This blog focuses on the joys, challenges and lessons of living the creative life—and make a living doing it!
Author Gayle Mahoney is an arts marketing consultant and has shown and sold her own artwork for over 25 years.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ten tips for a successful art/craft business

1. Make a good product
If your product isn't well-designed, well-made and unique or special in one way or another, you will have an uphill climb trying to sell it. Work that has these qualities is work you will be proud of, and your customers will want to join in your enthusiasm for the work by buying it.

2. Research the market
Having any successful business requires constant research about the kinds of product you sell, appropriate pricing, trends, production and technology. For your business plan, you also need to write about your market and how your product fits into it. Resources include trade publications and organizations, local, state and federal government statistics, visiting shows and galleries, talking to other artists, and searching the internet. Many libraries have small business centers/resources that will help you find what you are looking for.

3. Write and regularly update your business plan
Take the time to soul-search, crunch the numbers and write a good business plan. Even if you don't expect to apply for loans or seek outside investors, going through the exercise will give you realistic expectations about the costs and benefits of having your own business. It will help you determine the nature of your business, what your selling opportunities are, and determine what kind of products you will make.

4. Invest time and research into creating branding for your business
Put some time and effort into coming up with a good business name, designing a logo, and having a "personality" to your brand. Make sure all collateral material is well-designed and has a consistent look. This provides a visual identification for your business and implies overall professionalism and that you take yourself seriously as an artist. 

5. Make sure your communications are effective
If you are an artist, the work is the most important thing. But marketing your work takes time and is a necessity that can't be ignored. If you have limited time, make sure that your efforts reach as many people as possible. Social media, e-newsletters and using your website as a viable tool will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

6. Look at customer service as an investment
Do whatever you can to make your customers feel good about you and your product. They are paying your bills, after all! Time invested working through problems and prompt response when they have an issue or question are very cost-effective ways to build your reputation as an artist and good business person. Make sure your policy about returns and repairs is spelled out on your website or printed in a brochure when you make a sale. Have a plan about how to deal with difficult customers.

7. Know when to do it yourself and when to pay someone to do it for you
If you need help with accounting, PR, photographing your work, building your website, consider whether you should do it yourself or pay someone to do it for you. Ask yourself:
A. If I do it, will the result be professional quality?
B. Would anyone ever pay me to do that task?
C. Would I be able to do it as quickly as a pro?
If you answer "yes" to at least 2 out of 3, it may be worth it for you to do it yourself (depending on how much time you have). If you answer "no" to two or more, you should pay someone else to do it for you. You will save time and money in the long run. 

8. Always use best business practices
Know about and adhere to business licensing, taxes, permits and regulations in your area before you start your business. Most government agencies have made it extremely easy to manage sales tax, etc. online. Talk to other artists or small business organizations if you need help in any of these areas. 

9. Don't be afraid to invest in yourself 
Artists don't always take themselves seriously as a business so they don't spend money on things that fall under the category "cost of doing business." Examples include not having business cards, a website, not investing in business basics like a fax machine or separate phone line. All of these things are worth it because they save time and show that you are truly a professional. If you don't take yourself seriously professionally no one else you!

10. Rotate your products
Don't get locked into making the same old thing year in and year out. You will lose even the most devoted customers if you aren't offering them variety in what you produce. A good rule is to rotate out 20-30% of your product lines every year and rotate in 20-30% new products. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Sign up for my arts marketing class- registration now open!

"Creative Marketing for Artists and Crafters" class at Adult School of Montclair
Tuesday nights starting October 12, ending November 30 (8 weeks)
Tuition: $95 
Location: Montclair High School
100 Chestnut St. Montclair, NJ 07042

This is a fun and creative class to apply your creative skills and sensibilities to the business side of art. Artists and crafters will discover how to market their wares creatively and innovatively using practical tools that get work recognized and sold. Learn through in-class exercises how to create a viable business plan, set up a website for promotions, develop pricing techniques, and cultivate gallery and niche contacts to expand exposure and income.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Doing it your way

I am still working on my portfolio, so stay tuned for progress reports!... In the meantime, here is a tasty tidbit for you:

My friend, Rene Syler ("Good Enough Mother," broadcast journalist, author, blogger and all-around media maven), has just posted an article about the process of reinventing herself after some very difficult personal and professional struggles… and how she set her own rules in the process. 

Rene has been a constant source of inspiration to me as a kindred being who is making her way through the ups and downs of the creative life. In her post she talks specifically about the role of blogging in her personal transformation.

She has a lot of other cool stuff on her website, too!

