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Art Supplies: Quality vs. Expense?
Many Roles, Part 2by M. C. A. Hogarth
In Part 1 of our series, we covered the roles you have to play to run your own business as a creative professional. In Part 2, we'll talk about two distinct classes of products and how you use them to grow and maintain your business.
First and most importantly: what comes off the Artist's desk is not a product. A new painting is not a product. A new story is not a product. These things are turned into products by the Marketer, who targets an audience, packages it to appeal to them and then finds ways to sell it to them.
So, the new painting is not a product. But the prints that the Marketer sells to people with budgets for fine art reproductions are. The original, which the Marketer targets at people who are looking to become fine art collectors is. The downloadable wallpaper that the Marketer posts for free "but tip if you feel inclined!" is. A short story is not a product, but the story sold to a magazine to reach its audience is. The short story repackaged as a serial for blog readers is. The same short story offered as an incentive, included in an omnibus as new material is.
The Artist produces stuff. But that stuff is not a product until the Marketer decides how best to sell something based on it. Your Artist should never be thinking about how to sell her stuff because she's bad at it. Not only that, but if she starts fretting about how to sell something before she's done it, one of two things will usually happen: 1. She'll stop up completely and be incapable of working, because she doesn't actually want to do things she thinks are "sellable;" or 2. She'll start producing drek she doesn't really believe in and then pitch a fit when nobody wants it, because nobody wants to buy art from someone who's faking it.
Don't let your inner Marketer tell your Artist what to do, either: her job is not to force the Artist to produce something to meet existing demand, but to create demand for the Artist. If you're doing what everyone else is doing, you are replaceable. If you make it clear to people why what you're doing is cool and special, then people will come to you for your kind of cool and special. They might choose to spend money elsewhere one day, but it won't be because they can get what you make anywhere, it will be because something else will have become more valuable to them.
That's a pretty short summary of the business of productizing your work; we could probably spend several entries discussing some of these topics (and if you have questions, please ask!). But for now let's move on to the two major categories of products.
What is it? I define new work as art that neither the Artist nor the audience has seen: the Artist because she hasn't made it yet and the audience because it doesn't exist.
Why do it? I'll let the Three Micahs answer:
In short, you need new art to keep your Artist happy: she needs to improve her craft and work on things that are exciting her, because chances are if it excites her it will excite her audience. Audiences like to see an artist creating new work because they like to feel invested in artists they like, and they don't want to dump energy into an artist they feel is winding down in their career.
New work gives your Marketer potential new products to package on a regular basis, which allows you to grow your audience through frequent (and predictable) updates/releases.
But wait! you say. The Artist isn't producing work predictably!
Of course she's not. But the Marketer isn't selling your art, she's selling the products she bases on your art. So staggered releases (original first, prints next, wallpapers a month later) give the Marketer something to sell at predictable intervals even if your Artist isn't producing regularly. We'll handle what to do if your Artist isn't producing regularly enough for even the most creative inner Marketer in our next section.
Meanwhile, the Business Manager is happy because new work = new opportunities to make money. You can't make money without something to sell. People are more likely to spring for new work because they haven't seen it before, and because new car smell is very exciting. We all like to feel like we're in on something at the ground floor. Plus, if we're an existing fan of an artist, we've already consumed their existing products... we want the next thing.
Art: Putting a new painting for sale in a gallery.
Writing: Releasing a new short story as a serial online.
Music: Offering a new song for download.
Crafts: Stringing a new necklace and offering it for sale on Etsy.
What is it? I define existing/old work as work that the Artist has seen: they've already produced it; and that your audience may or may not have seen. Some of your older fans will have. The new fans won't. Some old fans will have seen it but won't remember it.
Why do it? The Three Micahs return!
I mentioned above that there will be times the Artist just isn't producing enough new work for the Marketer to sell at regular intervals... or for the Business Manager to pay the bills. In that case, it's time to haul out work the Artist has already completed and were never productized, in which case the Marketer gets to work figuring out how to package them for sale. Or, it's time to haul out work the Artist has already completed, the Marketer has already sold a few times... and recontextualize it, packaging it either to market to new fans or to interest old ones.
But wait! you say. Isn't that dishonest? Trying to get people to pay twice for something they've already bought once?
Maybe if that's what you're actually doing. But remember, your art is not the product. How the Marketer sells the art is your product. If you package the same piece of art in a new way, a way that adds new value, then you're not being dishonest, you're just offering a different option to people who've already seen it (and a new option to people who haven't). They can choose whether that new version is worth more money to them.
The Business Manager likes selling old work because half the work (the Artist creating it) has already been done, and she can make money on something for only half the effort (the Marketer re-packaging it). The Marketer likes it because she can fill in the gaps of her product line schedule, plus she can get new fans to pay for work that was new before they came on board. But inevitably revisiting old work bores the Artist, who longs to be working on something that has set her on fire. Even if the Artist is currently without inspiration, she's going to resent returning to stuff she feels she's grown out of or past... something we'll address in the last section. But first, some examples.
