The Business of Art, 2015 Retrospective Part 3 of 3: Selling Artwork

Facebook original painting auction

Facebook painting auction

New ways artists can sell artwork online

Originally, my website was set up like most artist sites. If you were interested in purchasing one of my paintings, you would be instructed to contact me or the gallery that represented me – the end. There was no indication that any specific paintings on my site were available for purchase, much less a purchase button. Doing research into how I wanted my site to look I found some amazing artists and I was tempted to purchase artwork myself, but even I never wanted to contact the artist! It seems obvious, but having a clear price list and detailed process outline for commissions and a purchase button for completed paintings, makes it so much easier for you to even begin to think about bringing one of my paintings into your home. It’s the way I would like to purchase a painting so it makes sense that that’s how I should be selling them.

Making artwork clearly and readily available was the first step. But if no one sees my website, no one knows my paintings are available. It was time to take another step and venture into using social media and marketing to help sell my paintings. With the help of posts from sites like artbusiness.com, I’ve been learning, among other things, better ways to optimize my images and text so that I come up in google searches more often. This has helped me get painting commissions from people that never knew my work before. Also, allowing you to click a purchase button directly from my Newsletter, and putting new works up on Facebook has made a huge impact on my sales. I even ended the year with a successful art auction on Facebook. I’m used to the old gallery situation, where I meet people in person and putting a painting up on for sale Facebook really took me out of my comfort zone. My end goal was not only to sell the painting and raise some money for two well deserved charities, but also to expand my audience.

I love selling paintings. I know that’s a silly statement, but it’s true. Selling paintings means I can work a little less at my day job and still pay the bills. Which in turn means there are less compromises in the studio and I can spend more time making paintings I don’t currently have time for.  Selling paintings also means these paintings are going out into the world to be enjoyed instead of being stored in my studio. I’m thankful that you appreciate what I’m making enough to bring my painting into your home and take such good care them.

Where will 2016 take us?

February is already almost over and I’ve been busy ironing out my plan and trying to take into account a new addition to the family. Even with this addition, I expect much of the same from last year, with a few little steps ahead (and maybe even a few leaps!). I’ll be starting a new Monthly Miniature series in April, plan to finish some larger figurative paintings this year and have room for just a few more commissions in the schedule. I’m also going to try to post as consistently as possible and have two new venues for you to learn more about my paintings – a short video published on Vimeo and my website by Aaron Boruget from a recent studio visit, and an upcoming article about my paintings in the Seattle Magazine in April.

I am taking into consideration that a newborn will likely throw a wrench in the works, so if I fall short on my plans, please forgive me! I promises not to be late with your commissions though.

 

Monthly Miniatures - Rabbit oil paintings by Rebecca Luncan

Part 1 of 3: Planning Paintings

 

Rebecca Luncan Instagram account

Part 2 of 3: Communication

 

 

The Business of Art, 2015 Retrospective Part 2 of 3: Social Media

Rebecca Luncan Instagram account

Instagram

The world of Social Media and where I fit in as an artist

Painting I know. I’ve been doing it for years and that is where I’ve always felt I’m at my best, even when I’m frustrated and flailing around. The world of social media is new territory for me and new is a bit scary and intimidating. I started by doing lots of research, then jumping right in. Albeit I did jump into the shallow end of the pool. I wrote about some of my early experiences with the social media rabbit hole in this blog post half way through my first year of blogging. Many basic social media concepts, are still quite basic for me half a year later, but I’ve found that progressing at a snails pace and biting off what I’m comfortable with plus a little more every few months is helping me grow and it’s keeping me from giving up.

I don’t think social media is absolutely necessary for every artist but I’ve been very surprised at all of the benefits I’ve discovered so far.

One of the benefits of engaging in social media is that once you’ve made your plan public you are held accountable. Even though I often have my doubts whether anyone is paying any attention, I do take my commitments very seriously and try my best to meet them, even if all you readers out there aren’t really holding me to them. I found it interesting to look back and realize that the experimental and figurative paintings I worked on last year didn’t get much if any mention in my social media accounts. I was much more driven to finish paintings that I felt a publicly accountability for such as the Monthly Miniatures and my commissioned paintings and I didn’t give the rest of the paintings the same attention that I feel they deserved.

