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September 2013

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Marketing your Art...persistence works! Believe in yourself...


 

Japanese Iris, one of the series from Country Living mentioned below, is now available on my new sales gallery blog, here: cathyjohnsonart.blogspot.com/2008/12/japanese-iris.html

Marketing, part four

Persistence DOES pay off. Especially if you want to earn (or supplement) your income as a commercial artist or illustrator, experience is almost as important as talent, dedication, and the ability to meet a deadline. (If you’re a writer or other creative arts person, these same things apply...just substitute “article” or “blurb” or your own operative words for “illustration”!)

This marketing series is all from personal experience, by the way–I’ve done all these things, and you can, too, or something similar. I do a lot of DIFFERENT things to stay afloat, these days, but I haven’t had to punch a time clock in 40 years. That’s just the way I like it!

Start small, if you need to build a reputation as a professional. Do illustrations for your local newspaper, your church, a newsletter for an organization you belong to, a Sunday supplement in a city newspaper, a statewide magazine. If you have a variety of styles or skills at your disposal, USE them. Build a portfolio you can show, either in person or online, to prospective clients. If you’ve had work in print, that shows prospective clients that you not only can produce but you can do it ON TIME. Deadlines are crucial in publishing, even on the ‘net.

You may not get paid a lot at first–some venues may not pay at all, or only in copies of the magazine. Still, it’s experience, and it builds your portfolio. It will look good if your work has been in print; you don’t have to say how much you were paid, or if. It shows WHAT you can do, and that you can be professional, meeting deadlines and working with editors and art directors. Believe me, that’s important.

Keep an open mind, and be flexible about what you can do and what you THINK you can do. Believe me you can do more than you might think. Be willing to give new things a try...it’s amazing what you’ll enjoy and even excel in!

I started out by getting my foot in the door–freelancing for a couple of card companies, painting portraits of peoples’ homes or pets (which I still do, from time to time!), doing illustrations for small presses or university publications.

When I got my nerve up a bit, I approached some of the national magazines...and approached, and approached, sending them examples of my best work and showing as much variety as I could while tailoring the examples to the specific publication.

I DID find that being able to offer a package deal made me more appealing to the people I hoped to work for. I’m an artist, yes, but I also wrote–for the alternative press (The Mother Earth News, Natural Lifestyles, and more), short filler articles at first for the bigger national magazines (Science Digest, Woman’s Day, etc.), then larger articles for Early American Life, Sports Afield and such. I can also provide photographs–so can you, with a good digital camera capable of saving as a 300 dpi TIF file needed for print publications.


It really helps to be stubborn. (I guess that’s another term for being willing to take a chance, and believe in yourself!) My dad had subscribed to Sports Afield for many years, and I knew that some of my favorite artists had also had paintings in those pages–Charles Reid and Thomas Aquinas Daly among them, if I remember correctly. I wanted a shot at it...so I sent then-art-director Gary Gretter samples of my work, and a letter telling him some of the magazines I’d had things in.

He turned me down, but nicely.

A few months later, when I’d honed my abilities and my scope a bit more, I send more slides, and another letter.

He turned me down, but with a compliment for my work. I sent a thank you note.

Later, I sent him yet another batch of slides, with a letter reminding him of his compliment and telling him more about the kinds of work I did, or was interested in doing.

OMIGOSH. I got an assignment! He called to tell me why...”you just simply wore me down with your persistence!”

Yep, it works! I kept it professional, and brief, but kept my work in his mind. I thought of the initial “no” more as a “not yet,” and tried again. I went after what I wanted!

I worked with Sports Afield for some years, getting to know and like Gary and the editor, Tom Paugh, as well, for whom I wrote a number of articles on wild foods, edible mushrooms, and other plants the outdoor person might come into contact with. I illustrated hunting boots, a wall poster on grouse, first aid measures, how to fish different kids of water, fishing lures, and some of my personal favorite watercolors, and had a ball!

Stretched my abilities and added to my skills, as well...I miss Gary and Tom, both retired now...

But since I’d had success with them, I decided I would SO love writing a nature column with my own illustrations. Again, I approached a number of magazines–among them, Country Living , which I had read for years, all though their golden age. I thought if I was fortunate I might get a small column in one of the state magazines, but why not send to Country Living, too?

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is more than just a trite saying–it’s a fact.

Soooooo...I was a contributing editor and Staff Naturalist for 7 years, and I can tell you no one was more stunned than I when I got a call from their editor! I thought MAYBE I’d get to do an article. The offer of a natural history column four times a year was beyond my most cherished dream, and I LOVED it!

And again, this worked into other illustrating assignments for them–I did illustrations of garden bugs, iris species, state flowers, types of evergreens, and much, much more.

