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Entering the Fine Art Print Market

The Fine Art Print Market . . . it’s glamorous, it’s mysterious, it’s scary. But most of all, it’s very hard to find out how and when to make that move. In the next two installments of our “Marketing Tips” we will help you determine if it is the right time for you and, if so, where to begin. We will help you focus on the various aspects of the print market and how to go about producing your works into multiples.

To help you determine if you are a likely candidate for the print market, read through the following list of questions and give a yes or no answer.

1. Are you hesitant to raise prices of your originals because they won’t sell as quickly?

2. Are you spending less and less time on original work just to get them finished – and do you feel like you are sacrificing quality for quantity?

3. Are there certain originals you could paint and sell over and over?

4. Do you ever have several clients that all want the same original?

5. Are you getting burned out painting the same subjects over and over because you know it will sell fast – and you need the money?

6. Have you ever thought that you would like to get into a new medium or a different style, but were afraid to make that change because you might lose customers?

7. As your prices increase, do you find that you are losing customers?

8. Would you like to spend more time painting quality work for an upcoming show rather than having to worry about just filling up booth space?

9. Do you have old customers or potential customers that tell you they just can’t afford you anymore?

10. Have you started showing unfinished works to clients so they will know you are working as fast as you can on a piece?

11. Do you negotiate your original prices too easily?

12. Are clients starting to ask if you have prints available?

13. Do you ever wish you had something you could sell over and over again without painting it over and over again?

14. Do you ever wish you had a more expanded product line?

How did you do? If you answered a number of these questions with a “yes,” it is more than likely time to look into the print market.

There are four basic reasons why an artist gets into the print market.

1. When the demand is greater than the supply.

This means that you are painting as fast as you can, but you are still behind. You have customers waiting for artwork that is not finished and you don’t dare even schedule shows because you know you will not have a large enough collection to offer. This does not necessarily mean that you are selling large quantities of work; it may mean that you paint slowly, and you can only produce a few paintings a year. If you are a slow painter, it is very hard to keep up with your demand and still make enough money to support yourself. Prints, in this case, offer a good alternative. You can produce prints and always have product to offer interested parties.

2. Artwork that could have sold over and over if you had multiples.

Have you ever painted a work that received such interest that you knew it could have sold many times over? For example, maybe you paint florals, and you finish a piece that is a single iris. You take it to your show and it sells immediately and then other clients want you to paint another one “just like it” for them. First of all, you don’t want to spend the rest of your life painting single iris’s for everyone who wants one (even though the money is nice). And, if you have to paint very many of them, you will soon become bored with that single subject. Good time to think of prints. That single original artwork could have been sold in multiples and you could have gone on to other, grander things – and . . . made more money along the way!

3. Losing customers because of original pricing.

All business owners must raise their prices and an artist is no exception. As you progress, and as your work changes and improves, it is important that you raise prices of original artworks. This shows that you are an artist who is serious about your work and that you expect to be paid for a job well done. But, the downside to this is that you may begin to lose long-time customers because you are pricing out of their pocketbooks. They may still love your work, but can no longer afford to own your originals. Good clients are hard to come by, and you must do whatever you can to keep them throughout your career so this too could be a good time to get into the print market. These people who have supported you from the beginning will be happy to see that you are producing something they can still afford to purchase, and may even buy in multiples for their own family members.

4. Getting into the “show circuit.”

At some point, most artists begin to get involved in various shows. And, if you have already been there, you know how difficult it is to prepare for the show. If you have a 10 x 10 space and need to fill it up, it takes a long time to paint that many originals, and by the time the actual show rolls around, you are exhausted from painting around the clock. Prints offer a nice alternative in the mix. First, they help fill up the space and you have not had to paint each one, and second – they are priced lower than originals which helps offer a variety of options for potential buyers. Your goal at any show is to offer as many different prices as you can so when someone comes into the booth with $30 or $3000 in their pockets – and they like your work — they will leave with something of yours.

So, you have decided that you are definitely a candidate for the print market – now how do you determine what print to produce?

One of the easiest ways to begin this process is to gather your most recent collection of photographs of works you have done. It doesn’t matter if they have sold or not because right now you are just trying to determine the best possible image to print. Spread all of these out on a table in front of you and begin the elimination process.

