The rain finally stopped yesterday morning and the temperature rose a few degrees. We just had three days of steady rain. The temperatures also went up a bit. I was amused to discover that this “event” made the news. The headline in “The Donegal Daily” an online newspaper read: “Weather- Another Mild Day in Store for Donegal”. This publication is favourite of mine. It is a heart-warming mixture of stories with happy endings (swimmers get into trouble in rip tide but they are all rescued by a passer by and a lifeboat crew), lost dogs, sport stories and local crime cases (often from two years ago).
Anyway, we felt encouraged by the dry (ish) weather to do some light food shopping in Dungloe and then drive to an Affordable Art Fair in Derrybeg, Gweedore. This Art Fair was held at An Gaillearai, which is located at Ionad Aislann, Na Doira Beaga (Derrybeg).
We have never been to Ionad Aislann before and I was very interested to see what this cultural centre was like. I know that “Ionad” means a centre of some sort in Irish but I didn’t know what the word “Aislann” meant. I tried looking it up on google translate but drew a blank so I thought it might be someone’s name. It was wrong. “Áislann” is a word derived from combining two words from the Irish vocabulary of South West Donegal, Áiseanna (facilities) and Lann (building).
The centre also houses, amongst other things, a public library and nursery. When I looked it up here I discovered that the building hosted much more than that: a theatre/cinema, sports hall, meeting rooms, local history centre, PC centre, a gym and a tea room! This cultural centre was set up in 1992 expressly to cater for local people as well as for visitors to the area, including the many artists like me who come to live here. It was also meant to help strengthen bonds within the local community via cultural/artistic pursuits and leisure activities.
The Gallery is large and airy and there was plenty of room for visitors and artists. Everyone was wearing masks too which was reassuring.
As our house is already over flowing with paintings we generally don’t buy other people’s art (although I have one painting by Welsh landscape artist, Warren Heaton, in the bedroom) but we changed the habit of a lifetime yesterday and bought two small paintings at the art fair. I know that Séamas wanted to buy more. We left the two paintings on the wall with red stickers next to them (hoping that sign of success would encourage more sales) and will go back on Thursday to pick them up.
After so long in lockdown and avoiding people, it was really great to go out somewhere and to meet new people. Ionad Aislann certianly did its job of helping to strengthen the bonds between local community via cultural/artistic pursuits and leisure activities. It was well worth a visit and if you are in area I would highly recommend stopping by. The Art Fair is on for several more days, from 12 to 5pm until this Thursday 14th October 2021.
Here’s my summer newsletter. I am shutting up shop for a month from 20th June to 20th July. All going well, we will be safely installed and open for business (online at least) in Donegal by mid-July. I am already longing to get back to my painting routine. I can’t quite believe that after being ground so long by my broken leg and the pandemic that we will actually move house/studio to another country by then. It’s a huge step! Fingers crossed it all goes smoothly!
I was delighted to be asked to do an interview with Toby Buckley for the Net Gallery about selling art and marketing. It was published recently on the “Artist N Virtual” section of their site. I thought I would post it here too:-
With successive lockdowns resulting in the closure and cancellation of many of the galleries, markets, festivals and art fairs that artists rely on to make a living, 2020 and 2021 have seen many artists trying their hands at online sales for the first time. To help anyone taking a jump into the online marketplace, we spoke to Swansea- and Donegal-based artist, Emma Cownie, to get some expert advice.
Emma’s distinctive oil paintings have featured in exhibitions around the UK and are even available from lifestyle giants John Lewis, but she doesn’t rely on these outlets to get her work out there. Spending “at least 50%” of her day marketing, Emma mastered the art of online art sales long before lockdown, selling over 200 pieces, originals and prints (many of which went directly to collectors) in 2018 alone.
TNG: How did you come to settle on your current sales methods?
Emma Cownie (EC): My original sales methods came from the idea of being a “creative entrepreneur” which meant involving collectors and followers in the creation of my work. I did this mainly via blogs which described the creative process, from initial thoughts, going to actual locations, images created, then the painting process, right through to descriptions of the art when placed online. This allowed followers of my work to have an emotional stake in my work, to be part of its creation.
