RedDot Podcast | Episode 013 | “What Should I Paint?”

Artist’s frequently ask me what the most popular styles of work are and what sizes are selling best. I have to answer these questions very carefully. Join me in this week’s podcast as we explore the ins and outs of trying to decipher the art market.

 

 

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Share Your Thoughts and Experiences

Leave your comments and questions below about your experiences with trying to match your art to the market.

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

25 Comments

  1. ~ I have found creating different ‘Series’ is my answer – then with ‘Inspiration’ and Intuition’ – Moving the paint across the canvas. Always a surprise in what can be created when going with the – “Flow”

    1. I’ve been moving towards working in series as well, which actually surprised me. In the past, everything I painted was so defined to me– I was a fairy artist. Now I paint… dead mosquitoes, and am moving into more of a “cabinet of curiosities” feel. It’s really lovely to indulge in following the inspiration down a path, and seeing what your muse does with “mosquito”, “bat” or “tooth”. It’s lovely to play!

  2. Perfect answer Jason! I have been in a very dry creative period, and started to lean toward looking at the market for answers, but you have reinforced my gut feeling, that what excites me, and what my vision is has to be the priority in the long run. I feel encouraged now, and somewhat validated. Thank you! Now my biggest challenge is to come up with a more consistent body of work that flows with that vision, as I have tended to just go with the flow in the past without any focus or plan. Time to grow again!

  3. I believe that if artists are asking such questions they are limiting themselves. Just be true to yourself as an artist and make art that resonates with you. Who knows maybe you’ll start a movement.
    Chomick

  4. I believe that if artists are asking such questions they are limiting themselves. Just be true to yourself as an artist and make art that resonates with you. Who knows maybe you’ll start a movement unbeknownst to yourself.

  5. I almost did not listen to this podcast as I’ve never really had a problem with what to make. Yet regardless of the podcasts title, I dialed in to listen because Jason always has great things for me to think about!

    Re scale:
    I love to work large scale, it fits my process. Yet over the recent years I have added a variety of scaled down sizes so that I can offer collectors access to my works without buying a huge building. This has been challenging for me, yet I seem to be getting the hang of working smaller. My sales have increased, and I believe having variety of sizes is part of the equation.

    Re subject mater:
    There is nothing more evident than when any artist just makes (unless that is the concept) as the work reflects this. I’ll always remember standing in front of a large scale painting by a famous artist at SFMOMA. The work was lifeless and dead. Right then and there I made a vow to myself: I’ll always remain passionate, engaged, and in love with what I am doing.

    Re trends and self doubt:
    In all the years of creating works, I have had my share of listening to questions arise (my own and others) about how my work fits into the current trends. I once created and titled a video poem “Topical Ointment” in response to the prevalent tenor of the art world: most specifically to how people were viewing video works at the Venice Biennale. Later I ditched that title and some of the sound elements that detracted from what I was really saying in the work – ahhh, much better.

    In summary, these questions most always muddy up my process, so I have decided to turn the volume down and/or shut them out. Here is a John Cage quote on criticism that you all might resonant with. (suggestion – replace ‘critic’ with ‘current selling trends’)

    “I find myself more and more questioning the professional function of the critic. I don’t find what they have to say is interesting. What they do doesn’t seem to change what I do. What I do changes what I do. What artists do changes what I do.”

  6. It’s understandable for artists to be curious about what’s selling and why. But alas, the devil is in the details. A tonalist might switch to a vibrant palette in order to sell more work, not realizing the problem with his/her tonals lay not in the muted colors but rather poor drawing and design. In the end, I think artists should follow their personal vision whilst constantly improving their craft. Thanks for a thoughtful podcast!

  7. I am an oil painter working on a variety of different size canvases. I am finding that 16″ x 20″ & 31 1/2″ x 23 1/2″ are popular sizes & have been selling these well for the last eighteen months. I live in Brighton on the south coast of England, which is a popular city for vacations & there are many famous landmarks here. To get local press attention I have painted several pastiches, using elements of Jack Vettriano’s paintings & placed them in Brighton settings. This work has been published in all the local newspapers & brings lots of visitors to my website where they can find the rest of my Artwork…

  8. Thank you, Jason, for this wonderful series of podcasts. Its so great to have such support and encouragement for the creative process. Thanks, also for the opportunity to take part in the comment/discussions that follow. This is all so supportive and informative.

    I have several years experience selling at great art festivals. I have watched to see what art sells. What I know from observation is that all mediums, all genres, all sizes, all styles sell. The thing they all seem to have in common is not just, as you point out, that they elicit an emotional response, but that they elicit a positive and spiritually uplifting emotional response. People want to live with things that make them feel good.

    Just my 2 cents.

