I was nearing early retirement as a prison guard at one of our country's most notorious prisons. I knew I wanted to retire early so I could be a full time artist. The prison I was working at had gone through a transition from being a maximum security to medium security and once all the inmates were transferred out, the refurbishing stage began. Management asked the staff if they had any specialized skills they could bring to the table. I mentioned I could paint them a mural but hadn't painted one since high school. Not really thinking they would go for it. They asked for two murals to my amazement! Little did I know that would lead me to more mural projects. Which I gladly painted in my free time until retirement last year.
Once retired the time was right for a mural project at our local artist co-op which I helped start some 14 years ago. We own our building on the town square and a lot folks in our community still didn't know our location, or what we did. So I proposed a mural on the north side of the building to bring attention to the Little Egypt Arts Association in Marion Illinois. We set up a mural committee and then tweaked the mural project to suit the message we were trying to convey. The message: Artists teach here! The arts are alive in our community! Tourist, art students and art lovers welcome!
Building history: In the second image below you see an old building during the horse and buggy era. That's our art centre on the left. It's a shoe store back then. There is a sign painted on the building that says, SELZ (See picture at left). There is also some other lettering pertaining to shoes but we can't read it. That sign is still there. We partially painted over that sign which must be at least 100 years old. In the design stage I wanted to leave some of that old sign still visible. That's what we ended up doing. A historian came by while we were painting on the mural and said there was suppose to be an old riffle hidden in the building that was used in a massacre in the early 20th century. Spooky! Back then they hung people on the town square. No telling what that old building has seen if the walls could talk!
The Concept: Nothing draws the human eye like a disaster. Car wreck, plane crash or a building falling down. So I created a major wall collapse in order to see the interior. Paint humans in the scene, which also draws the eye and it's a winning design.
The Design: The wall is 41 feet across with a window and air conditioner. So the gapping hole went on the right side of the air conditioner which is a slightly larger area to paint in. Now the left side needed something. I went with a window scene. Then painted my high school art teacher in there who was the president of the art association at the time. Window on the left, big hole on the right but it needed something to bring the two sides together. I came up with the idea of our maintenance guy on a ladder spilling a bucket of paint and positioned them in between the big hole and window scene. That ended up pulling the whole scene together. There is a lot of action in this mural. I photographed all the participants doing what you see in the mural many months before we started painting. Then Photoshopped the scene together. See the Photoshop image below.
The Mural: Starting on the left side is one of our past presidents of the art association pulling an art cart. Which you see at all artists co-ops and workshops. Then you see the window scene with Kaye doing a self portrait. Stain glass sign saying "Art Classes" which we offer up to 20 classes per semester. More art work hanging in the window. Then there is Charles accidentally spilling paint on Patty. Opps! That gets us past the air conditioner. In the gapping hole is Colleen setting up a vase on a pedestal. Our first president photographing the scene and Missy handling a couple images. One of which won our Best Shot Show contest where our photography club had a contest and who ever won got their photograph painted on the mural. Wanda Taylor won with her butterfly image.
Then came the brick pile: We hid a number of items in that. My arm holding a paint brush. Sponsor names and logo's. A cat and 4 mice. A spider and snake. Paint tubes, a partial palette. Scissors, eraser, Sharpie mark and a pencil plus much more. This mural is interactive. Kids on field trips can look for hidden items through out the mural.
This is what the wall looked like prior to the mural. (Click on the images for full size)
The numbers: We started late April and finished October 21st. Twenty five volunteers painting mostly in the mornings 5 days a week. There are 1077 man hours in the mural not including the design stage. I still haven't figured that but it was roughly a year in the planning stage. Roughly 10 gallons of Sherwin Williams Metalatex Paints. Very durable. Power washing the wall at the start. We used a sealer blocker, then a resurfacer and finally a base paint. This was put on after we used a projector at night to get our outlines. We used Sharpie markers to put in the lines. That way you get likeness quickly. If we had tried to free hand this in, we would still be trying to finish.
