art brand, or licensing artist?

Thanks to all of you who’ve taken a moment to answer our questionnaire. We’ll leave it up for one more week, so if you’d like to give us your input we’d love to hear from you! The most requested topic so far is “building an art lifestyle brand.” It’s one that’s near and dear to me so I’m pretty excited to dive in!

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Often, when I talk with artists about their brand, they assume I’m talking about things like their logo, the design of their website and business card, maybe their artist statement. Those are all certainly part of it, but it’s also much bigger and more significant than that. In one sense, it’s about the way you position your business in the market. Sometimes I explain it by comparing being an art brand with being a licensing/assignment artist. They’re not mutually exclusive ideas. In fact, it’s entirely possible to have a business that encompasses both. But I do think it can be a helpful distinction to consider when you’re thinking about your goals for your art and your business.

There are many excellent e-courses, blogs and books available to help artists learn to make their work more marketable, whether for licensing/publishing opportunities, editorial assignments, advertising work or all of those things. These resources can be career rocket fuel to some artists, propelling them to successfully make the make-a-living-making-art leap. This approach to an art business tends to be accompanied by marketing and branding that’s geared toward art directors and potential licensees because the primary business goal is to generate licenses, publishing deals, and/or assignments.

I see other artists who successfully make that make-a-living-making-art leap by making the art they love to make and selling it directly to customers—as original paintings, limited or open-edition art prints, greeting cards, and more. The marketing and branding efforts have a more personal vibe and tend to encompass the artist’s lifestyle as well as their art because it’s all of a piece. In these cases, the full story of the artist is a big part of what the audience gravitates toward: the customer sees herself in the story and there’s a feeling of intimacy, of finding a kindred spirit.  

OK, those are broad generalizations to a certain extent, because it's usually not an either/or scenario. I know many artists who successfully incorporate both modes.

At the same time, I often meet with artists who are struggling to some degree in their art business. They’ve taken a lot of classes, read a lot of great advice, worked hard to build their portfolios, designed beautiful websites, built a social  media routine... Basically, they're doing everything "right," but something’s just not clicking for them. Next week, I’ll share more about what I’ve witnessed when these artists decide to adopt an art brand mindset.

In the meantime, if you haven’t read it yet, you might enjoy my earlier post about what it means to be an art brand. What questions and thoughts do you have? I'd love to hear from you!