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Opinion by Chris Tyrell

Planning Your Day: Tips and Tricks for Exploring Outdoors

Murray Phillips in the Opus Video,
A Conversation with My Canvas

You’ve put together the perfect painting kit or packed a pencil case with just the right materials – you’re ready to take your art outside! Not so fast. Taking a little time to set yourself up with some essentials can go a long way to a successful and fun day creating outdoors....Read more

The Ceremony of Parting

"And how do people perform that ceremony of parting, Jane?", Mr. Rochester asks Jayne in Charlotte Bronte’s novel Jane Eyre. Saying a permanent goodbye, like other major life changes, is a dynamic renewal to some and anathema to others.

Creative people are good at adapting to change and optimists are good with transitions. So, as a creative optimist, I am embracing the change that this last column in the Opus Visual Arts Newsletter brings....Read more

Vancouver Artist's Copyright Stolen - Again

My friend Lilian Broca is an artist living here, where I do, in Vancouver. She is being horribly “ripped off” right now and you will be amazed at who is doing the stealing — a very high-end fashion house....Read more

New Year's Potpourri

NEW WIKIPEDIA TOOL
There’s an interesting new tool for artists on Wikipedia called DIY Budget Gallery. Select “Index” in the Navigation menu to get an overview of the site’s resources. This site has been developed in an American context but there is plenty of practical information that may be useful to anyone planning a visual art event. wiki.budgetgallery.org

CLIENTS FROM HELL
As a technical writer, this happened to me many times: An employer would welcome me, describe the challenge, contract me, and then walk me down the hall to meet “the people I’d be working with.” They would look stunned and then, after the boss left, the “people I’d be working with” would say, “What was he thinking? We’re not ready for you!”...Read more

Using Your Portrait Online

Has someone once approached you who knows you and is very happy to see you and you recognize their face but you can’t remember their name? Or have you been in a conversation wherein you want to reference someone but their name escapes although you can easily recall their face? This aspect of our behavior has some interesting business implications.

We humans are programmed to remember the human face more readily than symbols; this ability is embedded deeply in our DNA so it is not surprising to learn about the results of some marketing research conducted by Medallia, a media research firm....Read more

4 Reasons to Go to The Eastside Culture Crawl

The Crawl is coming, and there are so many reasons to go!

1. Support your fellow visual art creators. There are many ways to support The Crawl and its participating artists.
a. Go to buy your holiday presents. The Crawl is a primary source of career revenue for many creators. Plus, your attendance registers as a positive vote for self-directed marketing initiatives by artists.
b. Send an email about The Crawl to your friends who value hand-made originality. Nothing beats a testimonial by someone known as motivational advertising.
c. Take your friends. Getting a group together to go to The Crawl is a novel way to spend time with friends....Read more

Getting it Right; Getting Rights

Publicity 1

Recently, I was asked to consult with a local visual artist who presented similarly to many other artists with whom I consult: They feign an interest in improving their business practices but reject all advice. What this person really wanted from me was approval of his existing practices. His problem: he was not selling enough art even though he was getting a lot of publicity.

This young man enjoyed seeking and getting publicity and he was really good at it. But my sense was that he does not like selling. He wants gallery representation but does little to secure it. He is always seeking publicity believing it will lead to sales but when I spoke with him, he had no show or sale plans in place....Read more

Context

A long time ago, while I was working at a local theatre company, the artistic director told us he had finally cast a role that was difficult to fill. He had found a singer who was performing in a bar downtown, and that night I went to hear her sing. Seeing Sybil sing in that bar that night was heartbreaking.