The completed mural. (Click on images for full size)
You had to be a member of the organization to paint on the mural. It did not matter your skill level. I was there to help when they needed it. I usually called the night before and asked if they could paint the next day. The artists had previously picked a day or two a week they could paint. Sometimes the artists would just show up and ask what they could paint. Traffic would often stop or slow way down. Many great comments yelled from passing car windows. We had fun painting this one. We are about to have a ribbon cutting ceremony for the mural on November 6th. Then time to move on to the next one.
A message on art marketing from Artist Advocate magazine publisher Eric Rhoads
How did 2010 stack up against 2009? Chances are, it was about half as good as 2008. And that was probably a down year. Right?
What if I told you that I know artists who were having their best year of sales in 2010?
Sure, you could look for some advantage they had. But in reality, these are regular folks who created a strategy, adjusted it, and ended up saving a year that would have otherwise been a disaster.
"Eric, I've sold 21 paintings in the last 60 days, and this has turned out to be one of my best years, despite the economy." I received that call last Thursday from an artist I'll call Charlie (his real name is available upon request).
What was Charlie's strategy? Why did he have a good year in spite of the down economy?
Art Marketing's Dirty Little Secret
Of course, many principles impact sales, but there are three core principles to marketing art successfully:
1. A Conscious Decision to Succeed, No Matter What
Charlie wasn't living under a rock. He knew the economy was bad and that art sales were falling off. Early in the year, he told me, "I'm afraid this is going to be an awful year for selling artwork, so I've made up my mind to make it my best year."
A funny thing happens when you make up your mind to succeed and don't let yourself off the hook. You find a way to succeed. Unlike most artists who whine that the economy is bad, art isn't selling, they don't have a chance, Charlie knew that if he worked harder and smarter, he would save his year. Did I mention he's sold 21 paintings in the last 60 days?
2. Put Your Line in the Water Where the Money is Flowing
Where would you rather fish, in a dry creek bed or a river gushing with fish? There is an old saying: "Fish where the fish are." In other words, don't waste time where there is no business. Don't make your own river, go find a river where the money is flowing.
Once you find that river of money, the critical issue is to put your bait in the water. Most people forget this step. In fact, when times get tough, they decide to save their money and fail to put their name or product out for all to see. If there is no bait, the fish won't bite.
Charlie was in three art galleries, and each was selling half as much as normal. Instead of accepting the circumstances, he was proactive. He figured that if three were selling half as much, he needed three more. He also learned where people were still buying paintings and focused on getting into galleries in those areas.
What Is Your Strategy for 2011?
Your 2011 strategy needs to start with pure determination.
Write this in GIANT letters and stick it on your mirror so you see it every day: I will sell more art in 2010 than ever before. It will be my best year yet.
Start by believing it. Support it with a plan. What actions will you take to sell more art? Where will you find a river of money? How will you get more galleries? In what other ways will you stand out? What bait will you put on your hook?
Your plan won't work by belief alone -- it requires a strategy. Charlie's strategy was to double the number of galleries and find galleries in areas where he would sell more art. He also started painting smaller paintings that were easier to sell.
Why 2011 Must Be On Your Mind Now
Most of us can't wait to have 2010 behind us. But most businesses are using the fourth quarter of 2010 to plan for 2011. This is when budgets are set and tactics are planned. Most art galleries are revising budgets, scheduling shows and exhibitions, and looking to add new artists to their rosters.
From your perspective, 2011 should start now. Start building your success plan and start working it now. After all, you need sales to start in January to meet your new goals.
You're an artist. I am too. Like you, I'd rather paint than do the books, work on marketing, or build a business plan. But if I didn't do these things and allowed my business to go on autopilot, I'd be like a pinball flipping from one side of the game to the other. Having a plan is the road map that increases your chance of hitting your goals. So get serious and do it now. Your plan -- and your determination -- to succeed is the most important thing you can be doing now to have a great 2011.
PS: The Rest of the Story
Charlie and I spoke late in 2008 when he was starting to see his sales decline. He made a plan for 2010, and found his new galleries by showing his artwork in Artist Advocate magazine. He heard from three galleries and decided to add the two that fit the profile of the "river of money." When we spoke Friday, he told me he was planning to advertise again to get a few more galleries. He said the days of having only one or two galleries are gone, because more galleries mean more paintings sold.