Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I don't have a subtitle on this one, mostly because there's no real room to put a subtitley thing, but if there WAS room, I'd subtitle this post Hype, Consistency, & Flexibility. Don't wince. It's not that bad.

So, hype first. This is particular pet peeve of me in marketing and sales. Not just marketing of art, but of all things. I hate sales-speak and I hate ad copy that looks meaningful but is really just fluff. Example?

Evergreen Wallabies. The pet that gives back! Check out our family friendly Wallabies today -- they'll give you a taste of Aussie style! If you order one Wallaby before Valentine's Day (Wallabies make great Aussie gifts for your world-loving spouse), we'll throw in a free "Care Package" -- a value of $25.00!

What does that tell me? Nada. Zip. It's a bunch of buzz words and a time limit thrown in to encourage sales. It looks tacky, and moreover, it's the sort of marketing that Americans have grown immune to in a phenomenon that online sellers call "ad blindness." Obviously I don't think any of my charming readers would ever shove their product down someone's throat this way, but if you find that your marketing efforts tend towards the general and the impersonal, you might want to reconsider your strategy.

Okay, enough with hype. Onto consistency. I'm not talking about doughy versus crunchy here. Rather, I'm talking about branding. This links in very stongly with my earlier post series on artistic style. If you take away only one thing from these posts on marketing, take this one away: you need to build a brand for successful marketing, and you, baby, are that brand.

Let's say you have ten different places you're pushing yourself. One's a gallery, three are public hangings (no jokes about Jack Sparrow here, please), and the rest are various online ventures. If you're displaying watercolor florals at one, acrylic macro still lifes at another, and pen and ink military art at the rest, you're really only marketing your military art. The other two efforts are wasted. You're violating two marketing rules here.

1) You should always have at least three different places to find current artistic style that you're marketing.

2) You should only have one artistic style being actively marketed (for greatest efficacy).

Anyway, this goes back to the concept of branding. Think about some successful brands: Martha Stewart. Ikea. Pier One. I don't have to tell you what's on sale this week for you to guess what kind of things each of them have available, do I? They might occasionally have something out of character, but they've built their brand so well that you can say, "That doesn't seem like Ikea."

That should be you. Even if you don't have a consistent style yet, you should be able to eyeball the pieces that you have and see which ones hang together enough to start building a brand. Somewhere along the way, I got a great piece of advice from a successful artist. She said, "Professional artists always work in series." And this is absolutely true. If you work in series of 5-10 pieces, it gives you a nice body of work to market and allows you to change your style subtly from one series to the next. Let's say, for instance, that I wanted to market that crazy surrealist piece I'm working on for the Bauer/ Nielsen project. Ideally, I would do a series of them, using the same palette as my absolutely realistic stuff, but using the same concept as the Bauer piece. Then I could take that series and

  • name it
  • market it as a slight departure
  • have enough images to build a "mini-brand" for the series
  • have enough images to fill a booth with originals and prints that all look related (and thus look professional)
  • have a cohesive series to present to my gallery, if I went that route (click here to see my interview with the owner of the wonderful gallery that represents me)
  • subconsciously create a sense of urgency, because once that series is done, I'll be onto the next thing and the buyer will have lost out (this happened with my Cats of the Old Masters series last year)

Last point for tonight's post is: flexibility.

I know, flexibility sounds like the opposite of consistency, but I'm not talking about style now. I'm talking about keeping my ears open for marketing options. We all have in our heads the idea of an ideal marketing situation or an ideal client, etc. Well, sometimes that ideal doesn't come along. Professional art isn't like selling shoes -- I don't get all my income from one type of sales outlet. So I need to be flexible, always looking for new and interesting ways to market myself. You never know when something weird will turn up -- a festival you'd normally never think of going to, a commission for something that's really on the very edge of your style, a chance to be on the radio, a cheap billboard in your area, a really popular art group that you can weasel your way into, etc. It's hard to talk to would-be professional artists on flexibility because you don't know where you'll have to use it until you see it.

