Post image for Cultivating your Brand as an Artist

Cultivating your Brand as an Artist

by Jason Horejs on 06/26/2014 · 23 comments

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

About 

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 me on
Google+

{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Les June 27, 2014 at 7:01 am

Jason,

It’s been a few years since I’ve attended one of your seminars, but I still remember the principles you conveyed. I have a question concerning my fine craft of furniture making and what I brand on my pieces. This is the actual burning of a message on the pieces – a little different than the branding you are talking about. Do you think it is better to use my name – Les Thede – or my company name – EverLasting Furniture? (Along with City and state.) Thanks for any input you can give!

Reply

Jason Horejs June 27, 2014 at 10:17 am

Thanks Les – literal branding! The answer to your question does come back to the question of market branding however. Which would you like to build your brand around – the company or yourself? There’s no right answer. If you are ever planning to sell the company then it would make far more sense to build the brand around the company name. If that’s not on the horizon and you would prefer people get to know you, then you should build your brand around yourself. I suggest for most artists it’s a better idea to build the brand around their own name.

Reply

Damon Pla June 27, 2014 at 7:16 am

Another great post Jason. One I think of quite often.

Years ago I split my work in to two paths. Landscape and Surreal Paintings. I enjoy both but find I do have a common thread between the works… late afternoon light. I am starting to get more and more questions asked at my arts shows about said split. Some visitors are drawn in for the Surreal works, enjoy them…then turn around to see the other half of my booth as Landscapes. Then vice-versa. I explain to them my obsession for late afternoon light, but I still see puzzled faces as to my chosen direction. (or lack of) I do sell both types of works but now at 40 years old, I find myself wanting to choose one path so that my presence is stronger, clear. Or envision a presence of a single focused work. Could this be late afternoon light?

I have asked you in a webinar many moons ago about the perception of a single focused work compared to several and your answer was clear about a single work being the stronger of the two. I have tried to funnel down to one work but find myself dreaming of the other while painting. Tough.

I read somewhere long ago, that this artist painted 80% of what people wanted to buy/see and 20% of what he wanted to paint/see. Into his later years, he had successfully transitioned the 80/20 split to painting 80% of what he wanted. I found this interesting but the process seemed too ‘slow’ for me or even too calculated.

Am I ‘watering down’ my branding by offering different subject matter(s)?

Reply

Jason Horejs June 27, 2014 at 10:14 am

Thanks Damon – I like the idea of the 80/20 split, but what I might suggest is that the 80% is what you focus on marketing and building your brand around, and the 20% is for personal satisfaction and enjoyment. When the 20% inventory builds up to a sufficient level you could consider creating a separate brand for that work and selling it to a different audience – perhaps using a different name.

Reply

Heather Grindley June 27, 2014 at 8:20 am

Thanks Jason…..great advice ! Knowing oneself and why we create what we do is so important.

Reply

Kathy Howard June 27, 2014 at 9:48 am

My passion of the southwest landscape left me little choice of what to pursue in my art. Although this is a crowded field, I am endlessly inspired and I hope this is evident in the art I create. I am promoting my brand (without the benefit of a gallery) the best I can by associating myself with western artists I admire, going to workshops, visiting their galleries, attending openings, visiting local and national shows, living in the landscape I love, and best of all, buying art!
I have tried to brand myself by maintaining a website with a cohesive style of work, featuring the southwest landscape and investing in professional looking business cards. I have the theory, act like the professional you wish to become!
I have also taken advantage of the artist in residence program for the national parks. This year I will be staying at the Hubble Trading Post National Historic Site, visiting and painting around Canyon de Chelly. Last year I was the artist in residence for The Petrified Forest National Park, and hopefully next year, Joshua Tree National Park. If anyone has the desire, I encourage them to apply to this program which is for over 50 parks across the US. Check it out on the National Parks website.

Reply

Dave Newman June 27, 2014 at 10:28 am

Thanks Jason for the kind words and using my work as an example. We have worked very hard to create our brand and it is always an ongoing process. The same goes for our gallery we have in Prescott and the branding, logo etc. are a little different from Dave Newman,but you can tell it comes from the same place .When everything jives (logo, art, business cards etc.) I think you can tell the focus and the commitment of that artist. After all this is a life long ladder we are climbing and every little thing we do, will make a difference at some point in our careers. As always nicely written.
Dave

Reply

Roopa Dudley June 27, 2014 at 11:59 am

My brand is Chess (Chess Pieces & Checkered Board). When I first started out, people who knew me poked fun at me saying “What kind of art is this?” “Why are you painting Chess Pieces in every painting?” “What is this obsession you have with Chess?” Now the very same people who ridiculed my art initially are my staunch collectors! It certainly helps that I have also won awards and been in a few printed art magazines.

