How to Not be a Starving Artist: Part 1

A lot of people ask me for advice about being an artist. Every time, I am floored that someone is asking me, but I can recognize that I have worked hard over the last several years, have learned a lot and have much to share. I have been fortunate to learn -- personally and online -- from generous artists who are farther along in their careers and it’s only decent that I help others who are a couple steps behind me. I have too much for one post, so this is the first of [more than one]. This one is long and I only go over everything at a cursory level.

I have already shared my thoughts on setting prices. Read that post here.

First, if you say you want to sell you work, you need to actually, actively be trying to sell it.

To successfully do that, you need to do the following:

-        Be visible

-        Be open for business

-        Be professional

Today’s post focuses on the first category. I could (and might, eventually) talk at length about each of the sub-topics mentioned here, but this will give you a good overview.

Be Visible

This may seem obvious, but if you want people to buy your art, people need to know you have art to sell. This means sharing your art online, displaying it in the real world and talking about it proudly any chance you get.

 Be Visible Personally

You are your own salesperson. If you don’t like the idea of selling, you either need to find someone to represent you and sell your work for you, or give up on the idea of making money off of your art. That’s it. If you aren’t excited to sell it, or are shy to talk about it, how is anyone going to even find it to buy it? Sales doesn’t have to feel icky and I’m certainly not advocating for any icky sales practices.

Assuming you’re proud of and enthusiastic about your work, that will come through when you talk about it to others. That is appealing to buyers. I am not suggesting you brag, but when you are passionate and light up just talking about your recent painting, that energy can be compelling. I challenge you to think of a time in which someone being excited about his or her job has had a negative impact on you wanting to work with or do business with them.

Do you have a full-time job? If so, do your work friends know you have this passion you’re pursuing on the side? What about the other parents you sit with every Saturday at the kids’ soccer games? Do they know you just opened an Etsy shop? Your neighbors that you’ve known for ten years? Don’t keep your pursuits quiet. These are the people that are going to cheer you on and buy from you in the beginning. These people can tell their friends, these people will come to you when they have a special art-related request. To get your art career going, you need as many people as possible to know about you and what you’re doing. Don’t worry about whether your art is perfect yet (you’ll likely never feel it’s perfect); these people will grow with you and they’re excited you’re making time to do something you love.

Be Visible Online

 You don’t need to be on every social media platform under the sun. You just don’t. It would be a challenge to maintain all of them effectively. I only use Instagram and Facebook for my art. You do need to have a website and I highly recommend sending out a regular email.

Instagram

Instagram is my favorite social media platform. I think it is an effective way to reach a large audience and to sell your work. Even though I have plenty to learn and there is no shortage of artists with much larger followings than me, I could talk at length about Instagram strategy. Today, I’m going to just touch on content.

I share several types of photos on Instagram: Finished paintings (both filling the whole frame and “staged” in a room), paintings in progress and studio details, inspiration photos, and photos of me -- sometimes in work environments and occasionally from my personal life.

Look, I love photographing all the crazy Jell-o salads in the deli of my small-town grocery and taking photos of the multi-colored bubbles on my windshield at the car wash (actual photos on my phone right now), but I don’t post these things. I don’t have pets, but I definitely wouldn’t post photos of them. If you are famous, people might care about all the minutia of your life, but if you are not famous, people are looking at your Instagram profile to figure out if they care about you. If they can’t figure out what your account is about from those first six or nine photos they see when they click to your profile, they are not going to care about you and they are definitely not going to follow you.

So, if you are wanting to build your following, make sure each photo looks good with the last (cohesive color scheme, content, etc.) so when someone clicks to view your profile, in a split second, they will be able to tell that you are an artist, what kind of work you do, and whether they like it. One photo of a painting, one photo of your cat, two photos of your baby, one of the snow in Houston and one of the beans you soaked yesterday (unless you are my actual friend in real life) doesn’t look like I want to follow you, it looks like a hot mess. That your photos should be good goes without saying.

How often to post? Who to follow? How to hashtag? Whether to pay for ads? Coming in a later post.

Facebook

I like Facebook less than Instagram, but I still post on it. I have a lot of overlap in my audience, but not complete. Plenty of people only follow me on Facebook. I typically only post a few times a week on Facebook and have been known to lapse up to two weeks. This is not intentional, I just don’t get the same results on Facebook. I think the algorithm (the system that determines who/how many of your followers actually see what you post) is stricter and I find it difficult to get my content in front of people. So, perhaps this is laziness. See, I told you it’s hard to do a good job with multiple social media accounts.

