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September 2013

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Marketing your Art--the REALLY old fashioned way!


When I was a young artist just starting out trying to make my way as an artist, I was also deep into the back-to-the-land culture. We wanted to be self-sufficient, to live lightly on the land. We worked hard to cut our needs for money to a minimum--good thing, too, because we didn't have any extra! Neither did many of our neighbors in the little farm community where we'd chosen to put down roots, but everyone seemed to have a good grasp on helping one another out, and on a concept that became very popular in the idealistic '70s--the barter system!

I remembered that when I was just a teenager I'd traded sketches for overnight lodging in a little tourist town, and for a meal in their cafe. I even traded a quick sketch for a limeade one hot afternoon while my dad was off fishing.

20 years later and on my own as an adult, I wasn't sure how to get started, or what people might be willing to trade. But you never know till you try, and I decide to jump right in whenever we needed something we really didn't have money for.

First, I traded art for food--a wonderful straightforward exchange that I still remember fondly. My client wanted a painting of the prizewinning cattle on her farm; I wanted beef. We ate like kings, and she was delighted with the painting.

That opened the door, and I approached people again and again, with unexpected success.  Some of the paintings I bartered were quite small, when all I was trading for was a few dozen eggs. Others were full or half-sheet watercolors that went a lot farther towards some pretty big expenses. It just took working up the courage to approach my barter-partner with the offer, and acting sure enough of myself not to be shy or apologetic. No scuffing the toe in the dirt, please--I told myself "you're a pro with something valuable to offer!"

I plucked up my courage and offered my art in trade for all kinds of things--my attorney STILL owns a number of my paintings from those days--as does my dentist, my dental surgeon, and my late husband's heart specialist.

It's amazing how open people are to a trade, especially if you have a small, good-looking portfolio to show them, along with a resume that outlines your professional art career.

Don't be shy, when you work up your resume, either. Everything counts!  There's no need to embellish, but think how things will look to your prospective barter-partner.  For instance, I'd worked a short time for Hallmark Cards, for Western Auto, for our local Kansas City NBC affiliate, and for a small publisher I did book covers for, none of which paid worth beans, none of which lasted all that long, but all of them looked pretty good on the resume. (I'm sure my stint as assistant art director for the television station in KC sounded glamorous--it wasn't, but it sure sounds good!  Even my then-mother-in-law was impressed!)

I imagine many of you have similar or better credentials, even if you're just starting out. Have you done illustrations for your church, or a local newspaper? A state or regional organization? A charity? Been in an art show or three, or twenty? Anything that shows that you ARE a serious working artist looks good on a resume. Coupled with a few examples of your best work, and I'll bet you can wind up with some terrific barter arrangements of your own!

If you have trouble being objective about your own work and what to include in your portfolio, ask someone to help you. A favorite art teacher, or a trusted and supportive friend, but not one that will lie to you, and CERTAINLY not someone who will tear you down. Some states even have small business advisors or programs that may help. Some colleges, universities, and business schools and even some municipalities have job training programs and might offer guidance. You can often find this kind of help, free--ask around!

Because the good news is--the barter system is not dead, as the resources I've linked to prove! You WILL want to learn how best to use it, and how to stay straight with the IRS, so I'd recommend delving into at least one of these books, but in these troubled economic times I predict more people will find barter a viable approach to maintaining a workable comfort level. It's a challenge, and an enjoyable and satisfying one that somehow seems more concrete than dealing with credit cards and writing checks.

You can barter services, as well, of course--many people would love to take classes, but simply can't afford it. Perhaps you can offer to teach them or their kids.

Oh, and the painting above? The owner of our local CSA fell in love with it and wanted it for her husband's Christmas present. She suggested food for the painting, and we are STILL benefiting, two months later. Fresh organic veggies and fruit, fresh eggs, yogurt, milk and butter, bison, beef, and more, and we have several more deliveries to go.

I've never eaten so well in my life, and it's a win-win situation all the way around! Scott loved the painting, and we feel great...

I also feel as if I'd come full circle.  Tonight, as we sat on the deck on this warm February evening, enjoying organic broccoli and grass-fed beef cooked on the grill, topped with organic sharp cheddar, all fresh from the farm, it made me smile...and it made me feel like a kid again. Money may be tight, but you'd never know it from our larder!

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And of course, I'm still marketing on my new gallery blog at cathyjohnsonart.blogspot.com and on my home page at cathyjohnson.info!  Feel free to drop in for a visit...

Comments

(Anonymous)

Y'know Kate, I read all the way through this wonderful post on my RSS feed on bloglines without realising who the author was until the end. What a great spirit you have. I wish I had half your grace.
Goodness, thank you! I just believe in helping as people have helped me.