Yvonne Branchflower's Art Blog

VMRC 11th Annual Juried: An exhibit worth entering

Update 6-13-2014:

Once again, this terrific exhibit sold my painting.  Their 2015 prospectus will be online in September 2014.


This is a well-run art exhibition that consistently sells my paintings.  While the venue might be surprising (a senior-citizen’s development), bear in mind that seniors have children, grand-children and friends.  In the senior community in which I live, residents buy paintings as holiday gifts, and sometimes they buy for themselves.  So don’t dismiss the venue.

 

 Here is why I recommend you enter this exhibit:

  • NO COMMISSION on sales
  • $35 for up to 3 entries (pretty standard fee)
  • 37% of the artwork sold last year (2013)
  • Over $5,000 in Merit and Purchase Awards (I’ve won a couple of them)
  • Well organized, pleasant people running the exhibit
  • Jurors with highly respectable qualifications
  • Over 2,000 people visit this annual exhibit

March 15, 2014 is the deadline for receiving entries.

Prospectus:  http://www.vmrc.org/files/vmrc/29/29064c43-6389-4c52-a6c8-edcb897a5782.pdf

Images of last year’s exhibit:  http://www.vmrc.org/files/vmrc/44/44fb95d1-3631-4c3f-b9cb-97a179030fa1.pdf  (Red prices indicate sold.)

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How to Make Your Home Page Stickier


"Autumn Patterns" 5x7 oil painting

A few months ago I decided my home page bounce rate was too high.  Google analytics showed my home page bounce rate routinely above 65%.  One month it was 77%.  This is the page the majority of visitors first land on—and I was losing them.  I did an on-line search and found many articles that helped me recognize strengths and weaknesses on my home page, and with a few modifications, lowered the home page bounce rate over 10%.  You will want to do your own research, but these tips will get you started:

 

Heading or Title

As an artist, your name is your brand.  It should come first, followed by a summary of what you do.  Example:  Yvonne Branchflower, oil paintings.  It should be big enough to see easily, but should not dominate your work.  (Using “artist” is too general, in my opinion.)

 

Subheading

This should concisely summarize the second most important facts about your work.  Example:  Small Landscape Paintings of Oregon and California.  People use search terms like these—and find me.  It may seem redundant to use “paintings” in both header and subheader, but when I used an abbreviated subheading of “Small Landscapes: Oregon and California” a search turned up lots of landscape gardeners.

 

Image

Changing or not changing the image is a personal choice.  I change mine every 2-4 weeks.

 

Call to Action

I really got hung up on this.  It is just not cool to shout “Buy my incomparably fabulous paintings NOW!”  Eventually, I decided my website is about more than selling paintings.  It includes my thoughts on art, and sharing information with viewers.  I decided on three calls to action:

  • Read my Notes From The Studio…. (my blog)
  • Subscribe to The Palette Keeper….(my newsletter)
  • See more paintings at….(my best selling gallery)

 

Each call to action has a link to the appropriate page on or off my site.  These calls to action improved the stickiness of my home page.

 

Readability

There are a lot of black background sites with white text.  They are very hard to read.  If you want your site read, use a light-to-medium background with black text.  Yes, black makes the paintings pop.  It also makes your text fall flat.  Keep the fonts simple and large enough to read.

 

Miscellaneous Home Page Additions

Based on web guru’s recommendations, I added:

  • My name and phone number
  • Copyright information
  • Last updated on….  (shows you keep your website current.)

 

Summary

I learned the hard way not to streamline my home page too much.  It is not enough to rely on one image to carry the burden of interesting viewers to look deeper into your website:   Entice the viewer with a few calls to action—with links.

 

I refuse to obliterate my paintings with a big copyright mark.  A general statement will suffice.

The value of “last updated on…” is up for grabs.  Some gurus say the search engines don’t see that.  I say, the viewer should, and perhaps search engines do, because I make changes often, record them, and rank pretty high in searches that don’t include my name.  It certainly doesn’t hurt to show the last update.

 

Make a note of your home page bounce rate for a few months leading up to your revisions, then see what happens.  This assumes, of course, that you read your analytics.  If you don’t, get with it!

 

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6 Easy Ways to Improve Your Art Website


"Dry Creek" 5x7" oil painting on panel

Getting the most out of your art website is crucial in today’s marketing climate.  Your website does not have to be extensive to impress viewers, but it must be current and easy to navigate.  Following are some tips for tuning up your website—go through the steps at least once every six months (quarterly is better.)

 

Check your outbound links

Check every outbound link on your website, including your prior blog posts.  If a link has broken, try to re-establish it (the URL may have changed.)  If it cannot be reestablished, give your reader a searchable phrase by which he may be able to find your source.