Website

You need to have a website. This is your “home base.” We have no control over social media platforms. What if Instagram decides tomorrow that you need to pay to show each post to your followers? What if next week there is a hot new platform and all the followers you’ve worked so hard to accumulate jump ship? Anyway, you control your website and you want to have a permanent place that people can come to to learn everything they want to know about you. Your website should also be able to handle sales. That means it can be working on your behalf 24/7. Nothing like waking up to sale that has happened overnight or while you were busy enjoying life! I use Squarespace and am pleased with it. You don’t need to know how to code; it’s very user-friendly and the templates look professional and modern. A lot of artists use Fine Art Studio Online (FASO). I have never tried using FASO, but I think many of the templates look dated, and they aren’t as easy for the visitor to use. I make these statements based on seven years working in digital advertising strategy with a heavy emphasis on user behavior, user expectations and user experience design.

Email

Just as I said you control your website, you also control your email list. This is super important. With a website, you are just hoping people come to you. With email, you go to them. Email may not seem sexy and it’s certainly not new – in terms of digital marketing tools – but it’s a workhorse. And it’s personal. It’s not really a big deal to like a page on Facebook or a profile on Instagram, but to give someone your email – well, that’s almost like giving out your phone number. When someone gives you his or her email address, you know he or she is very interested. Treat your email list like gold. Set expectations about how often people will hear from you and what they can expect to receive, and then do what you told them you would do. Of course, if people give you their email address, they expect to hear from you, but even if you’re not quite ready to start sending emails, don’t wait to start collecting addresses. I send a “newsletter” once a month and then if I have an event, I often send an invite to people in the area. I use MailChimp to send my emails and it’s free for the number that I send. It’s a fantastic tool and I recommend it.

Be Visible in the Real World

 Your digital efforts need to be supported by showing your work out in the world. In my experience, my digital and real world efforts are both essential. People that first find me online will then come out to my events to see my paintings in person and meet me. People that stumble upon my work at events then start following me online.

Some people will buy art online even if they’ve never seen your work in person but understandably, many people are hesitant to do this. If someone has seen your work in person, but not a particular piece, familiarity with your quality of work is often enough for them to feel confident purchasing online.

Art/Craft Fairs/Festivals

Festivals are a LOT of work. But I love them. The whole point is to talk to as many people as possible, so if that’s not your thing, think about that before signing up for one. I am not on the festival circuit; I don’t think I have the energy for that, nor do I have the desire to be on the road every weekend. I try to do an event approximately every other month. The biggest one I do is the Festival of the Arts in Oklahoma City, which is huge. Six days, 750,000 attendees…huge. On the smaller end of the spectrum, for example, I hosted an opening for a new painting collection at a coffee & gelato shop near my house this summer. It was just a few hours on one evening. Events like both of these are super important for showing your work and meeting people. I can’t tell you how many opportunities have come my way from the people I have met at events. Plus they are amazing for getting feedback.

A quick Google search of “art festival tips” or something similar will return all sorts of advice, check lists, etc., for participating in festivals. I definitely recommend spending an hour or so reading up before your first one. If you are participating in a bigger festival, you may be able to find online reviews of it from other artists.

I wrote a detailed review/how-to of my most recent festival set-up here.

Restaurants & Coffee Shops

I have had a lot of shows at restaurants and coffee shops. I have sold some art, but not a lot. In general, I think the more exposure the better. Even when I don’t sell pieces, I do often hear, “Oh, I saw your art at such and such…” There is some stat about people needing to be exposed to a product seven times before being ready to buy. One advantage of these type of shows is that they are typically pretty easy to line up and they give you a place to send potential clients if you don’t have your own studio or gallery. A woman recently contacted me asking where she could see my paintings. I had seven hanging at a coffee shop; I sent her there and she picked one out. Maria Brophy generally recommends against hanging your art in venues like this. There are the dangers of grease and steam, splashes and spills, people not paying attention and being careless, etc. And, of course, it’s not exactly prestigious to hang your art in a coffee shop (normally), but I am trying to sell paintings and I tend to think: the more people that see my work, the better.

