30 minutes in the Hot Seat: the Best Investment I’ve Ever Made

April 20th, 2017

Back in January, my friend Beth Inglish hosted a workshop called How to Sell Your Art Online, which was put on by Cory Huff at The Abundant Artist. Attending turned out to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve done.

The entire workshop was great, covering a variety of methods for selling and promoting your art.

The best part for me was the Hot Seat.

Cory Interviews Brad in the Hot Seat

I spent 30 minutes being grilled by Cory (and all the other attendees) about my art business and what is working and what isn’t working. This for me was worth the entire price of admission. Don’t get me wrong; I learned a lot the rest of the weekend, but for me, everything hinged on that one 30-minute period.

I was a little bit nervous at first as sometimes I don’t like being in the spotlight. But my unease turned to giddiness as we started to dig into what is working and what isn’t. Why my art is or isn’t selling.

Like a lot of artists, selling is hard for me. I can paint all day long, but asking people for money in exchange for my art is difficult. I’m happy charging a decent fee for my graphic design services, but when it comes to my art, it’s more difficult. I think part of it is I get more attached to my fine art than my design work. Part of it stems from the way I was raised – don’t ask for stuff because we’re living on a preacher’s salary. So I’ve grown up with a scarcity mindset, unknowingly limiting others around me. Maria Brophy has described this in her private Facebook group “Art Money Success”.

So in the next few months you’ll see me actively selling.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn into the hard-sell type. That’s just not me. I hate being sold to. I do, however, love buying stuff that taps into something I get excited about.

Like coffee, Doctor Who, dark denim, and boots. The things I buy tap into how I see myself. I imagine the people who buy my art see something of themselves in it. That’s who I want to connect with. There’s something in my paintings that reminds them of themselves, who they are and what they stand for. Or what they want to attain. Or where they’ve been and where they want to go, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

So many of my paintings are about peace and quiet and rugged energy and focus, and I think by putting these paintings in front of the people who are looking for that, they’ll want to buy them.

My job is to get the work in front of them and make it easy to buy.

Since I already have a big inventory, my focus over the next few months will be to get the work out there. I don’t need to paint more or blog more. I need to build that pipeline or funnel to sell my work.

What that means is you’ll see me sharing more art for sale on Instagram, Facebook, and my blog. The only difference is you’ll see a lot more price tags on my paintings. That’s it!

The sales funnel is relatively simple. It’s just putting the art out there that’s work for me. Then it’s hard to make the “ask.” Asking people if they want to buy a piece is work. I can’t explain it, but it feels like confrontation, even when I know it isn’t. But you know, if someone isn’t into my art, it’s fine! No worries. It’s just not their thing.

I believe every piece I make has a home somewhere, and I just have to get it into those homes.

How to Make 2017 a Killer Year as an Artist

December 20th, 2016

I’m writing this in the middle of December, 2016. At this time of year it’s only natural to look at the calendar and take stock of the previous 12 months and begin making plans for the upcoming year.

But art is such a subjective thing. How does an artist set goals, anyway?

If you want to lose weight, it’s good to determine how much weight you want to lose and when you want to have lost it. Or if you want to run a marathon, you set a plan for achieving a certain running pace by a particular date. In other words, make it smart.

What are SMART goals?

As with any goal-setting it helps to make it S.M.A.R.T.:
  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Time-bound
What that boils down to is setting goals that you can be sure you achieve, by a particular date, in a way that pushes your limits without overdoing it.

Flimsy goals

Some goals just aren’t written very well. Sure, it’s better than no goals at all, or a vague sense of doing “better”, but there’s no real way to know you’ve achieved it.
  • Get better at a particular technique. I’d argue that this is a poor goal since “better” isn’t measurable. But you can enroll in a class that might help you improve. Maybe go outside your comfort zone and learn an art form that is not your normal mode of working. Working with pottery might spark new ideas for fashion design.
  • Sell more art. This isn’t really a measurable goal. What does “more” mean, anyway? You can learn how to start selling art online, for example. (I have no affiliation with Cory, by the way.)

Set concrete goals

Here are some examples, plus questions you can ask yourself to figure out how to get there.
  • Produce XX pieces this year. What does this look like broken down into quarterly and/or monthly quotas? Personally, I can’t expect myself to go-go-go constantly every single day in the studio because I have a day job and a family. What do you do when the creative well runs dry? Schedule time to recharge with artist dates or something like that.
  • Get in a particular show. What are the requirements and deadlines? If it is too late to apply to the 2017 show, how can I get ready for 2018?
  • Make $X from art in the upcoming year. Be realistic, but stretch yourself. How do you get your work in front of a particular audience? How do you market/advertise your work? Also, take into consideration your sales cycle. Some people make most of their yearly income right before Christmas.
  • Get X followers on a particular social media platform, or X subscribers to my newsletter. While this is specific and measurable, make sure it has a good return on investment and that you’re spending time on the right platform to convert into more sales, leads, signups, whatever it is you’re driving people to.