 

Check your internal navigation links

Don’t take for granted that your internal links always work:  They can fail for a variety of reasons.  If an internal nav link opens to a blank page, either get some interesting content on the page or delete the navigation link and page until you have material for it.

 

Use your spell checker

Spelling errors make you look unprofessional.  Give your entire website a baseline check.  An easy way is to copy-and-paste your text over to your word processing software and run it through spell and grammar checks there.  I do all my writing and editing in Word, then copy-and-paste to FASO’s templates. 

 

Use your grammar checker

This is harder for many people, especially those for whom English is not their first language.  Do your best.

 

Check your contact info

Sometimes we forget that the web doesn’t know we just moved, changed our phone number, or the phone company changed our area code.

 

Check location of your art

If you list the work’s current location in the description be sure to update the location as you move your work from studio to gallery to another gallery.  Since that is easy to neglect, make the verification of locations part of your tune-up.

 

 

Every time I give my website a tune-up I find a few quirks that need to be corrected.  Rather than commit them to memory, I make a list of what needs to be done and tackle it all at once.

 

When visiting other artist’s websites I do more than look at the art:  I look at presentation and learn.  Most artists maintain their websites nicely, but a large minority don’t.  Would you be favorably impressed by an art gallery that had filthy floors, loaded ashtrays, stinky bathrooms and crooked paintings?  Of course not!  You assume that if they don’t take care of their stuff, they won’t take care of yours.  Keep your website clean—take good care of it.  Be assured, you get judged by it.

 

Next week:  Some bigger improvements to your art website.  These may take a little longer, but they are worth it.

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Marketing and Imagination


"Golden Meadow" 8x10" oil on panel

There is a little magazine called Entrepreneur that I enjoy digging into every few issues.  Entrepreneur is not about art, but it is very much about creativity needed to make a business thrive.  Artists are by nature entrepreneurs, so why not just read an art magazine or book in which art marketing stuff has already been digested and regurgitated for you?  Because you just might miss a creative opportunity.

 

When I read Entrepreneur’s articles I don’t think like an oil painter trying to sell some paintings online.  I am open to random ideas, and while those ideas usually relate to art, it is less likely they would occur to me had I been reading an art marketing resource.  For example, because donuts were so successful, someone developed a franchise around cupcakes.  Surely one could do the same around a new type of art business.  That kept my imagination busy until my husband quashed it with, “Sounds like a non-profit organization.”  Ah well, only an hour had been spent on development, and none on research.  I’ll leave it to a young entrepreneur to develop Art IzUs.

 

Ann Handley's article, “The Customer Capture Contraption” (Entrepreneur, September 2011) didn’t really offer new ideas about blogging, but it put a different spin on old ones.  Handley is CCO of www.marketingprofs.com where you can find an abundance of free articles about marketing in general.

 

Few successful business people are insular.  They seek ideas from a wide base and can afford ongoing professional advice .  In contrast, artists tend to be insular and few of us can afford a staff of professionals.  There are many good art marketing books and articles available, and you should read them.  You should also reach beyond them to the broader world of marketing ideas for inspiration outside the art box.

 

Read some of Entrepreneur’s articles online at www.entrepreneur.com

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Blog Habits I Love

So, you read my prior blog 3 Fun Tips to Make Your Blog Better  and you’ve begun collecting great advice and examples in your folders.  You are looking at blogs critically, deciding what makes a blog compelling.  Following, are some blogging habits I appreciate (do these ring any bells with you?):

 

Integrated blogs:  An integrated blog is part of the website.  Graphic design is the same, giving both blog and website a uniform, professional look.  It is true that some blogging platforms are more versatile than others, but when reading an integrated blog, your visitor never leaves your website (unless following out-bound links.) Visitors who stay on your website are more likely to browse around to see what else you has to offer.  Don’t let your visitors wander off.

 

Out-bound links that open a new page:  Too often,  I follow interesting links only to lose track of the original fascinating website/blog that is full of so much valuable information.  Choosing the option to open a new page (or window) for your out-bound links keeps your site available to the viewer.  If a viewer likes, and doesn't lose, your site, he is more likely to bookmark it and be a return visitor.

 

Out-bound links that are explained:  Do you like to know where you are being sent and why?  Most people appreciate an explanation in the text or in one of those little balloons that opens when you hover over a link.

 

Blogs that give me the whole enchilada:  My attention span is short.  I will read a continuous blog.  I will abandon a blog that gives me one enticing paragraph and then says, “click here to read more.”  If you get irritated by that, don't inflict it on your readers.

 

A story with the painting:  We all love a good story, and a good story makes a painting and the artist memorable.  Such websites and blogs are more likely to get bookmarked and stay bookmarked.  Aspire to be as interesting, and spend time examining their paintings and writings.  These artists know how to build a good on-line following.