Sybil is an extraordinarily gifted singer and that night I watched her without blinking. She was arrestingly charismatic and she had a rich, dramatic voice with an amazing range. I knew that with us, in our show, she was going to bring the house down every night for thousands of people who would be paying hefty admission prices, but that night no one was watching her and no one was listening. She was background music for people who wanted to drink, laugh, and socialize....Read more

How to Lose Business

I am changing names to protect the innocent – this particular innocent is a very talented, polite and charming person. He wrote to me this week asking me to promote a web hosting service for artists. His proposal impressed me. I liked how his service proposed to present artwork; in his proposal art is presented on a wall like in a gallery and you can zoom in to see every detail. I was moved to write this post for my blog:

Teaching professional development to artists isn’t easy. Artists exist to be creative and innovative, so rules are a foreign concept. Consequently, I provide guidelines and examples of best practices as my methodology....Read more

Artists Must Multi-Task

What do you think it takes to become a successful artist? Most people think it requires a vivid imagination plus excellence with composition and colour theory as well as the appropriate technical skills, but a truly successful visual arts career also involves having:...Read more

  • Enough financial security to pay your bills
  • A specialized space to work (temporarily or permanently)
  • Great photography skills and access to specialized equipment to support your sales and communications
  • Excellent writing skills for:
    • Artist statements
    • Applications and reporting to gatekeepers (curators, grant and residency officers, gallery owners, etc.)
    • Marketing communications

Two Ways To Get A Show

Method #1
Teaching at Emily Carr University exposes me to many artists beginning their visual art careers and a great many of them are very interested in being shown in either a public or private gallery. Consequently it seemed wise to me to encourage my students to capitalize on their inexperience....Read more

Making (New Years) Resolutions Work

February is notorious for “resolution failure,” just ask any gym, weight-loss program, or smoking cessation program staff. That makes this the perfect time to consider how to make your resolutions successful.

If you are a regular reader of this column, you may recall that I recently wrote that I assign the making of a pledge in my professional practice course at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. A pledge is a resolution, and I am revisiting that topic for several reasons:...Read more

  1. Many of my students develop, as their final assignment, a proposal for an exhibition that includes their own work plus the work of at least two other artists. In December, two former students who pledged to make their proposal become a reality wrote to say they had succeeded.

Some Winter Observations

In December, this column discussed the importance of narrative to customers when they buy art. Thank you to everyone who wrote to me about that article, and because so many of you wrote in agreement, I would like to provide you with another take on the subject.

I have mentioned before that one assignment that I give to my students of professional development at Emily Carr University is to define “the function of display.” Most students miss the mark with their submissions. Instead of defining the “function” of display, they tend to describe the objects they have on display, but in doing so they tend to reference many strong emotions to the objects they display in their narratives....Read more

Pledging

Pledge. It’s an old word it seems, one you rarely hear anymore. The word has diverse applications but most of us understand it to mean a promise to do, or not to do, something. Simple pledges between friends function as informal oral contracts. In the loan, mortgage, bail and pawn industries, written commitments guaranteeing repayment are formal legal pledges of repayment and security. But perhaps the most pervasive use of a pledge in our society is the oral vow made at weddings....Read more

What Art Customers Want

I saw some brilliant art marketing while in Montreal this summer. The artist had a show in a small gallery with decidedly different and highly popular documentation.

These are the essential components of how we document each work of visual art at an exhibition: the title, artist’s name, the year of execution, the media used and its dimensions (and often its price). Most of the rest of the information about a work that an art buyer can access is contained in the artist’s statement. ...Read more

Success and Flowers

I began teaching in Continuing Studies at Emily Carr University of Art + Design shortly after my book, Artist Survival Skills, came out. I had picked up a Continuing Studies calendar to see if there was a course I might take and noticed that the listing for a course called The Business of Art showed the teacher was TBA (to be announced).

I contacted the University to offer my services for what I thought would be one semester, assuming the regular teacher was on leave, but I have taught the course every semester since. While I am only in the classroom for six hours a week for two months each semester, my course is a compulsory part of three certificate programs with about twenty students attending each of my two classes....Read more

Don’t be an Artist

Do you, or have you ever, called yourself “an artist?” This title, which I once coveted, is now anathema to me.

