Is painting dead?

Despite predictions to the contrary, paintings and books haven’t been replaced by their digital analogs.

Vineyard, Carol L. Douglas, 40X30, oil on canvas.

Yesterday I heard from Sedona Arts Center that my workshop there is sold out. Schoodic and my first section in the Adirondacks are also sold out. (Of course, that still leaves a lot of options all over the country, so don’t imagine you’re free of me—yet.)

But it is part of a bigger trend, and one that points out my current dilemma: teaching is fundamentally limited by the instructor’s stamina and time. I can teach about seven six-week Zoom sessions a year, and they are usually full. Between them and my workshops, I can give one-on-one instruction to a maximum of 300 students a year. That’s if there are no returning students, which there always are. And that’s while maintaining a killer pace, one I’m unlikely to sustain for many more years.

Tom Sawyer’s Fence, Carol L. Douglas, available.

Teaching, as any person who’s done it can tell you, is very much a bespoke industry. It’s individual and personal. As I think about ways to reach larger audiences, I know that I will be sacrificing that intimacy in the process.

This blog started as an exercise in spreading instruction to a broader audience. By their nature, blogs are simply not well-organized or easy to search. Although I’ve covered everything you need to know in the fifteen years I’ve been writing, it takes good research skills to ferret out specific information, especially as I’ve shifted platforms a few times.

The downside of social media is that it has an incredibly short lifespan. As of 2021 it was estimated to be:

  • Twitter: 15 minutes
  • TikTok & Snapchat: Start decaying immediately unless viral
  • Facebook: 6 hours
  • Instagram: 48 hours
  • LinkedIn: 24 hours
  • YouTube: 20 days or more
  • Pinterest: 4 months
  • Blog Post: Over a year

That means few of us are getting past the headlines—or the advertisements. Some platforms, like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, are gatekeepers for more incisive writing, but most social media posts are simple snapshots.

Bracken Fern, Carol L. Douglas, 9X12, oil on archival canvasboard

Americans now overwhelmingly get their news from digital media. In a recent Pew survey, 65% of respondents said they rarely read printed news. At the same time, only 20% of Americans are willing to pay for online news. That means most of us are getting our information in some kind of recycled format. Ouch.

Magazines are doing slightly better, but are still in decline. Print subscription circulations have fallen by 7% over the past two years, while single-copy sales are down 11%. The exception is specialty magazines, dedicated to niche audiences.

Best Buds, Carol L. Douglas, 11X14, oil on canvasboard

On the other hand, industry watchers were confident that book publishing would be moribund by 2022, and that hasn’t happened. Books remain a $27 billion industry in 2022. That compares to e-books, at $3 billion and—weirdly—sliding. Clearly, people perversely cling to reading on paper.

For art books, paper remains the only way to go. I can’t imagine curling up with my phone and browsing a text on Wayne Thiebaud, for example. His luscious, thick paint looks great in life. It looks decent with modern printing technology; it disappears on my computer screen.

In the same way, there’s something about handmade art that cannot be replaced with digital analogs. People have lots of time for digital media—movies, snapshots, television and video—but when it comes to hanging fine art on their walls, they like the feeling of hand-craft. Total sales of art photography were just $80 million in an art market of $64 billion in 2019—and in decline. Despite 137 years of commercially-viable photography, painters and printmakers aren’t obsolete. I have a feeling it’s not going to happen.

You are what you focus on

Despite the fact that my career rests on social media, I’m all for throwing social media in the trash today.

Wreck of the S. S. Ethie, oil on canvas, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

Like most of you, I woke up this morning wondering whether we have a president. Apparently not; most states were still counting as of 6 AM. I’m 61 years old and this is the first time I can remember this happening. I think we can take it as read that we’re in an historically-important moment. 

We’re an almost-evenly divided nation. That means that the side that wins ought to be at least aware of the thoughts, ideals and feelings of the side that loses. If the past few decades are any indication, the winners will not. They will act as if their slim margin is a mandate.

The Dooryard, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available.

I’m very conservative, but I lived most of my life in staunch Democrat country: I was raised in working-class Buffalo and lived in New York during the decades when it morphed from being a swing state to being reliably blue. I’m accustomed to living, working, eating, playing and praying with people with radically-different views from mine. Until recently, it was never a problem. It shouldn’t be.

