Sunday, July 3, 2011

More Art Business for the Plein Air Painter

I don't know if you fall into the same category, but I'm the kind of painter who:

- Likes to make paintings, and
- Likes to have sold those paintings.

Now, there's a step in between those two that I don't care for as much - the actual selling of paintings.  There are some painters who very much like the selling part.  They tend to be social and outgoing, and they find selling to be not just challenging but energizing as well.  For me, selling is akin to the wearisome, fanny-numbing, 3500-mile drive I make each year from my summer studio to my winter studio.  I love spending time in both places - in fact, I need to, to make a living - but if I could click my heels thrice and travel in an instant, you bet I would.

Yet, there's a part to selling that I do like.  Some of  you know that I am mentally ambidextrous, and that my right brain is just as well-exercised as my left brain.  I am comfortable digging into the HTML code behind web sites, and I recently enjoyed learning about h.264 encoding for MP4 files and also what the heck a QR code is.  (At the top of this post is the QR code for my website URL.  You've seen these before, in magazine ads.)   There is a pleasurable, technical side to selling, too.  Lately, I'm enjoying expanding my knowledge about  social media, search engines and cutting-edge Internet technologies.

Today, let me talk about social media.  For many, Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with family and friends, and Twitter is handy for catching the latest on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's travels in Canada.  But of course, the marketeers, as they always do, have figured out how to exploit this new way of communicating.  Painters are figuring it out, too.  In my research, I've seen many painters struggling to get their names out by tweeting, "liking" and commenting.  Sometimes the activity is excessive, and I sense desperation or a lack of good manners.

I'm trying to find the middle path.  I don't want to be a gadfly, but then, I don't want to vanish from the face of the earth.  But how effective is social media, really, and is it an effective marketing tool for painters?  Is it worth the effort, or is it just another time sink?  Am I better off watching nine year's worth of "Roseanne" episodes on my computer or trolling the social media sea?

I don't have an answer yet.  But maybe you do.  I'd love to hear what you think and how you use social media.


Linda Warner Constantino said...

Michael, I agree with much of what you say and I think there is a delicate balance that I need to maintain making sure that promoting or marketing does not rob rob me of my time to paint.
I love what the computer and internet can do and I can easily lose a morning to it.
I personally drew the line at Facebook. I just cannot see myself twittering. I think what I do or make is more important to me, anyway, than what I say.

Doug Runyan said...

I hope you don't find that magic form of travel that you seek because it means that you won't have a reason to stop by my part of the country and do a "Chicken in the Landscape" workshop! As for social media, I have purchased a couple of paintings that were posted by facebook friends, so it can work for marketing. I find it most helpful, though, for the truly social aspects: contact with fellow artists, encouragement, seeing other's work, etc. Art is often a solitary business and facebook allows a convenient way to stay in contact with both fellow artists and patrons.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Good comments, Linda and Doug. Linda, I do tweet a little, but only to announce new blog posts. (Which reminds me that I need to tweet right now!) Doug, no offense meant and hopefully none taken. I love my stops along the way - it really is just the drudgery of pavement that's numbing. You're right about the solitary nature of art - it's great to be able to communicate and feel fellowship.

alotter said...

I don't twitter, and I don't expect to sell paintings via my website and blog. I don't expect that to happen because in fact it does not happen. I do have a Facebook page, but I mostly ignore it. It's not that I dislike internet stuff. So many more important things command my attention. Maybe if I had to sell paintings to survive, I would have a different attitude.

Opendoor Studio said...

Great article. I have been incorporating the QR technology on my Etsy site directing the folks back to my blog. I intend to use it by adding a coupon or special instructions within the code to offer a discount or information as to where they are able to find my work.
I blog, tweet and have a facebook page. It is amazing how many people do respond to the tweets (sometimes it feels like it's "just another thing to do" but people really do respond)
thanks again,
Martha Layton Smith

Mary Pyche said...

Stay up with the latest technology as long as you can is my advice. That segment of the population that is retired does not or can not stay current with all the latest stuff for the most part so if they are your target audience they probably won't see your tweets, etc. I suspect that the majority of your buying public is, however, using the latest forms of communication and will, in the future, have a better success ratio of staying up-to-date that way.

Drusilla Montemayor said...

