Online holiday marketing for artists

What’s shifting in 2017 holiday marketing? A lot, especially with email.

Off Marshall Point, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.

If you sell paintings, you’re in retailing. And if you’re in retailing, you’ve probably learned by now that holiday sales are an important part of your business. While all retailing sees a jump during the holiday selling spree, the jewelry sector posts more than a quarter of its annual sales during the holidays. That’s important because jewelry sales and painting sales have much in common. They’re both luxury items, and their value is primarily aesthetic.

For a decade, seasonal spending outpaced the US economy, meaning we were concentrating our money more in that one-month period. Then, in 2016, something changed. Seasonal sales were down, except for automobiles and gasoline.
One year does not a trendline make, but I’ve noticed a few things this year. The absurd deals that created Black Friday culture weren’t in my Thanksgiving newspaper (which cost $4, by the way). Retailing is in a major meltdown right now, with bricks-and-mortar stores closing in the face of new consumer trends.
Tilt-a-Whirl, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
But the thing that really hit home was the abuse of my in-box over the past week. I’ve been deleting a few hundred email ads a day without even opening them. I receive multiple, similar offers from the same vendors. They’re all companies I like and have purchased from, but they’ve created a wall between me and the emails I need to see. In other words, they’ve tipped email into a black hole as a marketing strategy.
How does an artist make his or her voice heard in that cacophony? The short answer is, we can’t. I’m only looking at mail from my close friends and business associates right now, so if you sent me a seasonal special offer, it was deleted without opening.
Glen Cove Surf, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
Artists must watch retailing trends carefully. It’s not enough to understand what others are doing now, we have to understand what others plan to do. I watched a webinar recently about creating an email marketing funnel. This is an advertising concept that converts brand awareness to sales. Like every other one-person shop, I could be a lot better at it.
The presenter taught us how to collect email addresses and then qualify and refine information about the buyer. That was fine, but it ignores a basic reality: people sent and received 269 billion emails per day in 2017. With all that chatter—and it’s so much cheaper than snail mail—it’s almost impossible for your message to stand out with any clarity.
Marginal Way, by Carol L. Douglas. This is for sale in Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
In the end, on-line sales will have created new and different problems from the ones they seemed to fix. As always, the muscle will lie with the big marketers that have the time and talent to tinker with new strategies, not with sole proprietors like us.
What’s a poor artist to do? First, realize we’re not alone in this. Every small retailer faces the same problem. From my vantage point, we do the same things we’ve always done: reach out to regular customers, create opportunities to buy, and carefully analyze the competition’s marketing strategy. Above all, we have to be open to new ideas, which is why I’m trying out Chrissy Pahucki’s new venture, pleinair.store.
And somehow, we need to find time to paint.

Christmas gifts for the artists on your list

Some things I think are invaluable, and a few that I don’t.

Do you have a beginner artist on your list? A good place to start is with a gouache kit and a spiral-bound field sketchbook. This is an inexpensive way to start learning about painting.

