Category Archives: Career Tips for Professional Artists

Geisai Taipei 3 Art Fair Registration Open! 12/4/2011

Geisai Taipei is one of the big chances for independent artists and crafters to get noticed by the Asian art market, including galleries, curators, organizations, magazines and other organizations. One the one hand, with hundreds of artists competing for a handful of recognition awards, the chances of self-representing artists getting “discovered” and represented are slim to none – but on the other hand, that tiny chance of getting your art in front of industry leaders is enough, for most of us, to dish out the US$ 234 for a little booth (W 180X D 180X H 240cm) at this one day art fair event.

Plus, the growing popularity of Geisai and the large community of Taipei art connoisseurs means that, if well-utilized, Geisei can be a great opportunity to grow your fan base and increase your exposure – and maybe even to connect with some interested buyers.

Successful art fair presentation

Although I joined Geisei 2 last year, I didn’t know what I was getting into and presented very, very poorly. With just one little booth, I figured I better cram in as many paintings as possible, stacking them up on top of each other, and stuffing each little corner with personal oddities, fliers, news-scraps… I even had an electronic talking fish and a wooden Buddha statue to try and give my booth some style and color. BAD IDEA. You don’t want to present your art like 2nd hand knock-offs at a flea market. You want to project your paintings’ value with simple and clean presentation. Think like a gallery: white walls, lots of space, crisply printed title tags, high quality printed materials (i.e. business cards). If there’s room, perhaps a catalogue of works/price list.

What art should I show?

This question is much more tricky. With hundreds of competitors, you need a selection of paintings that brands you as an artist, stands out for it’s unique style, technique and theme. You want pieces that complement each other with similar colors. But you also want fucking good paintings – absolutely finished, pristine and polished: this means the edges have been painted or framed, the canvas has been glossed, it looks perfect. At the same time, you want something edgy/striking enough to make people gasp in awe-stricken stupor (ok, maybe not if you’re a landscape artist – but you should still shoot for it). Paint something that grips viewers and makes them sigh in wonder at the captivating beauty – or repugnant horror or scandalous humor – something that they will immediately go find their friends and drag them to visit your booth.

So what am I going to present?

Well I’m still struggling with that question. On the one hand I have some of my standard, unusual, Magritte-esque surrealist portraits of beautiful girls; a few of them are pretty good. Portraits or people paintings have won in the past. I also have some stronger pieces; my orange juice Buddha or my new sexy Sponge-Bob adultery painting, which is SURE to make a stir. But I also came back to Peru with some awesome wooden ornamental frames, to do a series of pop-art/religious icon paintings, which could be pretty awesome. I may need to get 2 booths this year.

Should I enter art contests to promote my art? Art Takes London 2011

I was reminded (7 hours before the deadline) of the “Art Takes London” art competition. I’ve entered, and if you like my work I’d appreciate you taking a minute to Click Here and go vote for me.

If you’re thinking of entering an art contest to promote your own artwork, here’s some things you should know:

Should I enter an art contest to promote my paintings?

Here’s how art contests (or any contests that aren’t governmentally funded) work: they charge a submission fee, and then make enough money to give prizes, have celebration banquets, pay staff and STILL make a profit. For example, let’s say 1,000 artists signed up for the Art Takes London competition and each submitted $50 ($10 for 5 images). That’s a nice $50,000 for the organizers to use, pay the $10,000 prize, pay off expenses and still have extra. But as they grow, maybe they’ll be able to attract 10,000 artists and make $500,000. However the chances of winning the competition also get much slimmer!

So how do you know if you should enter?

There are basically three types of art contests you should enter to promote your work.

1. The 1st is a small or local art contest, where you’re already a pretty big fish and you have a chance to win.

2. The 2nd is a big competition with a lot of exposure (for the competition itself!) – so that even if you lose, the exposure you get from entering is worth the price of joining.

3. The 3rd is a contest that is voted by the public – IF you have a huge following you can mobilize to vote for you. You could even sweeten the deal by offering a contest FOR the contest (giving away a painting to one of the voters who voted for you).

Don’t be swayed by the DREAM of winning a huge prize, getting discovered and making it big off one contest. You need to put in your dues. Even if your art is amazing, where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished as an artist does matter. Don’t throw money into contests waiting to win one and “make it”. Choose your battles wisely. Enter the contests that have specific mediums or themes that your art is really perfect for.

