Tea Drinking Networking Artists: Image by Davina Jelley

The deadline for those planning to participate in this year’s SAW festival fast approaches. Is this the year that you have decided to reveal your creative side and pay attention to that inner voice that has been prompting you to define yourself as an artist? Exhibiting during SAW could be the valuable opportunity you seek for testing the market value of your work, enabling you to gauge a true response before making that even bigger leap of thinking this is it, this is how I want to, NEED to make my living in order to be true to myself.

I recently attended a course supported by the Somerset Creative Industries Development Fund and organised by SAW entitled ‘How to Market and Sell Your Work.’ It was aimed not only at artists about to embark on their ‘new’ path but those who had hit a mid career plateau. Personally I think being an artist you are always having to re imagine your creative side and it would be naive to think that you only need to look at the business side of your identity infrequently. That’s where courses like this are so valuable – yes they may just confirm that you are ticking all the right boxes to help sustain your career, but in the fast paced world where paintings can be bought and sold on the strength of just one twitter you will also insure that you keep the pace, but only if that is where you wish to be.

All the speakers highlighted that before embarking on promoting and selling your work, you must ask yourself that all important question – why do you want to be an artist, what exactly are you seeking? Is it international acclaim, fame & fortune, or room to be self indulgent in the hope someone will buy your expressionism. Perhaps you wish to change peoples’ perceptions or simply wish to create work that will sell so that you may feed and clothe you and your family? All different goals, with very different paths that being part of SAW may help lead you.

They all offered practical insights and advice relevant to their professional experience and  background as to which type of gallery to approach depending on your horizons. Of course connections and fate do play a hand, you may not seek international recognition but an art hungry public may draw you out from your studio – just how much do you wish to play the role of the reclusive artist!

Geoffrey Bertram, a former London gallery director, art dealer and an avid collector shared his expertise on approaching London’s high end commercial galleries and the etiquette involved when forming business relationships in what can sometimes be perceived as an aloof and skewed art market – one where the cynic in me would say it’s all about moving money. The London market can be a tough one to crack and quite restrictive if a gallery insists on being the only representative of an artist’s work. It is achievable and obviously suits those who can create work that attracts a collectors market, leaving the gallery to do the selling which in turn allows the artist to paint, paint, paint and make the occasional appearance at a private view or two. If being represented by a London gallery is what you strive for and how you measure your success then by all means aim high.

Somerset painter and printmaker Jenny Graham presented a more down to earth approach sharing her experiences selling directly to the public from her studio and also via the county’s regional galleries. Again there are of course other subtle business etiquette rules to learn and follow. Her main mantra was the ability to diversify if you wish to succeed.

Angela Blackwell artist and curator at Honiton’s Thelma Hulbert Gallery is well placed when it comes to offering advice on how best to approach public galleries. A career where your income is sourced from arts funding and the skills required to successfully tackle grant applications. This approach is more suited to experimental artists whose work would simply not sit within the conventional commercial gallery market. Again different business etiquette skills prevailed, yes some naturally overlap between gallery styles, but if you are equipped beforehand you are more likely to achieve positive outcomes. All the speakers agreed that cold calling in person at any art establishment no matter how large or small was a complete no no. It would be a hard sell to redeem yourself from this gallery faux pas, and please, please do not assume that all galleries are free career advice bureaus.

Rossanne Lee-Bertram, marketing and communications specialist, was the final speaker and highlighted the vast array of skills that the individual artist requires to promote themselves as a brand and business. Being able to paint is obviously first and foremost, but if you wish to succeed, you most definitely need a business head, be technically savvy, self disciplined and skilled at time management.

It is easy to become complacent, we all get set in our ways and think we may know it all, but attending a course like this keeps you refreshed and up to date. Networking is a vital role, helps keep you sane and remind you that you are not alone. If you wish to be a reclusive artist that’s fine but I recommend that you have rather large nest egg to sustain you and don’t expect to be discovered!

Rossanne has put together some very helpful notes from the day and I know a recording was also made in the hope of putting a podcast together. If you are a ‘future’ professional artist reading this post, please don’t be put off by the numerous skills required. Pick and choose what elements suit you, they will develop over time and organisations like SAW are there to offer support. If you are a non artist reading this then do appreciate the many skills these one man band artisans require to live their creative dream, it’s not all about wearing dungarees splattered in paint sometimes you have to put on the business suit even if it is only a ‘virtual’ one.


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Published on March 25, 2015 // Davina Jelley