Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Return from Oz - The Philadelphia Buyers Market

Last weekend ( Feb 16-18) I spent the weekend in Philly, the "City of Brotherly Love" att he Philadelphia Buyers Market. As a free lance artist and someone who loves painting more than almost anything (except for good food and wine) What I learned there really opened my eyes to other possibilities for exposure and selling my art work to make a living. Honestly, I never did well as a starving artist. I like having a roof over my head, nice clothes, decent meals and some sense of purpose to life besides struggling. The first half of my life was spent as an Opera/ Music theatre singer. I went to some of the best schools in the country for my training. But those schools and major training programs taught me a great deal about making a pretty noise. They did very little to teach me how to market and sell myself as a professional singer. I was very lucky. I had a decent career by being in the right place at the right time. I sang in the major houses and I did lots of touring and I did everything most people think makes a good career. I still rarely broke even and even less so managed to invest and save for any kind of retirement. Eventually I got really tired of living out of a suit case and not maintaining a real relationship. I settled down and started to teach private lessons. Between lessons (and all those times that students didn't show up and didn't call) I started painting. Immediately I found my TRUE calling in life. I was meant to be a Fine Artist. Paintings flow through my fingers like water through a sieve. Everyone who sees my work loves it. In the last year - since I began to seriously paint - I have entered and won several competitions, been accepted in national and international and online juried shows, I have been award several honors for my art and my career already. That kind of recognition does not translate immediately into sales or cash on hand however! As a freelance and self-employed artist, I constantly struggle with the Gallery system versus Retail Marketing. Most of the general public does not know it, but galleries take 40 - 60% of the artist's retail sales price. On top of that they don't buy your work and resale it, they sell on commission. So the ARTIST carries the expense to have a studio/work space, paint, matte, frame, market and shopr or deliver our work across the country to them, and if they don't sell anything, we are out of luck. We are in the hole for our expenses and then have to pay for storage of our work as well. Added to that, most galleries insist on an exclusivity clause, meaning if they carry your work no one else in their community or with-in a certain mileage can sell it as well. This severely limits your markets. One option no one really talks about for artists though is the WHOLESALE market. Markets such as the Philadelphia Buyers Market are geared to artists who produce original quality art and craft work where galleries and retail outlets that are interested in their type of work come to them. (The line between "art" and "craft" is very dubious to begin with, depending on whether you are talking to the trendy "New York Art" world or the rest of the normal humans.) It is true that the majority of this work is jewelry and glass work, and some "crafty " items, but there is a market for fine sculpture and 2-d work as well. While it is true that for the most part a fine artist cannot demand the prices in wholesale market that a fine art gallery insists on, they can more than make up for it in volume if they are productive. You must recall that the artist is usually only getting 50% of the retail price at the gallery, and that is only IF the work sells during a show. In the wholesale world, the artist sets the prices they deem their work is worth and the market will bear. (Of course following good business practices such as record-keeping of expenses, supplies, mark-up, profit margins, etc - a whole other blog series about why artists refuse to be get good business training. Art IS a business!) I talked to several artisans who said they come to the market, collect orders for their art, then spend the rest of the year producing and delivering their goods to the galleries and the retail outlets that sell it. These retail outlets BUY the art out right. They pay the artist (usually net. 30 after delivery) and it is then theirs to sell at the prices they see fit. One artisan I spoke with makes fine furniture - an ART for sure. She has about 250 wholesale accounts nationally and once a year comes to the Philadelphia Buyers Market. She shows samples of her new lines, she takes orders from galleries and retail markets, and then she goes home and spends the rest of the year producing and delivering her work. MOST of her year and time is spent doing what she loves... producing ART. Compare that to the professional "Fine Artist" who for every hour spent creating art must spend 6-10 hours marketing, making calls, preparing submissions to galleries (who IF they accept the artist's work doesn't buy the work but displays it virtually for free unless it sells...), and traipsing across the country door to door to try and get a gallery to give them a show, and you can see why the Wholesale market is so attractive. Of course wholesale marketing is not for everyone. You need to be very organized. Artists need to know how disciplined they are, and how much quality consistent work they can produce in a given time. And they need to be good salespeople. So many artists look down on sales as being below them. The schools I attended as a musician (and art schools from what I hear from many artists) think that you simply produce wonderful work (or sing well) and then a wonderful career happens for you. This is simply not true! No matter what your product, SALES and MARKETING are the most important tools you can learn. Look at it from the stand point of if you really take pride in your work then you want to share it. Share it verbally and emotionally with the people around you who are LOOKING for what you do! til next time Create beauty and fill the world with love! Wynn