Another great social media benefit is forcing yourself to consistently write about your artwork. This is the dreaded part of being an artist that most of us despises. Why do we have to explain ourselves in words, when the whole point of what we’re doing is communicating an idea visually? By making this a consistent part of my weekly schedule, it’s helped me better understand what is important to me about my artwork and where I want future paintings to go. I think that this will ultimately help me make better paintings. I’m curious where the experimental paintings mentioned above may have taken me if I had worked out the ideas more fully in all of my different social media outlets.

What else have I’ve learned? I learned that you like to see paintings evolve and not just the finished piece. I always think of the middle stages of my painting as the awkward part and never shared that part of the process until this past year.

My biggest challenge: consistent posting. I’m currently posting on Facebook, Instagram, this blog and sending out a monthly newsletter. Though regular posting is great for so many reasons (keeps things fresh for you, it’s easier for me to write when I make it a steady habbit, and it’s supposed to keep the SEO chugging along), it’s really hard to make the time. On average, I’ve been splitting my schedule pretty equally between studio time and business time but new habits are difficult.

Engaging in social media helps me get closer to achieving both of my artistic goals: to make good paintings, and make a living doing what I love. This leads me to the upcoming post “The Business of Art, 2015 Retrospective Part 3 of 3: Selling Artwork”. I hope you’ll check back soon and and learn how social media is helping me find homes for my paintings in ways I never would have expected.

 

Facebook original painting auction

Part 3 of 3: Selling Artwork

 

The Business of Art, 2015 Retrospective Part 1 of 3: Planning Paintings

 

Monthly Miniatures - Rabbit oil paintings by Rebecca Luncan

Monthly Miniatures – Rabbits

Planning and promoting artwork: strategies that helped me focus and make decisions in 2015

In 2015 I made a big push to get my art out into the world, and my approach to both making and selling art is more structured than ever before. In the studio, I have been planning and tracking what I’m working on more than ever before. As for selling, I began to promote my art across several channels, all new in 2015: this blog, a newsletter, Instagram, Facebook, and several non-digital efforts.

In this three-part series, I’d like to talk about how these strategies have worked throughout the year, and how they all relate to help my achieve my artistic goal: make good paintings and make a living doing what I love. 

Scheduling, deadlines, and staying motivated

In January 2015, I blocked out the entire year, month by month, to establish deadlines for each painting I wanted to finish. During the long process of completing a painting, it is easy to get sidetracked thinking about the next project. But I always love starting something new, and having a schedule in place helps me turn my excitement into motivation. So instead of being distracted by what’s next, I can really focus on finishing what’s in front of me. When I can stay motivated to finish my current work and be excited to start the next piece, then I can make a lot of art!

At the same time, I publish a newsletter each month. Since my newsletter is specifically about the work I’ve made in that month (and secondarily about blog posts I’ve written), I can’t write a newsletter without finishing the painting I’ve planned. Because people expect their newsletter each month, social expectations also help stay accountable and motivated to keep up with my schedule.

Rabbits! A strategy for audience engagement

It takes a tremendous amount of time to put together an art show, thousands of hours over the course of several months or even years. And between shows, people forget your name! I really wanted people to see my work on a more regular basis, so I started my first Monthly Miniature series. I love miniature paintings, and the idea was to make smaller works more often, so I could share them on my newsletter and social media.

My first Monthly Miniature was my studio rabbit Eleanor, but I had not planned to keep painting rabbits. I soon realized there was a real advantage in sticking to one particular theme. A focused theme for the series help me push myself to developed the series in a deeper way and it also makes it easier for you to look at my work as a whole and understand where I’m coming from. When I showed my (often already sold) painting to people and they were interested, I could refer them to the Newsletter, where they would see next month’s rabbit miniature before anyone else.