Art: Cutting up old prints that haven't sold into bookmarks or pieces for sale to scrapbookers.
Writing: Finding old stories published in several different magazines or anthologies and collecting them as a single themed volume.
Music: Licensing an existing song to an author for use in their book trailer, or to someone for their Youtube video.
Crafts: Shortening necklaces that haven't sold into bracelets that can be sold for cheaper.
Yes it is a word, and I'm not afraid to use it! As I mentioned above, your Artist longs to work on things that set her on fire... and if she isn't currently on fire for something, she kind of would rather not work at all. Not on new things that have lost that new-love luster, not on old things that she secretly hates because what she can do now is soooo much better.
At this point, you have to learn what secondary motivations compel your inner Artist. Most Artists have at least one primary motivating force, the mysterious drive responsible for them suddenly tearing off for the nearest tool when an idea strikes them. But when that fire dies, a lot of Artists can be nudged by other forces, none of which are as powerful but which can at least keep the momentum going.
Common motivators include:
Reward. "If I finish this, I'll go to the local sauna|get a fancy cup of coffee|play a game for an hour."
This is the most basic form of motivation, and while it works it's loaded with pitfalls: for one, you might get so used to working for rewards that if you don't have them you might feel unmoved. Also, rewarding yourself for every milestone can get very expensive, eliciting dagger-glares from Business Manager. If you want to reward yourself for your efforts, try to keep the rewards small, non-monetary and infrequent.
Audience Interaction. "If I finish this, people will say nice things about my art and that will make me feel warm and fuzzy!"
This is a great artistic motivator! It's cheap and it works, often when nothing else will. The problem? It's almost completely outside your control. You can create a climate where people feel encouraged to comment, you can remove obstacles that prevent them from commenting, you can commit yourself to responding to them so that they'll feel more inclined to begin a conversation in the future... but if the art doesn't speak to people, if they're not feeling up to it, if they just didn't happen to be online or in the presence of your work that day... no comments. And if you get too used to comments or conversations with your audience, when you don't get them you tend to take it very personally, and what was a source of warm-fuzzies becomes not just a null, but an actual detriment: you might become too discouraged to work.
Nevertheless, I think we're all moved by that connection with our audience, so whether we can get it as often as we want or not, it's going to be an intrinsic part of our lives as artists.
As an aside, helping inspire your audience to interact with your work more is not as simple as it sounds, and is probably a topic for a different post. >.>
Money. "If I finish this, I will make some money!"
In our current culture, we grow up soaked in the belief that money = validation, so if you're feeling really low you can use money as a reason to keep working. But as with Rewards, this can lead to real heartache down the line. People don't buy artwork for many reasons, not just because it doesn't speak to them. If you train yourself to believe that the only yardstick by which you measure an artist's worth is how much she makes, you are going to crash and burn emotionally the first time you hit a lull in receipts. You might be tempted to lower your prices to lift your sales and your flagging self-esteem, an act that will come back to bite you later.
If you do use Money as a spur for your efforts, be sure you keep your inner Artist separate from your inner Business Manager. Imagine your Business Manager telling your Artist, "If you finish something, we might have a better chance of buying more chocolate," rather than having your inner Artist adopt the mantra, "If people pay me, it means I'm good."
Tools and Inspirations. "Maybe if I get a new tool, go through some new books, I will feel more inspired!"
For some people buying a new tool or thumbing through other people's work or reading a book or watching a show on something exotic and unknown to them is enough to get moving again. While this can lead to spending too much money ("oooh, a shiny new box of pastels!") or procrastination ("just one more show on ancient Egypt!"), it's still often healthier than some of the other methods. Just enlist the aid of your Business Manager ("How much money am I allowed to spend?") and go for it.
The Chance to FIX THINGS. "Oh I hated how that old picture came out, maybe if I do it at my current skill level it won't suck so much..."
Most Artists are secret perfectionists who are never happy with the way something came out... or if they were then, looking back at it a year later makes them want to burn it with fire. A great motivator for that inner perfectionist is to give them the chance to fix old mistakes: revisit old pieces and try to improve them directly, or start from scratch and try to do better justice to the idea. This motivator costs nothing but time you would have spent anyway... and it also directly impacts skill level by encouraging your Artist to work at the limit of her skills.
You'll note a lot of these motivators are riddled with pitfalls and problems! But all of them are healthier than some of the other ways Artists motivate themselves: guilt ("I'm not working hard enough."), jealousy ("That other artist is more successful than me!"), envy ("That artist doesn't deserve their success because I'm better than them!"), anger ("I'll show those people who think I suck!") and self-hatred ("I suck. I need to work harder so I'll suck less."). All these negative motivators lead to corrosion of the spirit and often, a halt in work altogether. Appall your inner Business Manager with one mocha too many before you give in to any of these voices. You might never break even, but at least you'll save your soul.
This concludes Part 2! In Part 3, we'll cover creating a marketing strategy, time management and case studies. If you missed Part 1, which covers the three roles in more detail, you'll find it here.
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