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What is a self representing Artist? one with an entrepreneur attitude.

In the world of art, there are essentially two kinds of Artists; self-representing and gallery or dealer represented. So what is a self-representing artist? Quite simply, self-representing artist means time spent on the art making is equal to time spent “on the business”.  A challenging juggling act for many artists, moving between artist brain and salesperson brain. I’m constantly thinking about where I can take my business and how I will get there. I am also continuously thinking about what I want to paint next, often times with a series of already painted works sitting in my frontal lobe waiting for excavation. Shifting between Artist brain and art sales brain, requires rigorous dedication and a tireless focus. That’s not to say I don’t get tired, or take a pause from my work, it means I am fully consumed by my work.

what is a self representing artist

Inside the studio of Canadian artist Brandy Saturley

In every Art there are purists, those that hold fast to tradition and structure. When I began moving forward with my art, in a professional sense, I sought out the experienced, the Icons and the elders in the field of Canadian Art. Mentorship, connection and validation is what I was seeking, and I found it and learned much from these relationships. I met a lot of Artists and Gallery Owners who had established rules and guidelines for how Artists should be and what they needed to do to be successful. I found so many rigid structures within the Art business and amongst artists here in Canada, I moved from group to group learning about what made their way ‘better’. In the end what I discovered is I did not fit into any group or way of being, I was building my own path based on the knowledge I was gaining along the way. For me, rigid structures go against everything that Art represents, which is the freedom to paint the world the way I see it. There are many misconceptions out there about what makes an artist or art good or even valuable, more so in Canada.

So, lets tackle a few of these misconceptions about self-representing artists;

Self-representing artists aren’t good enough to be in a gallery.

WRONG: being represented by a commercial gallery in Canada does not mean the artist is any more skilled at making Art, it does mean that the artist follows and falls within a structure set by an association of dealers across Canada.

Artists should focus on making Art and not on business, they should focus on their expertise.

BOTH RIGHT AND WRONG: some artists are good at both, it comes down to experience, alternate skill-sets and enjoyment – I enjoy learning about both sides of the business and am driven by both aspects, the convergence of artist/entrepreneur, this is what invigorates my work.

Self-representing artists charge less, because their work is less valuable.

WRONG: as a starting point, artists should look at their market and price their art within the market. As the artist develops and expands their market, their prices are determined by market demand and a variety of others variables including press coverage, artist reach, recognition, cost of living, and fame.

Self-representing artists should concentrate on selling Art in their local market.

RIGHT and WRONG: for me, the focus from day one has always been to sell my art nationally and internationally. Since day one I have always been looking towards my end goal. I also focus on selling my art where it is loved and where people most respond to the work. I have established a fair bit of latitude with my Art, in that I don’t just focus on painting one thing. While I have branded myself as the ‘Voice of Canadian Pop Art’ and the ‘Iconic Canuck’ and am known for paintings influenced by the iconography of Canada, I am not hyper-focused on any one subject. For example, while I have painted ‘hockey goal tender masks’ that is not all I paint. This is my approach. Another approach may only be focusing on local and painting local scenes, which quickly establishes a local market for an artist. I think the biggest key in deciding what you can manage as a self-representing artist, is important. I have big audacious thoughts and dreams, I like to go big, which means if the idea doesn’t work, I fall hard. But I like the challenge. I remember going to an artist talk in Vancouver by Takashi Murakami, prior to the launch of his solo exhibition tour for ‘The Octopus Eats His Own Leg‘. He gave a masterclass of epic proportions of the challenges and pitfalls of self-representation and artist as entrepreneur. It helped me figure out where I wanted to land within the Art market.

One of the greatest challenges for a self-representing artist is finding buyers.

RIGHT: Unlike a gallery, where the buyers come to find art, a self-representing artist typically has to go to the buyers. No two sales are the same, and every sale must be approached differently. I have had collectors come to me from a myriad of ways, on and offline. Roughly 2% of my sales come from social media, the rest come from a combination of finding buyers, working with my suppliers, connecting with artists in other fields and with different skill-sets, and working my network of collectors. This year I am putting more focused time into developing my website and online sales than I have in the past 13 years. Certainly spurred on by COVID, but also because I am not on the road as much and therefore the focus on the business side has become even more concentrated. Thankfully all the travel and in person connecting of years past, is paying dividends in this time of isolation.

a self representing artist at work

Brandy Saturley at opening of ‘Canadianisms’ in 2017 – Okotoks Art Gallery

So, this is what a self-representing artist is, one who works full-time at the career of Artist. While Art comes from a purely creative, abstract and fluid part of the brain, it’s wiring is similar in many ways to that of an entrepreneur, and it is a PROFESSION. I have always enjoyed this quote from a favorite portrait artist from NYC by the name of Chuck Close, “The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself.”

