A How-To Self Marketing Guide with Pennylane Shen
Since the start of the year, we’ve been exploring the creative cycle… with some expert guidance! Danielle Krysa helped plant the seeds of inspiration through ‘Re-Imagining and Experimentation’ and then Mandy Boursicot demonstrated how ‘Practice, Practice, Practice’ would get them growing. The last step in the process is ‘Final Presentation’, and throughout the month of March, we’re very excited to have renowned artist consultant, curator and educator Pennylane Shen showing us how to harvest the fruits of our artistic endeavours.
Since 2006, Pennylane has offered personalized consultations, group workshops and business development through her company Dazed and Confucius, with regular seminars held worldwide. She personally assists and advises over 500 artists on a one-on-one basis each year.
On top of providing insight on completing finishing touches, presenting work, and getting it out into the world, Pennylane also shares her wisdom on balancing authenticity and ambition, and offers invaluable advice to those of us who might struggle to market ourselves in the age of social media.
"The process of creating is hugely important, but then there's this whole other section which comes after one completes their work. When we put all our energy, time, blood, sweat and tears into the making part, this second bit can feel really frustrating. But it doesn’t have to be that way! There are a lot of different things to consider if you hope to share your art with the world."
As you create, ask yourself if you are preparing a body of work that represents your overall oeuvre, or a unique, one-off piece? I would recommend that an artist work on more than one piece at a time. This not only builds a cohesive collection, but also helps you recognise when a piece is finished, because there’s something to compare it to. Try leaving things a little bit more unfinished than you might think. You can make those final adjustments closer to the end, once you've completed a few more pieces. It's always really difficult to know if one more mark or two more strokes will greatly improve the piece, but I do think you can get there with a certain level of intuition, trust, and of course, practice.
Presenting Yourself And Your Work:
Always be authentic and true to yourself. Art is one of those things that if you're inauthentic, it tends to show pretty quickly and you start to see cracks in your following. You need plans and dreams that are your own, along with ambition, drive and a thick skin. Remember why you got into art in the first place and continue to uphold that, because it will be the only thing that keeps you going and keeps your practice alive. Of course you want to try new things and be open minded, but with your work, don’t compromise who you are.
You should also really consider things like final presentation - everything from framing, mounting, the finish of the work (as in the varnish or seal) and of course, the pricing and value
Self-Promotion and Social Media:
A lot of artists, if not most artists (particularly ones that are born any time before the 90s), in some way struggle with self-promotion. While you don’t want to make concessions with your art, when it comes to promoting yourself I always recommend ‘faking it till you make it’. Try to channel the mind of a millennial and really think about putting yourself out there.
It's important to identify an audience, but it’s one of the most difficult things for artists to do. It’s an ongoing exercise. You always want to check back to see if the audience you're speaking to is the one you want to speak to, or if you want to grow that audience in any way. How to go about doing that is tricky. Usually, I think it takes some critique and feedback from your peers and other experts around you. It also helps to do a bit of market research about who has purchased your work before and what demographic they fall into - like what their interests are, what their job is, and so on and so forth - and really deciding whether or not that is your ideal client. If you wish to continue to pursue clients of the same category, you must grow and educate your audience about your own work, especially if it's changing, which it should be! You want them to accompany you on your creative journey.
Having a role in the community also makes a huge difference. It gives you a strong voice within the crowd. Be active on social media, have a strong Web presence, participate within a group, especially physically in events (when that was a thing and when that will be a thing again).
Social media-wise, release yourself from the fear of imperfection. One post is not going to impact the greater whole. It’s just one part of a much bigger story, which takes several posts to tell. Of course, we want to care a lot about our image, but try not to sweat over the small stuff. If you don't do anything at all, that's going to be more damaging than putting out a single post where the lighting isn't perfect or that you think you look a little bit funny in. You have to get used to building that promotional muscle. Instagram should be more of a visual journal and less of a portfolio or a presentation catalog. It’s a lifestyle and daily practice diary and therefore should have a more casual feel to it.
"Don’t forget, artists provide a service to their audience."
They fulfill a need and a void. When we get a notification from the dentist that we have to go in for a cleaning, we don't think, ‘Oh my gosh, this guy again, he's just trying to self promote’. We think, ‘Oh right, I have to go get a cleaning’. It's similar when your audience sees something from you. They're not thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this person is just shameless in their self promotion’. They think, ‘Oh, right. That's what they're working on. I'm glad I saw that’.
Selling Your Art:
The gallery provides an incredible service and can be a wonderful partnership, but it is also one of several options.
When considering whether to approach a gallery, you need to be aware of how a commercial gallery works and specifically understand the ins and outs of the commercial gallery you're applying to. If you do decide to explore this route, you must have at least one body of cohesive work that is representative of you. A gallery is not looking for what you can do; they're looking at what you want to do and what you're best at. Have your ducks in a row (as we like to put it) - so your statement, your CV, your website, your takeaway card and well documented images of your art. This is especially vital in this day and age when we're unable to physically have studio visits as frequently as we did before.
There are a lot more artists than there are galleries and artists need to keep in mind that they have choice and agency as well.
Remember that unlike people who are selling a separate product like homemade dog collars or baked bread (both artistic in their own right), an artist is selling their name and identity. This can be really intimidating and make us feel deeply vulnerable, but our product is ourselves for better or for worse. If that was something that was understood and accepted from the get-go, then we could avoid a lot of these disheartening feelings and perhaps, dare I say, learn to like it.
Pennylane Shen is an artist consultant, curator and educator. Since 2006, her company Dazed and Confucius has offered personalized consultations, group workshops and business development with regular seminars held worldwide. Pennylane personally assists and advises over 500 artists on a one-on-one basis each year.
Pennylane holds a Master’s Degree in Visual Culture Theory from New York University and has lectured at various forums throughout Canada, the US and the UK. Her publications discuss the politics of representation, race and fine art. At Langara College and Thrive Art Studio Pennylane is responsible for creating and instructing courses on fine art marketing and conceptual development. She has also represented University of the Arts London in the UK, preparing students for higher education in the arts.
For more than a decade, Pennylane has worked in commercial galleries such as the Bau-Xi Gallery, the longest standing commercial gallery in Canada. In her hometown of Vancouver, BC Pennylane has curated for the Vancouver Mural Festival. An avid supporter of art and wellness, she sits on the board for the Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Foundation, collecting notable art pieces for hospital walls.
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