Reply

Laurel Sternberg June 28, 2014 at 10:40 pm

Hi Roopa,
Your comment makes me smile, as it reminds me that we need to be very gracious with the sometimes silly things people say to us. I always try to remind myself, “He’s only trying to make conversation!”
All the best,
Laurel

Reply

Will Eskridge June 27, 2014 at 1:21 pm

Another excellent post Jason! Get’s me thinking more. My paying job since college has been graphic design, so I’ve always felt I’ve had a decent grasp of my branding. However, up until the beginning of this year my work has been completely all over the place with subject matter and style. I finally feel like I’ve honed in on my reasons and ideas which in turn have really started to mold my branding. My website utilizes clean sans serif text and a neutral color scheme, because I want the work to pop. I do contemporary animal/wildlife paintings and have started integrating the mid-century patterns and animals I use in my paintings into my business cards, banners and promotional materials. I’m still trying to focus my branding even more and this post set some more light bulbs off in my head on where I can extend my branding. The Know your customers part really spoke to me. Even down to seemingly simple things like branded labels on the acid free paper that my paintings are wrapped in for shipping to a customer. Great posts, thanks Jason!

Reply

Jason Horejs June 28, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Excellent – thanks Will. I think we all benefit from putting more thought into our branding. Great idea about the labels on your wrapped work.

Reply

Patrice Celeste June 27, 2014 at 9:21 pm

Great subject to write on and very necessary to hear. Thank you Jason!

I find that the what I like to paint, the way I like to execute it, the way I require it to look completed, are as important as the person who is interested in collecting it. That to me says my brand, who I am has to stand for itself in every painting. The brand is key for me. As an artist, and I can only hope it will stand the test of time. Curators say what they see in a painting, but as an artist I think we hope that the public sees what we intended the public to know and feel about a subject.

Reply

Brenda Delle June 28, 2014 at 11:18 am

Thanks so much for all of the information on branding. You have really made me focus on what I truly love and want my art to convey.

Reply

Laurel Sternberg June 28, 2014 at 10:41 pm

Another helpful post, Jason. Knowing who my best clients are helps me to focus my marketing efforts, including where I exhibit, where it’s most relevant.
Thanks,
Laurel

Reply

Phil Kendall June 29, 2014 at 6:46 am

Be true to yourself and your art at all times. Do not imitate. Do not copy. Exploit just one medium. Exploit just one support.

As an Egyptian art professor & personal friend put it…one look at any of your art and the world would know it instantly!

Reply

Betty Pieper June 30, 2014 at 9:13 am

I’m an old artist with as much passion for paint as when I was young. I am a loner when it comes to painting and definitely impaired as far as marketing goes. So whether lazy, humble, Luddite or cognitively impaired I can’t seem to get a grip on selling. Your article and the core questions are ones I’ve asked for myself for decades but I have no more idea than when I was fifteen years old. Who ARE these experienced graphic designers who can tell me more about my art and myself than I know after all this time? Name one….If I can afford it, I’m in. Betty Pieper

Reply

Katharine Weber June 30, 2014 at 9:59 pm

Great information. I have been working on branding my sculptural paintings, but am not sure how to translate the brand to my website other than using a non-intrusive font so that the eye is drawn to the artwork itself. Any suggestions aside from type face, with a picture of my work in the background? Wishing I had taken more graphic design classes about now…

Reply

Pdrapala July 9, 2014 at 7:04 pm

Hi Katharine, Me, too. I am enrolling next semester in a graphics design class at our local college in 2015.

Reply

Pdrapala July 9, 2014 at 7:03 pm

I understand, now. A successful artist not only needs to create their art, they also need to market themselves. That’s what I have been missing. I’ve spent a lot of time creating works, taking art classes and workshop, and having shows; however, I really haven’t put myself out there other than having a webpage and occasional posting on Facebook. In addition, I need to really wear two separate hats, a “business hat” and an “artist’s hat” and that’s going to take time creating the right “branding” to sell my art. I realize that is a lot of work; however, I am ready to start stage II of my art life. Thanks again for sharing your book with us. Cheers!

Reply

Phyllis Terrell July 14, 2014 at 7:45 am

As you can see from my unfinished website http://www.phyllisterrell.com I have the philosophy of “what you see is what you get.” I paint what I like and that sets my “branding”. As long as I paint what I like, I don’t have to concern myself with branding. It will always be me. Someone once looked at one of my iris paintings at a show and said, “Oh, it is sooo Mama.” To me, that was so touching, and made my hard work of all that is involved in being in a show worthwhile. Another incident occurred at Emory Hospital in Atlanta when I saw a patient who was attached to all kinds of health equipment, walking down the hallway stopping to view my exhibit on the walls. As long as he was viewing the art it took his thoughts off his condition for a moment, and I was glad I had a part in that.

Reply

darcy meeker August 22, 2014 at 7:39 am

I like what you said about Dave Newman Studio — he does all kinds of art, and the website looks like he does. this is good things. I love how you can rearrange it!

my website needs to rebuilt.

I have for clients: silk hangings, stone, metals (I put paints on) , earrings, cards, tar paper collage, gauche, ceramics, the color project

Why can’t I brand myself, “sensory delight is always welcome.”

Reply

Annette Taunton August 25, 2014 at 7:40 am

Hi I had thought I had been painting a pretty consistent line of paintings. Every thing has revolved around water. sports fish and boats. The other day I set up a Fine Arts America page. When I clicked on my page and looked at my work from a customer point of view I see that I was wrong about my consistency. Now I am at a total loss as how to regroup and move forward.
http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/annette-taunton.html
My fine art page
Annette

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: