Who Knew I'd Want to Paint Mountains?

In late October, I traveled to Eastern Oregon to visit my little sister. She lives in a tiny ranch town nestled between rolling hills of hay and craggy, imposing mountains. Despite growing up in Portland, I had never spent any time in the eastern part of the state.

CatherineFreshley_Wallowa2

This was a good trip for a couple reasons: my sister and I don’t get to see each other very often and I really enjoyed my 48 hours with her (and all the Arrowhead Chocolate we ate).

But also, my husband and I expect to move home to the Northwest in about a year and a half. While I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the PNW is more beautiful than Oklahoma and Kansas, I have never been compelled to paint mountains and 1,000 trees.

So while I can’t wait to move home, I’ve had this nagging concern bubbling up about what I will paint when we get there. (Of course, I can continue to paint flat land and big skies, but I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt sales to paint the scenery that your local market knows and loves. Plus, I only paint from my own photos, so I need easy access to views I want to paint.)

CatherineFreshley_Wallowa

I saw a painting everywhere I looked while visiting my sister in Wallowa County. The big sky, the remoteness, the wheat-looking crops felt familiar and the mountains, at turns purple, pink with the rising sun and a deep blue, called my name in a way that surprised me. This unexpected desire to paint these scenes was a relief; it felt like the beginning of a transition toward home after what will be 15 years away, like my artistic sensibilities were “getting ready” and I could trust myself to not let me down.

CatherineFreshley_Wallowa3.jpg

I came right back to Wichita, sorted through my hundreds of photos and immediately covered a dozen canvases with the first coats of paint. The series (which also includes two paintings from the most special place to me – Oysterville, WA) is now very much in-progress. I hope to finish it and make it available to you by the second week of December. I’ll send an email a couple days in advance to let you know the exact date and time that the paintings will be available on my website. Email subscribers will get first dibs.

Annual Report: Year Two of Self-employment

My last day as someone else’s employee was two years ago – March 31, 2016.

You can read the long story about why I quit here.

A year ago, I reported on my first year of self-employment and I’m doing it again. I love numbers and metrics so you better believe I am keeping track of all this for my own nerdy enjoyment, but also, in an annual report-type way, I feel I owe this to you.

Every purchase you make is an investment in my dream. Your purchase conveys that art is a valuable component of our lives and that being an artist is a worthwhile vocation that deserves compensation. It tells me, emotionally, that I should keep going. That’s important because though I love painting and building a business, it’s not easy. But in addition to the touchy feel-y, this exchange of art for money allows me to keep going. I am fortunate that my husband has a great job, but I have always loved making money and not making money is not an option I give myself. If I don’t sell paintings, then I have to go back to working for someone else. Back to helping someone else build their dream. No thanks.

All numbers are April 2017-March 2018.

Business stats:

  • Art revenue growth over the previous year: 98.9%
  • Paintings sold: 105 or more than two per week. I sold 78 in my first year of self-employment and 18 during the year leading up to quitting my job.
  • Calendars sold: More than 100.
  • Calendars gifted: More than 20. These two stats make me especially happy because I worked with a local printer to design and produce them.
  • Cards and prints sold: Lots
  • Clients that bought more than one painting during the year: 9
  • Additional repeat customers from previous years: 6
  • Commissioned paintings completed: 34
  • Minutes spent looking for the end of the tape on a roll of packing tape: 43. I now only buy 3M. It's worth the extra dollars
  • Shows and events: 9
  • Events at which I definitely didn't cover the cost of my time: 3
  • Instagram follower growth: 360%
  • Website visitor growth: 213%
  • Front page features in the Enid News and Eagle: 2 (here and here)
  • Emails I sent to reporters and interior designers that went unacknowledged: Feels like dozens
  • TV appearances: 2
  • Solo gallery shows: 1 (my first!)
  • Five-day plein air painting workshops: 1 (it was amazing; read about it here)
  • Professional sports teams that commissioned a huge painting from me: 1 (Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • Original paintings donated to charitable organizations: 3
  • Additional donations: 3
  • Bad paintings that I painted over: At least 4
  • Words written about how to not be a starving artist (aka free advice for other artists and small business owners): 7,357 (start here with post one)
  • Weekly, hour-long, video status calls with my mom: Every week so far in 2018. She recently quit her job to focus on her multiple artistic interests.
  • Freelance/consulting hours worked: 78. I worked 428 in my first year of self-employment.

