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Visual Artists as Entrepreneurs and Marketers
September 2013
Visual Artists as Entrepreneurs and Marketers

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Gallery Views

Visual Artists as Entrepreneurs and Marketers

By MARYSE DE LA GIRODAY

Mia Weinberg, We Are Here, at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton

Mia Weinberg, We Are Here, at the Muttart Conservatory in Edmonton

“Plumbers and electricians attend programs where up to 30% of their study is devoted to business development, while students in visual arts get almost no training,” says Chris Tyrell Loranger, author of Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist (2008) and Making It! Case Studies of Successful Canadian Visual Artists (2011) and instructor of professional development (Continuing Studies) at Emily Carr University of Art + Design (Vancouver). Tyrell Loranger suggests visual artists need to view business development as essential to their artistic practice.

He also advises new artists to abandon fantasies of being represented by a gallery. Even if they manage to get noticed in a demanding market for galleries, the relationship between artist and gallery can be challenging. The notion that the artist produces works followed by the gallery’s selling them and then paying dazzling amounts of money back to the artist while both parties sing “Hallelujah” is false.

No artist, emerging or established, can afford to get complacent. Michal Tkachenko, primarily an oil painter, has created her own market – twice – without gallery representation. Self-described as an emerging to middle career artist, Tkachenko, as part of her marketing strategy, obtained a master’s degree in fine arts from England’s Chelsea College of Art and Design, since she’d noticed successful artists whose work she admired had that qualification.

Now based both in Vancouver, Canada, and London, England, Tkachenko notes there are differences between her two markets. “In Vancouver, my landscapes are more popular and saleable, while in London, they like my edgier material.”

Mia Weinberg, an artist who has established a reputation for her public sculptural installations which are site- and community-specific, says, “Art is a business for me. It’s how I make my living. I need to be serious, about getting out there and letting people know about me and my work.”

After a previous career in industrial manufacturing, graduation from Emily Carr University, and almost 20 years of submitting work for competitions, Weinberg has expanded the market for her artwork to the real estate development community, where she currently has a commission for a public installation.

She estimates about 50% of her time is spent on marketing and business development. She has a focused approach to networking both inside and outside the artistic community. Weinberg belongs to local chapters of the High Output Business Network and Rapid Time Networks, where she is one of a few artists mingling with business owners.

There are many approaches to networking and market development. Mikey (Michael Edward Miller), a newly emerging artist, has been exhibiting for approximately 12 months. He creates nostalgic images in mixed media, based on video games from the 1980s and 1990s, and he uses social media such as Twitter and Facebook to network extensively while developing his market. In June 2013, he held his Punch Out! show in Los Angeles, which was self-funded and crowdfunded on Indiegogo.

As Tyrell Loranger might point out to his students, not one of these artists is hiding in a studio waiting for someone to notice them. In fact, Mikey is currently preparing for a September 2013 Punch Out! show in Vancouver, while Weinberg has started a new business, Art Consulting Vancouver, and Tkachenko has plans to start an online business helping artists to create online presences.



Pricing strategies are always tricky but they are even more or so with the visual arts where there is very little data even with regard to conventional art let alone mixed media, performance art, conceptual art, etc.

When asked about pricing, Tyrell Loranger mentions a 2001 study (there’s nothing more recent) by Robert Ashcroft, a member of the Federation of Canadian Artists (FCA). Ashcroft did something very simple and determined the price per square inch in a sample of 93 artworks by 34 artists that were reproduced in the FCA’s magazine. Interestingly, watercolour painting which is the most difficult was priced the highest at $4.48 per square inch, with acrylic painting coming in at $3.32 per square inch, and oil painting at $3.18 per square inch.

In a December 16, 2010 posting on his blog, which mentioned Ashcroft’s research, Tyrell Loranger advises artists to develop a pricing formula as he notes that only seven of the 34 artists in the survey were consistent in their pricing.

Weinberg had fewer problems than most artists when first establishing prices. “Since competitions for public artworks include a predetermined budget I had to learn how to cost the materials and time while making some money for myself.” She learned her lesson with her first public art installation in Edmonton’s (Alberta, Canada) Muttart Conservatory, the most prestigious and important piece in her portfolio and the only one where she did not make a profit.

Mikey and Tkachenko both talk about affordability and building a market for their work. Mikey went about pricing in a time-honoured fashion. “I took advice from my mentor, Brian Boulton, and other mature artists and knowledgeable people.” As a relatively new artist, he knows it’s important to establish prices at the right level, i.e., encouraging sales while signifying gravitas for an emerging 80s/90s pop culture-influenced artist.

Tkachenko began her pricing process with an informal survey of artists (going to their shows) at roughly her career stage and working in similar media to establish an affordable base price and also planned for regular 5% increases in her prices. She observes, “Big jumps in prices means establishing a new clientele.” For example, the collector who paid $2000 for a painting won’t usually be spending $200,000 for the next one.

Tkachenko also took advice from gallery owners, “They said it was better to produce paintings in series as that gives each piece better impact.” Wisely, as Tkachenko’s prices have risen in response to her popularity and importance and as the economic situation gyrates she has adopted other means of making her work affordable such as creating works in smaller sizes.

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