When you start to get traction with your art, it's often a mixed feeling between feeling stoked and terrified.
"I'm so excited! I made it!!!"
"What if no one cares?"
"What if I don't sell anything at this show?"
"I don't know where to start. I am doomed."
"I'm about to waste a lot of money on this show. I can't do it."
You can do it ;)
I am writing this because another self-taught artist DMed me on Instagram asking for specific ways I could have saved money in this process.
If you have a request, DM me here OR if you don't have instagram (you need to be on Instagram 👿) email me here: email@example.com.
Let's get into it!
Err on the side of buying quality materials at a great price. I made some of my first pieces on quality bristol and some quality canvasses. They are worth more now over time and I know the materials I used are acid-free.
What is "quality"? Quality is using acid-free materials to prevent any visible aging like yellowing on paper or canvasses. Many artists will argue it doesn't matter too much when you are just beginning so if you truly cannot afford the extra cash for quality materials just know it's temporary.
You will be able to afford it soon - just focus on making more art.
How I buy quality without breaking the bank? EX: $100 canvas for $20? Easy, I am on every rewards and email list for every art store I can find. I also make a point to stop into Michaels at least once a week. I know my inventory of art supplies and the key is to buy when you don't need it. Similar to what they say in startup land where the best time to raise money is when you don't need it.
You want to stock up during sales times and try not to buy when it's not on sale.
- Sign-up for all your local art supply stores newsletters and reward programs (never pay for these if you come across that)
- Go to (1) art store at least once a week to see their deals
Many art shows will require you to have wires or frames with wires on your pieces before bringing it to the show. Also, art shows typically charge you a "hanging fee" so don't be confused with thinking they will do that for you by paying the fee. The "hanging fee" is usually part of their business model but probably does cover some minimal costs associated with hanging the art (they have to make money too right??).
When you are buying wires and materials to hang your art, usually they aren't too expensive so i'd stock up on at least 3-4 packs of all-in-one hanging kits like this one. You want to minimize the amount of times you need to drive to the art store because gas can get expensive trying to chase all the deals around town.
You might be extremely overwhelmed about the new journey into wiring your art.
It made me feel like this not gonna lie:
You do not need to pay someone to frame your art.
You do not need to pay someone to frame your art.
Save your money and learn how to do it yourself. You will save hundreds and eventually thousands in unnecessary costs.
However, as you grow, you will find its more valuable for you to pay people to frame your art for you because it increases the value instantly, allocates more time for you to make more art (!!), and provides a professional touch to a higher priced piece of art.
Think of it as this:
You are selling your art for on average $50 per piece but to frame it would cost a minimum of $60.
Do not pay someone to frame that piece.
You are selling your art for on average $300 per piece and minimum is at $60.
It makes sense to invest as your margins are higher in this scenario.
Another way you could save money in this area is to network and find partners to do bartering with. You can trade art pieces for framing work or ask if they will show/teach you how to do it while you pay for the materials. Always provide something of value that is important to them before asking for something in return.
You want to show brand consistency by creating a brand via logo, art style, and finding your personality in the process. You can create promotional materials to display at your shows but I wouldn't spend too much money here.
Generally, you want to save as much money as possible to invest in materials to create more art. Creating more art is one of the most important aspects of building your art brand as a self-taught artist. I was told from a dear friend and fellow artist, Lauren Olson aka Temper Temper, that my early works of art won't be my best but by creating more art I will have more practice to create my best pieces of work.
Art fees for shows or gallery shows
I recommend not spending more than $75 (or even $50 in some cases) on art fees. I generally am risk averse to spending even $75 because I know that doesn't include: materials to hang the art, my gas there and back, promotional materials specific to the show, and my food/drink at the show.
You want to be modest with your expenses as many art shows will not attract enough traffic outside of the artists themselves and their personal network to buy all your art. This is why I recommend showing a minimum of 3 pieces at each show and if you have to pay for each piece to hang or enter then stick to 3. The chances of you selling all your art is pretty slim unless you've already built a network of supporters/fans/collectors. It really also depends on what you are selling.
The best scenario i've come across so far is when shows or galleries charge you for a hanging fee per piece. They usually have a minimum # of works of art to enter like one of my recents shows having a minimum of 3 but can be upwards of 6 pieces. Some shows make you pay JUST to enter so do not confuse these with other shows/galleries that make you pay TO HANG and usually means its an automatic entry into the show. When you are paying just for an entry to be featured in the show, make sure you read all the fine print as you don't want to be spending money on entering shows just to be rejected because your art doesn't fit the category but you already paid. This is a trap and part of the business model. Not everyone can exhibit so make sure you are allocating your art fees to shows you have a good chance of getting in or (my favorite) paying for simple hanging fees while having a guaranteed spot.
Art fees add up and in my opinion can be one of the biggest deterrents for self-taught artists. You may be pushed into the mindset that if you invest in art fees and shows that your art will sell itself. Please do not think of it this way. It's an investment towards your art career in the long run and yes it's important to sell your art but always remember that selling art is also about "collecting art". You want to build a network of "collectors" that are collecting your art who will cherish your pieces for years to come.
- Err on the side of buying quality materials at a great price. If you cannot afford quality, don't worry, invest in what you can because eventually you will be able to invest in quality materials.
- Join all your local and not-so-local art store email and rewards lists. You need to know where the best deals are at all times.
- Try not to buy art supplies when they are not on sale. This means when you see a sale you stock up even though you do not need it at the moment.
- Be modest when you are choosing shows to enter into. The art fees will add up for art shows. You do not want to put yourself in a situation where you are spending hundreds in art fees and have no money to invest in making the actual art. Creating more art to get to your best pieces of work is a better investment until then.
- Learn to frame and hang your art. Youtube is your best friend and soon I will be too (yes i'm making a "how-to" series just for you). Only spend money investing into paying someone to frame your art when the art price is significant enough and your margins are bigger.
- When you can find any opportunity to barter for materials or services, do it. You will save copious amounts of money and gain key connections to share with your own network in the future.
- You want to invest in promotional materials but try to invest the least in show-specific materials. You want to do your best to invest once in materials you can use over and over again - this is where building a brand comes in handy.
- Art fees will bankrupt you before you even begin your career. If you can't afford it, don't worry - soon you will be able to. Invest the little money you have in making more art for the time being and when you have a little extra spend on entering shows. Read all the fine print when entering shows and understand the difference between paying for "hanging fees" and "entry fees".
Artist shoutout to Alyssa King - thanks for DMing me and asking about this topic!
Want me to expand further on a topic in this blog post or outside of this topic? Send me a DM here or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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