This message from President Barack Obama’s farewell address in Chicago was aimed at all Americans. He asks us to keep working on democracy, on listening to and respecting one another. And his message also is a call to action to artists and creatives, not to be dismayed or distracted by current events or corruption or crime, but to continue sharing stories and art.
Judy Bowman believes in setting one big goal – and using that to guide your choices.
Hers is to create a good body of work, professional presented. “Leave a legacy for my children” as an artist and a person who pursued her passions, she said.
She is pursuing hers intently now after retiring from a 30 year career as a teacher and high school principal. Bowman creates beautiful collage pieces – usually people in happy or everyday moments – and then limited edition giclee prints that sell for hundreds of dollars. Though she just restarted her art career a few years ago, she’s already represented by Jo’s Gallery in Detroit and appeared in many exhibits, the Essence Festival, Bombay Saphire and at the Belle Isle Art Fair.
“I hear of an opportunity, take a deep breath and say ‘let’s try it.’ It’s stepping out there. Just go for it,” Bowman says.
She believes that artists must “be watchful for opportunities. Be ready to take advantage of them.” And allow people to help you. Many people have helped her with her career, in part because of her open and friendly approach
When I showed up at an Artist2Artist talk, Judy and I hit it off. We talked about art and artists selling their work. And I told her and the other artists there that night about the debut of the Belle Isle Art Fair. Judy Bowman followed, showed up – and sold a lot of work.
“Be very receptive,” of people and opportunities, she said, and jump on those that are stepping stones toward your big goal.
(Photo: © Charlene Uresy, used with permission)
Article copyright © 2016 Vickie Elmer, updated 2020
If I don’t have a deadline, I’m an artist and my artist brain is all over the place.
If you are an artist with a variety of work, create a small portfolio – or file – of it on your mobile phone.
Make sure it’s easy to find, and recent pieces are all in the same place. That way when you meet a potential patron or buyer, it’s very easy to openand show your work.
Too often artists think they may find the work amid a sea of photos or images, yet the attention span of many is short or they are nervous and do not locate the best images.
So group it all together in one place or album – and include pieces that have recently sold. A patron may want to commission something similar to the one that just was purchased.
Crowds were nonexistent and shoppers scarce at the annual event. We didn’t know if it were the weather, the timing or something else that kept people away.
So the day loomed long and boring unless we could come up with ways to make something from a very slow cultural event. So we brainstormed lemonade ideas for artists at a slow art event. And then we spoke to some artists and arts experts for theirs. Here’s our list:
Create new art. Start new paintings, or finish a few embroidered pieces. Create rings or make a stack of mini paintings. Sketch ideas or capture the beautiful scene outside your tent. Live paint and make it a visible draw. Any of these uses your time effectively and also may entice the few guests to stop and watch your creative process.
Practice your pitch. Ask the artist next to you to serve as your faux customer and work on your customer engagement approaches. Or spend extra minutes with the few real guests who stop by, asking questions and trying out new ways to share your story and sell your work.
Look busy. "You want to keep the energy in your booth positive because you never know who is going to walk by next and want to buy your work. The trick is to not look bored or like you are waiting for the next person to pounce on,“ says Kristin Perkins, a glass and silver jeweler from Ypsilanti who has served as a Mint Artists mentor. Here’s her busy work: label packaging boxes or bags, replace worn looking price tags, polish jewelry, organize supplies, dust cases, tidy the booth. The trick though is to be busy but also approachable, and not too engaged in the tasks so customers will still talk to you.
Discover the busy best events. Visit other artists in the event, and ask them about their best shows, and why. Remember to ask if they’ve been at the event a few years. It’s easy to shine in your first year at a fair and you are seeking one where artists consistently earn good money.
Compare prices and displays. While you’re wandering around, compare prices on art or creative work that is similar to yours. If the artist has a wonderful display, ask if you could take a few photos. Just be respectful of their needs. "Don’t stand in front of the focal point of other artists booth,” said Mary Strope, artists coordinator for Integrity Shows and a long-time art events expert. (Integrity Shows is a major supporter of Mint Artists Guild, and invites us to a number of art fairs and events.)
Hold a contest or giveaway. Maybe it’s a small original painting or a lesson in jewelry making. “People are naturally interested in winning something,” wrote Carolyn Edlund, an arts educator and owner of ArtsyShark blog And you will collect emails for your e-letter list as people sign up for the contest.