 

Titles that define the subject:  Time is short.  You are looking for information and the title will determine whether or not you read the article.  Cute or cryptic titles get passed over.  Probably, search engines pass them over, too.

 

If your paintings are your vision, your blog is your voice.  Be clear and true.

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3 Fun Tips to Make Your Blog Better

Blogging is coming of age, and the internet is full of great resources that can help you develop a blog that people want to read.  This post will help you identify and save those resources so you can refer back to them.

 

Open a second “home page” beside this page so you can do a little internet sleuthing.

 

1.  If you don’t have a Bookmark folder for “Blogging Tips,” make one now.  Right now.  Into that folder put www.problogger.net/blog/  and  www.dailyblogtips.com  .   Both sites are written by professional bloggers, and feature articles that inform you about good blogging practices.  They are not about art:  They are only about blogging.  Read the articles that interest you, and take time to notice titles because titles capture or lose readers.  Google “blog writing tips” for more resources.  Great bloggers link to other great bloggers, so follow some of their links for sites to add to your new “Blogging Tips” folder.

 

2.  Set up another Bookmark folder.  Call this one “Favorite Art Blogs.”  Put into this folder art blogs that you find compelling.  You will probably save art blogs for different reasons:  Some are informative, others are inspiring or beautiful.  Some art blogs market the art while others don’t.  Collect about a dozen, (more, if you like) keep them weeded as you find better blogs, and ask yourself why you like each of them.

 

3.  Have a place for notes.  I keep a 6x9” spiral bound notebook by my computer for notes about my blog and my newsletter, The Palette Keeper.  Using little stick-on dividers, the blog section is divided like this:

 

  • Blog do’s—things I deem important to good blogging.
  • Blog don’ts—things that would probably lose readers.
  • Topics to write about—this is important!  If you don’t maintain a list of things to blog about, your brain will turn to mush just when you really need to remind the world you exist.
  • Notes—odds and ends about blogging that don’t fit elsewhere.

Check your stats a day or two after you post on your blog.  Did you get a bump?  If so, you have readers!  Over time, your stats will reveal which of your posts are most popular, and you can use that to develop a subject theme for your blog.

 

I did say “Fun tips” in the title of this article.  You should enjoy your blog, however much or little you write for it.  Likewise, enjoy learning how to make it better.  It helps if you like to write, but even if just thinking about writing makes your brain cramp you can still publish an interesting blog—just keep it short and to the point.  So, how is your blog doing?

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18 Tips for a Great PR Photo


What makes a compelling self-marketing portrait for your website and brochure?  Do you want a face shot? Do you like the “artist in action” look? Or, would you like a blend of both? Plan on taking 50-100 photos (thank goodness for digital cameras!). It will take that many images to find a few that work really well, unless you are photogenic, which I am not.

1. Begin by collecting marketing photos of other artists—photos that interest you. Cut them out of old art magazines, artist brochures, art workshop ads, print them from artist websites, or scan them from book fly jackets. Stick them in a notebook and make notes of what you like about the photo. After a few of these you will begin to notice consistencies in your choices. (For example, I don’t like lower legs and feet in the picture and discovered cropping is not the only way of getting rid of them!) I also discovered that French easels with huge canvases are more dramatic than pochade boxes with small panels. If you are a plein air painter try both if you have the materials.

2. Have a patient spouse or friend do the photography, or have a “photo jam” with a couple other artists.  Try to get the camera in the hands of someone who has a sense of style and observation, and review with them what you want and don't want.  Show your photographer the pictures you have collected of other artists.

3. Relax, but don’t slouch. Use good painting posture and hold the brush properly.

4. Photograph in more than one background or setting.

5. Select time of day and weather. Late afternoon is popular with photographers because of the warm light. In my climate, sunny weather is glary, so I like the even light of overcast days for outdoor self-portraits. Don’t bother on windy days, unless you make the wind part of the visual story.

6. Plan on taking lots of photos in a few different settings, poses and expressions. My best expressions were when my husband was “fiddling with the camera settings”—I didn’t know he was taking pictures, so I put my hand on the top of the easel, my chin on my hand and gave him a bemused smile while I waited. Totally unposed, these were the best.

7. Generally speaking, wear neutral colors just as you would when painting en plein air. If you are a flower garden painter, however, you might want to brighten it up a little so you don’t get lost in all the color. One favorite in my notebook shows a smiling woman, one third of her face hidden behind her French easel and canvas. She is wearing a neutral shirt, but has on a broad-brimmed floppy floral fabric hat. She is surrounded by a blooming garden. This beautifully composed photograph shows an artist in her element.

8. My favorite photos show artists standing while painting. However, not all painters can stand for long periods, so sometimes it is appropriate for your portrait to show you seated. In that case, avoid letting the aluminum and bright plastic colors of your chair dominate your portrait.

