Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Business of Art: Carolyn Edlund of Artsy Shark

This week I switched into manufacturers' art matching mode ... so I've been creating colorful promo pieces to mail out to them. It's exciting and fun at the same time! Here is one of my three-set promotional postcards:

© Alessandra Colombo

To tell you more about business skills and marketing for artists, here's a special guest who will explain how to go about doing exactly that.

Carolyn Edlund
My name is Carolyn Edlund. I write two blogs, the Artsy Shark blog at www.ArtsyShark.com and The Arts Business Institute blog at www.ArtsBusinessInstitute.org.

The Moon from My Attic: What exactly do you do? I founded the Artsy Shark blog in 2009 for the purpose of publishing articles and interviews about the business of art. I also have a private practice as a business consultant for artists. Although I work with many types of artists, I especially like helping people who are developing greeting card lines, a business I understand very well. I also work with quite a few artists who want to wholesale their collections and need to understand how to set up and run production businesses. I've had extensive experience with wholesaling, not only because I owned a production studio, but also as a road rep selling art and gift lines to retailers.

I am the Executive Director of the Arts Business Institute, which is a nonprofit organization focused on teaching business skills to artists and craftspeople. We have a faculty of experts from around the country who we use to conduct workshops. These are intensive experiences for students who want to learn to become full-time entrepreneurs running their own studios. Art schools typically do not teach about the business of art, which is unfortunate. So we help to bridge the gap with practical information on how to plan and set goals, price, market and sell art and craft. Our goal is that students are prepared to run successful businesses. There are a lot of details and everyone's situation is different, so we provide ongoing support for students through private business consultations. I spend much of my time doing those.

Earlier this year, I wrote an e-course titled "Marketing for Artists & Craftspeople," which is available through the Arts Business Institute website. It's a comprehensive course for creative entrepreneurs with hundreds of strategies and links to resources. We have gotten a lot of really good feedback on it.

TMFMA: What are your requirements to publish an artist on your blog? What do you look for when you do the selection? Featured artists are a very big part of Artsy Shark, and each call for artists gets a huge response. I'm looking for artists to feature who have talent and a cohesive body of work that speaks of a mature style. It's important that I feature artists in different mediums and those who are doing innovative and unusual work. I enjoy featuring artists from all over the world. Some of the artists I've featured have been from Australia, Italy, Russia, Romania, Brazil, Canada, France, South Africa, and other countries.

TMFMA: When you view an artist's work, what are the key elements you look for? A signature style and a well-developed body of work. When an artist wants to be considered for a feature, I review their website. If they are all over the map with different mediums and styles, they would not be ready to be featured.

TMFMA: What's the worst error a new artist can make in getting known and established? Many artists are uncomfortable talking about themselves. They may fear speaking in front of others or be insecure in their work. New artists have to step outside their comfort zone. They have a story to tell – about themselves, their technique, their inspiration. This is fascinating to others and their story becomes an intrinsic part of their art. The more you share and connect, the more you will find a response and make sales of your work.

TMFMA: What's you view of the current market and trends? I've got a mixed view, but overall a positive one. With this economy, it's really tough out there. Art and fine craft are viewed as a luxury and sales have definitely dropped off. Retail shows have declined. On the wholesale front, it's more difficult because many retailers have closed or they are very careful in their purchasing. On the other hand, with technology everything has opened up. Online sales are flourishing, which means that your market is now global. You can sell your work without the expense of going to trade or art shows, right from the shopping cart on your website. My opinion is that today artists need multiple ways to sell their work to be successful. And when you diversify your income streams, your business is more stable.

TMFMA: How do you see the future of art licensing? I definitely see licensing growing, but probably slowly. The past couple of years have been difficult ones. With an uncertain economy, manufacturers flee to very safe designs and what they know will sell. They have to satisfy their bottom line and they must be convinced that your work is a good bet to go forward. Artists who license will have to become increasingly sophisticated in their presentation and industry knowledge. You see this happening at shows such as Surtex, where artists may be showing their portfolio on an iPad, presenting finished concepts using their designs. They must be very clear as to what products their work is appropriate for and be able to present that effectively.

TMFMA: What do you offer as a consultant? Usually when working with a new client, I gather as much information up front as possible about the vision they have for their business, their priorities, and problems they are facing. We start with an hour long consultation, structured to provide as much really useful content as possible. The signature feature of my consultation process is that I tell clients, "Don't take notes." This is so that they can be more engaged in the conversation. I always follow up with an extensive email to the client, detailing their strengths, challenges, and strategies that were discussed during the appointment. The purpose is to map out steps so that the artist can take action immediately and start moving forward in their business.

TMFMA: What other useful tips can you give to new artists starting out? You need a website with your own domain name. These days, if you have no online presence you are invisible. You also need very professional photographs of your artwork. If your photos are amateurish, you are wasting your time. Your competition has gorgeous photos and the bar is set high. Keep that in mind and present yourself professionally.


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