Art Business: Developing Collectors of Your Work (Pt. 5/5: Q&A Pt. 2)
NOTE: Michael Damico, owner of Damico Frame & Art Gallery, presented a workshop at O’More College of Design in Franklin, TN on November 4, 2016. The following was adapted from that recorded event, entitled Business Sense Q&A: How to Develop Collectors of Your Work. It has been broken into five parts. This is Part 5: the second half of the Q&A portion of the workshop.
An Artist Asks: Should I start my art career with low prices?
I’m approaching this from a business perspective. So what are your thoughts on this: creating affordable pieces on the front-end so that you sell lots of them. Basically, you’re building your brand through volume. Then, as time goes on and the demand rises, you increase your costs.
Damico Answers: To heck with it! That’s a great model for toothpaste, shampoo, or soap. Or for some other predictable qualifying product. Consumer products. I can go to Walmart and buy the same stuff they sell at Target. This is for product awareness and recognition. But art is a very different world. We are all so unique as artists and we are selling ideas, concepts, aesthetics. There’s no brand building here.
Artist: But if my initiative is to build my brand and if I sell 100 pieces at $100 each, affordably, then more people will know about me and want my art. It’s just a way to kick-start the process.
Damico: That’s a classic model. It makes sense. But consider an alternative. I’d rather see you sell one piece at $1,000 so that you’re working smarter and not harder. You’ve done 1/10th of the work and you’ve made the same money. But here’s where it’s also important to explore different markets. I’ve got some customers who only do licensing. Here’s how they compound their returns: they produce 10-15 paintings a year and then license them out to companies that mass produce paintings. The artist is making 3% on a $6 print, but they’ve spent 10 years doing this and have made a lucrative career out of it.
Now this goes back to considering your market! Think about Thomas Kinkade: you will never see a $6M Kinkade because he has diluted his market down so much. You’ll never see an auction house in New York or Australia selling a Kinkade on the block for $6M. But he was very deliberate with what he did and he absolutely considered his market. Here’s a possible alternative and this goes back to building emotional connections. Consider where it’s valuable for you to give your work away. That can precipitate a return. I’ve given away a few pieces and can confidently tell you that doing so can change lives. Because the people to whom you give your art become your cheerleaders and it nets results.
Audience Member: I’ve got an example of that. I followed a woman on Instagram. I contacted her and told her I’d send a print if she would cover the cost of making it. She loved the idea so I sent it. The next week she had a photo shoot in her living room where she hung my art. I actually had no idea that was going to happen. The timing was amazing because there was my print on the cover of a national magazine!
Damico: This is exactly what I’m talking about. I’m so sick of the robotic approach. You need to understand a key factor in this: creatives are not as appreciated in this culture as they should be. In past generations, we were up there with royalty, physicians, philosophers, priests, and the government. Because people understood that as creatives, we had the potential to move minds, to get people to think, to learn, to remember Bible stories, and to change culture. That’s a massive undertaking, but we were valued for our ability to do it. Artists and creative-minded people are not getting in touch with that and I strongly encourage you to do so. That’s your purpose. But it’s the job of all of us to carry it through time.
So your model of selling art in high volume at low prices to create brand awareness, I don’t think it’s a great model for art at all. Right off the bat you’re missing out on profit and it hurts the whole market. In fact, I have worked with several great artists who started with the same model you suggested and they get stuck there. I’ve been working with one woman for 10 years now and she is still in the same gallery, selling the same laser prints, at the same prices. She hasn’t even accounted for inflation and she is still struggling.
Artist: What if someone is having a silent auction and wants you to submit your work for the auction? How do you charge for that?
Damico: This is a great idea. Keep in mind that we are in a sort of charitable epicenter of the state here. We live in a very generous community and I can see it having effects on the whole planet. So you will never have a shortage of people who want your work. But do you charge for it? No, not if it’s for a charitable event. Determine its worth, preferably based on the initial formula I gave you, tell them, and then walk away. Everyone should be involved in charitable causes. Pick the ones you’re passionate about and give them your work, but make sure to get involved too. Because if everyone does that, then we are all in really good shape.
Audience Member: Good begets good!
Damico: And it gives you an opportunity to network!