Featuring the same subject each month also helped me connect with my audience over time. People actually got to know my rabbits and care about them. I keep in touch with my core audience via my newsletter, where I like to share a little bit about what goes on around the studio. I talk briefly about my life, show off my recent work, and always share a little bit about the rabbits. I love it when people respond to the newsletter and we can start a conversation. If I painted and talked about something different each month, people could not connect the same way with my work.

The layers of my art-making cake

Each rabbit miniature takes a little over a week of my art-making schedule. I love painting Charlie and Ellie, and because of the nature of the series and the way I’ve planned them, they’re getting the most public attention right now, especially in my newsletter. I do however, spend more of my painting time keeping up with commission orders, which typically take three weeks or more and working little by little on the larger figurative paintings that help me explore and develop my art.

It helps to have clear priorities for when my schedule becomes tight (and it’s always tight!). I try to start my commissions early so I have a good idea of how long they will take me (every painting is a new challenge). The firmest deadlines come first, so finishing commissions on time is top priority, followed publication deadlines: Monthly Miniatures, blog and newsletter articles. Finally when I have time left over, my original figurative works get some attention.

Leaving time for reflection, and recording progress

Looking back it’s clear, if it doesn’t have a deadline, it doesn’t get done around here, so planning ahead is pretty important. But it’s not possible to plan perfectly, so some flexibility is necessary. It can be tough to be flexible without losing respect for deadlines. It helps to actually set aside time to think about what’s working and what’s not, to recognize that the deadlines are important, but what ultimately matters is the greater goal. It is important to set aside time to reflect and formally revise plans.

To reflect effectively about what happened, it really helps to know what did happen. That is why I record my time for everything I work on. I might go into detail on that in the future, but basically I write down the hours I work on each given project. It is hard to understand why that is important without actually doing it, but not only does it give me information about what I have done, it helps teach me how to better plan in the future. Without that experience, it would be impossible for me to know, for instance, whether I can finish a last-minute commission by Christmas (when it’s already October).

My reflections on 2015’s art-making plans

2015 was a great year, and I met a lot of goals. I did a lot of painting, including several great commissions, and expanded my audience. I finished every painting that I built into my original timeline, and I even finished a few small experimental paintings. But the larger figurative paintings that I feel are so important to my work and my career, because they were not scheduled with a firm deadline, always got put off so that during 2015, I finished exactly one!

2016 will be a very busy year for me. I have another series of Monthly Miniatures planned, as well as an almost-full schedule of commissions. But it is really critical that I finish some of the larger figurative works left on the back-burner from last year, because in art it is very important to get recognition: articles, awards, and shows or representation. The majority of my work could not be shown last year: both commissions and Monthly Miniatures get sent off to their owners as soon as they are done and photographed.

Having built up a modest audience this year, it is time to work towards some shows and awards. This year two new strategies will help me do that. First, I will collect the new Monthly Miniatures and show them all together, before sending them to their owners. And since I find it is critical to set deadlines for those larger works, I built larger gaps into my commission schedule this year and bookended them with deadlines for large figurative paintings!

 

Rebecca Luncan Instagram account

Part 2 of 3: Communication

Facebook original painting auction

Part 3 of 3: Selling Artwork

 

Packing November’s Reclining Rabbit Painting for her Cross Country Journey

Reclining Rabbit oil painting miniature by Rebecca Luncan

Reclining Rabbit – November 2015, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″

I’m a huge fan of miniature artwork, and the ease and affordability of shipping them safely is one reason why.

Miniature paintings are great for so many reasons. They are intimate and powerful, easy to hang in any house, and much more affordable to commission than larger works (even with a custom, hand-finished frame).

And while miniature paintings are cheaper and easier to ship than larger artwork, they also need some special treatment.

Medium-sized paintings typically ship wrapped in plastic and 2″ of bubble wrap surrounded in a cardboard exterior . That will normally be enough for small miniatures as well, but because the packages are small, they are more likely to get tossed around, stacked, and generally treated roughly.

Years of working in a museum have trained me to go the extra mile in prepping artwork for shipping.

Here’s how I packaged this miniature painting to ship across the country to her new home.