Know of other good art contests coming up? Tell me about them! Like this article? Click here and go vote for me for the Art Takes London competition.

How to make an artist website and sell your works online

Ha – hope I tricked you by the title. Actually I sold 22 works for a grand total of about $5000usd at my last exhibition, which was spent moving to Taipei, buying new furniture, and starting school. That was in August 2010, and I haven’t done any painting since then (I was working on my book, Jesus Potter Harry Christ – comparing the similarities between Jesus and Harry Potter.)

But I’m just about caught up on life, and found an awesome new wordpress theme for this site, which I’ll be updating soon (look around you; if this site looks a little messy and strange, I haven’t done it yet. If it looks shiny and kick-ass, it’s the new theme). I’ve also decided to share actual useful tips on how to be an artist, get into into galleries and sell your paintings.

But rather than post that stuff here, I’m starting a new website just for creative and indie artist/authors, called “Creativindie”. It’s going to rock.

Oh yeah – I’ve got a solo exhibit in National Taiwan University’s student center in May, so I’ll get a few new pieces done before then.

How to take an author or artist photo for your press kit + three things you’re already doing wrong

To launch my new book Jesus Potter Harry Christ I recently had a photoshoot with photographer Steven Vigar. I was surprised to learn it was difficult to find articles about how to shoot an author / artist photo, author /artist portrait examples, or even what makes good author / artist portrait photography. So I’m making my own, to chronicle the experience, and give fellow authors and artists tips on how to do it right.

Whether you’re an artist marketing your paintings or an author promoting your books, you can’t afford to hide your face. Especially in the modern age of myspace and facebook, people except to see pictures of everyone. This is especially true for authors and artists. You might ask, shouldn’t my paintings or book be enough? After all – it’s not really about ME, is it? And that’s where you’re wrong. This is because whenever people buy something, support something, share something or even like something, they usually do it because they respect or identify with the source.

A few reasons why you NEED a photo:

1) Creates personal interaction. People feel like they know you, they see you as more human. Just having a picture does increase sales. (You really should be making videos of yourself doing the things you love as well).

2) Gives you a chance to appear as an authority. If done right, a good author or artist photo will make you look good. Cool, smart, professional, etc. You can even try to look the way that your target market expects you to look.

3) You need one for your Press Kit. What’s that? You need to have a file of important information available just in case anybody wants to do a story about you. It should have your biography, statement, summary of key works, contact information, and a few stunning, high quality, high resolution pictures of you that can be printed.

How not to take an author or artist photo or picture

1) Don’t put your head on your chin. Unfortunately, everybody does this so much is come to be expected. This is what it seems natural to do, even though it is totally pretentious. The nice thing is that, even if you do it, most people won’t realize how dumb it is (because they are used to seeing it anyway). But don’t do it.

2) Don’t take a staged, weird or uncomfortable pose. It should be natural. It can even be an “action” pick of you doing something. (Writing or painting for example).

3) Don’t take an old family photo, a too-casual photo, etc.

The difference between cool and corny

Cool people do fun things cuz they don’t care who’s watching. Corny people do stupid things that they think might be cool. The difference is very, very subtle. It’s safer to take a standard, nice portrait of you smiling at the camera rather than try and do something fun or crazy and make yourself look stupid. If you can pull it off, a nice action picture of you doing something crazy and enjoying yourself could work really well… but it’s risky. Instead, try these tips:

Secrets to taking a great author or artist picture

First off, let me say I’m no expert to taking pictures. Like most people, I’m a little comfortable having my picture taken. Especially when a real live photographer is taking professional pictures of you. I feel self-conscious about where to put all my appendages. Here are some tips I learned from Steven Vigar.

1) Try everything. Taking pictures is a game. Take lots, and lots, and try everything, and see how they look.

2) The hands problem. Where to put my hands was my biggest problem. I like to stick them in my pockets, but that’s no good. We tried folding my arms, holding until my collar, leaning against a wall, or just hanging them by my side. The easiest solution would probably be doing something (like reading/holding up your own book) or painting /writing) so keep that in mind.

3) Dress nice. Even if you go casual, go nice casual. You want to make a good impression, that you’re professional and you care about your reputation. As an artist or writer, you may want to appear like you don’t give a damn, and that’s fine. Cool, stylish, grunge clothes can work too – if they’re awesome. But  your clients – especially art buyers – might not be impressed. Why not be safe and look good for the people who can afford to actually buy something?