Life stats

I quit my job because I can’t not paint. But with a full-time job, I could only paint nights and weekends, which meant that other aspects of my life weren't getting the attention they deserved: my health (eating well, exercising, sleeping) and my relationships with my husband, family and friends. Without hesitation, I would say that my health and my relationships are more important than painting, but it was easier to ignore those than my easel. For that reason, these “life stats” are hugely important to me as a significant indicator of whether this is working.

  • Evenings spent not working: Almost all of them. My husband and I went on a lot of walks after work or after dinner during the last year and spent a lot of evenings in our inflatable hot tub. Yes, that’s a thing and it’s awesome. It allowed us to actually spend time outside in the summer in Oklahoma. Don’t heat it and you have a little pool!
  • Winter Olympics events watched: So many. I’ve never watched so much of the Olympics in my life and it was fantastic.
  • Players I can name on the Portland Trail Blazers' roster this year: 11 AKA I've never been such a good fan
  • Friends’ weddings attended: 3 (Portland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis)
  • Week-long trips home to see immediate and extended family: 2
  • Additional, short trips with friends: Santa Fe, Dallas, Monterey, Carlton Landing, OK, West Tennessee, Oklahoma City
  • Books read twice: 1 – I read and re-read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown because it was so good.
  • Five-workout weeks: This is my new thing and I’m loving it. I’ve been working out five days a week for the past 10-ish weeks. I haven’t worked out that much since the last day of high school track practice in 2005. (Between 2005 and 2017 I probably averaged 3 days per week.)
  • Hours meditated: 15
  • Meals cooked for friends because we like entertaining: Lots
  • Meals cooked for friends because they needed a helping hand: Lots

You guys. You are making this happen for me. I have replaced my income and my quality of life (and my husband's) has vastly improved. "Thank you" doesn't begin to cover it. XOXO

"Beneath Blue Skies" Opens at Wigwam Gallery in Altus, OK

UPDATE: Show extended through March 30.

I am pleased to announce that my show, "Beneath Blue Skies: The Landscapes of Catherine Freshley," curated by Aaron Moses, is now open at NBC Oklahoma's Wigwam Gallery in Altus, Oklahoma.

CatherineFreshley_Wigwam

The show features 15 original paintings of Oklahoma and Kansas, four of which the bank has purchased for its permanent collection during the past two years.

Moses said, "The landscapes of Catherine Freshley succeed in capturing both the appearance of the rural American landscape and the sensation unique to walking or driving in great open spaces."

This is my first solo show at a gallery and I am honored to have this opportunity. The gallery is hosting a reception on Thursday, March 8th at 6:30 p.m. I hope you will join me.

CatherineFreshley_Wigwam1
CatherineFreshley_Wigwam2

Wigwam Gallery is located at 117 W Commerce Street in downtown Altus and open by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To schedule a showing, email Moses at amoses@nbcok.com. The show hangs through March 22.

Stillwater Medical commissions six paintings for waiting room

I am pleased to share that I now have six paintings hanging in the waiting room of the new Stillwater Cancer Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

REES, out of Oklahoma City, was the architect and specified my work for the project. I was hired by D&K Art Design, an art consulting firm. I worked with D&K to develop a body of work that would fit the space and their color scheme and, of course, hopefully bring peace and optimism to the center's visitors. Four of the paintings are 36"x36" and two are 40"x40."

CatherineFreshley_StillwaterCancerCenter2
CatherineFreshley_StillwaterCancerCenter1
CatherineFreshley_StillwaterCancerCenter3
CatherineFreshley_wheatinEnid

Stillwater Cancer Center is a division of Stillwater Medical, partnering with Oklahoma Cancer Specialists and Research Institute.

To learn more about my corporate work, click here.

How to Not be a Starving Artist: Part 3 -- Be Professional

In my first post in this series, I outlined three requirements for not being a starving artist. I said you need to be visible, open for business and professional.