This should be obvious to any thinking person, but it’s apparently not, so I’m using my blog to state it: your political opponents are as thoughtful, smart and kind as you. That’s true for good or ill.

My friend Brenna asked recently what we planned to do after the election. “Oh, either gloat or riot,” I snarked. I was joking, but sadly, some of my fellow citizens haven’t worked their way past these options. The media will gleefully report on their antics, and the rest of us will chatter about what it means.

Beaver Dam, oil on canvasboard, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Maine Farmland Trust Gallery.

We humans have only two ways to reconcile our differences: we either talk them out or we split up. Last time the latter happened here, it was a bloody mess: 650,000 died in our Civil War. That was 2.1% of the population. Extrapolate to our current age, and we’d be talking almost seven million people—a holocaust by any measure.

Our only rational tool is civilized conversation, but too many of us live in echo chambers. Modern media encourages that—it surrounds you with the news, people and facts you want to hear.

Leon Festinger was the American social psychologist who pioneered the ideas of cognitive dissonancein a seminal 1956 book, When Prophecy Fails. Festinger had observers infiltrate a cult to see what would happen when the date of a doomsday prophecy came and went. The book explains how people can hold onto discredited ideas in the face of obvious contrary evidence.

Talking with Michelle, oil sketch by Carol L. Douglas. She’s a long-term poll monitor, bless her heart.

Clearly, there’s strength in numbers. As Festinger wrote, “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must after all be correct.” Festinger did his research within a cult, but today he would find fertile ground on the internet, where all our social biases are confirmed by the ambiguous workings of artificial intelligence.

At the same time, another group of psychologists were pioneering an idea they took from George Orwell‘s biting dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four. Groupthink is a phenomenon that occurs when our need for harmony starts overriding the evidence before our eyes. Once again, there is momentum in numbers; the odd man out either starts thinking like the group, or he’s pushed out entirely. I doubt there are many adults who haven’t experienced this somewhere in their work or personal lives.

But we’re still capable of independent thinking, we humans. We have a choice—we can spend our days watching TV and surfing the Internet and getting more and more anxious, or we can turn the machines off. We can paint, read, pray, walk the dog, and talk to our real-world friends. Despite the fact that my career rests on social media, I’m all for throwing social media in the trash today.

Travel in the age of coronavirus

We live in an age of instant global connection, without filters. That means we’re about to experience pandemic differently than ever before.
Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas

Turpenoid, made by Weber, and Gamsol, made by Gamblin, are both odorless mineral spirits (OMS), modern substitutes for turpentine in the oil-painter’s kit. A chance conversation with Kevin Beers last night made me realize that Turpenoid has a flash point of 110-130° F. while Gamsol has a flash point of 144° F. That small difference makes Gamsol safe to fly with, but Turpenoid not.

I received a message from Jane Chapin last night that read, “The office in El Calafate says that our solvent has not arrived, but they will help us. Bring Gamsol.” We and a few other intrepid artists are heading to Argentina tomorrow to paint in Patagoniaand Tierra del Fuegoand a few other places heavy on glaciers, light on trees.
Light snow above the Arctic Circle, by Carol L. Douglas.
Travel always comes with last minute snafus. First among these now is coronavirus. I’ll be through four airports in the next 24 hours. I can’t find hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes anywhere in mid-coast Maine. Luckily, my friend and monitor, Jennifer Johnson, just flew home from Australia. She gave me her stash. It will suffice through to Miami, when Jane can augment my supplies.
Coronavirus is unlikely to be in Tierra del Fuego, but it’s still making me edgy. Will my son be sent home to finish his last college semester through online classes? If so, how will he get here? Will I be locked out of the country or quarantined on my return? The scope of the problem was borne home to me last weekend, when my niece rescheduled her May wedding to September. She’s marrying a Canadian of Asian descent and nobody knows what international travel will look like in two months.
Me, talking to KCAS members, in case you’ve forgotten what I look like. Photo courtesy Jennifer Johnson.
Pandemic is as old as the human race, but today we have decentralized news and powerful social media. As I write this, the death toll from coronavirus in the US is 31—or about 40% as many as have been murdered to date this year in Chicago. But we are intimately aware of each of COVID-19’s victims, because we’ve read about them all. That changes our perception of our own risk.
Still, you can’t live in the fear zone. Human beings are wired to experience negative results more keenly than positive ones, to stop us from doing stupid things that will kill us. This is called our negativity bias, and it results in our thinking that things will go wrong more than they’ll go right. The fewer risks we take, the stronger that belief is. We can become immobilized by the fear of change. The intrepid artist has to work to overcome that, by substituting a positivity bias. I have a simple one: faith in God.
Last night, I spoke to the Knox County Art Society (KCAS) about how negativity bias makes some of us fear outdoor painting excessively. But if I—at age 61—can still go outside and paint in the wild, so can you. “If it doesn’t kill you, get back up and do it again,” I said.
KCAS is the brainchild of David Blanchard of Camden, and it’s grown to eighty members in a year. It’s offering classes, speakers, exhibitions and more. If you’re an artist in Knox County, Maine, you should be a member.
In addition to being the home of one of America’s newest art societies, Maine is home to America’s oldest continuous art society, the Bangor Art Society. It’s time to apply for their 145th anniversary juried show, which will open on May 1. It’s a fun show with a fun reception. Register here.

