Painting is Marketing

There is a secret, or maybe not so secret, desire in the heart of every artist. The desire to make art and to have people show appreciation by purchasing it.

But to have people appreciate art they have to know about it, and this is when the dirty word marketing enters in.

There are thousands of blogs, books, and gurus out there trying to teach artists the arcane art of marketing. Some suggestions are practical, and others show a complete lack of understanding of how art works. But with all of the “help” there is one fundamental thing that never gets brought up.

The work is the marketing.

Think about the most successful artists you know of and how much and what type of marketing they do. (I am not talking about the outliers or sensational artists, but the everyday working artist.) The successful painters* I am aware of aren’t blasting social media every five minutes, or putting out a new blog post every day, but what they are doing is making quality work.

To quote artist Stapleton Kearns, “Do you know what kind of paintings sell best? GOOD PAINTINGS.”

To market your art make more good paintings.

If you don’t know if you are making good paintings, then have a third party who knows something about art, and is not emotionally invested in you give you an evaluation.

You can’t market what you don’t have.


*I am a painter and paintings are what I think of when I think of art, but the advice also holds true for most other art forms.

Stapleton Kearns’s take on it.

Paint What You are Excited to Paint When You are Excited to Paint it

Sometimes it takes awhile before the obvious strikes home. Painting what you are excited to paint when you are excited to paint it is one of those lessons that anyone looking in from the outside would call a no brainer.

But as a professional artist you are production, management, and leadership rolled into one. This can make it difficult to know where one department ends and another begins.

The rolls of leadership and management often form a bloated opinion of themselves. While you need to have a direction, and need to track how well you are doing, you don’t need to check if you got more hits on your blog every half hour, or spend half of your day reading art marketing posts and books. Sometimes leadership and management need to take a couple hours, or days, off.

As a professional artist the best thing we can do is recognize when production has a hot idea to get out of the way, don our production hat, and slap some paint on board. (Or whatever your poison happens to be.)

Of course, there’s always the other problem, what do you do when production has run amok?

How to Start Your Art Business, part 2

After you register your business name and buy your domain name like we talked about in the last post, the next step would be to get a business license.

A business license is usually required by law, and issued by your city. A business license is also required when opening a business account at a bank, a wholesale account with other merchants, and a lot of times when leasing retail space.

Your city’s website is the best place to go for information as it should list what is required to receive a business license. Usually this will include the application itself, a tax id number (and/or social security number), copy of name registration, and square footage of the business location. If you are operating a home based business and you don’t own your home or apartment, they will probably also require a letter from the property owner stating that you can operate a business there. The cost can vary by type of business and location but plan on $100 to $150 for the business license fees.

After you receive your license, usually in about two weeks, you are officially in business, but you shouldn’t stop there.

At this point you should go open a bank account. Even if you choose to be a Sole Proprietor, having a separate bank account is a smart way to keep track of your business finances and keep them separate from your personal money. You might even consider opening two accounts, one for regular business needs and the other for sale tax (if your state collects it.) Keeping one account just for sales tax, and making a habit to always collect sale tax when required, will make it easier pay the taxes and not confuse it with business money. (And to keep the IRS from breathing down your neck.)

If your state does require sales tax, as an artist you need to be aware of when you need to collect it. If you have your art in a gallery, then the gallery is responsible to collect the tax and pay it. The tax does not come out of the price of the artwork. If you sale the the artwork then you need to collect the sales tax, which is in addition to the price of the artwork. You should never include it in the price of the artwork as this will cause you a hassle when tax time comes, and it also means that you are reducing the price of the artwork itself. It is like a built in discount, whether you meant to give a discount or not.

That should get you started on the basic leg work, and good luck with your business!

How to Start Your Art Business, part 1

When reading about how to start an art business, or any business really, I always had questions that maybe seemed too simplistic or too obvious to cover. These questions might leave some slapping their foreheads, or wishing to slap mine, but I want to cover the basic leg work that needs to be done before you can call yourself a business.

Where do I start?

You should know what your business is about, in this case we are talking about moving from artist to professional artist. A professional artist is simply an artist who gets paid for their artwork. There’s not a jacket to buy or a club to join, you simply decide that the time is right to become a professional.

The step after that is to choose your business name. Most of the time as an artist it will be your own name, but if you are known by a nickname that you like, or feel the need to “pretty it up”, go ahead. Before you get too settled on the name though, I would recommend you do an internet search since a website is a vital part of business you may have to think of a new name if yours has been taken.

Once you finalize your name you need to do two things immediately.

First, buy the domain name at an online registrar. Do this one quick as you never know if a squatter will take it and then charge you through the nose to buy it from them. Do this first even if you don’t plan on having a website for a while. The cost is about $12 for a year.

Second, register your business name with your state. Some states don’t require that you register if you decide to be a sole proprietor and do business under you own name, but since it is relatively cheap, usually under $40, I recommend it just to secure your name. You can usually do this easily online at your state’s website. If you don’t know what it is, search for your state name plus business and it should pop up.

The only other real option for a business structure as a single artist would be an LLC, or Limited Liability Corporation. You can set this up when you register your name as a single member LLC and just put your name in all of the positions that it asks for, such as President, Secretary, etc. The state will usually ask for some sort of Articles of Organization, and this can be a single piece of paper with business address, type of business, members of the business, and who will accept legal documents for the business. Most of the time these articles will be included as a form when you register the business name and can be done simply online. This is the place where I should recommend a business attorney, but since you will be putting your name in every position I can’t recommend the expense unless you are really nervous about it, or have a lot of personal assets. The charge for an LLC is a little more than a Sole Proprietor but usually around $60, though every state has different fees and it might be more or less.

The advantage to both of these is that you will receive a sales tax number in about two weeks. As a Sole Proprietor you can just use your Social Security number, but I recommend getting the tax number so you won’t have to leave your Social Security number with every place you do business with.

One other option you will be asked is if you will have any employees. Since you are just starting out I recommend saying no. If you find yourself needing an employee later on, you can always make a change to your business.

If you’re not sure of which business to start out with, you can always go with a Sole Proprietor and change to an LLC later on. But, if you have personal assets that you want to protect from possible law suits an LLC is the better option, and the one I recommend.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about getting a business license.

P.S. I can tell you my experience, but I’m not an attorney, so following this advice is at your own risk.

Get more information on setting up an LLC at FindLaw.

Just in case you’re in Utah, or want to see what you are looking for, here’s the Utah link to register a business name.