Back to work!

 

Sincerely Yours,

Brandy Saturley

buying art online

Is it better to buy art from a gallery or directly from the artist?

Over the past two decades, I have spent a considerable amount of time setting myself up as an independent self-representing artist. I would argue that I have done more homework and legwork than most dealers or advisers do in their entire careers. The reasoning behind this was wanting to understand the industry in which I was creating product for, though art is more than product, it is a very special one of a kind creation and the industry that sells and promotes art, must be understood in order to decide whether or not I needed a dealer to represent my work.

Perhaps my curiosity came from my work experience of the past years, you know the work you do full-time to pay the bills while you are making art in your downtime and trying to find ways to integrate creativity into your ‘job’ so that you can survive the 9-5 world. I worked in many industries and had many job titles before I found a way to make art full-time and not starve. I worked in sales and communications positions in the industries of; film & TV, interior design, Internet (web design and website hosting), trade shows, publishing (print and online), to name a few. These jobs helped pay my bills, but more importantly they gave me so much relevant experience that I never knew I would need, and they keep on paying dividends. I am currently heading into my 13th year as a full-time self-representing artist.

What I have learned about private and commercial art galleries and the ‘art business’ in Canada is, they care very little about artists. I know, I am shooting myself in the foot to a degree in stating this on the world wide web, but it is painfully true and most artists are too afraid to talk about it on a public forum, let alone in private conversation.

I have spent time talking to artists, gallery owners, dealers and agents over the past two decades. I have spent time visiting public, private, artist-run and self-representing artists studios and I have learned a great deal about the state of the art business in Canada.

art gallery buying artThe truth about gallery representation:

  1. most artists with gallery representation in Canada sell less than $14,000 per year in art, and the gallery takes 50% of that
  2. many galleries prefer to deal with art agents – agents typically take 90% from the artist
  3. most galleries consign the artwork, meaning the artist does not get paid until the work sells and 90% of the time the artist waits up to a year to get paid for a sale, and sometimes not at all
  4. galleries prefer not to compete with the artist, meaning if you are represented by a gallery, the gallery does not want you selling or promoting your work on the side – many artists hide the fact they are selling or taking commissions on the side from their galleries
  5. some galleries require exclusivity, meaning you can only sell through them and no other galleries
  6. galleries sell/trade work with other galleries, meaning the dealer who sells a work to another gallery takes a commission on the sale
  7. most galleries close their doors within the first two years after they have reached saturation point – you can only sell so many paintings to your friends
  8. many galleries represent the work of friends, colleagues, art collectors family members
  9. while a gallery may have a roster of 40 artists, you will rarely see most of their work on the gallery walls or being promoted – they show and promote what sells
  10. most galleries do not want to invest time in promoting or growing an individual artists career, they prefer an art agent handles these tasks, which costs the artist

So, let’s look at a piece of art being sold at a gallery;

An original painting by Jane Doe, a contemporary Canadian painter known in her local market of Vancouver. Price of the painting is $5000.00 and it is being sold at the biggest gallery on South Granville. Maybe Jane has five paintings for sale with this dealer. If Jane doesn’t have an agent, or her work is not in demand, the paintings are likely being stored in the backroom. The paintings have been there since January. One painting sells in May, and another painting gets loaned to a collector for a dinner party in their home. In August, the gallery calls Jane and tells her a painting sold and Jane gets paid 50% of the sale price three months after her painting sold. How fantastic for Jane.

Canadian artist Brandy Saturley in her art studioNow let’s look at things from Jane’s perspective;

Jane painted five paintings, this took her 3 months. Jane spent countless hours prior to painting these pieces photographing, sketching and developing the back work, the framework for what would result in five paintings. Jane bought canvas, paint, wire, frames, etc. Jane delivered the paintings to the gallery. So for about two years of work Jane just made $2500. If Jane is bound by exclusivity to this one gallery, her life sucks. If Jane has an art agent and has to give 90% to her agent, life REALLY sucks. Jane is starving.

