Boy George as a Starlet, 2000
One of my final classes in art school was a portfolio review. Each week, we would bring in things we were working on for group critique. One of the pieces I brought was a black-and-white portrait of the pop star, Boy George (left). I remember feeling very proud of it when I set it up for display.
My instructor began to ask questions about my process and concept, and I quickly realized that I didn’t have any answers. I didn’t know why I chose Boy George as the subject or what I hoped to achieve with the high-contrast aesthetic. He said, “You need more of a concept” and suggested I paint additional celebrity portraits to build on my idea.
Instead of following his advice, I continued to draw and paint random things that appealed to me. Only with the considerable passage of time did I start to notice consistent themes in my work. Interestingly, the Boy George painting did predict everything that came after, from the use of black and white to the pop subject matter.
Boys in The Brand
Think of a brand. Go ahead, picture it in your mind. You are probably imagining a family of products, like athletic shoes or breakfast cereals. The products in a given family are each unique, but there is something that unites them, some aesthetic quality that tells you they’re related. You may also be picturing a brand logo, which is basically a family crest.
Other images might come to mind beyond the products themselves, like a television commercial, magazine ad, or billboard design. Each of these images tells you something about the brand. There might even be a jingle or catch phrase you remember, like “Where’s the beef?”
As an artist, what do you have in common with a shoe company, cereal manufacturer, or fast food chain? For one thing, you are responsible for creating a consistent type of product. In addition, just like those businesses, you must present a consistent image across all media. From your Twitter posts to posters and postcards, everything you do should evoke your product and your business identity. You might even have a logo or catch phrase on your website and business card that will stick in people’s minds.
If you’ve never thought about your brand, here are some questions you can ask yourself:
- What are the themes I continually return to?
- What are the common aesthetic qualities in my work?
- What is the audience I have in mind like, and what am I trying to say to it?
- What is a succinct sentence or phrase that sums up my artistic goals?
- What kind of logo would represent everything I do?
You can also do some reading on famous artists or art movements that reflect your style and goals. How do writers summarize these works, and which parts do you relate to? Rewrite these descriptions with your own words, making sure they apply to your work and not somebody else’s.
Your Brand is Everything
Once you have the basic idea of your brand, you will want to make sure people know about it. Popularizing your brand is about more than just making and promoting your art. In
the age of social media, your brand encompasses every piece of information you publicly post. From Twitter to Instagram, social media gives you valuable ways to hook followers on your brand. These followers then become recipients of all your marketing posts.
If you want to gain followers, you must offer them relevant content. The most obvious way to do this is to post images of your work and work-in-progress, ads for your upcoming art shows, and photos from your events. Posting about your personal life can also help your followers fall in love with you. Just make sure to keep your art as the main focus, and do not post anything damaging to your brand.
There are additional ways to reinforce your brand without making every post about you. For example, you can re-post interesting pieces of art news or project submission information for artists in your area. To attract new followers, make your posts searchable by including hashtags.
Let Sales be Your Guide
Every brand needs periodic updating. When I started this website 5 years ago, I was primarily interested in translating dreams and mythology into icons. Over time, my focus shifted to religious and pop culture references as icons. This re-branding was largely influenced by sales. Where the older pieces carried deep personal meaning for me, the symbols they employed were not understood or embraced by the general public. The newer pieces, on the other hand, utilized more universal symbols and proved very popular.
As you develop your brand, allow your sales to guide your evolution. Your audience will tell you (with its dollars) what kind of supply it wants from you. When you hit upon an idea that sells, try to replicate that success with similar products. If you don’t have a lot of sales, then pay attention to audience feedback. A piece that provokes compliments is a good indicator of future sales.