4) Smile. Yes, moody, pensive, frowning author portraits are common. But they’re overrated. A warm, genuine smile works better. A laugh is great too if you can capture it.

5) Find pictures that you like to copy. Don’t try searching for “author / artist portraits” or “author / artist photo“. You won’t find much. Instead, check out actor or models headshots or modeling agencies. They know how to take portraits.

6) Work with a professional. This is especially true for authors. Artists can get away with having lots of fun pics on their website. Authors usually need one great one; and you can tell right away if a picture is professional or amateur. An amateur picture says “this author isn’t successful enough to afford a photographer.”

This doesn’t mean you have to spend tons of money. Let it be known on your blog or on Facebook that you need some pics taken. Trade or barter or buy a cup of coffee for whichever hobbyist photographer with a great camera offers to help you out.

7) Drink beer. This was the last thing we tried to ‘loosen me up’ enough to let my personality come out. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.

Here are a some of the author pics taken by Steven Vigar. Which one do you like?

For more of Steven Vigar’s stunning professional photography, click here.

What do I wear to an art exhibition?

I’m blogging about this question because I just searched for it and I know others will too. Art galleries are generally full of pretentious people trying to look like they know something about art. Then there are curators who are either a) a business trying to make money or b) enjoy lively interaction and being closely involved in the art world (mostly both). Then there are artists, who are

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often insecure, try too hard, or have huge egos. What do you wear to ‘blend in’? Here are a few clues:

1) Don’t go overboard. Yes, it is easy to identify the artist as “artist” when they wear a strange or hideous combination of fabrics. But you don’t want to be strange; you want to be approachable so people can feel comfortable talking with you.

2) Not too casual. A lot of artists can get away with jeans and a shirt. They are using their title and jeans to show off that nonchalant stereotype of the artist who doesn’t care.

3) Check with the curator or gallery owner. There’s a good chance they are going to look sharp – really sharp. Don’t be outdone by them.

What to wear to an art exhibition? Dress nice. Not an obviously expensive power suit and sparkling diamond shoes; but a nice suit or business suit is fine. Women can wear a nice dress with good shoes or black pants.

However: If you really hate suits, wearing something you feel comfortable in, which looks pretty chic and stylish, is fine – the most important thing really is your personality and interaction with potential buyers, so you want to wear something that makes you feel good. Yes it is OK to buy a new outfit for an opening. Buy something that expresses your unique style and kind of matches your paintings in some way.

Make sure you get a 2nd opinion. Visual artist’s sense of fashion style is usually a little ‘off’. Get your friends of family to help you pick something out that isn’t too wild.

Final thoughts: I have a huge exhibit next week; most people will probably wear suits. But then I know if I’m in a suit, I will be jealous of those few artists who went with dressy casual, with very hip clothes that make them look like awesome non-conformists. Solution: I’ll probably bring several options, start with nice casual and if I feel underdressed, change into a suit.

ON SECOND THOUGHT: When in doubt… wear a nice suit, tie optional. Everybody looks good in a suit and nobody can critique your tastes or judgment. Women, wear something black and stylish, with maybe a few highlight colors.

Making Art a Business – How to Sell Your Paintings

I’m learning a lot this year about how to SELL my paintings. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1) It’s all in your mind. For various reasons in the past several years, I haven’t had the right frame of mind. If you’ve read ‘The Secret’ or believe in positive visualization, then you know what I’m talking about. For you to sell paintings, you have to believe that your paintings have value, that they are worth the prices you set, and that there are people out there ready to buy them. You have to trust that they will be sold and see it happening in your mind.

For me, I used to say “I don’t really think I will sell paintings” or “I can’t imagine anyone spending this much money – I certainly wouldn’t”. That was definitely a losing attitude. At the same time, I knew my paintings were exceptionally valuable, and that one day they would sell for lots of money, I just couldn’t imagine it happening now, here, in the places I was showing. Once I realized and corrected this mistake, I found that paintings weren’t that hard to sell.

2) Be ready to let them go – and price accordingly. It was always hard for me to let a painting go – especially for a low sum like a few hundred dollars. I had wanted to save them until I was famous, and sell them for thousands of dollars; but it doesn’t work like that. Prices will be lower until you’re established. Keeping the prices high in the beginning doesn’t work for you; you need to sell in order to please galleries, to appear successful, and to make some money to keep going. You will always paint new stuff. Hold onto a few favorites if you must, but be ready and willing psychologically to part with a painting. Cut your emotional attachment.

