I rather enjoy making New Year's resolutions; however, I've come to the conclusion that artists would do better making flexible plans rather than writing goals in stone.
It seems that my business plans are better off being designed around themes rather than specific goals, because when I set up a list of such goals for myself, I rarely meet them. This is not because I'm lazy but because during the year unexpected opportunities or ideas crop up. Some years, new opportunities are so attractive that I end up completely dropping my previous goals and pursuing other paths instead.
This past year provided several examples of such changes. About this time last year I began using social media for business purposes. I had no idea how useful Twitter and Facebook would be to my getting my artwork seen by more people. Additionally, I started writing an e-mail newsletter to collectors—people who have already purchased my artwork or who are interested in doing so. In this newsletter, I post new artwork and add a bit about my painting and thinking process. Newsletter recipients are delighted to be the first to receive new images in their e-mail inboxes, and they often e-mail back with their comments. With all these ways of connecting with my audience, a dialogue has grown, and so have my sales. I have the freedom to offer incentives to my loyal collectors because I'm not bound by a gallery contract.
At this time last year I also had no intentions of accepting portrait commissions, but after having just completed an article on portraiture for Watercolor magazine, I'm now not completely opposed to the idea of taking on a few commissions.
Also at the beginning of last year, I was set on working with a high-profile gallery in New England where I was to be a guest artist for the summers of 2010 and 2011. Today, having sold so well from my website and at a bed-and-breakfast where I am the artist in residence, I am holding off working with galleries. I've come to the conclusion that I can sell my work on my own just as well, or even better, than most galleries can.
It seems that every time I write a long and detailed business plan, I begin to make sales in an unexpected way. So this year, I’ll instead write down themes to follow, rather than specific goals. One of the themes I plan to pursue: doing a series of watercolor paintings of Acadia National Park. A second theme: striving for excellence in my body of work.
How do I make my work better? First, by studying the masters—both deceased and living. I regularly ask myself the following questions: What makes their artwork so compelling? What elements do I see in their work that are missing in mine? When I look at watercolors by William Trost Richards, I ask myself, How does he handle color and value, and how does that compare to how I use color and value? Usually the answer is that I don't even begin to use colors the way he does—repeating them throughout the composition. But now that I’m examining his way of repeating color, I intend to add that element to my repertoire of painting skills.
This year and every year, I hope to take the quality of my work to the next level of professionalism. The better my work is, the easier it will be to market. I expect to sell primarily from my website, but who knows? If a gallery owner from a well-known arts district phoned me out of the blue, I just might change my mind. After all, this plan is not written in stone.
Lori Woodward earned a bachelor’s degree in art education from University of Arizona. She has studied watercolor and composition extensively with Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal. Woodword’s work has appeared in several issues of Watercolor, and she is a co-author of the Walter Foster book Watercolor Step by Step. She is a member of The Putney Painters, an invitational group in Vermont. She resides in New Hampshire with her husband, Brian Simons, a software engineer. Visit her website at www.loriwords.com and follow her on Twitter here.