I can tell you this. Opportunities & work & sales don't come along by accident or good luck. I've seen too many envious artists simperingly congratulate other artists on their success and then snark about the successful artists' good luck behind their back. It's not good luck, folks. Sales and success come along because:

  • preparedness
  • consistent branding
  • honesty
  • a willingness to share your knowledge
  • a passion for your product
  • a desire to honestly please your client
  • networking
  • acting & passive marketing
  • a constant drive to improve
  • a willingness to listen
  • and absolutely last on the list, because I really believe it belongs here and not at the top -- talent

The best artist in the world will starve on a diet of Ramen noodles if they don't have the above qualities and a mediocre artist who shines with all the others will happily dine on cookies and sweet tea.

Naming no names, of course.

Questions and comments?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Marketing Maggie Style - Part I

"Strawberries" - unfinished 35 minute sketch from my sketchbook/ done during my workshop
Copyright 2008 Maggie Stiefvater.
Remember to subscribe to the blog if you want a chance to win the sketchbook when I'm done with it!

Okay, I promised a mini-series of posts on art marketing, so here goes. I want to preface this like I preface all my advicey blogs: there are a million ways to do everything having to do with art, including the business of it, so take my advice and adapt it to what you do. Seriously. If something works for you, run with it like it's going out of style. If it doesn't chuck it. Nobody's grading you here on anything but results!

So, that out of the way, in this first post, I want to talk about diversity. Diversity is absolutely crucial in any art marketing plan. Unless you are a talking whale who does pastels and you land a spot on Oprah, I can guarantee you that you're not going to get all your marketing needs from one place. You're going to need to be like my dog Ginger -- everywhere.

However . . . before I talk about various places I've poked my head up for the sake of marketing, I want to talk about bad publicity. There is such a thing as negative exposure. Couple of examples?

  • In the company of bad artists. I'm not talking about artists in a different style from yours. I'm talking about websites that mostly advertise artists who aren't yet at the top of their game. If you're at the top of your game, you don't want to be lumped in with them. Believe me, it is far better to have artists who are your equals or better all around you if you're paying for advertising. Don't be intimidated by other good artists -- I don't believe that a good artist truly has to worry about competition from other artists. You're a unique commodity.
  • On unprofessional looking websites. Yours or anyone else's. It's far better to look elusive and unreachable than to be found on a two-color website coded by a ten year old that is called "Lola's Fine Art & Hairdressing."
  • On a myspace page also featuring photos of you throwing up on your date after a party. This partially goes under the second heading, but the point of this one is that your business and personal identities need to mesh seamlessly or one of them has to get off the internet. Period.
Okay. I'm assuming that none of you would commit any of the above sins. Now here are a few ideas of places that you can use for marketing. I'll go into more detail on the next posts on marketing (which will be on Wednesday and Friday for those so inclined).

  • a personal website to act as a professional portfolio ( hosts very nice template based ones)
  • a blog that is at least 75% about your art and is updated at least twice a week
  • on FREE artists' portfolio sites with good traffic (Painters Keys is one of these but there are other -- use Google, it is your friend)
  • by posting on artists' forums with useful information and works in progress (WetCanvas & ScribbleTalk are just two)
  • by reading other artist's blogs and commenting intelligently to drive traffic back to your blog (and to get to know other artists)
  • magazine articles. write them and submit them - submission guidelines are on most magazines' websites and there are so many subject specific mags that you don't have a reason not to
  • local exhibitions. find out where people display art locally and work yourself into it -- as long as it's free. DO NOT PAY FOR GALLERY SPACE. Note that you probably won't sell pieces at a local show. Doesn't matter. Exposure always pays off in the long run.
  • national exhibitions. You will have to pay a jury fee for these. But find the ones most specific to your medium and subject and it will pay off.
  • business cards. Make them beautiful and send them out into the world so they can keep working for you while you're sleeping.
  • local festivals. I try to do a booth at my local town festival every year. It's tiny, but that's the good part -- word of mouth in a tiny town can do wonders. Big fish in a small pond isn't a bad thing.
  • subject-related shows. When I want to get horse portraits, I do booths at horse shows. Find venues related to what you paint, whatever it is you paint, and make yourself known.
  • eBay - if you think of eBay as a marketing tool instead of an income maker, you'll be a lot happier.
This is just a start -- but I do all of these things consistently. You'll notice that most of them don't cost money, and I'm inherently wary of things that do. Another note -- it takes awhile for these things to pay off. So sow the seeds now so they can start to bear fruit sooner rather than later


