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

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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

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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.

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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

16 Comments

  1. When my focus was just on my art I worked to develop a brand based on my art style.
    People began to recognize my work when they saw it which was a great boost to my self-esteem and to my business. People who already liked my work would get excited when they recognized a new art piece by me.
    But now that I have started focusing on blogging about art I have had to change my brand to suit the new medium and potential audience. It has been slow going but when people connect my brands between my artwork and my blog it is a great boost.

    I am still working hard to develop a brand that reflects my values and my art within my blog.

  2. I have two different sides. I paint impressionist style work on glass and sell mostly cards and prints from that and I also do abstract work on canvas, The second style started when I lost most of the vision in my left eye and the smaller detailed work became more difficult. A few people appreciate both styles but for the most part I find people either prefer the abstracts or the more realistic works. I try and promote both but I understand that many people are confused and are not sure what they are seeing or what to expect. I work hard to sell and expose both sides of me.

  3. Interesting questions, thank you. I’m always trying to articulate a description of my art practice… though I’d not thought of this as part of my ‘brand’ per se. You’re right though… it is.

    I’ve not answered the questions phrased in the way you’ve done so here before so I’m going to do it, write it down.

    I’m assuming I aim for brevity and keep ‘fluffy’ art speak out of the answers. (This is very much my general approach when I talk about art anyway). I also try to keep words like ‘inspired by’ out of articulating these core descriptions simply because I read it somewhere.

  4. I have more than a couple of decades of professional business experience, so I understand the concept and importance of branding in that context.

    I cannot, however, reconcile the idea of branding with my artwork. I make what I make because I am who I am – NOT because there’s a demographic looking for it. While I am certainly not opposed to selling my work, I do not make it to sell. I make it to express myself. In my mind, that is the essence of being an artist.

    I’ll leave the marketing gymnastics to you gallerists. IF you want to sell my work, it’s YOUR job to keep up with ME!

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andrea. I would suggest that you’re seeing my suggestion the wrong way round. I’m not suggesting you should create art to fit a brand or for a specific demographic, rather that you should build your brand out for the work that you are creating and find the demographic that will be most likely to respond to it and focus your marketing there. You make a valid point that there is a lot to be gained by having a gallery handle the marketing, but even then, understanding your brand will help you find the right gallery to approach for representation.

      I agree that creating art is not a marketing exercise, however, I do believe that understanding the fundamentals of marketing and branding will prove a huge asset to an artist who is interested in selling her/his work.

      1. Jason, thank you much for your thoughtful response. If I get to the point where I’m making work primarily to sell, I will bear your words very much in mind. I am in the process of applying to a premier MFA program, so that may not be so far down the road! Best…

        1. Jason, I really have enjoyed this short conversation between you and Andrea and wish that you would respond more often to our comments. I can appreciate that you are a very busy man but I quite often feel as though any comments that I make have drifted off into a void of some kind.
          Hopefully this “Comments” section will turn into a “Forum” section.
          I enjoy your articles and also enjoy reading comments from other artists.
          David
          http://www.davidmckayartist.com

  5. I believe a Brand should reflect the uniqueness of each artist. The artist should be unique in the creation of any kind of art. When you are able to do that, you become different from the others and the art you created become unique. It is very important to have your own style and technique. These two conditions can favorable the viewers and potential buyers. In my experience, these two conditions have helped me to sell my art work.

  6. I think that I strive to be unique, and always have. My work is mostly of animals or birds or sometimes people, but in abstract settings. I use a lot of collage and mixed media with acrylic on panel. That’s what I enjoy and what feels interesting to me. The people who buy my work often identify with being “other”.

  7. My Art comes from my Heart! That’s how I respond when people ask “What kind of art do you do?”

    I do it because that’s where my Art comes from & that’s where my passion & drive come from…

    My collectors say my Art is: Unique, distinctive & fresh…

  8. One of the highest compliments I received was from one of my textile design instructors when she looked at a piece of mine and said, “I always recognize your “hand” in your designs.”
    I always find myself cringing when I hear an artist talking about finding their”Brand”. For me “Brand” applies to mass produced product such as CocaCola and M&Ms where as “Hand” applies to an artist’s work, unique and individual.

  9. Without being conscious of it over the years I have been branded for being a traditional oil landscape artist. My passion for this genre has not diminished but increased and I guess it shows. I am often asked what kind of artist I am, by people I meet for the first time. It does give me a chance to expound what interests me most, which is Tasmanian Wilderness.
    Thank you for your article, it has brought me back to basics and reminded me I must renew my business cards. It has also reminded me to re-evaluate where I want to go with technique and subject matter.

  10. My answers to the 3 questions one might ask about my art:
    1. I paint you involved in your creative passion, such as playing music, making art, dance, theater….
    2. I want to show you your inner power that comes from being in that deep creative place.
    3. People say “I can hear the music!” “I can feel the movement!” “I can see how I feel when playing my drums!” Other descriptive words are inspiring, serene and beautiful.

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