I have retained collectors from this formative period. It has always been important to bring followers with me on a creative journey, so that they are part of the process, buying one’s work, encouraging me as an artist via comments, likes and support. They are part of the process… Art is not created in a vacuum, and shouldn’t be sold in one either. This is especially true when the places I paint, as landscape paintings, have personal attachment to followers and collectors also. In fact, they often purchase work of places close to their heart. I like to blog about work and my inspirations even today. Art can be remote sometimes so I feel it should instead gather people in.
TNG: How can an artist make the most of social media to boost their sales?
EC: Social media is essential to boosting sales, to the uploading of new work and to the celebration of new sales. It keeps collectors and followers up to date on your artistic journey and lets them share in your success and development. An artist’s promotion is often done by people on social media who like your work. It is important to engage with other artists too, supporting each other via shares, comments and likes.
Most sales are a product of a network of social interactions with supporters and it is important to keep busy online. The more one interacts, the more one’s work seems to become visible which in turn helps sales… I also use social media to engage with followers about my work and it’s creation, and this helps too.
TNG: What is the first thing you’d recommend to someone who is trying to get their online art sales off the ground?
EC: Be yourself. By that I mean, collectors are looking for original work, art they have not seen before. They are not looking for derivative work. Novelty and originality are strong selling points. So it is important to develop a style of painting that is distinctively your own.
TNG: You have written that positivity is a key factor in selling art online. Why do you think celebrating success is so important in online sales?
EC: When I post an image of a painting when it has sold, it invariably gets more likes and comments than when posted originally. Collectors and fans like to know an artist is succeeding. Collectors like reassurance about your qualities as an artist and that they are buying a quality piece that will keep its inherent value (obviously the value may also increase through time). They also like to see an artist developing and to be part of that journey in some way. Buying their work makes them intrinsic to that development.
Sales also confirm a collector’s taste in spotting talent, that it is just not them who sees an artist’s talent.
TNG: What should an artist include in their bio to make themselves appeal more to potential buyers?
EC: Collectors like to know if an artist has exhibited in “brick and mortar” galleries too and whether you have work in private collections around the world. I have found that a bio should contain pertinent personal information too. In my case, I started painting in a more concentrated manner following a car crash and painting helped me through the post-traumatic consequences of the crash. Painting helps me in my daily life. Some find this inspiring and it helps them understand where I am coming from.
I also mention my own inspirations and how they shape my work and my style of painting. This also gives them insight into where I am coming from in terms of art history.
TNG: How important are high-quality artwork images, and how would you recommend creating these?
EC: It is essential to upload high-quality artwork images. It is important that the images are as accurate as possible in representing the work. Collectors are relying on this when purchasing art online and remotely… I usually photograph on a greyish, overcast day too.
I get frustrated by artists who clearly have used a flash on their camera to photograph work as it can be seen in the bleaching out of the colours on one side of the painting… If you’re not using natural light, then artificially light a painting from both sides simultaneously. If an artist does not take their work seriously enough to photograph properly it sends out a negative message to collectors.
TNG: What’s more important when pricing works – a wide range of prices to appeal to all wallets or a consistent price that emphasises the value of the work?
EC: Both. My first slogan was ‘Quality Art At Affordable Prices’ which had a range of prices from £30 to £900. As my work has sold over the last 8 years, my prices have incrementally risen. My most expensive painting is £2500, as I still want more people to feel that they can buy art, that it is not an elitist activity, everyone can and should own art as it is so uplifting and adds such value to one’s life. It is a gift that keeps giving.
I would offer a range of prices based on size of canvas used but have enough small, reasonably priced paintings to get sales going and to boost confidence. It is a great feeling selling art. It motivates you to do the same again.
It is important that prices rise in line with sales, however, and work should be priced accordingly. Make incremental changes every time you sell and prices will keep going up but not in a way that discourages sales.
Art by Emma Cownie
The two artworks below, Suburban Cottage and With a Road Running Through It, were created using a minimal style that Emma has been developing over the last 4 years. We asked Emma to tell us a bit more about each piece.
Suburban Cottage – “This is an urban minimal oil painting of Sketty, a middle class suburb of Swansea in Wales. “Urban Minimal” was a deliberate attempt to simplify my paintings in a style similar to the American Minimalists. Much of my work has been influenced by American realists and minimalists. Urban minimalist paintings were painted in accordance with my ‘rules’ for composition and painting:
Bright light. There must be shadows – at diagonals if possible.
