Monthly Archives: September 2010

Artists – what are you selling?

Are you selling your work or is the customer buying it?
But more importantly (in my view) – what are you selling?

Yes, I know I have a reputation for being obscure sometimes, so let me explain by asking some more questions.

When you cost up a piece, especially if it’s an original, or something like the stained glass my partner in crime and I make, part of the price covers the materials used, and some more takes care of the time you spent making it. That’s mom-and-pop to most artists of course, and the mark of a good business-minded artist is how carefully and realistically they account for all their costs – electricity, rent, the other running costs of their studio and so on.

But there’s another element to pricing that’s overlooked more often than not – your standing in your field, and the years you’ve spent honing your craft, developing your ‘eye’ and acquiring the skills that elevate you above the hobbyists.

Time for a characteristic digression to illustrate what I’m getting at.

There’s a probably apocryphal story in industry concerning a factory owner who’s production line has broken down, and it’s costing him big money every hour it’s not churning out products.
The factory owner calls in the engineer who spends 10 minutes examining the control panel, opens the door and presses a button. Hooray – the production line cranks back into life and products begin piling up at the end of the line.

The engineer writes out a bill for his work: £10,000.
“What – for 10 minutes of your time?” yells the factory owner.
“Ok – I’ll give you an itemised bill” says the engineer.
£75 for pressing the button; £9925 for knowing which button to press.

And here, loyal fans, is the point – it’s not just how much time you put in to that piece you’re selling – it’s how much time you’ve put in to developing your skill. And how do you value that, when pricing up a piece, or negotiating with a gallery?
And how do you communicate that to prospective buyers, who may not have heard of you until now?

Back in the commercial world, branding is how companies seek to communicate the sometimes intangible values of their products and services.
What’s your brand as an artist, and how can you build it, reshape it, and communicate it?

The first step is to think about what it is you do, and how you do it.
Do you draw on inspiration from places or things, or natural phenomena?
Do you have a unique skill or approach that gives your work distinctiveness?
Is your work born out of challenges in your life, or times you’ve endured or enjoyed?

All of these combine to make you the artist you are. And if you add in your command of technique and training you’ve had, we can build a picture of why your work is the way it is.

Branding gurus (not that I’m one, or advocating you become one either) have a structured way of distilling the essence of a brand or a business and finding ways to promote those as values that consumers will respond to.
Applying  a simpler approach to our artist endeavours, it’s still possible to identify some key points that we should seek to get across in each of our communications, or ‘touches’ as marketing folk might say.

Some of the basics include always using a sign-off for press releases, emails, artist statements, websites pages, printed catalogue or gallery entries that centres on the uniqueness of your work as an extension of you, rather than the materials you used.
Instead of describing the brushstrokes, the brushes themselves, the gouache, the gesso, the hand-stretched canvases, you could instead cut it right back and say: This piece was created using a technique I have developed over 5 years involving a light box and a negative image print.

When you’re composing written content for brochures or your website, make the content about what the customer gets when they buy your work – the experience, the vision, the uniqueness, the clothing for their walls or windows,  the colour that makes their homes interesting places to be – not just the canvas and the frame.

When you meet people and they ask what you do – how about saying ‘I create pictures that capture the remarkable colours and textures of the earth’s  geology’ instead of ‘I paint stones using sable brushes and expensive paint’?

It’s easy to dismiss those artists who’ve found a popular niche that’s become recognisable, and stick to it. But they’re doing two admirable things – they’re managing to combine customer demand with expressive desire, and they’re creating a recognisable style – a brand.

Some quick bullets to point us in the right direction:

  • Make your descriptions of your work about the intangibles the customer gets
  • Make your website about how your experience has shaped the work, not just about how it was created
  • Avoid getting too personal about the work, put its presentation in the terms the potential buyer thinks about – where will it go, how will it look, what will it say about my choice, tastes and prefernces?
  • Think about what it is that makes your work unique and find ways to get those across when meeting people
  • Find opportunities to demonstrate your work, not just show it
  • Work with potential buyers to understand what they’re looking for,  and then sell the story of your work in terms the buyer has shared with you
  • Finally, find a narrative – a brand concept – brief, not too flowery, but not aloof either, that sells your hard-earned expertise; find places and ways to use it, consistently.

I always think of Vermeer in this context – the aspect of his work that we’re most likely to think of is his use of the camera obscura to achieve dramatic perspective effects. Maybe that was Vermeer’s brand concept.
What’s yours?

Feel free to leave a comment or get in touch via my website if you want to work on your brand concept and communicate your uniqueness!

Domain Renewal Scam – Artists on alert

If you’re like me, and you have several domain names under your control, or if you’re (also like me) just a bit vague about dates, then you may not be all that sure when your website domain is due to be renewed.
An example of a domain is – the domain for my stained glass website

Sadly, there’s a scam out there that exploits this, and I wanted to bring it to you so you won’t get suckered.

Companies with names that usually include the words ‘domain’, ‘renewal’, ‘services’ etc are sending letters (yes, you remember – on paper) to domain registrants advising them that their domains are due for renewal, and requesting payment (usually by cheque).
The letter is laid out like an invoice, and is written to suggest that the company is authorised to carry out domain transfers and renewals.

To encourage you to act and not ask questions, the letter is worded to convey a sense of urgency – your domain will expire, making it available for one of your competitors to use, and your children will be possessed by the devil, etc etc.

