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 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

19 Comments

  1. Jason, years ago I cultivated my brand “Places Seldom Seen” per your instruction. I came to your gallery and a lot of others (Santa Fe, Albuquerque, etc.). My art evidently was not ready. Personally, I am now working to move forward to the next level with my work by taking intensive study workshops (one-on-one). I am happy to say that I have gotten into a gallery in downtown Ruidoso NM. Hoping for a good start for this new year. Happy New Year! Blessings! Jodi Murphy

  2. I have been following this thread you offer on branding since I have been able to pursue my painting on a regular basis. It’s been difficult to find my “brand” since I wanted the first few years to be loose and open to what could come out in my work. But I am finding certain techniques and subject matters
    I really enjoy. Should I dedicate myself to pushing that area and create a series of the same? I always appreciate the insights you offer, thank you.

  3. Happy New Year, Jason! Thank you for your helpful and frank advice on the art world. I recommend your book, Starving to Successful, to anyone who is trying to make it in any art field. Continued success and much joy in 2018.

  4. Extremely helpful! And, received at a crossroad for me. I have established who my market is and how I will reach that market. However, I had not given that much thought to branding. How opportune! You provided just the guideline I needed to pull that together. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! Karen deCourcey

  5. I feel a bit sheepish about doing this but in designing a website I highly recommend having any live links open in a new window or tab. That way the viewer never really leaves the site. That didn’t happen when I clicked on the links to other sites here.

    The ideas about branding, on the other hand were quite interesting. My own situation is rather unique in that I’m a female artist blacksmith who works our of a tipi. I find that’s a pretty good head start on my brand.

    Thank you, Jason, for all your willingness to share.

    Heather McLarty

  6. Another home run blog post Jason. Thank you. A few years ago I started standing a few yards away from my paintings at a show or gallery opening – but within hearing range. It was incredibly helpful to hear people describe my paintings. They tended toward similar themes – while others were downright hilarious…..”is that a farm? It looks like that farm back home – without the fences…and those far away dark spots must be the cows…” However, it quickly became apparent that my work appeals mostly to women who have had a major change in their life (positive or negative) – and they see my winding paths or waterways “paths that leads them home” – to an idyllic place. Now my web home page and marketing centers around “LANDSCAPES THAT CALL YOU HOME”. What helped cement this brand was when a woman started crying in front of one of my paintings called “Almost Home”. She was on a retreat in town after experiencing extreme burnout. She bought the piece and the gallery shipped it across the country to her home. In my case – collectors and viewers knew my branding before I did.

  7. I searched TED Talks and couldn’t find it … sorry. A marketing analyst researched what distinguishes one business from another with the same or similar products. His conclusion was the dominant personality leading the company became the face of the product.
    His examples included common products and how we relate more to the identity of the individual. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Gates are all better known than their products, even though cell phones, online shopping, networks, and computers are produced by thousands of companies.
    The analyst further stated the small businessperson needed to be a visible spokesperson in their marketing … to become the face of your product because you are what distinguishes yours over the rest. You’re different.
    I try to apply that to my work; a patron can buy art anywhere at any price, but not painted by me. They can develop a relationship with me as “their artist,” which is far different than simply buying a painting because they like it. Inserting myself into the dynamic of buying art is not something I considered until recent years. I suppose we artists get too caught up in “my art speaks for me” when people want a relationship with the artist as well.
    I’m not sure how this translates into rapport with the gallery as well as the artist, but both are important to the relationship. Integrity is critical.

  8. I made enormous progress in 2017… I reluctantly came to the realisation that my brand is ME! Yes me & my personality… I have grown into that realisation & I now absolutely love it! I have smashed it in the UK Artworld! My Art-Dealer & his wealthy friend took me to lunch & presented an opportunity that an Artist’s dreams are made of! They are going to hold a Solo Exhibition for me in September 2018 at their home in Fulham, West London for three nights, a stone’s throw from the UK Foreign Secretaries’s residence…

    They will put me up in a hotel & ship my Artwork. They will only invite qualified hard hitting Art-Collectors… I feel like I can walk on water!

  9. The Park City Summit County Arts Council Puts on a annual show called PCBranded.

    brandedpc.org

    This show promotes “brands”. The show was held at a local gallery (The Kimball Art Center). The makers who participated generally had a handcrafted product with a unique design., but some 2d artists were also invited who had books and cards. I didn’t feel I would fit in when I was invited… I’m a jeweler but I operate like a painter, only making one of a kind original pieces. That said, I did well and learned a lot about having a “brand”. Everything you outlined above Jason is right on – design, consistency, etc., and especially the “exercise” you suggest we do….. the organizers had us do that! What Jackie Knott was saying above was what they wanted from us at this show ….. to promote the person behind the product and what inspires them to create.