Simplified forms – there must be little detail in the final painting. I found this the most challenging ‘rule’ to stick to.
“I wanted to explore the interplay of the geometry of shadows and man-made structures – the tension between the 3D buildings and the 2D shadows, the simplified blocks of colour.”
With a Road Running Through It – “I painted a series of paintings of cottages on the island of Goal, off the coast of Donegal, Ireland. I tried to paint in a style similar to that of ‘urban minimal’. These ‘rural minimal’ pieces pared paintings down to the basics. Minimal texture, simple but interesting compositions, strong light and shadows, all intended to create a sense of the still, the quiet, a moment in life that is both now and eternal.”
This week I passed an important blogging milestone. On Tuesday moring I was greeted with the message that my wordpress site had passed 100,000 all-times views!
My husband, Séamas, set up this wordpress site for me over seven years ago. When I took it over full-time in 2015, I had 91 followers, now I have just over 800! Views for my site have steadily been growing but 2020-21 was a bumper year.
Breaking my leg last year provoked the most comments by far!
I would like to say a great big thank you to every one who visited my website, bought my work, read my blogs and left comments!
It seems that I like animals almost as much as I like Art. Turns out that Wayne (Barnes) of Tofino Photography is my chattiest follower. He certainly makes me laugh! He takes wonderful photographs of the incredible wildlife of Western Canada – eagles, bears, wolves, orcas and humming birds! Take a look here.
Thank you to everyone who has visited my website and blog. Whether you have just stopped by to look at my paintings, read my blogs but especially those who “like”, comment and buy my work. Without you I could not continue to make art.
We are all glad to see the back of 2020 but I am pausing for a moment to reflect on some of my painting sales over the year. Sadly, my accident and having my leg in a cast meant that I couldn’t get up the steep stairs to my attic studio (or anywhere else) to paint any oil paintings for over three months but things have ticked over during 2020.
I would like to say thank you Rob and David who waited a very long time in the cold with me for the ambulance to come, to the paramedics and firebrigade who got me out of the woods, to NHS staff at Morriston who fixed my very broken leg and looked after me, as well as to the Physical Therapists who gave me lots of advice on exercises over the phone. I still have a way to go!
I have to say an absolutely massive thank you to my brillant husband, Séamas, who trudged up and down two flights of stairs with trays of food many times a day (and lost weight doing so) for months. He kept my spirits up when I got frustrated and tearful. It wasn’t that often as I was so glad to be home but it was all hard work for him in the midst of a pandemic! He also kept the show on the road by packing up and arranging the shipping my paintings. He was, and remains, utterly wonderful!
Here’s a selection of some of my sales from 2020
Here’s to a happier and healthier 2021 to everyone!
We have been in full lockdown since last Friday and the the terrible weather (I write this to the sound of of rain lashing against against the windows) makes it a all a lot tougher to endure. The clocks went back too, so good quality light to paint by has been in short supply. I have, nevertheless, just finished a large scale painting and I am now working on a commission.
I wanted to write about how you can “show” your work when you are social distancing. On this wordpress site I am able to show more than one photos of my paintings in the “shop” section. It is useful to take photos of a painting in a studio so you can get a sense of the scale of the painting.
Here it is. My most recent painting ” The Approaching Storm (On Dunlewy Lough), Ireland” which is 100cm x 80cm (approx 39″x 31″). I will often post a “in the studio” photos of painting to help give a sense of the sense of the painting, but they dont really show the painting at its best. A real life exhibition would be good but its not pratictical (or allowed) at the moment.
The next best way of displaying my painting is using an online app which show the work “in situ” in a computer generated room. Online galleries will often provide these sorts of images as part of the membership of the site (e.g. Singulart and Artfinder) but the choice of rooms is limited and often they won’t provide them for smaller works.
I have spent some time searching online for apps so I could do this myself and have more control of the choice of rooms and colour of the walls. It was difficult to find sites that showed works to scale. There is not much point showing people a mock up that makes your painting look much bigger or smaller than it is in real life. That would be misleading. Unfortunately, most of the good ones were only available for ipads (we dont have one) or on android (too fiddly on a smart phone) and I was looking for a an app that I could use on my PC.