Put your goals in front of you

Michael Hyatt is a fan of reviewing his goals every day. It doesn’t have to be something drawn-out, just a two minute glance at them and a quick evaluation if he is doing something to “move the needle forward” on that goal. Put your goals somewhere that you’ll see them. It might be a list on your computer, or taped to your mirror, or on a mood board in your studio. Just put it where you’ll notice it. Burn it into your mind each day.

I know one artist who created a mood board of all these paintings that inspired her. They were the type of things she wanted to create, herself. By focusing her energy on creating those things, she eventually began to attract commissions to make exactly those type of paintings.

What are your goals?

Personally, I’m keeping my goals private. But feel free to share your own artist goals for the upcoming year. Or, maybe it’s best to share such things only with a select few who will cheer you on and keep you accountable.

The real question is, do you have art goals for the coming year? Share in the comments!

4 Reasons Your Art Is Not Selling

July 8th, 2016

Have you been making art for a while, hoping for a sale, and wondering why it is not selling?

Yeah, I’ve wondered this, too.

After mulling this over for a while, I’ve come up with 4 factors that influence your sales: your style, your inventory, your fame, and your price.

1. Your Style Isn’t Recognizable

 

When you think of an artist like Alexander Calder, you think of mobiles made with organic geometric shapes in black and red. The ultimate in Midcentury Modern.

When you think of Frank Stella, you think of huge abstract-geometric paintings with carefully drawn lines.

When you think of Salvador Dali, you think of perfect blue skies over golden dreamscapes populated with melting clocks and bizarre dream imagery where time and memory are distorted and jumbled.

When you think of Mary Cassatt, you think of tender scenes of mothers and children.

If your style is all over the place, people won’t be able to identify your work. Some artists might feel like they are being pigeonholed or labeled, but it makes your work easier to sell if it is recognizable. People need to be able to identify your work.

If your work isn’t recognizable, you might sell a few one or two pieces here and there, but you won’t be very collectable, because you won’t have a distinctive body of work.

2. You don’t have enough “inventory”

When I talk about inventory, I mean your body of work. Your body of work needs to be cohesive: a collection of artworks that clearly go together. There will be some kind of continuity between them. There needs to be breadth and depth and all look like it came from the same artist.

If you’re a sporadic artist, you won’t have enough work to sell. You have to produce a lot in order to sell a lot. It’s really that simple. And the more you produce, the better you get and the more recognizable your style will become. In turn, your work is more likely to sell just on recognition, which translates to fame. More on this in a minute.

3. How Famous Are You?

Andy Warhol is reported to have said that, “In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.” And somebody, somewhere, perhaps Seth Godin, said that now in the internet age, we are all famous to 15 people.

The point is, the average person is “famous” to somebody. Every time you post something on Facebook, the same set of people are likely see that and pay attention to it. And yes, it’s probably your relatives and close friends. So in a sense, you are already famous! You have people who like seeing what you are doing. It’s just that that number might be very small. But it doesn’t have to be enormous, either.

This is where the idea of 1,000 True Fans comes into play. If you have 1,000 people buying $100 worth of your stuff each year, you’re making $100,000 a year. Granted, half of that goes to taxes and then another big chunk goes to overhead, but it is a good enough place to start make a living for most people.

And for fine artists it may be more like 10 True Fans buying $1,000 of your work every year since. That sounds like a tremendous opportunity to really get to know your fans.

4. Is the Price Right?

Pricing is a really tricky thing to deal with because there are several factors: materials and overhead, time and effort, skill level, and fame.

Materials and Overhead

You have to pay for your materials and overhead before you can sell your art: canvas, paint, varnish, clay, stone, tools or utensils, stretcher bars, studio rent, utilities, furniture (such as easels and work tables), and operating costs such as photography and everything involved in marketing your work such as a website and any advertising you might do.

Time and Effort

When you start out, it might make sense to base your pricing on your hours or the size of your work. But the bottom line is you have to pay yourself for your time and effort. If you’re good at what you do, charging hourly for your work punishes efficiency.

An experienced artist might be able to produce a fantastic painting in fraction of the time it takes a beginner to produce something at a lesser level or even the same level. I have produced fantastic paintings that took just a few hours and others that took 20 hours or more.

If I were hiring somebody to do a website, I wouldn’t care how many hours it takes them as long as they do it. I’d say, “Here’s $X,000, go do it.” Not: “Here’s $X,000, do it in XX hours.” The developer of course will make sure the time spent is appropriately in line with his or her skill, whether it is 20 hours or 2. For all I know, they already spent 300 hours creating a customizable product that only takes 15 minutes to set up.

Skill Level

Paintings executed with a higher level of skill are much more likely to be more expensive. And the more skilled the artist, the faster that artist is likely to complete the paintings, so in effect it is a dramatically higher hourly rate. You’re paying for experience and expertise. A 30-year veteran knows a lot more about painting than someone who just picked it up last week. Someone with this much skill is likely to produce a higher-quality piece of work.

The More Famous You Are, the More You Can Charge for Your Work

Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, 1991. Glass, painted steel, silicone, monofilament, shark and formaldehyde solution, 2170 x 5420 x 1800 mm | 85.5 x 213.4 x 70.9 in.