I remember when I was young wanting so very badly to be able to say legitimately that I was an artist because I thought it was the supreme profession. Nothing, I thought, could fill me with greater pride than to be an artist. But things started happening to me to deter my ambition early in my education....Read more

Tips For Summer Art Fairs

An email from Betty C. asks: “My gallery sales are down and I’ve been wondering about doing something I have never wanted to do: participate in a local art ‘festival’ for lack of a better word. It is part sale, part summer fair, and I have always thought these kinds of events were inappropriate for me. But I need to increase my sales. Any tips about what to expect or how to maximize my experience?”...Read more

Focus and Passion (and a New Name)

There’s nothing like a good story, and the story about the change of my name at the bottom of this article is a great one. Why I have done this is now a script that is to be produced in Vancouver’s PAL Studio Theatre in April of 2013....Read more

Selling Emotions, Not Art

A great way to become a better seller of artwork is to go through a challenging purchase in full consciousness, so I like to assign my students the hypothetical challenge of selecting a domestic product that they have never owned and know nothing about. The point of the assignment is to make my students hyper-aware of how they buy, what criteria they use to make their selection, what triggers their purchase, and what they are seeking when they make their decision.

In many cases, my students will realize that what they want from their purchase is an emotion – often, that emotion is confidence or fulfillment. They want to feel happy with their decision; that they paid a fair price and that their product will last....Read more

Fact-Informed Visual Art Marketing

An arts service organization that I admire is MyArtClub.Com. In 2008, its founders, Cam Anderson and Peter Newell, designed a survey to gather some consumer and sales information about the Metro Vancouver art market. The publication, Canadian Fine Art Market Report, contains the results of that survey and provides valuable information for every visual artist selling in the market they studied, and it is relevant to all Canadian visual artists....Read more

Art Prices & Hard Times

What establishes the value of artwork, especially the ones that demand incredibly high prices, and how many artists are making “the big bucks?” These questions intrigue me, so I found press reports about some recent events in the art market of serious interest – one about Andy Warhol and the other about Andreas Gursky....Read more

The Yin and Yang of the Artist’s Ego

It’s hard to know who is learning more in CEPD 190, the Professional Studies course offered in Emily Carr University’s Continuing Studies program – the teacher (me) or the students. Having completed three years and nine terms of teaching, I have learned much more than my students who attend for only one term....Read more

Selling Art in a Tough Economy

I read a lot of doom and gloom about the long-term status of the economy. Few pundits are optimistic and the spreading popularity of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement suggests that even those of us at the base of the economic pyramid are worried as well. This pervasive economic pessimism is going to affect art markets – globally and locally. Artists, like all other “manufacturers,” must have adaptation strategies for times like these....Read more

Reverting to Old Technologies

After merely a few decades, the digital revolution has transformed our lives. It has changed the way we take, store and share photographs, listen to music, send mail and entertain ourselves.

It seems not so long ago that I said to someone, “What’s email?” Then, for a while I started asking people, “Do you have email?” But in no time at all, I was asking, “What’s your email address?” I moved from wondering if you had email to assuming you had it, in a heartbeat. The power, speed and convenience of email stunned me. The pen had long been mightier than the sword; email was a mega arsenal....Read more

Advantage or Disadvantage?

She calls it her "blacklisting dilemma." As she tells it, it is a David and Goliath story; her versus the Canadian government. She feels her government is angry with her, but can that be? Can a government be angry with one of its citizens? No, it can’t. Only people get angry, so who is angry with artist Franke James?...Read more

Short Takes

Kickstarter
Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) is a website that links creators and funders. And, as is said on their site, “Projects are big and small, serious and whimsical, traditional and experimental. They’re inspiring, entertaining and unbelievably diverse.” On the site, creators pitch projects for which they seek financial support so that patrons the world over can offer their support. According to the website, millions of dollars are pledged every week for projects from the diverse fields of creative expression. On Kickstarter, creators retain ownership of their work – the donors are patrons, not investors....Read more

What If There Were No More Galleries?

Recently in Vancouver, two well-known galleries, Buschlen Mowatt Gallery and Dianne Farris Gallery, closed their doors. Their owner/operators are both staying active in the visual art field: Barrie Mowatt with the Vancouver Biennale and Dianne Farris with her online gallery, but the closures of these two galleries could be the canaries in the coal mine....Read more

Making It!

Making It! Case Studies of Successful Canadian Visual Artists is my new book. It debuts this month at Opus. The official launch party will be held at Opus Granville Island on July 28th. I hope you will join me to celebrate.

