Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Marketing art - people buy you as well as your art #1

As an artist, how often do you regard yourself as part of the selling experience?
Do you regard yourself as personally relevant to whether or not people collect or buy your art - or not?

This post is about the notion that people buy YOU as well as your art.

Shock horror is probably what some people are feeling right now! Being prepared to paint and sell your paintings and put them online is no guarantee you're also happy about selling yourself as well! However, if that's the way you feel, you'll probably be pleased to know that you're in very good company as lots of other artists feel exactly the same way.

However there's no getting away from it, unless you're buying a print in a department store, information about "the artist" is very often a part of the buying experience. In the absence of being able to see original art in person in a gallery it becomes even more important in my view. Remember gallery owners will frequently talk to a prospective buyer about who the artist is and what their background is. At its most extreme of course, people can end up buying a piece of art solely because of the name of the artist!

In effect information about the artist and their reputation is part of the "packaging" that enhances people's perception of a painting. Hence the way you present yourself online (or in a gallery) begins to frame and define what people think about you and their disposition towards your art.

Today and tomorrow I'm touching on two statements artists frequently make
  • today - About the Artist: the background details, sometimes called the CV (if you're in the UK) or resume (if in the USA) - and I haven't got a clue what other people call it!
  • tomorrow - the Artist's Statement
Plus I'll be returning to this theme in future marketing posts when I'll comment on what your blogs (and appearances on forums an social networks) say about you.

The Ecology Park Pond series #8
The Bull Rushes
coloured pencil on Ampersand Claybord

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Who looks at who you are?

The people who look at who you are on your website fall into a number of categories
  • fellow artists
  • anybody who has come across a link to your blog or website on another website
  • people who review or comment on the work of other artists
  • gallery owners
  • past purchasers/possible repeat buyers
  • prospective purchasers
  • the network of people associated with anybody who has bought your work

All have a valid reason for wanting to know a bit more about you.

How do you present yourself on your website and/or your blog?

In the course of writing my regular 'who's made a mark this week' posts and exhibition reviews, I regularly look at a huge number of blogs and websites of artists who I don't know personally. I have a 'rule' when referencing new artists that I always look at what people have to say about themselves. I've got an aversion to highlighting links to websites which say nothing about the artist - and I'm only putting a link in a blog post, not buying a piece of art!

This post was prompted by realising that recently I've been looking at an awful lot of blogs and websites which said very little about the artist.

Now I really don't have an issue with blog profiles being somewhat brief - so long as they have a link to another site which has that information. However I do get more than a bit surprised when I see websites with very little information about the artist and that's if the artist has said anything at all! Alternatively it's not unusual to find a very long list of where people studied and have shown their work and absolutely nothing about the artist!

Let me make it clear I think there's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to maintain your privacy. People are also perfectly entitled to behave in a reclusive or introverted manner - although it can help if you have "a person who talks" who does the business on your behalf. Plus I'm certainly not suggesting you "tell all" on your website or blog or share everything about your life, home and family. However there is a happy medium.

Put simply, I think you need to provide just enough information for people to understand who you are and where they can find out a bit more about you. In addition, a resume for an artist on their own website is not the same as the sort of resume required to get employment. It emphatically is not about your life story!

About the Artist - what I like to see

I think people are often not sure what they should include on their "about the artist" page. What you can be certain about is that whatever you choose to include or leave out will say something about you. Whether it's helpful to other people viewing your site is another matter.

How about if I tell you what I like to be able to read?

