The THRIVING ARTIST PODCAST is a feature of the Clark Hulings Fund for visual artists, which exists to provide training, professional introductions, and funding for working artists, to turn working artists into THRIVING artists. Tune in for insights from other artists, art industry experts, art collectors, and business specialists. Don't be a starving artist, be a thriving artist!
Stock Art Can Go to Hell: Corporate Art Without Compromise—Melissa Whitaker
Artist and illustrator Melissa Whitaker works full-time for companies across the US, bringing her signature pop-graphic-noir style to their branding and storytelling. Melissa’s clients include Madpipe and Free Agent Source. Commissions include food and beverage, real estate, and medical industries—as well cover art for authors and musicians. Her work has been exhibited in LA, San Francisco, KC, and St. Louis. If you happen to be her part of the world, look for her new billboard for the Arts Council Southern Missouri; it’s a satisfying full circle from when she was featured on that same billboard years ago as a real estate agent. Whitaker made the commitment to a full-time art career later on as an adult: she kick-started her art-business skills with CHF and never looked back. itsallintheart.com
The Thriving Commercial Artist
* “Companies want to tell the story of who they are, and why they do what they are doing. Maybe they can’t find the perfect stock photography for their business. They will come to me to illustrate their story, and make their website or material, even their PowerPoint presentations, stand out from the rest.”
* “Companies are adapting to be able to reach out to people who are not socializing much anymore. They’ve got to put that personality into their marketing presentations. I see new people coming in for personal illustrations: I’m talking to a real estate agent right now who wants to make herself stand out from all the other agents out there. So I’m excited!”
* “A whole new world of crypto art is coming out. It works a lot like Bitcoin where you can take your digital artwork and you basically encrypt it, where the person who’s buying that is buying the original—virtual original in a way—so it’s not just a digital copy. And that has value to it.”
Collaboration: The Artist’s Voice in Commercial Work
* “The client will tell me: ‘I want a subway station platform.’ I will put myself there, thinking: ‘if I am on the subway, if I get off the subway and I’m on that platform and I’m waiting…How am I going to stand? How am I going to see that train? Where is the train coming from? Who are the people around me? And that’s what goes into the picture. So I would say a lot of myself goes into the picture because I put myself there.”
* “I’ll talk with the client and I get a sense of what they are looking for. A lot of questions come out, such as what kind of mood are you looking for? What do you want your customer to feel when they look at this? What is your objective? All of that is information that is needed in order to tell the story accurately.”
* “In today’s culture, a lot of people refer to movies. They’ll say, ‘I’m thinking of The Transporter,’ or ‘I’m thinking of 80s music’ and they’ll give me a playlist. That puts me into the zone and it will come out in the art. I try to put everything, all of me, into the art—so whatever is going in, is coming out into the art.
* “Sometimes I’ll do rough drafts to get an idea of what the customer wants. And there are times where I have an image in my head and I’ll just do the whole thing and send it to them, because sometimes the client doesn’t know what they want until they see it. Or they can’t envision the rough draft in the final completion of the project.”
* “There are struggles at times. There are directions I want to go, and the client has to pull me back and say no, no, no, that’s that’s the wrong way. Or, ‘that looks really fun but we can’t go there.’ So that can be difficult, but often I will go ahead and still create it because I can always use it somewhere else. I’m very open to change and adapting because I will always try to make something work.”
Virtualize Your Art Career: Part 2—Carolyn Edlund
In the second episode of this two-part podcast, Carolyn Edlund weighs-in on how artists can shift their sales strategies and build an art business that will weather these tough times, as well as being resilient to future changes. Contrary to popular belief, collectors are buying art right now, and artists can zoom in on their relationships, update their platforms, and define or redefine their target markets to make this work in their favor.
Carolyn is Sales & Events Director at CHF and our faculty subject matter expert on Sales Strategy. She is the founder of ArtsyShark—and brings a background as an artist, former ED of the Arts Business Institute, years in art-publishing and licensing, and extensive experience in curriculum development and seminars for artists. Work with Carolyn & the CHF Faculty online at the Virtualize Your Art Career TM Conference October 19-30.
What a Sustainable Art Business Looks Like In Today’s Environment
* “There are opportunities to really grow your business. I’ve spoken to several artists lately who are making more sales than ever before. Now, how in the world is this happening? I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘What!? Who’s doing that?’ The artists who are making these sales have given some deep thought to how they are going to go virtual with their marketing and sales strategies. And they’re going 100 percent in that direction, using tools online that are helping them reach an audience who is actually very hungry to buy right now.”
