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!

Art Business 101: Creating Events

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Being an artist means you create lots of stuff. The challenge is always getting that stuff in front of people who might appreciate or even buy it. There are a few ways to do this.

  • Gallery – The most well-known way is to get a gallery to represent you. This can be difficult to do, especially for a beginner. I did some sales consulting for a gallery this past summer, and the owner mentioned that she gets inundated constantly with artists seeking representation! While there is no one right way to connect with a gallery owner, the least annoying way is probably to let the relationship develop organically over time. Get involved in your local art scene, show up to other people’s art openings, introduce yourself to everyone, and organize your own independent shows. As you establish yourself in the arts community, gallery owners may approach you.

Pros: The gallery does a good share of the work for you, handling installation and sales. They will have a built-in network of clients, as well as walk-ins.

Cons: A gallery typically takes 50% of the sale price, meaning you have to price your work up in order to make your profit margin. This will price you out of a good share of the market. Some galleries require you to sign an exclusive contract, which will limit your footprint in the community.

 

  • Art Show / Festival – The second way is to apply for shows, festivals, or art walks. Many of these happen annually in a specific venue or neighborhood. You can always find application instructions posted online several months in advance. Most of these events are juried, which means you have to submit a portfolio to a review committee. There are a limited number of spots available, so the committee has to decide which artists to include.

Pros: Your work will be exposed to a broad range of potential buyers, all of whom are in the mindset of browsing through art. You also get to keep all your profits.

Cons: There is a hefty fee required for most of these events. The fee covers certain amenities, such as a standardized booth or display space. You have to weigh that fee against your potential earnings. Another downside is loss of control — some art shows have their own installers, and they may not hang things the way you like them.

 

  • Retail Space – The third way is to get a restaurant, cafe, or hair salon to show your work on their walls. You will need to approach the owner, either in person or by e-mail, with a portfolio and general proposal.

Pros: You get a lot of exposure to a varied clientele. You also have some control over the way your work is displayed. Depending on the arrangement you have with the owner, you may get to keep all your profits.

Cons: It is not the job of the staff in the establishment to sell your work. The visitors are also not coming in primarily to look at art. These factors might translate to minimal sales.

 

  • DIY ShowThe fourth way is to create your own shows. You can rent a space like ChiPRC or even transform a private residence into a pop-up gallery. Recruit some fellow artists so you can split the responsibilities and increase the guest list. You can even ask for donations from guests to offset some of your expenses. This is a great way to make small sales between bigger gigs, and to gain experience and new fans.

Pros: You and your team have complete control of every aspect of the show. The skills you will learn (such as budgeting, marketing, and event planning) will come in handy for the rest of your career. All the profits from art sales are yours to keep.

Cons: There is no gallery staff or festival committee doing the work for you. Even after you do all this work for free, you may not make money on the art itself. If you are working with a team, interpersonal conflicts can arise.

As you gain clout as an artist and build relationships, it may become easier for you to receive acceptance into high-profile shows and galleries. For most of us, however, the road ahead is long and steep, and we may never get to the top of the hill. I have been dean-setting-up-nia-fine-art-fridayworking at this business for over 10 years, and I still consider myself an “emerging artist”.

While you are taking this long and slow journey, celebrate your accomplishments, and take each let-down as a learning experience. Cultivate the things that work, and let go of the things that don’t. Experience will be your best teacher and guide.

Now get out there and create your experience!