media. If you are to spark further interest in your work, your art must be good, and the artistry of your promotion must be better. Sweeten your marketing efforts by thinking of them as opportunities for organized creative activity.

Marketing starts by “meeting and greeting” and goes on from there. To make a good living making art, all artists need to master the art of relationship building, which is the bedrock of sales.

If you want enough exposure for your art for a long and happy life, triple-pronged self-promotion is now the minimum standard. You need a consistent presence in person, on the Internet and in print to build your reputation, your audience and your bank account. When I ask artists what steps they have taken so far, most respond that they have had open studios, entered local shows, and put up a web site. 

What these artists have in common is that they have not given much thought to the people they are trying to attract so they can end up looking for love in all the wrong places. Selecting venues where you are most comfortable, and where you can easily transport yourself and your work is a good place to start.  But it is only the beginning.

It’s not always easy to know right away whether exposure is good or bad. An event you do today may not pay off until you do a lot of follow up. A person you meet at that event may not buy for a year or more. A better way to look at the value of exposure is to start from what you know about your audience and create a path from there to your goals. After each step along the path, take stock of what you have achieved; be grateful for what works and thank those who contributed; take a hard look at what did not work and decide how to tweak it so it works better. Rinse and repeat…
How did you promote this in the beginning? What were the top three most successful approaches at the start of it?
In the beginning A.C.T. services were offered by word-of-mouth and postings on Internet discussion boards. A web site was launched and the newsletter ArtMatters! was first published in June of 2000 to offer free advice and link to live workshops and TeleClasses.

What are the top three most effective ways you’ve found to market this?

Word-of-mouth still works well as artist clients tell others about us. Word-of-keyboard through social media has increased traffic to our web site and has led to invitations to do live events, which then draw artists to our online and telephone programs.

What are the three biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way?

1. The quantum change has been the impact of technology. It’s a double-edged sword. On the plus side, you can reach more people without leaving your studio. On the other hand, there is more competition and more complexity. Artists need to be able to navigate cyberspace as easily as the bricks and mortar world.
2. The more things change, the more they remain the same.” The human element is still the core of making, appreciating and marketing fine art. Even art mediated by technology starts with an idea in the artist’s mind.
  • Artists still need a solid body of signature work as the core of their business;
  • Artists are still in charge of their brand and the audience is still in charge of sales;
  • Exposure is still fundamental to success so the work is seen by the right audience;
  • Consistent marketing is still the key to a sustainable art business;
  • Relationships and trust are still the bedrock of sales.
3. Even though the fundamental principles of marketing art have not changed, the way we communicate about it has to be packaged for the new communications channels and a much shorter attention span.


At its heart, what is this project/business really about for you? (beyond money, status and such).

I built a career in banking that culminated in being in charge of training for 30,00 employees worldwide. Then, just before I turned 40, I had two strokes. Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, my daily job was learning to walk and talk again. Art became part of my healing. As my creative talents returned, I resolved to make art the core of my life, instead of a sideline.
During the day, I coached executives to be more creative. Nights and weekends, I made art, taught art workshops and sold my own art and the work of other artists. I have no doubt that I am now doing what I was meant to do -helping artists turn their talents into a business that is sustainable and earns them a long term, healthy income.

What’s the next level for your project? What are you most excited about that’s coming up?

I am in the final ( I hope) stages of editing a book that is the “prequel” to art marketing, based on the work I have done for the past ten years with emerging artists or mid-career artists who took a break and are now back in a new context for getting the word out about their art.
I have also completed an 18-month certification program to provide visual coaching to visual artists in a new coaching program “The Dynamic Balance of Art, Marketing and Life” to be launched this year.


If people want to find out more about your project, support it or get involved – what should they do?

Request a f*r*e*e* 15 minute conversation about how Artist Career Training can help artist who want to have a better year making a living from making art.

Subscribe to the e-zine and weekly art marketing tips and receive a free art marketing guide: “Eleven Tips for Success for Fine Artists” Digital Recording and 15-page PDF Presentation by Artist Advisor Aletta de Wal

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s a mistake for artists to think that the economy is the reason for any downturn in their sales. Yes, it is a fact that there is less disposable income to go around in the global economy, but that simply means that people are more selective about where they spend their money and how far they are willing to travel to see art. I recommend that artist build a personal economy in which their relationships with people who like their art and like and trust the artist become the driving force for sales.
Remember: All of the paintings you saw above are Jordanna Rachinsky’s. You can check out more and buy things from her at http://jordannarachinsky.com


Want Help? If you’d like some more direct guidance and hand holding on figuring out your niche then go and check out my Niching for Hippies coaching program https://marketingforhippies.com/niching-for-hippies/

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