My first book, Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist (2008), documented some business standards for Canadian visual artists. In this second book, I set out to celebrate some business practices that have significantly contributed to the development of a visual artist’s career. Each chapter may be about the entirety of a career or it may be about one aspect of a career. It is my hope that in these stories, you will find inspiration or a comfortable methodology to apply to your own practice....Read more

The Value of Peer Review

I’ll call her Jane. She was in a one-day class that I teach at Emily Carr University (CEPD 250) – a “Professional Assessment” class. In CEPD 250, we address a conundrum in your practice; each student is seeking a different outcome. Jane wanted feedback about the retail value of her work....Read more

Does The Cheaper Show Work for Artists?

How much time do you invest in the creation of an artwork? What is an average cost of the materials you use in a work you create? And what kind of time investment is required to obtain the materials you use, and what overhead costs (studio rental, heat, light) are to be covered in the prices of the artwork that you sell? Do you get your highest prices from your “best” work? And when you submit to a juried show or sale, do you submit your weaker or your better work? These are some of the questions that come to mind as I consider the mandate of The Cheaper Show....Read more

The Value of Learning from Others

I never thought I would write a book. But now Artist Survival Skills: How to Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist is only a few hundred sales short of becoming a Canadian best seller. Even more amazing to me: I have just sent my second book about Canadian visual artists to the printer....Read more

Digital Pros And Cons

Google Art Project
It sometimes feels to me as though many of us have entered into a lifestyle resembling a collective multiple personality disorder. While our bodies exist full time in the real world, our minds are increasingly engaged with the expanding digital universe.

I was the only person I knew in my neighbourhood whose family did not have a TV when I was a kid, so I could not fathom why some people would prefer to stay home and watch an event on TV instead of going to watch it live in the stadium or on the parade route. I saw the televised event as a lifeless variant of the real thing. But when it comes to looking at art, I seem to be feeling quite differently....Read more

Do Artists Need A Return Policy?

A return policy is something every artist should consider. How you handle a customer that wants to return or exchange an artwork can have a lasting impact on your career—especially given the impact of electronic social networks on marketing. Well-handled, a good return policy can turn a one-time-only customer into a repeat customer or a good word-of-mouth advertiser....Read more

The Fabulous Eastside Culture Crawl

Happy New Year!

I had the most fun, stimulating and satisfying cultural experience I’ve had in a long, long time at the end of November, last year. It was attending Vancouver’s fabulous visual arts festival, the Eastside Culture Crawl. It was bigger than ever this year, and each year the artists get smarter with their presentation and marketing....Read more

Time is of the Essence

“Time is of the essence” is a clause that highlights “time” as a fundamental value of the contract. Who knows better than a lawyer about the value of time? Lawyers bill like cell phones—every minute is a commodity.

The first cheque I received for my first book, Artist Survival Skills: How To Make a Living as a Canadian Visual Artist, was for $18,742.50. As a self-publisher, I felt very lucky. The cheque covered all my expenses and left me with an immediate profit of $5,942. On the day I got the cheque (in August 2008) I finally had some income from the 1,200 hours it took me to write the book—at that point, I had earned $4.95 per hour for my writing....Read more

Three Good Ideas

1. Have the arts community take over the Emily Carr campus. Recently, the provincial government announced support for a move of Emily Carr University (ECU) to a new location on Great Northern Way—the former Finning Tractor land donated by the corporation to Emily Carr and three other B.C. post-secondary institutions....Read more

The End of Adolescence for the Arts

Adaptation is a primary building block of evolution; famed geneticist and evolutionary theorist, Charles Darwin, saw our history as a “change or die” narrative that applied to both the individual and the collective. And one of the most important aspects of adaptation is the challenge of moving from dependency to independence. Whether it is the child becoming an adult or a colony becoming an independent nation, a key component of success is self-reliance. In our society, independence requires emotional maturation and the amassing of capital....Read more

New Policies, Not Restored Funding

In October 1973, the Arts Access* conference was convened at Simon Fraser University (SFU) to discuss provincial arts policies and practices. Nini Baird, wearer of many hats, chaired the conference. She was, at the time, a board member of the Canadian Conference of the Arts and the Canada Council, but it was because she was Director of the Centre for Communications and the Arts at SFU that she was able to amass the resources required to host and organize the conference....Read more

In Anticipation of Arts Access 40th Anniversary, October 2013

For more on this topic, please refer to Chris Tyrell's September 2010 opinion piece, "New Policies, Not Restored Funding".