I will soon be posting a guest blog article on the Good Enough Mother website: Five Things You Can Do to Foster Creativity in Your Child.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Free online portfolios for creative professionals

I read about Behance, an online community for creative professionals, in a LinkedIn group "Visual Artists and Their Associates." (If you are on LinkedIn but haven't explored LinkedIn Groups, I highly recommend it!) Behance allows you to post multiple portfolios (images, audio and video) for free! You can also post your experience/resume, and get feedback from other artists about your portfolio. You also have the ability to download an ad-free PDF version of your portfolio to send to clients. The website isn't limited to visual arts, there are portfolios for writers, exhibition designers, even ice sculptors. You can also choose your own favorites and "follow" other artists in the network.

One of the most attractive features about Behance is that allows you to link your portfolio directly to your LinkedIn page, making your images directly accessible in that platform.

I decided to give it a try. The first section is a series of questions designed to identify and characterize your work by style, medium and segment, plus personal information including your website, email address and twitter account. The second section allows you to make multiple portfolios (called "projects"), so you can organize your work any way you like. 

I am in the process of putting my portfolios up, and will keep you posted about my progress. The interface is very clean and easy to use, and you have the option to use their very clean templates or upload a pdf page if you want to create your own layout. Photos need to be RGB and under 1megabyte and I am sure videos would have parameters too, so you may need to resize your images before you can upload. The layouts seem to prefer horizontal images but there may be a way to work around that. I have used it with both Safari and Firefox browsers without issue.

I really like the fact that it is designed with creative pros in mind, unlike many of the template-based web solutions that offer few options for artists. The connectivity with LinkedIn is a major plus.

I will let you know when my page is launched! Let me know if you try it, too, and please post your comments about Behance here.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Angel or devil?

Today a colleague and I were working on her website. She told me she had seen a button that said "Get in your studio and MAKE SOMETHING!" 

As artists, we sometimes have two little beasties sitting on our shoulders. The one on the right shoulder says "Get in the studio and MAKE SOMETHING!" The one on the left shoulder says "Get out of your studio and SELL SOMETHING!" While both can cause us to wake from a deep sleep in a cold sweat in the middle of the night (that reminds me, I have been procrastinating about a couple of invoices and a couple contracts I need to print out, sign and mail ASAP!) what was I talking about? Oh yeah, cold sweats!

What if we stopped fighting those little voices and actually surrendered to them? What if I stopped what I was doing when the creative "angel" said "MAKE SOMETHING!"? Or surrendered when the marketing devil said "SELL SOMETHING!"? and did what I needed to do to get those monkeys off my back? Maybe I would make more, and sell more! What do you think? How do you balance creative time with business/marketing time? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Casting the Net Wider - guest blog by Richard Wilde

Richard Wilde is founder of, an online artists community that allows anyone to exhibit, sell and buy great artwork.

Artists are very creative people, and in tough economic times it is worth thinking a little bit more creatively about where your work is sold, and how else it can be sold.

When times are hard and sales are down, it would be silly to just sit around and hope for the best, so why not think about casting the net wider, and trying to sell your art in different ways and different places.

There are many ways to make money from your art, including licensing it for sale on other products. I personally set up a murals wallpaper company recently at,  that allows artists and photographers to sell their work as huge wall murals. I licence the work from artists for reproduction, and pay them £5 per sq metre of the sold, which means some good money can be earned on large jobs.
Another great way of licensing you work is to have it reproduced on products and have either an image you have created or a pattern/collage of your work which forms and cool and quirky unique product. This can be done on a large scale but also a small scale as well. It’s also a fantastic way to improve your brand as an artist and get your work noticed in circles that may not normally find you.

So think about other sales avenues and how you can get your artwork noticed in other areas, and this will help you get through these tough times and will also improve your brand, scope and popularity as an artist!
– Richard Wilde

Artist and illustrator Mary Engelbreit graciously offers advice on her website to artists who are interested in licensing their work to other parties. Click here to see her tips for artists.

Have you had success licensing your work? I would love to hear about it!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Montclair Arts Day

"They came. They smiled. They were photographed. More than 100 artists from many disciplines gathered at the Montclair High School amphitheater on Wednesday, May 19 for a special photograph in celebration of Arts Day in Montclair. The Township Council declared May 19, 2010 as Arts Day to recognize “the many contributions that Montclair artists and those employed in the creative economy have made to the world and to Montclair in particular.” It was a great day -- for the arts -- in Montclair." Read More on the DestinationMontclair website

Here is the photo of all the artists who could make it at 4pm on a weekday. It was great to meet so many other artists, writers and musicians, and it was great to be at the inaugural event:

Photo by Andy Foster at Gallery 51

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Creative projects for preserving photos and other keepsakes

I am giving a presentation at the Montclair Public Library with book artist Elaine Gongora about creative ways to preserve memories and mark special events (June 2 at 1:30 pm). I have posted some resources and ideas for making creative keepsakes here.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Apps for Artists

Here are some great Apps for artists who use an iPhone or iPod touch. Many of these Apps are also available for Bluetooth devices and iPad, check your mobile phone app store.
And please feel free to post your favorites to Comments.