Every year, a million knock-off French box easels appear nestled under aspiring artists’ Christmas trees. Don’t buy one if you really love the recipient: they’re heavy, cumbersome, and discouraging. I’d rather see a painter start with a $15 tripod easel and a folding table than with a box easel. I did.
For the watercolor plein air artist, something with a swivel head is the best option. Poppy Balser paints with a Soltek easel; I use a Mabef field easel. En Plein Air also makes a very lightweight sketch easel.
A compass is a good stocking stuffer for the field artist.
For oil painters, a pochade box and tripod is a better option. Guerrilla Painter boxes have flooded the market. If you buy one, keep it small; my large one is too heavy for serious field work. Open M boxes are beautifully-made and very expensive. Good with your hands? Here’s a pochade box I built for under $50; it serves me well and it can be paired with a less-expensive tripod.
If what your artist really needs is a studio easel, I think aluminum mast easels provide good value for money. I use Testrite aluminum mast easels in my teaching studio. If your artist likes to work big, go with their hinged professional model. I’ve had one for decades, and it takes work up to 60” square without complaining. It’s been more reliable than wooden easels in the same price range.
These Panel-Raks are a devilishly clever idea. I should get some for myself and stop using Bobbi’s.
Every field artist can use a few extra wet-panel carriers. I like PanelPak wet canvas carriers and Ray-Mar’s Wet Painting Carriers, which are made of corrugated plastic. An inexpensive but invaluable product for the traveling artist is a wet-drying rack. I find myself using Bobbi Heath’s when we travel together.
An invaluable accessory for oil painters is a stainless steel brush tank with a leak-proof lid. Yes, artists can use glass jars with tightly-screwed lids, but they make a mess in the field. Get a small one for the plein air painter. Cared for properly, it will last a lifetime.
A painter might appreciate the parts to make his or her own watercolor field kit. See below.
Artists never have enough brushes. Watercolor painters would love new brushes by Rosemary & Co. Although a British-based company, they ship fast and reasonably in the United States. I normally buy Robert Simmons Signet Chungking bristle brushes for oils.
If your pastel artist is still juggling loose boxes of pastels, why not splurge and get him a traveling box? I have an earlier version of the Dakota Traveler, which I love. The Roz Box has its fans as well. Silicone Colour Shapers out-perform tortillons and stumps for blending.
In our house, Santa doesn’t bring presents, but he does fill stockings. He always remembers sketch books. I like Strathmore’s Visual Journals with smooth Bristol paper and #2 mechanical pencils, but you can scale that up or down as your budget requires. You might add micron pens if your list includes teenagers.
Artists love to experiment. How about a set of sumi-e brushes and some ink?
I have a Winsor Newton Cotman watercolor pan set for when I’m traveling pared-down. Dedicated watercolorists love to create their own pan sets. Anyone would be thrilled to get this Schmincke empty palette set, but if your painter is young and hip, get him just the empty half-pans, some double-sided tape and a few tins of Altoids. Pair this with a watercolor field book, and he will entertain himself for the rest of the year. If you want to include pigments, here’s my guide to watercolor paints.
navigational compass and a cheap (because it will get dirty) business card holder are both useful field tools.
Artists are always trying to figure out new techniques for mark-making. Why not get your artist some sumi-e ink, brushesor bamboo pens to really mix it up?
Art lessons are always good. Here I’m demoing a few years ago in beautiful Belfast, ME.
And, of course, art lessons are always good. Check at your local art center or museum. Or, send your loved one on my Age of Sailworkshop aboard the schooner American Eagle in June, or my Sea & Sky workshop at Acadia National Park in August. 

Bits and bobs go on the block

Chrissy Pahucki has created an easy platform to experiment with online marketing this Christmas season. You might want to try it.