Nontraditional Venues

This is where I throw prestige and “the way things are done” out the window. I try to balance having my work in places where people are going to buy art and places where people actually go. Think about it: People visiting a gallery might have a high propensity to buy, but how often do people go into a gallery?

A friend of mine recently hung her paintings at a rowing studio. People were sweating it out on the erg machines for an hour, just staring at her paintings, getting used to how they felt and what they looked like. She said she had to take new paintings there almost every week because she sold so many.

My town doesn’t have much in the way of art galleries, so I called the local furniture store and asked if they would consider hanging my art on the walls. Furniture and art seemed like a natural pair to me. After walking into a jewelry store and seeing their bare walls, I called them to see if they might like to borrow some pretty paintings. I sold one during First Friday and the owner’s wife is now one of my most loyal collectors. I also called the city’s visitor welcome center and approached the regional development alliance. Galleries aren’t the only option. Sometimes you just need to get creative and pick up the phone.

Resources

These resources have been very valuable to me.

I highly recommend these books:

Steal Like an Artist

Show Your Work

Art Money Success

These podcasts:

Artists Helping Artists – There are seven years’ worth in the library. Get listening.

Being Boss

Steps I decided to take in 2015, the year I decided to attack this dream.

http://catherinefreshleyart.com/news/2015/4/26/five-things-because-once-you-write-it-down-its-real

There is so much more I have to share! But that’s it for now. If you don’t want to miss the next update, sign up for my email list. Hope this was helpful!

2017 Holiday Gift Guide

Choosing art for someone can be intimidating and is a bit of a gamble. But, if you know the person you’re buying for likes the artist’s work, you can shop with more confidence. This year, I’ve put together a gift buying guide for some of the people that are sure to be on your list.

For the organized

CatherineFreshley_Calendar

Calendars! I picked 12 of my favorite paintings from 2017 to put in a 2018 calendar. This is an 11"x14" wall calendar and the images are 10"x10," which makes them perfect for cutting out at the end of the month and putting in an off-the-shelf frame. I’ve sold a lot of these already and people seem to love them. I’m placing one more pre-Christmas order with my local printer, so order ASAP if you want one before Christmas.

For the snoozer

CatherineFreshley_sunrise

Sunrise giclée. Know someone who can’t seem to get out of bed in the morning? This 14”x14” giclée print on canvas will remind him or her what the sunrise looks like. It is wired and ready to hang.

For the traditionalist

CatherineFreshley_Cards

A four-pack of blank cards. Use them for "Just a note to say hello," "Happy Anniversary," "Welcome to this beautiful world, sweet baby," "Get well," basically anything. I have four different sets, all showing a variety of Oklahoma scenes. Have a special request for a larger set or want four of a particular image? Just send me an email and I’ll make it happen.

For your big love

CatherineFreshley_prairiesummersunset

A big painting. When you don’t know what your life would be without him or her, when it’s your tenth anniversary, when you decide to overhaul the Tuscany décor, when you live in the city but yearn for the plains, when you want to spend your money with someone other than Jeff Bezos, this 3’x4’ summer sunset is a good choice. Wired, ready to hang, shipped with care, sure to be unexpected under the tree.

For the sweet dreamer

CatherineFreshley_prints

Prints. I think these pretties look great in an office setting (to inspire your biggest goals and aspirations) and I also think they would be the cutest in a little girl's room, watching over her sweet dreams. I have quite a selection of prints here.

For the seasonally depressed

CatherineFreshley_JulySunsetDrive

A cheery painting. For anyone trudging through the winter months, this bright, original 12"x12" painting will lighten the mood. It depicts sunset on a hot summer night when the air is heavy and still.

For the stressed and anxious

CatherineFreshley_ClevelandRoadEvening

A totally zen painting. This original 20"x20" painting will bring much needed visual calm and peace to the home or office. It's easy to take a deep breath and relax while staring at this painting.

For the hard to buy for

Gift certificates! These are available in any denomination and can be used for anything I sell. Send me an email for details.

Need help? I'd be happy to have an email or phone conversation to answer any questions and help you make a decision. Contact me here.

Marc Hanson Painting Workshop Review

So, what's it like to take a plein air painting workshop? What do you do? Should I take one? Read on!