Art packing materials

Art packing materials

Materials

  • 2.25″ grey foam *sub wadded brown paper for more environmentally friendly packing
  • Ethafoam (Styrofoam can also be used) the thickness of the artwork (you can glue multiple layers together)
  • plastic bag (polyethylene or food grade)
  • tape measure
  • packing tape
  • straight edge
  • “fragile” sticker
  • utility knife (I like Olfa)
  • cardboard (box)

Step-by-Step

  1. Determine what size box is needed. Measure the painting and add 4″ to get the length and width. Stack your grey foam, Ethafoam and one layer of cardboard, then measure to get your box’s ideal height. *I’ve been subbing brown paper for the grey foam more recently to make my packing materials more environmentally friendly. If you do this, leave two inches of space for both above and below your artwork and use double thick cardboard. Add a second layer of cardboard under your artwork.
  2. Find or cut out the box. A box that is within a few inches (but at least 2″ larger on all sides)
    of the painting is ideal. The height should be trimmed to fit the height of the foam exactly. If you don’t have a box handy, you can make your own: the image above shows how you would cut a box from a flat piece of cardboard. To get the creases for the bends, use a bone scorer or completely retract the blade on the utility knife and use the (dull) metal edge. Tape the bottom of the box together.
  3. Cut each piece of foam and cardboard to fit. I also like to take out a corner notch in the top layers to make unpacking a little easier. My favorite knife is the Olfa utility knife with a 25mm blade. Fantastic knife for cutting foam (and everything else). Make sure to keep your fingers out of the way of the blade, these knives are incredibly sharp!
  4. Cut a hole in the Ethafoam that will snugly fit the painting.
  5. Wrap the painting in plastic, making sure to seal the
    edges completely and that the surface of the painting does not come into contact with the plastic. If the painting is unframed and very dry, wrap
    with Dartek first, then plastic.
  6. Phew! Everything’s cut and now it’s time to put it all together.
Packing miniature paintings, step by step

Packing miniature paintings, step by step

7. Remember to add the packing slip and a thank you note, then say your goodbyes and seal it all up. Make it official with a fragile sticker, and it’s ready to post out to it’s new home!

Ship-Finished

If you’re interested in receiving your very own hand painted miniature, contact the artist to commission one just for you or sign up for the monthly newsletter for a preview of the newest painting up for sale!

Signing Artwork: Making Ties to the Past

signature

A piece of artwork has two identities; a signature binds the one to the other.

The first identity is the object, there in front of you, awaiting your gaze. The reckless or the deliberate brushstrokes, the smooth sheen on a carefully sculpted piece of marble, the lovely hatch-marks on an etching, all the little details that pull you in and make each piece of artwork unique. The second identity is the story of the artwork and its journey through the world. Who made it? Why? Where was it exhibited? Was it part of a bigger series? Who is the person in the portrait? and who has owned it? This story is called the provenance.

Like it or not, a work of art does not stand completely on its own: both its story and its physical character are important. Some degree of provenance helps work keep its value over time, and more valued work is more likely to be well-treated. But until artwork is identified, it effectively has little provenance. When someone is faced with a decision about what to do with a piece of art, the identity of its creator is important. So to make it more likely your work will be treated well, found and remembered, it is important to sign it clearly. Alan Bamberger is, among other things, an art consultant and independent appraiser specializing in original works of art. His article about artist’s signing artwork goes as far as saying, “No matter what your signature looks like, what form it takes or where you put it, no work of your art is complete without one.”

Where to Sign? and Other Guidelines

Where to sign artwork is the most debated part of the process. Painter Alice Neel did a huge signature and the date on the front of her paintings, but you’d never see a Georgia O’Keeffe signed on the front. Hers were restricted to the back, either on the canvas or stretcher frame. I was taught in art school to sign paintings on the back so it doesn’t take attention away from the artwork. That’s only one school of thought, but it’s how I’ve done it since then.

I do have one patron that likes me to sign paintings on the front, and at her request, I’ve been signing paintings she’s purchased that way. I try to hide the signature a bit and it’s starting me questioning whether or not I should hide a little signature on the front on all of them. It always seems so glaringly obvious to me, but when I just showed a friend one piece, he had to get out a magnifying glass to find it, so maybe it isn’t so distracting after all. I’m going to do a little experimenting, so keep your magnifying glasses at the ready.