9. Photograph at different angles: Facing the camera and various degrees of side view, and ¾ back view featuring your painted canvas and the matching subject.

10. Compose. Unless you have good photo editing skills, do extra work composing en situ.

11. Pay attention to your distant background: If you are a gritty “blighted landscape” painter, yonder dumpster may serve you well. But if you don’t want it in your portrait, avoid it.

12. Remove your own clutter from the scene, such as beverage containers, stool, bags, paper towel roll (some painters use toilet paper—what is a viewer supposed to interpret from a roll of toilet paper on an easel?)  If the portrait is about you as an artist, keep the paraphernalia simple. If it is about how you equip yourself to paint in the field, show it all.

13. Avoid trendy clothes unless you replace your marketing image frequently.

14. Hat is optional: Try different ones, and none.

15. Have the photographer stand far enough away to allow plenty of space around you, the model. Without the photographer right in your face, you stay more relaxed, your nose won’t be too big, and there is ample cropping space.

16. A formal face shot shows your potential collectors what you look like, but little about the artist you are. If you want a face shot, google portrait photography for lots of tips about making an interesting portrait.

17. From each photo shoot, try to accumulate several good PR photos that can be used for newspaper articles, holiday cards, and promotion in addition to your website and brochure.

18. Edit those photos freely. For those of you who are not technically savvy, cropping is pretty easy to learn and is often the only thing that needs to be done to an image. Do your editing on a copy: Always save your original unedited image until you are absolutely sure you don’t need it any more. Then keep it a little longer.

That’s it! Have fun out there, and feel free to add your suggestions.

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Does Name Change Hurt a Woman's Art Career?


What happens when a woman artist changes her name? Does a name change affect a woman’s art career, her ability to get gallery representation, or her income as an artist?

Early in my career the owner of a gallery to which I applied said she did not like to represent women artists because their production was frequently uneven and they changed their names with marriage(s). She added that these conditions made women artists difficult to promote.

Recently, a Dutch study linked name change with significantly lower lifetime income and fewer job offers. The study went further, dealing with societal perceptions toward women who change names. Basically, if you want to be liked, change your surname to your partner’s, but if you want a better career, never change your name. This is a tough choice, and I’m not being sarcastic.

As an artist, your name is your brand. Change it at your peril (hyphenating your name constitutes change, according to the Dutch study.) Search engines will lose you unless you do cross-referencing for the rest of you career, people will not remember your new name, old promotional material that is out there among your collectors, or potential collectors, becomes useless. When you change your name you will lose some of your collector base. And there is one more niggling issue: Name change indicates a change in your marital status, and that is nobody’s business. It is not something that should enter your patron’s mind.

You can maintain two names, your professional name and your married name, but that can be financially and socially confusing.  When you (re)marry, you can use your maiden name as your middle name (example: Yvonne MaidenName MarriedName,) possibly a comfortable option. Or, if you established your reputation under a married name, make it Yvonne #1MarriedName CurrentMarriedName.  FirstName keeps you findable by search engines, reduces confusion for other people and agencies, and allows you to go through your professional life with no visible name change. 

There are no easy answers, especially if your surname is from a marriage with which you would rather disassociate. Ask yourself, “What would Thomas Kincaid do?” Can you imagine that Master of Light and Self-Promotion changing his name to Thomas Wilson and maintaining his high profile? How would you recognize an invitation to a Judy Chicago exhibition if it was marketed under any other name?

What are your thoughts on the cost of marital name change and the woman artist?  If you have gone through name changes, how has it affected your career?

(Reference:  University of Tilburg, Holland.  Sorry, the link is broken that I had to the report.)

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Make your gallery happy!


"Lavender and Gold"

Phil and Jennie at Jack’s Fine Art gave me the nicest bunch of compliments today. He is grateful for the general uniformity of my frames (most of my frames are the same style with a few exceptions.) Phil also appreciates my consistency in measuring where I place eyelets and wire, which makes hanging faster and replacement of sold paintings a cinch.

In my framing tool box is a chart that specifies by frame size how far down from the top of the frame to install the eyelets. I stretch the wire moderately tight. If I deliver a bunch of 18x24” paintings the Gallery only has to measure one painting, and all the rest will hang at exactly the same level.

Phil also thanked me for never bringing in wet paintings (artists do that???). On previous deliveries Jennie was pleased with my typed inventory of new paintings. If I annoy them, it is probably because I chat too much when I take in paintings—they are nice people, knowledgeable about art and the community, but they do framing in addition to the gallery and are busy. Still, I enjoy our lively conversations about politics, the abysmal economy and our hopes for the future.

Develop the best possible relationship with your galleries: Be consistent and thoughtful in how you present your art to them. And enjoy it when they pat you on the back.

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