At the end of October, I attended a five-day plein air painting workshop in Franklin, Tennessee. Painting “plein air” simply means painting outside. The workshop was instructed by Marc Hanson and hosted by On Track Studios.

On Track Studios' front porch.

On Track Studios' front porch.

The workshop was fantastic. My painting instruction thus far is fairly limited (Painting 101 at Tulane University in 2006 and a not-for-credit intermediate acrylic class at Southwest School of Art in San Antonio in 2010) and I was desperate for some help.

Marc Hanson is an accomplished and well-known painter. I’ve followed his work for several years. I think I first discovered his work on Pinterest (slightly embarrassing) and then heard him interviewed on the podcast Artists Helping Artists. This is his painting that first caught my eye. Look at how feathery those clouds are! Like me, he tends to work from landscape scenes that are quite regular – many people might call them boring – but he masterfully transforms these scenes into stunning paintings.

I had heard Marc is a good instructor so I jumped at the chance to take a workshop from him. I have never painted outside, so I was a little nervous to see what that would be like.

On Track Studios is a lovely facility in the rolling hills outside of Franklin, Tennessee, which is about 20 miles south of Nashville. The barn-like studio sits on two acres and is home to six private artist studios as well as large common spaces for classes, events and meals. We spent some of our time at the studio and most of our time outside at two different century farms.

Downtown Franklin at sunset.

Downtown Franklin at sunset.

Marc did at least one demonstration every day. All of the eight painters in our class had a good deal of painting experience and Marc structured the workshop and tailored his demonstrations accordingly. On each of the five days, Marc demonstrated a different way of starting a painting. He spent about an hour on the demo and then we were to walk around the beautiful grounds, pick a spot and paint a painting using the same method for starting the painting. He made rounds while we were painting, giving us generous one-on-one instruction and critique.

The first day, we did a monochromatic transparent block-in, the second day we did a full-color transparent block-in, the third day we did a full-color opaque block-in, then an impressionistic block-in and then on the last day, which was absurdly cold, we attempted something he calls “direct painting.”

Here is my day-one set-up.

Here is my day-one set-up.

This is my day-one painting.

This is my day-one painting.

This is my day three painting location. The left image below shows my full-color opaque block-in and the image on the right is the painting at the end of the day.

This is my day three painting location. The left image below shows my full-color opaque block-in and the image on the right is the painting at the end of the day.

This, my day four painting, is my favorite.

This, my day four painting, is my favorite.

Marc also did a super useful color-mixing demonstration and on the last afternoon, we had a group critique. I painted in acrylic all week, but the other students painted in oil. Marc offered to paint directly on the oil painters’ paintings for the critique. I was impressed all week by Marc’s ability to find and capture a scene and turn it into a beautiful piece of art, but I was impressed in a whole new way when I saw him paint on others’ paintings. It makes sense that he would be able to paint in his style and method, with his colors and produce something beautiful, but to watch him just jump into someone else’s half-done painting and improve it vastly within ten to twenty minutes was wild.

CatherineFreshley_Hanson_critique

On one of the freezing mornings, we spent some time gathered around the cozy, farmhouse-style table in On Track’s kitchen. Marc held court over a little painting philosophy session and I furiously scribbled down some quotes from his favorite passages on painting. Two really resonated with me and what I am trying to do:

“It is the artist’s prerogative to reveal the beauty of things to those less fortunate – to those who can’t see it.”

And,

“It is so much greater to make much of little than little of much.”

I learned about simultaneous contrast, where cast shadows are warmer and cooler, that you shouldn’t have too many sky holes and, among other things, that painting outside is a joy and a challenge.

I would highly recommend taking a class or workshop from/through Marc Hanson and On Track Studios.

How to: Art festival set-up

Last weekend I participated in Autumn & Art in Wichita, Kansas. I have shown my art many places and at a variety of types of events, but this was the first multi-day event for which I had to provide my own setup. The other multi-day events I have done have either been indoors or have provided the tent and walls. I have done many single-day outdoor events, but when you need to be able to confidently set up for multiple days and a range of weather, and leave your tent overnight, you’re talking about a different type of infrastructure.

CatherineFreshley_AutumnArt

After much deliberation, my husband and I decided to go the “halfway route.” We didn’t buy the professional $1,000-$1,500 tents that most artists on the festival circuit use. Nor did we buy ProPanels, which are in that same price range. I’m not planning to become a full-time festival artist, but I definitely needed an upgrade.

