Sunday, August 17, 2014

Ren Faire Portraits and How I Find Collectors

Renaissance Portraits Sold
Recently I had an inquiry from a fellow artist about my Renaissance Portrait Series and how I find collectors for them. Here's what she asked:

"Rita, I love your Renaissance Faire portrait series and I was wondering if you've ever had a show that focuses specifically on these paintings. I paint Ren Faire portraits, too, but I've been having a tough time selling them. If you wouldn't mind, can you tell me how you get the word out about these paintings and how you find collectors for this subject matter? I see you've won numerous awards for these paintings. Do you usually sell them at the shows where they're being exhibited? I would appreciate any suggestions you can give me. 
Thanks so much!"
~ Sharon Matisoff

My reply was long and wandering, but contained so much varied marketing advice I decide to use it for a Journal Post!

Hi Sharon,

(Good questions! Difficult answers! You may want to read in installments, lol!)

I've been lucky I guess. The Renaissance Portrait series started for me as a couple of paintings that I whipped out for a "People and Places" show at my local art league in 2009, and then one of them was awarded and sold from that show; the other was accepted to the PSA annual and was awarded and sold there! So I said "I need to do more like that!" (Most of my series have been prompted and encouraged by 'buyer participation', ha!)

I like to do the small format (eg: 8x6, as are all my Ren Ports are) because 1) cheaper to ship to shows and 2) easier to sell because many buyers are low on wall space, or 'traveling', or can't afford thousands on a big painting but will spend 900-1000 on an exquisite award-winner.

I also usually do the portrait/figurative work for exhibits and competitions because I feel like portraits have an edge with judges because of the human factor. Most people, even artists (mistakenly or not) still believe that the human portrait is the most difficult thing to draw/paint. And I believe that all other things being equal, an excellent painting that is a portrait will win out over an excellent painting that is a landscape or still life.

Anyway, I've kind of gotten sidetracked! I have done most of them for specific shows, but some I've just painted first and then decided what to do with them. 4 have sold at exhibits. 4 have sold at art fairs. One was sold at an art demo, and one was donated to a silent auction. One was purchased off my website by a long-distance client in NYC. But all this has been over the last 5 years, so it's slow, but ongoing. I still have 7 (and one in the works) and am deciding what shows to send each to next.

In the beginning (after the first 2 sales) I did have fantasies of doing, like, 50, and having a show, but I can't bring myself to hold on to each new one long enough to do the 40-something more of them that I would need. Plus,18 in five years is not very prolific (compared to the 300+ 5x7 cows etc that I've done!) Besides, I remember something Robert Genn said about rarity and value. But I still have that plan in the back of my mind, alongside a couple dozen others!

As far as 'finding collectors', it's a long, slow process that builds up and can occasionally snowball every now and then. But it's also akin to investing in a volatile stock market, so the most important rule is 'don't put all your eggs in one basket'. I really can't pinpoint any one thing that says "This is where my clients come from" but these are some of the things I do (in no particular order):

- Keep track of all buyers in a database that you can print address labels from (I use WorkingArtist), for occasional postcards for shows and other mailings. Also get email addresses when possible, and permission to add them to your e-news list.  

- I've done fine art fairs and festivals, about 3-5 per year, since about 2006. These are the best way to sell lots of paintings fast and gather lots of client data. ( is a good source)

- I have artwork in 5 galleries in south Texas, two of which sell fairly regularly (maybe $3k each per year, my intake) the other 3 range from not much to a few hundred bucks, but I keep them because the owners are nice and because YOU NEVER KNOW!

- I've also been lucky in being invited as one of the 50 Featured Members on, right before they decided not to invite anyone else, and instead opened it up to general membership. This has brought me an average of $5k per year through the auctions, and has also found me a couple of clients who went on to purchase  larger work off of my website!

- Get on Facebook (if you're not already) and find all new clients on FB if possible, within a week of each sale. Send a message thanking them again for the purchase. Join FB groups having to do with your medium and genre (PSA has a group page, etc)

- Get accounts/pages in every other social media site out there that is popular (currently Pinterest, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, and maybe others I'm not into yet)

- Post all new art to your blog, website, and all social media sites, daily if possible. This is a habit that is slow to show results but can pay off big in the long run.