As a quick review, being visible means sharing the fact that you are making and trying to sell art. People must know that you and your product exist! Your endeavor needs to be visible to the people that you regularly interact with – friends, family, coworkers (as appropriate), your kids’ friends’ parents, people at church, etc. You also need to be visible online and out in the real world at shows and events.

Being open for business means that you are properly set up from a legal perspective, you have developed your branding, you have determined and are confident in your prices and you are ready to make sales in person and online.

For this post, I have made a list of my top five components of being professional. Of course, I don’t get everything right every time, but this is what I strive for.

1.       Stick to your brand religiously

We talked a lot about branding in the last post. Even if you’re thinking you’re a fine artist and “What does a ‘brand’ have to do with me? That sounds super commercial. I’m not selling out…blah, blah, blah,” branding matters. Your brand is your reputation and what customers and potential customers expect of you, based on every interaction they have had with you, your art and your physical and digital content since they first became aware of you. It matters.

So, once you have defined your brand, you need to honor it.  

You should work toward having a branded version of the following items: website, business cards, stationery, mailing labels, PowerPoint (or other presentation software) template, packaging/shipping and certificates of authenticity.

In addition to visual brand consistency, you’ll want to make sure your art and your behavior is consistent with your brand.

If you paint landscapes in a certain style, like I do, don’t show up at your next event with a bunch of dog portraits collaged out of magazine clippings. Ok, so that is extreme, but I personally wouldn’t even show up with a bunch of beach scenes. That is not what my collectors and fans expect to see from me, and that’s just confusing. You don’t walk into Whole Foods and see a display of Cheetos and Fun Dips. If you did, you would be confused and you would begin to doubt everything Whole Foods has ever told you about who they are, what they sell and the role they want to play in your life.

Important: I am not saying you can never change, just think long and hard about trying to do more than one thing at once (after you’re set on a brand) and when you do want to introduce a new series of work, do so deliberately and with excitement. Take Teil Duncan (a young and wildly successful artist) for example: she releases her work in collections and has painted a range of subject matter. But each collection is only one subject (beach scenes, animals, girls in dresses) and all paintings are in her signature style.

You should also think about the type of products you sell and where you sell them and make sure that these choices are aligned with your brand. If you are a fine artist, do you reproduce your work? As high-quality prints only or also on iPhone cases, mugs and pillows? Do you sell only in galleries or also in coffee shops? Do you go only to fine art festivals or also the church bazaar? There isn’t one right answer, I’m just saying these are all reflections of your brand (reputation) and decisions worth thinking through. And, huge disclaimer, don’t let not having this all nailed down prevent you from starting.

2.       Get your mind right

If you are trying to sell art, you need to feel worthy and you need to be confident. You can’t go out there with work that came out of your heart and soul without guts and feeling like you’re damn worth it. You need to feel like your art is worth buying and that you are worth someone spending their money on.

Now, if you are really just starting out and learning your craft, then I’m not talking to you. If you are confident in your worth as a human being but recognize that you are in a learning phase and that your art is not ready to sell, that’s fine. You are probably right. But that phase can’t last forever.

If this is something you struggle with, there is no shortage of self-help books and podcasts out there.

I listen to a lot of podcasts while painting and driving and recommend the ones listed below. They aren’t self-help, per se, but they interview creative, successful people and the episodes tend to fire me up to get after it. Some episodes focus specifically on mindset.

Being Boss

The Chase Jarvis Show

Don’t Keep Your Day Job

Artists Helping Artists

The Tim Ferriss Show

I also recommend the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic also has some good tidbits about not being precious about your art.

Think about dentists or carpenters or auto mechanics. When they have learned the trade and are competent in their jobs, I don’t imagine they wonder whether they should get paid for what they are doing. I don’t imagine they feel nervous to name a price or quote a project – they know they have a skill not everyone has and that completing a project takes their precious time and material resources, which are expensive. Artist is a profession just like anything else – I challenge you to think of it that way.

3.       Deliberately blend personal and professional

Social media has changed pretty much everything. Assuming you’re on social media (and you should be, a significant portion of my sales originate on social) you need to think about the professional you that exists on social and the personal you and how you mix them.

