Branding yourself as an artist
The first step to making money with your art is branding yourself as an artist, but defining what you do is about more than being marketable. It’s also about focusing your creativity enough to find what’s really interesting about it.
In my case, the thread that runs through all of my work is portraiture, but, for another artist, the medium or style might be the more obvious theme. “I am a watercolorist” does not dictate subject matter or genre, nor does “I paint in a contemporary cubist style.” An adjective or phrase could even function as your definition. For example, an artist might work in a variety of media on a wide range of subject matter and in disparate styles but still be able to describe everything she-he makes as “more challenging than a runaway shopping cart with a bum wheel.”
Defining your entire oeuvre in this way serves two purposes:
1) It makes it easy for people (including you!) to talk about what you do. I’m a portrait artist, and, while that title can be a little misleading since I don’t make traditional portraits, it gives my work a useful context. Immediately, viewers can envision themselves as subjects and, hopefully, get excited about how my work breaks from the stereotypes that surround my chosen genre.
2) Giving yourself a box to work in does wonders for your creativity. There’s nothing more insipiring than pushing against limitations. The longer I paint portraits, the less I feel I know about the genre: my narrow focus opens my horizons.
And once you know who you are and what you do—once you’ve properly defined your work—it’s possible to diversify your products to attract and re-attract patrons. The theme or brand of your work is crucial for building an audience and client base: if people are going to talk about your work, they need to be able to know how to do so. But it’s only after you’ve established this definition of your work that things get interesting, both in your business and in aesthetic practice.
In a very basic sense, I paint portraits. That’s my simplified definition as an artist. But within that box, I do portraits of individuals for commission and I create portraits in conceptual series (like this one). I make simple portraits as well as allegorical portraits, portraits with background elements (like these two), miniature portraits (like this one), and portraits on canvas bags (like the one above).
My various offerings don’t necessarily mean that I’m selling lots of different kinds of work. The majority of my income still comes from individuals commissioning simple portraits that are on average 3 x 2 feet just as it has from the beginning of my career in 2003. Still, each time I diversify my products, I give myself new opportunities for promotion as well as new possibilities for connection with different kinds of viewers and clients, all within the context of my brand.