Life As An Itinerant Artist

Stories and anecdotes from fifteen years on the art show circuit. 

Six Ways Artists Can Improve Your Story-telling and Engage with Your Audience

In this image, the objects and the light work together to create an air of mystery, leaving questions unanswered. It was shot in an abandoned house in Scenic, SD. Pinned on the wall opposite the crutches was a referral to a wound specialist, dated 1985. One wonders what happened between the time the crutches were left and the image was taken.

Each one of us has a story to tell. Some of us have more than one story. Others are a bit more shy. The key thing to remember is that your customers want to relate to you as a person, not a product. Stories help us to engage with people and build relationships. In person, a quick anecdote can help to break the ice and establish common ground. But what can you do in this time of social distancing and remote selling? Here are six ways to improve your story-telling and encourage connections with your customers.

1) Focus on One Thing

Online audiences don’t have time to focus on much before flitting off to the next bright shiny thing, so you have to grab them quickly. One hero image of your work as an attention-getter is often a great way to kick off a post or an email. (On the professional forums I visit, people will often use an unrelated image just to get attention.) You, as an artist, should have phenomenal images of your work that can be used to kick off a story. Think about how your work came into being, and let that drive the story.

What’s the piece about? Did the idea come to you in a dream or was it the result of years of practice and hard work? How did you construct it? What makes it (and you) unique? Find that one thing that distinguishes your artwork from others, and elaborate on it.

In journalism, the first paragraph is the most important. Known as the “lede”, it establishes the who, what, where, why and how of your following paragraphs. Perhaps you can relay how you helped a desperate husband find a last-minute gift for his 20th anniversary. Or wax eloquent about the research that went into your latest line of pendants. Remember that this story is not only about you and your work, but also how your customer can relate to you as an artist. People ARE interested in you, and your struggles. They are fascinated by your perceived bohemian lifestyle, and imagine you to be squirreled away in a garret somewhere. Romantic perceptions of artistic endeavors are a powerful hook that you can leverage to draw a picture of reality.

2) Develop a Theme

My photographic work “Stories Told In Things Left Behind” is about preserving past memories and building bridges to the present. Each piece has its own background story, built right in. The stormy afternoon, the odd object out of context, Grandma’s chair on the front porch — each picture offers multiple interpretations, and evokes different emotions from different viewers. The theme of this body of work makes it much stronger as a whole, and makes it easy to tell stories surrounding it.

Think about the theme or styles that hold your work together. Is it a particular material that’s extremely hard to work with? Is it color or texture? What shapes do you find yourself drawn to? As a painter, why do you work in abstract oils or alcohol ink? If you’re a potter, what draws you to raku? And why should we care?

The more you reveal yourself to your potential customers, the more they feel they know you. And once they get to know you a bit better, you start to build trust. And trust adds value.

3) Speak From Your Heart

One of the surest ways to build trust is to be yourself. A friend of mine once said, “There are two types of artists. Those who do production to make the most amount of money, and those who create art from the heart.”

When your stories and your art come from your heart, write about that passion. Share that passion. Art adds value to people’s lives. Knowing the artist adds value to the art. Romance your work. Speak from your heart. And your patrons will value your stories.

4) Segment Your Audience

Hopefully, you have an email list or a Facebook Page. Maybe you still send out postcards. What do you know about your audience? Can you separate the tire-kickers from the buyers? Segmenting your list into smaller pieces may help you to streamline your written communications. For those who demonstrate genuine interest, give them more detail about the work, and VIP access to your newest work. For those who just signed up, an introduction to your story as an artist may be appropriate.
Keeping track, either through a simple spreadsheet, or in your CRM software, can help you define audience segments. Different stories may appeal to different segments of your audience.

5) Develop a Story Calendar

Writing for your blog and posting to social media are two sides of the same coin. Frequency and consistency are key to maintaining your audience’s interest. One way to keep on top of it is to work out a calendar for each of your major media outlets. Email, blog posts, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest — having a specific plan for feeding each of these goes a long way towards keeping you on track and keeping your peeps engaged! Try using a separate Google Calendar, or just write it down on a lined pad. Try to be consistent in how and when you post. I know, I struggle with this, too.

6) Get Published!

While web sites and blogs get all the attention these days, don’t forget that printed books and catalogs offer yet another way to reach a select audience and immerse them into a specific facet of your work. Offer a printed catalog of a special collection to your VIP collectors, printed through Blurb (blurb.com) or Lulu (lulu.com).

It’s also possible to take a collection of short-form writing and turn it into a book. Many successful writers started by gathering articles from a career in newspapers or magazines. With the proliferation of online blogs and social media, it’s easy to build a book as you go. Print on Demand (POD) allows independent authors to have books printed and distributed without having to stock inventory. For more information, check out ingramspark.com or Amazon kdp.amazon.com. And of course, there are ebooks — Kindle and Draft2Digital.com are two popular e-publishing outlets.

Your story is your passion!

Marketing for artists really means conveying your story in the most passionate and genuine way possible. Let your artist self shine through your writing. Let your unique voice carry throughout all of your written communication as well as your in-person interactions.

August 3, 2020

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