  9. Thank you Jason. As usual, great explanation. Love this line in this podcast. “To thine own self be true”. Actually, it’s a lot easier to create work that excites me than try to figure out where the market is going. Appreciate the advice to build a body of work in a wide variety of sizes. That helps me to plan a bit.

  10. Hi Jason
    Thanks for devoting a whole podcast to my question!!
    I understand I have to tell my own story, or narrative if you prefer.
    I was frankly curious about what this one artist in your gallery was doing. In my area of central Pennsylvania, there are no artists who come anywhere close to selling out like that.
    At a recent Art Festival with out of state people traveling in, I made a point of hanging out with a couple very successful watercolor artists to soak up whatever mojo they had! Again, I don’t expect to duplicate what they do. But maybe I can pick up some intangibles…

    In years of thinking about what the best art is (in any medium), it always comes down to the emotional reaction of the viewer to the story I tell. It is always a joy whenever someone does connect with one of my watercolors and I see them light up.

    I particularly like your metaphor that we create the framework, and the viewer, hopefully collector, fills in the rest.

  11. Great podcast Jason. Whilst listening I was reviewing my set of paintings for a two man show with an artist friend starting this coming Monday. I know which pieces excite me the most. I will be intrigued to see how the public reacts. If anyone is in the UK and is interested you can find out more @raggededgeart on facebook. I will let you know how it goes.

  12. Jason, I was pleased to hear you focus on an artist’s individual vision as to subject matter rather than “what sells.” I want my work distinguishable from other artists rather than part of the herd. I’m not even sure “what sells” is credible. Trends are simply that … I prefer timeless.
    What is appreciated in AZ, someone in VA or MA may be indifferent to. Regional interest is somewhat a factor, although today’s populace is very well traveled.
    I smiled at “serendipity.” No doubt! We can’t foresee what will strike a chord with a buyer.
    I have been guilty of listening to other voices to my detriment … done with that. Regardless how well meaning their input, people will express an opinion based on their own preferences and experience. I’ve found out over decades if I paint what inspires and moves me that intangible will communicate itself to a buyer.
    On size; I lean toward the “go big or go home” camp. Not supersized, but large enough to make an impact. A small piece struggles to be noticed – a large work demands you look at it. I have done smaller pieces to make my work affordable but avoid doing them for the most part. I’ve also learned to let the subject dictate size.
    Bottom line, listen to your personal muse.

  13. One of my favorite painters is Childe Hassam (1859-1935) —In my opinion, his best paintings were the local streets scenes with horse drawn carriages/rainy weather paintings done in Boston and New York…the critics started making fun of these and he moved on to more impressionist works and, to my mind, never painted as well from again on (he also had trouble accepting the ‘modern’ world’ of tall buildings, cars and increased noise which must have been difficult psychologically…). I wish he had not listened to the critics.

  14. Excellent blog as always Jason. This is a matter – particularly concerning the subject or ‘narrative’ as you put it – that concerns many artists. One is so apt to confuse style, technique, and medium as well as the example set by other artists, that the essential requirement of possessing a consistently unique message or expression is lost sight of. You have once again assisted me to find my feet after getting lost. Your advice to produce as wide a range of sizes is also very helpful. A large size may have an impact but small can be affordable.

  15. Thank you for the podcast. I keep trying to remind my husband this…that I need to continue to create the art that excites me and makes me want to paint more, then I need to find a market for it. That can be hard when we invest in good quality supplies and framing but have more challenges with finding the right buyers. Every now and then he says “Why don’t you find out what people are buying and paint that?” I keep telling him that, if I were to pursue those subject matter or styles that do not excite me, it will not be my best work, and that lack of love for the painting will show. Of course, I’ll do the occasional commissioned piece that is outside my “norm.” But, when I paint something I love, in my own voice, it shows…and that magic happens…and those are the paintings he also likes the best…and so will the buyers (once we find them!!). Maybe I’ll have him listen to this podcast as a reaffirmation next time we have this conversation. LOL 🙂

  16. This was a very helpful podcast and answered questions I’ve been asking myself concerning what directions to take. “To thine own self be true” is the best advice! I paint in all mediums ~ watercolor, oil, and acrylic, because I enjoy using each for the qualities they provide. My question about approaching galleries would be, is it best to present my work in a single medium ~ such as all oil paintings, or all watercolor paintings ~ in order to be taken seriously? It seems most galleries I’ve contacted would prefer to see work that is done in a consistent medium. I don’t have a problem with that, but now I need to determine which medium is my best choice for the subjects that intrigue me and allow me to express my “story”. Most of my work is landscape, and is more traditional in approach leaning toward impressionistic. Your advice to develop consistency and tell a story with the work, has me thinking about developing a firmer mission statement, if you will, and creating a series that expresses it. I retired from my graphic design day-job, so now I will have the time to devote to painting that I’ve been longing for.

