5.16.2011

Marketing Mondays: How’s Business?

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Not everyone's doing this well

If the reports are to be believed, sales at the Miami fairs in December were up from last year, as were those during Armory Week in New York City in March. The dealers I talked to in Miami all claimed to have made enough to cover their costs and many, if not most, to have turned a profit. This is a huge turnaround from the past few years, when grim-faced gallerists returned home from even the smallest fairs some 30-large (or more) in the hole.

In the galleries, it’s up and down. “Finally, things are turning around,” says a dealer friend who sold “almost nothing in 2010.”  But don’t get too excited. Says another, “I haven’t sold a thing in six months.”

Artists, I want to hear from you:
. Have you seen sales of your work improve this year?
. Are these sales via galleries or via such entrepreneurial undertakings as open studios, DIY shows, private sales or booth-and-tent artist fairs?
. Is small selling better than large?
. Are prints or works on paper selling better than painting or sculpture?
. What are you hearing anecdotally from artists and dealers about the state of business in your city?

Posting anonymously is fine. I'm going to post anonymously myself. With your help, we’ll get a sense of how artists are doing right now.

27 comments:

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I sell, but usually not. I try not to let it worry me...I work in 3-d, mostly small scale sculptures, incorporating familiar objects. I definitely notice that 2-d work sells much easier/faster, and have started to frame/shadow box frame some pieces, to see if that resonates better with people. I got a full-time job last year because I was tired of waitressing, which makes it a lot harder to focus and produce work. Now I'm thinking waitressing wasn't so bad!I graduated 4 years ago and am considering an MFA so I can devote the time to my practice, but the debt terrifies me. While I have little luck with sales, my cv looks deceptively good; I have participated in national/international shows consistently, receive grants and awards, have been published, etc. Needless to say, I feel a bit confused and frustrated that I don't know how to make a living from this, if I should start drawing and painting the sculptures I make instead! My friend referred me to your blog, and I'm so glad for it! Look forward to hearing your response to this...if you have time. Thank you so much for blogging and sharing!

Anonymous said...

I sell my paintings at outdoor weekend art festivals. Sales since 2008 have been pretty awful. This area was hit hard by the recession.

But last fall I did a festival in a different geographic location (about 500 miles away) and it was great. I nearly sold out! Big, small, everything sold. I'm going back this year with high hopes.

mariandioguardi.com said...

Just finished an open studios and it's difficult to say what will happen for the next month because that is typically when the follow through sales happen. However in just year to date numbers I am on par with May last year (2010) as this year. I was happy with last year so this is OK for me.

I have sold more smaller paintings this year but I only had one year 2008 where large paintings out sold smaller works.

I have some small commissions to do. and three gallery shows coming up, so we will see what the year will bring.
However I sense out there that it is more difficult than ever to close a sale.

I am an oil painter. I do this full time with an income above the poverty level.

Anonymous said...

I do very funky, colorful encaustics and acrylics. Big sales for me have definitely gone down. Last year I started working in much smaller format 8 x 8 to 16 x 20 and find I get sales more frequently.

Gallery sales went to almost nothing a few years ago so I pulled everything out and sold here and there through facebook and personal connections. I also do graphic design so I try to pick up more projects in slow times. Now I'm getting ready to send work to the gallery again. I'm very lucky that my husband makes enough that we can squeak by when my income gets spotty. I hope one day I can make a good living just doing my art. I have never tried an art fair and am considering it for next summer.

annell said...

Taos is a cultural center is the Southwest. I see many shops and galleries closing. One would have to say sales are down.

Anonymous said...

Sold a few small pieces this year, a marked improvement but not enough to quit the day job.

Anonymous said...

I have been unable to sell a thing since October 2008. My gallery let me go because they were doing so poorly. I see signs that things are picking up, but it's really tough. My days jobs are also very few & far between (freelance design). I decided to just suck it in and use the "time off" to do neglected studio tasks and ramp up the self-promotion, but it's even harder to do with no momentum than when I was too busy for it.

Lori Buff said...