I agree with what Linda said. I find it way too easy to lose painting time to the internet. After having two sites for my other businesses I can attest to the time it takes to maintain such stuff. And the art I was producing like a crazy person sold by word of mouth, not from the website I and a photographer and webmaster I hired had so painstakingly crafted. So in the end I gave up those sites after a decade with a sigh of relief. Now a blog fills the need to inform friends and family of my artistic doings, and I prefer to fill my days with painting rather than keeping up online, much to my followers dismay I am sure, but it's how I choose to operate. Michael you are to be admired for your dedication in painting, teaching and to your online endeavors, so many enjoy what you do and it really is fun to see how you are progressing so regularly and well.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Interesting comments, everyone! Indeed, Aline, painting as a way of making a living certainly focuses one. I'd hate to have to fall back on my bartending skills! Martha, it does seem like QR codes are gaining popularity among consumers. It's something that certainly deserves more study on my part. Mary, I think you're right about the "old ways" dying out and the need to stay current. My 80-year-old father-in-law now has an iPad - but I don't! Dru, I, too, would like to step back from the web, and I'm looking for that middle ground that will give me productive and profitable contact with the world yet not intrude on painting and family time.

Woodward Simons said...

Michael, I have not personally sold any paintings via Facebook or Twitter, but I know artists who have. Like any other venue, it takes a clear message and image with an easy link to the where the collector can place the order.

The process needs to be "smooth" - in other words, selling online should be set up so that the collector who wants to buy the work can easily do so with Pay Pal and get the work shipped asap.

When an artist is working with galleries, this gets sticky because basically the artist is selling from the studio. If the artist offers something different online then what they offer at the gallery, it works fine.

Take a look at the works of Taylor Lynde. He sells several works from Ebay every week and posts them on Facebook.

Twitter is a great way to get people to your blog - it's best for writers. Facebook has too much "noise" artists need to cut out their own noise and just use it for one thing if they expect it to be a sales venue.

Hope that helps!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks for the input, Lori. Over the years, I've sold lots of work from my website and my blog, and as far as I know, not yet from Facebook or Twitter. (I also have "bricks-and-mortar" galleries that sell.) It will be interesting to see how this all develops in the next few years.

Cmichaudart said...

I have had much more success with FB and blog than I had with twitter, the latter felt like a lot of people shouting at the wall, all making announcements and no one listening: I quit. Will reanalyze which media have worked best and concentrate far it is announcements of shows!

Ed Terpening said...

Michael, There are a lot of people (and businesses, large and small) trying to figure this out. I do this for a living for a large financial institution (Wells Fargo) and before that, for media companies (like CNET). Here are some of my observations, as social media applies to the arts:

You have to be where your customers are. Key stake-holders (eg, community, galleries, collectors, other artists) are spending their time in social media, so you need to figure out how you make your presence known. People have limited time/attention, and there is a clear shift in attention from traditional media to social. This shift isn't much different from radio to TV, or TV to the web. Those old media still exist, and it may (probably) be the case that we're all consuming (and creating) more media that at any time in history, but these big shifts still happen. Fun fact: according to Forrester Research, 1/4 of ALL pages surfed on the Internet today are Facebook.

We live in a communications ecosystem. Very few media stand-alone; there are interesting forces between them that act like an ecosystem for managing information. Eg, a growing number of people now get their news from Facebook, that is, news articles that friends post in the feed. Facebook is now the #2 source of news (second to Google). That's one example of how the communications ecosystem is changing: news/information are now "curated" by people we trust (eg, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, etc). Another example is Twitter's role in the ecosystem, which is generally to create lift/echos in the news cycle. Eg, a print news story (that appears online) is now much more reliant on tweets (and retweets) of the original story to make it successful. Twitter is that beacon of consumer choice in news/information.

I'm still figuring this out, and in fact today got an invite to Google+, their new social network. I think we're at the early stages because the industry is still in a lot of flux, and a "steady state" ecosystem for this type of communications is hasn't solidified. For now, I have my toes dipped a little here, and little there, and through integration between tools, I'm trying to have my personal ecosystem of content work for me (eg, my blog posts show up on my Facebook fan page, I try to drive views of posts through Twitter, etc).

Now, back to my easel!

If social media is playing an increasingly important role in how information is created, shared and archived for search, can you not participate?

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Cindy and Ed! Ed - I was hoping you would jump in with a comment, since I know that social media is your "day job." Today's changes in media is rather like a species explosion, in which evolution tries lots of different ways of keeping that spark of life hot. Most species will die out dramatically; others will languish; a very few will thrive and conquer. Our hope as painters is to end up with the winners.