As you grow your fame or notoriety, you can charge for it. Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons are pretty famous in the contemporary art world. They made a splash 20-something years ago and continue to do so. Jeff Koons can mass-produce a gazing ball and sell it for a lot of money. Is it simply because he is a famous contemporary artist? Maybe. There is some skill involved, but I suspect the greatest skill is a keen sense of marketing and knowing what people will buy as well as being famous for being famous in a particular niche.

People buy name recognition. Why do you think fashion labels are so successful and go plastering their logo on their products?

So. What Does This Have to Do With My Work?

With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at my own work.

I’ve been painting since 1999. But I haven’t sold very many paintings. My sales have been pretty much nonexistent, averaging less than one a year. Pretty sad, huh? Yeah, kinda. But I think I can see why this is the case.

Style

I have painted in several distinct styles over the years, but up until recently there hasn’t been anything to really tie it all together. That said, I think I’ve found a visual idom that makes sense.

Inventory

I have not really been very prolific. I have been lucky to finish 5 or 6 paintings a year. But if I really push and do a challenge like Art Every Day Month, I’ll produce that many in a month.

My practice is not consistent enough to produce work on a regular basis, which might explain for the scattered quality and varied styles. The obvious thing is to develop a more regular and disciplined practice of creating art.

In other words, I think I need to fail faster. Go for quantity over quality.

Price

I think my pricing is right on the mark as far as my materials and skill level, but I don’t think my pricing speaks to my level of fame, as it were. I’m pretty much unknown, even locally.

Fame

Fame is the one area where I’m hesitant. It’s honestly kind of scary to think of becoming famous.

But this is why my friend Jeff talks about why it’s okay that nobody has heard of you. Embrace your invisibility so you can get better faster while the world isn’t watching.

Finally, I don’t think I’m getting it out there like I should. I’m trying to figure out how to market it. People can’t buy my art if they don’t know about it. Since I’m unknown, I’m not famous.

What’s Next

I think the reason I’m not selling is that I’m not producing work steadily enough, which makes my style somewhat irregular and creates a lack of product, or inventory. Since I’m not producing regularly and getting it in front of people, nobody knows about it, so I don’t have any name recognition to leverage.

I know exactly what I need to be doing now. It all starts with a regular studio practice. Once I get that ball rolling, I’ll eventually be able to start selling my art on a regular basis, probably in the next few years.

What About You?

What do you need to do to get your art selling? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Survive Mobilegeddon: Make your Art Blog Mobile-Friendly

May 22nd, 2015

By now you’ve likely heard of the “Google Mobilegeddon.” Google announced earlier in the year if sites were not mobile optimized by late April 2015 they would be penalized in search rankings.

This caused a lot of people to scramble to get their sites mobile optimized. You don’t want to get your site demoted in search results, do you?!

If you do a search from your mobile device, the Google Search Engine Results Page (SERP) will show whether it is Mobile Friendly, and mobile-friendly results are given greater prominence in the results list.

Fortunately I had to add only one line of code to my site because I had already made it responsive. Google has a Mobile-Friendly Test that evaluates your site and shows you what you need to do, but it isn’t always easy to decipher what is going on if you don’t know the lingo.

But why should I care what mobile optimization is?

Basically, when you view a site on a mobile device, it rearranges the content to fit the screen. A mobile screen is a lot different from a desktop screen.

This matters because an ever-increasing amount of web traffic is on mobile devices — phones, tablets, and the like. It’s more than 50% in some cases. I know many people who only ever access the web on a mobile phone nowadays. Your phone is always with you. The Internet is in your pocket or your purse, not on some big computer in an office.

And for artists, a mobile-optimized site is a must. If someone sees your work in a gallery and they want to know more about you, they can pull their phone out of their pocket or purse and Google you right then and there. They can find out more about your work instantly.

This means two things:

  1. avoiding Flash on your website (it won’t work on most mobile phones)
  2. making your site mobile-friendly.

Okay, I get it. Now what?

You or your developer need to add mobile responsive code to your site’s cascading style sheet file(s), or CSS.

Responsive means it responds to how wide the window is. If the window is larger than, say, 800 pixels my site doesn’t change. If it is less than 799 pixels, columns will move under main content, the navigation moves under the logo instead of beside it, and so forth. Basically, it goes from a 3 column layout to a 1 column layout. The next breakpoint is at 480 px (standard iPhone width) and it behaves a little differently.

(I admit, when I wrote this I discovered I needed to go back and modify my CSS so images that stick out from the main blog text fit within that container if it shrinks. As of early May 2015 if you viewed this on a mobile device the wide items stuck out from the text and you had to scroll sideways. Not good. So I made a new CSS rule that made all images inside the .entry div fill the width of that container. Viola! No more stick-y out-y pictures.)

So how do I fix this?

First, in the head of your site, you want to add this line: <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0"/>

This will ensure mobile devices pick up the responsive CSS. Otherwise it will be responsive in a normal browser window, but not on a device. This is the problem I had.

Then, create the responsive styles.

At the end of your CSS file, start adding your breakpoints. The break points mean if it is under so many pixels, it will rearrange the content in a certain way.