I've seen sales raising this year over last. I'm a potter and make functional and sculptural pottery. I saw that more functional work was selling and noted the price range then started making more of what people were buying. It worked and I still sell some more expensive work to repeat customers.

Anonymous said...

For the (probably young) artist considering graduate school, don't take on any debt. Go to a school in an environment that will stimulate your work/growth/personal happiness. So, if you like quiet solitude, a slower pace, find a school away from a busy city environment. You won't make as many contacts but you will be in a better place in terms of doing your best work. To keep your expenses low, find a school that will pay your tuition for you, usually a university that requires you to teach for your MFA will waive the tuition. Waitressing is fine while you are young, healthy and have energy, but you should find another avenue, more connected to the art world that you can find part-time employment in.

Victoria Veedell Studio said...

I'm a full time painter in San Francisco. In April I participated in 2 weekends of open studios. I sold a total of ten paintings. Most in the 24x30" to 48x48" only 3 small 5x7". So far this year I have personally seen an increase in sales over the last 2 years. I've also put some extra time in promotion/marketing. It's hard to know what works or if it's just timing? I made the rounds of galleries last week and it didn't look like there were many sales. However this coming weekend there will be 3 art fairs taking place in San Francisco. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Joanne Mattera said...

To the anonymous artist thinking about getting an MFA, I'd urge you to read an earlier post here on Marketing Mondays: http://joannemattera.blogspot.com/2006/05/marketing-mondays-mfa.html
There's a huge amount of collective wisdom there.

Joanne Mattera said...

I was going to publish anonymously, but since I wrote the post, I feel I should put my name to this. For a long time my painting had pretty much supported my studio, though I needed a 9-5 to pay for my other expenses. Then for a decade while the art economy was booming, I gave up the 9-5 and supported everything from the sale of my work.

Having a network of galleries around the country was crucial to those sales, because I don't sell out of my studio. When the art bubble burst in 2008, that network broke my fall. Sales continue to allow me to pay my bills--though sales tend to take longer to complete, and a solo show may take two years to sell through. To have a better quality of life--travel, shopping at Whole Foods, having a vehicle that runs well--I have taken on some visiting artist gigs, I'm happy to accept donations for this blog, and I founded and run an annual conference that focuses on encaustic painting.

I don't expect to go back to a 9-5 (ever), but I am working twice as hard as when I was 25.

Anonymous said...

Over the past thirty years I've seen enormous fluctuations in my sales--changing economy, changes in the work, changes in who was selling my work. Times were best in the mid to late 1990s (primarily working with galleries that market to consultants).
Except for a period of 5-6 years when I had no paid work outside the studio, I've always juggled several non-art related activities to bring in money(but never 9-5).
2009-2010 was an absolute disaster. Couldn't get much worse. Fortunately, things have turned around a bit this year (crossing all my fingers and all my toes, which is really painful). Not enough to rest easy, but efforts to get the work out to more venues (galleries and consultants) is beginning to pay off. Mixed bag in terms of what has sold--some works on paper, some paintings, old work, recent work.
So I figure, I've gotten this far, somehow I'll just keep at it--can't not be in the studio.
And yes Joanne, it seems to take working twice (or even thrice) as hard to make a go of it.

Alicia Tormey said...

This year I have seen an increase in corporate acquisitions, large scale commissions and larger works in general. Sales for mid-size (48" or less) and smaller work seem flat so far this year. Overall I get the sense that the art market is slowing improving but I feel it's important to maintain your marketing efforts even when sales and interest in your work are strong. You have to plant the seeds for the inevitable lean times because all markets are cyclical.

Anonymous said...

I am fortunate in having a markable "day job" skill that allows me to work part time and not drain my art-making energy. I had been doing reasonably well selling work through consultants (mainly work on paper) but the years 2008,2009 and 2010 were horrible for me - barely anything sold. This year I have seen an amazing resurgence of sales through consultants and the gallery that took me on. It's totally surprising but I'm taking advantage of it by cutting back on my "day job" hours to spend more time in the studio. I don't do any open studios or other non-commercial venues because I've found it not worth it. I'm just hoping that this blue sky art weather continues through the year to let me get my credit card balance down and prepare for the next onslaught of nothingness that's bound to come.