- I learned from Carol Marine, a prominent Daily Painter, that it's also important to leave comments on others artwork on blogs and social media like FB. This is networking and making yourself known. (It's also fun to meet new artists and connect, I've made a few good friends this way)

- I send one email each month to everyone on my list, outlining my schedule for that month and any news of awards, shows, workshops, etc. (I also post this newsletter to my FB page, and Twitter.) (I use Constant Contact, but FASO has a newsletter capability as well.)

- I've taken what I call a "Bio-Building" approach to my career since 2002. I work to improve my work, to enter competitions to win awards, to 'build' my bio up with impressive data, in order to impress the buyers into buying my work! (from the look of your resume, you understand this concept! ;)

- I enter competitions, online, magazines, and gallery shows (mostly pastel societies) as many as I can afford and the best work that I have to send. (I keep a list w/ deadlines and show dates.) Being in a show each month also gives me news to brag about, even if I don't win anything. (This also keeps my work constantly improving because I'm very competitive and I like to win!)

- I make a point to take at least one really good workshop each year, sometimes 2 or 3. And every other year, go to a convention (pastel, portrait, oil painters, plein air, caricature, whatever helps me improve my work!) I've also made valuable friends and connections at these, and learned a lot.

- Join any and all art organizations near you, and go to meetings, and get involved to the limit of your available time. I spent 5 years as membership chair for my local art league. Now I still have a variety of valuable friends there who have a wealth of experience creating, showing and selling their art. And among all the emails I get from various associations, there's always a paint out, or a trip, or a demo, or exhibit, that I can take advantage of if I have the time.

- There have been 3 workshops/seminars I've taken that have helped my career more than any others:  
  1. Sarah Eyestone taught a "Business of Art" workshop when she lived in San Antonio. The most important mantras I picked up from her is "First you have to do the work!" and "Work in a series!" 
  2. In Carol Marine's workshop I learned that to "Paint Daily" is a magic mantra, and one that supersedes and essentially incorporates both of Sarah's quotes. When you paint daily (and by that I mean complete one small painting a day) you ARE 'doing the work', and you usually MUST 'work in a series' or at least several small series, in order to come up with enough subject matter for 30 days a month.  (Disclaimer: I've only averaged 17 paintings per month since 2011. 30 paintings per month is still a goal of mine!) 
  3. The 3rd most valuable advice I learned was to never underestimate the power of social media, which was a strong point of the "Marketing Boot Camp" given by Eric Rhodes, editor of Plein Air Magazine, at the 1st annual Plein Air Convention. His main message was that no one is going to know who you are or what your art is unless YOU TELL THEM! (And that people buy 'brands' because they're familiar... so learn how to 'brand yourself'!)

- Oh, and for the last few years I've been giving workshops; about 1-4 workshops per year, in various places around Texas, and 2 so far in Kansas. I really enjoy teaching other adults about pastel, and sometimes the workshop students will buy the demos ;) This also grows your mailing/email lists.

OK, I know it sounds like I've got a lot of miscellaneous advice, and not a lot of "How do I find collectors", and sorry for writing a book here, but really, there's such a variety of pathways to finding buyers and selling artwork, and each path will work differently for different artists and different personalities. I'm sure I'm not even taking advantage of ALL of the ways that exist. Just the ones that I've wandered into or learned about along the way.

To sum it up, I like a quote I found somewhere (FB I think!) by Maya Angelou “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don't make money your goal. Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off you.”

It's true, but it's not a quick fix...

Hope all this helps!


Renaissance Portraits Available

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why Paint Small?

Recently I had an inquiry from a blog follower about my work. "Wow beautiful work Rita! I've been following you for quite a while now. Just curious, why do you work on such a small scale?"

I replied:

Hi friend,

My goodness! You asked the best question! I put this off for a day to think of how best to answer it, and also because this is an excellent blog topic for my Art Journal so if I answer it well I can turn it into a post. (multitasking - yea!)

