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

2015 update: "Elfling" is now sold as well! (I better get to work on a new one... ;)


  1. Hi Rita- This is such a wonderful entry. Thank you for sharing your insight and advice. And I love the "do the work" mantra. I've found the more time I put into my craft not only helps me grow as an artist, but it also improves sales. Thanks again and have a great day!

    1. Thanks Andrew, I appreciate the feedback! :)

  2. Hi Rita, What an informative post! Thanks for being so generous with advice! I am going to bookmark it and refer! Your artwork is captivating!


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