Galleries, Collections and Art History Apps

Photos of famous paintings, info about artists.

Brooklyn Museum Mobile Collection
Allows you to browse and search the museum's collection.

Online auction catalogues.

Love Art: National Gallery, London
250 works from the collection, with audio and visual commentary.

Open Culture
Mobile access to educational audio and visual collections.

Gallery of Painters and information about the artists.

ArtNear/ArtNear Pro
Find art exhibits and screenings nearby using Location and GPS; lists and maps.
Pro version includes images, search filters, calendar and bookmark options.
Free version, plus $1.99 version, ArtNear Pro

Painting and Sketching Apps:

Sketch/paint program. This program was used to create a New Yorker cover (June 1 2009)

Type Drawing
Lets you draw with type characters, cool effects.

Painting app for iPhone and iPod touch. Allows you to add multiple layers, including photos to build or trace an image.

Painting software for iPhone

Vellum App
Simple sketching program, beautiful line quality

3D sketching
Jazz Sculptor
Create 3D sculpture on your iPhone
Free version/ $4.99 Jazz Sculptor Pro

SculptMaster 3D
Carve clay-like material with your fingers to create digital sculpture
Free version, $3.99 version

Photo and Animation Tools

3D gallery
Create a 3D gallery using your own pictures
$4.99  Lite version: Free

Flip Book
Animation software: turns doodles into animation
$4.99, free Lite version

Light Painting
Lets you use your iPhone or iPod as a light-painting tool.

MobileMe gallery
App allows you to access your MobileMe albums and movies via iPhone or iPod touch.

Movie Maker
Allows you to make stop-action movies using photos and your iPhone.

QuadCamera Multishot
Lets your iPhone shoot continuous photos and add a variety of effects.

Old Camera
Adds retro camera effects to your iPhone.

Toy Camera
Creates Holga-like effects for your iPhone camera.

Sepia Camera
Automatically create sepia images with your iPhone.

Color Tools:

Ben Color Capture
A color identifying tool for Benjamin Moore Paints. Lets you tap a photo and matching Benjamin Moore color palettes appear.

Color Expert
Pantone color matching tool. Extracts colors from photos.

Color Wheel
Helps you pick color schemes intuitively.

Just for Fun:

Art Vanitas
Wallpaper images for your iPhone.

JD Reflect
Play with an array of color and designs to create kaleidoscopic images.

Do you have any favorites? How has your iPhone helped your art? I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Artists Portfolio/Gallery Website – Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) Checklist

(This is a guest article by Richard Wilde, owner of the SEO company SEO Merseyside, and the founder of the artists community website, a website that allows artists to sell their work as giclee art prints, canvas art prints, mural wallpaper and more)

As an artist, you may have a small checklist put together to make sure that your impact on the web is fine tuned for success...

— Great artwork lovingly created over the years – Check!
— Domain name purchased – Check!
— Beautifully put together portfolio website to showcase work online – Check!
— Search engine optimisation well planned and implemented – Erm... maybe not...
Many people forget the importance of optimising your website for the search engines, or SEO as it is more widely known. SEO is extremely important, and if it is not implemented then you will be completely lost on the web. The fact people ignore it is very strange, you wouldn’t write a book, get it printed and then not put it in a shop for people to see and buy, or you wouldn’t organise and hold an exhibition and then block out the windows and lock the door. SEO is about getting yourself seen and noticed on the web, which is just another marketplace like any other space where you show your art, so put a little bit of effort in and reap the rewards... because many artists don’t so you can gain a strong advantage!
SEO is not a dark art and by following this key checklist below, it will be a good start for your portfolio website, or any further reading on the subject you would like to do...

You need to make sure that you are targeting the right keywords for you, your business, or your kind of art. To do this, it is usually a good start to do a brainstorm about what you are about and what people are likely to search for when looking for your products/services.

Once this is done you can think about fine-tuning your keywords and phrases. To do this, type ‘keyword tool’ into Google and choose the top result. This tool allows you to type in any phrase or keyword and get the monthly search volumes for your country and globally, as well as a host of alternative words and phrases for you to choose from. So it allows you to choose the best words to target easily.