3) Think like Google – it’s all about impressions. This isn’t about making a ‘good’ impression – it’s about making any impression, period. People need to see your name connected to your work, as much and as often as possible. If they see it 4 or 5 times in different places, and actually kind of ‘know who you are’, they might actually come to a show. The first time they hear of you, they’ll most likely

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pass you by. Become recognized by showing a lot, all over, whenever you can, wherever you can.

4) Network. You cannot sell paintings without people working with you. Go to shows and openings. Meet other artists, curators and gallery owners. Never push your work, although you can say ‘I’m an artist’ and casually hand a business card. Never ask for help though. Network especially with other artists in your area – and give more than you receive! Let them know about exhibition opportunities or events, then they will do they same for you. I used to try and do everything on my own, but I was an outsider. Now, just by meeting a few people in my community who are also involved in the arts, doors are opening quickly.

5) Invest in yourself. You have a PRODUCT that you are trying to sell. Think like a business. Are you willing to spend $300 in advertising to sell a $500 painting? You should be! Don’t focus on making a profit – reinvest any income into your career. Advertise exhibitions or shows in the newspaper or local media. Spend more on nice fliers or putting together a mailing list. If you can spend $3000 on promotion and advertising, and sell 10 paintings for $500 each, you’ll still make a huge profit. Isn’t that better than just selling 1 or 2 paintings? Do things BIG, and well.

6) Do things the ‘right’ way. Get things right. Have prices, descriptions and sizes of all paintings handy. Have a pricelist/catalog made. Sell cheap posters or prints. You can make a considerable amount of money this way to offset spending. Learn how to talk about your paintings and present yourself.

7) Presentation – mix up sizes and prices. Space the big, expensive pieces with little, cheap ones. It’s visually more engaging (although counter-intuitive, I liked to group by size before) and it makes the cheap paintings seem very affordable. Make sure half of your paintings are simple and affordable – these are the ones that will sell, and keep your main ‘signature’ pieces big and expensive.

How to talk about my art or paintings

For many years I’ve refused to talk about what my paintings mean. I would get frustrated when people asked me. “It isn’t about ME – it’s about YOU: I just want you to react, to have your own personal relationship and response to the painting, leave me out of it!” My stance was based on Magritte’s definition of art as mystery, a little bit of interest in Zen philosophy, and a general dislike towards speaking and arguing with people.

I understand my previous opinion, and still support it – however I’ve learned that it just won’t work if I want to be a ‘real’ artist.

You HAVE to have something intelligent to say about each one of your paintings. Why you painted it, how you painted it, what for, what it means to you, how it makes you feel. Words are an integral part of human cognition and understanding. While they may feel an emotional response to a painting, it will only trigger their curiosity. They may want to know more about the piece, about the artist, about life in general.

I used to think a painting was a mountain scene to be awed by; or perhaps a smooth forest pond that gives the viewer a reflection of themselves.

It isn’t. Actually – it’s a window into the mind of the artist. It can either be a dirty window, that a viewer peers into fruitlessly and soon moves on, or it can be clean and shiny, full of fantastic and interesting things inside, that makes the viewer stay and look, fascinated.

Luckily, you have the power to create the scene the viewer sees. The painting is the window frame – the description of your paintings is the fanciful decoration and action taking place inside the frame.

I’m not a big talker, and I usually panic when someone asks me to explain “what it means” (something I’m obviously working to correct, because it is a necessary skill). However I like to write. Recently, the curator at my last exhibition printed out all of the comments and descriptions I’d written about my paintings – on Facebook, Flickr, and my website – and put them up next to the paintings.

It was amazing. At first I felt a little naked – I was really putting MYSELF out there now, all of my limited, opinionated, and controversial beliefs. But I noticed that the visitors spent much more time in the gallery, reading everything, and had a much deeper response and interaction with me and my work. Even better, I didn’t get harder any questions like “what does it mean/what are you trying to say” because it was all written down.

If you’re like me, you just like to paint and don’t really think about a specific ‘thing you’re trying to say’ with your paintings. But people will still want to know and you MUST be able to answer them. So tell them about yourself. Think about who you are, what you believe in, your hopes, dreams, fears, how you feel when you paint, what you want to do/discover/learn in your life – these are all things that may have influenced your work.