Background – The last years of the Social Credit Government under W.A.C. Bennett...Read more

Selling in the US Made Easy

"Making it" in the United States has always been a kind of ultimate test for many professionals including visual artists, but the process of setting up your practice to accommodate international sales prevents many Canadian visual artists from even considering entering one of the word’s great marketplaces. The biggest obstacles to participating in the US marketplace, however, come from perceived challenges rather than real ones—plus the bad word of mouth about the process from those who attempt it without doing the proper preparatory work....Read more

Three Career Concerns

Stories and Value
Stories are so important. We entertain each other with them; our values and history are celebrated in historical myths and legends and they are an extremely powerful component of effective teaching. The value of narrative for visual artists is a critical part of every course, workshop and speech I make about visual art marketing and career development....Read more

Clash of the (Cultural) Titans

When you say "real estate" in Vancouver, two names that come immediately to mind (especially for those of us in the visual arts) are Michael Audain and Bob Rennie. Michael Audain is CEO of Polygon Homes; his firm builds (and sells) homes. Bob Rennie is Executive Director of Rennie Marketing Systems; he is the pre-eminent marketer of real estate. Both these men are leaving an incredible visual art legacy in Vancouver....Read more

Yours, mine or ours?

I met Bill Horne as a result of my interest in CARFAC. Bill was head of the BC branch of CARFAC when we met and we have maintained a professional relationship for many years. He wrote to me to propose that I write a column about “the grey areas that may exist between plagiarism, collaboration and synchronicity, the latter being the coincidental appearance of similar imagery and material.” Bill’s email contained anecdotal information from guest artists who have the impression that BC artists are more likely to reference or serendipitously create work similar to work by other artists than do other Canadian artists. Could this be true? If it is, could it be because we have a higher density of artists here in the west than anywhere else in Canada?...Read more

From Feast to Famine

I thoroughly enjoyed walking around Vancouver’s Olympic sites and all the various pavilions downtown in spectacular sunshine and unseasonably warm weather. I had no idea that there would be all those international and Canadian regional pavilions creating a kind of world’s fair atmosphere in the city core. In some of the pavilions there was a focus on culture and artistry. They featured the visual and performance art that spoke eloquently about their local culture, whether that was the Canadian North pavilion and its beautiful crafts and throat singers or the Italian pavilion that focused on its global design reputation. ...Read more

I'll Show You Mine...

Your assignment, should you wish to accept it, is as follows:

#1 Create an inventory of twenty things that you have put “on display” in your home – that is, things that you have expressly made visible for guests to see in your living space.

#2 Write an insightful and compelling piece about the function of domestic display, explaining the function your displayed items have in your domestic environment.

#3 Choose five items from the inventory of twenty items you chose, and write a brief paragraph explaining exactly why you have each particular item on display. Of the five items chosen, at least one (but no more than two) should be your own work that is on display in your own home. ...Read more

The Best Website for Selling Art

I am in a love/hate relationship. I met my love in 1986, and since then, my love has made my life unbelievably richer and easier; my love has brought the whole world into my life and totally changed the nature of the work I do. On the other hand, my love is very complicated; my love has brought so many and such complex changes into my life and the lives of my friends that I sometimes long for times past. As I slow down, my love speeds up. My love affair is with digital technology....Read more

A Plague of Artists

Forget the H1N1 virus, there is a plague of artists in BC, according to Hill Strategies Research (HSR), a company that conducts research on the arts in Canada. The revelations of their analyses can seem, on the surface, rather depressing. I draw your attention to them not to depress you, but instead to underscore the dominant message of my book and my workshops about the business of the visual arts: success in the visual arts requires the same degree of skill (artistic and business), hard work and dedication as in all other forms of work. ...Read more

Year-End Wrap Up!

For this month's column, I am touching briefly on a few topics that I have wanted to mention for awhile.