Page Titles and META Tags
Page Titles and META Tags help search engines understand what your website is about, so make sure these are implemented in your code or content management system to achieve success. Also, follow these simple guidelines:

Page Title – No more than 70 characters long
META description – between 130 and 160 characters
Meta Keywords – max of 5 comma separated key phrases/words, and no more than 4 words between each comma

Page Content
The wording on your web pages needs to reflect what you want to be found for in the search engines, so make sure you mention the words and phrases you want to get found for in your website’s content. Also, if you have images then make sure you use ‘Alt Tags’ on them to explain what they are. Also, if you use ‘heading tags’, make sure your H1 tag reads the same of similar to your key target phrases.

For many gallery and portfolio websites, images form the bulk of a websites’ content. There are a couple of things that can be done to your images to help Google understand what is on your page, they are...

Alt Tags – Every image has an ‘alt tag’, this is basically an alternative text to the image, and is what a search engine bot reads and interprets to understand what’s on a page. So use your keywords in your alt tags, but don’t over-do it, keep it short!

Image Name – it is also useful to name the image file the same as your alt tag for consistency.
Unfortunately there is no substitute for good old fashioned text to help search engines understand what is on your page and help you move up the search engines. A way around this may be to include a short description about each image, letting people know how it was created etc, while at the same time subtly entering keywords and phrases.

One of the most important things you can do with regards to moving up the search engines is to get links to your site. You should follow some simple steps when trying to get links though, those being...
Relevant Sites: It is pointless to get links from a site completely unrelated to your own, so try to find websites that are suitable and match your own websites content.
Google Page Rank: Generally, websites with a higher ‘Page Rank’ or PR are better to get links from, so make more of an effort when trying to get a link from a site with a high PR.
Text is better than Images: Text links are better to get than links from images and banners.
Anchor Text: If possible, try and make the anchor text in the link to your site read similar to your target key phrases.
Don’t use link farms – Whatever you do, don’t use these and if you don’t know what these are then it should stay that way, forget about them.

Round up
If you follow these steps and maybe do a bit of extra reading if you wish, then this should stand you in a good position against other artists doing a similar thing to yourself.

Finally, if you didn’t understand any of the phrases mentioned above, just type them into Google; there is info all over the web for this kind of stuff and it is not complicated so you can find your answer really easily.

Playing with fire in Atlanta

I went down to Atlanta last week to help Kathleen Plate, of Smart Glass Jewelry, experiment with incorporating enamels into her glass work. Kathleen uses recycled glass bottles as the primary medium in her work. She slices the bottles into rings, then slumps them in a kiln, resulting in smooth-edged, organic glass rings that she then turns into jewelry and home décor items. The work is beautiful, but working in glass limits what Kathleen can do because of  the limited color palettes of the glass bottles and because of the properties of glass as a material.

We worked for two days experimenting with enamels on copper, silver and glass. Kathleen was not particularly drawn to the metals, but was intrigued by the idea of using enamels directly on the glass rings. We had some technical issues in our experiments because the enamels we had on hand were better matched to metal than to glass, but with some experimentation with enamels with different expansion rates Kathleen will most likely get a good result. This will allow her to add new colors to both her jewelry and décor lines.
You can visit Kathleen’s website here:

I also worked with Jen Cleere of Fetching Tags, teaching her enamel basics. She is adding a new line of pet memorial containers to her collection of pet-related crafts. These beautiful, hand-crafted wooden boxes will incorporate customized inset enamel medallions. It was exciting to see how working in enamels opened up a load of new possibilities for Jen’s creations. I can’t wait to see the finished products! The weather was so nice we set up and worked outside, with the kiln sitting on her goat milking table. I had never done enamels with 5 week old kids bleating in the background, but I rather enjoyed it!
Click here to visit Jen’s website:

While in Atlanta, photographer Terry Greene shot some of my newest jewelry pieces for me. I also got a call from the Montclair Art Museum, requesting that I do a trunk sale in the museum store. So it was a very productive week!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

If you make it (well), they will come

I have spoken with several artists lately who are frustrated by being pigeon-holed into a particular style or medium when trying to market their work. Some of this pressure comes from galleries and retailers who have had success selling the work; if it sells well, keep it coming! Some of it is self-imposed, if something sells why make anything else?

In the commerce of art and craft, in order to match potential buyers with products, those products must be put into categories the buyer will understand, and as an artist expands her work the buyer wants it to be done in a somewhat predictable way. From a marketing perspective this makes sense. 

However, I think there is an inherent conflict between the structure and function of the marketplace and the way most artists are wired. We create work out of the need to explore ourselves and the world around us, but if we want to take our work to the marketplace, this exploration can be stymied as we second-guess ourselves and try to predict if a piece will sell. 