When talking about a specific painting, look at it for a while, drink a glass of wine ; how does it make YOU feel? What does it remind you of? A special time or place in your life? Something deeper?

Write it down if it helps. Practice saying it out loud. Post it on your website/printed materials. Be consistent, concise and eloquent… otherwise you end up stammering with your pants down.

How to prepare a theme or concept for an art exhibition

Unlike many professional artists, I didn’t go to art school. I always figured I could learn to paint just fine on my own, through practice – and I was probably right. However, I’m just finding out that there is a great deal of business methodology that I missed out on. You see, fine artists, galleries, dealers and other art-scene people speak the same language. They do things a certain way; doing things in this way automatically opens doors for artists – they are ‘in the club’ and galleries assume they know all the rules and will be easier to work with than someone who just paints.

This is largely true. I usually do things the ‘wrong’ (novice) way because I don’t have all that training.

A piece of this is preparing a ‘theme’ or concept for an art exhibition. The first few times I heard this, it threw me. I’d already done the paintings. Some of the paintings I’ve had for years. I can slap on a nifty title of the exhibition, but writing up a whole concept/theme of why I had painted those? It wouldn’t be honest. And I’ve had several exhibitions this year, with mostly the same paintings. How could I possibly have different themes?

Alas, I’m supposed to. I can’t do things differently from the accepted art world way and expect to be successful. I’m not speaking their language.

A friend of mine – who went to art school and learned the right way to do it – told me he spends several months researching his concept before he starts painting. Now to me (being very cynical and from the vantage point of an outsider) this sounds ridiculous. I guess it’s because very few artists nowadays are making anything distinctive or interesting on their own; there is no new movement or new style of painting – there is very little that hasn’t been done before. Hence, the only way to separate yourself and be unique is to explain in detail the why behind your work. So you research for several months until you can say a lot of smart things, then paint a series of whatever (probably some big, messy abstracts) and then tie it into that concept.

Yes, in a large number of cases, it’s probably bullshit.

That said – it’s the bullshit the greases the wheels of the art industry. If you have an exhibition of paintings with no concept, statement, interpretation of your pieces, etc, you will stick out as unprofessional. Don’t let this happen.

Art is usually about trivial stuff like mind, emotion, feeling, psychology, exploration, self-empowerment, communication, relationship, Truth, God, eternity, soul…. etc. Read some academic drivel about these things, throw it all together. Do this for every show – it can be similar (your artist statement need not change) but for each show you should be ‘striving to find/discover/accomplish’ something a little different.

Have this ready before you approach a gallery about an exhibition.

Should I exhibit at galleries or art fairs?

Answer: show your work as much as you can, whenever you can, however you can.

This is not, by the way, what I used to believe. On my road to becoming a professional artist, I’ve always had my sights set on high-end galleries, with big spaces, white walls and high ceilings. Selling at a ‘crafts fair’ or art market seems cheap to me; yet here are a few reason to do so.

1) You can buy your way in. This is not true for any good gallery; you shouldn’t have to pay to exhibit in a gallery, nor should you have to pay for printing fliers, set up, opening night food, etc (although you might pay a little, especially in a newly-established place). Art fairs are great because ANYBODY can get in, and everybody knows it. This does not necessarily make you ‘cheap’ – in fact by having absolutely stunning work, professional prints and materials set up, you can make a great impression just by being ‘a cut above’ your neighbors.

2) Some art fairs have great reputations – but make sure you do your research. A local crafts fair may not be what you’re looking for. But the Art Fair San Francisco or Gesai Taiwan art fairs (the two I’m looking at for this year) are pretty reputable events that will attract not only lots of midrange buyers, but also some heavy hitters like curators and gallery reps.

Think of an Art Fair like a good advertisement: you’re paying for number of impressions. You may pay about $500 for a 1-day booth at a good art fair. Yes that’s a lot of money – but if you sell a couple paintings and lots of prints, you’ll make it back. Even better, you’ll get TONS of exposure.

Only YOU can make yourself look cheap – avoid that by being scrupulously well prepared and set up. All your work, printed materials, and everything should be super sharp, crisp, clean and professional. You are only as good as your own presentation. Make sure your paintings like amazing, however you display them.

As for galleries – yes, of course you should; unfortunately galleries often approach you – or else exhibitions work out via mutual acquaintances. Once you’re ‘plugged in’, attending the events in the area you wish to exhibit, meeting the right people, networking and making contacts, exhibitions should just sort of happen.