Write thank yous or invitations. Bring along a dozen thank you notes or postcards for your next big event. Set a goal of writing to three or five customers who purchased from you in the last three months, an appreciation or a few notes on caring for the creative work they bought. If you are emailing them, ask for their home address so next time you may mail them a card or note. (Just remember not to get too engaged in this; look up regularly from your writing or typing.)
Perkins, the jewelry artist, shared a list of activities to skip, no matter how slow the show. She would never “text on my phone, talk on my phone, engage in private conversations with other artists, read a book, sit and stare, work on my computer. These actions signal to patrons that nobody is buying your work, you are bored, negative, unprofessional, too busy to engage them.”
She and others also caution never to leave an event early, no matter how slow. “If a patron is coming specifically to see you, you will appear unprofessional if you leave early. I keep telling myself we never know who will walk by next,” she said.
We’ve experienced that at Mint Artists too. One artist grew very discouraged on the first day as nothing sold. But on Day 2, she pushed to show interest and a positive attitude, and sold several hundred dollars in paintings in just a few hours.
(copyright c Vickie Elmer, 2016, for Mint Artists Guild )
Dorothy Jett-Carter creates beautiful bags and purses from vintage African cloth. Her creative work is sold at the Detroit Institute of Arts gift shop, at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History shop and in galleries and art fairs. She also has experience selling creative work to department stores.
And in all those places, she strives for consistent pricing. Artists must price their work the same in many venues, even if the commission or cost to sell varies, she told Mint Artists Guild teens at our March 2016 workshop on pricing.
“You can’t go up and down with your price. You can’t have a gallery on one side of town selling it at once price because they would buy it wholesale and then on other side of town, a different number. You need to be consistent with your pricing.”
Artists and galleries use many methods to price their work – from measuring the size in square inches to evaluating competitors prices. Some price their work based on the customer’s economic status. We wouldn’t be surprised to see some prices based on social media followers!
However, Jett-Carter recommends artists consider all the costs of producing the creative work – including equipment and supplies and time spent on delivery or promotion. Then add in some amount for the artist’s creativity and reputation and figure in the commission too.
She described the various ways artists may sell their work and noted that the commission rates may vary from 20 to 50 percent, and payment terms vary too.
A wholesale client will pay for your work upfront, but will expect a 50 percent discount from the standard price. Many galleries take artists’ work on consignment, often for 90 days, and pay only after the piece sells. And a few galleries will rent space to artists for a set payment each month plus a low commission of 15 to 25 percent. “I don’t recommend those galleries for emerging artists,” Jett-Carter said. They work best for artists who already have “a tremendous following” or for work that is more commercial, such as art made into coasters or calendars, she added.
Jett-Carter, who runs a small training company, has worked with many businesses and artists. Her expertise on artist pricing is much appreciated by the Mint Artists. Here’s three other pieces of pricing advice Jett-Carter gave at the Mint workshop:
- Cost of your work. When you consider how much it costs to produce a piece, be sure to add in costs of tools such as paint brushes or a sewing machine. And calculate both time and labor – and the value of your creativity, she says. Many artists forget to add in miscellaneous costs – gasoline, electricity, studio rent, art fair admission fees and promotional costs – often about 10 to 15 percent of the price, Jett-Carter said.
- Art fairs. You mark up your price to cover commissions galleries take. Yet your price stays at that higher level at a fair or art pop-up, even if you have no gallery has signed up to accept your work. “Gallery owners shop art festivals looking for new talent all the time. It is the best way that I know to have gallery owners find you,” Jett-Carter said. (She joined Mint Artists at the 2016 Palmer Park Art Fair.)
- Left unsaid. If a customer asks how long it took to make a piece, it’s best not to answer that question. Or to give a very vague non committal answer, Jett-Carter said. If you say it took three hours, they may try to calculate a price be based on an hourly rate for your time.
Take a very limited approach to discounting on prices. “A discount is taking a very small amount of money off the piece – just enough to say thank you” to a repeat customer, said Jett-Carter. That amount will often be around 10 percent. If someone asks for a discount, consider the request. “Before you say yes, stop, breathe, think. People will try to talk you down….. Don’t give your work away.”
© Vickie Elmer 2016 (Photos by © Rod Carter, courtesy Dorothy Jett-Carter)
Find a village…. Find somebody who will tell you the truth about your work.