Start by considering some standard device widths. Tablets run around 768 pixels wide in portrait mode and 1024 pixels wide in landscape mode. So I’d add the first breakpoints there. Because of the cascade, the last line is given priority over the line before it. So if the last line contradicts the first line, the browser will pay attention to the last line instead. So you want to start with the widest view, and go narrower from there. In other words, your code will go from the widest scenario (desktop) to the narrowest scenario (iPhone).

iPhones resolve to 480 pixels wide, so that’s your smallest breakpoint.

Find something in the middle to average it out, like 650 pixels,  and put it in between the two. Or just have everything fit at 100% in one column when your viewport is less than the tablet width. That’s the simplest way to do it. It might not be the prettiest, but it will get the job done. “Pixel perfect” isn’t so much the ideal it used to be.

Once you’ve established your breakpoints, start modifying the CSS for various columns, floating them under previous columns or making them disappear altogether. If it makes sense, you can change your text size.

It’ll take some trial and error to get it just right, but it’s pretty easy once you get started.

Let’s take a look at some of the CSS for the header of my site.

@media screen and (max-width: 800px) { #nav, #main, #intro, #updates, footer {float: left; clear: both; margin: 0; width: 100%; padding-left: 10px; }

header h2.logo {

clear: both; padding-bottom:40px; }

What is happening here is if the site’s containing window is 800 pixels or less, the navigation floats to the left instead of the right and goes under the header. Since normally the navigation scoots itself up 40 pixels to align with the header logo, the logo has a bottom padding of 40 pixels. I want it to keep doing this at all sizes smaller than 800 pixels, so I don’t need to revisit this again for smaller sizes.

Is your site mobile-friendly?

The time has come, the Walrus said, to make your sites mobile-friendly.

Is your site mobile-ready? If not, what’s holding you back? Get to it!

Three ways to structure your blog posts for more engagement

May 12th, 2015

If you’ve already set up an editorial calendar for your blog and you have planned what content comes out when, the next step is to write it.

I know. This can be overwhelming. It’s hard enough choosing what to write about.

The first thing you have to do is just start. Thank you, Captain Obvious, you say.

I know.

But once you’ve started, there are some frameworks we’re going to talk about in a minute that will help you structure your writing so it makes sense. But when you start writing, don’t force it. That will only make it sound canned and unnatural. So I suggest you just write. Dump everything out.

Once you have your rough information down and you’re ready to give it shape, whether you are writing a blog post, a book, or even a presentation, there a couple of ways to structure that information so that it makes sense to the audience. Here are three.

The Term Paper

The first structure is probably the most well-known. I call it the term paper. You are probably already familiar with this format: you have an introduction, a line explaining that you’re going to tell the audience these (three) things, then you tell them those (three) things, and conclude it by telling he audience what you just told them.

I will never forget Dr. Rummage drawing this shape on the board in the front of the room:

I used this formula all through high school and college, and it worked. (I consistently got As on my papers except when I used the dreaded comma splice. That always cost me a letter grade.)

This format is kind of stiff and formal so it doesn’t always lend itself to blogging, but it works really well for presentations. I like to think of blogs as existing somewhere between an email and a magazine article. People don’t want to read term papers or research papers. (Not even the teachers!)

But this format works really well for a presentation or a podcast and bullet-point style blog posts. It tends to be kind of dry when you read it. And since we’re talking about blogging for the art world, dryness may not great for your blog. But if you use the term paper structure, do what you can to make it engaging.

The Transformation

Next is what Pat Flynn uses when he drafts blog posts. I’m calling it “The Transformation.” It is outlined in episode 2 of SPI TV, and it is a variation on the ever-popular bullet point format but it has a twist: he starts out by considering what transformation he desires in his readers. It might be a call to action to sign up for an email list or it might be more personal, calling people to change their mind about something or to try something new.

The other important trick is that he lists his bullets 2, 3, then 1. The most important thing is last since that’s what you’re more likely to remember. You might be tempted to list the most important thing first. But if you save the best for last, your readers are less likely to forget.

The Hero’s Journey

This is a big one. I’m listing it last because it is the most important. (See?)

The Hero’s Journey is most powerful form of narrative we have. Every great story follows this format in some way. Joseph Campbell wrote about this in great detail in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. He called it “monomyth.” The idea is that we only have one basic story that we tell, and that story has a thousand variations.

It works like this: a reluctant hero or protagonist has a problem, and he embarks on a journey to deal with that problem. Along the way meets a guide or acquires some kind of device or tool, and is tasked with slaying the dragon or confronting the Black Knight (not the Monty Python sketch). In the end there are two possible outcomes: success or failure. Most often the great stories end in success but there is always a moment where it looks like all is lost.

Donald Miller uses this to great effect in his most recent book, Scary Close. The entire book follows this framework. Even individual chapters follow this framework. I haven’t read this book yet, but I’ve listened to some of his podcast interviews about it, and it sounds like it will be really good when I do get around to reading it. (I’ve read some of his other books and enjoyed them.) He outlines the 7 steps in the journey in his free ebook “How To Tell A Story.”

While this sounds very formulaic, it works.

It has worked for thousands of years. It worked for the Greeks. It works today in every great movie, from “Star Wars” to “Harry Potter” to “Bridget Jones’ Diary.” Even Ninjago, a favorite with my preschoolers, follows this framework.