I have a personal Facebook account that I keep pretty private and that I don’t use all that much anyway. I have a Facebook page for my art business (that I also don’t use all that much). I only have one Instagram account and I use it to promote my business.

I always like to tell people, “In any industry, people like to buy from people they know, like and trust.” That is definitely true of art and social media helps people that may never meet you get to “know,” like and trust you. Social media is intimate. People want to know what you look like. They want to see the behind-the-scenes, they want to know your process and feel like they are a part of it. They want to know what inspires you and what challenges you. 

In general, I feel like they want to know you in ways that are relevant to the art you are creating. They may not care about your dog or the amazing pho you cooked all day yesterday (unless they are your actual friend in real life), but they might be interested to see what your first strokes on a painting look like and what your work space looks like. I am not saying you can never share a photo of your adorable pup, just remember that strangers are following you because they like your art.

The photos above are Instagram posts of mine. 1. Example of the "husband as laborer" category, 2. Example of the "where you work" category, 3. Example of the "inspiration" category, 4. Example of the "process and challenges" categories.

On occasion, I share photos of me with my husband. He is a big part of my life (obviously) and also a huge mental, logistical and labor help in my business. Normally when I share photos of him, it’s either a big deal (like our fifth anniversary) or it’s him working his butt off to help me set up my tent at a festival, or because it’s something timely and I want to be part of a larger conversation on social (#optoutside over Thanksgiving weekend). Anyway, it is never, “Look how cute my husband is sitting on the couch. #weekendvibes.”

And then there’s politics/social movements…This is a tricky one. Traditionally, politics, religion and money aren’t good table manners. But, with social media, everyone’s opinion is a lot more “out there” and “important” than it used to be AND there is a lot going on in our country right now that many people feel compelled to take a stand on. Being a solopreneur is quite different than being a corporation. As a sole proprietor or single-member LLC, you don’t have shareholders or a board to answer to. If you say something offensive or that people disagree with, that is your own issue to work through. I choose to almost never post politically-charged things and when I do, it’s because I'm really fired up and very certain in my stance.

Two summers ago, after a spate of police killings, when all media outlets were awash with conversations about race relations, I posted a quote image with this, from John Steinbeck: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” Not very incendiary (I don’t think). And, if for some reason this were to upset someone who saw it on my Instagram, fine. I would probably rather not have one of my paintings hanging in their home.

That is a good rule of thumb for me: Do I feel strongly enough about this subject that if someone un-follows me and doesn’t buy from me because of this post, it will be worth it?

4.       Treat it like a business

If you want to make money selling art and especially if you want it to be your full-time job, you need to treat it like a business. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that means you don’t get to spend all of your time painting. You need to keep records of your inventory and sales, you need to spend time marketing (building and updating a website, running social media, writing and sending out press releases), researching festivals and galleries to show at, tracking expenses and paying taxes, writing proposals for projects and drafting contracts, photographing inspiration material, checking in on clients, learning how to use a new credit card processing device, packing up paintings to ship – the list is literally endless. Do you want this? If not, that’s fine, that just means you have a hobby.

If you are, in fact, running a business, you are probably not spending more than 50% of your time on the actual art. When I was doing more freelance work, I heard a general guideline: It takes 25% of your time to get the work (marketing, networking, writing proposals), 25% of the time to maintain/grow your skillset (I thought that was kind of high) and then with the remaining 50%, you actually do the work.

I don’t do a stellar job tracking my hours, but I would say a great week is when I spend close to 75% of my time painting.

Right now I am in production mode and not really looking to drum up additional work. I am trying to roughly follow this schedule:

  • 7:30-9 am: Do all my computer work – email, bookkeeping, picking photo options for commissions, writing this blog post, etc.
  • 9-11 am: Work out, shower, get ready for the day, maybe unload the dishwasher.
  • 11-5 pm: Paint

When you are treating your art endeavor like a business, that means you are in sales. Your whole objective is to sell [paintings]. Because if you are not selling them, you are not making money and for most people, that means you’ll have to go back to doing something else.  

