“Why All Paintings Don’t Grow Up to be Prints”, or “Self-Preservation in the Age of Be-Backs”


I’m hearing a lot of grousing about why I don’t make prints of every painting that I do, and I’d like to explain my reasons.

I sell my work at festivals around the country and online. Originals start around $300 and go into the stratosphere from there, while prints average about $50 each. It used to be that I’d make a new lithograph if I’d really put my heart into the painting, thinking that if I’d spent so much time loving it, other people would, too.

Not the case. I learned the hard (and expensive) way that my tastes and those of the buying public don’t always coincide.

I use an online fan page to determine which new paintings have the biggest audience for a potential print run. When the clamoring grows loud enough, the painting is digitally shot, which is about $75. Then, off to color correct the image to the original so the colors between the screen, the original, and the press jibe – $85/hour (averaging 3 hours/image). Then paper selection, figuring out other pieces to gang up on the press, rinse, repeat.

Every time I make new lithographs, I’m investing at least a thousand dollars. Yay credit cards! (I won’t even go into everything that happens AFTER a piece has been printed, and what it takes to get an artist’s work out into the world – I wrote a whole BOOK about that.)

And then, that piece that everyone wanted? That I got emailed and messaged and called about? That racked up 143 “likes” on Facebook? That provoked so many buried memories from all who saw it? That made that one chick burst into tears?

Two sell.

And I’m on the hook for the rest of them.

A discomforting disconnect has emerged from the ensconced safety of our screens. We comparative shop with the best of the bots. We rarely, if ever, see the salespeople, let alone the maker of our purchase. Storefronts have become streaming lists of ones & zeros, and the human interaction is removed from the equation.

Many of us like it this way. If I need a new coil of rope light, I don’t want to deal with rush hour traffic and a bored employee to get it. I just want to hop on Amazon.

But there is a difference when we deal directly with the person who has MADE the thing. Or does the performance. Or is having a party. I’ve written elsewhere about the blessing/curse that is the intertubz, but a disturbing new trend is emerging, once again fueled by the facelessness that is the online world.

If you and I were sitting in a coffee shop, and I told you I was having a party in a week, and you said, OH BOY I’M SO COMING!! WHAT CAN I BRING, chances are pretty good that you’re gonna show up to my party.

Enter Evite & Facebook Events. How many art shows/musical events/birthday parties/dinners have you “joined”, with little intention of actually showing up? Clicking is easy, right?

But saying you’re joining an event is not the same as “liking” a post. Someone may be making food. Buying booze for coquetailes. Renting a theatre. Hiring additional help. And it’s all based on those RSVPs which have become more and more suspect.

I live in New Orleans, which means being bombarded with requests to stay at my place for Mardi Gras. (We’d better be really tight if you ask to stay for Mardi Gras, and be good riding a bicycle, cuz I ain’t driving you.) I’ve been forced to tell old friends that I don’t believe them til I see a receipt for their flight. Because people talk big, tell me they’re coming, and then just don’t show up.

I think it’s a combo of the be-back mentality (“Be-backs” are what we who sell directly to the public call uncommitted shoppers, as in, “I really like your art…I’m gonna look around and be back…”) plus internet anominity that allows us to say anything with impunity. Maybe it’s just that our integrity has gone to shit. Whatever it is, my business model has gotten caught in the middle.

I’ve always been a stickler for honesty. If I SAY I will do something, you can take that to the bank. I like being a person who can be counted on. And I’d love to see a reversal in this trend, so I put forth a challenge:

If you see an event, and you think you might go, pull out your calendar. Talk to your significant other. Make a decision. And if that decision is “yes”, and only then, click “attend”. Then SHOW UP.

If your child asks to go to a movie, and you say “yes”, look at your schedule. Figure out a time. Put it on the calendar. Then GO.

If your friend has written a book, and you think the idea is great, and your friend actually manages to get it published, BUY IT.

If there’s an artist whose work you love, and you write OHMIGODMAKEPRINTSOFTHAT, and the artist does, GET IT.

And at the very least, if you love something, link to it. Get your friends excited about it. Boost the signal. Reward the ones that have the stones to put it out there, to make something, to make something HAPPEN.

Our words are the only thing we have. Make them count.


Online Marketing & Promotion Thoughts

I’m an artist and author who’s made a living selling my work for over ten years. I’ve learned a lot about talking to people both in person and online, and since I’m a BIG fan of sharing knowledge, I’ve written a by-no-means-all-inclusive piece about getting the word out to your clientele. A caveat: this will skew towards creative folks, cuz that’s what I do, and what I know.

So, you’re finally running (or are ramping up to run) your own business. I’ll assume that you have the basics down: a product line, a website, a pronounceable business name. How the hell do you get the word out? Where do you find your rabid customer base? Isn’t it enough that you have cool stuff to sell and the world should be stampeding your door like Black Friday Walmart shoppers?

Sorry. No. Unless you’re selling water in the middle of the desert, you’re gonna hafta do some legwork to find the people who love you. And the easiest, least expensive place to start is online.

There are many outlets to promote what you do: blogs, social networking sites, video, Amazon author pages, write-ups on aggregate hubs, but let’s start with Facebook.

