Selling art involves getting your name known

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Since Susan Brooke spends many of her waking hours working on her art, she’s not what one would call a hobbyist.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Cheri Reckers of Jarales sets up a display at the Belen Art League Gallery on Becker Avenue. For an artist to begin selling their work, local galleries are still crucial, she says.

“Art is my obsession — what I dearly love,” said Brooke. “I’d rather be surrounded by beautiful things than have a brand new car.”

While the love of art is what keeps many artists hard at work in the studio, there are many aspects to getting art sold, and a lot of work on that side as well.

For artists who are investing enough time and money to produce sellable work, especially full-time artists, an entire realm of tasks must be completed, some on a regular basis, in order to get products to consumers.

“The main three questions I ask are: ‘Is it good,’ ‘Where is it going to go (mantle, hallway, lobby, etc.),’ and, ‘Will it sell?’” said Brooke.

The Rio Communities resident is one of several Valencia County artists who derive much or most of their income by selling their own art. The business of art has become a complex one in the Internet age, with tons of new co-ops and one-man operations now on the playing field.

“The supply far exceeds the demand, and mass reproductions can be made cheaply,” said Jim Anderson, an El Cerro painter. “There are hundreds of thousands of oil paintings available on eBay, and many are made in China.”

A Google search for the phrase “How to sell art on eBay” garners 91,000,000 results.

But despite the explosion in the number of ways customers can find the art they like, painting local subjects and getting known in local galleries are still valuable ingredients in getting work sold.

Local arts and crafts shows are venues where beginning artists can display and/or sell small samples, and galleries seem to be excellent contacts. Art shows allow many artists to combine resources and be seen by collectors and the general public under one roof.

There are two kinds of art shows: general ones, where any artist who completes the entry process is admitted; and juried shows, where only selected, judged, quality work is accepted.

Judy Chicago, the internationally known feminist artist, writer and Belen resident, said not much has changed in terms of the importance of local galleries — which may be a wake-up call to some young artists.

“Having a website allows an artist to promote their work more widely,” said Chicago. “Which is a good thing, as long as they don’t fantasize that they will make lots of money via Internet sales. Most art still gets sold through galleries.”

Fiber artist Cheri Reckers, of Jarales, creates many wearable and fiber-art items, and recently came across an opportunity to show her work in Japan.

While she insists quality photographs and Internet social networking are important components of becoming known, those are merely tools to arrange for in-person meetings and events.

“I’m very tactile — I’d rather be in the studio than at a computer,” said Reckers. “The Internet makes it easier to do things, like research shows and figure out which ones to apply for. But you need to know your market, too. Competitions and awards can really validate the work.”

Reckers said artists, especially young ones and beginners, can’t take negative feedback personally.

“You have to have a thick skin,” she said. “Don’t expect everyone to like your work.”

Reckers recommends artists enlist the help of places such as the Small Business Development Center at the University of New Mexico-Valencia Campus in composing a business plan.

Anderson said customers of handmade art will buy sight-unseen, having never laid eyes on the artwork. He purchased an expensive laser printer and does his own framing to reduce the outsourcing costs on his paintings, but he still values the importance of networking across the Southwest.

“Selling art in New Mexico is tough,” he said. “That’s why I try to paint things that are local, like dancers, rodeo scenes, or cottonwoods or the Sandias.”

Brooke said it’s important for an artist to establish themselves with a particular reputation, both for quality work and for unique patterns, style and type of art.

“You can’t go from abstract to impressionist and keep jumping around,” said Brooke. “People want to know your work. Your name is associated with a particular style.”

Pricing is another component of getting art sold, as galleries and Internet sales both will take a cut. Chicago points out that local galleries are still trying to turn a profit as well.

“Many young artists don’t realize that galleries take 50 to 60 percent of the sale price in exchange for offering artists’ work to their client base,” she said.

Reckers values the local gallery route.

“There are a lot more ways to market art than there used to be,” said Reckers. “But one of my best bets has been local galleries. I still believe in that.”

The investment for full-time artists is significant, both financially and in time commitment.

“You might have to have part-time jobs, and eat a lot of canned spinach,” said Brooke, whose studio is filled with Southwestern motif items. “I wish more artists were dedicated to their craft. It’s a tough economy, but as long as a few things can still sell, I’m going to stay with it.”

Brooke says local artists have to be their own publicists, contacting newspapers and other publications and getting their work on display in heavily traveled places, such as restaurants and financial institutions. Artists also have to wear a number of other hats.

“There’s a business licenses, and you have to keep impeccable records and have a reportable income,” said Brooke. “You’re a creator, a shipper, and, in some ways, an accountant and a lawyer, too.”

Brooke said it’s unethical to undercut a gallery, or sell work privately for significantly less than the sale price at a gallery, knowing the gallery will take about half of the profit. It’s important to collect the names and addresses of regular art collectors, she said, and to have quality business cards.

Many artists, including Reckers, enjoy traveling, so it’s common for artists to head to distant parts of the country, or around the world, to promote their work.

“If you don’t act on an opportunity, you know what happens — nothing,” said Reckers. “If you follow through on an opportunity, anything is possible.”


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.