Artist, Jeff Schaller standing in front of his painting, "Lost in Translation". Encaustic, 36" x 36"
With all the resources available to artists regarding marketing and sales, I'm finding that talking to other artists has been one of the most useful resources I can find. I'm surrounded by artist at various stages of their career at my studio space and, after attending the encaustic conference at Montserrat Art College, I now know artist all over the US. Fellow artists are usually friendly and willing to answer the million of questions that I seem to have now that I've decided to be more serious about my art.
On a recent trip to the East Coast, I met up with Jeff Schaller (www.jeffschaller.com) at his Pennsylvania studio. Jeff does fairly large paintings of people (mostly beautiful women...hmmmm...) entirely in encaustic wax. Those of you who work in wax know that that is no easy feat, but Jeff is a master of it. Add in the fact that he does this full time and supports a family through art makes Jeff a rock star of the art world in my eyes. I knew I needed to pick his brain. I wanted to be like Jeff Schaller.
I started off asking him how he was able to "make it" as an artist and what I could do in order to "make it" too. He asked me what was my definition of "making it"? Did I want to show in museums and be known world-wide? Or did I want to sell enough paintings to get by? I thought about it for a moment and decided that what I really wanted was to be able to create art the way I wanted to, without any influence from galleries or clients and how well certain art would sell better than others. I wanted people to know me as an artist and appreciate my work. I wanted to be able to live comfortably from my art sales. I wanted to quit my teaching job and paint full time.
One of his suggestions was to create a local following and buzz. You do that by having as many local showings as possible. This includes open studios, putting on your own shows, and showing in alternative spaces in addition to gallery shows. The idea is to get known within your local community and have your name associated with art, your art. When people start associating you with your art, opportunity for sales and shows start opening up . I have noticed this to be true. In the last year, I had three different art centers/ galleries ask me if I would show my work in a group show just based on the recommendation of people who where familiar with my work.
"But how do you move from having shows where people love your work, to shows where people BUY your work", was my next question. His answer was to price work to sell. Jeff said that when he started out, he just wanted to sell as much work as possible. His prices were low and people started buying his work. He was able to build a client list from this, which is important. As he started making more sales, he would slowly raise his prices for the next show. Since he had satisfied clients and was building a name for himself by that point, he was able to raise the price of his paintings as his popularity grew.
Too many times artist start asking for high prices for their paintings when they don't have the reputation or following to demand those prices. You can ask for a million dollars for your painting and it may look impressive, but unless someone is willing to pay that million dollars, all your left with is a studio space filled with million dollar paintings. I started looking at my prices for my recent work. Since I had gallery representation and they had thought my prices were too low, I raised the price of my new work. I went from selling my work pretty consistently to having a lot of admirers of my work that wished they could afford it. Since I wasn't selling anything at the gallery where my work was being shown, and I had already decided to pull my work from there because of their lack of communication, Jeff suggested lowering my prices to a more affordable rate and start building up my client list again. Open studios was coming up and that would be a perfect time for my community to see my new work and see my new affordable prices.
These were the two major suggestions that really stood out to me and seemed the most useful. Build a local following and price your work to sell. Seems pretty simple to do, right? Thanks Jeff Schaller for letting me pick your brain. I'm sure I will be filled with even more questions the next time I see you...
Jeff Schaller, age 3... before "art-rockstar-dom".