I have seen many successful artists fall into creative crisis because they have lost the connection with why they are artists in the first place. They have traded passion for production, which may be preferable financially but not necessarily emotionally.

I think the work and creative process should always come first. If we create good, thoughtful, technically strong work, it will sell. We may need to find a different market if we change mediums, style or techniques, but that shouldn't dissuade us from allowing ourselves to grow creatively.

What do you think? 
Do you think about your market when you start a new painting? If so, is there anything wrong with that? 
How do you find the balance between considering your marketplace and keeping your work fresh?
How have you found a new market when your way of working changed? 

I would love to hear from you!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Promoting Online – How Your Art and Ideas Can Spread Faster Than Ever

(This is a guest blog post by Richard Wilde, founder of, an online artists community that allows anyone to exhibit, sell and buy great artwork. Please visit to read my post about Personal Branding for the Artist.)

If you are an artist and you’re not using the internet to your full advantage, then you are missing out on a huge amount of publicity, opportunities, sales and influence as an artist, no matter what kind of work you produce.

Good old fashioned exhibitions are great, but if you really want your work and ideas to spread faster and further than they ever have done before, then use of the internet is probably the most effective way of doing so.

I recently wrote an ebook on how to market your artwork, and talked about many marketing ideas, including how to promote your work online. Below, I’d like to expand on some of these points and add a few more especially for readers of this blog. If you take these ideas and implement them consistently, then you will start to see a growing pattern in the popularity of your work on the web, which will open so many more doors.

If you don’t have a blog, then seriously think about getting one. They are great for keeping your fans updated and finding new fans as well. Also, if you are passionate about something, it will show through in your writing, and your niche market will find you and tell others about you; spreading your ideas faster than you ever could do on your own.

Social Networking
Ignoring Facebook, Twitter and many other niche social networking platforms is madness if you want to do well online. These platforms are generally free and provide so many functions to help you get your artwork noticed, sold and also gain bigger followings of fans and admirers. My website,, provides some social networking features like being able to create groups for your kind of art, and also networking opportunities with other artists. It’s not as advanced as Facebook obviously, but it’s good if you’re an artist who wants to interact with like minded people.

Social Bookmarking
Social bookmarking is also a good way to get your work noticed. Sites like Stumbleupon, Digg and Delicious all allow you to ‘bookmark’ your work on the web with keywords and phrases. Then when people search for these kind of words, web pages with your work on can get picked up and seen by new people who may have never have found your art if not.

Add Your Work to Other Websites
This may not be for everyone, especially if you just want to keep everything on your own website, but adding your work to other sites that list, show and sell art is a great way to make sales and get your art noticed in places you wouldn’t have done previously. If a website has good quality work on it already, it won’t devalue yours, so I personally don’t see a downside to doing this.

If you apply these tips above then you are likely to gain more success on the internet. The golden rule is to be consistent and focus on quality in everything you do. People like to see regular patterns, so if you do the above regularly then it will get noticed and people will come back for more. So don’t just write a blog post or write something on twitter once a month for example, it’s basically pointless.

I hope this article will be of some use to people, and if you would like to read my full ebook exploring these ideas and others further, feel free to download it and share it with others at If you are an artist or art enthusiast, then you are also very welcome to join the community I have at if you join, take these ideas on and add your work and comment on others to get yours noticed as well.

Monday, March 15, 2010

More on LinkedIn Groups

I have had a LinkedIn account for several years, but once I set it up I neglected it for the most part. About a year ago I went in and updated my information. Within a week I was contacted by two galleries out of the blue who asked to see my work and I got a consulting project.  

While I don't always use LinkedIn to its full potential, recently I have signed up to participate in several LinkedIn groups, mini-networks within LinkedIn, organized around common interests. I get weekly emails that give a digest of the discussion threads for each group. I have actively participated in two of these threads that have been of great interest to me- one about artists who work with charities in fundraising, and one about how blogging can benefit artists. 

Both discussions have provided practical, technical and creative advice as well as collaboration with other artists/business people to trade web links, share tips and even guest-blog on each other's sites. I have been blown away about how friendly the people in the groups are and how open they are to both asking for and giving advice. Through these groups I have access to hundreds of arts professionals that are more than willing to answer my questions about business, techniques, legal issues, and creativity. 

So… if you are already on LinkedIn:
- Update your information regularly.
- Add your website url, blog, Facebook page, Twitter name, etc. to your LinkedIn profile. 
- Join some groups! It's easy: log into LinkedIn. Click on the "Groups" tab. In the search window, type in some keywords to locate groups you may be interested in. Scroll through the results and click on groups you want to join. That's all there is to it!