Artists of the Month/ John Bauer & Kay Nielsen

"The Summer Queen" - work in progress, 11 x 14" colored pencil on pastelbord
copyright Maggie Stiefvater and Will (for jagged pencil marks on right hand side)

Okay, I actually got a nice chunk of time on Sunday to finally work on my artists of the month project. For those who are just landing on the blog, I'm studying two safely dead artists, Kay Nielsen & John Bauer, during the months of January and February, with an eye on learning everything I can from studying their techniques and styles, and the producing a somewhat derivative piece by the end of the project.

Other installments in this lengthy project which is nearing its end are below:

Kay Nielsen - Artist of the Month, Part I
Artist(s) of the Month(s) - John Bauer
Artists of the Month: Nielsen & Bauer

At the rate that I was getting a chance to work on this project, I thought I'd probably be a safely dead artist by the time that I got a chance to actually finish a piece based upon what I'd learned . . . but taDA! I got a heck of a lot done.

Okay, so what is it I actually did? On the last post I was talking about how I had this idea to do a woman with a big dress like Nielsen did (see the one of the dancing lady with the big white wig at left). And I knew I wanted to make use of the Hiroshige wave that he used in most of his pieces.

So that formed part of my inspiration. Then I looked at John Bauer's work and wanted to use his super simplified shapes and his flat 2D patterns thrown into 3D images (like the dress on the woman looking at the swans -- bottom left). Add to that my mad desire to use a medieval crown I'd found a photo of in a piece of art and I was set.

Except of course the piece deviated from the planning stages in two major ways.

1) I decided that instead of a flat 2D pattern on her dress like Bauer frequently used, I wanted to put a landscape in her dress, so the viewer's first impression was looking through a window to a summer landscape.
2) My 2 year old Will decided to add several jagged marks all over the piece in colors that complemented the colors already used in the flowers. You can see them . . . um, everywhere. Isn't he talented?

So I'm not sure if this piece is a write-off or not. I think I'll try and finish it this week if I have time and see if I can cover up those marks. It will probably involve a truckload of pigment and a lot of sweet tea. Anyway, this piece was tremendously fun to do to this point, even though it's a huge departure from my usual style. Now I'm left wondering what I'm going to do with it once I'm done! Hmm, maybe give it away to a random blog reader?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Maggie on Style, Part III

top: "the anatomy of adrenalin"
bottom: "the three fates"
both 10 x 30" acrylic on canvas

I did have one of my usual posts that is about nothing in particular planned for tonight -- actually, I think it was going to focus on shampoos (how exciting!) -- but there were some questions posed in the comments of the last style post that I really thought were good. So I'd like to take another post to talk about those. I'll keep answering them as long as you guys keep asking them. And feel free to answer other commenter's questions in the comments as well -- there are a wealth of talented artists who frequent my blog (and I'm humbled to say that), and I know they have their own version of the style story.

Becca asked: How long did it take you to find your groove?

The short answer is 3 years. Though I'd been drawing and doodling every since I was a tiny maggot, I didn't really think I was going to do anything in particular with my art until I was out of college. And then I threw myself into the "painting a day" movement -- I produced over 400 pieces inbetween 2006-7. Believe me, that accelerates the process a little. But also keep in mind that for a lot of that, I was completely unguided and didn't even realize I wanted to be working towards a cohesive style.