Tent review

We purchased this tent from Sam’s. It is about twice as expensive as the pop-up we had before and significantly sturdier. It also comes with side walls, which was a required upgrade since we were going to leave the tent overnight. Additionally, the walls prevent the sun from coming in and shining through your hanging apparatus.

We found the tent very easy to set up and take down. It fits easily into the bag it comes in. It’s heavy, but has wheels. (I still wouldn’t want to have to drag it very far.) The side walls do not fit into the bag. One of the side walls has a zipper in the middle that allows you to have the wall down, but open, in case of inclement weather (see below). We used additional clips to open the door wider. We had mist and a few short periods of heavy rain. We didn’t have any water come in, but I still think I want to spray waterproofing spray on the seams for future use.

We had a few gusts of wind that pulled Velcro apart in a couple places. This was more of a nuisance than a problem, but I suspect it could be a problem in worse weather. Thank you, Danika Ostrowski, for recommending this tent.

Securing the tent

CatherineFreshley_rain

The tent comes with stakes but not weights. We made weights out of 4” PVC. We bought a 10’ piece of PVC, used a circular saw to cut it in four and then glued test caps to one end of each piece. We drilled two holes in each pipe about a foot apart lengthwise and put eye screws in them. We used glue on the eye screws for extra insurance. We then filled the pipes with sand and put caps on the other ends. We tied 550/parachute cord between the eye screws to create a handle. The handle and eye screws also give you a way to tie the weights to the tent. I noticed that many artists hung their weights from their tents with cargo straps. We put two weights on the ground at the front corners of the tent and tied them to the top of the tent with 550 cord. We had grass behind our tent and staked the tent into the ground with cargo straps. We didn’t have a lot of wind during the weekend, but the tent didn’t budge with the few gusts we had.

Display system

CatherineFreshley_panels

We bought mesh panels from Flourish. They are easy to install and apparently can hold 300 lbs each. I think they look clean and professional. I really wanted a white background for my paintings. You use S hooks to hang wired paintings from the mesh. I am curious to see if the holes in the mesh stretch out after multiple uses and begin to look ratty. The wind blows through and wiggles the paintings around a bit, but I was never concerned about the paintings coming off. Additionally, the poles that these require at the bottom of the tent (you buy these and the hardware from Flourish) add structural integrity to the tent. The panels fold in half lengthwise to five feet and then roll up. They come with a nice, heavy-duty carrying bag.

Lights

CatherineFreshley_lights

We bought these LED lights from Amazon. They were relatively inexpensive and most important, they don’t get hot. I was pleased with the amount and color of light they provided. We used clips and twist ties to secure both the extension cord and the lights to the tent infrastructure.

Old set-up

If you're just getting started, I would still recommend the $220 pop-up over the $100 kind, but you can make a cheap hanging system with plastic lattice and S hooks. I used this get-up multiple times for one-day events that only lasted a few hours.

CatherineFreshley_lattice

I did all this -- including the research -- with my husband. If you are solo, you will need to grab someone for just a few minutes to help you expand and raise the tent. Otherwise, you can probably do it yourself, but it will take a while. Hope you find this useful. And no, unfortunately, these aren’t affiliate links.

The sky's the limit, and the inspiration, for Enid artist

This article, written by Jeff Mullin, was originally published on June 4, 2017 in the Enid News & Eagle and on enidnews.com. The article is republished here with the permission of the author.


ENID, Okla. — Northwest Oklahoma is known for wide-open skies that occasionally explode in a seemingly impossible riot of colors in the early morning or at day's end.

Those skies, and their many chromatic moods, have inspired a young Enid artist, Catherine Freshley.

Her paintings — rendered in acrylic on either canvas or wood — reflect the texture and color of the landscape in and around Enid.

"I found the people in Oklahoma to be really kind and really excited about my art," Freshley said. "I think my paintings feel like home to them and they're fresh and a different perspective than traditional western art."

Freshley's work includes original and custom works, prints and greeting cards. She markets her art on her website, catherinefreshleyart.com and at events such as the annual Festival of the Arts in downtown Oklahoma City.

The Portland, Ore., native's love of art is lifelong. As a child she constantly drew or doodled, "on all of my notes in class, hopefully not on too many of my homework assignments," she said. When she was small she even cleaned out her bedroom closet and turned it into her art studio.