You can then comment and say if that's different on what you like to see. That way we can all learn something new about what's the best way of saying something about yourself

Scannability: Whatever you write assume that people will scan it initially rather than read it. That's just a fact of life. Content is wasted if people don't read it so you need to help people decide whether they want to read in more depth

Scanning is helped by:
  • summary up front - I always try to start a blog post by saying what it's about (check this one!). My posts are long so people who are interested will read on while I won't waste the time of those who are not interested. My website summarises me as follows. What's the first thing people read on your "About the Artist" page? When do you get to the point about who you are and what you do?
Katherine Tyrrell is a British contemporary artist who is also an author and teacher.
  • signposting
    • use headings intelligently; resist being clever in favour of being informative - make sure they say what the section is about
    • embolden key points
  • accessible language - keep it simple and AVOID long paragraphs with complex sentence structures and/or technical or esoteric language.
Personal information: At a minimum, tell me what nationality you are and where you live! It's so much easier for people to make a personal connection with you if they know just a little bit of personal information. Say as much as you are comfortable with - but say something! I don't tell people anything about my age or marital or family status - so far as I'm concerned they simply aren't relevant to my art. However if you're comfortable mentioning personal facts that's fine - just make the information relevant to what you produce. For example, it's fine to talk about having children if you're producing portraits of children and paint your own children.

You can drip feed more information about you in the rest of your website. It doesn't all have to be on the 'about the artist' page. I know I really enjoy the websites of people who tell me why they choose to draw or paint particular subjects.

Photograph(s): A photo helps you to make connections. Let's face it most of us are going to go for flattering over contemporary(!) - plus some of us always seem to be the ones holding the camera rather than the subject so actually getting a photo of yourself is not always easy! I personally don't like what I call "studio shots" and would much rather see people doing what they do if possible. To that end, I've scattered a few small photos of me sketching in the field throughout my website. Finally - smiles are always good - if they're natural rather than forced! I use a photograph of me which is probably the best most recent photo taken of me smiling. If you don't want your face on the internet try cropping it.

A photograph of your work in an exhibition or on a wall also really helps people to understand what it looks like in context.

Education and professional development: If you have relevant information to share, then why not share it? Being awarded a relevant art-related degree or - if you're teaching workshops - a formal teaching qualification is relevant information.

I don't mention my two degrees or my two professional qualifications on my portfolio site because neither seem to me to be particularly relevant to art. However I do have a degree of education and a teaching qualification and these are relevant to teaching workshops!

Of course, it goes without saying don't ever make the mistake of claiming a qualification just because you followed a course. You've either got it or you haven't. Misleading people can only serve to undermine your reputation when if people find out - as they will.

For example, I'm officially counted as an alumnus by the University of the Arts in London because of classes I took at Central St. Martins for a few years. However I would never ever suggest I have degree in art - because I don't!

Your journey as an artist: Do people want to know your journey to where you've got to? I'm ambivalent on this one and I think it's got something to do with the way people write about their journey as an artist. I'd tell it if an interesting story or it's relevant to your art right now. I'd personally avoid negatives unless you've got the silver lining story to tell as well.

Media: Say what sort of media you work in. People can have very decided views about what sort of work they will exhibit in a gallery or like to buy.

Exhibitions: If you've participated in quite a few exhibitions consider having a separate page for these. These can tend to turn into long lists. It helps if you group them. The most important thing is to separate out solo shows from group exhibitions. I think it's also helpful to make a distinction between national art societies and local art societies. This is what I say on my "about the artist" page - and I then provide a link to a separate page which lists the exhibitions .
I've had work in group exhibitions in the UK, the USA and Canada. I've also had work accepted into juried annual exhibitions of national art societies.
Collections: Make sure you list the most important up front. Again with lists of names people lose attention very quickly. If you've sold overseas and want to do so again then say where your work is now.

Press and editiorial: If you've generated editorial or articles in either the traditional or online media then that's worth a mention. If it's online be sure to provide a link or access to a readable copy.

Personal data and communication: An online form or an email is essential for communication. I refer people from this blog to my website where they can see a graphic of my contact email address. That might seem over the top but it keeps the spammers at bay and the number of queries I get to a reasonable number.

Personally I'd never ever give out a telephone number on a website. That's something you can provide to somebody after you've decided to converse with them. Would you give your telephone number out to a spammer?

In terms of where you live, remember if you're selling direct from your website then it's a legal requirement that it includes an address (more about that later this week). The address needs to be real and one associated with your business but it doesn't need to be your home address.