I agree that I'm working harder but also smarter (not burning that candle on both ends).

Anonymous said...

I've been at this about ten years now and have yet to find a way to support myself without a day job. It's odd; I feel like the quality of my work gets better every year, and yet ten years ago I got my first gallery and was making pretty regular sales. It also seemed like galleries were much more open to reviewing submissions.

I got a grant last year and have been in some good shows but I'm at the point in my career that juried shows and nonprofits don't really make much sense. I hope that things are loosening up and I learn how to navigate this situation. I live in a small city where 30,000 people recently identified themselves as "artists" in a survey...

Anonymous said...

I'm glad I have another job but enough time to make art. I'm not going to devalue my art because of the stinky economy. Eventually, it will turn around and that's when I'll worry about sales. For now, I'm getting a huge body of work. Reading, going to galleries that are hanging in there and making art. That's it for now...

Anonymous said...

A little history here.
At the age of 24 I walked into an art museum for the first time -after that experience I started drawing and soon after painting. It wasn't until the age of 40(such a cliche) that I had my first solo exhibition. Always sold enough to keep myself going but remained at the bottom of the food chain. When the recession began my first thought was damn its going to get crowded down here. For some strange reason these past three years have been my best. Once I stopped giving a damn (I let my web site float off into cyber space, I was recently forced to update my resume for my first European exhibition I've given up putting any effort into marketing etc) things started to take care of themselves. It makes absolutely no sense. All I've done is paint-maybe this occurred because I built a scaffolding under me from the thirty years of slinging paint. When I started- the idea of selling paintings never entered my head- in a sense I'm right back where I started I don't care if the paintings sell or not its the work that interests me. Its all backwards-I don't understand it and I'm not going to question it. Oh by the way I'm still swimming at the bottom of the food chain but I'm enjoying it more.

K. Crane: Big Fat Art Cloth said...

I've always had a "day job" and I'm an art therapist. I actually work weekends and it frees up my weekdays to work on my own art. The thing about the day job is that it fuels my work. I didn't work for a brief period of time when we first left Chicago and without the connection of the job I felt a little lost. On another note, I had to stop doing art fairs about 10 years ago. It just gave me anxiety and I never made any real money. Just not my thing. I know some people do make money at the big shows. The other thing I noticed was that artists would lie about making money at art fairs and I always thought that was strange. There are actually lots of opportunities for artists in the south and it's cheaper to live. I'm able to build an art studio on our back acre and I could not have done this in Chicago (although I miss the city dearly).

Marilyn Banner said...

My work is more sophisticated, developed, and accessible than it has ever been (after many years of installation and concept based work).This has been an organic progression. I have never had a decent commercial gallery, but belong to an excellent co-operative in NYC, in which I show every two years. Great reception to the work, but very few sales there. In the last two years I have sold several good sized encaustic pieces for respectable prices, almost all to people whom I know or met through a home event or art colony open studio. I have worked with a few small galleries outside the DC area but all have closed.

Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading the comments and the earlier link to 2006 MM. I have considered getting a job in the art field (instead of waitressing) but living in a big expensive city makes this a hard decision. And after reading the 2006 MM, I think I will apply to both 'free' and 'not free' MFA programs and hope for the best. I currently have a full-time design job, but I do it just to pay the bills (and because I didn't want to be a career waiter).I have applied to several residencies, usually ones with stipends, but have had no luck (yet?). My mentors/advisors were really against MFA (high debt, not worth it unless one's goal is to teach, apply for residencies instead), but having lived in one place for a long time, I think/feel it is time for Change. Canada is a small and difficult market, at least for me it is. Hope I don't sound hopeless or depressing because I have hope and am resilient! Despite all the reasons why being an artist is hard, I'm stubborn, will persist, will push myself and it's all I want to do. Just have to figure out a way to make a living out of it (does this mean ease out of the juried/competition shows and focus time/energy on looking for galleries to represent my work?) Well, I've said enough, thank you everyone for sharing, this young artist appreciates all of it :-)

Anonymous said...