Tracy Wall asked: Did your previous patrons give you any grief for not producing what they originally fell in love with?

I got some agonized e-mails from collectors of my cityscapes when I stopped selling them, but they were understanding when I explained why I was moving in another direction. And then my colored pencil clients (who were paying higher prices because the pieces took longer and because I had more credentials to my "colored pencil" name)(since I had to basically market my two styles separately) were perfectly pleased to continue buying from me, since the injection of pizazz from my acrylic cityscape style only improved the colored pencil work. And my income went up when I dropped the cityscapes.

And Autumn Willow asked: As with others who've commented, I'm at that crucial point of figuring out a style. My problem is... doesn't it get kind of monotonous and boring to use the same style and medium pretty much all the time?

I had this question in mind when I picked the two paintings for this blog post. They're two of my favorite paintings ever, but as you've probably immediately noticed, they don't look like anything else I've ever done. So here's my answer. Yes, it would be intensely monotonous and boring to use the same style and medium all the time. Plus, you'd get stale. One of the great things about artists is that we're always growing and changing. So yes, for my shows and for my portrait clients, I do my usual style, colored pencil with wild flairs. But on Sundays, as you guys have probably noticed, I do art for me. I pull out my pastels, get myself covered with paint, pretend I'm someone else -- do something that I never intend on selling. And sometimes it's a tremendous mess and failure. And sometimes it's wonderful, and I can file that information away for later.

But I don't put these experimental pieces into my booth. The only way I ever show my experimental pieces is if I do enough of them to be a series -- so it looks on purpose. You know, the section of the art history book where they show 10 large full-color plates and the caption is "Maggie Stiefvater's so-called "Splatter" Phase in the early part of the century."

So those two Adrenalin pieces stay in my studio, waiting for me to do more of the series. And one day I will. And then I will pull them out proudly. Until then, I'll incorporate what I liked from those pieces into my current style and watch it slowly evolve.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Maggie on Style, Part II

Aaaand, I'm back. I really could've written this post at 3:45 a.m. last night while I was awake with tissues stuffed up my nose, but I don't think it would've been especially coherent. (Instead I worked on my novel. Yes, yes, I know the logic in that, but you can afford to be more incoherent when you're making crap up.)

So here is part two on Style. I want to preface this whole conversation (which I think will probably turn out to be quite rambling considering my current relationship with cold medication) with the warning that this is only my thoughts on style. This is how I got to where I am now -- it's not an exact formula on how to find your style, or the only way to go about it. One of the comments on the last style post was that style was something you had to develop over time, by doing lots of art. Yes, that helps -- but in a world where so many artists are part-time artists, does that mean that most artists will only find a style in their 80s, right about when they discover that their false teeth make intriguing still life subjects? Or perhaps never?

What a dismal thought.

Obviously I'm not in my 80s and I'm pretty pleased with my style. People can pick it out of a line-up, it feels like me, and it suits my subjects nicely. But it was not always that way! Are you ready for the stylistic story of a girl named Maggie? Too bad. I'm going to tell you anyway.

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Maggie. She doodled constantly and had high aspirations of becoming a Famous Artist. She sketched horses. She drew planes. She painted cars. She did it all.

And all of it looked different. Indeed, putting them side by side looked like the exhibition of a artistically-dedicated pencil-freak with multiple personalities. When faced with the idea of a style she said "poo poo on thee" for I'm multi-talented and if I can do all these styles, I will do them all, because I'm so smart. So there.

And that was almost where the story of me ended. Because the truth was, yes, I could paint and draw in a zillion different styles. But the truth was also that I wasn't selling anything, because hung together, it looked horribly amateurish. It looked cobbled together, like an art school portfolio of me playing at being seven different artists. I knew I needed a universal style, so I decided to force the issue.

I was selling on eBay at the time and I knew that bold, colorful pieces that looked good in thumbnail size sold well. So I designed a style that was just for eBay -- brilliant cityscapes with dark black lines around everything. And you know, it was fun. Sure, it was contrived, and it wasn't exactly me, but it sold, and I was happy. And in the background, I kept doing super realistic colored pencil pieces as portraits. And they sold, and I was happy.