* “Everybody is sitting at home, people are bored, they’re shopping and they are buying art. We know that’s happening. We know there has been an uptick in art sales. So the people that I see who are succeeding—when I get down into the weeds with them, like, ‘What are you actually doing?’ It turns out that they’ve got systems built into their business that are very methodical for drawing an audience, introducing them to their work, getting them with a hook, and then selling their work. And then selling more work to them. They’re building a very sustainable business with repeat sales, which is what we want to do in any environment. It is possible to do that during a pandemic.”
Leverage Your Art and Your Collectors For That Repeat Sale
* “I love repeat sales because it’s easier to sell to an existing customer. They’re the foundation for an ongoing business—where you have existing sales that happen again and again. Part of that is leveraging the work that you sell. I talk about that when I teach sales strategy, and I’m going to be talking more about that in our conference: are you leveraging your collector by selling to them over and over? Are you leveraging your work by selling the next piece in a set? It’s a way of thinking: what do I have that’s going to appeal to people? What can I offer them if I want to keep them as customers, and as eager customers, who will want to own more of my work?”
Embrace Your Power as an Individual Artist
* “The market has evolved over the last 20-25 years toward the empowerment of the individual artist. We’ve seen it in other industries. If we look at, for example, the movie industry, back in the day the studios owned all the actors and they would say, ‘You’re doing four movies this year,’ or ‘I’m going to loan you out to Warner Brothers.’ And they would direct the career of the ‘stable’ of actors that they would control. Nowadays, we see actors who are now directing their own production companies. They have their collaborations. They are free, they are empowered. They can do the projects that they choose to do and they’re setting their own career paths. Visual artists are in much the same position. It is not always emotionally easy to step up and say: ‘Yeah, I’m going to be the CEO of my own art business.
Virtualize Your Art Career: Part 1—Carolyn Edlund
Carolyn Edlund is the Sales & Events Director at the Clark Hulings Fund, and our resident subject matter expert in Sales Strategy. In the first episode of this two-part podcast, Carolyn joins us to answer questions about making a creative career virtual. Artists and makers, you can make a great decision to thrive during the pandemic and beyond: learn with Carolyn and the CHF Faculty in real time by registering for the online The Virtualize Your Art CareerTM Conference Oct 19-30th.
Carolyn is the founder of ArtsyShark—a popular blog that publishes features on artist portfolios and articles on the business of art—and the former executive director of the Arts Business Institute. An artist herself, Carolyn pivoted to sales in the art-publishing business—she learned the world of price points, merchandising, building collections, and closing deals, by working a territory and becoming a top rep. She has designed curriculum for multiple art-business platforms and has presented hundreds of live seminars for artists and makers.
Selling Art During the Pandemic
* “Artists are being pushed into getting online and becoming experts at communicating and selling online. We don’t have much of a choice. The events are closed, postponed, canceled. They’re not happening in person. And as wonderful as the in-person events are (and, you know, we’ve traditionally relied on them) just like Hiscox [Online Art Trade Report 2020] noted: this is a transformation. We’ve been moving towards an online economy, an art industry that is robust in the online space, and this is forcing the issue.”
* “This is putting people in a sink or swim position where you’ve got to make decisions. You aren’t going to change your whole life, but you’ve got to make decisions about getting into the online market and making it work for you. And that, to me, is a huge opportunity. It might not be something that every artist is looking forward to, but ultimately they will really benefit from it.”
Opportunities & Challenges of Selling Online
* “It becomes very crowded when everyone is jumping online—and we know that’s true because art website providers are reporting record numbers of new clients coming in. They all want to set up websites.”
* “Anyone who is in the virtual marketplace has to fight for attention—establish that space, gather the people who are their followers, either through social media profiles or a list that they’ve built so that they can continue that conversation, and then use those interested people to turn into customers and clients.”
* “The personal touch is very appreciated these days. If you’ve got a collector who feels like they know you, they like you, they appreciate your work, and you say: ‘I want to reach out to you because I’ve got a new body of work and I haven’t shown anyone yet. But you own two of my paintings, and I really want to give you first dibs. How about we jump on a Zoom call? How about we literally get into a face to face conversation. I’ll show you what I’ve got.’ I like the personal outreach. And even though that might be a little bit scary, I think that over time, as you get to know your customer base, there will be people that you can reach out to and you’ll find that they appreciate and love hearing from an artist, and love talking with you, and that that engagement excites them. It’s part of the collector experience.”
What Does Virtualizing Your Art Career Mean?
