Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Who are Your Customers? - For Artists!

Remember the first time you saw a piece of art that stopped you in your tracks? Something so unbelievably cool that you had to own it, right then and there (or at least, wished you could take it home and put it in your living room)?

The question is often asked: How does one go about finding a core audience as an artist, and especially as a fine artist? Books and the internet seem to be full of ideas for marketing a certain product to people, but less common is a guideline for promoting creative works which may not solve a problem as products usually do, but instead served as an outlet for the artist doing the creating.

Even most marketers today would agree that demographics are boring and things like age, gender, and location do very little to tell you who your true customer is, and that's just fine because you're an artist -- You shouldn't necessarily be thinking in terms of measurable statistics when seeking buyers. Too, and also quite unlike marketing, art is about creation first, moving product second - don't cheat yourself trying to create in a manner that's 'in' with a certain crowd. Try the following:

1. Look at your art, honestly. Whose wall could you see it on? Is it an office or a home setting? Perhaps both? Is it a specific business? It may help to also identify where your work definitely would not be shown. This is one of the bigger steps in understanding your audience, and it pays to not only know who they are, but who they're likely not to be.

2. Does another artist influence your own work? Whose work most closely resembles yours? Who buys from them? Where do they sell? How did they get started in showing their work? It's usually a fun research project to dig into the past of artists who inspire you. You're almost certain to find similarities between you which could serve as inspiration in pursuing your craft.

3. Does it serve a practical purpose? Would it be more at home in a craft, decor or specialty showroom than a fine art gallery? Don't knock it if so - crafts are big business and craftsmen/women are highly sought-out for their skills and the work they do.

Final question - Once you have determined answers for the other three: Where do the people who are most likely to buy your art hang out? Will they be at a trendy gallery, an antique mall or an online shop? This step works best if you get even more creative with your answer! What about a university cafe, bowling alley or even a music festival?

Remember: Identifying your target audience should always be taken as an experiment. If you don't fare well in one place, there's nothing stopping you from trying another. Too, the more creative you get with your final answer, the more chance of payoff you tend to have! Happy selling!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Be Happy, Make Money, and Love Your Art in the New Year!

I guess the first day of the new year is a good one for writing a brutally honest rant about the career path I'd been on for 10 years. One which has changed exponentially in terms of what is expected of its practitioners, but not much in the way of compensation. One which has been all-but annihilated in terms of being a legitimate path for growth over the mantra of faster/cheaper thanks to Fiverr, Elance, and the internet in general. And one which I'm more than happy to leave a vast majority of "opportunities" within it to the throngs of up and coming 20-somethings merely seeking "a job". I am of course, talking about taking up art as a profession.

I know -- What about all those times I've gone on and on (on this very blog I might add) about how great art is as a career, and a legitimate one at that? And, I'll say I wasn't lying about that. You can totally have fun in choosing art as a career, and even make some money doing it!

Wait... what is this blog entry about, again?

Okay, onto the meat of the matter, then: Being an artist, now more than ever, has become frustrating to a lot of my peers, and looking back on the majority of my career, it has been for me too. But there's still hope. Being an artist is more than creating for others, or at least it should be. And I don't care if you're talking about a 9 to 5 design job, or the work you do as a freelancer: it is imperative that you look at yourself as a totally self-employed creator of magnificent, wonderful things, no matter what direction you take or how many hours a week you put into it as a j-o-b.

It's true, there are 9 to 5 jobs still out there which compensate well, surround you with awesome people and allow you to be inspired each day you come into work - I've had that job and it is glorious. Far more common though, and it's for the reasons I listed in the opening paragraph to this entry, you'll find long hours, tight deadlines, abrasive management, and no pay. Freelancing can be worse - with crappy clients more than happy to get "kid brother" to do it for half the cost, no-pays, or ridiculous expectations from sociopathic clients. Whatever the case may be, if you find yourself in either situation it's definitely time to make a change, and the new year is a great time to do it.

My advice to people in either situation is absolutely simple: Realize that a fulfilling career that is not only fun but also profitable is a primary objective and refuse to let "being an artist" get in the way of that. Here's how:

  • If you're in a crappy art job, sit down with it and write out the things you like and dislike about the job. Do you think you'll find a solution with doing the same work for a different company? Would you find the same fulfillment with half the stress if you looked elsewhere? Be honest because the grass isn't always greener on the other side, and even if a new job comes along which seems to be a perfect fit, you can expect to encounter a few headaches along the way. Make sure they aren't deal breakers.
  • You may be certain that it's the outfit you're working for that's the problem. Spruce up your resume and make some calls to companies you think you'd like to work for. You can't buy into the idea that it's "hard to find work out there". Honestly, when was the last time you heard that the economy was just excellent and open to new jobseekers? Know that the old days of responding to Craigslist ads seeking artists are long gone. You're better off researching places in an area where you'd like to live, and calling them up before a position is advertised. You never know who'll bite!
  • Maybe your fulfillment can't be reached with art as a career. Maybe you're tired of creating on a whim - which can be very hard. Most artists fail to believe their skill set could be useful in an entirely different career, because they get too attached to the idea that whatever they're doing, it has to be art related. Nothing could be further from the truth, and we often find our best job-fits outside the realm of what we've led ourselves to believe is the only path. This is an especially useful trick for those of us who feel drained of creativity due to looking at our art as merely "work". Too, switching paths may prove to be more profitable, provide better benefits, or just give you the mental relaxation you need to pursue your creative endeavors for your own enjoyment once more.
  • If money is your problem, the solution could be much the same as the above. In my area, nearly everything pays the same in the professional arena... in fact, half the non-skilled jobs pay as well as the art/design jobs, but that's a story for another day. Artists, especially those of us who work digitally, are often programmers, technical support specialists, and web designers all in one, and these jobs quite often pay more. If any of these paths sound appealing, consider re-branding yourself and adjusting your job search accordingly. One bit of caution, however: Don't pursue anything just because it pays more. It definitely should be something you enjoy doing, first.
  • Want to be your own boss? Consider freelancing, or better yet, combining any of the above tactics with freelance work. Better still - do that and start to build a few passive income streams into your mix. I make no money on webcomics. None. Kickstarter funds have long been allocated or paid out so we can break even on our little bookie-book and its subsequent production/printing/shipping costs, so if I want to be truly profitable with the endeavor, I have to look elsewhere. To that end, I can still generate income via advertisements on the comic's webpage, as well as affiliate links, and "extras" like books which I sell through  print-on-demand sites and cross-promoting other projects/things I have for sale. The best part? I set them up once and forget about them... until I get a check in the mail, that is!

Remember - you may be an artist, but you're free to pursue your art as much or as little as you like, always. For 2014, do what makes you happy, makes you profitable, and keeps you in the driver's seat of your career and life goals, whatever they are! Happy new year!