  10. Good article!

    Here is an interesting concept a gallery used that showed all the art that was sent in for a special show. Yes, tons more art than wall space, but it would be nice if galleries had a show once every year for ‘send ins’ like this.

    https://danieldteolijrarchivalcollection.wordpress.com/2017/11/19/new-york-gallerists-counter-art-world-elitism-by-showing-every-work-theyre-sent-the-benefits-of-being-an-underground-artist/

    I don’t know that elitism is the issue. Me thinks it is the ‘profit motive’ that drives what a gallery shows. With my own work as a curator, the profit question never enters the picture. The only money question I may ask is if I have enough money to acquire an item.

  11. Hi there, I would like to know what the opinion is on my situation. My brand is sort of multi-everything. I create in many mediums. Jason, I know you say to be consistent and I am working hard to be consistent, but I paint in acrylics, sculpt in wood and ceramic, I do lino and screen printing and I sketch. Additionally do some casting, digital art, design and photography. It is a lot but there is no end to me, I work all day every day and I love it. I have thought about this a lot and I will not be satisfied just doing one thing, I love learning and my work is very consistent, I am an extreme perfectionist and I have followed your advice to ensure that my work is of high quality. How do I market myself though?

    1. I am with Eugenie… it is possible to be working in multiple styles and create a coherent body of work in each style. If you as a gallerist feature work which I match well with a consistent group of pieces in that style, I’m glad to commit to your gallery to market and sell that style of my work. I’ll grant you exclusive rights to market and sell that style in your place of business.

      However, don’t ask me to not give those other styles a chance to be marketed if you choose not to market them.

      I sell in all 3 painting styles I work in.

      I’d love to be able to market all three to one gallery, but in your view I’m inconsistent.

      But how long do you have to work in multiple styles to have gallerists understand that your oeuvre is actually trios oeuvres?

      I’ve received awards for all three styles I work in. The third style is a mash-up of the first two… but I continue to work in all three.

      Each work done in one style, can pollinate work in the other two styles. Though you might not like the criticism, your box you operate out of (gallery) limits your ability to market work from a multi-talented artist. Only one style may match the coherency of your offerings to the public.

      So keep that gallery model, but modify the assertion of consistency. If I can produce three bodies of work, consistent to each style, with the only commonality being the signature; I’m glad to be exclusively represented by your gallery in that style… but, understand I will market the other two to other venues which those styles mesh with.

      Your gallery model does not allow an artist to be a polymath. Please recognize that this is a distinct possibility/reality.

      My question to you is: will you feel cheated or betrayed if I only market one style to you and market the others in a different market?

  12. I don’t know why I create? It’s just a part of life…always hung out with other creative kid’s so different there was no place for us to go as adults except the many motion picture arts. Had the privilege of working with le creme de la creme of the visual and performing arts…
    Paul once told us kid’s just starting out our careers, “always do your best regardless of whether you are sweeping the floor or any other task life presents”
    So I enjoy the information shared here and root you all to continue to do you best work because it is in you…

  13. Hi Jason, just have to say love your blog and what you have been doing. I would love to help I am a graphic designer I studied visual communications and worked in advertising and marketing for many years. Gave up my job and for over 3 years I was an art gallery director on ships. I now have a marketing company and I will say I am guilty when it comes to marketing my own social media because I am working on other companies marketing, but my website gets a lot of traffic and I am selling my prints! I would love to design and help other artist market their work. Please use my marketing company we a hear to help. Please visit my website http://www.mariegarcia.net. Please contact me re any questions.

  14. Hello Jason,
    This is my first comment so let me first thank you for the great work of helping artists that you do with your blogs! I tried different sources of marketing advice but settled down with your blogs – they are the best! And your book Starving to Successful is on its way to Vancouver 🙂
    It took me years to answer the questions above. I have been making art since I was a little kid: intuitively and without thinking. So when people would ask me those questions I would get frustrated and stressed because I did not know what to answer: I make art cause I like making it??! My friends tried to help but it sounded alien. Then I tried to solve the mystery by writing conceptual formal statements which again had nothing to do with who I am and what I do. I felt trapped and sad. One day I was at a business workshop and we were asked to write our WHY we do what we do by starting from our early childhood. I remember crying a lot doing that excersise – all the answers were there! And many were painful. So you see, I had to remember myself as a little kid to figure out what I do and why. I posted this WHY story on my website cause it explains my art better than any essay. After that I came up with a logo easily. And a short home page statement. Since then I have been receiving a very positive feedback from people who say that I have a unique brand and a great logo. And I totally agree with you – market won’t see you unless you see (know) yourself well. Thank you very much again and looking forward to new blogs! P.s. my website is http://www.anyutastudio.com It is always in progress but the core branding is there already.

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