But I was missing something. I was getting known for my cityscapes with their big black lines, but I didn't want to be. It was fun, but it wasn't feeding me artistically. I know, that sounds wishy-washy, but it was like being a diehard history lover at heart and then going and majoring in math. I could do it, but it was just work. I was still sneaking away and doing the colored pencils -- I loved the bold colors of acrylic but I preferred to work with pencils.

So here I was with these two entirely different styles. What I really wanted was to reconcile them somehow into one. So I did just what I told you guys to do in my last style post. I took out my art and laid it up against the wall and I looked at it. First thing I did was take away the pieces that I didn't like. I didn't want to do anything like them again, so they didn't figure into it. The second thing I did was take out pieces that were experiments -- I liked them, but they were totally out of left field and just me playing. Then I stared at the ones that were left. The effect was what you get from the art in this post -- some radically different pieces of art.

But I'm an analytical person and I wasn't going down without a fight. So I studied them, and I asked myself:

  • what appeals to me in each?
  • which ones did I enjoy painting the most?
  • which ones am I the proudest to tell people I did?
  • which ones can I still look at after three months and not dislike?
  • what are the similarities between the ones that I've chosen based on the three questions above?
And when I looked at it like that, it was pretty obvious to me. Is it to you as well? I knew then what I had to have.

  • realism. I tried the abstract thing. The impressionism thing. The photo-realistic thing. And realism was what made me happy. It can have elements of those other things, but when it comes to it, I like representational art.
  • color. I like it. Lots of it. In weird places. If there was a way to meld my crazy cityscape use of color and my dry, realistic use of color together, I wanted it.
  • palette. In my favorite pieces, there was definitely a certain palette forming. Today, I still only use the same twenty colors of pencils over and over again.
  • Stained Glass. It's a theme I keep coming back to over and over again. I still haven't figured out how to incorporate it as much as I like, but I will get in there someday.
  • Pencils. It had to be colored pencils. It was just the medium that I felt the most comfortable with, ever since I first picked one up.
So I went wild. I started pretending I was painting with my colored pencils. I chose the same colors in pencils that I would normally have grabbed in my paints. I tried to accomplish the same effects I got in pastels with my colored pencils. And you know what? Those two radically different styles turned out to be not so radically different after all. I feel like both of those styles said something about, but neither told the complete story. When I combined all of the elements I liked -- that told the complete story.

And you know what, now my art booth looks like a sane person with one personality did all of it (which just shows you how deceptive looks can be).

I have to mention another comment, made by the wise Katherine Tyrrell, as well. She said that it wasn't just finding your style, it was developing it. This is Very True. Now that I've found my style, I'm quite happy to spend the rest of my life making it more like me.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Maggie on Style, Part 1

Let's talk about style, shall we? I've been asked to talk about it a lot over the last few months, and I keep putting it off. I don't know why. Maybe because it's intangible. Maybe because when you talk about style, you start hearing whispers of other words that I don't quite believe in: "natural talent" and "inherent skill" and "inborn artistic vision." A lot of artists don't seem to pursue a distinct style -- they wait for it to emerge, like some sort of heavenly gift. But the truth is that style is only partially born, and mostly made. That old Einstein quote about 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration? Yeah. We're talking about that.

So I should define what I mean by style first. Style is . . . what makes your art yours. In music, we call it "sound." In writing, we call it "voice." In marketing, we call it "branding." In art, it's a subtle combination of palette, exaggeration, subject matter, values, and composition that makes it possible to look at a Monet and say "that's a Monet."

Let's try an exercise. Throughout this post, I've posted pieces of art with flowers in them from six distinctive artists: Monet, Van Gogh, Louis Comfort Tiffany, John Bauer (from our study, remember?), J. W. Waterhouse, and John Singer Sargent. You may not be extremely well-acquainted with the works of these artists, but I'll bet you can tell which is which after one second of examination. That's style at it's best. That's what you want as an artist. You want to be picked out of a line up. To be known for something.