Other things to consider:

  • If your signature isn’t legible, why bother? Note that even the well known artists in the image above have pretty clear signatures. There are websites dedicated to identifying paintings with illegible signatures (and they are not always successful).
  • Keeping the look and placement of your signature consistent makes it easier to locate.
  • Paintings and drawings are easier to authenticate if the signature is done in the same medium as the artwork.
  • Your name may change. Consistency is important, but you just do the best you can do. It seemed like a good idea to go by Rebecca Raven after I got married, but going back to my maiden name after getting divorced means there are 9 years worth of little painting out in the world without my name on them! If you see a Rebecca Raven out in the world, you’re welcome to contact me and I’ll be happy to verify if for you. I keep excellent records.

Interesting Signatures

Signatures take many forms, from a simple hand-written or painted signature to pictographs or monograms; a traditional method of signature in China and Japan is to stamp artwork with a personal seal (a chop). Signatures themselves can have their own stories, and can be a reminder of the artist’s life and times. Here are two signatures that I found particularly interesting.

Whistler’s signature made an interesting transformation into the image of a butterfly, inspired by his studies of the artists “chops” found in Asian artwork, which was flooding Europe after Japan became open to trade in 1854. He sometimes hides the butterfly in unexpected places, such as the frame on the painting. Both the early and late versions of his signature are shown next to each other in the image above.

Joseph Cornell (not pictured above) presented me with a mystery. I’ve had the privilege to handle dozens of his pieces in my mount-making capacity at the Seattle Art Museum, and noticed many pieces attributed to him are signed, Robert Cornell. With the help of Wikipedia, I discovered that this Robert was Joseph’s younger brother who was disabled and had cerebral palsy. Though I never learned the exact significance of the signature, I was touched to learn that the artist devoted his life to caring for his little brother.

A Good Read About Provenance

content

I’m just finished reading a beautiful family memoir that I highly recommend called, The Hare with Amber Eyes: a Hidden Inheritance by Edmund de Waal. The author “traces the collection (of small Japanese sculpture called netsuke) from Japan to Europe…and back to Japan and Europe again”. It’s a profound take on provenance, and how much the things around us, that we invite into our homes, can become intertwined with our own histories.

Follow the White Rabbit! June Monthly Miniature and my Social Media Journey

White rabbit oil painting Rebecca Luncan

The White Rabbit
oil on aluminum
4 1/2″ x 3 1/4″

I’ve been following the white rabbit down the social media rabbit hole, and with every post, I’m growing out of my social media dread.

Until this past year, my social media presence was limited to a Facebook account with 5 posts, ever. But a lot has happened since then, and I’ve started a Facebook business page, this blog, an Instagram account and registered as a business on Yelp and  Google+. Most recently, I have even started a Newsletter to help friends, fans and fellow artists follow my Monthly Miniature rabbit paintings or get updates on my blog. Phew!

I love people, but putting myself out there on the internet was an emotional hurdle. As a social media novice, the first few posts were extremely difficult, and the “post/publish” button would fill me with dread and anxiety. But with time and practice, it has gotten MUCH easier. Reading other blogs has taught me that consistency makes a huge difference and I’m finding it’s not just for the typical reasons such as people looking for new content. Constancy also helps keep me on track and allows me to think about meeting my goals instead of thinking about my fears.

Now I actually feel pretty good when I get something up. Connecting with people in a real world kind of way is part of what I live for. The sharing is starting to feel much less like I’m exposing myself and more like I’m connecting, largely due to all the support that I’ve gotten from everyone out there. Heartfelt thanks to everyone looking, sharing and buying, and to everyone enjoying my newsletter. And special thanks to everyone commenting and leaving reviews. It lets me know I’m on the right track.

If you are a beginning blogger or artist, or you are thinking about starting a blog, my advice is to dive right in. Do the best you can this time, and then do it a little better next time. There is so much to know that you can’t learn it all ahead of time, and so much is just conquering your fear.