First, pull out the pieces that have sold the very quickest, or received the most interest as you have shown them around. Maybe you take the “top ten” to use as your test market group. Put all of the others away, and focus down on these select few. The next step is to look them over and assess what common denominator made them your most popular works. Was it the style? Was it the subject matter? Was it the color pallette? Was it the size? There is usually a common thread that runs through each one that gave it that “spark” of interest to the buying public.

Once you can determine the factors that made these particular works all so popular it becomes easier to assess what you need to paint for that first print. Many artists that we have worked with over the years actually paint their originals for the print market and they determine ahead of time what that image should be for the best possible sales.

Sometimes it can be helpful to involve others in this selection process. Take your top ten images and do a small market survey with friends and relatives. Tell them you are trying to select the best piece to produce into your first print and would like input from them. This small sampling can actually be very helpful to you in determining what others see in your artwork.

Now you need to determine what type of print to produce. In today’s market there are myriad selections – posters, open edition, limited editions, Giclee (or digital images), serigraphs, hand-pulled lithos, to name just a few. And to add one more piece to the puzzle – size and paper considerations. But we are getting ahead of ourselves – one step at a time. First you need to know who your typical buyer might be and what they would most likely want to purchase. We’ll look at different types of buyers – it can help you focus on the subject and get you thinking of your own typical buyer.

But before we begin the subject of buyer types, let’s keep in mind the reasons that people buy art.

There are two main reasons that explain why someone falls in love with certain creative works… First, the painting creates an emotional impact. Whatever that emotion is doesn’t matter – it pulls up some kind of emotion the buyer cannot live without. Maybe it draws up memories of something in their past, maybe it tells them something about where they want to be in the future, maybe the subject is a possession they have always wanted. Whatever that subject is needs to draw out the viewer’s emotions.

The second reason someone buys art is that they are educated about it. Maybe you have painted a scene with an old barn and a broken down car in front. First, the potential buyer is drawn to the nostalgia of the image (emotion) But, if a paragraph accompanies the piece, offering information or interesting facts about something in the painting, then that person has additional knowledge to take home with them so they can tell friends all about “their” new painting. People have pretty big egos, and they want to be the “expert” to their circle of friends. So, if they can take a print home and know some little secret that they can tell others, it will rub their ego.

Let’s take one more example – remember a few years ago when the “camouflage” art hit the industry so strong? The reason it went so well was not because the artwork was so superior to any other art – it was because there was a little “extra” (education) that the buyer could offer to his friends when they viewed his framed print. He could hardly wait to show everyone this new print and be the expert in showing them all the “secrets” hidden around. Now, I am not by any means telling you to go out and hide something in every print that you do, not at all. This is just an example of how providing something extra with your print can help you market your work to the typical buyer.

There are two types of buyers – those you know and those you don’t.

It really doesn’t matter how many clients you have under your belt – you could have tens or hundreds. What does matter is that you decide who your typical buyer is — what type of person shows an interest in your style.

Break this personality type down – what is their typical age? Male or Female? Income levels? Likes and dislikes? By creating your typical buyer it helps you determine what type of print they may have an interest in purchasing

Let’s say that you typically paint wildlife. Most of your buyers are male, middle age, like outdoor activities (hunting/fishing etc). Many of them belong to one or two conservation organizations (like Ducks Unlimited, etc)

Okay – if they are male, your selection of prints needs to consist of pieces that men would buy – pieces that they would put in their family room or den. If they are middle aged, they can usually afford to buy a more expensive print than younger buyers, and because they are members of conservation organizations, they would usually understand the concept of limited editions and would perceive “value” in smaller number of prints. They would also be very critical about accuracy in the painting because they most likely know every “hair” on the animal that you paint.

So, what have we determined so far? 1) Medium to large print, because it would most likely go in a den or family room. 2) Limited edition, because print quality needs to be good. 3) Research of animal, because accuracy of subject matter is important to the customer. 4) Framed print, because the buyer probably wouldn’t want to bother with framing options.

Let’s take this one step further: After you have your prints produced, make a list of where you would go to sell your work to accommodate this typical buyer. You want to go where they go – to hunting stores, outdoor shows and conservation shows. Get the idea? You need to begin thinking like your typical buyer. Go where they go, and you will stay in front of them.

This article appeared in the August 2003 edition of 15 Bytes.

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