So here's the exercise (and no, it's not going to be painful like real exercise. In fact, if you start cramping up during this exercise, I highly recommend seeing a doctor, or at the very least, an art historian.): look at those examples and compile a list of what makes each distinct. They all have at least one flower in them. Flowers are all the same subject -- but these pieces don't look anything like each other. You can be as unscientific about this exercise as you like. You don't even have to write down the stylistic differences, but do at least say them out loud or otherwise organize them in your head.

Now pull out three of your finished works. If you don't have many lying around, pull out digital images. Put them all up on the screen together. What unifies them? Don't be worried if you don't see anything that smacks you in the face immediately. If your style is in its infancy, you might find that your pieces look wildly different or are even rather similar to an artist that you admire. You're looking for the seeds of a style. Any unifying trait. Make another list. This is what makes you you.

Tomorrow, I'll show you how I developed my current style by doing just that. With fun pictures! Ah! Oooh! If anyone has any questions or comments on how developing a style, on the artists here, or how they developed their style, leave 'em in the comments!

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Artists of the Month: Nielsen & Bauer

Well. I finally enough time to work a bit more on this (this, for the uninitiated, is my bi-monthly study of the artists Kay Nielsen & John Bauer -- search for their names on my blog searcher to find previous posts on them). I spent part of the afternoon working on putting color into the Bauer sketch I had done last time. I was pretty pleased with the sketch and so I was relatively amazed to find that I made an utter dog's breakfast of colorizing it. Seriously, it looks like a three-year old drew it -- and I have one on hand to prove it (a three year old, not a dog's breakfast). And no, I'm not being modest, it really is awful.

Part of the problem was that I did the sketch on drafting film, which is amazing and greasy and buttery feeling for drawing outlines on -- and very tricky for subtle color.


Moving on. I decided that, rather than agonize over that sketch, I'm going to try an entirely new one on either pastelbord or paper. Phooeey on drafting film this time around. I also decided that instead of going with something subtle, I was going to try something completely wild and in the style of Nielsen & Bauer. I've had a composition in mind for awhile now and I think this project is the right one to try it on.

So this week, I paid particular attention to Bauer and Nielsen's use of pattern. I also wanted to focus on the elongated forms and the Hiroshige wave that Nielsen makes such effective use of. See the nice wave Nielsen used on his queen's and dancer's butts? (Nielsen's work on left) And look at the patterns of the two dresses that Bauer uses on his queen and his pining swan-woman. I also liked the way that the dresses weren't just a part of the composition -- they were the composition.

I wanted to try something like that. In my head, I had this idea of a stylized queen looking over her shoulder with a dress that looked as if it was stained glass. I desperately wanted to put one of two profoundly beautiful crowns into a piece of 2D art (links to discussions on them here and here, for those of you who are into history); both of them are from the medieval era and both made me catch my breath when I saw them (this from a non-jewelry person)(yes, I am a medieval geek). Sounds like me, right?

So I stared at the Bauer and Nielsen women and tried to determine what made them unique. For one thing, they all had these lovely, Gwyneth Paltrowesque long necks. Man, while I'm going hog-wild with the photos, I might as well show you Gwyneth's neck. See, there she is with her mom. It's obviously genetic.

And fabulous hair! Check it out -- long locks, or major up-dos -- the hair is important. Important, but simplified. Note to Maggie, who likes highlights: simplify. Flatten. SIMPLIFY.

And the faces are delicate, understated, careful. Hmm, I thought, unwisely. I can do this. Of course, by the time I had done all of this work, I had completely used up my study time . . . so it's going to have to wait until next time for the sketches. But I think there's some exciting source material here, and it's something I've wanted to do for awhile . . . so maybe I'll actually finish an entire project next Sunday.

Is anyone else doing this project, or am I by my lonesome?