So, given that we’ve agreed we’re all in sales, we need to get good at closing sales and nurturing relationships. I’m not trying to turn you into a used car salesman. I want you to be great at helping people. Help them see how your art will bring them joy/peace/inspiration/whatever role you art serves, help them figure out which size works over their fireplace, help them by reminding them with a nice follow-up email that they saw you at a festival and really liked your work but were in the process of repainting their living room, help them by offering to bring both pieces over so they can decide which one is best in the space, help them by offering layaway.

I am not aggressive about trying to make sales, I just try to make it as easy as possible for people to say “yes” to me. Maria Brophy is very aggressive (but still in a helpful way) about making sales. I highly recommend reading her book, Art, Money, Success.

5.       Deliver top-notch customer service

Delivering good customer service is part of treating your art like a business, but it’s so important that I wanted to separate it. I am splitting this section into three categories: communication, appreciation and helpfulness.

Communication

Frequent and clear communication is always important, but especially with high-dollar purchases and custom projects. I (try to) respond to all emails, calls and texts quickly and always am the one to initiate communication (to arrange shipping or delivery) after someone buys a painting through my website.

When I am working on a commission, I update the buyer frequently and offer to share progress updates. I am clear with them about what I am doing and set realistic expectations about timelines.

After selling a big painting, I often email to ask if the collector has hung the painting and if they are happy with it.

Appreciation

Even though I have now sold a lot of paintings, I am still thrilled with every sale and feel so honored that someone wants to hang my work in their home and pay me to pursue my dream. I try to convey this to them genuinely.

I include a thank you (on branded note cards, of course) with every painting sale and send holiday cards to my customers. I frequently deliver paintings to customers and when I do, it’s always without charge and at their convenience. For my top collectors, I sometimes offer a discount or even gift them paintings. I sell them frames at cost and don’t charge for my framing labor. I send calendars or note cards as gifts. I offer collectors first dibs on new series of paintings. I try to accommodate quick turn requests on commissions.

Helpfulness

There is some overlap here with the things I mentioned when talking about closing a sale. Whether buying their first piece of real art ever, or adding the fiftieth painting to their collection, buying a painting can be a big decision. People are often buying them for personal reasons or to give as a special gift or to hang in a particular place (or all of the above). They want to feel confident in their purchase.

I try to be patient as we talk through what they want – remember, collectors often aren’t artists and they don’t have the same vocabulary that you do. They may struggle to articulate what they want. They may change their mind. Of course, it is important to set boundaries so you don’t get abused and not compensated for endless revision requests, but try to be accommodating. You want them to love the painting. Help them pick the right size for the space, help them evaluate color and composition options, be familiar with your inventory so you can recommend a painting they might like.

Wrap-up

Alright, guys, that’s the end of this series for now. Thank you for reading!

How to Not be a Starving Artist: Part 2

In my first post, I outlined three requirements for not being a starving artist. I said you need to be visible, open for business and professional.

As a quick review, being visible means sharing the fact that you are making and trying to sell art. People must know you and your product exist! Your endeavor needs to be visible to the people that you regularly interact with – friends, family, coworkers (as appropriate), your kids’ friends’ parents, people at church, etc. You also need to be visible online and out in the real world at shows and events.

This post goes into detail about being open for business.

Post three is here.

Legal

Don’t let the headache of dealing with legalese be an excuse for not getting started. When you are first making and trying to sell art, you might not need to get a business license or form an LLC (limited liability corporation), but the sooner you get yourself properly set up, the better. I have no legal training or knowledge, so don’t consider anything I am saying to be professional legal or accounting advice. The laws and requirements in every state are different. You will need to conduct research for your city and state to determine whether and at what point you need to get a business license, whether you want to be a sole proprietor, partnership, LLC or other type of entity, and whether you need to collect sales tax. The Small Business Administration is a great resource for this type of information.

While attending a small business workshop, a friend of mine learned that every small business should have a “BAIL team” – a banker, accountant, insurance agent and lawyer. I have a full roster.

Yes, hiring professionals can be expensive, but you hire them because they have expertise that you don’t. Sure, I probably could have done all the research to form an LLC myself, but I would have put it off forever, it would have taken me a long time (time that I would take away from painting, because I can’t hire someone to do that for me) and I would worry about whether I had gotten everything right. For me, hiring a professional was worth it. Same thing with doing my taxes.