The data on who a domain belongs to is public, although non-corporate domain registrants can opt to have some of their personal details left invisible. This public data shows when a domain is due for renewal, so it’s easy to check on yours (or someone else’s).

So what happens if you get worried that your domain is about to expire and send off a cheque in a panic?
Nothing – except they bank your cheque! They’re not authorised to renew or transfer your domain – that’s done by the registrar – who will contact you before the domain expires anyway.

What should you do if you receive a letter like this?

Firstly – check your domain using a domain tools provider like Demon (link here) to see if your domain is indeed about to expire. If it’s not, then throw the letter away and certainly don’t respond to it.
But do tell your web-savvy friends in case they get a letter too…

Secondly, if it is about to expire, contact your domain hosting company or the registrar for the domain shown on the WHOIS record and follow their renewal process. If you use a third party for your web services, get them to do this.

Thirdly, do not pass on your domain EPP key – used to transfer a domain – if you have it.
And don’t be pressurised into requesting it from your current domain registrar and then forwarding it!

Despite the threats usually contained in these letters, there’s a grace period when a domain actually does officially expire allowing you to re-register the domain, and you’ll get several weeks notice from your registrar in which to act before that.

And if you do want to transfer a domain for good reasons, do it through the current registrar.

So, please, watch out for this scam and make sure you’re in control of your web presence.
If you need help with this sort of stuff, or if you’re not online yet, do get in touch!

Happy online marketing!

Social media – can it work for artists?

A highlight of my week is getting my hands on (metaphorically, because I read it online) Mark Ritson’s Marketing Week article.
Ritson takes a distinctly ‘the emperor’s got no clothes’ stance on many things to do with marketing, and the newer or more fashionable it is, the more his hackles rise. He provokes comment, he makes me laugh, and most of all, he causes me to think. What a writer!

This week, he’s been examining if social media (although he really focuses on Twitter) works for big brands. And his conclusion is – no. He cites the examples of some of our biggest brands – BP, Vodafone and BT. It turns out they have a pitiful Twitter following, and he concludes this is because we’re just not that interested in these faceless organisations.

You can read his post here…I recommend you do!

He goes on to say that, by comparison, celebrities attract huge numbers of followers, all intent on vicariously living the life they lead. Ritson offers the observation that ‘Celebrities are people and social media works on a person-to-person basis.’

So, the point I am meanderingly groping towards (keep up dear reader) is that artists are people too. And people are interested in people who do things they wish they could, like make or paint or photograph beautiful things. That’s you, my artist friend.

So should all artists use social media to promote themselves?
I’d say they should, if they feel confident in having a conversation with their public.

They definitely should if they have something to say. A major chunk of the volume of Tweets clogging up our internet are trivial to the point of tedium, so the value is down to what you have to say.
If you can talk eloquently about what makes your art special, in a way that others will be inspired by, or if you can invite people into your world by being engaging, charming, insightful or just plain interesting, then go for it.

But please, make sure what you say isn’t just about you.  Because, if you look at how those big brands Ritson castigates ‘communicate’ with their audiences, you’ll notice that it’s all about them. Yawn.

Next time, I’ll talk about some of the marketing techniques I’m working on to promote my own art and that created by others I work with.

Until then, if you want to know more about marketing for artists, get in touch via or have a look at my website –

Oh, and have a look at Mark Ritson’s post about the 2012 London Olympics mascots and tell me if you agree with him.  (Note – it’s not for the easily offended!)

Happy selling,

Artists – beware scams!

For artists just starting out, or for those who’ve just got round to getting a website (where have you been all this time?) it’s flattering to be contacted by someone wanting to buy your work. And if they say they’ll arrange shipping, and don’t quibble about the price, that’s even better, isn’t it?

Sadly however, there’s a good chance if you receive an email like this, it’s a scam.
Not so long ago, scammers were targetting those selling cars online, or other high-value goods, like watches or antiques. Now they’ve latched on to the unfortunate reality that many artists are not over-endowed with business savvy.

How does it work? They send you money, so that must be ok, surely?

Well, they send you a cheque, but then they pester you to transfer money to their shipping agent. It’s always their agent. If you suggest one of your own, you’ll probably never hear from them again.  They’ll keep on pestering you to make a transfer, usually by a money-transfer agent like Western Union (who are completely legit) to pre-pay the shipping agent.

The scam relies on you doing this before the cheque has had time to clear. Because it won’t. You send the money – a few hundred pounds – to the shipping agent, and then your bank contacts you to say the cheque bounced.
So they don’t get your work, they get your shipping money. And that’s why they keep sending you emails to request the shipping money transfer, and will keep on pestering you!

How can you tell an email you’ve received is likely to be fraudulent?

1 – They don’t ask any questions about your work, or request images.

2 – They insist on their choice of shipping agent – who you won’t be able to find on a search engine cos they don’t exist!

3 – They send you a cheque for more money than the piece is on sale at, and ask you to send the balance via a money transfer agent.

Of course there are lots of other scams, and plenty of ways those born with a surfeit of scruples will try to exploit artists, but this is a common one.

If you’re an artist, or you think you’ve been targetted in this way, I recommend you have a look at this site, and others like it. There’s plenty of advice on phony galleries, vanity publishing, email and phishing scams, and lots more.

It’s a shame operators on the seedier side of the internet are suckering artists out of money in this way, and I hope by encouraging artists to be a little less credulous, and a little more alert, fewer of these scams will succeed. Let me know of other scams you hear about.

Happy selling to artists everywhere!