Thursday, May 28, 2009

The art business waltz, lesson 1

Tonight's post is illustrated with the work of Sir Henry Raeburn, 1756-1823, Scottish portrait painter, above is Miss Eleanor Urquhart. image;

I will begin with a few housekeeping items.
I write these posts, often late into the night after painting all day. I put them together as best I can, and then go to bed. The next morning I open them again, and as I drink my morning coffee, I go over what I have written and posted the previous night. Yesterday morning I opened the post and was shocked to find it was full of misspellings and typos. I think there may be gremlins opening up these posts during the night and stirring them about with an electron deconprehensifying stimulus whisk.

I want to let you know that I was not loaded, I know you thought that didn't you? I hold myself to a discipline of writing a post every night, I have written 146 of them in a row without missing a day. What that means, is sometimes I am writing them when I am exhausted and I make more mistakes. So bear with me if you read the blog early in the day, you who read it later, get it after my morning re-edit has healed its errors.

Eric Rhoads the publisher of several art magazines is contemplating resurrecting Plein Air magazine. He has sent out a questionnaire to artists about that possibility. I have provided a link here where you can go and fill it out.

It would be a good thing for the art if this magazine existed again, connecting all of us landscape painters together in a central forum and bringing new attention to the craft.

My e-mail is filling with invites to be a friend on facebook. I have no idea why, I have never even been on facebook. I want to be your freind, but I don't do face book. This blog is enough social networking for me . Forgive me , I'm sorry.

Send me your art for the the next reader critique my e-mail is If I use your art I will photoshop your signature off of it and I will tell no one whose art I am critiquing.

Now, on with tonight's show.
I hear artists say they don't like the business side of art. I have to admit I would rather spend all of my time painting too, but it is a business and I have a wife, and kids in private school, and a mortgage, and various bills, and a lot off overhead, anteater kibble and materials for my art to pay for, so I must make money doing this.

If you really don't want to do art business there is no reason for you to do so. Paint as a hobby and give your paintings to friends and charity auctions, or shingle your house with them. But if you need to recoup the value of your time and materials, or if you want to work towards a time when you can make enough money painting to no longer punch a clock for Mr. Charley, you will need to do the art business waltz. I will tell you all I can about it. I have actually come to enjoy it, some of the time anyway.

These are difficult times in the art world and everybody is scrambling to make things go around. But I think the recession is coming to an end and even if the stock market never goes back to where it was in the past, as the panic subsides, the art market will rebound. Its a better place to be than in real estate. the automobile business, or Guantanamo.

One of you said a dealer you met with was not interested in bringing in new artists. They were being diplomatic. A dealer always wants to bring in a new artist who he believes will make him significant money. You need to make yourself into someone about whom they can reasonably believe that. I am not talking about fooling anybody or pulling a veneer of conceit over who you are now. You need to build your skills, reputation, and presentation.

One of you asked about doing fairs and shows, those are a great way to get started. I told the story of my first outdoor show in this blog a month or two ago.Showing in the venues that you can get into, is a good thing to do. Remember, NEVER PAY TO SHOW YOUR ART. There is a link to a previous post about paying to show your art.

The important thing is to get out into the gallery world and start playing. You stock a gallery, and then you build up another group of paintings and stock another. Over the next handful of posts I will break this down into its different elements, steps and skills.

Detail of John Tait, and his grandson. by Raeburn Look at the authority with which Raeburn has displayed the planes of this head, very simple and very solid. This painting is a lesson in building form and controlling edges.

The art world has its share of wackos and difficult characters. We hear so much in the press about the divas in Hollywood or in the music world. There may be successful but obnoxious creeps at the top of the avant garde art scene in New York, but in the world you and I inhabit, it won't fly, at least not for long. Most of the real artists making a living out there are businesslike and courteous. They are often a little disorganized (or even scattered in my case) but they are not rude or unpleasant to deal with. I do know plenty of wannabes who are, but I can't think of many pros. I would never cut it as a salesman out in the real world, but I do return phone calls, , and do what I say I will do. I am on time and I give my best, even if the results are variable in the making of art.

Before you go to a gallery hoping to show there, you must do some prep work. I will discuss that next. You should have at least six, preferably ten framed and consistent examples of your work. I think it is probably best to show all landscapes, all figures or all still lives, rather than mixing them up, but that is not essential, as long as one clearly predominates as what you do. When you are making art in the studio you may want to be edgy or political, or obscene and that's fine, but when you enter the world of commerce you need to think about whether anybody would want what you are bringing to the gallery. Notice I didn't say everybody. My own work appeals mostly to a subset of collectors who want New England style landscape painting that is within a historical tradition. Thats what I want to make. What do you want to make?

