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The art of self promotion

By Art Winstanley

When I moved to the Florida Keys, five years ago, I was walking away from a mostly successful career as a Designer for the Fortune 500. I’d spend my days developing marketing strategies and advertising collateral and I’d spend my nights painting. It was on one of those nights, in mid-stroke on a block of 140# Archers, when it hit me. . . If I had the experience and skills to market microwave towers to Saudi Arabia, advertise Commercial Real Estate to a Global Marketplace, publish International Finance Journals; not to mention the boatload of other useless corporate goods and services I can barely remember, couldn’t I use those same experiences and skills to market and advertise my paintings? Well, who knew, but I was gonna give it a try.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned, so far, along the way.

The “arts scene” is your marketplace. Getting the “flavor” of it is understanding how the marketplace does business. Remember, it’s already up, running and not likely to slow down enough to notice another newcomer.

Your assignment, should you decide to accept it, is to break in to that marketplace.

Your list of names and numbers tells you who the players are, but you also want to figure out how the game is played. By the way, that list is going to be a valuable tool for you down the road and we’ll talk about that in part 2 of this series so, in the meantime, hang on to that information.

I remember thinking that self-promotion was a ton of time consuming work and wondering when would I ever have time to paint. . . .Well, as it turns out, that’s the challenge! But you’ll work it out. The important thing, no matter where you are in the self-promotion game, is to have fun with it. Gallery openings and outdoor art shows are parties. Take your friends and get out there, munch on some finger food and sip champagne, meet new people and talk about the thing you know best in the world, your artwork.

When I started out down here, I tried to make it a point to meet or at least reach out to 3 new people a day. After a while, what I ended up with were pages and pages of copious notes (in those sketchbooks I mentioned) and a collection of business cards, flyers brochures and postcards. . . .a wealth of good information and it was all absolutely free! . . .Names and numbers, land mail and e-mail addresses, website links and schedules of upcoming events. I knew I’d need that information soon enough so I had to get it organized all in one place. My “rouge’s gallery”, as I call it, is the most important self-promotion tool I have. It’s my Database. A “database” is a list really. Everyone you know, everyone you meet and anyone who’s expressed an interest in your artwork, along with all their reach information, should be added to your list.

Some people use a rolodex, others keep all the information on their computers in FileMaker Pro. I use mine as a mailing list too so I set up a Quarkxpress file laid out at the size of a #10 envelope and I add a page for every new contact I make. However you decide to keep yours, just always try to keep it as up-to-date as possible.

Business Cards are how you’ll get your name and reach information on someone else’s database. They are usually the first piece of collateral a new contact will get from you. Making a good first impression is important so put some thought into how you want your business card to represent you. Whether you decide on a 1 color/1 sided card or a 2 sided/4 color card with a sample of your artwork on the back, be sure your name and reach information are easy to read.

Your Biography tells new contacts who you are as an artist. It should begin with your “Artist’s Statement” which answers the questions, “What kind of artist are you?” and “What are your views on the work you do?” Follow that with a brief resumé of your experiences. “Where did you go to school?” “What have you been doing since you got out?” List any plum assignments or commissions you’ve had, along with a line or two of praise you may have gotten from reviewers, satisfied commissioners or teachers. Finally, be sure to include your reach information. Just a word about layout, use a type font that is easy to read (serif faces are best) at a size that is easy on the eyes (most folks over 40 have trouble seeing 8 point type).

Opinions vary on this next thing but I’m of the school that thinks your biography should be complete on 1 side of 1 sheet of paper. I use my bio as a follow-up. After a meeting with a new contact I write a really brief note thanking that person for his or her time, mentioning a highlight of our conversation and expressing my hope that we’ll see each other again. I attach that note to my bio, put them both into a 9” x 12” envelope and pop it in the mail. . . .But not before I also attach my Work Samples

Your work samples should be highquality prints of your best work. Most of us have or know someone who has an inkjet printer that will provide phenomenal output. For my follow-up packages, I include 3 samples formatted on 8” x 10” semi-gloss or velvet fine art paper with the name of the piece, it’s original size, the medium used and my reach information. For submissions to galleries, competitions or publications the requirements vary. You may need to send more or fewer than 3 pieces and which pieces you send will also depend on what they’re looking for. But whatever you send always send the highest quality reproductions available to you.

Fliers are incredibly easy and really inexpensive in this desktop publishing universe of ours. Normally you would use fliers to announce your upcoming exhibit, an artists’ workshop or some other kind of special event. But fliers can also double as brochures that feature you and your work. My fliers masquerade as a monthly (well, almost monthly) newsletter. It’s nothing heavy, I just speak my mind, show off some new work and comment on what’s goin’ on around town. Then I sent it to everyone on my mailing list. It’s a fun and informal way to keep my relationships warm. . . .and yes, it always includes my reach information.

Your Website should always be included with your reach information on all your printed collateral and here’s why. Three groups of people will be visiting your website. The first group are your friends and fans who’ll want to see the new work you’ve told them about. The second group are people just surfing the internet who will have found your website more or less at random. But the third group are those business contacts you’ve developed and driven to your website with your printed collateral. Those are the people who are most likely to spent a little money for your work. You’ll never know when one of those contacts looks you up in his or her database wanting to quietly review your bio and have another look at your work. Your website is the most accessible way for them to reach you. Your accessibility is what these tools are all about. When your work makes an impression, you’ll want to be easy to find and ready to call right back.

There’s no shortage of new ideas, we’re all having them all the time. One or two here and there or a dozen a day, they come and they go, sometimes before we know it. Ideas are like lovers, when the right one comes along to fire our imaginations, we’ve got to grab hold of it, give it our heart and make it our very own. But, there’s no way of knowing where from or when the next one will come along. So we work with the tools at hand, when the spark comes, to record them because those sparks are fleeting and if we don’t catch “em, we lose “em.

Think about it, how many of your own brightest ideas first took form as a ballpoint pen or biro scribble on a napkin over dinner one night at your favorite restaurant? Sometimes a single word becomes a whole book. Sometimes a doodle becomes a series of paintings. An Ad Exec I know captures his fleeting sparks of genius on 3x5 file cards. He carries a stack of them and a sharpie in the pocket of his jacket at all times. A Website Designer I’ve worked with keeps a palm-pilot on hand and my Accountant uses a leather-bound daily planner mounted on a hand-carved, rotating pedestal. Me, I keep journals. . . Well, sketchbooks really, the 6 x 9, spiral bound kind you find at the art supply store for $5.95. Each of them ends up being a three month chronology of new ideas, notes, sketches and grocery lists rendered in colored pencil, pen & ink and psycho-babble. They’re what works for me and I’ve been keeping them for as long as I can remember. An uninterrupted trail of them tracks back to the early days of my corporate career in the early 80’s. I kid you not, there’s a steamer trunk full of them in my brother’s attic up in New Jersey. Each new sketchbook comes with two rules. . . 1, Never leave home without it and 2, always carry an extra pen. Whatever I put into them becomes the raw material I draw on for future work product. Sketches develop into watercolors, digital renderings, acrylics or market collateral. Psycho-babble edits down to essays and articles, editorial comment, short stories or ad copy. . . .and every once in a great while, one or two of those grocery lists actually makes it to the grocery store.