Eventually I came across a site called “Canvy” which has a free plan which allowed the use of 12 “rooms” and unlimited downloads. It was very esay to use. It was a matter of importing images of paintings, typing dimensions (this is very important so images are to scale) and choosing your backgrounds. It is all drag on drop. It seems to automatically add a frame which might be a bit misleading as I dont frame my paintings, but paint around the edges in a neutral colour (usually blue). Very importantly, the final downloaded images do not have watermarks. It has a plugin which links to Etsy.
There is also a paid plan for $15 a month (40% reduction if you signed up to an annual plan) with access to over 200 “rooms”, it offers a 30 day free trial for the full version. Maybe there are better sites out there, I would be interested to hear what other artists use.
Here what a few of the mock-ups look like. Which is your favourite?
The great thing is that you can put together a mini exhibition too!
After looking at al these photographs, I decided to lighten the clouds at the bottom of the Errigal painting. I felt that the black storm clouds were distracting to eye away from the moutnain and its reflection in the loch.
I had been a professional artist for four years before I realized that I had been missing a really big trick. I wasn’t cultivating my mailing list. I had a small collection of email addresses that my website provided kindly collected for me, but I didn’t really do much with them. I didn’t do anything at all, in fact.
This was a serious mistake. I was avoiding working out how to use an automated mailing list provider because I had hadn’t had the time or energy to immerse myself into finding out about aspects of social media, which was to me “new” technology. Don’t laugh. I wasn’t until quite recently that I “got” Pinterest or Instagram.
Now, younger people are probably shaking their heads at this. My niece famously said that the mini ipad I had on loan from the school I was working for at the time was wasted on me. She was probably right. I didn’t have the time. I was either preparing lessons, marking or painting. In 2016 I left teaching and I dedicated a lot of time to finding out how online stuff worked (not just facebook and twitter). It took a lot of effort but it was worth it.
This was vital for taking control of my own marketing and developing long-term and (importantly) direct relationship with collectors. Online galleries may bring you one-off sales, but they don’t seem to be terribly good growing repeat customers. Yet, I knew from experience that relationships & friendships, I had developed via Facebook and Twiter, and increasingly on Instagram, encouraged art collectors to support my work on a regular basis.
How many times have you had someone tell you that they “love your work but can’t buy it right now?” The mailing list is a way in which you can keep those potential collectors in touch with what you are doing. Some collectors start off with small paintings and come back and buy larger ones. It’s also about trust. If fans get to know you through your work and your stories they will become emotionally invested in your continuing success. People buy from those they trust. Most importantly, for you, it is your list. It doesn’t belong to the online gallery, Facebook or Instagram.
Where to start? Collect names and email addresses – at craft-fairs, exhibitions, from people who have bought your work in the past. You do need their explicit permission to email them or else you are breaking EU GDPR anti-spam laws.
Sign up for online marketing platform – I use Mailchimp.com (it’s free for mailing list under 2,000 names). I find not find it easy to work out how to use it but I watch a lot of Youtube videos and read articles on Pinterest and I got there in the end. There are also others to choose from such as Aweber.com and Tinyletter.com. These sites also provide pop up/sign up forms that you can link to your website or blog.
It’s not about the hard sell. Subscribers want to hear your latest news, the inside story on life as an artist. I have to remind myself that not everyone uses facebook, twitter and instagram or follow my blog and my newsletters are often a summary of the sort of content that is published on those platforms. A fair bit of content is similar to what I blog about, but not exactly the same.
As with social media – be consistent. Send out your newsletter regularly, whether that means twice a year or twice a month.
Ideas for content
Exhibitions (setting up, behind the scenes, opening night)
Photos of paintings in collectors’ homes
Work-in-Progress photographs (the “sneak peek”)
Remind people of your story “about me”, how I came to be an artist
New products – e.g. prints, greeting cards, tea-towels, online courses, ebooks
Encourage subscribers to follow you on other platforms
Inspirations – such as other artists or locations that inspire you
Revisit old work
Encourage subscribers to follow you on other platforms (as the content is not identical on Instagram or facebook).
Failures and challenges (hard though it can be to admit these, people like to see you overcome minor difficulties, you are human after all).
