Better Your Chances at Landing a Public Art Commission: Advice from the Field

Is landing a public art commission your white whale? Want to increase your chances of being selected for an RFQ?

We get it – public art commissions are competitive. We want to help you succeed in your career and start landing those projects.

We sought out the advice of Beth Ravitz, a public artist and public art consultant in southern Florida, and Carolyn Braaksma*, a public artist in Denver. Here is what they shared:


Q: When you first started applying for public art commissions what is one mistake that you made and learned from?     

BETH: The importance of EXCELLENT images of projects.


Q: How can artists get feedback during the application process?

CAROLYN: Quite often the public art programs will host an info session to give new artists insight on applying for Calls for Artists.               


Q: Has applying to RFQs online improved the submission process for artists or are there still challenges?

BETH: Online submissions have improved the applying process 100%! CaFÉ has made the process so much better for artists.

CAROLYN: The new way with online applications is definitely more cost effective. We now aren’t paying hundreds of dollars for slides.


Q: Public art commissions are very competitive. How does an artist stand out?

BETH: Again….artists must make sure they have excellent images of their work.  

Be sure to write a tailored letter of interest that ties into the specific project and site that is requested.

Keep it short! Committees do NOT like to read; they have enough work going through images.    

Another hint – artists should make every effort to contact the Public Art administrator and develop a relationship with that person.  Ask for advice on your submission. If you are a semi-finalist and do not get the project, ask for feedback.

I developed a relationship with an artist from Portland, OR as the administrator for Lauderhill, Florida. He kept contacting me for information about his submission.  At first it was annoying, but then along the way he became very interesting to me as we began an art relationship of exchanging ideas.  He did not get the project, but we became friends. I got a project a year later in Portland, and contacted him.  He was extremely helpful!!  He went to the site for me to accept the art shipment and found me an installer!  As a result, I invited him for a short list for a project in Lauderhill.

CAROLYN: That’s a mystery because as the application process has become easier, there are many more artists applying for the projects. Making the shortlist has a LOT to do with what the panel wants for their project and what their agenda is. It’s a crapshoot to make the short list unless the artist has a big reputation.


Q: If you can improve one thing in the competition processes what would it be?

BETH: I would limit the number of submissions allowed.  Each administrator should tailor it to their City. Does a committee really need 300 submissions? I think the MOST submissions allowed should be 200. The first 200 artists to apply get their applications accepted. Or, the number could be less if the City is smaller. Again, it should be left up to the administrator/consultant. Many times, to ease the process, I invite a limited amount of artists to submit.

CAROLYN: Eliminate proposals and RFPs. Use RFQs ONLY that are based on our past work and qualifications. From that, the panel should be able to determine how the artist thinks and processes. The more evolved programs do not use RFPs – as programs that do oftentimes ask too much of artists especially when the honorarium doesn’t cover a site visit.

Feeling more confident? Find a public art RFQ on CaFE and apply today!

*See Carolyn’s public art works on Public Art Archive!

Social Media for Artists: Tips for Facebook, Instagram & Twitter

Social media.

The term has become synonymous with marketing. It is supposed to unlock marketing opportunity and sales for artists. But, how? We’re sharing a few tips for leveraging your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.

Before we dive into each platform, here are a few general social media best practices:

  • The 80/20 rule: People do not want to be barraged with sales messaging. Instead, dedicated 80% of your posts to entertaining your viewers and 20% promoting to them.
    • Content quality over quantity: Make sure your content is valuable to your readers and you’re not posting for posting’s sake. Connect with your customers in an authentic way.
  • Brand consistency across platforms: Make it easy for consumers to recognize your business and brand by maintaining consistency in: your logo and tagline, imagery and your bio/artist statement and tone and voice of your content. Follow successful artists and pay attention to how they brand themselves.
    • Dashboards save time: Download and use a social media dashboard like Tweetdeck or HootSuite to manage your social accounts.
  • Track engagement: Stay tuned to what posts perform well so you can get an idea of best performing content and timing for your audience.
  • Be consistent: Don’t come out of the gates sprinting. Only commit to a feasible amount of posting. You don’t want to set up unrealistic expectations with your followers.

Facebook

  • Engagement: Encourage engagement by asking a question in your post. And make sure to follow up with all comments! Engagement keeps readers coming back for more.
  • Cadence: It’s recommended to post once a day.
  • Timing: Studies show that the best time to post on Facebook is between 1pm – 4pm. But remember, since that’s a popular time, there will be a lot of competition; consider testing posts at other times.

Inspiration: Here are 10 Artist Facebook pages for inspiration. You can also learn from other types of businesses here. And, Facebook provides artist profile advice.