My life, remarkably like Joanne's - It took about 10 years - and I'd built a network of galleries, and art consultants in major US cities. Sales and commissions allow me to be a full time artist. The past three years have been as difficult as the first three years. Some of the galleries I worked with went out of business, and same with several consultants. It's definitely more difficult to replace these relationships and establish new ones.

A good book to read is: "WHO MOVED MY CHEESE." Although it wasn't written about the "art world", It's what has happened, IMO.

My work day balance has shifted from 80% studio, 20% marketing, to 40% studio, 60% marketing. It takes longer for the "marketing" efforts to pay off, but I believe you have to market and promote yourself constantly, consistently. There's no perfect template either. What works for one artist, probably won't work for another. You have to find your own way - but there's much to be gained from reading blogs like this one, tons of good advice and tips out there.

I'm committed to life as an artist, and keeping my studio practice going. This year has been better than last - I've had several recent sales, and one of the galleries commented they're having their best year since 9/11.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately for me and my family, I have a decent university art teaching position that has made all the difference in being able to keep my head above water AND produce and show a lot of art.

There were times (in the 1980's) when I made as much from sales as I did teaching, but generally sales are much slower now through galleries.The teaching continues to provide a steady income though and I consider myself VERY lucky to have it.

Teaching is funny- at once stimulating, but also always beckoning one into educational adminstrative tasks. So many of my colleagues have gradually drifted away from actively working in their studios. Partly it is succumbing to the disappointments of doing show after show and selling so little work, or selling nothing and not receiving even much notice for the efforts it takes to get and stage a show.

I love being an artist, but I confess I had no idea how difficult the path would prove to be (and I say this as someone who considers himself a lucky artist). As the years go by, I have more and more respect for ANY artist who manages to keep producing work. It takes enormous strength of character to stay at it.

As for working in the studio v.s. marketing work, I'm amazed at how much marketing it takes to make any sales happen. I probably spend half my "art time" marketing in one form or another. I'd really hesitate to say this openly (hence the anonymous posting). I've reached the conclusion that almost all successful artists spend at least this much of their time on self promotion in one form or another- and they bend over backwards not to broadcast this to the world. We're supposed to project an image of being concerned with deeper things (and at bottom, I believe we are). But unless you're born to an extremely wealthy familly, you just have to keep banging those drums for your own career.

-A sometimes overtired artist

matthew langley said...

My sales are up this year.

I had a show in DC in January which I'm sure has helped kick start the year off in a positive fashion but my other galleries are doing well also. I primarily sell through a dealer network - one I am always on the lookout to grow in a way that make sense and has a good fit for the work I do and the personalities involved. I also sell a little bit through studio visits and if someone contacts me over the internet (which is less frequently these days)

I am not yet able to leave the 9 - 5 world, but I'm self employed and have a bit more freedom in how I manage/control my time.

Anonymous said...

I have never sold anything, I have been in a coulple group shows.All my sculptures are in wood crates I got tired of looking at them . Now I mostly model my work on the computer and think. I come back to stuff I liked 6 months ago and realize they don't work. Ill never quit .

Anonymous said...

My work is consistently placed, even during these terrible times. Can't really explain why. I work very hard developing the work in the studio. Maybe the work is getting better over time (I would like to think so), and this accounts for the consistency in sales? I do work with several galleries throughout The States and a couple of programs overseas, so potentially there is an "averaging" because of that? All I can say is keep working, keep practicing, keep developing as an artist, no matter what!

harold hollingsworth said...

I have been living on my work for the last four years. I have been selling large works, and have been extremely fortunate in having a good base of collectors and commissions. I'm currently working on smaller works and some newer combines and I'll see how those do. I know I am one of the lucky ones, but again, I have been at this for over 25 years, prior to living fully on the work. I have wonderful dealers and woderful clients, and I treasure and make sure everyone of them is happy with the work, and with the info that backs that work!