* “There’s going to be a range for some people. It may only be that they get a website, and then they’re continuing on with what they’ve been doing for years. For other artists,
Selling Art in The New Normal: Marketplace, Native Communities, and Virtual Reality
The Virtual Edition of The Santa Fe Indian Market offers an amazing atmosphere of delight and awe at a time when most of us are cooped up in our own worlds of social distance. SWAIA Executive Director Kim Peone joins The Clark Hulings Fund’s Executive Director Elizabeth Hulings, Artpsan Founder & Director Eric Sparre, and leader of the Vircadia Implementation Project & CHF Board Member, Steve Pruneau. Tune in for a wide-ranging discussion lead by host Daniel DiGriz about how all four organization are actualizing possibilities for collaboration and community in the digital world, how Native Artists are poised to flourish in this year’s market and beyond, a profile of the events and gallery spaces in NDN World, and how all of these partner organizations are championing artists as they emerge as leaders and innovators in our changing economy.
To purchase the artists’ work, visit swaia.artspan.com.
Beginnings: How Virtual Edition of SWAIA’s Indian Market Started
* Kim: “This was a scenario where SWAIA needed to pivot after cancelling their Indian Market due to the pandemic. I came on board after the organization had spoken with Clark Hulings Fund on that possibility. Once I became the Executive Director of the organization and vetted that quickly with my board and staff and Clark Hulings’ team as well, it seemed like it was a great partnership for us to collaborate together and move this vision forward. It was a concept at the time, and now we’re really in a place of vision. And so it’s been a great partnership. And I’m really excited to be part of this collaboration.”
* Elizabeth: “SWAIA has been a champion for Native arts for almost 100 years. CHF is interested in promoting artists’ ability to earn a living, and therefore get their art to market, so that the market can decide what it likes and what it wants to buy. We want to level the playing field, get as much out there as possible, and let everybody have a fair shot. It’s a beautiful combination: we have an organization whose goal is to do that for Native arts, and an organization that is coming from the artists’ perspective to drive that forward. Instead of a top-down, it’s really a bottom-up proposition.”
Working with Native American Artists
* Kim: “This is really a ceremonial moment—where, just like when we go to our traditional powwows, we go there not only to dance, but we go there to be in a place where there is community, ceremony, and camaraderie. So I think that is no different than Indian Market.”
* Kim: “Working with Native American communities, you’re definitely working with a population that’s underserved. We have recognized, especially in my past experience in working with tribal governments, that it’s very challenging to do economic development within those organizational structures. This is the first time that I’ve been able to work for an organization which represents Native American tribes where we’re truly in that place of free commerce—and so it allows us to be creative.”
* Kim: “The resilience part of this is something that we’ve been dealing with for generations. So how do we come out of that miry clay and become something? I really appreciate being with an organization where we can empower individuals in doing that, and then as an organization come alongside them to support them. I also feel like it’s a scenario where if you’re helping one artist, you’re not just helping them, you’re helping a family—and that family is helping a community. It really is a ripple effect, as opposed to other artists organizations where it’s very individualized. When we look at an artist,
Build Your Own Future With Or Without The Establishment
Artist Ashley Longshore has never waited for industry gatekeepers to open doors for her: she’s a wildly successful, self-made entrepreneur. Owner of The Longshore Studio Gallery in New Orleans and two high-traffic Instagram profiles, her partners, collaborators, and collectors are a who’s-who of upscale brands and celebrities: Dianne Von Furstenburg, Bergdorf Goodman, Gucci, Rolex, Miley Cyrus, Blake Lively, Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, and Eli Manning. Ashley’s been described as a “modern Andy Warhol” for her pop art sensibilities. Rizzoli New York has recently published her second book I Do Not Cook, I Do Not Clean, I Do Not Fly Commercial. In this episode, Ashley weighs-in on instinct, strategy, and other lessons learned in the art business—and discusses being a working artist during the pandemic. Keep your ears open for some very funny, candid, and insightful one-liners.
Artists Are Entrepreneurs
* “Artists are entrepreneurs. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be financially successful. The idea is that you get to a point where your profits are coming in, people are engaging with your artwork, you have that intimacy within your collector base, and you’ve got enough money in your bank account to make any idea that you have in your brain come to fruition. To me that’s the ultimate goal.”
* “I think in America you have an opportunity to make your own past. When I was told I wasn’t marketable, I decided to build this on my own. Although it wasn’t the easy way, it was the better way, because I understand my audience, I understand my engagement, and I’ve been able to build friendships that led me to great opportunities. Those opportunities have led me to extremely successful creative people.”