  17. Thank you, Jason. As far as I can tell, you are right on target. Don’t look outside for success. Look inside. That’s where success lives.
    Best wishes. I really enjoy and learn from your offerings.

  18. Thanks so much for this podcast – and I applaud your not-so-easy answers to these great questions. One of the hardest things for an artist to do is develop their own unique artistic vision and voice. It comes down to getting the best art training possible – then plugging your ears as to what EVERYONE ELSE else thinks you should be creating and invest thousands of brush miles going down your own path. I agree – unless you are living near the Eiffel Tower with loads of tourists milling around wanting an original of that iconic landmark – collectors respond heart and soul with what an artist creates heart and soul.

    Yes, a variety of sizes is good – even if it takes hunkering down to paint those 6″x6″ minis (that drive me batty). At a show last week – they sold as people in Seattle are living in tiny condos or downsizing and want a fresh work of art with minimal space. Medium sized works were mulled over – and my 36×36 and larger grabbed the attention of the manager of a new large hotel a block away who wants some large canvases for his new hotel. We’ll see if he actually contacts me….. So yes – a variety of sizes is good – even if you prefer to paint certain sizes. Two years ago, a 24×24 terrified me. Now its a mini 6×6 that sends chills up my spine. How can I get all that imagery onto so little space?? And they can take a lot of time!

    Here’s what I’ve been struggling with the most. In the world of landscape – most the big artists and big painting associations show a great deal of art that is fairly detailed (whether realism or impressionism). I just visited two jaw dropping landscape galleries near my new studio in the SW – filled with only nationally-known artists. Most were beautiful detailed works of art and what I’d describe as “drool worthy”. There’s nothing like seeing originals of artists I see in magazines every month.

    That puts big time pressure for me to put in detailed shrubs, trees, grass – you name it. I’m sure gallery owners or jurors may look at my work and think it too visually “simplistic” – but collectors have told me over and over again that they love NOT getting caught up in details (rocks, etc. that symbolize to them life problems) – and can focus on the horizon – which is where they want to be. So yes – my collectors, almost to a person, are women who have some life struggle they are going through or have gone through. Every man who has bought my art so far has been in local or state elected office. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

    So I have to keep focused every day on distance – which is my passion. It visually describes my life journey – where my early childhood was less than easy. I tried painting detailed shrubs and rocks for a year – and hated every single piece. I went back to distance imagery and haven’t looked back. Now I BUY detailed landscapes.

    Thanks again for encouraging people to follow their own unique vision and voice. It’s darn hard work. Your podcasts and articles have been an incredible encouragement that has helped me stay focused on my own unique art journey. They’ve also been invaluable for the artists I’m mentoring. Keep them coming.

  19. Well, I disagree. You encourage us to treat art as a business, and then discourage us from doing market research. No serious business could survive without constantly studying what people want, what they’re buying, and what they’re willing to pay. Ingres painted for the aristocracy. Michelangelo painted for the Vatican. Every artist has to decide how to be true to him/herself, and how to balance his/her vision against the demands of the market. When you tell us an artist’s paintings are “flying off the wall” but refuse to describe the work, you’re doing us no favor. If he paints giant impressionist desert landscapes in oil, I wouldn’t imitate him, but I sure would value having the information so I can decide for myself.

  20. This is an issue I struggle with a lot, since I read “Guerilla Marketing for artists” , I started moving in a direction, as Caroll Orr mentioned, I try to do different series.
    I have a problem with being too restless, doing something for 3 of 4 paintings and all of a sudden I cannot face that theme anymore, Now I try to stick with it for a while.
    As I haven’t found a theme that is a fast seller, I do not feel like sticking to anything specific, I will be more than willing to do that and see it as my “work” I have to do for 4 days a week and one day a week paint out of my heart, but I am still searching for that best seller range!
    As I have a bit of a rebellious personality, I tend to think, F everyone, I will paint what I want, I still need to find the right market though because all my art, closest to my heart, are my more difficult sellers.
    I do however find that since I Paint on impulse out of my heart, but with the “Golden Circle” in mind, I started attracting more “followers’ and buyers who are comfortable with my art as I want to create it…

  21. I think it’s an instinct to focus our work on what is selling, and what the market is really liking at the moment. However, as Jason mentioned somewhere previously one year bronze sculpture was a very big seller for him, and the following year that market was not the same! So rather than focusing your work towards interest that might have have a short time-life, I think it would be better to make what you want to make and be true to yourself. I think that’s why so much of artwork that you see in art fairs such as Art Basel is just awful! You are literally seeing artists base their work on what is hot at the moment, which comes off as inauthentic. I’m sure there are exceptions to that, but just my personal opinion.

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