Cultivating your Brand as an Artist

Marketing people love to talk about brands. It’s easy to see that branding is important to large corporations, but did you know that you can implement branding principles that will help you sell more of your art? So what is branding? Entrepeneur.com defines branding as:

Simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from that of your competitors. Your brand is derived from who you are, who you want to be and who people perceive you to be. (www.entrepreneur.com)

People often confuse the word “brand” with the word “logo”. From the definition above, you can see that a brand is far more than just a logo. In fact, a logo is just a small tool that helps you convey your brand to your customers.

So how do you create your brand, and how do you project that brand to your clientele? Let’s look at five important steps in the branding process.

Get to Know Your Customers and Build Meaningful Relationships with Them

If branding is the process of conveying your promise to your customers, it’s a good idea to know who your customers are and what they need. The better you understand your customers, the better you will be able to deliver on your promise to them.

Knowing your customers will also help you recognize future potential buyers who share similar traits. It’s a mistake to think you can sell your art to anyone and everyone. The truth is that within the broader market, there is a niche of people who are going to be interested in your work and who are going to be able to purchase it. The more you know about this niche, the better you will be able to target it.

Does your artwork appeal to buyers of a certain age? Do your buyers tend to come from a certain professional background? Do your buyers share common interests or hobbies?

So how do you get to know all of this information? By building relationships with your customers. If you are selling directly to your clientele at art shows or open studio events, I would encourage you to work toward building lasting relationships with your buyers, not just selling to them once. Building relationships takes time and care, but if you can demonstrate genuine interest in your clients, you will be well on your way. If you haven’t read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (or if it’s been a while) I highly recommend it. The book is a classic, but the principles are just as true today as they were when the book was written over 60 years ago.

If you are showing your work through galleries, it can be more difficult to get to know your clients since the gallery sits between you and the customer. Show receptions are a great opportunity to get to know your customers, but you could also encourage the galleries you work with to set up private lunches or dinners with clients (with the gallery owner or director present, of course).

You can also survey your past clients to get a better sense of who they are and what they like about your work.  TechRepublic.com wrote a great step-by-step guide for using Google forms to create a survey, which you could send out to your mailing list.

 

Know Yourself and Your Art

Of course, knowing your customer is only part of the battle. You also need to know what you have to offer that is unique.  The art market is a very competitive place and there are many, many artists out there vying  for attention. How can you possibly stand out in such a crowded market place?

I would suggest that it’s important to think of your motivation instead of your product (your artwork). If you are a painter of impressionistic landscapes, you are one of tens of thousands of impressionistic landscape painters. Let’s face it, it’s going to be hard to find something unique in the work that sets it apart from the competition. What is unique, however, is the path that brought you to create your art. The particular combination of your life experiences, your passion and your approach to your art make you unique. In other words, the branding is about you more than it is about the art. The better you understand yourself and your passion and where your artwork is coming from, the better you are going to be able to build a successful brand as an artist.

Be Consistent

I’ve written frequently on the importance of consistency.  Creating consistent work has its own rewards, but it also plays a huge roll in your brand. If you know what your interests and motivation are, and you strive to create work that is in keeping with your passion, consistency should come naturally. Some artists have to work through a number of different styles and subjects to figure out where there passion lies. The end goal should be to find a style that can sustain your creative energy over the long-run.

Certainly your work will evolve over time, and your passion may lead you in different directions, but those changes should come over the course of years, or even decades. You shouldn’t be completely reinventing yourself every couple of months.

Think of the great artists in history – Picasso, Monet, Georgia O’Keeffe, Rodin, Pollock, etc. – each created a distinctive look and stuck to it. As I said, these artists’ styles evolved over time, but not so radically that you couldn’t recognize the underpinnings of the artist’s voice.

Design

Once you have begun to discover your voice and your motivations, strive to create design that matches your brand. Your logo, website, business cards, brochures, emails and other printed materials should all consistently convey the message about who you are.  An experienced graphic designer will be able to help you capture your brand for your materials.

Examples

A couple of examples will help illustrate how design can reflect an artist’s brand:

Dave Newman – a Xanadu Gallery represented artist has a background in graphics and has done a great job of creating a visual language on his website that fits his work perfectly. You can visit Dave’s site at www.davenewmanstudio.com/ to see what I mean.

2014-06-26 14_59_19-Home Page - Dave Newman Studio

2014-06-26 14_59_51-Home Page - Dave Newman Studio

 

Above: Dave Newman’s collage “Blood is on Your Hands” and the banner from his website with links.

Conceptual artist Tauba Auerbach’s website looks like abstract squiggles and lines, until you realize the artist has created a quasi-hieroglyphic typeface that matches artist’s work. Experience the website.