How to sell your artwork

Think the world is going to beat a path to your door just because you’re brilliant? Think again.
Blueberry barrens on Clary Hill, by Carol L. Douglas. Every residency and event is a bullet point for your resume, but more importantly, a chance to be noticed.

“I read your recent post on business realism,” a reader wrote me. “I think I paint well, but I can’t seem to get any traction in the current marketplace. I’ve lost two galleries this year, and that really hurt. What am I doing wrong?”

The art market is morphing, and this reader was right when he added, “there’s no clear path forward.” His loss of gallery representation may have nothing to do with him, but with rapid change in the marketplace.

I know this painter’s work. It’s as fine as anyone’s out there, including many painters making a very juicy income. Why are their paintings selling and his not?
The bottom line is, he’s not nearly as well-known as he ought to be. While he’s painted with some of the big names in the plein air business, that hasn’t given him a particular leg up. Networking is important, but it only takes you so far.
Athabasca Glacier, by Carol L. Douglas. Want people to be interested in you? Do interesting things, preferably without killing yourself.
Do you want it enough to go for it? That makes marketing your primary job. Some people are offended by that, but unless you were born into the upper crust like Édouard Manet, you’re going to have to work to make connections. A better model is Frederic Edwin Church, who embraced, rather than rejected, his father’s bourgeois business model. Nobody can say that Church sacrificed his artistic goals.
You don’t necessarily have to be a starving artist to want to market yourself. I have a friend who’s fascinated by the uncharted machinations of a career in art. After a career in business, she wants to ‘crack the nut’ and figure out how it’s really done.
Spruces and pines on the Barnum Brook Trail, by Carol L. Douglas. This was painted at ADK Plein Air. To have a following, you must be seen.
It’s not about whether you can paint or not. The late, unlamented Thomas Kinkade is just one of a long line of incompetent painters who parlayed an artistic vision into money. I’m not encouraging you to paint terribly, but I am telling you to stop beating yourself up because you’re “not good enough.”
It helps to be young and beautiful. If you’re no longer either of those things, you need to be witty and fascinating instead. A hippie friend once watched me doing my self-care routine. “Why do you do those things to yourself?” she asked in amazement. I can’t be young anymore, but I can be attractive.
You have to be willing to exploit social media. I know you don’t see the point of Instagram and Facebook, but it’s critical to a profile in the modern world. If you don’t have a clue how to do this, find a book or a webinar and learn. Your website is still important, but it’s the catchment basin for all those other things.
Teaching is a great way to get your name out there, but for heaven’s sake, don’t do it unless you can actually teach. The world doesn’t need any more incompetent teachers.
You need a real-world presence somewhere. You’re going to have to do plein air events, tent shows, be in a cooperative gallery, or have gallery representation. You’re going to have to pull up your big-boy paints and go to openings. (This is the hardest thing for me—not because I don’t like people, but because my bedtime is 7:30 PM.) One real-world contact is worth a thousand internet hits.
You need to plug away, a little every day. Running a $1500 ad in a collector magazine is not going to net you anything if you haven’t done incremental publicizing in advance. Press releases, openings, studio parties, blogs, and emails to your collectors are the heart of modern publicity.

Too much time on Social Media is depressing

How can you turn off the comparisons with others?