In the town I live in, there is a technical school that provides a lot of resources for people starting businesses. I have also heard of an organization called Lawyers for the Arts, which provides pro bono legal assistance. Look around. There is a lot of information and help you can access for free.

Branding

What is a brand?

Your brand is comprised of every little thing you put out into the world, whether you realize it or not, and whether you are intentionally creating a brand or not.

Each interaction a customer or potential customer – or anyone – has with you is called a touchpoint.

It’s whether you choose to use your whole name, one name and an initial, or something completely made up to identify yourself as an artist. It’s what your logo looks like. It’s whether you man your booth at a festival in lipstick and curls or your paint-splattered jeans. It’s the hashtags you use on your Instagram photos. It’s how you wrap and package the art that you ship. It’s whether and what you send as thank you gifts to your best customers at the holidays. It’s whether you have all your shit together and look and act polished or are a complete, hot mess. It’s the check-out experience on your website and how quickly you respond to email inquiries. Every public utterance shapes and defines your brand.

Just like with a massage, one fingertip touch might not individually have a big impact, but that is all a massage is made of – tiny, brief, fingertip touches. And they all matter.

Why have a brand?

You can’t not have a brand. As we’ve just discussed, everyone by default creates a personal brand. If it’s a good brand (thought through and well-developed), your customers and potential customers can understand it and you. They will know what to expect of you and your product and will more easily be able to understand and envision how your product fits into, and enhances, their lives. This makes it easier for them to buy from you and to share your story and products with their friends.

This is a chicken or the egg situation. You don’t want to get too hung up on creating a brand before you even know what you’re selling, but at the same time, it is definitely helpful to be moving in the right direction and to be deliberate about what you’re putting out into the world. The fewer things you need to undo in the future, the better. 

Deciding on your business name is one of the first big decisions you will need to make. Once you decide this, you can secure a URL for your website and create social media accounts (using the name you choose). Before you have your heart set on something, it’s a good idea to make sure nothing you’re considering is already trademarked or taken as a URL.

Once you have a business name and logo (if applicable, and more on how to develop both of those at a later date), you’ll be able to create business cards, other print materials and your website.

Executing a brand

After you have developed your brand, it is imperative that you execute it consistently across all the platforms you use to engage with prospects and customers; this means both visual consistency (logo, colors, typeface) and consistency in your messaging and actions – the way you interact with customers, the types of events you participate in, the snippets of your personal life that you choose to share on your business-focused social media accounts, etc.

Pricing

You need to set your prices before you try to sell anything. I have a post about how I set prices here. Whatever your prices are, you need to be confident in them. I hate overhearing another artist be asked about the price of a piece and then respond with a question. “One hundred and fifty?” The buyer doesn’t want to feel like they’re getting jipped and you don’t want to unintentionally open the conversation to negotiation. Your price is your price. Say it loud and say it proud.

And, potential buyers shouldn’t even need to ask you how much something costs. If you are set up at any type of art/craft fair/festival, every item should be clearly marked. People are often shy and embarrassed and may assume they can’t afford original art. Many people will just walk away instead of asking how much something costs.

Some artists don’t put their prices on their websites. I don’t know why. They make you contact them for details. Even I don’t make that extra effort. Price your damn paintings and allow people to purchase them off your website.

Making sales in person

If you are out and about trying to sell your work (being visible), you need to be prepared to make sales. I accept cash and credit cards and, in some instances, checks. You’ll need to determine your own comfort level with accepting checks. Make sure you bring small bills with you to make change. All my items are priced in dollar increments, but sales tax changes the total, of course. I don’t want to fuss with bringing coins with me, so I just tell the buyer I’ll cover the change for them and round their total down to the nearest dollar. That’s just my preference.

I use a Square reader to take credit card transactions. The readers are smaller than a box of Altoids and connect via Bluetooth to your phone. They cost about $50 and you buy them through Square. After you buy the reader, you will set up an account with Square and link a checking or savings account. This allows Square to automatically deposit the money, less a 2.75% fee, into your account within a couple days of making a sale. You can set sales tax rates in the settings of the app so Square will automatically charge sales tax. To make a sale, you use an app on your phone and then insert the card into the reader.

