The daydream goes something like this: sitting back and relaxing in your comfy studio chair with a big cup of coffee; planning out your next masterpiece while an assistant ships paintings off to galleries all over the world and then heads to the bank to cash big checks. That all sounds great, but most successful artists I know still ship their own paintings and cash their own, modest sized checks. But being on a national or international platform as a painter does come with many benefits: increased sales, gallery representation, teaching opportunities, and of course prestige among fellow artists and collectors. How does one get a good national reputation in the first place?
No two artists take the exact same path to get to their desired level of success. Some grind their way through the ranks while another seems to effortlessly rise to the top. Galleries can create success and awareness for an artist; artists can market themselves through social media and the internet to create a large audience; they can write or get published in a book, dvd, or magazine, or they can obtain credentials from national organizations that further their career and brand awareness. Most likely they will do a combination of all the above, but one thing I’ve noticed is that most successful artists are not “Jacks of All Trades”; they specialize at one style, medium or approach, and they do it well.
As an emerging regional artist looking to gain a national audience for my work, I have researched and spoken to many reputable artists about achieving national success as an artist. This article represents the most common threads in each artist’s career.
5. Get Your Credentials
In the watercolor painting world, if an artist gets their credentials from national organizations like the American Watercolor Society (AWS), National Watercolor Society (NWS), or Transparent Watercolor Society of America (TWSA), they are considered to be an accomplished artist worth showing in a gallery, jurying a competitive show, or bringing in to teach a workshop. Other mediums have similar organizations; Oil Painters have the Oil Painters of America (OPA), pastel artists have the Pastel Society of America (PSA), Impressionistic painters have the American Impressionist Society (AIS), and so on. Artists will pay high entry fees to enter their annual competitions with hopes of winning cash awards, and if they win enough awards over the years they will meet the requirements to use that organizations “letters” when they sign a painting and in any of their marketing.
4. Work With The Right Gallery
Getting into galleries can be a tricky business; however the right gallery can elevate your status as an artist and bring a lot of awareness to your work. Collectors, other galleries, and artists are all paying attention to what artists are being showcased in what galleries. Good gallery representation can bring awareness for sales, representation at other galleries, and teaching opportunities. You may have to be in a gallery to get another gallery to even notice you or consider you. Sometimes galleries will find you and other times you will seek them out. My experience with galleries is that it isn’t a numbers game or cold calling situation, but rather a relationship that is built over time. It’s about making connections, networking, and being a reliable producer so the gallery can depend on you.
3. Build Your Brand Online
When it comes to galleries or competitive events, brand awareness of an artist can influence success. When a juror or gallerist recognizes an artist’s name or style, they may be more inclined to reward that artist. There are artists who have successfully used blogs and social media to gain audiences of as high as hundreds of thousands of people, even millions on Facebook. That type of awareness increases sales, teaching opportunities, gallery representation, and success in competitions. I won’t name names but I’ve enjoyed watching a few artists I met at the convention who have success using this method.
2. Get Published
I spoke to one artist who attributes much of their success to one magazine competition they won. They said it was a chain reaction where that one opportunity led to the next and the next until all of a sudden they were being offered opportunities they never even sought out. Success can be achieved by getting your big break. Likewise, if you have a book or dvd, people also immediately recognize you as an expert. Both media are becoming easier to self-publish so it is important for artists to maintain a certain level of quality in production so they don’t have an adverse effect on their brand.
Do one thing and do it well. None of the above categories will matter if you’re too scattered. Be a landscape watercolorist, be a bronze wildlife sculptor, and be an abstract expressionist painter if you want, but when it comes to marketing yourself to a national audience you need to specialize in one. Spreading yourself too thin can dilute the effectiveness of your brand and even confuse your customers. Be laser focused in what you are trying to achieve.
My personal 5 year plan
As previously mentioned, I did this research so I could make my own business plan as an artist, so here is My personal 5 year plan for achieving a national audience for my work:
Every December our local watercolor society would look at the slides from the Transparent Watercolor Society Of America's (TWSA) annural juried show. For that reason it is a dream of mine to become a signature member of that society and others.
Enter 10 national competitions & get accepted into 2.
Get accepted into 5 national exhibitions.
Win 3 awards in national exhibitions.
Have credentials in at least 1 national organization.
Win 10 national exhibition awards.
Credentials in 3 national organizations.
I love teaching and doing custom painting work, but the thought of my paintings hanging on the walls of the finest galleries in the country would be a dream come true.
Identify 10 national galleries appropriate for my work and make contact with them.
Representation in 2 galleries outside the Midwest that sells my work on a monthly basis.
Representation in 5 galleries outside the Midwest that sell my work on a monthly basis.
People are getting very comfortable with online shopping and the ability to engage directly with your fans on a daily basis is nearly unprecedented.
Increase Facebook audience to 5,000. Develop Instagram and Pinterest audiences.
Post blogs valuable to followers once per month. Promote website through these channels
and through newsletters.
Increase Facebook audience to 10,000. Have Established Instagram and Pinterest
audiences. Selling work through Pinterest. Active Blog followers and comments.
Increase Facebook audience to 100,000. Established Instagram and Pinterest as sales
outlets for work. Active Blog followers and comments.
Enter 5 magazine competitions.
Plein air painting dvd for sale.
Full feature in at least 1 magazine.
5 painting dvds for sale.
5 coffee table / image books available for sale.
3 full features and 1 magazine cover.
Book deal for instructional painting book.
I want to specialize as an international caliber plein air watermedia painter who teaches occasional workshops, competes in the finest plein air events, and sells work through 5 galleries nationwide, including my own.
50% of work will be plein air watermedia sales
25% will be studio watermedia sales
25% will be teaching
60% of work will be plein air watermedia. sales
25% will be studio watermedia sales
15% will be teaching
65% of work will be plein air watermedia. sales
25% will be studio watermedia sales
10% will be teaching
This is a snapshot of where I would like to be in 5 years and the smaller steps along the way. This will be an exciting journey and I cannot do it without the support of my students, collectors, friends and family. Thank you so much to all of you who have helped and continue to help me achieve my goals as an artist. I would love to hear how you have achieved your success. Feel free to comment on this blog and share what strategies have worked for your career!