First, a bittersweet initiative in Saskatoon: Many art lovers in Saskatoon are upset that their City is going to close their beloved Mendel Art Gallery (casting off its name and legacy and its historic modernist building in a stunning location on the banks of the South Saskatchewan River) in order to open a new facility. The change in direction happened without public consultation and appears to have been "engineered" by the Mayor and city councillors. ...Read more

Are You an Exhibitionist?

I've never heard of an artist uninterested in exhibiting. I know of artists who have declined invitations to show at a specific time or venue, but never of an artist who has "retired" from exhibiting. Lately, however, I have been questioning that impulse to exhibit that seems to be a given in the mindset of artists as changes continue to rock the arts industry. ...Read more

Tough Times for the Arts in BC

The current arts funding crisis in BC has reignited embers of debate that have been recurring as long as our forest fires. I recently attended a closed-door rally for artists and arts administrators held at the Museum of Vancouver to strategize an industry response to the government's recent draconian cuts to arts funding in BC.

I was in a room with a whole bunch of people facing a future without revenue they were certain was theirs, furious with a government also facing a future without revenue they were certain was theirs. Ironic, eh?...Read more

Curatorial and Entrepreneurial Leadership

I once read a list of ten principles of organizational behavior. The last one was "the punishment of the innocent"; the second to the last was "the rewarding of non-participants". These are the only two I have remembered because they reflected, to a considerable degree, my professional experience plus a wicked sense of humour.

Well on Canada Day, my cynical soul was spectacularly uplifted when I heard from a friend that while I was away, curator and Vancouver resident Ian L. Thom was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada. He was cited for "his contributions as a curator of Canadian art and as an advocate for British Columbia artists." Sometimes the right people are rewarded....Read more

Taking Time

I've had to face the facts. No one has been more surprised at the success of my book, Artist Survival Skills, than I. I was stunned to see the book go into its second (modest) printing - the result, mostly, of the interest of Opus customers. And for that, I thank you sincerely. But beside the sales success, I have been extremely pleased with artists' response to it....Read more

Public Governance

When I was a teenager, I witnessed the hijacking of a hospital.

For most of my life my mother lived peacefully and well cared for in a residential facility administered by the hospital next door. Her life was unsettled one year by a rush of dramatic changes in policy that also affected the costs of her care. All the changes came about because of a 100% change in the membership of the board of directors of the non-profit society that governed her residence - a board elected at that year's annual general meeting (AGM)....Read more

Marketing Brilliance

I met artist Gary Sim through Emily Carr University (www.sim-publishing.com/home.htm) and I think his recent "Salon" was a very good one. Here is Gary in his own words (edited for brevity):

"It was actually quite a complex affair, thrown together in a three-week period. It greatly helped to have already done a huge amount of work on my collection (inventory: titles, dates, costs, images, condition assessments)....Read more

Moral Rights of Artists

I was born an arts advocate. The arts have been a huge part of my life since I could walk and talk. At first, my focus as an advocate was the general public. As the managing director of one of my community's theatres and the curator of its publicly funded art gallery, my programming goal was to earn the arts a huge audience amongst my fellow citizens.

After a decade of advocacy as programming, I got very involved in arts advocacy that involved the education and lobbying of politicians. I wanted more money and a healthier legislative framework in which and with which to make art. But I saw governments and parties come and go and nothing changed. Also, I realized that no matter how much the arts meant to me, I would not base my voting on a party's arts policies alone....Read more

The Controversial TAR Agreement

Call me stupid, but I don't get it. I don't understand why some contemporary artists risk demanding a monetary advantage that makers of other items do not get. I am talking about the "Agreement of Original Transfer of a Work of Art" (TAR) that is gaining in popularity with some artists around the world. I can see how artists might jump at the chance to use the TAR agreement, but there are things to consider before you download a copy....Read more

Peers & Professionalism

Professionalism is so hard to define in the visual arts. What makes an artist a professional? I have read many definitions that have focused on percentages of income, critical and financial success, education, experience, (the Canada Council definition being the most often cited), but one characteristic of most professionals I know is the desire to network with peers. There is nothing like ongoing peer assembly to take one forward....Read more