Review of Art products
Business tips for artists (quite a few artists sign up to artist’s newsletters)
Finally, remember not to put in too much. It’s not a newspaper. You want collectors to visit your website. It also needs to be visually appealing (canva.com is useful for this), have a consistent brand feel to you. You also need to proof-read it carefully!
My Top 10 tips for selling art online. I am sometimes asked for advice on how to sell art online. To be honest, I feel like there is so much I don’t know about Art marketing, but I did sell over 200 pieces, originals and prints last year and half of these were direct sales to collectors so something’s working. Marketing and selling art takes an enormous amount of time and effort. At least 50% of my day is spent on marketing. The great thing about it all is that the longer you do it the more followers and fans you will gather. It’s an investment of time – but it cuts both ways. You will spend hours at the keyboard, posting away (sometimes wondering if it’s worthwhile) but you will develop a following. Some of it casual, some of it very loyal and dedicated indeed. You need to remember that it may take months or even years of following an artist’s work and career before a collector buys your work. Your fans are invested their time in your you and your “journey” too so you need to keep them with you.
So here are my top 10 tips (BTW there is no affiliate marketing in this blog post and there’s so much more I could say but I’m sticking to 10 tips for starters).
Your story – Be positive. Nothing succeeds like success. There’s enough depressing news out there and your art is (hopefully) an escape from all that unpleasantness. So it’s important to celebrate all your successes no matter how small; every sale, exhibition, painting-in-progress is a cause for celebration. Don’t ever be tempted to say that you aren’t selling or you hate online galleries. Instead talk about your latest project. Explain WHY you make your art. How does it make you feel?
Have your own website – don’t build your house on someone else’s land. There are many different hosting platforms out there. There are some that specialise in hosting artists such as artweb, fasco and artmajeur or the very popular wordpress. They will all charge an annual fee (update: Artmajeur’s free plan now allows unlimited artworks to the site). You need to make sure that your site has ecommerce facilities. That means it doesn’t just function as a gallery but also as a shop where collectors can buy work.
Start blogging – a great way to tell your story is to write a blog. I use WordPress but there are other blogging sites like blogger and many websites will have a blog page integrated into the site. Your blogs don’t have to be great long essays but the important thing is to blog regularly. Some bloggers blog once a day, others once a week. Don’t be an occasional blogger. There’s nothing more frustrating than a blogger who only blogs three times a year. You will lose followers if you are inconsistent. Keep focused. Blog about your art and inspiration or art in general. Why do you make your art? How does it make you feel? Don’t blog about the news, your family, what you had for tea, latest fashions unless it’s directly related to art, and what inspires you. Which brings me to…
Social Media – there are lots of outlets, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube, etc. You don’t have to do them all (I dropped Tumblr, for example as it was a bridge too far) but make sure whichever platform you choose to be, do it well. To honest no one platform is necessarily better than the others for promoting your work, all of them will do something to help. Don’t post twenty times a day – it will seem like you are spamming people and they will unfollow you. Once or twice a day is enough, maybe three times on twitter. Hashtag your own name too #emmacownie so people can follow your work across the platform. The important thing to remember is that it’s called social media for a reason. You have to be sociable. If someone comments on your post it’s good manners to respond, with a “like” and a “thank you”. It’s important that you support other social media users and follow other artists, photographers of any supporters who like, comment on, and share your posts and return the favour. We all need encouragement. It’s important to encourage others. I have made many good friends out there in the online world. Again. like the blogging try not to mix business and personal stuff on your Art pages/sites – have a separate one for your own family stuff and stick to art-related things on your Art accounts.
Pinterest – It’s not just for recipes! It has 250 million users every month, with 25 million users in the US and about 80% are female. It’s not a social media platform but a search engine. It’s well worth joining to get your work seen and develop a following. It also a really good source of information about art marketing. I have learnt a lot about blogging, pinning, marketing, and websites from pins on Pinterest. If you want to see a selection, I have saved my Buying and Selling Art pins here.
Canva – is great for creating professional-looking blog covers, Pinterest graphics, and so on. I use it all the time. There’s also Pablo and Visme which does some pretty awesome infographics.
SEO– Use Key Words in your posts so that search engines like Google and Safari can find you. A website that is well optimized for search engines “speaks the same language” as its potential visitor base with keywords for SEO that help connect searchers to your site. I find this a vast subject but there are pins on Pinterest and sites like Moz.com will help you improve your SEO. Make sure that when you post your pictures on your website that you filling all the boxes.