Sometimes this comes down to being in the right place at the right time, sure. But you're the one who has to PUT yourself there.  When The Artist's Magazine first began publication, I wrote and suggested an article on watercolor tricks and techniques, telling them a bit about my (at that time limited!) experience. That not only grew into years of columns (“Young at Art” and “Brushing Up”) and again becoming a contributing editor there and later for Watercolor Magic (now Watercolor Artist), but an editor at their parent company, F & W Publications contacted me and asked if I thought I could turn the tricks and techniques article into a book.

I couldn’t say yes fast enough! It was one of their best sellers for years. (And by the way, that is the book I just finished revising, 20 years later, bringing it into the 21st Century.)

It was a busy couple of decades, and it came about because I am one of the most stubborn people I know! I knew what I wanted, and scared though I was, I headed off in that direction, one step at a time. You don’t want to be obnoxious about not taking no for an answer, but you CAN be persistent. Show them you can do it...

And if I can do it–get assignments I wanted, dodge the time-clock bullet and break out of the cubicle (yes of COURSE I’ve worked in one!), just about anyone can, with enough chutzpah!

Be patient–if at all possible! Don’t expect instant results. That goes back to the persistence business...keep plugging away. Trust yourself, and the timing of all good things. It can happen.

Comments

A WONDERFUL post KAte..so full of inspiration, and good tips and encouragment..all hats off to you! I still fold a bit after that first "no" and then leave it, move on, thinking "Ok, I'm not good enough!", and not wanting to be a nuisance...you've inspired me again to get rid of those thoughts and to start carrying a stick of glue" with me! Thanks for this post!
Ronell
YAY, Ronell, that's exactly the effect I'm hoping for!

Here's the progression here: I get a no. I get depressed for about 2 hours. I get mad. I get stubborn. I get inspired to send it to other places and do something positive!

I think we're all prone to disappointment in this sort of thing, but you just have to not take it personally. There's a lot of competition, you ARE good enough, you just need to find the right venue/client/buyer for YOU.
Thank you, Kate - it was worth reading.
Do you notice some market slowdown due to this global crisis?
No, not really. My slowdown occurred about 4-5 years ago, when a lot of things happened more or less at once, over a period of 12-14 months. My art director at Sports Afield retired. Country Living got rid of my editor and my art director and changed their format, cutting a lot of columns. Then the same thing happened at the Artist's Magazine--they changed to a more 'net-like format and a lot of their columns went away or were done in-house. Same thing with Watercolor Magic not too long after that.

I'm selling MORE original art than I did then!

Also, I was concentrating more on books when all those other things changed, so I wasn't too sorry not to have the additional deadline pressure. I might have found new magazine outlets, but truthfully, I didn't try. I went other directions, for better or for worse. (I'm happy, so I'm thinking it was better!)

My income's way down from those years, but it's been that way long enough that I'm used to it.<;-)

(Anonymous)

blog comments

Nice informative blog.full of knowledge & useful:-Didier Grossemy (http://www.linkedin.com/in/grossemy)

Re: blog comments

Glad you enjoyed it! As I said, it's all personal experience, and it worked for me.

Thanks!

Kate - what an inspiring post! We tend to think that there is a kind of set of people out there who are 'professionals' and that companies will employ them and nobody else, so I think if I dipped a toe in and got a knock-back I'd give up. But your story really has showed me the possibilities and I'm quite excited by the idea now! Thanks so much.

Re: Thanks!

You WILL get knock-backs, maybe a whole round file full, I did. But perseverance really pays dividends, if you go after what you want with no apologies. Don't be diffident, believe in yourself, and you'll get there, Rachel--wherever you want "there" to be...
Gosh, thank you Cathy! This is what I needed. Very generous of you and very very helpful.
MD
I'm delighted to help! People have certainly helped me along the way...

(Anonymous)

Marketing persistance

A wonderful post Kate!!..Very inspirational, and much the way things happened for me with my photography and writing for children starting 30 years ago...I have enough rejection slips to paper a small bathroom, but that didn't stop me from submitting..I finally got published by "Ranger Rick" with a story, and then got more caught up with my photography which I sold to local magazines, and worked with a stock photo agent..I so agree that trusting yourself is key along with persistance..things happen slowly sometimes, and one thing leads to another..funny how that works...Your Watercolor Pencil class last winter, got me totally engrossed with drawing, and painting. I love being creative, and so I will persist with drawing and watercolors and see where it leads..Thanks for your help and sharing! Hannah

Re: Marketing persistance

Hannah, what an inspiring story, and good for you! Thank you for sharing it...

Believing

Dear Kate, I try not to write too often because I don't want you to feel like you're being stalked - but THANK YOU! Your candid openness and heart felt words have moved me out of my rut. And moving feels a whole lot better than idling. You are truly a possibility thinker. Imagine how many people you've never met who are inspired by you to take up their creative banner and do something with it. I am so excited to see you next book.

Re: Believing

I just found your comment--I AM behind. And kind words are always welcome, you know that! I'm just delighted to help...the world NEEDS creativity.

You're right, as my beloved husband says, "do something--even if it's wrong!" Hey, we learn, even when something doesn't work out as we'd planned. We move on and do something else...