First I'd like to recommend some light reading of 2 of my older posts:

These talk a bit about painting frequently, how I started doing cows and painting small. But to specifically answer your question the best way is to make a list. There are so many excellent reasons for painting small that even the list has lists. The reasons spawn more reasons...
  1. Small is cheap.
  2. Small is fast.
  3. Small is small.
  4. Small uses less materials so is more economical ("cheap" #1).
  5. Because it's more economical you can charge less ("cheap" #2).
  6. The low prices attract more buyers.
  7. Acquiring more buyers grows your client base, and your email list.
  8. You can connect with your new clients on FB and potentially attract all of their friends.
  9. Because small paintings cost less, some clients buy several at a time.
  10. Some of the small-buying clients will also like to buy your large work.
  11. Because small is fast, they take less of your valuable time, so are more economical ("cheap #1). Etc, etc.
  12. Because small is small, mistakes are less stressful.
  13. Because small is fast, mistakes are quicker to fix.
  14. Because small is fast, failed paintings are easier to shrug off, and quicker to learn from.
  15. Because small is fast, you can paint more of them.
  16. The more you paint, the better you get!! (This should be Number ONE!!)
  17. As your work improves, more people like it and want to buy it.
  18. (And because the small ones are cheap, they can!)
  19. As your work improves, failed paintings are less frequent.
  20. Many art-buyers have no room on their walls for large work.
  21. Many buyers (at fairs and galleries) are traveling and want something they can carry.
  22. The more you paint, the more paintings you have.
  23. The more paintings you have, the more frequently you can post on social media.
  24. The more paintings you have, the more paintings you can sell.
  25. Painting small makes it easier to paint every day.
  26. Painting small is addictive.

All of the items on this list are true and from my own experience. None are made up or borrowed from anyone else, but you might hear other artists have the same advice because they've learned it too!

I could keep adding on to some of these - especially about the social media! But that one might need it's own post...

Let me know if this is helpful! ;)


Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Klahn Regeneration of my old landscape

Casey Klahn came to Texas last weekend and gave a pastel workshop like no other! He's a Modernist and a Colorist in the nature of Henri Matisse and Wolf Kahn. He creates works of art with amazing visual power that perfectly straddle the line between abstract and representational.
(I tried to decide which site of his to link his name to, but there are too many! Just Google his name, or connect with him on Facebook.)

One of his demos on the weekend was to resolve another artist's work with his own colorist solution. I volunteered an old landscape of mine...
(See Casey's post about this project HERE.)

 First, he scrubbed off parts of it, scribbled in some colors, and sprayed a little fixative...

 After some more intuitive colors, he decided he liked it better without the bottom third.

The entire finished painting
His original crop

His final crop
It's hard to decide which I like best. Luckily, I bought it, so can view whatever part I want. (Maybe I'll make some interchangeable mats. Hmmm...)


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The HVAA Show and my Trip to Connecticut

My painting "Audrey with Flowers at Seven" is in the Hudson Valley Art Association's 81st Annual Juried Exhibition. I was notified last week that I won the Art Spirit Foundation Dianne B. Bernhard Award for Excellence in Pastel (which is the highest pastel award they give!) and since I had no other event on my schedule for the weekend, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to use the award money to fly up for the reception, which was Friday, June 21.

I invited my daughter along, which, I admit, pushed the expenses over the award amount, but it was worth it. After all, without her there would be no painting!

The reception was well-attended with many guests who looked like serious buyers. I took many more photos of the show; you can see them all in my Facebook album here.

 Saturday we relaxed in the best way we could think of in a place with 80 degree temperatures and 60% humidity. We took a walk in the park!
Well, two walks in two parks actually.

 The first was Wadsworth Falls State Park. The falls were nice, but I was more excited about the water close-ups with rocks and reflections. I might have enough shots now to continue an old series.

 We didn't see a lot of wildlife, except for the hundreds of baby toads that littered the pathway, trying their best to trip us up. We had to step carefully!