2014-06-26 15_04_22-Tauba Auerbach

2014-06-26 15_03_59-Tauba Auerbach

Above: Home page for Tauba Auerbach’s website and the sculptural piece “Helix”

Your site doesn’t have to be quite as custom or radical as these sites, but it should be in keeping with your brand.

 

Get Out There!

Your brand can’t exist in a vacuum. While you can put a lot of thought and effort into creating a brand, until you put yourself and your work out in front of collectors it’s all theory. Those who experience your work may be able to tell you more about your work than you can. Ask people “what do you find to be unique about my work?” and “what first drew you to my art?”

Showing your work in art shows and festivals or open studios can be a great way to get your feet wet in the market and to build your brand awareness. Showing in galleries will help you further solidify your brand.

Exercise

Want a quick jump start to developing branding around yourself and your work? Answer the questions below – I would encourage you to write out your responses. Your answers will be a good start towards building a stronger brand.

  1. How would you respond to someone who asks you “what kind of art do you do?”
  2. Once you’ve answered that question, how would you answer the follow-up question “why do you do that kind of art?”
  3. What words do your clients commonly use to describe your work?

What is your Brand?

Have you worked to develop your brand? How has it helped your art business? What do you plan to do to further develop your brand? Do you know of artists who have done a good job of creating brands (share their website address)? Please share your thoughts and experience in the comments section below.

Starving to Successful

StSBookSHave you always wondered what it takes to show your work in galleries? Is your work being seen by qualified collectors?

In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business. Connect with Jason on Facebook

21 Comments

  1. Great article; very practical and really made me think. Now I will have to settle down and really think about the answers to those questions.

  2. Excellent writing. The answers to the three questions are fundamental to an artist’s quest and striving for the best quality work and are not just relevant to the marketing aspect. In my case they are not easy to answer and require a lot of introspection. Thank you for this article Jason.

  3. Great that you’re posting about this! I have recently managed to resolve the “branding issue” after decades of refusing to “declare my style” 🙂 and your post prompted me to blog about it. Might be useful for some other artists who are rightfully protective of their artistic development and treasuring their artistic freedom highly. As I do. https://energyart.uk/bonus_paintings.htm

  4. When someone asks “what kind of art do you do?” my response is Abstract oils. Why do I do this kind of art? For a long time I was a figure artist but I never felt I was communicating what I wanted to say. So I began to read about other artists who worked with the figure and decided that the reasons for painting the figure are primarily portrait or metaphor. I had to think about what I liked about the figure. I love the energy and spirit of the human form. Then I read a quote by Picasso. Someone asked him if he ate the fish after he painted it. He replied “No, I eat the fish and then I paint it.” I realized I had to paint what I felt about the figure from inside me. So I began to paint the figure from my gut, trying to capture the energy and spirit I loved. My figures gradually disintegrated and now I paint energy. I work with complementary colors based on the Impressionists and their theory of perception from the Helmholtz theory – how complementary colors next to each other make the color receptors in the eye vibrate (react with energy). I paint energetically – fast wth big brushes and a variety of tools. I also look for symbols which represent energy – the diagonal, the triangle, the spiral – and often incorporate them in my paintings.
    When people describe my work they talk about the positive energy they feel, the memories it brings to their minds. Usually they smile when they walk into one of my exhibitions.

    1. Thank-you, again, Jason, for the timely article. I do silk paintings, batiks and many people do not really understand the technique or appreciate the media. I love the sensous feel of silk, and the beautiful colors optained with dyes.
      I have not marketed my self, which I know is the only way to sell. I do more shows through organizations I belong to, but no big sales have come from this.
      I will keep on keeping on..and I’m learning every day from your expert advice and your book, “The Starving Artist”. I am not a starving Artists, but I do hunger for clients who can appreciate the art that I create. Patricia

  5. Thank-you, again, Jason, for the timely article. I do silk paintings, batiks and many people do not really understand the technique or appreciate the media. I love the sensous feel of silk, and the beautiful colors optained with dyes.
    I have not marketed my self, which I know is the only way to sell. I do more shows through organizations I belong to, but no big sales have come from this.
    I will keep on keeping on..and I’m learning every day from your expert advice and your book, “The Starving Artist”. I am not a starving Artists, but I do hunger for clients who can appreciate the art that I create. Patricia

  6. I have a question, I was wondering when if ever it’s okay to sell my canvases at flea markets , hazard and shows such as fountain hills spring market? I have been trying to become consistent and was wondering when should I start feeling like I am good at what I do? Thank you Jason for all the good information in your blog 😊

    1. Kathleen – I read your response to this article and was compelled to help push you along. If you have even remotely considered showing your works at flea markets, hazard shows and the fountain hills spring market – then you, somewhere inside, know you are good at what you do. I must point out that I am not sure that ‘art’ can be sold at flea markets. The folks at flea markets, in my opinion, are looking for bargains and not really art. I myself have considered flea markets and thought better against it though you should really look into the market shows. Sometimes I find myself shying away from markets based on booth price alone. I read these articles and find myself VERY motivated by them. If you personally (inside) find yourself questioning the finished project, remember that you will NEVER achieve perfection. We will always question ourselves – is it bright enough, is it interesting enough, is it finished enough, etc…