So let’s look at things from the galleries perspective;

  1. overhead: brick and mortar business means rent, insurance, hydro, staffing, art opening with wine and food, invitations, promotion – but the solo show was for another artist, not Jane
  2. no time to promote Jane, gallery is trying to keep up with the day to day
  3. gallery sometimes relies on volunteers to help at openings and during some open hours
  4. gallery is not motivated to do any extra work that does not bring in money
  5. most galleries in Canada are single person owned and run – they can barley keep their heads above water

So what if Jane represents herself? Assuming Jane has some business skills or ambition down this path and she is able to do this full-time

  1. Jane works out of her home based studio, so no overhead etc.
  2. Jane makes the art, photographs the art, promotes the art, creates opportunities to show and sell the art, builds a clientele, builds a mailing list, writes a newsletter, manages her clients, answers the emails, engages on and offline, shows the work, writes the proposals to venues and corporate clients, writes a blog, handles the shipping, invoicing and AR, handles the bookkeeping, maintains her website
  3. when Jane sells a painting she keeps the whole sale
  4. Jane is not limited by exclusivity and is pretty free to manage her business however she pleases, though she keeps her pricing in line with the gallery system and is a member of CARFAC Canadian Artists Representation who believe that artists, like professionals in other fields, should be paid for their work and share equitably in profits from their work.
  5. Jane takes on some art related jobs on the side to supplement income and stay connected to the arts community at large through writing for arts-related websites and for other arts professionals
  6. As a self-representing artist Jane makes more than double the average income of gallery represented artistsartist as entrepreneur Brandy Saturley Carfac Alberta
  7. Jane is not starving

Does Gallery Representation legitimize the artist and their work? Will gallery representation ensure the legacy of the artist or level of fame achieved?

Simply put, NO. (from a well known Canadian art dealer)

When a self representing artist creates enough demand in the market – legitimacy and historical importance will be reached and the galleries and auction houses will get in line. Hopefully before they die, and thanks to the Internet and global reach, there is more opportunity than ever.

Are there caveats to buying directly from an artist?

Absolutely. Many artists are not good at handling the business side of art, artists that like to eat and make a living from their art will answer your calls and emails in a timely manner.

My point in writing this blog post was to open the eyes of art lovers and collectors. I don’t know any other business where you don’t have to buy the product you are going to mark-up and sell in your store. I don’t know of any other business where you can get away with not paying your supplier for months at a time and sometimes not at all.

Not all art galleries and art dealers  are created equal. If you love art and you love artists and truly want to help support and preserve their work, think about buying from them directly. Visit and support the museums that preserve the work, visit the artist-run centers and arts collective galleries. Don’t be afraid to buy direct and buy online. Ask the questions and most importantly, collect original art.

Behind The Scenes: Packaging Fine Art

When it comes to shipping artwork, whether it be across town, across the country or shipping artwork overseas; the packaging of artwork is serious business. About a decade ago I invested time in searching out options for protecting and shipping my paintings. There are many options available, from reinforced cardboard shipping boxes to wooden crates and aluminum crates. I found my ideal solution for art shipping in VEVEX Crates. VEVEX makes crates for demanding cargos, and fine art is a specialty of theirs, which is why I confidently call on them anytime I need to ship my work across Canada, the United States or overseas to galleries in London. Last year they celebrated making their 10,000th crate and they have many more to build.

From antique Raven Totem Pole’s being repatriated to Haida Gwaii, monumental photographs by Ian Wall to galleries overseas or The Artwork of Brandy Saturley to galleries in Toronto; these crates are one-of-a-kind custom works themselves designed to protect the fine artworks stored within.

We recently popped into VEVEX crates to visit CEO and head engineer, Rod Russell. We were excited to see two monumental crates being built for an upcoming exhibit of Ian Wall’s photography in galleries in London and Australia. Here are a few photos inside the shop where Brandy Saturley’s art crates are made in Vancouver, BC.

Maximum protection for artwork from penetration, jarring, vibration, crushing, thermal changes and moisture.

Boxes have thick walls and additional framing, making for a very robust box that will stand up to repeating handling, storage and re-use. Providing the maximum in protection for customers that are highly risk-averse, such as fine artists and art museums.