 We saw two trees that had been marked as popular memorials. They were eerily beautiful. There were only two that we saw.

A pretty park with a funny name, Machimoodus State Park began with a lily pond.

Everything's bigger in Texas.. ...except for the trees, which are bigger in Connecticut! (Or taller, anyway.)

 I found many more lovely references for my ongoing "Park Trail" Series...

...And while looking out for the baby toads, my eyes were intrigued by the patterns of leaf shadows on the path... Perhaps food for a new series? Hmmm.

All together a creative weekend for me and my camera. Now back to the easel!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Studio - Then and Now

Way back in March of 2009, I started my first blog. it was called Rita Kirkman's Art Journal, but it wasn't this one. In June of 2011, I had been into the 'Daily Painting' movement for five months, after taking a Carol Marine workshop, and had decided to limit my blog to daily paintings. So I changed the name of my blog to Rita Kirkman's Daily Paintings, and created a new blog with the name Rita Kirkman's Art Journal that would host all the other stuff besides Daily Paintings.

Well, what I'm leading up to is that my very first post on my first blog was some photos of my studio-in-progress:

Here was the pic of my future studio from that post. (More info on the post here.)

Well, 4 years later, I've been reluctant to post photos of the studio, because I have yet to arrange everything to my ultimate satisfaction. I began working in the building in 2012, long before everything was completed.

Here's a shot from move-in week in 2012:

Here's a shot from last week:

This is a panoramic image that shows all four of the walls of my studio; I was standing in the doorway when I took the shots. Along the left wall, I plan to have some french hanging system to hang finished, framed artwork. (Meanwhile, there's a b*#load of stuff just leaning against the wall..) Along the right wall, I have some molding converted to short shelves for unframed work. Here's a better shot:
This is NOT what it looks like today. There's even more clutter along the baseboard and every inch of shelving is filled! But then, I am in the midst of preparing for 2 art fairs and a solo show.

Here's a close-up of where I do my work:

Darn it, this is also an old shot. I know I have more recent shots, but just can't find them! Aarrg! Fie on technology! Well, it looks pretty much the same, but I've been working on larger stuff lately.

Thanks for reading! Please share!


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Packing Small Unframed Pastels for Shipping

I'd been meaning to create this post for a while now. I've had these pics since last summer!

Now and then I get asked how I mail unframed pastels and keep them safe. I've actually been sending unframed pastel commissioned portraits for years, most of which are on paper, and matted, usually 16x20. In the case of those, I put a piece of glassine or wax paper between the portrait and the mat, slide that into a Clear Bag, and wrap the whole thing up with plenty of thick cardboard until I have a flat 'box' about 17x21x1. I've never had any arrive damaged.

For the small pastel paintings that I post (almost) daily and auction off, I have a approach that I modified from Carol Marine's method of shipping her small oil paintings. I just add glassine and skip the little tabs that hold the lid off the painting.

NOTE: This method is for paintings that are done on a board, or on paper mounted on a board. The same method can be used for a pastel on paper; just hinge-tape the paper to a backing board, cover with glassine, and follow the rest of the steps...
 First, trim a piece of glassine to the height of the board, and carefully place the painting face down on the waxy side, and tape the glassine to the back.

 Cover with a piece of foam board the same size as the painting (or backing board) and tape it in place.

 Now cut 2 larger pieces of foam board for the top and bottom of your outer package, and some 1/2 inch thick gatorboard for support around these over-sized edges. Tape the gatorboard supports into the edge spaces with double-sided tape.
 (NOTE: If your painting is on the 3/16" gatorboard, and your foam board topper is also the standard 3/16" size, the 1/2" gatorboard supports will be just the right height. If your painting is on 1/2" gatorboard, or some other size, you'll just need to adjust your formula and to build your edge supports the right height to support the lid, without leaving too much wiggle room.)
 Tape the lid in place.

 Now you have a sturdy 'sandwich' with the painting safe inside.
Wrap this sandwich in some small bubble wrap and slide into the mailing envelope!