Some groups I belong to are: 
American Ceramic Society, Art Business, Blogger's Network, Green Design Pros, MuseumLink, NJ Association of Women Business Owners, Visual Artists and their advocates, Sculptors, and Metal Clay Artists.

If you are not on LinkedIn… it is a professional networking site, similar to Facebook but it's all work and no play! Seriously, there are great tools to help you expand your contacts and build professional relationships. It is free and easy to sign up. Give it a try:

Monday, March 8, 2010

Are you a slave to your medium, techniques or processes?

Good or bad, the trend right now in "art" is that the idea is what matters, the execution only matters in that it supports the idea. The materials don't matter at all, unless the idea is about the material. Since the materials don't matter, and the execution is an open prospect, it doesn't really matter who does the production, or who touches the materials, as long as the artist is the foreman of the project and makes sure the final product is true to the idea.

This allows artists to use whatever media they like to express their idea. Because it is acceptable for the production of art to be a team effort, the artist is able to call upon the expertise of an engineer, a welder, a paint specialist, a chef… whatever is necessary to execute the work even if the artist doesn't have those skills herself. A fabulous example of this is Cristo's and Jean-Claude's The Gates that was installed in New York's Central Park a few years ago. Hundreds of people worked at various stages of production to pull off such a large-scale endeavor, but the transformation of Central Park was a successful execution of the artists' idea.

There is a downside to the idea being all-important, though. Where does that leave technique? Many artists secretly practice their craft not because of the ideas of art, but primarily for tactile reasons- because they are in love with pigments, or they dream about getting their fingers into clay (of course none of us would ever admit to such carnal motivations!). For many artists, to do work that is only about idea and abandons technique would be creative suicide. And if all that is required of art is an idea, it doesn't mean that idea is a good one! It is all too easy to just be clever, or cynical, instead of adding something important to the conversation.

Roberta Smith wrote in the New York Times, in her article "Post-Minimal to the Max," February 10, 2010: 
What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned.

(Read the full article here.)

Smith points out several painters who are managing to push painting along, even as they are under the radar of the temples of the art world. 

On the other hand, on the craft side of things, while there is some movement toward more conceptual work, in my observation the world of craft as a whole has yet to break free from the bonds of material, technique, formalism or pedagoguery like the "art" world has. Much of the conceptual work in craft can still be traced to specific schools or teachers, and the trend has not yet splashed into the craft zeitgeist. The question remains as to how far the conceptual envelope may be pushed if function is one of the definitions of craft. (If you make a ring out of razor blades so that it really cannot be worn, does it cease to be jewelry and instead become "art"?)

An inherent part of craft is function, so in that sense I believe there should and will always be some connection to material, but it can be an unexpected material, and it can be fabricated in unexpected ways. When we put a particular technique before the idea, or don't experiment and push the boundaries of the techniques we learned in school, sometimes our work can suffer by those limitations and ends up looking like a knock-off of our teacher's work. Instead of crafts people experimenting with newly developed materials, processes or technology, we often eschew them before we even know what their possibilities are. Why are we so afraid to break out of the boxes we have created for ourselves?

In craft, some people feel guilty (or self-righteous) about simplifying production processes by having work cast, using technology, or using assistants. Many craft shows require that all work and components be made by "the artist's hand," but unless one has their own silver mine, tannery or mill, it is impossible to comply with such a request. There is a moralism about "the artist's hand" in craft that disappeared from the "art" world decades ago. In reality it's a standard that is almost impossible to follow to the letter if one is trying to make a living from selling their work. I don't know a single craftsperson who makes a living from selling their work without the use of production processes that take place either outside their studio or with the help of at least one assistant. 

The craft movement of today actually started in the late 1800s as the Arts and Crafts movement. It was a response to the mass-produced objects of industrialization and the decorative excesses of the Victorian age. The movement's claims were that functional objects had inherent beauty in their form, that materials should be respected for their organic qualities, that making work by hand was a good and noble enterprise, and that good design was a democratic right and that even the poor should be surrounded by aesthetically pleasing objects. Despite these lofty ideals, almost every piece made by the Arts and Crafts gods Stickley, Hunter, Morris and the rest, were not one-of-a-kind pieces made one-by-one by hand, but were made in mass production in small factories by a host of workers under the direction of the designer. 