Untitled, oil on paper, by Carol L. Douglas

My husband was in Rochester for work this week. Bad weather meant it took a very long time for him to get back to Maine. The easiest way to track his progress was to check his location on Google Maps. I found myself looking at my phone every few minutes. After each glance at his progress, I’d turn to Facebook and Instagram to see what my friends were doing.

By the time he got home, I was thoroughly depressed. Kathleen, Julie, and John all painted gorgeous work yesterday. Meanwhile, I spent the whole day on marketing stuff. “You didn’t do the Strada 31-day challenge and now they’re all driving past you in their Lamborghinis,” I scolded myself.
By the time Doug finally made it home, I would have gone into the backyard to eat worms, except that it’s 0° F. and the worms are all encased in ice. Did I mention that Mark is teaching in Georgia and Charles is in California?
Untitled, by Carol L. Douglas

Comparing oneself to others has long been known to cause depression. It’s only been since the advent of social media that we have found a way to beat ourselves up with it nonstop. Dr. Mai-Ly Steers, who has studied the link between social media and depression, called this phenomenon, “seeing everyone else’s highlight reels.”

“One danger is that Facebook often gives us information about our friends that we are not normally privy to, which gives us even more opportunities to socially compare,” Steers said. “You can’t really control the impulse to compare because you never know what your friends are going to post.
“In addition, most of our Facebook friends tend to post about the good things that occur in their lives, while leaving out the bad… this may lead us to think their lives are better than they actually are and conversely, make us feel worse about our own lives.
Scrotum man (detail), by Carol L. Douglas
For the artist, it means we can constantly compare our own struggles at the easel with our friends’ carefully-lighted, perfectly-photographed finished work. We can come away wondering why we ever thought we could paint in the first place.
Social media is a two-edged sword for artists. It is the conduit through which we (increasingly) pour our work out into the world, but it’s also a way to burn a lot of time and psychic energy. There’s no turning back, so we have to develop strategies to protect ourselves from the anxiety it produces.
The Joker, by Carol L. Douglas
No thought—including envy—can have power over you without your permission, although you do need to be aware that you’re doing it. One of the best ways to get out of the envy loop is to distract yourself. Thinking about something else is a proven coping mechanism for stressful situations. And, luckily, the work we should be doing—making art—is the best possible distraction from the competitive envy we find so difficult to process.

Painting with meaning

The paintings that catch our eye aren’t necessarily the ones that are perfectly executed.
American Eagle in Drydock, by Carol L. Douglas

While I’ve had an Instagram account for a long time, I’ve only recently understood how it really works. I’m not talking about its mechanics, but the algorithms that drive it. It has the power to be a massive dipping net. When you use it as a tool instead of passively looking at what it throws up at you, you see a lot of art outside your own little puddle. That exposes you to style and content you wouldn’t otherwise see. It’s all at thumbnail size, so the work must compel you instantly, just as your own slides must compel a juror’s.

Obviously, high chroma wins over subtle color every time. To imagine otherwise is to think that a fruit compote could be savored by a person who is stuffed full of Christmas cookies. Some of the qualities of painting that we traditionally admire—finish and modeling, for example—seem irrelevant, even counter-productive. Such paintings can seem academic and dull on Instagram, whereas they’re the ones that would look the best in real life. The exception is composition; it’s more, rather than less, important at such a tiny scale.
Dyce Head Light, by Carol L. Douglas
Instagram is chaotic. A painting by a complete duffer will appear in your feed after something by a well-known contemporary artist. The well-known artist will have more followers, increasing his chances of being seen. But if the duffer uses hashtags properly and you’re looking for paintings of his specialty, you’ll find his work.
That’s why I’m suddenly wasting all my free time on Instagram. A whole world of painters who will never be represented in New York galleries are there, painting their hearts out. I want to see what they’re doing. I want to understand my reaction to their work.
Jonathan Submarining, by Carol L. Douglas
What moves me, overwhelmingly, is content.
I recently saw a painting of a small house decked out in Christmas lights. It wasn’t a brilliant painting, but it was accurate enough that I could see my own life reflected in it. It was a portrait of coziness and contentment. It has been on my mind all week.
Emotional content doesn’t come easily to me. It’s possible that I’ve trained it right out through my fingers. When we do plein air events in unfamiliar places, we’re not expressing anything about purpose or meaning. All we can do is paint beauty.
Fish Beach, by Carol L. Douglas
Yesterday, I confused the suffixes amity and amor in writing. At 2 AM, I was awake and restless and beating myself up about it, as we like to do during bouts of insomnia. I’d been writing about domestic intimacy, so it was easy enough to slip up between ‘friend’ and ‘lover.’
A different thinker might be able to find concrete images to convey the easy, old relationships within a happy, functioning family. If I ran across that painting on Instagram, it would be the one that would still my hand and echo in my thoughts all day.
Now how do I get some of that for me?