And you can put it to work in your blog posts.

Sure, the Internet loves list posts because they are easy to digest and you can get a lot of hits really fast by publishing list posts. But if you want longevity, if you want to start a movement, tell a strong story that people can relate to.

This “Hero’s Journey” isn’t an approach I’ve really used before on my blog, but I do plan on using it when the time is right. Most of my posts have been of the 1-2-3 variety (or 2-3-1 for that matter, including this one) but when you need a narrative, this is the best approach. It’s the time-honored framework for telling a story.

Perhaps the only recent example is the post about painting with my son Greg. I was called to an adventure: make a painting with him. And at first I resisted the call to adventure, especially when Greg made his own mark on the canvas, but in a sense he was the guide I needed. But I went along with it. What demon did I have to slay? I think it was my own fear of losing control of the painting. But the end result was better than I could have imagined, and we are both better for having bestowed our artistic gift upon the world.

Which framework will you use next?

Now you have three different frameworks for structuring your blog posts, whether you are writing about your art, your influences, or your technique. What will you use on your next post? For your next presentation? Let us know in the comments.

Photo Credit: jonesor via Compfight cc

How I price my paintings

January 20th, 2015

For years I have struggled with how to price my paintings. If I overprice them, I might scare people off. If I charge too little, people will think something is wrong.

So it became a guessing game. The larger pieces priced higher than the smaller ones, unless they were more elaborate or somehow “better” in my mind.

I even tried pricing them according to how long it took me to finish, multiplying by an hourly rate that sounded nice, but wasn’t ideal either since paintings don’t always complete themselves at the same pace. A large painting might be completed quickly, and a small painting may take a long time to finish.

Then I discovered 2 reliable pricing structures

Recently I found a post by Melissa Dinwiddie on The Abundant Artist about how to price your paintings. My eyes were opened.

You can price by the square inch or by the lineal inch. You still total the width and the height, then multiply them by something, but there is a big difference in the end.

Square inch pricing multiplies height and width, then multiplies the total against a set rate.

h × w × r = price
Linear inch pricing adds the height and width. Then the sum is multiplied against a set rate.
h + w × r = price

I prefer the linear inch method.

This is because there is less of a giant difference between a small and a large piece. Square inch pricing results in a dramatic jump from one size to another. A linear inch pricing structure is easier to stomach. It’s also easier to calculate.

If a painting is 12 x 12 inches, that is 24 linear inches, right? Multiply that by $11. That’s $264. Why $11? I’ll be honest, it just feels right to me at this point. This results in a reasonable starting point as I jump back into making a serious effort to sell my art.

If I apply the 99-cent rule, I can adjust the price $264 to $259.

My Pricing Table

So, here is what my pricing structure looks like right now. I add the height and width of canvas sizes, then multiply the total by $11 to arrive at a base price. The base price is then adjusted to something akin to the ’99-cent’ rule.
Canvas Size Price
8 × 10 $198
12 × 12 $259
11 × 14 $275
14 × 18 $349
16 × 20 $395
18 × 24 $459
20 × 24 $495
That’s how I price my work these days. Chances are it’s going to work out just fine. I may add or remove sizes from time to time, or raise my rate as my work becomes more recognizable.

How do you do it?

Let me know in the comments how you price your work! I’m curious how other people do it.

Neon Dollar Sign Photo Credit: mag3737 via Compfight cc

Content Calendars for Artists

September 30th, 2014

Quick, what are you writing about on your blog next week? Next month? Next year?

And your social media channels? What will you be saying on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn?

That’s where an editorial calendar or a content calendar comes in handy. It’s a way of planning ahead for what you are going to be doing content-wise in the future.

It’s hot stuff in the blogging world right now, but it really is not all that new. Magazines and newspapers have been doing it for hundreds of years.

If it sounds overwhelming or complicated, don’t freak out about it. Let me break it down for you.

All a content calendar is is just a calendar that indicates what kind of content will be published and when. (You can tweet that)

For example, Time magazine has for many years published an annual “Person of the Year” issue. Pretty much every magazine out there has at least one annual issue. With graphic design magazines such as Communication Arts, pretty much every issue is an annual issue devoted to a particular thing, such as regional design, international design, print design, web design, small firms, in-house departments, photography, illustration, etc.

So how can you apply this to your own blog?

The first thing you can do is look at all the different types of content you create on your blog. You can take a sort of newspaper or magazine column approach, where every so often a particular topic or theme or format appears. Or run with a series and know that next month, you will be writing along a particular theme.

Let’s look at some formats you can try.

Examining various types of articles you can write or talk about is a great place to start. Figure out what you have to say, and build a structure around it.

Question and Answer

The advice column has been popular in newspapers for years. People love this format. A variation of the advice column is the Q & A or question & answer format. This can be a regular feature of your blog or podcast, or you could start something based on this format alone.

In fact, Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income did just that: he started an entirely new podcast called “Ask Pat” that is dedicated to questions about online business. People call in with questions and he spends 8 – 10 minutes answering their questions about internet business, followed by an inspirational quote.

So on your blog you could have a regular feature based around this Q & A structure.