Square has pretty extensive additional features – coupons, payroll, email marketing – but I don’t use them.

PayPal also makes a credit card reader, as do many banks. I have only used Square and I have been happy with it.

Making sales online

Website functionality

There are many platforms you can use to build a website – Squarespace (unrelated to Square), Wix, Shopify, Wordpress, the list goes on. I use Squarespace. It has several different plans, including very basic ones that don’t offer any transaction capabilities.

I use the basic commerce plan. It costs more per year than the business plan, but there are no transaction fees. If you would pay more in transaction fees than the cost of the plan, getting the more expensive plan (which has more features anyway) is a no brainer.

Squarespace partners with a third-party company called Stripe to safely process credit cards. You will need to create a Stripe account, and link it to your bank account much like I discussed with Square, and then link your Stripe account to Squarespace. This allows you to take credit cards on your website and then have the money show up in your bank account.

Squarespace also has an integration with PayPal. This allows website visitors to pay via PayPal and you to receive money in your PayPal account.

Big caveat: If you sell your work through a gallery, your relationship with them will dictate whether and what you can sell on your site. Don’t do anything to jeopardize your relationship with your gallery.

Website design

Aside from the actual logistics of enabling transactions on your website, if you want to sell work online, you need to build a website that looks like a place people can – and want to – shop. Many artists don’t have websites like this. Many artists’ websites look like portfolio sites. They feel academic and prestigious and like an exhibit at an art museum where you need to whisper. This is fine if their objective is critical acclaim. My objective is selling paintings. I want to sell a lot of paintings so I can continue to be an artist for my job, so I can go on nice vacations and buy what I want at the grocery store.

Instagram

I sell a lot of work “through” Instagram. The app doesn’t have a transactional feature, but you can post photos of art, along with the piece’s size and price, to generate sales. A lot of artists do this and I see a ton of sales happening this way. This is the common practice, with which users are familiar:

  • Photograph the piece of art you want to sell.
  • Write a caption that includes the size and price, along with whatever else you want to say about the piece of art. At the end of the caption, include “Comment ‘SOLD’ and DM me your email to purchase.”
  • A user will comment “SOLD” on the photo, signaling to other users that the piece is no longer available.
  • Then, the same user will send a direct/private message to the artist with his or her email address. This is so the artist can email them to discuss the transaction or just email a PayPal invoice directly. Sending the private message allows the purchaser to only share his or her email with the artist.
  • Once the PayPal payment has come through, the artist will sometimes update the caption to indicate that the piece is sold.

Aside from the process I have just described, which I have employed multiple times, people also see paintings on Instagram and then go to my website to buy them or come to my events to see them in person. The point is: think of Instagram as your look book/catalog or another storefront.

Facebook

You can use the same process I described for Instagram on Facebook. However, selling on Facebook can be even easier. A huge benefit of Facebook over Instagram is that Facebook allows you to put links in posts; Instagram does not. So, if you have a new painting to share and you have created a listing for it on your website, you can post a photo on Facebook, say a little something about it, and then include the link to where people can buy it on your website. That way, they can buy it directly and you don’t have to do anything to facilitate the transaction.

Etsy

When I first started selling online, I sold through Etsy. I haven’t closed my shop, but I no longer have anything available for sale there; I have an announcement telling people to go to my website. People weren’t often discovering me through Etsy; the people buying from me were people I was sending to Etsy to make the transaction. So, because it wasn’t really a source of customers for me, I decided that I would rather have complete control of my brand and the sales experience customers had with me.

Think of it this way: having an Etsy shop is like having a booth at an antique mall, whereas having your own website is like having your own storefront with your own address. Your booth in the antique mall will look exactly how you want it to and your items will all look great together, but you have no control over what the person next to you is selling or the overall experience of shopping at the antique mall and your brand is a sub-brand of the antique mall. Now, Etsy is a well-oiled machine, provides a great shopping experience and has a good brand, but I wanted my own destination online.


Thanks for reading! I'd love to hear your thoughts and what's working for you.

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 one of three. 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 (post 2)

-        Be professional (post 3)

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.