Entrepreneurship isn’t just about technology. Today on Friday Entrepreneurs, meet Kathy Waste, 51, artist and entrepreneur.
In my discussion with her below, find out how she:
- Uses her art for multiple revenue streams
- Prices her product in the hundreds and thousands
- Markets her work
- Calls people who buy her work “collectors,” not customers — and why the difference is worth thousands of dollars
* * *
I think most artists are absolutely horrible businesspeople. Yet you left a 15 year career teaching for the University of California to pursue a living as a full-time artist, and even managed to roughly equal your income from when you were teaching. Tell us a little bit about your art.
I love looking at simple, everyday objects to see beauty in things we might otherwise pass right by. So I paint still life watercolors – watercolor because I love the luminosity and glow of the colors. I tend toward objects that hold cultural and in some cases, iconic meaning – but try to leave the irony for those better suited at expressing it.
I notice your art costs a lot (one painting I saw costs $675.00). How did you decide to charge that much?
Actually, that’s just the price of a print. I offer limited edition reproductions, to maximize the earning potential of a single painting. It’s also a great way to make fine art available for entry-level collectors, many of whom start with prints and work their way up to original paintings.
I see. So how much does an original sell for?
My originals sell for between $600 and $8,000 depending on size and complexity. Most artists use a general “per square inch” formula to price their works, based on a combination of previous sales, the going rate of artists who do comparable work… even the cost of the frame gets factored in.
Rarely (and sadly!) is an artist able to charge based on the actual time invested in creating a painting. Labor Theory of Value doesn’t apply.
[Ramit's note: Notice how, with one piece of art, she is able to offer it at multiple price points. If you produce something similar, you might produce a free gallery online for the people who will never pay, a $50 print, a $500 limited-edition print, and a $5,000 original, sweeping the entire spectrum of customer demand.]
What are the risks of making so few pieces of art?
Art is all about risk-taking. It’s hard to predict the market, although when the economy is in a tough spot like it is right now, you can safely assume that many people are cutting back on luxury items from $5 lattes to original works of art! So my job is to keep painting, work twice as hard on the marketing end of the business and stay in good communication with my collectors.
Do you have other sources of income besides directly selling your work?
It’s easy to wish I could spend all my time in the studio – the truth is, being out in the world – not just isolated in my studio – makes me a better artist.
I teach painting classes for other busy professionals. Many of my students they tend to be left-brained types who want to take a time-out to explore their creative side. My workshops are essentially word-of-mouth, and have been so successful, that it tells me there is a real unmet need out there in the marketplace. So I’ve recently launched a new venture which takes the artist’s way of seeing the world into the corporate environment with hands-on creativity workshops.
How has the art industry changed in your experience?
It used to be that galleries would handle – and pay for – all the marketing and business end of things for their artists so that we can spend all our time making art. In general, it’s a different world out there these days.
The artist is responsible for framing and shipping the work to the gallery as well as expected to pay 50% of all costs for a gallery opening, i.e., the advertising, the invitations, even the wine poured at the event.
In exchange, the gallery provides “one-stop shopping” for art lovers as well as a venue for your work. Some people don’t buy art except through a reputable gallery.
But let’s face it – being in a gallery can be a love-hate thing for artists. It’s a huge expense, because even if your work doesn’t sell, the artist still has to pony up for all those marketing costs.
Is it common for artists to do what you’re doing, i.e. promoting on the web?
Some artists are choosing to bypass the gallery system all together and market directly online. I suspect this will be effective for selling to established collectors who already know your work – but poses a dilemma about reputation. After all, if we aren’t “vetted” through the traditional system, we’re somehow kind of cheesy if we’re stooping to marketing our own work. But I also think as more and more young artists come along, artists who grew up in a web-connected culture of internet marketing and social networking, the nature of the gallery business will change.
How did you get your first customer?
I honestly can’t remember who bought my first painting. I do know that my first batch of paintings went to various friends and long-time acquaintances and that one of my brothers stepped up to buy my very first prints when they were hot off the press. Of course, I gave him a good family discount!
And how do you get customers now?
I use the word “collectors” rather than customers, because I’ve found that if my art speaks to someone enough that they are willing to shell out hard-earned cash for it, they tend to come back for more.
[Ramit's note: A key difference. Someone who buys from you once is FAR more likely to buy from you again. This becomes more important with higher-value goods that require more expensive marketing. The cheapest marketing you'll ever do is to existing customers.]
Last year, I started working with a publicist and that turned out to be a much wiser investment of my resources than spending money on ads. And galleries, of course, account for about 35% of my total collectors.
I also find ways to connect my collectors and the people who take my workshops. In the process of creating community, i.e., a community of weekend painters, a community of watercolor collectors, it moves what I do beyond the sale of a product or service into the realm of offering a richly rewarding experience.
Anything else we should know?
Follow your muse!