My point is that whether we see ourselves as being on the "art" or the "craft" side, or maybe with one foot in both realms, it's easy and comfortable to settle into current trends or the familiarity of a technique. But that can be deadly to the quality and relevance of our work. Unless we force ourselves out of our comfort zone now and then (whether it be strict adherence to a philosophy or a technique), we will just churn out the same old stuff. I would like to see the "the artist's hand" find its way back into "art," but I think the craft world would benefit from being liberated from some of its self-imposed rules of formalism and pedagoguery.

I would love to hear your comments!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lead balloons

I used to play the trumpet in a swing band. We played a number of venues around New York City just as swing music was making a resurgence in the late 1990s. There were some great musicians in the band, and we practiced a lot, both on our own and as a group. What amazed me was that we could give the same quality of performance to several audiences, but the reaction could be completely different. There were a few times where something magical happened and the connection we felt with the audience exceeded a musical performance and lifted us, collectively, into a place of transcendence and deep communion.

As an artist, achieving that "place" of transcendent connection with my audience is an ever-present goal for me. It is a transitory place and rarely encountered. But having been there, I like how it feels to have someone have a new experience as a reaction to my work. Even if it is something as simple as liking a pair of earrings that I made, if someone responds or "gets it" I feel that I have done my job.

I have shown my sculpture enough times that I know the range of engagement people will have, some will connect with it very deeply right away, some people are inquisitive but some effort is required to engage, some people understand it but just plain don't like it. And sometimes the work goes over like a lead balloon. I recently had a show opening where few people engaged at all. Ironically it was the strongest body of work I have put up in a long time, so the self-doubt I would normally feel in such a situation was kept at bay. The show looked great in the space. But it was the wrong audience for my work and I suppose was expecting too much from them.

Marketing is the process of using all the skills we have to create the conduit for our work that will allow the transcendent connection we strive for as artists. It is the process of finding and priming our audience so that they are as receptive as possible to our ideas and creations. It is an open-ended experiment, and sometimes we completely miss the mark.

Sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug, sometimes you're the squeegee that has to scrape the bug off the windshield and figure out a better way to go about it next time around.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

3 Random Tips and a Little Inspiration

Here are three tips and a little inspiration for you:

Affordable rubber stamps from your own designs
If you work in clay any kind, papercrafts, collage, scrap booking or any other art form where you use textures or rubber stamps, there is a business associated with United Cerebral Palsy in San Diego that makes custom rubber stamps at amazingly affordable prices. The company will make a 9" x 7" sheet from your design for $32.00 plus $5 shipping per sheet. If you have ever bought rubber stamps you know this is a steal! Plus the company supports the independence of disabled people through training and employment. 
Here is the company:
Here is a related site that explains in great detail what to send and how the stamps may be used in clay applications:

A little bird told me there is a new article up on wikiHelp about how to market your jewelry biz via the web. Who knew? Well, I did since I wrote the article… please feel free to add your own hints and tips to the article. If you are not familiar with wikiHow, it functions just like Wikipedia only it has step-by-step instructions about how to do just about anything. 
my article:
If you use iGoogle as your web browser home page, you can add wikiHow's "how-to" of the day… Today's entries were "How to Wash Makeup Brushes" and "How to Make Chewing Gum from Scratch."

Groups and more groups…
If you have surrendered to social media and are on LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. you can set up your own "Group" to promote your work. I haven't set up a group on LinkedIn, but have joined several that are related to the arts and arts marketing. I get weekly email updates that list conversations in the thread. Just by reading these emails I learned about podcasts that give step by step instructions about how to optimize a web page so it gets more hits, advice about pricing work, and discussions about every aspect of art theory and practice. I am enjoying the exploration right now… but by joining these groups I have expanded my connections with very little effort and in very little time. On Facebook, I created my own "Fan Page" or group- I post updates about shows, events and sales, post pictures and other info. It's free, and my group members are growing- I have 28 members woo woo! I definitely need to build on that… but it's a totally free way to let people know what I am up to. Let me know if you have any social media tips to share.

Now a little inspiration...
If you live within a day's drive of NYC, or ever come here for the weekend, you MUST make a trip to see the Tim Burton exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (up through April 26). There were loads of models, props, costumes, storyboards, etc. from his movies- those were all great. But what I loved the most was seeing pages and pages and pages of his sketchbooks, where I witnessed his development as a create genius from his childhood on. The exhibition screams in silence to every artist who passes through- DRAW dammit! It was amazing to see how much work he accomplished through his goofy drawings...
Let me know if you are coming, I am a member at MOMA and can get you in for $5.
If you can't come see it in person, here are some links:

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Marketing from the Inside Out

Right now I am busy in the studio finishing pieces for an upcoming solo sculpture show at the Ocean County Artists Guild in Island Heights, NJ. As I do the final touches, I am excited about the work and the show, but I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish in the area of "marketing" in regards to the show.