  7. Hello, Jason! It is quite understandable, from the point of view of selling and branding, that a consistency of style is a big advantage. However, from an artist’s point of view and practice, such consistency may be an unwelcome and sapping constraint. It’s also such a 20c. idea (during most of it, having more than one style was heavily discouraged). I would guess there is at least 30-40% of artists who work in more than one style at about the same time. It feeds those artists’ soul, it keeps their work fresher, it encourages experimentation and stimulates their growth in their craft and deeper content. By this time of the 21st c. many of us consider diversity of styles a potential strength. It may well be more difficult to sell as a ‘product’ — but perhaps easier as genuine and authentic, as expression of greater integrity to self rather than the market..? 😉

    1. Philip, I have to disagree with you. I painted for many years before I found the niche of abstract painting that I love. I think it is important for someone to buy my work and be able to look forward to my newer pieces, knowing that they will be “me”. I think Jason is pointing get to consistency like you get with Monet, Pollock, or in music like Chicago, Beyonce or Mozart. All of their work is identifiable, their brand. Being consistent means expressing my feelings on canvas and my feelings are the same.

  8. Hi Jason ,
    I think art and being an artist is most part about inspiration and being inspired. It can come from any where from personal/ life experiences or from an outside source. Either an artist can be honest about things that inspired ,or make it all about his / her experiences But either way, passion for the art is what leads one to see things that is not in their life. Yes, I have read Dale Carnegie book ,the one you mentioned many times.
    Yet, someone you get so inpired that you look at someone or something and feel that you know them for many decades and become a fan. Two, three or ten year become a past experience very quickly. It is what an artist mind feels. It is boundless.
    As usual excellent article to read and its always a pleasure to gain immense knowledge from a champion like you. Thank you Jason.

  9. Hi Jason,
    We’ll said. As I was reading this I was thinking how cool it is that you are taking time to think through and write about something that will help artisans succeed. Drawing from your own experience and observations in the business of art…and you offer it for free. Thank you. Through your articles you are not just telling us what to do but showing us by example and building your own consistent brand. I am so focused on all the aspects of creating art that I need people out there like you to tell me how this other side of art works. People like me need people like you. Keep writing!

  10. Does anyone have any thoughts – good or bad – about working directly with interior decorators. I know they will need a price break to allow for their profit. More specifically, I’m wondering if you would give one interior decorator an exclusive (as we do with a gallery in a certain radius) or just play the field.

    1. Check the Web Resource Store on this website where you can purchase “How to Sell Art to Interior Designers” by Jason’s friend, Barney Davey. It answers all your questions in depth. I highly recommend it!

  11. Great thoughts about developing the narrative behind the expression as the heart of branding. Being able to share and exchange that “why” in a compelling, comfortable manner is one of my goals this year.

  12. I’m just venturing into branding and this article was extremely helpful. Finding what makes you unique, is more about yourself rather than the art. I never thought about it this way and it makes perfect sense. Super article!

  13. Hi,
    Thank you Jason for giving artist the opportunity to grow in their art which bring more confidence in what we love to do. Thank you also to all the artist who are sharing the experience 🙂
    I have a questions or an advice I would like to ask you for some help. If anyone can comments It will be great, thanks in advance 🙂
    I am a multi discipline artist, I am entrepreneur and I run an art business as a sole trader and I provide Graphic designs & Photography and other arts services to company. But I wish to sell my own stuff products: paintings, digital arts and fine arts under the same pseudonym.
    I don’t know if it is suitable for signing a painting and/or a photography using a pseudonym or a brand name how it will appears to customers in your point of view
    Thank you in advance 🙂

  14. Aloha Jason, I think the best part of this article is what you said about Picasso, Monet, Pollock, etc, each growing into a highly recognizable style. I am predominately an abstract painter who works in a number of series all reflecting my response to the universe and the natural elements. I recently received a comment from someone that my work is now recognizable. Your emphasis on a consistent style in many of your articles has been the single greatest piece of advice that continues to influence my work. Thank you for all that you do for artists.

  15. Your article comes at a perfect time! I see that I have been confusing Brand with Logo. Thank you for the questions to ask ourselves. I haven’t come up with an answer that feels right. Your article helps me to continue the process. thank you for all you do to help us.

  16. One thing I am learning about branding is that, if you don’t decide who you are, others will, and what they perceive may not be the message or image you are trying to convey. I personally don’t gravitate towards artists that are all over the map. I don’t get their message, and that confusion makes me unable to connect to the work. This alone is why consistency is so important.

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