"That probably lasted one day," she said.

Her childhood dream was to be a fashion designer, but she majored in economics at Tulane University after spending a semester at the University of Oregon while the New Orleans school rebuilt in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

She took only one painting class in college, but she credits it for her being a painter today. After graduation she worked for an ad agency in New Orleans, continuing to work for the firm remotely while moving with her husband, Tom Leineweber, because of his job, which brought the couple to Enid. Meanwhile she was pursuing her passion for art on nights and weekends, stretching her — and her relationship with her husband — thin.

In March 2016 she quit her full-time advertising job to paint nearly full time while still doing occasional freelance advertising work.

"It's been really great," Freshley said. "I've been a lot happier, I've been able to replace my income, and I really like the freedom this affords me."

As a member of the millennial generation, she worried people would think she had some sort of entitlement attitude when she began to pursue her dream.

"If you have some sort of passion that you can make money from, there's no reason to not go after it," she said. "If everyone was passionate about what they were doing the world would probably be a better place."

Her muse is the fields and and skies of Northwest Oklahoma. When she sees a scene she wants to paint, she first takes a photograph, then works from that.

"I don't have any photography skills at all, so my photo never does the scene justice," she said. "But if I've been there myself and I also have the mental image, I'm able to combine my memory of being there there — the visual memory as well as other senses — combine that with the photograph."

She paints familiar fields, pastures and roads, but portrays them in unfamiliar ways.

"I've had a lot of people tell me that my paintings make them realize how beautiful their everyday experience is," Freshley said. "Or they'll spend more time looking up at the clouds and not taking them for granted. To me that's something really special and a powerful impact of my work. That's what I'm trying to do, is document how spectacular our everyday scenes are."

She says the scenes of Northwest Oklahoma move her more than well-known landmarks like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains.

"To me just the everyday beauty is something worth capturing," she said.

Freshley is not interested in producing works that are photo-realistic.

"If they can connect to my painting because it brings back a memory or it feels like a place that they've been, that's what I'm trying to do," she said. "They can add their own memory and their own meaning to the painting and make it theirs."

Checking in: One year of self-employment

My last day as someone else’s employee was almost exactly a year ago – March 31, 2016.

On that day, I wrote a long piece about quitting, which I did only after months of stewing and dreaming and preparing. I wrote about our friends that didn’t get to see 30, I wrote about the decision to build my dream or someone else’s, I wrote about seeing results from hard work and about how I value relaxing with my husband at the end of the day.

A year into this, I figured it was time report back. The short story is things are going well. Not for one second of one day have I even questioned my decision.

I love numbers and metrics so I decided to collect some for you as a quick look into my new life of being my own boss.

All numbers are April 2016-March 2017.

  • Paintings sold: 78 or 1.5 per week (I sold 18 in the 12 months before. Feeling pretty good about this).
  • Clients that bought more than one painting: 12
  • Commissions completed: 15
  • Shows and events: 10
  • Instagram follower growth: 130%
  • Freelance/consulting hours worked: 428
  • Freelance and consulting clients: 10
    • Marketing consulting for law firms, design studios and professional photographers.
    • Freelance work on projects for Kennedy Space Center, Home Depot, Chef Paul Prudhomme/Magic Seasoning Blends and Aerotek, the country’s largest staffing firm, contracted through ad agencies in North Carolina and New Orleans.
  • Five-mile runs: Let’s just say I didn’t run that far once in the year leading up to quitting, but went on a five-mile run, a three-mile run and lifted weights every week this fall (I’m a cold weather runner).
  • Evenings reclaimed: Almost all of them. I used to paint or do some kind of art business work nearly every weeknight evening. Now, I put down the brushes by 5 or 6 almost every night and mostly stay away from my computer.
  • Hip hop dance class attendance: High
  • Thursday night trivia attendance: High
  • Hours spent watching TV on the couch with my main squeeze: 100s
  • New recipes tried: Countless. Here and here are two of my favorites.
  • Week-long trips home to see immediate and extended family: 3
  • International trips (much easier now since I previously had fewer vacation days than my husband): 2 (Cuba and France)
  • New U.S. cities explored with friends: 2 (Asheville and Milwaukee)

And last, hugs to everyone cheering me on and buying my work: Endless. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for enabling this dream. It has been nothing short of magic.

