by Garrett Heaney
MONTPELIER — Marketing is one of those “make-or-break-you” practices that requires planning and graceful execution in order to bring results in the business world. You have a product. You want to sell it. Who do you tell, and what do you tell them … and how? This is the gist of all marketing — but when it comes to art, you have an anomaly of sorts. Rarely do you find an artist putting ads in print (niche magazines being the exception) and it is unheard of for artists other than Bob Ross (R.I.P.) to have an ad on TV.
So in the modern world, with all this technology at our fingertips, how do artists make themselves known, and how do they go about selling their art? We talked with three local artists to see if they could shed some light on this practice. Jenn Jacques, Kate Burnim and Kari Meyer all have unique styles that have done well for them here in Montpelier, and throughout the state. Here’s what they had to tell us:
The Bridge: How long have you been selling art? How and where did you get started? Do you remember your first sales, how did they come about?
Jenn Jacques: I have been selling art since I was 16. My journey began when I was very little with the guidance of my grandmother Ruth Henson, who was an exceptional oil painter. One of my first sales took place at a local exhibition site, Capitol Grounds. It was an unbelievable feeling, to sell a painting that I created. I will never forget that feeling.
Kate Burnim: I’ve been selling my art since high school (the early 90s) but with intention, the last couple of years. I got started a few years ago with a show at Local 64 in Montpelier, and on the web through my website (snapwhistlestudio.com) and more recently, my Society 6 shop (https://society6.com/kateburnim). I feel like I am still in the early stages of getting my work out there. My first sales came about through shows and word of mouth — a personal connection showing someone they knew a photo of my work.
Kari Meyer: I have been professionally showing and selling my art since 2004 when I graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s in studio art. I started showing at The Fourth Annual Firehouse Open at the Firehouse Gallery in Burlington. I also hung my work in restaurants, coffee shops and retail spaces. I’m not sure exactly when my first sale was, but sales really started happening at the Art Hop coordinated by South End Arts and Business Association in Burlington each year, through Burlington City Arts who coordinate shows in commercial spaces in Burlington and through Craftproducers Art Festivals in Stowe and Manchester.
The Bridge: What have been your best avenues for sales?
Jacques: The most successful tool is connecting with the public. Talking face-to-face inspires and captivates art lovers and artists alike. I have had success selling as a vendor locally and in Brooklyn, New York. I also sell my art through local exhibitions in stores and restaurants. The last two exhibitions I’ve held this year were on the walls of The Black Krim in Randolph and Espresso Bueno in Barre. It’s a wonderful way to support the local spirit!
Burnim: So far, the best avenues for sales have been word of mouth and shows, as well as my website and shop. I am excited to continue development of the website and shop to further their reach. Recently, I began getting my work on the Burlington City Arts database and I am curious to see where that will lead, but cannot speak to it yet, so you will have to check back!
Meyer: From 2004 to 2010 Burlington City Arts probably handled 40 percent of my sales, another 50 percent were through Craftproducers Art Festivals and 10 percent were online sales. After my daughter was born in 2010, my production went down for a few years. Spring of 2015 I finally felt like my work returned to its previous state. I’ve found that the market and economy have really changed and because of this, my sales venues have changed.
The Bridge: What have been the most valuable networking practices for you? Any particular types of connections that are more effective than others?
Jacques: The most valuable networking practice for me is just talking with customers who are artists or art lovers. Another valuable networking practice has been modeling for a group of local oil painters; watching and learning and asking them questions. Last but not least: Facebook is so helpful and I have made dozens of sales by posting images there, protected with my watermark. I find Etsy to be fantastic for selling crafts and more … just useable for art.
Burnim: The most valuable networking practices for me have been engaging directly with people at events I am a part of or attend. In terms of which types of connections are most effective, for me, I think it goes back to understanding what my values are in relation to my work and where I would like it to go.
Meyer: I’ve found that being involved in Craftproducers Art Festivals has been an invaluable source of networking. Being able to talk to other artists about their experiences with sales, the economy and marketing has helped me with my business a lot. More recently, Facebook has become helpful as a way to network as well.
The Bridge: Do you ever think of marketing/sales during or before the creation process?
Jacques: I typically don’t really think of the marketing or sales aspect of my work during or before my creation process unless there is a job at hand. The vision I have transforms to my hands, then to my canvas or paper.
Burnim: The process of creating my art is very separate for me than that of marketing or sales. It is important to me that when I create a piece that it is authentic and sincere. For me, this could get murky if marketing and sales joined the party at that stage.
Meyer: I used to paint a lot more abstract work. I found that there isn’t a real market for abstract art in Vermont. When I switched to primarily landscape paintings this was probably the only time I consciously thought of marketing or sales in regards to my work. Beyond that, I really just paint what inspires me.