Art business coach Alyson Stanfield uses a variation on this with a weekly feature called “Deep Thought Thursday.” Every Thursday she poses a question or an idea and lets her audience discuss it.

The post itself is really short: a paragraph or so posing a situation, followed by “What do you think?” There is a lot of discussion because it’s often a topic artists are very passionate about and they have a lot to say about it.

So think about working format like that into your regular blogging: pick a day of the week and work a Q & A or “deep thought” format into your schedule.

Interviews

Photo Credit: pasukaru76 via Compfight cc

The interview or dialogue format works really well, too, especially when you are running a podcast. Sometimes people may feel like they are being lectured to or preached at when listening to a monologue. If you’re monologuing, you better be entertaining or otherwise compelling. Find a way to break it up with pictures in text or music on a podcast. My friend Jeff Goins splits up sections of his podcast The Portfolio Life with little guitar riffs. Of course, This American Life is famous for doing that in between its three acts.

Tools

Image Source

We are naturally nosy. Er, I mean, curiousWe love looking at others’ toolboxes. How do you do what you do? Why do you do it? People love to learn how “the pros” do it. Blog about your favorite brushes, clay, spray paint nozzle tips, sewing machines. Why do you prefer those tools? Plus, if you’re savvy about making money with your blog, you can link to the tools or gear you’re talking about and earn a small commission on sales.

The Calendar on Your Wall

So we’ve looked at some content types that you can use as you plan ahead what you will put on your site.

Next, let’s look at the actual calendar for inspiration. There’s plenty to talk about.

Upcoming local events

You can report on things that are coming up soon in your area. For example, every Friday afternoon I get an email from Nashville Arts Magazine listing 5 or 6 things happening on the Nashville Arts scene this coming weekend. I might see something like…

  • One gallery has a show opening tonight, and it features three artists working for social justice. All proceeds go toward their cause.
  • On Saturday, there’s a family event at a certain park. It has jugglers! The kids would love it.
  • The indie theatre has a matinee on Sunday, and it’s a show that has been getting great reviews. Maybe we can get the grandparents to watch the kids and we can go.
And so forth. It’s a great little service and has inspired me to get out and do something on the weekend, especially the First Saturday Art Crawl.

National or global art events

Every October the London Frieze Art Fair happens. And every December, Art Basel Miami Beach takes over the city. The weather is nice when it is cold everywhere else, and there is lots to do even if you don’t buy a ticket to the actual event. Write up your thoughts on what is going on even if you aren’t there — there is plenty of actual coverage you can piggyback on.

Then there are the biennials — events that happen every 2 years such as the Whitney and Venice Biennials. Maybe save up for it and write about your trip.

You don’t have to piggyback on the big art events, either. You can find a way to do that with big sports events everyone knows about such as The Super Bowl, The World Series, FIFA World Cup, etc.

Seasons

Fall just started where I live, and the kids have been in school over a month. If that’s the case for you, you can refer to it on your blog directly or in passing remarks:
I’m in the studio, the kids are back in school, and seeing yellow school buses has inspired me to experiment with the color yellow.
It speaks to your personality and shows you’re an actual person, not just an art-making machine. Maybe you are an art-making machine but it shows you have a life outside your art and that you’re aware of the world around you. It makes you more relatable.

Holidays

This is where editorial/content and marketing calendars come together: do marketing based on holidays and blog about it as well. In the U.S. we celebrate Thanksgiving in November. You can write about the things you’re thankful for, and give all customers this special offer if they place an order between November 1 and 30.

Photo credit: Natasha Mileshina via Compfight cc

In January, everyone’s mind is on new commitments and renewal especially after a month or two of over-eating and over-partying.

The past few years every January I’ve blogged about my words of the year — one-to-three words that are a theme or mantra for the upcoming year.

The only thing I advise against is posting a “My Top Ten Posts This Year” kind of post at the end of the year. Yes, I’ve done this before, but now I feel like it seems overdone and self-serving. “Look at these wonderful things I did this past year!”

While I think it is good to celebrate your accomplishments, don’t dwell on them (or your failures, either). Rather, it might be better to write about the top ten things you learned this past year.

Remember, the internet gets quiet in December so you might want to make it a light month content-wise, and prepare some killer posts for January while everyone is on vacation. You gotta hustle!

Setting Up Your Calendar

If you’re still with me, here’s your chance to plan how to set up your own calendar.

Recently I saw a nifty graphic on the Buffer.app blog where it showed a content calendar using graphic symbols for various content types on different days.

You can do something similar. You’re a visual person — and these graphics can take on a whole new dynamic since for you, you can extrapolate a number of ideas from just one visual. That’s the beauty (and the curse) of a visual mind: just one image can fire the imagination to go hundreds of directions. The visual is a cue for what to talk about on your blog.

You can set your icons at regular intervals, but you can also see when articles will fall, such as on a holiday.

Resources

Of course there isn’t a right or wrong way to do a content calendar. You just need to plan ahead if you are going to get better at your blogging, and be intentional about it all.

