In this interview, artist Linda Stephen continues talking about how she earns a living as an artist. Linda, who creates origami art pieces gives some tips on finding a market and selling art.
What Venues Do You Use to Sell Your Art?
“I use multiple venues to sell my work including craft shows, art shows, art galleries, my Web site (www.solcards.com) and commissioned works. Craft shows and art shows where I am doing the selling yield the most sales – because I can connect with customers, tell them about my custom work and answer their questions. However, this kind of direct sales takes lots of time away from creating work.
Most of my commissioned work has come through my Web site. Of course, for a commissioned work, the initial query is only the beginning of the process. I usually interview the buyer and then put together a proposal with a few design ideas.”
How Did You Find Your Market or Did It Find You?
“My market has mostly found me – partly because of my unique style and partly because of my life history.
In the first year I sold my handmade greeting cards with origami scenes (mostly at craft fairs and art shows around New York City), I discovered that more than half of the people who bought my cards did so to frame them – not to send them to friends or family for a special occasion. So in my second year, I started making bigger scenes – 8X10 and 11×14. I sold about 15 of the 20 I made in the first year – and started getting requests for commissioned works.
In my third year in business, I got a request through my Web site to do an origami scene for a new J.W. Marriott Hotel opening in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The theme of the hotel was the Sister Cities of Grand Rapids: Omihachiman, Japan; Bielsko-Biala, Poland; Perugia, Italy; Zapopan, Mexico; and Ga District, Ghana.
I am a native of Michigan, grew up near Grand Rapids, studied in Japan on a scholarship from the State of Michigan in 1990-91, and lived in Omihachiman (Grand Rapids’ first sister city) for seven years. My husband is a native of Japan. We met and married in Omihachiman. Our life history, our passion for cross-cultural exchanges – and our unique art style that incorporates a Japanese medium (origami) with an American aesthetic (colorful) – made our work a great fit for this hotel.
As an artist – and as a person – be true to who you are and share what you love about the world through your art. We have found this “works” again and again.”
What Are the Most Important Art Business Connections You’ve Made?
“I learn about local and national exhibit and grant opportunities through the city and state art organizations and through art magazines like Artist’s Newspaper (when I was in New York) and Art Business. I often get requests to teach at schools or universities because I am listed in the city and state artist databases.
I belong to a local coop art gallery. Especially since I am relatively new to the art world, I appreciate the knowledge of other artists there – especially in solving business issues (like where is a frame shop that give artists a discount to what is the best way to ship a large art piece?
I also recommend keeping a mailing list of past customers or interested customers. At least once a year (or any time you do a new show or a new exhibit), send these people a postcard or call them or send them an e-mail to see your new work. These are the people who are your fan club – repeat buyers who will share your work with their friends and colleagues.”
Does the Success Come From Custom Items, Collaborations, or Consignments?
“For us, the bulk of our income comes from custom items and commissioned work.
The advantage of custom items and commissions is they are guaranteed sales. If you finish the piece to the satisfaction of the buyer, you will get paid – and you don’t have to carry the inventory.
I find that smaller items and usable art (like our origami earrings and origami cards) can sell well on consignment year-round– in an art gallery, a crafts boutique, a café.
I recommend at least a couple times a year doing events/shows where you can meet your customers/patrons – hosting an art opening or selling at art shows or craft shows is a lot of work – set up, long hours of sales, etc., but these are opportunities to speak directly with potential customers. This gives you opportunities to hear questions, talk about custom gifts, get suggestions for new products.”
Ms. Stephen wrapped the interview up by giving prospective artists a valuable tip on how to start selling art for a living. “Start. Listen to customers and potential customers. Find your niche and be true to that. Have works at different price points (at least at the beginning). For example, if people love your $800 piece but they only have a budget of $80 (like a college student), they might buy a small, simple piece for $75.
For the first places to start selling, choose a venue that has a lot of traffic and that will have people you think fit your potential buyer. One obvious place is an art fair – since buyers choose to go there to buy original art. There are other options though, too. If you love painting barn scenes, try selling at a country fair. If you love painting athletic shoes with intricate scenes, try selling at a marathon (if there is space for a vendor booth) or at a fundraiser for a track club. If you create sailboat scenes, try a harbor festival. If you paint on T-shirts or have other small, easy-to-carry pieces, try a local farmers’ market (where people go to support local farmers and local businesses).”