The nuts and bolts of social media: content

Want to write a successful art blog? Be brief, punchy, disciplined and focused.

Barnum Brook, by Carol L. Douglas. (Private collection) Your blog is primarily to promote your brand, so use your own photos when you can.

I used to post whenever I had a new painting or brilliant thought. That’s how most artists post, and it doesn’t work. To succeed, you must commit to writing on a regular basis. Twice a week is the bare minimum. I now blog five days a week, excluding major holidays.

When I tell people this, they sometimes object:
  • I can’t write fast enough to do that;
  • I don’t want the internet taking over my life;
  • That sounds like too much work.

This blog takes me 90 minutes a day. I do it before I get out of bed. Unless I’m doing bookkeeping or marketing, I seldom open my laptop again for the rest of the day.
I can only do that because I keep a list of future topics on my laptop. I almost always go to bed at night knowing what the subject will be the next day.
A blog post should tell a story. Consider this postabout Crista Pisano’s dead battery. Not much happened in absolute terms, but it ended up being a powerful story about women helping each other.
If you’re literate, you can blog. But some people hate to write. They should consider Instagram instead. My Instagram feed is the back story to my paintings. I use it to post the funny or charming things that happen on the way to a painting.
Be brief. Today more than half my readers read my blog on their phones, rather than on a computer. Brevity and punch are more important than ever before. If you have a lot to say on a subject, as I do here, write it over multiple days.
The most important part of the post is the headline and the tagline that follows it. I write these after the post is finished. Use important keywords here, because this is what search engines will see.
I try to cover the basics of a story as taught by my high-school journalism teacher: who, what, why, where, when and how. But other elements of ‘good’ writing go by the wayside—there’s no introductory paragraph and no closing paragraph.
After I’ve written my post, I edit viciously to bring it in under 600 words.
You’re using your blog to promote your own brand. This is a great opportunity to use your own photos. Even so, if your work is in a gallery, be sure to link to it in the caption.
Below Ottawa House, by Carol L. Douglas, courtesy Kelpie Gallery.
If you’re using another person’s photo, obtain their consent in advance and credit them for the picture. Do not, under any circumstances, use uncredited images from the internet. That violates copyright law.
You can use work in the public domain, including artwork owned by museums who make that work available to the public. However, even if a painting is exempt from copyright law, the photo of the painting may be owned by someone. Wikipedia gives instructions for crediting pictures. In the case of a museum, credit the organization.
The Fair Use exemption allows reproduction to comment upon, criticize, or parody a copyrighted work. I use photos of others’ work under this exemption when I write about art history or contemporary art. Go carefully; Jeff Koons has gotten in trouble repeatedly for stomping on others’ copyright. Consult an intellectual-property lawyer if you have questions.
Several people at Maine International Conference on the Arts (MICA) asked me for more detailed information on marketing on social media. This is part two of a series on the subject. 

Part three: Getting readers

Feel free to comment or ask me questions, below.

The nuts and bolts of social media: what platform is best for you?

The internet is a powerful tool for artists, offering free or inexpensive direct and indirect marketing. Learn to use it.
Ocean Park Beach, by Carol L. Douglas, available through Ocean Park Association. Put your strongest visual image first.
I’m no marketing guru; I just developed this blog by the seat of my pants. I learned along the way, and you can, too.
Indirect marketinggrows awareness of you as an artist. It comes in the form of news stories, the paintings you donate to non-profit auctions, word of mouth, referrals, reviews and First Friday walkabouts.
Direct marketing is when you ask clients to buy a painting from you directly. That can take the form of an online store, a booth at an art fair, newsletters showing off your paintings, or paid advertisements.
Brand awareness is how much your name and work are recognized by potential collectors. The whole goal of indirect marketing is to increase brand awareness. The better-known you are, the more paintings you’ll sell.