There are a number of plugins and resources out there to help you get where you want to go. Here are a few:

Editorial Calendar

This is a great WordPress plugin, and I use it. It lets me see at a glance what posts are in the pipeline. You can drag and drop posts to different days and set what time of day they will post. Here is a screengrab of how it looks if I go back to July 2014:

Kapost

I’ve never used it, but I read about it on the Buffer blog, and it looks pretty interesting since it lets you identify different content types.

CoSchedule

This is a premium WordPress plugin that allows you to manage social media and blog posts. It’s something I hope to use at some point in the near future. It looks pretty sweet.

Roll Your Own

You can set up an Excel or Google spreadsheet to act as your content/editorial calendar. HubSpot has a nice Blog Editorial Calendar Template.

Personally, right now I am using the free WordPress Editorial Calendar plugin that I mentioned above, and the free version of SocialOomph to manage my blog-specific tweets using the social media checklist that I wrote about recently. That being said, a spreadsheet would probably be a good idea, but I’m not really a spreadsheet guy.

Take a Deep Breath.

Now, take a deep breath, and walk around the block. Now that you’re back, sit down and think about what you’re going to do for your content calendar. At the very least, establish a regular posting schedule so people can come to expect something of you, and so you can expect something of yourself!

Once you find a rhythm, you’ll be able to spot what types of content you create and putting it on a schedule can make things easier for you in the long run.

What about you, have you used a content calendar before? What has helped you the most about it? I’d love to hear from you about your experience with content calendars, especially for artists.

PS: You might want to also go back and check my checklist for writing blogs and scheduling social media, as well as Buffer’s much more comprehensive Complete Guide to Choosing a Content Calendar: Tools, Templates, Tips, and More.

Let me know how it goes!

Tribes

August 26th, 2014

Seth Godin has a fantastic ability to take ordinary words and give them new, charged meaning, bringing us a new vocabulary to talk about marketing and business. One such word is “tribe.” Meaning, your group, your people. The people who like what you do and have to say and support you and your work. (Godin wrote a book about it.)

This of course is important for artists, who, lacking the old patron system made up of wealthy kings and church officials as in the Renaissance or the gallery/patron system that flourished up until a few years ago, have had to take marketing into their own hands.

Artists have to pay attention to their tribes. It’s no longer the job of a gallerist or a Pope to champion your work. We artists are in charge of that ourselves.

Now, I’ve noticed that I tend to have a somewhat black-and-white attitude toward my own tribe: I divide it between those who buy my art and those who don’t.

It’s really not fair.

It’s not fair to the people who don’t buy my art.

There are a couple of reasons why they might not buy my art.

  1. They like it, but they can’t afford it. Pretty straightforward. They want it, but they don’t have the money or don’t think they can afford the purchase.
  2. They like it, can afford it, but it doesn’t fit into their collection. There are clothes out there that I like but would never wear simply because they are the wrong color for my complexion.
I need to consider these things carefully, and not ignore the people who aren’t buying my art. I want them to champion me, even if they aren’t buying my stuff. Because even if they aren’t buying my artwork, they can still talk about me, and recommend me to someone else.

For example, I have no need for a huge lawnmower, but I might be able to tell a friend that I know someone who owns a certain model and says it is great and he should check it out, just because my other friend loves his.

It really comes down to listening and helping. This is just a start, but what are other aspects of your tribe to consider, especially as it concerns art?

Photo Credit: Andrea Marutti via Compfight cc

If You Sell Art, Are you A Sell-Out?

February 18th, 2014

Artists have a funny relationship with selling their art. There’s this notion that if you sell art, you’re a sell-out. It somehow violates the integrity of the artist and his/her art. Therefore, art shouldn’t be sold.

Yet we have a deep creative drive. And we need to put food on the table and a roof over our heads. As a result, many of us artistic people end up in “creative” careers as designers, copywriters, hairdressers, backup musicians, commercial photographers, and the like, all for a “stable” income, disappointed because it isn’t the “true” art we want to make.

First, this approach is not as stable as many would like to believe. How many freelance illustrators/designers/musicians/photographers do you know who are scrambling for gigs?

Secondly, if it puts food on your table, be thankful. There are times it is necessary to do things you don’t necessarily enjoy so you can pay your rent. Doing “cute” graphic design work isn’t really what I like doing, and I’m not that great at it, either since my strength lies in corporate marketing design. But I have done it before and will do it again if I have to.

The “sell-out” thinking is misinformed.

Selling art is perfectly valid, since there are people who want what you make and are willing to give you money for it. The customer wins because it is something they want. You win because you get paid to do what you love. You’re only a sellout if you put your name on what you hate doing just for a buck. That’s when you’ve lost your integrity. If you’re an animal rights activist working on ad campaigns for hunting rifles, then you’ve got a problem.

Now, if you’re only making art for your own enjoyment, that’s fine. You shouldn’t feel pressured to sell it. At the same time, if your art never gets shared, what purpose does it serve? Art is meant to be shared. It’s kind of a twist on the old “if a tree falls” question: if I make art but never share it with anybody, did I really make it?

For me, the question isn’t so much about selling my art as it is about finding the people who will buy it. Which really makes it a question about finding who I can share it with. Where is my audience? To use a buzzword popularized by Seth Godin, where is my “tribe?” So ultimately it becomes a marketing issue.