Yes there are others, but this is the main one I use, and If you’re a business owner (and artists, performers, authors and musicians are business owners, too), and you’re NOT using it, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. It’s free, everyone’s on it, it’s integrated, and once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. No, Facebook is not a perfect world. For example, they have the rights to the images you post, but plaster everything with a big watermark (we’ll get to that later) and chalk it up as the cost of doing business. Let’s start with:

Make a Page. If all goes well, there are going to be people who love what you make or do, and you will have NO idea who they are. You may not want to open your private life (ie, your personal profile) to everybody who’s ever perused your wares. A Page allows people to jump on board without you even knowing. They can also jump off just as easily, so make staying worth their while. A Page reminds you that this is for your company, so it may give you pause as to what you put on there. Which leads me to:

Nobody gives a damn what you had for lunch. Unless you’re a chef, or you’re teaching a cooking show, or it’s somehow relevant to your business, no one cares. Save the music videos, song lyrics, and baby pictures for your personal page.

Nobody wants to be spammed non-stop. If people have “liked” your Page, great! That’s a privilege, not a right – treat it accordingly. It’s fine to show what you have to offer, but what sells it is the backstory, your enthusiasm about what you, do, and why people should want it.

If you own a clothing business, talk about the jasmine drink given to you by the ancient crone who sold you the silk fabric while you were on a shopping trip in Thailand, THAT’S something to get behind. People want to be entertained. As an artist, I’ve discovered people love the stories BEHIND my work (literally behind it – I insert the inspirations behind the piece into the bag & board in which it’s packaged.) The stories give a point of commonality between your patron/client/customer. If all you say is #buy my shit, no one cares, and they tune you out.

Be consistent and engaging in your posts. If I like a Page, but it’s only updated every six months, I’m gonna get bored & hop off. Engage your audience. Photograph the sculpture as you work on it, get them involved in the process, and eager to see more. Talk about what gets you excited about your new performance. Tease them. Link to cool things that are tangentially related to your business that you think they’ll enjoy. Don’t go overboard, or you’ll never get any work done. You’ll figure out the right amount posting based off of the new fans you get, and how many of them actively engage with you. FaceBook has metrics to track this. The REALLY good stuff gets shared, and this can lead to new fans of your work. Which leads to:

Watermark your work with your website. You never know where your images are gonna turn up. They might get shared, Pinterest-ed, yanked as wallpaper, or used to illustrate someone’s blog. (All of this has happened to me.) You may or may not get asked for permission. Embedding a watermark at least shows that it’s yours, and can drive traffic back to your site from the weirdest of places. There is an app (cost me a buck) called “Text on Photo”, and it’s allowed me to bypass Photoshop. Now I can shoot a new painting, import it into the app, slap my watermark on it, and send it out to the ether, all from my phone.

Images beat words. And images with words on them get shared the most. You know that what you’re doing is working when people go from liking a post, to commenting on it, to sharing it. When the conversation ceases being about YOU, and goes to being about what you DO, that’s the best. Remember though, that if you write something in text, and attach an image, and that image gets shared, the text doesn’t necessarily get shared along with it. If you want your words to go with your image, embed them ON the image.

Write like a grown-up. If your update sounds like a Ritalin-free tween typed it with her thumbs, stop it. Read your work aloud. Does it sound like you? Does the voice represent your business? Would you want to talk to the person who wrote it? Does it sound trustworthy?

Trust is a big deal. There are so many visual clues that we just don’t have when gaging another human online. For your business to grow, you have to be ON it. Respond to questions in a timely, polite fashion. Be friendlier than you might be in person to make up for the lack of eye contact and body language. Be exquisitely professional.

Keep it positive. Save your bitching, whining, trolling & snark for your personal page. Better yet, keep it offline. It’s a timesuck, you never know who’s reading, and the internet is forever. Do you really want to lose customers over a Dr. Who flamewar? Instead, focus on what you do, what brings you joy, what gets you juiced about your business.

You can talk about some of the challenges with running your business (again, that cool backstory stuff), but it’s a delicate balance. Think about what YOU’D like to know about someone who does what you do. Start there. And make sure that anything confidential with a client stays that way.

Cross-post with complementary businesses. Cultivate people in your life who are doing work they’re excited about. See if they’d be cool swapping links, or saying something nice about your product. If you like their stuff, and they like yours, chances are there will be fans of your product in common.

All this does take some practice, and if you’re not willing to learn, hire someone to do it. But, you got into what you’re doing because you’re passionate about it, it excites you, the details make your heart sing. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious, and no one will be able to promote your business quite the way you can. Your online presence, ideally, is a love letter to why you got into what you’re doing in the first place.

Finally, this is not a complete list, there are exceptions to every rule. If you’ve got advice to add, please do so in the comments. I’m almost always up for learning something new!

(There’s lots more info like this, along with full color paintings and kinky clown stories in my book, or you can see a mess of my artwork here. Finally, this is my Facebook Page.)

Hello, WordPress-iverse!

I figured it was time to insulate myself in case the worst happens with my beloved LiveJournal.

I’ve been recording lots of stuff there for about seven (!) years, from writing my book to traveling cross-country selling my art at kinky shows & renaissance festivals to rebuilding a flooded house post-Katrina.

I haven’t been bored.  Hopefully, you won’t be either.

Until I get the hang of this interface, you can catch up with me at http://marrus.livejournal.com, or you can see my paintings at http://www.marrusart.com.  The book should be out soon, soon, soon.

And that’s more than enough of me for now, don’tcha think?