There is nothing more difficult than attempting to predict the buying behavior of customers who you have never met. I think it is a bad idea to paint "for the market". Do what you love and it may come through in your art, and be recognized there by your clients. There are a lot of folks doing high cheese content, commercial dreck. The competition to make something even cheaper and aimed at an even lower level of aesthetic appreciation isn't a race you want to enter. Its really depressing over there. And its a treadmill. If you want to be on a treadmill, keep your day job and preserve your art as something meaningful to you. If you turn your art into a cold hustle for money, will you go back to your day job to give your life meaning?

You will need a web site. It doesn't need to be fancy, but it should display a selection of work of which you are proud. It also needs to have a bio. I will write tomorrow on producing that. You will need a business card. Don't run them off at home on your printer, get 500 of them professionally designed and printed. Here is mine.

This is the first piece of your art people will see and judge you by, so get it right. They aren't particularly expensive, Staples can help to produce yours, or a local printing company. Use a photo of your art, or yourself or even your pet, but do it in color. No drab brown with a stock chop of a palette and brushes.
In the olden days I had a lot of little binders with photographs of my art in clear sleeves that I could hand out to dealers. They were an expensive nuisance. I don't do portfolios anymore. I hand them a card, they go online to my web site and there it all is. And I can update it as I have new paintings, and as my bio needs to be updated.

Here's a detail of Raeburns portrait of David Anderson. The warm and elegant coloring is in keeping with the formal portrait of an important and no doubt wealthy man. He doesn't look like a bloated plutocrat though. I think I would have liked him. We could have smoked a fine box pressed maduro together, and mused about the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Benjamin Bathurst

More tomorrow including bio writing for artists 101.


Unknown said...

great post, as always. I look forward to them every day. I was telling my husband that it is like getting a workshop every time I read it. Thanks for the effort you put into them.
I just finished a project where I did 60 paintings in 60 days - it was a fundraiser for a non-profit that I wanted to support, and each day's painting was posted and I had a number of folks who subscribed to the daily posts, so I couldn't fail to get it out there. I was often finishing up that day's painting at 2 in the morning, so I know a little bit about posting when exhausted, and am especially grateful, knowing what it takes to do so. Your adoring public thanks you.
Anteater kibble?
ps. love the illustrations... wonderful, wonderful...

Bob Carter said...

This is really great advice, and I'm eagerly waiting for the next posts on this topic.

On the typos, don't beat yourself up over it. As someone who writes all the time for my "day job", I can tell you that everyone of us is our own worst editor. You always see what you intended to write, even if your fingers did something else. It drives me nuts, especially when I get it into print, where it will live forever.

willek said...

Just great advice, Stape. Best is your attitude that comes across in the posts. You are happy to be swimming in your own pond and that is good for those of us who are more aprehensive and less pragmatic. I am finishing up a fine work of art for submission to the disecting lab. You should have it in a few hours. WillEK

Unknown said...

I never thought of putting my stuff in a gallery (down the line when it's good enough), but with all of this instruction, I may have to give it a go.

Sandra Galda said...

Thank you for this post topic on the business of art, it is a current concern of mine. I love your posts, typos and all, not that I remember, or even recall, any of them! I have made my share and more of typos in my work. Keep writing!!!! I am learning soooooo much from you!

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, 60 paintings is about what I make in a year.
I am writing in the blog format because it makes me write every day.I have wanted to write a book for a long time. This will assemble much of the material,to which I will of course add the secret material handed down to me alone by a secret society of sorcero-limners.

Stapleton Kearns said...

The typo thing is so annoying because I go over the posts before I publish them and the next day I always find obvious flaws. Its like driving to the grocery store and realizing when you get there the the riders side door has been open all along.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I intend to deal with the apprehensive fear of rejection thing soon. It will be an entire post.

Todd Bonita said...

Beaman Cole said he stopped in to say hello...that man is the goods and speaks very highly of you.

great post today and just what the doctor ordered. Believe it or not, I was going to ask you about this very topic.
All the best,

Stapleton Kearns said...

I have no idea where various readers are in their artistic development. I think that it is good to show,just as you would play recitals after a while if you were taking piano lessons. Or play for a party or an event if you started a a band.Showing them is sort of the point.

Stapleton Kearns said...

We hung out and talked while I dabbed at my current painting.I am going to continue with the commerce theme. Please ask me any questions you have, that would be useful.

Stapleton Kearns said...

You are the scariest of them all I wonder if your new degree doesn't equip you to eviscerate my writings,particularly when I wander into art history.