For some artists making work that sells can be important. Although, how to produce artwork with commercial value is notoriously unclear. Edward Love, from Chief Art Collectors online, has gathered together some marketing tips from art historian Anna Tietze that may help you understand the commercial market more and think about how series are produced or even what palette, or subject matter, is seen as desirable by general art buyers.
How to make the artwork you create more valuable
By Edward Love from Chief Art Collectors online
Success: it’s the elusive goal artists are continually striving for. And yet every artist has experienced the disappointment of work that goes unsold and grappled with the fear that their subject matter simply doesn’t have an audience.
But while there is no magic formula to produce success, there are techniques you can employ to raise your chances of hitting it big. Skill, talent and sheer good luck are the intangibles in the equation, but by following some of the methods outlined below, you’ll have every chance of selling more of your work – and selling it at a better price.
What we can learn from art history
We chatted to art historian Anna Tietze of the University of Cape Town and posed the question: what has sold well historically?
She points to two books for inspiration. The first is by Philip Hook, a senior director at Sotheby’s in London, and is entitled The Ultimate Trophy: How the Impressionist Painting Conquered the World (2009).
Some key takeaways from Hook’s work are as follows:
‘The enduring appeal of Impressionist painting has proved to be its capacity to uplift the spirits of the spectator, its mood-enhancing effect’ — Philip Hook
Ergo, feel-good paintings have traditionally sold better throughout history. That’s not at the exclusion of moodier artists like Francis Bacon, of course, but it’s a consistent – and noteworthy – theme nonetheless.
Look no further than dentists and doctors’ practices around the world, with reproductions of ‘sunlit Monets and Renoirs’.
The second, by Don Thompson, The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (2008) goes even further.
Colours matter. Red does best, followed by white, blue, yellow, green then black. ‘When it comes to Andy Warhol, green moves up [in position]. Green is the color [sic] of money,’ — Don Thompson
Some other findings:
- Bright colours have more appeal than pale colours.
- Horizontal canvases trump vertical canvases.
- ‘Nudity sells more than modesty, and female nudes for much more than male.’
- ‘Figurative works do better than landscapes.’
Thompson ends with:
‘A still life with flowers is worth more than one with fruit, and roses are worth more than chrysanthemums. Calm water adds value (think of Monet’s Water Lilies); rough water brings lower prices (think of maritime pictures). Shipwrecks bring even less.’
Though no painter should feel beholden to these maxims, they’re an interesting reflection on the art market historically.
What to bear in mind when creating the art itself
Timeless flourishes are a must. Grand masters recognised the importance of titling and signing their work and though the world is fully digital now, these are all touches that will tell collectors you’re serious about your craft.
Add a title to the back of the artwork and sign a section of the canvas.
If you’re creating a series of paintings, number each and every one, and stick with a series size. Simply adding extra paintings to the collection will devalue your work, as collectors want to be able to buy an entire collection in one go.
Dates don’t need to be added to the work itself (you run the risk of making work appear outdated) but do keep a record of the month and year the work was created in, as this can be useful to collectors down the line.
Look to employ a signature style. This doesn’t need to be a cynical appeal to taste, but it should reflect what you’re passionate about, and it’s generally something you develop over time. With practice, you’ll be able to work out types of things you like to paint; the style in which you’re going to do it; perhaps the tools you’ll use. Don’t be afraid to experiment with styles that are well-known before making it your own. No work of art is ever truly 100% unique.
New Tools for Self-promotion
As an artist, it’s tempting to take the high ground and to resist self-promotion. But you run the risk of shooting yourself in the foot. The internet has opened up so many avenues to explore, and you can market your work with the minimum of effort.
Create a website:
A portfolio can easily be created using Wix.com or the cheaper but more labour-intensive WordPress. To get a domain in your name, you’ll need to pay a small fee, but if you want to actually sell your work online, the effort is worth it. [Jackson’s Art Sites is a service which provides great websites for artists without the cost and hassle of setting one up, you can find it here.]
Cultivate your portfolio:
If a website is outside your means, at the very least upload a cross section of your work to portfolio websites like Behance, or DeviantArt.
Start a blog:
If you have a website you can use free tools like Keyword Planner, or Google Trends, to investigate trending topics in the art world. Whether you want to blog about David Hockney’s latest record-shattering Portrait of an Artist or profile the billionaire collectors of priceless works, it’s never a bad idea to intercept topics that are trending globally. It only makes your site more likely to appear in search results when people Google these stories, and it’s another way to reach out to a potential audience online (over and above the works you create).
For every success story there’s a long-travelled road that artist has walked, with an unappreciative market, and a series of disappointments along the way. In the end, the most important thing is to keep at it.
Anna Tietze is a senior lecturer at Michaelis School of Fine Art in Cape Town and has successfully published books specifically about South African art history.