 

The Artist as Historian

Studio musings -- A friend and I were talking last summer about my paintings, the process of creating them and being creative in general. She doesn’t paint and I told her that I see painting as a method – a learnable skill – for communicating.

I also told her that I don't even think of my work as being creative. I feel that I am documenting or translating something that Mother Nature or God or whom or whatever, has already created. This beautiful thing already exists; I am just putting it on canvas. In a way, this diminishes my involvement in each piece. I don’t have to have the idea of what to create and claim no credit for the inspiration for my paintings. However, I don’t feel that this diminishes my craft or what I am doing – it certainly doesn’t bother me – it just changes how I think about my role or my title. Artist? Yes, without question. But am I creative? Am I generating the ideas? Not in this case. I am recording them.

I have always been compelled to document places that are important to me. Up until my early twenties, though, I wrote about them. I am not sure why I switched mediums, but it was the same overwhelming feeling coursing through my body – a visceral response to natural beauty – and a need to preserve it in something more tangible and permanent than my memory.

Some artists struggle with the business side of being a working artist. Sure, I struggle to sell as much as I want, and balance time between efforts to grow the business and actually paint, and I struggle to input my receipts into Freshbooks in a timely manner, but I definitely don’t struggle with the idea of it being a business. I think that is because, to some degree, I don’t feel ownership of my paintings. And I don’t see the work as precious – the paintings are just records of landscapes that I didn’t create or even have the ideas for. There will always be another landscape that calls me to paint it, and I will paint it – helping, like a historian, to document what our beautiful earth looked (and hopefully, felt) like at a moment in time.

Pricing: A how-to for artists just starting out

Disclaimer: I’m relatively new to selling art, don’t sell in galleries, and am not yet making a living as an artist so, take all that into consideration. I am not saying I have the right answer, I’m just sharing what I’m doing.

CatherineFreshley_pricing

Pricing has been one of the hardest things for me as an artist and I know it’s hard for others, especially when they are first starting out. In the interest of helping other artists, I thought I would share a bit about my pricing structure. Maybe this is poor form, maybe collectors aren’t supposed to know what’s under the kimono, but I’ve benefited a lot from other artists sharing their knowledge and I like transparency. 

It is commonly advised to price based on size and (with rare exception) to price all paintings of any given size the same. I follow this advice. Sure, you may like one 30”x40”painting more than another 30”x40” and one may have taken longer than the other, but prospective buyers don’t know that – and don’t need to. Seeing price discrepancies on two paintings that are the same size and caliber will confuse them and may make you look untrustworthy and unprofessional.

My first step in developing my pricing was to set the price for an 18”x24” painting. It is roughly in the middle of the sizes I paint and it is popular with my buyers. My other prices are based off this first price; as such, this step is the hardest and most important.

This price is based off several factors and you can find equations galore about summing materials cost, labor, overhead, profit, and then multiplying by two, etc. I’m not going to lie – I’m not quite that organized with my expenses and didn’t set this first price off any such formula. 

Expenses: I know how much a canvas costs (a lot), I know how much paint costs (a lot), I know how long my paintings take me (a long time) and what kind of hourly wage I want to make (something I can actually live on), how much Facebook ads cost and business cards, and how much time I spend managing my Instagram and responding to email inquiries and going to festivals, etc., so I take all those things into account. For me, that’s kind of the ‘duh’ part. Even if you’re really, really just starting out and selling art as a hobby, you definitely need to cover your expenses and, ideally, your time.

Competition: You also need to know what other artists at your skill level and with a similar level reputation are selling their work for. Look at festivals, look at coffee shops, look at galleries, look online. Study up. Figure out what a reasonable range is. Of course, having the lowest price is not the answer to selling more. In fact, if your art is priced too low, potential buyers may think there is something wrong with it. Everyone is always suspicious of something that seems too good to be true. Also, if they are trying to invest in art or just want to feel proud of the new painting they have on their wall, that feeling is not going to be based on having bought the cheapest thing they could find. 