This rock study was painted at Upper Jay, in New York. While I might be able to pass it off as Jay, Maine, it would be better to just sell it to someone who loves the Adirondacks.
Over time, an artist’s studio gets overrun with orphan work. These are the one or two paintings from a previous body of work, field sketches that came back from trips and weren’t sold, and work left from plein air events.  The more you’re making art, the more these things tend to clog up the works. In fact, if we were to be strictly honest, we sometimes want to sell paintings mainly to make room to make more paintings.
Like most painters, I have a bin of plein air studies. This is where I drop things that I’m not going to pursue. Visitors are welcome to fish through them whenever they stop by, but they’re not orphan work. They’re my repository of ideas.
This spring lake was painted in New York. It should go home to New York.
A non-artist would be shocked by the turnaround time for selling artwork; it can take several years for a painting to find its buyer. This is why we don’t aggressively mark stuff down at the end of each season: we know its sale depends on it being seen by the right person.
I haven’t had a holiday painting sale in several years, since I moved to the edge of the continent. By the time Thanksgiving rolls around, the visitors are gone and all that’s left around here are other artists.
This is the last painting I have left of Vigo County, Indiana.
I decided it was time and that this year I should do it solely online.
Sales events always force me to try to make objective judgments about my paintings. This year, I decided I should mark down work created outside of my current location in midcoast Maine. There are some funny bits and bobs in my studio.
And one of two I have left of central Pennsylvania.
I have only one small canvas left of paintings I did in Vigo County, Indiana. I’d had the opportunity to go out there with my friend Jane while she took care of some family business. I have two small canvases left of a set I did from the top of a hillside on Route 125 in Pennsylvania. I’d had a 360° view of rolling farmland and capitalized on it by turning my easel around on the top of the hill. I got most of the way around before the light failed.
Perhaps the most difficult to add to this collection are my two remaining canvases of the Genesee River at Letchworth State Park. I spent a summer driving down to this spot, hiking my equipment into the gorge and concentrating on painting the rock walls. My goal was to learn to simplify and abstract them, and in these two canvases, I think I succeeded in that. But last year, they were knocked from the wall in my gallery and their frames were damaged. I realized then that they perfectly represent the Genesee Valley but have no place in my current inventory, so they, too, are going on the block.
These were part of a series I did from a mountain top, trying to capture 360° in one painting day. I almost succeeded.
Where am I going to do this? My friend Chrissy Pahucki has started an online plein-air store, here. By this weekend, I expect to have my work up, but that’s not why I mention it. I think other artists ought to try it, too. Chrissy is a painter and art teacher herself, and her terms are very reasonable. I haven’t pursued online selling because I didn’t want to have to add e-commerce to my website. This is an easy way for me to dip my toe into this marketplace.

Beat the winter blues with a shot of color

“Spring,” by Carol L. Douglas

“Spring,” by Carol L. Douglas
Wind is whipping around the corner of the house this morning. Our bedroom is unheated, so until one of us runs downstairs and stirs up the woodstove, we’re huddling here under a warm woolen blanket.
I’m going to do some on-line shopping until then. Paintings are a popular Christmas gift. On winter days when the sun barely rises and the wind is shrilling outside, it’s easy to see why. Here are a few painters whose work is broad and graphical and who work in bright, warm palettes. All of them have work in every price point, and they’ve made shopping easy by having good, clear websites.
“York River, Maine,” by Mary Byrom

“York River, Maine,” by Mary Byrom
Mary Byrom lives in North Berwick, Maine, and mostly paints the southern Maine coast. She is a great simplifier of complex scenes. That’s possible because she’s outside braving the weather at every possible moment. Her available work is marked on her website. There’s a contact form here if you see something you like.
“Monhegan Memories,” by Renee Lammers

“Monhegan Memories,” by Renee Lammers
Renee Lammers lives in Bucksport, Maine, and her work is centered in Stonington, Acadia, and the northern end of Penobscot Bay. She works on copper. Her work is priced on her website, which is set up for online sales.
“Sparkle,” by Bobbi Heath

“Sparkle,” by Bobbi Heath
Bobbi Heath splits her time between Yarmouth, Maine and Westford, Massachusetts. Right now, she’s donating a percentage of her sale proceeds to the American Cancer Society, so you can not only score a good painting, but do a good deed at the same time. Her website is set up for online sales.
“Point Look-out Barn,” by Elissa Gore

“Point Look-out Barn,” by Elissa Gore
Elissa Gore lives in New York City but often paints in the lower Hudson Valley. Her work is simple and exuberant. Her website is exhaustive, and you can contact her for information about a painting that interests you.
“Sidelot off Pike Street,” by Kari Ganoung Ruiz

“Sidelot off Pike Street,” by Kari Ganoung Ruiz
Kari Ganoung Ruiz was my monitor for my 2014 workshop at Schoodic in Acadia National Park. She lives and works in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, and her color palette is the softer, warmer tones of that area. She is passionate about painting old cars and other vehicles. Her website has prices, and you can contact her about buying work.
And, of course, there’s me. My website isn’t set up for e-commerce, but if you see something you like, let me know, and I’ll put you in contact with the gallery currently showing it. And of course, you can always get yourself or someone else my summer workshop for Christmas. Do so before the first of the year, and you can have $100 off.