Sunrise, by Carol L. Douglas, available through the Kelpie Gallery. Use your blog to steer your readers toward your galleries or stores.

All artists need both indirect and direct marketing channels, and it helps to be clear about what yours are. For example, my direct marketing happens through plein air painting events, my targeted mailing list, and the Plein Air Store. My indirect marketing is through this blog, public appearances, and Instagram.
Rocks, by Carol L. Douglas. Available through Camden Falls Gallery. Using your own artwork also avoids copyright issues.
Developing brand awareness is most important when you first enter the marketplace. Of course, that’s when you can least afford it. Luckily, at this juncture, there are powerful online tools you can use for free. Here are the ones 2D artists use most:
  • Blog: best for indirect marketing.
  • Instagram: for indirect and direct marketing.
  • Targeted mailing list: useful for direct marketing.
  • Facebook business page: good for indirect marketing to an older audience.
  • Google business posting: useful if you have a physical studio or gallery you want to direct traffic to.
  • Website: can be commerce enabled (direct marketing), but, as Alex Serra remarked at MICA, websites are fast becoming the online equivalent of business cards.
  • Other free listings. Maine State Tourism offers studio and gallery listings, for example; your arts council or state tourism board may as well.

What direct and indirect marketing channels are you using now? What other ones would you like to explore?

Above is an image of my blog. It is very simple in design, and hasn’t been changed since I moved it back to Blogger in 2016. To me, the art, not the design, is the most important thing. Here are the important features:

  • There is a text ad for my workshops directly below the masthead. This runs 365 days a year and links to my website.
  • Below the headline is a tag line, which is simple search engine optimization (SEO). I just treat the first 25 words as if they were an ad for the whole post. I’m not into mindless click bait, but I do try to ensure that words my readers care about are there.
  • My most compelling picture goes first. Reposters like Facebook automatically run that photo.
  • There’s almost always a link to another of my blog posts in the copy. This increases readership and is important for SEO.
  • There’s an ad at the right and at the bottom. This is the only revenue-generation I do on my blog. I do not sell endorsements or links.
  • Five days a week, I write 400-600 words of fresh copy.

Several people at Maine International Conference on the Arts (MICA) asked me for more detailed information on marketing on social media. That’s my subject for the next few days. 

Part three: Getting readers

Feel free to comment or ask me questions, below.

And, for those who wonder, my medical tests yesterday went great. I’m cancer-free for another year.

How to get into a gallery

It’s just like a job search.
Yes, gallery representation is an attainable goal.

“I guess I really don’t know how to get gallery representation,” an experienced artist told me. “I tried a couple times, unsuccessfully.” As with a job search, you have to try many times before you get there.

There are no shortcuts.
Make sure your website is up-to-date. It should include your newest work, dimensions, media, and, optionally, prices. A neat, easily-navigated portfolio of photographic images, including current curriculum vitae (CV), is good to have in reserve, but don’t plan on taking it around and sticking it in gallerists’ faces. Instead, introduce yourself, hand the gallerist your card, and follow up with an email.
Don’t assume you have to talk to the top dog. A good gallerist trusts his or her assistants’ judgment.
Do your research. If you’re mass-mailing enquiries, you’re doing it all wrong. At a minimum, you should have visited all the galleries in an area before you approach even one.
Don’t approach a top gallery if you’re an emerging artist. It’s a waste of time. Be sure you like the galleries you approach. While there are often vast differences in style, there are always commonalities, too. Visualize your work on their walls. Are you a good fit?
When you write, direct gallerists to an online portfolio—either your website or one you made especially for them. Always include a current curriculum vitae (CV). Ask the gallerist to review your work against their future needs. Talk about your experience and why you think you’re a good fit. And remember—there are lots of candidates out there. Rejection may have nothing to do with your skills; the gallery may simply be overloaded.
Doing this event in Camden Harbor started my relationship with Camden Falls Gallery. (Photo courtesy Howard Gallagher)
No stealth visits
When I’m scoping out galleries, I make it clear that I’m an artist, not a buyer. I don’t ask to show my work at that visit; I give them a card and follow up with an email if I’m interested.
Misrepresenting yourself is a terrible way to start a new relationship. Many of my best conversations with gallerists have been because I’m an artist.
Respect their time
Never stop to chat when they’re changing their show. They won’t appreciate the interruption. Likewise, don’t interrupt a potential sale, ever. If they say they review portfolios at a specific time, respect that.
Historic Fort Point, by Carol L. Douglas. This painting at another event started my relationship with the Kelpie Gallery.
Maintain your image on social media
You love Facebook; gallerists do too. Be professional, up-to-date, and informative, and don’t include information that will shoot you in the foot.
Reverse engineer resumes
Identify a few regional artists whose careers you admire. Their CVs are usually on their websites. You can track their progress from local shows to important galleries. This will give you ideas on what paths to follow.
A Little Bit of Everything, by Carol L. Douglas, oil on canvasboard, long since sold.
Choose a smart path in
Almost every gallery invitation I’ve received has been the result of an event I did in that community. Gallery owners pay attention to them, especially when they organized the event. If the gallery you’re interested in hosts group shows, apply to them.
I (almost) never turn down an opportunity to show my work, but I know the difference between my local farm and a university gallery. Not every venue is a resume builder.
The studio visit
Should you be lucky enough to net a studio visit, be neat, clean and organized. This is your workspace, and it shouldn’t look like a party house or boudoir. Don’t expect miracles, and don’t try to push the gallerist into taking work he or she doesn’t like.
And, above all, be nice.