Newsletters – build a list of email addresses on your website. These are your fans, collectors and interested artists. Some collectors watch your progress for years before they buy. This is how you keep them in touch with what going on with you. Not every one uses social media, especially older collectors but they read their emails. Again send out your newsletter on a regular basis, say, every fortnight or once a month. Mailchimp is a marketing platform that offers a free (if your list is under 2000 names) sign up forms and newsletter service. There are others here
Finally, Online Galleries – there are loads and loads to choose from. There is a very long list of online galleries here. It’s a bewildering choice. Some work better than others. There are massive ones like Saatchionline where it is difficult to be seen and smaller ones like Artbazzar that have less of a budget for advertising, there are others that charge to be on them like Artfinder and Artgallery. Others are still free to be on them such as Singulart, but they charge higher rates of commission. It makes sense to have a presence on several sites. Online galleries can be good for sales if they promote you.
Just remember that putting all your energies into one website or social media site is foolish, as it’s like building your house on someone else’s land. They all change their algorithm, pricing policies, curators, and what might work for you one year may not the next. I’ll give you an example, last year Facebook shut down my Emma Cownie Artist Business page with no explanation. This is not uncommon on Facebook. I tried in vain to find out why it had happened and to get it restored, to no avail. I lost thousands of followers and their contact details. I was devasted. That’s not a story I usually share as it’s not a positive one but let that be a warning not to put all your eggs into one social media basket (thankfully, I hadn’t, but it still hurt).
It’s always sensible to be on several platforms and sites and encourage your followers to follow you on different platforms. You can do within many ways such as an email signature with links to your social media platforms. There’s so much to learn and there are plenty of people out there who will offer tempting online courses on Art Marketing but I prefer to teach myself. I hope that this post will help other artists get seen. I welcome any comments, suggestions from other artists or commentators
I can hardly believe it myself! On Tuesday I sold my 600th painting via the online gallery www.artfinder.com. My sales total had been stuck on 599 what seemed like an unbelievably long time – it was a week in fact. I have actually sold more than that either directly or through other online galleries. All of those paintings were unique too. I have never gone in for mass producing generic scenes. I believe that novelty keeps my work “fresh”.
My work may explore certain themes such as the Brecon Beacons, Gower Woodlands, Swansea people, the Gower coast, but each painting is an individual. Each painting is of a real specific place or of real people. Perhaps that shows a failure of imagination on my part, I don’t know.
Although I may have had periods when I have felt a bit “flat”, such as after an exhibition, but so far I never actually run out of inspiration. This is partly due to the world around me constantly inspires me but also, more importantly, because of the unfailing encouragement, inspiration and support provided by my artist husband, James Henry Johnston (known to his friends as Seamas – pronounced “Shay-mas”).
Seamas founded our Art business in the midst of one of the most difficult times of my life. I had developed PTSD after a car accident and this contributed to a breakdown. Painting was an essential part of my recovery (and still is). Not only did he give me crucial emotional support through an incredibly difficult time, (all whilst sitting his Psychology finals) he set up a website and put some of my paintings on an online gallery called Artfinder. To our delight I started selling. Like many artists, I find the marketing side of the business challenging at times. I was terrified that people would be rude about my art and that would then affect my fragile confidence. Happily that has rarely happened.
So in those early days Seamas acted as “shield” and would write all those upbeat posts on Facebook about sales and upcoming exhibitions. He would also work on direct sales, face-to-face and online, negotiating terms with collectors. I have only really come to appreciate the sheer amount of time and effort he has put into promoting my work since I started working as a full-time artist and had to tackle platforms like pinterest and instagram. That term “full-time artist” is a misnomer as it might give you the impression I spend all say in the studio. I spend at least half my time working on social media and marketing.
Artfinder has been a massive part in being able to make that leap and become a full-time artist. Being self-employed is full of ups and downs, it’s very much “feast or famine” so to look back and see 600 sales over 5 years is quite amazing. Long may it continue. I was going to end this by quoting Samuel Butler, Victorian novelist and satirist who said; “Any fool can paint a picture but it takes a wise man to be able to sell it”, but I want to rephrase that with “Any fool can paint a picture but it take a genius to sell it.”
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