* “I have created what I have created on instinct alone. And you know, artists know how to use tools, they know process. Very early, I realized: I’m not going to work with galleries, I’m going to create my own system; I’m not going to give up 50%, I’m going to keep 100% of my profit margins. I’m going to build a business.”
* “I needed to hire people based on the demand for my work—more graphic designers, more photographers, more salespeople. There’s a lot of power in that. I knew I was going to do this my own way, no matter what. That’s the thing: you find your own path and you go for it.”
What It Takes To Be Successful
* “In the beginning, honestly, [it’s about] being as prolific as you can be, understanding your voice, being able to figure out how to be kind to yourself when you’re not completely inspired and on fire. You have to have that strong inner voice of, ‘I can do this, I’m going to be okay. It’s alright that I’m not inspired right now.’ It’s all these little inner thoughts of positivity and optimism. You’ve got to start building that wall inside of you. Because the more you put yourself out there, the more open you are to criticism and the bull**** from the world.”
* “F*** the establishment. F*** what anybody else thinks! You go after it, you cut your own path, you do what you have to do. You know, I’ve been turned down more than a bed in a cheap motel. Rejection is part of what’s going to happen no matter what you do as a creative person, as an entrepreneur, as an ‘artrepreneur’.”
* “The things that I do, I do them with enthusiasm, I do them with gratitude. And I think that energy is really infectious. I also work my ass off, I work quickly, I work my team. And when I’m given a huge opportunity from a billion-dollar global corporation, I work myself to DEATH to make sure that I not only produce, but I over-produce, and I blow their doors off. I mean I live for that moment when they go, ‘You did what?!’ ”
* “Start off with a goal like: I want to make $200 this week. I want to make $200,
Lockdown: Artists Double Down on Building Robust Businesses and Self-Help Networks
It’s a timely moment to be interviewing the team from CERF+, a leading nonprofit focused on safeguarding artists’ livelihoods nationwide. Founded in 1985—by and for materials-based artists and craftspeople—their core services are education programs, advocacy, network- building, and emergency relief. Key players in the recovery of creative industries after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, CERF+ also responded to artists impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, assisted after the California wildfires, and are actively engaged in a Covid-19 response. Their advocacy for artists is ongoing—both in times where planning and prevention are the emphasis—and in providing support in recovery from a crisis. Cornelia Carey is CERF+’s Executive Director and the founder of the National Coalition for Arts Preparedness & Emergency Response. Carrie Cleveland is their Education and Outreach Manager.
Thanks to Jerry’s Artarama for their support of CHF and The Thriving Artist podcast.
* “CERF was originally called ‘Craft Emergency Relief Fund.’ But after Hurricane Katrina, CERF committed to doing a lot more work in the preparedness and mitigation realm. We realized that no amount of money that we could ever raise was going to right somebody’s life when it had been reduced to a slab, a studio, or a home. We needed to invest in helping artists be more prepared and build more resilient careers. So that’s how we became CERF+. The ‘plus’ being all of that preparedness.”
* “We are actively aggregating, creating, combining, curating resources and information that help artists look at this current crisis. At last count there were 130 emergency relief funds that have been created for artists around the country and in the territories; there have been 3 federal aid packages that artists can access—so we want to make sure our artists are aware of these opportunities and how to navigate them.”
Advocacy for Artists
* “We’ve been working with cultural advocacy groups and Americans For The Arts, and making sure that the needs of artists and other self-employed workers are embedded in federal relief packages. Traditionally, self-employed workers, gig workers, and artists have not been a part of federal relief packages.”
* “Advocacy is educating decision-makers about the issues and the needs of a very important population in this country that might not be represented—in disaster response, for example.”
* “The arts serve everyone in this country. Not just left-leaning or right-leaning.”
* “Artists, like many other self-employed workers, don’t have access to a safety net of benefits that often comes with employment, such as health insurance, paid time off, and other supports and security.”
* “We’ve been making the case that artists’ careers are small businesses, and like any other small business, they employ people, they purchase equipment and supplies and materials, they buy real estate, they rent real estate. They are definitely part of economies.”
* “We did research in 2013 about the status of artists in the craft field. We found that 75% of them have 3 months of savings or less. So if you look at this current crisis with things shutting down in March—you know by May, it’s a pretty desperate situation. So we’re in there with the other advocates for small business.”
* “Maybe people think artists live in a separate bucket than the economy. There’s hard data that says just how wrong that is. Just last month the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the Arts & Culture workforce contributed 877.