Thursday, May 17, 2007

Online Presence vs. Real-World Presence

"The Writer's Cat" - 8 x 10" colored pencil on pastelbord.
Copyright 2007 Maggie Stiefvater.
$300 + $7 priority mail shipping
(look at my nifty paypal buy it now button! I can't wait to see if it works!)

Hi, Maggie, thanks so much for taking the time to blog (as well as entertain us) about some many of the relevant "issues" in an artist's life - motivation, family life, balancing life's various elements, toddlers, eating well, etc. and making for us realize it's all possible. Maybe not without losing our sanity, but possible!

We get to see your "on-line" presence, but there's a whole lot of your presence that we don't get to see - galleries, commission works, etc. and I guess my question is around what has been most valuable to you in developing your career - the online presence, the off-line presence? Is one more important than the other? Is there one that should have more focus?
I've notice a number of artists have web sites, some type of store (Etsy, EBSQ), a blog, an EBay presence, but it's hard to know if they have gallery representation, commissions, etc. and I'm not sure where the focus should be? I guess I'm asking what's indispensable to you, what could you and your career not do without?

This question is slightly complicated, because what was indispensable to me a year ago is not today, and vice versa. As I move along in my career, I find I outgrow certain marketing methods and I grow into others. So I guess the most useful way to answer this question is a comparison.

Income Generators Last Year This Time
eBay (including commissions generated by eBay interest) - 65%
horse shows - 25%
art shows/ competitions - 5%
gallery- 5%
blog - 0%
website - 0%

I had to do some fancy math work to get those percentages to work right . . .

Income Generators This Year This Time
eBay (including commissions generated by eBay interest) - 40%
horse shows - 40%
art shows/ competitions - 5%
referral/ previous clients - 10%
workshops - 5%
blog - 0%
website - 0%

So right away I can see the wheels in your head turning. WHOA! Maggie isn't making any money off her website or blog. Whew, that's a relief - I'm dumping those time wasters. Not. A. Chance.

As an artist, or any business owner, for that matter, there are investments you have to make that don't bring in money themselves but bring up your worth. Advertising. Name dropping. Image creation. You have to do it. If you don't have a beautiful website, you have to have one. If you don't like to write and you have the personality of a popsicle stick, don't get a blog. A boring blog will hurt you more than anything. Let people imagine you're mysterious if you can't write. Or just post your daily images with a few grunts at the end.

As far as spreading yourself across eBay, etsy, Yessy, boundlessgallery, whatever -- I wouldn't. I tried out non-eBay venues but frankly I discovered it didn't help me to have multiple sites like this. Really you generate a lot of the interest yourself anyway, and it takes the same amount of energy to drive a lot of customers to one site as drive them to two. So pick one. If you hate eBay, try one of the others. But before you get an established client base and online presence, people like the idea of buying from you in a protected environment. It's scary to send a payment out into the void not knowing if the crazy artist at the other end will send you anything for it. An eBay 100% positive feedback rating helps quell that fear, certainly.

I'm only going to say this once, but I'll say it in bold. I don't rely on eBay for most of my income now, and in fact, I expect to use it just for advertising by the end of this year, but:

I would not be where I was today without the equal-opportunity footing and massive viewing audience provided by eBay. It's how I got my start.

But unless that's how you want to make your living, you have to look at real world venues as well. When the online world is slow (and it will be), you'd better have a back up plan to pay those bills. So, out you go to find art shows, subject shows (for me it's horses), exhibitions, competitions, galleries, and a thousand other ways to get your art in front of people.

Oops, time for another bold statement.

If the idea of submitting your work to competitions, galleries, and juried art shows doesn't excite, nor does buying booth equipment and sitting baking in the sun for a 10 hour day, find another sort of living.

Seriously. This is hard work. It's harder than a 9-5 day job. The reason why I can do it day after day, month after month, is because I still get all excited filling out jury forms or picking out frames or getting ready for a show. I love the details, not the end results. And if you aren't getting thrilled just thinking about - and most people ARE NOT - think about keeping your art as hobby.

Okay. What was the original question? Oh. Presences. What I HAVE to have:

horse shows

What I could live without if push came to shove:
art shows

The latter are all for padding my resume, not my wallet, and that's what makes them optional. I do commissions, because they're not difficult for me and I enjoy them. If you hate them, don't do them. Or find a way to resolve what it is you hate about them.

I would say that an artist ought to have at least one strong online presence and one strong real-world presence. I try and get my sunny face and my art out into the real world once a month. Not a bad goal for any artist.


Cooper Dragonette said...

I know I've thanked you before, but your advice is priceless, so I'll thank you again. You are a huge asset to a lot of us!

Karen Mathison Schmidt said...

Great post, Maggie ... very helpful and encouraging!

I agree with you 100% that online opportunities make it so much easier for artists to self-represent nowadays; it's also a very reasonable (and do-able) goal to get yourself out in the real world once a month, even if it's mainly for the exposure.

I've just been asked to hang 20 pieces in the LSU Med Center library this Nov-Dec - definitely NOT the greatest venue for selling, I've been warned - but still a good place to show people (future big-time doctors & surgeons!) what I do, and start getting my name out there again. I'm looking at it as a giant local magazine ad. At no cost to me but tying up 20 paintings (some of which I will borrow back from previous client friends) for a couple of months.

Plus there's nothing like having a "show" looming to keep you painting like crazy - I have to do 8 more fairly large pieces before November, so I guess I'd better stop fooling around with other people's blogs - no matter how entertaining and informative :) - tear myself away from this computer and get smurfin'!

Laure Ferlita said...

Maggie, thanks for the very thorough answer to my "slightly complicated question"! I knew the online presence had to be major, but you've made it clear just how major.

I also appreciated the comment on outgrowing/growing into certain marketing methods as your career has grown. That speaks volumes to me.

Again, thanks for your time and energy - they are both greatly appreciated!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice! I am curious about just how you started out on eBay - it sure does give you visibility and advertising, but do you have any tips for boosting your chances of getting bids?

p.s. I love the expression on Violet's face.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being honest and telling people to keep their art as a hobby if they don't want to sweat the small stuff!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks everyone and once again, Karen, great advice. Remember I'm not the end all of advice, either. Ask 10 artists and you'll get 10 answers, and all that jazz.