So here’s the thing – you’re enjoying making your work, and you feel you’re progressing with it. The only problem is, no-one sees it. ‘How nice would it be to exhibit regularly and maybe even sell something?’, you ask yourself. Easier said than done, I know.
It may seem self-evident but the most important thing is to get your work out there – no-one’s going to see it if it’s stacked up under the bed or on top of the wardrobe.
This is a good way to start – with luck, you’ll get your work shown in a prestigious gallery, albeit temporarily, and occasionally you might be hung next to a ‘name’ which is exciting. It also helps to build up your exhibiting history on your CV.
My studio takes a stand at the Affordable Art Fair in London every Autumn. Local ones, though, are a good place to start – they’re cheaper and you can polish up your sales techniques, chat to your fellow exhibitors and take note of what visitors like (and don’t like) about your work.
Hopefully you’ll make enough sales to cover your costs but if not, then try and see it as a marketing exercise. Overall, 20,000 people visit the AAF during the four days that it’s open – that’s a huge number of viewers – and although they may not buy this time, they may do in the future.
When I felt ready to take the next step on the ladder, I joined a co-operative printmaker’s gallery. It was a brilliant way to gain experience in presenting your work and to gain some insight into how a commercial gallery functions. Most importantly, looking back, it opened up a whole new world of fellow printmakers, some of whom are still friends and colleagues today.
If you don’t have an artist-run space near you, then how about joining an open access print studio or even a class at an adult education centre? Not everyone has the room/funds for their own equipment and it’s a good way to meet other artists and to make contacts.
And what about the virtual world? Facebook, Twitter etc, are excellent ways of making contact with fellow artists without leaving the comfort of your own home. Join in with on-line forums/discussion groups, comment on blogs – hell, why not start your own? There are whole communities of artists out there, offering support, information, gossip and it’s an important way to make connections….
And this leads me on to what is really the most important marketing tool you can have – a website. It doesn’t have to be too elaborate, just a few images and a bit of blurb.
This one is non-negotiable – you absolutely have to have a presence on the web, especially as a visual artist. If a gallery or a potential buyer has seen your work at an open exhibition or art fair and wants to find out more, they will use the internet for initial research. You really need an up to date and easily navigatable site and of course it’s an easy and pain-free way for you to approach galleries as well.
I suppose what a lot of this comes down to is that dreaded word, networking. The fact is that most of my initial exhibiting opportunities came through fellow artists inviting me to show with them, or by generously recommending me to one of their galleries. (I’m often involved in organising group shows and I have to say that no-one within these groups would dream of asking an unknown artist to exhibit with them – it’s just too risky as they could be a real liability.) You need to get your work out there but you also need get yourself out there too.
And lastly, be prepared to be in it for the long haul- as much as it takes time to build up a strong body of work, so it takes just as much time to build up a good network of galleries and contacts….