The word "marketing" may evoke a number of negative feelings in the creative soul. It touches several nerves that remind us of our struggles as an artist; how the artist must wear many hats on both the business and creative side, and how guilty we might feel about not doing enough to sell when we would rather just stay in the studio and work.

I used to see myself in two very divergent roles; the creative artist who is free to make works of art unfettered; and the business "boss" who kicks the creative artist's butt to write that press release! We all know artists whose abilities lean in one direction or another—someone who is a brilliant artist who has never had a show— or someone who has little talent but is so good at marketing that they end up with a "gallery" of their own work in every shopping mall. It seems that few of us have found a happy balance between the two.

Several years ago I asked myself why I enjoyed marketing other people's products so much, but marketing my own work felt like such a chore. After some musing on the topic I realized that the reason I make art – to connect and have an exchange of ideas with people – is the central element in marketing for an artist. So I decided to "fire" the business boss within me and started looking for ways the creative part of myself could move outside of the studio to find new connections and build relationships around my art.

In practical terms what this means is that I try to extend the creative process I love outside the studio and into situations and events where I can engage through my art. This is why I think about marketing while I am actually working on the pieces I will eventually show had hopefully sell, it becomes a natural extension of my creative process instead of a heartless task.

My upcoming show is in a region where my work has not been shown before, so as I work I think about what will make the best impression on a new audience. A few ideas came to mind:  adding a photograph of me working in the studio to my artist's bio for the show; instead of just having business cards out at the opening I am going to make a stack of ATCs (artist trading cards) that reflect the new work to give to people who are particularly interested in my art. By giving something that people will want to keep, you are making a lasting impression. Every time I have done this at a show or other event, at least one person has approached me down the road about a sale, a commissioned piece or show at another venue.

The bad news is that I still need to send out press releases, manage email lists, etc. but when I think about it as building relationships, I have more enthusiasm about it and it seems almost effortless.

In the next few weeks I will be sharing specific steps you can take to find uniquely creative ways you can market your work and build your relationships with your fans. Please feel free to share any thoughts or questions you have about creative ways to market your artwork.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Curiosities: Creative Inspiration for the First Monday of the Year

Last summer, Penelope Green of The New York Times wrote "The New Antiquarians," an article about young artists and designers who reject modern influences of art, design and fashion and in their place unearth the relics of the Victorian Age to find inspiration.
Here is the link to the article:
(Make sure you click through the slide show)

A quote from Green's article:
"It’s way more than anti-modernism, this sort of deep spelunking into the past," [Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology] said. "It’s not aspirational and it’s not nostalgic. It’s a fantasy world that is almost entirely a visual collage. It’s a stitched-together, bricolage world, an alternative world."

Several blogs have surfaced in the last few years penned by self-described "neo-antiquarians" or "neo-traditionalists." These movements refer more to aesthetics in fashion and design than to politics (as Green also noted in her article), and have some of the same cultural underpinnings of the post-punk "goth" movement of the 1980s and the Anne Rice vampire-inspired "Victorian goth" subculture of the early 1990s.

One aspect of Victoriana that is embraced by the "neo-antiquarians" is the collection of specimens of art, physical and natural sciences and their presentation in cabinets, or as the Victorians called them, "curiosity cabinets." Historically, these collections had educational as well as social value. A broad and varied collection reflected one's wealth and status, but also provided a physical representation of new learning and optimism that paralleled the expansion of science and the expansion of Europeans into the New World. On a larger scale, this trend was reflected in the founding of museums of natural history that attempted to create comprehensive encyclopedias of knowledge by presenting samples of the physical, biological and anthropological sciences all under one roof. This desire to compile a collection of new learning led to the popularity of world expositions that brought everything that could be found in the world into a few acres of parkland.

The Victorians expanded their collections of artifacts and scientific specimens out of optimism about the expanding world, but today we are desperate to preserve the environment we see disappearing all around us. Maybe this is part of why the "neo-antiquarians" are drawn to this aspect of Victorian culture: feeling a connection to an era where people were more optimistic about human possibilities, and desiring to record or collect whatever we can before it disappears.

From a creative perspective, how do these ideas influence our work as artists? How do relics of the past, such as an arrowhead, shard of pottery, piece of beach glass, a rock or a feather influence the creation of your art? We all have bizarre collections of objects around our studios. How do your little collections inspire you? Discuss! Or more importantly: CREATE!

Here are a couple links for further reference:

A related blog—seems inactive right now but there are some interesting archived articles:

A gallery neo-antiquarians would love: