Friday, October 30, 2015

Thoughts on The Business of Art & Shop News

This week I sent out my Autumn Newsletter (if you haven't yet signed up you can learn more about it and do so here). The first response I had to that newsletter was an email from a subscriber asking whether any of the September paintings were for sale. The subtle marketing I tucked into that newsletter? Yep, it failed.

And it got me thinking.

Thinking about my blog. About social media. About art as a business.

Anne Butera, Studio, Artists, Watercolor, Peonies, My Giant Strawberry

I don't have any sort of background in business. I've been trying to read articles and books to make up for that. I've watched e-courses (CreativeLive is great -- they broadcast their classes for free and sell access to those that have already broadcast). About marketing. Content marketing (and using your blog to generate income). Building a brand. Along the way I've found some great blogs that help creative business owners with their businesses (a few of my favorites: AeolidiaElle & Co., and Tara Gentile). I've come across some very good advice, some advice that doesn't really apply to me and some advice that makes me uncomfortable.

It's a complicated issue. Art making. Art selling. Competing in a marketplace where handcrafted isn't always valued as much as price.

Everywhere we go, both in person and online, we're barraged with demands to buy. We get used to tuning them out. Or at least I do. Unsubscribing from newsletters where I'm constantly being marketed to. Staying away from websites where I'm slapped in the face by ads. Clicking "skip ad" if I'm watching a video online. Sickened by how Christmas, the biggest sales season of the year, now begins in stores in the summer.

It often makes me think that I don't fit in this commercial society.

Anne Butera, Portfolio Tunic, My Giant Strawberry

And that, my personality, my point of view, is what makes all of this selling difficult for me. I'm not saying that it's difficult to sell my art. Books and articles and e-courses admonish artists who think that adding $ into the art equation somehow sullies the art. No, I am glad to sell my art. I'm happy to share it with you. What I'm uncomfortable doing is saying, "Hey, buy my art!"

It doesn't mean that I don't sometimes say it, but I've noticed something that happens when I do. Those posts on my blog, Instagram, FB or the like? They get fewer "likes", comments, etc. than other posts, even if those posts are announcing a sale, a free gift or a special offer.

With that in mind I did a quick, unscientific experiment. I looked at the feeds of some of my favorite artists on Instagram and checked the numbers of hearts on the posts where they specifically mention their shops or art for sale and compared them to the numbers of hearts on other posts.

Curious about what I found?

Generally those more overtly "salesy" posts got fewer hearts.

I know it wasn't a thorough study and I didn't use anything close to a representative sampling, but even so isn't that fascinating?

In order to make a living, artists need to market their art. And yet... people don't like being marketed to.

Do I write this blog just for marketing? Of course not. My blog is a form of self-expression. A place to document my creative journey. A way to connect with people. With other artists, with other creative people and with people who don't think they're creative at all. With people who love flowers and nature and handmade, thoughtful living. I hope to inspire you. I hope to make you think. I am overjoyed by how interesting our world is. I'm ecstatic about all of the beauty and creativity and magic that surround us every day and I want you to be, too. I break a lot of the "rules" for using a blog as a business tool. And I'm ok with that. I like my little space on the web and I hope it brings you a bit of joy and inspiration.

Do I also hope to generate interest in my art? Of course!

Thinking about things these past few days I've come to realize something. It's ok that I don't fit in that loud commercial marketplace. In fact, it's good. My art doesn't fit there, either. My art is an antidote to that loudness, to fast-paced, throwaway consumerism. My blog, my social media presence, my brand is all about slowing down, about savoring, about paying attention to everyday magic. It's important that I stay true to that.

But I'm also selling art. And it seems that sometimes I need to be a little less subtle about it. (Thanks for the nudge).

So where does that leave me? Where does it leave us?

Good questions. And I don't entirely know the answers.

I'll leave you with this:

First, THANK YOU! Thank you to my newsletter subscribers. To my blog readers. To my customers. To YOU.

watercolor, paint palette, thank you, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

Your encouragement. Your support. Your friendship. It means a lot to me. Some of you have been here from the beginning, reading my thoughts, watching my art and my vision develop. Each of you are a joy and I am grateful for you.

Second, I want to know what you think. Do you have an opinion on marketing, on artists selling their art, on artist blogs and websites or even on blogs and websites in general? What bothers you? What don't you mind? What do you like (and even love)?

Let's start a conversation here in the comments. I really want to know what you think!

And if you're an artist yourself, please chime in. What's your take on this? What have you experienced in your own business?

Interested in diving in deeper on the topics of marketing and promoting? Here's a bit of further reading:

  • Katie Daisy talks about her art, the negative reaction in some of her fans to her commercial success and her feelings on being a brand with a soul in this blog post.
  • This article on Elle & Co. discusses the pitfalls of getting caught up in social media as a means to market your business and how using your blog is a much better option. It also discusses the difference between the number of followers (not so important) and number of customers (very important).
  • Are women worse at self-promotion than men? Cory Huff and Tara Gentile discuss that question in this podcast on The Abundant Artist website.
  • Why have a website or a blog if you have a creative business and what should that website be like? Arianne Foulks of Aeolidia and Jess Van Den of Create and Thrive answer those questions and more in this podcast.

Third, do you have thoughts or feedback on my blog, website, newsletter or social media? What works? What doesn't? What do you want to see more of (less of?)? Again, I really want to know what you think. (If you're not comfortable leaving a comment about that on this post, use the Contact link in the navigation above or email me at anne (at) mygiantstrawberry (dot) com).

And last, in answer to the question about whether my paintings are for sale (for the subscriber who asked and for all the others of you who might have been wondering, too). Yes! I am selling some of my September paintings and the recent work mentioned in the newsletter.

I am proud to be an artist. I am proud of my art. I put a lot of love into it. It represents many hours of work. It's an expression of joy. I use my art to capture the magic that is all around us. It's a reminder to pay attention and to notice beauty, joy and everyday magic. And I want to share it with you!

watercolor, summer flowers, watercolor flowers, garden flower painting, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Summer Flower Garden -- original painting available here, archival prints available here

watercolor, watercolor flowers, watercolor hummingbird, ruby throated hummingbird, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Hummingbird and Black and Blue Salvia -- original available here, archival prints available here

black and blue salvia, watercolor flowers, watercolor salvia, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Black and Blue Salvia -- original painting available here

watercolor, watercolor hummingbird, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Female Ruby Throated Hummingbird -- sold

watercolor, hummingbird, watercolor hummingbird, ruby throated hummingbird, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Male Ruby Throated Hummingbird -- original painting available here
watercolor flowers, watercolor nasturtiums, nasturtiums, watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Nasturtium Bouquet -- original painting available here, archival prints available here

watercolor eggplant, vegetable watercolor, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Eggplant Watercolor Painting -- sold

watercolor, watercolor vegetables, watercolor eggplants, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Two Asian Eggplants -- original painting available here

watercolor, watercolor tomato, watercolor vegetables, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Green and Red Ripening Tomato -- original painting available here

watercolor, watercolor tomato, green tomato, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry
Green Tomato -- original painting available here

Wondering about all those little nasturtium paintings I did in September? Well, I haven't added those to my shop (there are some other small nasturtium paintings and prints in my Etsy shop), but I'm working on a fabric design based on those paintings:

repeat patterns, fabric design, watercolor patterns, nasturtiums, watercolor nasturtiums, Anne Butera, My Giant Strawberry

As always, if you have a question about my art or a specific request, please let me know! Use the contact link in the navigation above or just email me anne (at) mygiantstrawberry (dot) com. I'm always happy to chat, to work on a custom piece or to create a special print (I created my peony print because I had a customer request for it!).

So, again, thank you. Thank you for being here reading these words. Thank you for letting me open up discussions on difficult topics. Thank you for telling me that I've been far too subtle with my marketing attempts. Thank you to those of you who have bought my art. Thank you to those of you who will buy my art. And to those of you who can't afford to right now, (I understand) thank you for encouraging and supporting me in other ways!

Enjoy your weekend and always, always remember to take the time to look for joy.

25 comments:

  1. It's a great post Anne. There are so many various opinions on the subject but you have given us such a good reminder that we need to stay true to ourselves because if you don't and we do what "they" say we won't succeed anyway. l love your fabric design! It looks awesome.

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    1. Thank you, Dana. You're right that there are a lot of opinions on the subject. What works for one person might not work for another person. And that is good. We are each unique. That's what makes life interesting!

      I need to work some more on my fabric designs. I am so very slow. But that's ok, too. Glad you like this one. :)

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  2. I agree with Dana, this is a great post. I think about this stuff a lot, too! Also, love the fabric design. May I ask, are you using Spoonflower for that? I've played around with that site before and have thought of taking the plunge but haven't yet. Your illustrations lend perfectly to some cheerful fabric!

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    1. Thank you, Laurie. There's a lot to think about and consider. And so many different points of view.

      I haven't had this design printed yet, or any of my new batch of designs, but eventually, yes, I'll use Spoonflower. I had some test prints made by them of some other designs I did and I was very happy with them. I just didn't like those designs enough to go further with them. It's been a HUGE learning curve.

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    2. Thanks Anne! I look forward to seeing what you come up with. :)

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  3. This is a very thought provoking post Anne. I love your artwork but am not financially able to purchase any of your beautiful work just now. I like to think that my support to you comes by leaving encouraging comments and having a link to your blog in my sidebar and generally being a fan of all that you do! Personally, I am terrible with social media. I am on twitter but rarely get any responses when I ask for re-tweets etc on there. It is as though I do not exist. I also dislike Facebook which is often cited as the best place for promotion. For a lot of people etsy is not the optimum place for selling their work. Have you explored getting an agent? Have you thought about licensing your artwork? Do you have a portfolio? Is there a gallery where you could display your art, sell your prints, postcards etc? Could you offer art tuition or small art classes in your home to raise revenue? or have an 'open day' at your studio with your art work displayed for sale? You really have so much talent and just need someone to help you market it. Making a flow chart or mind map might help you to explore your options for getting your art 'out there'. Good luck Anne. I know how difficult it is to try to promote oneself when all we really want to do is create! :-)

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    1. Thank you, Simone. And thank you, again, for all of your support and encouragement. It really means a lot to me. I certainly understand being on a budget and not being able to purchase art. I have lists of so many pieces of art I would buy if I wasn't on a budget!

      What's so interesting to me about what you say is that you, one of my most loyal blog readers do not know whether I have a portfolio and also that I have an independent shop on my website in addition to my Etsy shop. I have read that unless you're very explicit and obvious on your website that readers might miss things like that and now I see that it's true!

      That alone has given me a lot to think about! Gotta do some brainstorming here.

      I have not explored getting an agent and I don't think I've quite gotten to that point yet, but it's a thoughtful suggestion. As are your other thoughts. Thank you for them. I've been doing a lot of brainstorming on alternative ways to market myself and I have a good list of ideas, too.

      I'm not on Twitter (I'm not sure I want to dive in there yet) and I abhor Facebook. Maybe once it was a good marketing tool, but they have changed their algorithms and unless you pay for ads, your posts won't get much attention there. I love Instagram, but I'm not really sure it has generated sales, but my following there is still fairly small. The best tool right now, from what I've been reading is Pinterest, so I've been working on optimizing that. It's all a work in progress and there's always more to learn.

      Thanks for your suggestions and for all of your encouragement and support, Simone!

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    2. Anne, I am a little embarrassed that you have 'portfolio' right at the top of the page and I didn't 'see' it at first! I guess what I meant by portfolio was a collection of work to present in a folder to prospective purchasers rather than it being solely on line. I am also aware that you have your own web shop. I noticed that on the bottom of your web page you write 'Interested in licensing my images or commissioning a custom painting?' but unless someone was actively seeking images I think they would be unlikely to see/read this. Maybe this request should have a page all of its own (I apologize if it has somewhere and I haven't seen it!) Bigger, bolder writing perhaps with a box around it to draw attention! I have realised in life that no one is going to come to me. I have to go out and scream from the roof tops to get noticed. I am not suggesting that you do that though :-) I am brainstorming here as I am writing. Could you do a 'press release' to suitable magazines when you have a new collection or make up some flyers to distribute in the library? I so wish I lived nearby you. I would do my utmost to get your art seen. :-)

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    3. You are so funny! Don't feel embarrassed!! As I said, I've read that people miss things like that online and I'm glad you helped prove that point for me!

      The Etsy topic is a big one right now, especially with all the recent talk of Etsy's possible demise due to the new Amazon Handmade marketplace. The alternative is that artists have their own, independent shops online. The difficulty with that, obviously, is getting traffic to the independent site. But the benefit is that all marketing is promoting that independent artist, not Etsy.

      You are so sweet to be brainstorming for me. I appreciate your taking the time to share your ideas!

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  4. What a great topic to explore, Anne! I agree with you that its tiresome to continually read ads and "advice" to sell, sell, sell because I am a quiet person in a clamoring world. I appreciate the interludes where I can get lost in a project, nature or photography and not have to share it with everyone. Its hard to get deep enough into my creative zone when there are thoughts in my head saying "you should tweet about this". Yet we all need the connections and recognition and yes, sales to keep at it. Simone has some great ideas in her answer about alternative ways to get the word out about your work. Your work is beautiful and deserves a wider audience, be it licensing, fabric design or gallery shows. I love seeing your progress on Instagram and your blog. Keep at it!

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    1. Thank you, Sharon. Oh, I know what you mean. When we create, we're busy creating, or at least we should be. We can always "tweet about it" later. :)

      We'll work things out. And yes, I'm a "quiet person in a clamoring world", too. Makes me think of the name of Tara Gentile's book -- The Quiet Power Strategy. There is power in quietness.

      Your kindness and encouragement mean so much to me, Sharon!

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    2. Sharon, I love this: "quiet person in a clamoring world." I can so relate!

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  5. Anne, I already responded to your newsletter, but just wanted to leave a short comment here. I think Simone had some good suggestions. Is there an art guild or association in your town or one nearby? I have met so many creative people through local art associations and collaboratives and there are opportunities to be in art shows through these. I am the worst at promoting my work, being a bit of an introvert, and hating to "bother" people, but many of the artists I know promote their work by exhibiting at the library, at art galleries and even by starting their own art groups through "meet ups" or community Facebook pages. I find that many artists buy each others' work.
    P.S. I want to be the first one to order some of your nasturtium fabric when you have it made!!!

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    1. Thank you for responding to my newsletter, Judy, and for responding here. I always appreciate your encouragement and support! And I appreciate your taking the time to share your ideas.

      And I'll definitely let you know when the fabric is ready! :)

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  6. There is always so much to contemplate about marketing our work, but at some point we have to stop thinking about it and just do it. I find that all the reading and studying in the world is good, but sometimes throwing caution to the wind and trying something is better. Experience is the best teacher it seems for me.

    That said, I'm not necessarily one of those quiet people you and your readers are talking about. I don't think there are many of my friends that would use quiet in my description. Maybe that tells us about ourselves and the way we choose to market our work? That's okay, if we were all the same what a boring world this would be!

    One comment that has always stuck with me, and I'm not sure who said it first, but it goes like this: we are not our customer. So I guess we have to sometimes get out of our comfort zones (hint, hint) and just try it. Perhaps we'll get marvelous results, maybe not so much. But I know if we don't give it a go and just try then we'll never know.

    Have you ever thought about the lack of hearts or likes on a particular salesy post might be the person who sees it and likes it simply didn't hit the button? Certainly, hearts and like clicks do not equate to sales that's for sure. Perhaps they are contemplating buying and don't want to be noticed or called out? Or maybe they don't share it with their friends for fear their friends might buy it before they get a chance to? Just other side of the fence thoughts.

    I love your fabric design and of course all your paintings.

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    1. You're right. Contemplating won't get us anywhere! Learning by doing is my favorite, too.

      There's such a spectrum of personalities, isn't there? It WOULD be boring if we were all alike, wouldn't it? Not to get all cliche, but variety is the spice of life. We all have different personalities and points of view and voices. No matter what our personality or art is like, we all need to step out of our comfort zone once in a while.

      I've heard that same piece of advice, too, we aren't our customer. Very, very true.

      You also bring up some great points about the clicks and hearts and likes and sales. As I said, my "experiment" wasn't very scientific, it's just something to think about. We (as artists) shouldn't be overly concerned about the numbers that don't mean much and be more concerned with those that do. Sales. Meaningful connections.

      Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation! I really appreciate your thoughts!

      And thanks for what you say about my fabric design & paintings! You're always so encouraging and supportive. That means a lot to me!

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  7. This is a frequent topic of conversation in our home. Married to a professional artist, I know the challenges of selling art in a market that has changed drastically in the past decade. The bad economy is partly to blame. Galleries that once carried Dennis' work are no longer in business. And the average person doesn't have money to spend on artwork, which means relying on those that do have money, and they are mostly collectors. A whole other market. Add to this the fact that digital photography and graphics have opened up the door for people to create their own computerized "art", well. . .it doesn't take much to understand the roadblocks artists face today. I'm going to hop over to the links you gave to read what others says about marketing. We wonder if it's time for Dennis to try something entirely new. I love your nasturtium fabric design. It seems artists have done well in that particular arena.

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    1. Hi, Nancy, thanks for jumping in here! You bring in some great points, too. The economy as well as technology and the internet has changed things for everyone. We must all evolve and adapt, constantly.

      I recently read a great article from FASO on their Fine Arts Views newsletter/blog: http://faso.com/fineartviews/99270/undefeated which talks specifically about the change in galleries and sales there. You might find that interesting, too.

      Thanks so much for what you say about my fabric design. Fabric design seems to be booming right now. Such creativity and talent and wonderful opportunities thanks to new printing technologies.

      Have a wonderful weekend!

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  8. Hi Anne,
    We had a photo cards, posters and photo pillows for sale on our Etsy Shop for a few years, but I just could not make it go. Some of it was, I think, people do not think ahead to purchase a card, so you just head to your local department store to pick up a card the day you need it.
    We hope to open our shop again someday, for now we are taking a break.
    Carla

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    1. Hi, Carla. Sorry you didn't have a good experience with Etsy. It's a hard marketplace to have success, I think. And with all their recent changes and the introduction of Amazon Handmade, I'm not sure it will be getting better anytime soon.

      Maybe by the time you're ready to open up shop again, you'll find a different, better venue.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  9. I think the true life story behind the artwork is so key these days. In an otherwise cookie cutter world, people are so often intrigued by the who, what, when, where and why behind the art. Where we come from and where we see ourselves going informs our unique voice/style. It's what sets our work apart from others.

    Like Judy, I'd love to stitch something up in your fabulous nasturtium fabric. Put me on speed dial!

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    1. You're so right about that Karen. The reason to buy handmade or art from an artist is the story behind that piece.

      I'll be sure to put you on speed dial. :)

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  10. I agree that marketing is hard! I enjoy the concepts and strategy behind it but struggle with figuring out how to make it work for me. Especially when everyone says we're supposed to show our personality but still make it about the customer ---> not something I'm good at. I'm definitely going to take what I've learned to heart and then experiment to see what works for me. My biggest challenge will be to start blogging consistently...
    Love your watercolors :) Can't wait to see your fabric - it looks gorgeous already!

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    1. Thank you, Erin. Glad you're chiming in here.

      Experimenting is the key, I think. No one has the answer for my business or your business except for me and you. And it might take us a while to figure it out. And it will probably change over time.

      Good luck with blogging consistently. Once you get a rhythm it gets easier. Writing out a schedule and batching posts is so helpful, too. You might want to take a look at this post if you're struggling with coming up with ideas: http://aeolidia.com/260-blog-post-ideas/

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