How do I find those people and connect with them, thus supplying them with the art they want in exchange for the money I need to feed my family?

I don’t have the answer right now, but I’m working on it.

Have you ever struggled with the idea of selling your art?

How to Do More Art By Delegating Everything Else

January 21st, 2014

Michael Hyatt is an author and speaker and former President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. I worked a few levels under him for a few years when I was a baby graphic designer. He has many talents, but the things he enjoys doing the most are writing and speaking. He writes with a distinctive voice on his blog and in his books, and is a sought-after speaker. His very popular podcast, This Is Your Life, is the one I make sure to listen to every week.

A while back, Michael did a 2-part podcast series and a blog post on the topic of delegation titled “How to Do More of What You Love and Less of What You Don’t.”

He outlines how when he left his role as President and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers to go out on his own, he did everything himself. Which is not a bad place to start. However, he found himself overwhelmed and burned out. Of course in his former life as an executive, he was able to delegate a lot of tasks since he had a staff. But not anymore.

So he figured out what his strengths were. He identified what only he could do. Then he offloaded everything else and found people who could do those jobs instead. This accomplishes two things: it allows him to become more focused on what he does best, and allows other people to do what they do and enjoy best.

How Can an Artist Delegate?

It has me wondering how an artist might apply the same principles in their own work. How can I do the same?

When I shared the Michael Hyatt article with my wife, who sells Rodan + Fields Dermatology products, she told me she would like to get to where she can hire someone to do the laundry and put it away, do our bookkeeping, clean the house, and do some cooking while she grows her business. And in a year or two, we will get there.

Likewise, I could probably offload some tasks such as website maintenance, a bookkeeper, and a manager.

And someday I’d like to take on an apprentice, who in a traditional artist’s studio does things like stretch canvases, prepare paint, and varnish completed paintings, all while being instructed by the master artist.

There are other things that I can outsource, such as photographing artwork and preparing it for the website.

Right now I don’t have the budget or infrastructure to support these things, but this is what I aspire to.

How about you? What are some things you can delegate so you can focus on your art?

Why people buy art

December 3rd, 2013

I’m certainly not the first person to ask why people buy art. It’s probably been debated as long as art has been sold. There are as many ways to market art as there are artists and markets. But I want to take at least a cursory look at some reasons why anyone bothers to buy something relatively un-functional.

1. Art has aesthetic appeal for the buyer.

Yes, this is pretty obvious. People buy art because they like it. If a piece of art isn’t appealing on an aesthetic level, why buy it? You buy a piece of clothing not just for function or price but because you like the way it looks on you, the way it feels. You might buy it for status, too, which we’ll get to in a moment. Remember that aesthetic appeal is not simply whether something is “pretty” or pleasant. I know people who are fans of hot sauce, but they don’t eat it all the time and with every meal. Maybe you like your mouth to be on fire because it reminds you that you are alive. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Art resonates with something in the buyer’s life.

Again, aesthetics is not necessarily about being pretty or attractive but is often a matter of expressing truths that can’t always be instantly expressed. One of the jobs of an artist is to express the unexpressable.

I know someone who adopted a little boy from Africa. She has a drawing of a white mama sheep and a black baby sheep. One one level, it is just a picture of some sheep. But for her, it is deeply symbolic of her adopting a child from a very different place, with very different skin, and how much she loves that child who is so different from her.

This is also why people buy art that matches something else in their house. Chances are, they have filled their house with a certain thing that resonates with them because it has special meaning.

3. Art makes the buyer feel special in some way.

You’re probably aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Having the means to buy something that isn’t a “necessity” is a special thing. You have a certain status now. And the art likely does, too, at this point. Or if it doesn’t, you believe it will, so it is a good investment.

Pain?

All that is to say that art serves to alleviate a certain pain point for people. Which is why anyone buys anything, really.

We buy food first because we’re hungry, then because we like it, and then to make a statement. At each point, there is a certain kind of pain.

While art isn’t inherently “practical” — a painting is just smelly pigment smeared on a strip of canvas cloth, after all — it has tremendous cultural and emotional value. Art is the byproduct of something that an artist does.

It sounds obvious and elitist, but artists do something that other people either don’t have the time, energy, or skill to do.

Art addresses something deep in the human psyche, satisfying a certain need that short-term entertainment can’t fulfill.

I think art and religion are very closely related.

The point

The reason I bring up this question is a big part of why my blog is here. On one level, the purpose of this website is to sell my art either directly or via a gallery or a curator, allowing my passion to put food on the table for my family. While my visual work is indeed a kind of shorthand for the truths I want to express, writing things out further cements my philosophy, which I hope resonates with potential buyers of my art.

In the studio, I can focus on point #1 — the aesthetic appeal of my art — and continually make it better. But by writing and exploring with words, I can make point #2 stronger, saying something that resonates with people deep down. Then over time, I can work on #3, making art that has a certain level of status.

Recommended Reading

How and Why Do People Choose & Buy Art? (Robert Klonoski)

13 reasons why people buy art (Agnese Aljena)

Why are so many people paying so much money for art? Ask David Zwirner. (Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker)

Why People Buy Art (Ann Rhea)