An Artist’s Toolbox Must Include Self-Promotion

What I love about January is that it always brings the promise of a fresh start.

It’s a chance to look back and to look ahead and to take stock of life.  And this is true for artists too.

Last year's wishes and dreams are carried away by the wind.
Last year’s wishes and dreams are carried away by the wind.

I spent 6 years on two continents at art schools in the 1970’s. I practiced weaving, printmaking, painting, life-drawing, sculpture, and pottery;  but there was one subject that NEVER came up. That subject was Art Promotion which could include grant writing, approaching galleries, planning a show, finding venues for art and craft, pricing the work and more. It was all a big mystery and I now believe that many graduates abandoned hope and went into other fields. I hope art students today graduate with tools for promoting their work.

Playing with watercolour on a slippery yupo surface.
Playing with watercolour on a slippery yupo surface.

Fortunately we have the internet where there are many resources on the web to help artists learn marketing and promotional skills and today I want to tell you about 3 of my favorites.

The studio is a marvellous place to be.
The studio is a marvellous place to be.

THE marketing and organizing guru for artists is Alyson Stanfield. I used her ideas to good success from her book I’d rather be in the Studio when I organized my own pop-up art show a year ago.  Alyson is very practical in her advice. She recommends a purposeful tracking of the previous year’s art income.

I did this recently and broke it down into income streams – galleries, online, markets, holiday shows, teaching. The results truly astonished me. I discovered that the galleries are doing the hard work of selling my paintings because even with their 35% – 40% commission, over 60% of my art income is from galleries. But also surprising is that 40% is self generated through sales at the studio, a self organized art show and to a very small degree, sales through markets and craft shows. I’ll use the data to strategize for this year.

Enamel pendants I made. I love the colours and textures.
Enamel pendants I made. I love the colours and textures.

My other planning method comes from British writer and artist Susannah Conway who shares a workbook to help artists plan their art direction in the coming year. The focus isn’t about income, it’s about what feeds the soul, the mind and the spirit so it’s a nice complement to Alyson’s suggestions. I wrote in my workbook yesterday and by the end of the afternoon, I had a clearer sense of  my art path this year. There is a very cool exercise where you imagine the advice your future self will give your present self.

One of my art goals this year is meditation that is focused around imagery.
One of my art goals this year is meditation that is focused around imagery.

Another supporter of artists is painter Keesha Bruce who divides her time between Paris and New York. Her tweets are full of links with great articles about support for artists.

All three women also teach classes and seminars off and online. Their newletters are free and each of their websites have signup forms.

In progress.
Acrylic painting in progress.

I think that anyone who is self-employed or is self-directed could benefit from these exercises. Are there January rituals that help you plan your new year? Please share.

Two paintings in the studio.
Two paintings in the studio. “Good Vibrations” and “The Green Table” © Flora Doehler, 2014

PS: A shout out to artist and beekeeper Shirley Langpohl who let me know that my youtube video on monoprinting was mentioned in last October’s Cloth Paper Scissors magazine. What a lovely surprise that was! Sometimes promotion comes from unexpected places.

wc monoprinting

9 thoughts on “An Artist’s Toolbox Must Include Self-Promotion

  1. Hi Flora,

    I love this post, and will think about all you’ve said. My ritual this year has just been to paint like fury. I need to do what you’ve suggested, but I wanted to start the year feeling like I am completely leaping into it, not letting it take off slowly. For me this meant chalking up accomplishments right away in terms of paintings, so I could perhaps then reflect and say WOW! What’s next? It’s coming in to me through action.

    Love your work, and your thinking.

    XOXOXOXO Barbara

  2. Alyson, you have helped me so much and I really appreciate it. Like I said, the information you share in your Art Biz Coach newsletter and the classes you teach are important tools for artists. Within the next 12 months I plan to enrol in one of your online classes.

    1. Thank you Susan! I can’t wait to have our show in the fall too…and to start promoting it NOW!
      Oct 26– Nov 23, 2014 “Two Artists – Two Coasts” Flora Doehler & Susan Geddes, 396 St. George St. Annapolis Royal, NS, Canada

  3. Flora, you are so luminously sensible in the way you work. Plus thoughtful, charitable. This posting about art biz strikes me as in entirely the same key. I’m going to do the exercise, see if I can make 2014 a tad more fruitful! Many thanks, Tim

  4. Thank you so very much Tim!
    In some ways it was so much easier working for somebody else for the majority of my working life. Although I yearned to set my own limits and goals and direction, it was easier for someone else to determine my work activities than it now is to plan my time. It’s something that I’m still learning. Our daily lives are a free-for-all and all I want to do is paint and have someone else figure out the promotional part.
    Last year I watched the movie “Gerhard Richter” on Netflix and noticed that he had at least 3 studio helpers (not to mention a studio the size of an airport hanger). One worker handled his meetings and flight plans and gallery bookings and two others cleaned his brushes, built the canvases and laid out the paints and photographed everything and packed and unpacked his paintings.
    Probably there were other unseen helpers there and good on him!
    Unfortunately, we have no helpers and must make the best of it. Fortunately others have taken a stab at working out formulas that will, for now, have to replace the several staff we are missing. 😉
    Good luck with this Tim and let me know how it goes with your exercise!

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