So you want to be an internet star

A good online presence is focused, consistent and interesting—just like you.

Rising tide at Wadsworth Cove, by Carol L. Douglas. I selected my top Google search images for today’s blog. Seemed appropriate.

This week I’m packing for a residency at the Joseph A. Fiore Art Center. I’ll be a hermit until October 1. There will be two exceptions. The first, of course, is this blog. It runs daily except weekends and holidays, except when I’m out on the ocean. There’s no phone signal out there.

I’ll also be a panel participant in the Maine Arts Commission’s Maine International Conference on the Arts. I’ll be discussing Using Technology to Document & Promote Your Work on Friday, September 28 at 2 PM.
My success on the internet has been seat-of-the-pants. I’ve never taken a class, and whenever I start looking at online marketing courses, I get lost in the jargon. Still, this blog is a success, so I’m using this panel discussion as an opportunity to think through why it works.
A FitzHugh Lane Day at Camden, by Carol L. Douglas
Be consistent
People often ask me how to get started with a blog. My answer is that, whatever they choose to do, they should commit to doing every day. For me, that’s a strict discipline. I get up at 6 AM, write for 90 minutes, publish, and then go on to live my day.
I blogged for years, randomly, as most artists do, posting whenever I had a new piece of work or a brilliant idea. I had absolutely no traction. Then I noticed something about the internet: stirring the pot attracts people, and it has an exponential effect. The more that’s going on, the more people tend to read it.
Offer real content
If you’re looking only for a way to promote your paintings, Instagram is probably a better platform. A blog requires 400-600 words of carefully crafted content every day. It needs meat on its bones.
That isn’t as tough as it sounds. Everybody has interesting experiences, and we tell each other these stories all the time. All that really happened in this postwas that my pal got a flat tire, but the circumstances made me smile. Judging by the hits, it made a lot of you smile, too.
Parker Dinghy, by Carol L. Douglas
Find your own niche
I didn’t set out to write an award-winning blog; I set out to get rid of all the thoughts rolling around my head.
Nobody has the time to do everything, and a pallid, overstretched presence will do you more harm than good. Concentrate on what you like to do, and you’re probably doing what you do best.
Let your technology do the metrics for you
I don’t chart my progress, but I regularly check where my readers come from, both geographically and by platformsand traffic sources. I use this information to get the biggest bang out of my effort. I used to post on Tumblr; it was pointless and too much work. I’ve recently added Google Business to my daily posting, even though its numbers are small. It’s easy to do, and it promotes my physical studio.
Bathtime, by Carol L. Douglas. I don’t set out to sell paintings on my blog, but this one was purchased from a post. The buyer has become a friend.
Be patient
When I started Monday Morning Art School, I thought it was a bang-up idea. It went nowhere. I was just trying to figure out how to pull the plug when I noticed readership rising. Today, Monday is my top readership day.
The dreaded “you should”
If someone else isn’t telling me I should do something more, I’m telling myself that. They’re usually great ideas, but I also want time to paint. I keep a document on my laptop of all these “you should” ideas. I refer to this more than any other document except my packing list.