One of the only things that feels better than meeting a person who wants to buy your art is meeting a person who puts you in position to sell more of your art. Customers are great, but emerging artists need true champions of their work. You might find one on Facebook or Instagram, and when you do you’ll realize just how useless everyone else on those platforms actually are to you (and also why it’s still worth it to have a social media presence). More than likely, you’ll come into contact with your true supporters — your champions — the same old-fashioned way I did, by pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, doing art fairs and basically getting away from the computer and out into the world. People don’t like to hear this advice because it’s usually easier facing rejection online than in-person. And you will experience rejection. I look at it this way; The number of times you fail is not an indicator of how bad your work is, but rather how resilient and persistent you are in the face of failure. Success will come when you least expect it.
A champion is not the same as a patron; He or she doesn’t have to be a person with vast financial resources or connections (although that certainly helps). A champion is someone who believes in your work enough to do more than simply share your Facebook page or like your Instagram photos. This person goes out of their way to help further your career, or does a few small things that make a big difference in the way you operate. Maybe it’s free studio space, or a place to store your expanding inventory of artwork. A great example of this was when Seabrook Satterlund, owner of Whiski Kitchen Design Studio, lent me a trailer so I could transport my outdoor installation to the Dexter public library, which saved me a lot of money and time.
A champion talks about your work, and promotes you as an up-and-comer. Even a storeowner or gallery curator can be a champion. I would argue dealers aren’t doing their job if they are anything less. It’s a symbiotic relationship, but one that can be tested over time.
Anyone who agrees to sell your work doesn’t automatically gain champion status. After six months, have any sales been made? How prominently is your work displayed? Does your stuff appear on the store’s website or social accounts?
There are exceptions to everything, though. Jimi Palazzolo, a Michigan salon owner was one of the first important champions of my work, yet I never made a single sale through him. Why does he matter so much? For starters, he was the first person to let me hang big light fixtures in his store, located on a busy street in downtown Royal Oak. Instantly I got tons of exposure, and a lot of great photos. So what, you say? Might seem like a bad deal; Jimi gets a bunch of cool lights and decor for free, and all I get upfront are the photos. But good product images are more important than ever, and it’s damn hard to convince anyone your work is gaining momentum if all of your pictures were taken in the same dining room or kitchen (yours).
When you’ve spent months or years trying to get your art out in the world, only to have a lot of doors slammed in your face, it’s a huge confidence-builder when someone finally say “yes.” I believe there’s a Jimi Palazzolo out there for every persistent artist. The only question is, how much failure can you stomach before you find him? Only you know the answer. If you’re struggling right now, hang in there and believe in yourself. Believe in your work. Leave yourself available to possibility, to opportunity, to old fashioned good luck, and when one door closes, another one will open.