Painting is more than just making art, it includes finding a way to get that art out into the world. I guess I had never thought about this until I started painting. All art is a communication, and the creative process is not complete until someone sees the painting, watches the dance, reads the story. In a way, I don’t think the painting is “done” until it is shared. I like to think that someone else needs to see that painting because of what it expresses for them and to them. That’s certainly how I feel about certain pieces of art or writing. I know some artists who never show their work, and I think we are all diminished by that.
Then, of course, there is the matter of selling. Art is not a cheap hobby! I easily spend a couple of thousand dollars a year on supplies, framing, memberships and the occasional workshop. I like to make enough to cover my expenses, and making more is a bonus when it happens. Last year I made extra money, and thought of my recent vacation as a good use for it. But in addition to supporting my art habit, it is enormously gratifying when someone buys a painting. I had not anticipated that. But think about it: this means someone loves something I created so much that they want to live with it. They are willing to spend fairly serious money on it. They want to look at it regularly because it speaks to them in some way. It’s an honor to me and to the art when that happens.
But showing your art sure is a lot of work! Currently, I’m doing it three ways. First — and the spiffiest! — I have a few pieces in galleries, work accepted into juried shows. Art galleries are a great way to show and even sell art: it is, after all, their business. Second, and perhaps the easiest, are local venues. I have art up at a downtown Burlington law firm at the moment (Downs, Rachlin and Martin). In this case, it is through an arts organization (Burlington City Arts) that has a stable of artists and coordinates shows throughout their area. But I have also shown art at coffee houses and similar local venues, just by noticing which places have changing art on their walls. Go in, ask at the counter who coordinates the art displays, contact that person and ask to be considered. Voila! Third, I have art products (prints, cards, and a few very tiny affordable paintings) in a local shop (“Under the Dome Gifts,” in the State House in Montpelier). This may not sell paintings, but it does make money and certainly gets my name and images out there. You never know what will eventually lead to a sale.
To this I should add my website. I don’t think I have ever had anyone stumble across my website and decide to buy a painting. But I certainly have had people see my art elsewhere, look at the website to see what else might be available, and then contact me to buy it. I know some artists also use other sales websites (e.g., etsy), some focused exclusively on art and some not. I have not arrived at that stage of computer savvy!
Then there are art and craft shows. Vermont has an “Open Studio” weekend once or twice a year. In addition, many locations have well-known craft shows. These events tend to be a better way to sell art products than original (and thus expensive) art, so people sell cards, prints, mugs, t-shirts and similar things showing their art images. I have tried Open Studio, as well as a local holiday crafts market, a couple of times and thus far have not found it worth the time and effort. One usually pays a membership fee to the organization that coordinates it as well as a fee to participate. It takes a great deal of time, work and investment to make sure you have enough to sell, make signage, and purchase and set up display infrastructure (card racks, print racks, large racks to display original art, tables and the like). Then you have to haul everything to the venue, set it up, sit there and be extroverted all day, then haul it back home and put it away. I have certainly made money at Open Studio, but not enough to justify that kind of labor, I think. On the positive side, I love seeing people look at my images and it’s fun to see what attracts people. Selling directly is very rewarding: after all, this person is parting with their money to have something I created. How satisfying! I have never tried one of the big craft shows, but I have heard that space at such an event can run into the thousands of dollars. I think that’s beyond my current scope! Besides, they are really better suited to craftspeople than to visual artists.
My 2013 Open Studio setup
With rare and delightful exceptions, all venues charge a commission. Galleries ask the most, other venues somewhat less. You need to price your work to take that into account, keeping in mind that it is not playing fair to price your work differently depending on the venue (including if someone buys it directly from you).
This has been a lot to learn! But it is rewarding as well, rewarding to see someone looking at a painting, or to have someone tell me that they saw my paintings, and then of course there is the occasional financial reward as well. With any of those outcomes, the creative circle is completed: from inspiration to creation to viewer; and if I’m fortunate, back to me as the artist, watching the person take in the image.
The artist and her work at the Art in the Round Barn show (going on currently), Waitsfield, VT