Boxes have bolted lids and can be top loading, side loading and platform loads are accomplished through separate designs. Lids are provided with compression seals. Boxes are sealed with a satin outdoor wood finish, or painted. After receiving my crates, I paint the exterior with The Art of Brandy Saturley branding and logo, including signature colours of white, red, black and gold.

When you buy a painting from The Art of Brandy Saturley, you can feel comfort knowing your precious original piece of Canadian art, will be protected from weather, handling and transfers between couriers. Boxes are lined with 3/4″ thick expanded polystyrene foam. Lids are secured with Unidrive screws, accepting both Philips and Robertson drivers.

CEO and Crate Maker, Rod Russell with client and artist, Brandy Saturley

Next time you find a new painting to collect, rest assured you will receive your artwork safely and securely inside a handsome crate that can be kept to store for future, or can be recycled into many uses. Find a beautiful new artwork to put in that crate, now.

Celebrating 10,000 Art Shipping Crates – Congratulations to VEVEX!

It’s not everyday that your receive an invitation to celebrate the creation of 10,000 art shipping crates. This month my art crate maker and supplier of the past decade is turning out their 10,000th crate, a major milestone for a company built from the ingenuity of one man, Rod Russell.

About ten years ago when my business as a full-time visual artist was growing, I began to require a sturdy and reliable way to ship paintings across Canada and into the United States. After some sleuthing I discovered, VEVEX Crates in Vancouver BC. I remember calling around talking to different crate makers and there was something about speaking to Rod.

Rod Russell is a certified journeyman carpenter and managed a general contracting firm in the Northwest Territories. Rod was assistant GM of the first Arctic Winter Games in Yellowknife, and founded Yellowknife’s Folk on the Rocks music festival. In Vancouver, Rod consulted as a software developer, worked as VP Solution Development for eXcape Business Transactions, Inc and led a team developing Canada’s first wireless handheld debit card processors.

Rod is kind, hands-on, and experienced; he was full of information and the price was right so I rolled the dice and gave VEVEX a shot. Over the past decade VEVEX has provided me with a quick turnaround for art crates, making my clients that much more happy with their art purchases. The piece of mind I get, and can pass on to the client, is invaluable. I have seen boot prints on my art crates, had wheels torn off, seen water damage to the exterior wood and had edges cracked and slivered; but through all of this, the artwork has arrived safely to it’s destination and never damaged. Even with the best of art shippers I have seen damage occur, but knowing the artwork is safely contained inside an insulated, lined, cushioned, and waterproof plastic sleeved envelope, puts my mind at ease.

The crates have become so much a part of my work, that I began painting the exteriors and most recently exhibited the crates within my retrospective exhibitions in 2017. The hand painted crates were a hit at my art exhibitions Canadianisms; A Half Decade Inspired by Canada, in both Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. People have come to love the crates and understand how important they are to the complete artist process, as the work does not end with the finishing of a painting, the work lives on and with it the crates that carry the paintings to their final destinations. Art lovers often ask if they can buy the crates and I always tell them, if you buy a painting you may end up with a one of a kind painted art crate. If you have the room to store or display the crate, it could become a valuable addition to your art collection.

Over the years I have seen VEVEX crates pop up in differnet venues both on display and in storage rooms. The VEVEX 10,000 crate history includes patrons from all over Canada including; The Vancouver Art Gallery , The Spirit Wrestler Gallery , Artcraft Display Graphics Inc. ,Michael Nicoll YahgulanaasThe Museum of Anthropology , Erin McSavaneyHarrison Galleries , Monte Clark Gallery , Propellor Design , Sticks + Stones Furniture , and many, many more!

 CONGRATULATIONS! Rod and VEVEX, I am proud to say that I am one of your many patrons and part of your 10,000 crate history! Here’s to the next 10,000 crates.

A few photos of my crates from over the years, created by VEVEX and painted by Brandy Saturley.

Canadian Artist Brandy Saturley on her hand-painted art crates – crates built by VEVEX

 

Hand painted art crates by Brandy Saturley for 2013 #ICONICCANUCK exhibitons – crate maker VEVEX

Front window display – Gallery @501 January 2017 – Brandy Saturley

 

‘Canadianisms’ exhibit at Okotoks Art Gallery July 2017 – Brandy Saturley

Crates bound for Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame 2011 – Brandy Saturley

Shipping artwork to Palm Springs – Brandy Saturley

Shipping artwork to Montreal, Canada – Brandy Saturley

Shipping art to Vancouver, Canada – Brandy Saturley