Cleaning House

We Be CloseIt’s hard to believe, but just five years ago I had no website or social media. My art business was based entirely on word of mouth. When I decided to start promoting my business online, I had no idea where to start. Google+, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, DeviantArt, Twitter, and this blog — they all represented new opportunities, and I tried them all as part of a grand experiment.

Enough time has passed that I now have real data with which to analyze these platforms. I’ve made a lot of friends and attracted followers online, especially on Instagram, and I expected this following to translate into increased sales and attendance at art shows — but business has remained random, and art show attendees have never turned out because of social media. Invariably they come due to word of mouth or advertisements on third party websites. Furthermore, I can trace very few of my sales to my website or social media.

I try to make sound business decisions in my career based on real-life experience and hard data. I have to face the fact that the online platforms are not enhancing my business to the extent that I can justify their continuing expense. I’m not talking about having to pay for services, since all of the platforms aside from this blog are free to use. But the considerable hours that go into maintaining a social media presence represent unpaid labor. There is also lost income, since I could be allocating the time I spend on social media toward more profitable activities.

The experiment was worth the risk, because I answered important questions for myself; but I have already started to “clean house” in order to cut my losses. So far I have deleted Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, DeviantArt, and Twitter. I erased some of my old YouTube videos as well, most of which served as advertisements for workshops and exhibitions that have long since expired. For now, I’m keeping Instagram, Etsy, YouTube, and this blog — but I may ultimately decide to scale back even more. To be honest, there is a certain appeal to “going rogue” and getting back to underground art-making.

The lesson in all of this is look at your business strategies with detachment and reason. If something isn’t working for you, it may actually be working against you. Pull the plug on activities that suck your time and offer no commensurate reward. Most importantly, put your focus and energy on your art.

Art Business 101

Thanks to everyone who has read my Art Business 101 posts over the last 3 months! I hope you have found the content useful and inspiring. If you haven’t checked out this series yet, or if you missed a few posts, now is the perfect time to get on board.

Here you will find links to each of the AB101 posts in the best reading order. Please take some time to learn from my experience!

Coming Soon: Art Business 101
preview of AB101 posts, and the importance of leaving a legacy

Art Business 101: My Story
“who is he to tell me what to do?”

Art Business 101: Economics of Art
if you are an artist, you are an investor; now what does that mean?

Art Business 101: Success in the Market
finding your niche, and taking on the role of a market scientist

Art Business 101: All About Price
you’ve made a piece of art, but how do you come up with a fair price?

Art Business 101: Building Your Brand
in the age of social media, what exactly does your brand encompass?

Art Business 101: Writing Your Bio
how to write the story of your career, even when you don’t have much to say

Art Business 101: Creating Events
pros & cons of galleries, art festivals, DIY shows and more

Art Business 101: Event Planning
everything you need to know (and do) to pull off an art show

Art Business 101: Fundraising
why pay for all your event costs when you can raise the funds?

Art Business 101: Promoting Your Show
you’ve booked your art show, but how do you spread the word?

Art Business 101: Social Media
hands-down top app for artists, and how to optimize it

Art Business 101: Taking Responsibility
you created it; now what do you do with the good, the bad, and the ugly?

ArtBusiness101: Your Art
there is a difference between a sellout and an artist who sells

Art Business 101: My Story

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the art business, and you may be wondering, “Who is he to tell me what to do?”

That’s a fair question. On one hand, I’m just one person with individual experience and personal biases. There are those who will try to apply my advice to their careers only to Dean matting gonzosee no positive benefits. Then there are those who will fundamentally disagree with the economic principles I have described. There are still others for whom this information will lead to increased sales. All I can do is tell you what has worked for me and why I think it has worked so well. You are the captain of your own ship, and you have to steer it according to your own beliefs.

While I may just be one person with individual experience and personal biases, I have also experienced a lot of success in my career. For the last 11 years, I have fulfilled 47 private commissions for clients. My original Chicago Art show resulted in a whopping 64 sales over the course of 6 months, and a follow-up show sold 92% of its inventory in 1 month.

I have participated in 11 exhibits, 4 of which I co-curated. One of these was an art walk that I organized for the East Village neighborhood — an enormous undertaking! I have led over 20 art workshops and was named a Top-Rated Teacher by Dabble. Through it all, I have learned how to design, promote, and install a variety of art events.

I would be the first to tell you that my artwork and events have not all been equally successful. There is uncertainty and risk every time I embark on a new project, and I always feel that I am learning. Every new art series teaches me more about consumer demand, and every new show teaches me more about event planning, budgeting, and promotion. To be honest, I don’t think I will ever be in a place where I know it all.

Still, I have come a long way. So how exactly did I get here?

My Journey

I was fortunate enough to go to art school. I had great teachers and challenging assignments, and I learned a lot. Even so, my mind wasn’t really on my studies. LikeDean Faces Only 1 many young people, I was more interested in partying, making friends, and dating. I sincerely regret not making the most of my time there.

When I graduated, I had no idea how to turn my education into a career. Fortunately, people started asking me to make things for them. These were all friends or friends of friends, but they were my first clients. The first experience that came close to an art show was a fundraiser event for a theater company. I contributed several paintings, two of which sold.

A few years later, one of my artist friends started holding private figure drawing sessions in her apartment. Whoever showed up on a given night would split the cost of the model. This process introduced me to many talented artists, including future NIA members, Terrie Byrne and Christina Bosco. We spent many months admiring one another’s work.

After awhile, Terrie came up with the idea of hosting a “gallery party” at her house so that we could show off our work and potentially sell some pieces. This was the first show where I really felt like a featured artist. Although I didn’t sell anything that night, I gained valuable first-hand experience about putting together a show and meeting consumer Chalk drawingdemand. We proceeded to design another 3 gallery parties over the next several years, and these experiences gave me the confidence I needed to begin creating independent events.

In 2013, John Wawrzaszek recruited me to serve on the board of directors for his non-profit studio space, Chicago Publishers Resource Center (ChiPRC). I jumped at the chance to connect with the larger creative community. I transformed many of my skills into art workshops, including Figure Drawing, Drawing Techniques, and Printmaking 101. I was also able to use the space for group art shows. Each of these experiences added to my skill set.

Now, I’m doing pretty well as an artist. None of this success would have been possible without initiative, hard work, and open-mindedness. I hope my story inspires you to put yourself out there, make things happen, and learn through trial and error. You really can create your success!