Confidence: This might be the hardest part. You need to feel good about your prices. You need to be excited to sell the painting at that price and you need to be excited for the client to get the painting at a fair price. You need to be able to tell someone the price of your painting without hesitation. Without adding, sheepishly, “I mean, the canvas itself was $60!” This part is SO hard. So many times, I’ll look at a painting and say, “Damn right that’s a good painting that should cost $500!” The next minute, I’ll turn around, look at again and say, “Who am I to think I could charge $500 for that little painting? I’m not in that league.” Constant battle. I’m not saying you should positive self-talk your way into high prices. Go back to those first two components (expenses and competition). Know the true value of your work and when you land on your prices, own them.

So…let’s say you’ve set that first price. Next, calculate what that comes to as a price per square inch. When I first did this a couple years ago, I decided I wanted to sell my 18”x24s” for $250. That felt like a good price for my skill level, my history of selling and I knew I was definitely covering my material costs. That comes out to be about 58 cents per square inch. If you want all your paintings to be the same price per square inch, boom! You’re done. Just multiply each size’s total square inches by whatever that price per square inch is. 

But, I didn’t like that approach. I figure every painting has some fixed costs that don’t change based on its size. You have to drive to the store or order the canvas online (please tell me you’re buying in bulk to save money and time) and it doesn’t matter whether that canvas is 5” or 5’ – that time cost of acquiring the canvas is the same. Also, let’s say you paint from photos of landscapes, like me. You have to go out and get those photos, or have that inspiration and again, it doesn’t matter if you’re painting something tiny or huge, it still took an hour of sitting in your car watching the clouds to get that perfect photo. And then there is the mental courage of walking into your studio and opening up that first tube of paint. 

All that to say, I increased my price per square inch for my smallest paintings. Do this in Excel so it’s easy to just try different numbers in your calculations. You can play with the numbers until you get prices you like. Or, set the price for your smallest painting by saying, “You know it’s really not worth it for me to sell something for less than X.” Then, use that price per square inch as your small-painting number.

The opposite is true with my biggest paintings; historically, I have given a pretty big “volume discount” – the price per square inch goes down substantially on the big guys (but I'm changing that). You can decrease price per square inch linearly or you can have a couple or few prices per square inch: one for your smallest sizes, one for your middle sizes and one for your largest. 

Make sense? Thoughts? Maybe next time I'll write about raising prices... Leave a comment here or shoot me an email at catherine@catherinefreshleyart.com.

30 paintings in 30 days: Day 31

Well, here we are, January 31st, the end of my second 30 paintings in 30 days challenge. I have to say that I’m glad it’s over. There were too many days that I didn’t have anything to share with my lovely readers and that was stressing me out a little bit because I didn’t want to let you down and I don’t like failing at things I set out to do. But! I am happy about the paintings I was able to complete this month and the ones I made big strides on, as well as the fact that I have exercised 20 of the last 23 days, and that, for some unknown reason, my husband is especially interested in going on walks lately – never going to say "no" to that!

Here is the painting I am working on today. If it looks familiar, it is because it is the 7th painting I have done from the same five minutes of photo taking. This one is 20"x20." Here is another take on the scene, at a smaller scale.

Most of the paintings I did this month and still have in progress are for the Oklahoma City Festival of the Arts, which is April 24-30 (side note, I will turn 30 during the festival!), but I’ve decided to make a few available. I’ll be sending my monthly newsletter out to my entire list later this afternoon, so act quick if you see something that tickles your fancy. My website host has been a little moody this afternoon, so hopefully my site isn't down when this email goes out. If it's acting up, just be patient and persistent.

Are you only signed up to receive my 30 in 30 emails? Let's not let today be the end. Sign up to get my monthly updates here

Thanks so much for your support and encouragement. It keeps me going. xo

"Ooh baby, baby it's a wild world"

Enid December Sunset - Available here

I freaking love this one. If you buy it, I might have to come over every now and again and just look at it. Hope you don't mind.

Late Summer Sky #2 - Available here

Not Oklahoma

Willamette View - Available here

Wood panel painting

Memorial Day #6 - Available here

30 paintings in 30 days: Day 29

Today I primarily worked on the painting that I started on Thursday. It is hard to appreciate in this small photo, but I think I spent at least two hours just working on the blue of the sky -- making sure I had enough paint on the canvas, getting the colors right and creating a nice, smooth transition from light to darker blue. The blue at the top of the painting is more of a cobalt than is reflected here (both the hue and the tint change from bottom to top).

I've got two more days to wrap up some of the many unfinished paintings I have clogging up my studio space. Jury's still out on how I feel about what I have accomplished this month.