You must provide clear and understandable information to enable the consumer to decide whether to buy. This must include your business name and, if payment is required in advance, your postal address.

Office of Fair Trading - Distance selling Regulations - Prior information

The Artist Statement - This is essential - but it's not the same as the CV or resume - and is the subject of tomorrow's post. I mix my statement in with the rest of the data discussed above.

In the meantime I'll be adding this post into a new site I've set up How to write an Artist's Statement - Resources for Artists. If you have any links to sites which provide helpful information for people improving their "About the Artist" page please give details in a comment below.

Over to you

What I'd like you to do is suggest (and provide links to) examples of what you think are really good "About the Artist" pages relating to the CV/resume data.


  1. Your bullrushes are sublime, Katherine. You have really made those ponds your own and you are elevating coloured pencil to such a beautiful level in this series.

    As usual your professional advice is also very timely.

  2. Katherine, this is all such good advice! And perfect timing to boot; I can really use this info as I'm in the process of re-doing mine.

    I'll have to get back to you about quality examples, but I so agree that people are buying "you" along with the art you create. Just like seeing an interview or reading more about a musician can interest you more in their music, I think an artist's marketing would be similar.

    Thanks again, and can't wait for the next installment!

  3. That Peice you've got on this post is AMAZING! So much rhythm in it!

    Thanks for this post! I was trying to cook up my artist statement today so I am really excited you are putting that on tomorrow!

  4. You already know I really, really believe in this advice. I think the most important thing an artist can do is put forward a cohesive front -- your art and your personality and your website should all be saying the same thing.

  5. I do love those bullrushes, especially the way you've shown how the sunlight creates little halos around them.

    Just had to alter my profile blurb after I read this piece, and it gives me plenty to think about as I am currently re-doing my website. Can't wait for tomorrow's article on the statement!

  6. The rushes are amazing Katherine - the light!

    A great post - essentially the 5 "w"'s of journalism apply - who, what, where, why and how.

    It's tough writing about yourself so I got some outside help. Others see you in a way you don't see yourself. It is helpful to look at it like an interview... and that it is always evolving. The process had a huge impact on my recent web redesign and how I thought about what the function of the site was - the blog aside.

    I am looking forward to part 2..

  7. I love your rushes! Been absent for a week - lot of catching up to do. Off to read...............

  8. LOVE those bullrushes Katherine!

  9. nice rosey light

    you're going somewhere katherine

    pedantic question (to be ignored as you wish) : shadows... with such strong lateral side-light the shadows would be going horizontally.... across & not down like the rushes... or would that smash up the rhythm too much... a real challenge tho'.

  10. Thanks for all the positive comments - as always they're much appreciated

  11. Adam - I'm still exploring the subject matter of the ponds.

    I've been experimenting a lot with photographic references in later afternoon light. The subject matter is actually contre jour - against the setting sun which is about an inch or so above the top line of the crop.

    This was an exercise in muted tones and a strong graphical design of vertical and horizontal lines.

    This one didn't come off quite as I'd hoped partly because of the problems experienced in getting saturation on the support.

  12. Hi Katherine,

    You couldn't be more correct in stating that an artist's story and personality play a huge role in a buyer's decision about whether to purchase the work. I find that being open and accessible to collectors is one of my best strategies for online art sales.

    The artist's statement is always the hardest piece to write, I think. One suggestion I have for other artists is to do interviews with the press and then look at what they've written as a starting point.

    You might be interested in the way I've set up my CV, bibliography and documentation on my site. The CV is a separate blog that can be sorted by categories, making it easy to update instantly and easy to format as well. Likewise, the bibliography is a separate blog that lists all my press and media. It can be sorted by date or category and presents a simple list format with the option to view each item in more detail. I also have a google map showing the location of my sales around the world and a press kit with high res images for journalists.

    The coding for my blog(s) was pretty extensive and customized, but the results have been so worthwhile. I've made six figures in art sales for the last couple years, all through my TypePad blog.

    I'd be interested in your feedback or opinions.


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