by Ruby Reece

In the many years that I have spent talking with artists all across the country – the most frequent question is “Where do I start?”  And the answer to that is ALWAYS – “Start with advertising!”

When a business opens for the first time, do they just open up their doors and hope for someone to walk in? If they are gonna stay in business for any length of time they know that advertising is the most important thing that needs to be done.  And the same holds true for artists and their business.

You can be a great artist – but if no one can see your work, you will fail. So, put yourself together an advertising plan from the very start and your business will have a greater chance of getting off the ground.
Begin by looking over your work and focusing on several pieces that have had good responses from your clients.  These should be the pieces that you choose to use in your first advertising materials.  They are a good reflection of your style and you would be proud to use them on a volume basis.

The first piece of advertising you should choose is your business card. Business cards are easy to carry with you all the time, they are accepted in the marketplace, and even expected when meeting people for the first time. When you present your business card, you are presenting a piece of yourself – and a good showing of what you do. And because they have one of your images on the front, people tend to save them because they are so unique.  It is very important that your business card shows your work because that is what you do, and a card that just says, “Joe Blow – Artist” on the front with no image is not worth doing.  People still do not know what you do for a living.

Let’s walk into a social situation for a minute together.  You have just been introduced to someone and are trying to get the conversation going. You spend a bit of time with small talk and then they ask what you do for a living.  Have you ever noticed that whenever you say you are an artist – the conversation just seems to stall?  Do you know why?  It is not because they don’t like artists, it is because they do not know what to say from there. They do not want to say something “dumb” because they may not know anything at all about art.  And, what you do is so very visual, they can’t for a second imagine what that might be.  If you ask them the same question, they can give you a very easy answer, like a teacher, or an accountant or even a lawyer.  The conversation can go on with their profession because it is not based strictly on visual images.  So, back to you – at this time, if you had a color business card with one of your original paintings on the front – you could hand it to them and the conversation could continue. “Oh, you paint wildlife…I have never figured out how someone could do that so well.” Or – “what kind of painting is this? Is it an oil?” – you get the idea.  The door caan stay open for discussion about your professional business.  And, you never know – you may get a client out of the meeting.

One word of warning about size – in your creative thought process, maybe you decide to have an odd size card to help “jazz” up the look – beware of doing this because it does not fit into business card files, or wallets, or general places people have their business cards.  Where does this odd size go? You guessed it – in the trash or in another place that ends up getting lost to them when they are trying to find you.  The card should be unique – but smart unique.  It is okay however, to print your cards double size and then fold over to the standard size of 2 x 3 ½ .  In fact, I have seen some beautiful cards that had several images on them because they opened up from standard size.

If you have an agent who sells work for you, maybe it would help sales for you to have their name printed on some of the cards to use.  If an agent is showing off one of your images with their name – whose works do you think they will sell first?

Another way in which cards can work for you is by selling themselves.  For example, you hand one of your cards to a business person in a different field.  They look at it and exclaim, “What a beautiful card. I wish I had one so beautiful” At this point, you can tell them how they could use that image (or one like it) for their own business.  Give them a quote on cards of their own with one of your images on the front and their information on the back.  And don’t forget to stipulate that you need credit for your image with a small copyright line somewhere in the image.  Make some money with this little transaction, so set your fees accordingly.  This card will double duty.  Your image gets presented to a whole new set of people as they hand them out, and increases your potential market.  We produce cards for many artists who do this quite frequently for all kinds of people, and I have been told that the artists get calls from people they don’t even know who want images for themselves.

Let’s take this even one step further.  Let’s say that you paint animals – dogs are your forte’. You could put together a small presentation with your portfolio in hand, and go out to veterinarians in your area and explain how they could have color business cards with your images to advertise their business. Or, maybe you like to paint old houses.  Go to builders, or remodeling contractors and show them how they could have color cards like no other in their field.  Do florists need cards? Do they need floral paintings?  Maybe your love is wildlife – outfitters need cards, sporting goods stores need cards, wildlife preserve folks need cards – get the idea?

Get creative, and you can sell your images to most anyone who is in need of a very unique business card for themselves.  Keep this in mind – they could not do this without you.  Do you think some Vet would take the initiative to come up with the idea – find just the right artist to paint an image – fine a printer who could produce color cards, all just to create this look? Bet not.  So, you can be the creative thinker for him.

The bottom line about business cards is that they are your very first advertising tool.  Use them to open up your market.  Use them to present yourself to the public and to look professional from the first meeting and use them to start working your career.


Ruby Reece is a co-owner of Art Editions and has been in the printing and advertising industry for over 25 years. She has been directly involved with the national arts community for most of this time and has conducted artist marketing seminars from the Virgin Islands to California to teach artists how to market themselves and their work. She has lectured extensively to artist associations on subjects from self advertising to publishing and marketing prints. Reece has also written a variety of educational articles that have been used in the industry.

Art Editions is a fine art printing service company that is dedicated to producing professional advertising materials and high quality products for the national arts community.

For more information, or to request an information packet, please call (801) 486-8313 Local or 1- 800-331-8449 toll free.

This article originally appeared in the February 2003 edition of 15 Bytes.