NOTE: I've since gotten into the habit of ordering the 9.5" x 12.5" sturdy Priority Mail Flat Rate envelopes, and use those for all 5x7's and 6x6's, and if I make the sandwich edges narrow enough, even the 6x8's will fit. I also purchased a roll of the slightly-sticky bubble wrap, the kind that will wrap around an object and hold on! I love it!

If you're shipping a larger unframed pastel painting, I would follow all these same steps, but I'd use the large bubble wrap instead of the small and then wrap in cardboard. OR make an investment in some Airfloat Printpads. They're designed to protect and would probably last through a few uses.

Let me know if this is helpful!

Monday, January 28, 2013

What Inspires?

I received an email request from a young student of art named Rosie today, and my reply became something I thought I'd like to share. Here's her email to me, and my reply:

Hello, I am year 11 student at the Kings Academy, and I am currently studying gcse art there and the topic I'm doing is based on close ups. When I came across some of your work it inspired me to base my work on animals. I would like it if you found the time to help me, my question to you is, what inspired you? Why did you choose to base your work on what you did? Thank you for your time, I really appreciate you took your time to read this.

Hi Rosie,

I'm glad you found my work inspiring!

I consider myself one of the lucky people who can find inspiration in almost anything. In fact I frequently wish I could live several lives just to have enough time to paint everything I've ever thought about painting. My current and recent subject matter evolved as a result of a lot of things, but mostly from some specific advice of an experienced artist mentor, and a lucky client purchase.

The artist Sara Eyestone gives the advice in a 'business of art' workshop: to work in a series. She says pick a subject/genre and a consistent dimensional size (ie: 2/3 ratio rectangle, or a square, etc) and create at least 20 paintings in this similar theme. This way, when you have an exhibit, it will all look great hung in the same room of a gallery, or at an art fair. And since the dimensions are the same, you can choose the best 12 and print a calendar.

Well, I hadn't yet really chosen my subject for a series when a large (24x24) longhorn painting sold to a client at an art fair. I told him about another cow painting the same size that I had at a gallery in a nearby town. He went to see it that same weekend, and bought it. (These were the first cow paintings I had ever done!)

Well, then I thought, "I'll have to paint more cows!" And I've been painting cows for the past 3 years or more. Being a practical sort of business-person as well as an artist, I do find that my subject matter is driven by what sells. But I do believe that choosing a specific subject or genre and creating a unified body of work creates an appeal with clients, looks much better at shows and fairs, and can also indicate a seriousness of purpose as a dedicated artist that more serious collectors will appreciate.

I haven't limited my subjects to just animals; I also do portraits and landscapes. I do like to work in series whenever I can, especially when working small (you can see a lot of my 'mini-series' of small paintings throughout by blog posts of the past 2 years) I've done seagulls, sunsets, ranch roads, Renaissance portraits, small watercolor road sketches, etc... and of course, the 5x7 cows and other animals - over 200 now!

I believe what specifically led to the small cow 'portraits' was the continued sales of cow paintings, and the knowledge that smaller, less expensive paintings are what sell better. I had first tried a couple of 6x8 cow paintings, but to work that small with the entire body didn't appeal to me, so, being a portrait artist by nature, I settled in to doing some 4x6's of just the 'portrait' area of the cow - head and chest. These migrated to 5x7's and stuck! At some art fairs I would paint new ones at my easel to pass the time, and would sell them almost before they were finished! Nothing like instant sales to inspire more paintings!

A funny thing happens when you commit to one subject for such a length of time and through so many paintings. What began as a business decision because of good sales, became slowly over time a real fascination with the cow. I've learned more about cows (like what breeds are what) since I've been painting them than I ever new before. And there's something about them, their curiosity, their various personalities (Longhorns will ignore you; large herds of Brahmans are skittish; small mixed herds are the best because they're friendly and curious.) And since I take all my own reference photos, my experience of 'being there' watching, observing and learning has been able to add something to my experience of painting them over these years.

Well, maybe this is more than you needed, but I hope it helps! Good luck with your art!