Keeping it Local
If you live in Rotherfield, East Sussex, you hopefully get the monthly parish magazine, which provides a plethera of information for the local community and includes some interesting articles and village news. This month, you may have noticed a nice little piece about me and my art, along with my elephant drawing 'Watoto'.
I was asked by the Editor, who I happen to know personally (in Rotherfield, it's difficult not to know everyone personally!), for a picture to fill some space and perhaps accompany a poem if she could find one that fits. So I sent her a few to see if they would be any good. When visiting my parents in Rotherfield yesterday, low and behold the magazine shot through the letter box, so I flicked through the pages wondering which of my pictures, if any, she'd used. I was pleasantly surprised to see a whole page dedicated to me and even more pleasantly surprised when the client for my current commission emailed me to tell me how impressed they were to see it!
There is an old expression "It's not what you know, it's who you know". When used, this can be seen as a very negative thing, like its a cheats way to get on in the world and climb to success. However, in the world of art, it is not necessarily the case. In fact, in any business it could actually have a positive undertone to it.
In my former life as a legal secretary/lawyer, I saw both sides of the coin in practice. I worked for a law firm where client contact was only by phone or email, never face to face. The clients were frustrated, tended to shout and were very dissatisfied a lot of time and repeat business what almost non existant. Whereas, the firm that prided themselves on face to face contact with clients had a much better rapor with them, less complaints and more repeat business.
If we relate this to art, focussing on the local area first helps to build your reputation and promote what you do. In fact, I started with my family. I did several drawings for my parents, who in turn had friends over who noticed my work. I did commissions for friends who saw what I was up to on my personal facebook page and then I branched out to my sons school and then the wider community.
Being a portrait artist, it is vitally important to build a good rapor with your client. Meeting them face to face, or their pet/child also enables you to personally discover the character of who they want you to draw and will add a new dimension to the portrait, that will be very personal to the client.
The financial up side of keeping it local, which, as a penniless artist, is always an advantage, is that there are little, if any advertising costs. At the most you'd pay for a stall at the local vintage and craft fair.
Being able to see the original art, or even you at work also helps potential customers have confidence and respect for what you do, which in turn, means they will be prepared to pay the right price for your skill.
And lets not forget, local people don't necessarily only know local people (sorry, that sounds a bit 'League of Gentlemen'). Because of my local contacts, I've done work for people in London, and will be about to start a commission for someone in Jersey. If you do a good job for the locals, they will spread a good word to their friends and it will just snowball.
Don't get me wrong, there is a place for things like Etsy, but keep it local and you can get a better price, a better reputation, repeat business AND you get to see your client's reaction when you hand them that little piece of unique art that's only theirs, and that is priceless.