Twitter

  • Post length: At the end of September Twitter changed the game. It doubled the character length allowed in posts, from 140 to 280 characters.
    • Save characters by using a URL shortener like Bit.ly or TinyURL.
  • Timing + Cadence: According to the research of an established entrepreneur, Tim Ferriss, the best time to Tweet is  between 4:30 – 6:00pm ET. And he recommends posting about 6 times in that 1.5 hour window. The second most effective time is between 10:00am – 2:00pm ET.
  • Re-tweet (RT): Re-tweet posts to get the attention of collectors, artists, organizations and others you’d like to follow you.
  • Photos: Share a photo using Twitpic to share your complete or works in progress. It’s a great way to get your work out there and get feedback along the way.

Instagram

  • Consistency: Treat your account and the grid of images as a collection. Every photo should be cohesive. The easiest way to achieve this consistency is to choose a color scheme and stick with it. Some artists use only pastels or earth tones.

*Hashtag: Back up..what is a hashtag? A hashtag is a tag; anyone who clicks on a hashtag is taken to a stream of all posts with that same tag. According to ArtistsNetwork: “The right combination of hashtags helps expose you and your work to a larger but also targeted audience by making what you’re specifically offering easier to find.”

6 Resources to Help You Sell Your Artwork without Headache and Hassle

You don’t need a Masters in Business to sell your artwork. And you don’t have to feel like you are “selling out” when selling. We have 6 helpful resources to give you the tools and knowledge to make genuine and fruitful sales online and offline.

How to Sell your Artwork Online By Cory Huff 

Resource Type: Book

Online sales are increasing. The lionshare of the market has been held by galleries, separating artists and collectors, but now the internet has changed the game. There’s a new generation of artists connecting directly with buyers online.

How to Sell Your Art Online outlines how to set up an effective website and provides advice on email marketing, blogging, social media marketing and paid advertising.

Huff provides exercises that artists can use to clarify the intellectual and emotional process behind their art, and teaches them how to turn that knowledge into unique stories they can tell online and in person.

ArtistsNetwork.com

Resource Type: Website

ArtistsNetwork.com is a subdivision of F+W Media, Inc. Art Community, which offers books and articles for artists, art videos, online art classes, and art contests. Check out the Art Career Tips and Articles section of the site to boost your sales. Here are two helpful articles:

Art Commissions: General Rules for Selling Art. From the article, “If you underprice your work, the purchaser will value it accordingly. If they pay $25 dollars for something, they will not treasure it nearly as much as they would had they paid $250. You tell the customer what your art is worth by the price that you charge. Sell it cheap, and it may end up being discarded, or sold in a garage sale.”

Selling Artwork Online reminds you of the importance of paperwork legal counsel – “Wherever you sell art online–whether through your own eCommerce store or an online art selling hub–make sure you are protected and you consult a legal professional and or CPA beforehand.”

Artsy Shark’s 250+ Places to Sell your Artwork Online

Resource Type: Online Directory

Artsy Shark gives artists a directory of places that they can market and sell their artwork. General categories include marketplaces, website providers, commission sites and print on demand services. Here are a few examples:

  • Portraity: This site aims to connect artists and clients who want commissioned portraits. Upload your portfolio onto the site and a “contact” button puts potential clients in touch with you.
  • Society6: This provider takes your uploaded art images and uses them to make prints, canvases, iPhone cases, hoodies and more. Set your price, and you receive payment for everything over the base price of their products.
  • Square: This is the same group that created the Square card reader. This popular marketplace offers free online stores, with a very clean contemporary look. Use it as your website or link to them as your store.

The Wealthy Artist: 6 Myths and 6 Tips on Marketing your Art

Resource type: YouTube Video

This YouTube video is help for up-and-coming artists. CanvasPop co-founder, Adrain Salamunovic, debunks 6 myths on marketing artwork and offers advice on how to market artwork while maintaining your artistic integrity. how up-and-coming artists can market their works and still maintain their artistic integrity. Here are two myths he addresses:

  • “Creating prints of my will reduce its value.”
  • “If I increase my art prices, I will make more money.”

How to Sell Your Art: Discover How to Stop Being a Starving Artist and Start Being a Successful Entrepreneur  By Alex Korman

Resource Type: Book

Most artists want to make art, not sell it, but in order to turn your passion into a career, you have to think like a business(wo)man and be entrepreneurial. This book gives you those tools without sacrificing your creativity. Here is what you’ll learn:

  • Understanding your market
  • Composing your artist statement
  • Refining your sales pitch
  • Knowing how to price your pieces
  • Discovering where you art belongs
  • Identifying the buyers
  • Defining your target market
  • How to sell art online

 

Etsy Artist: How to successfully launch, market and sell your art on Etsy By Clare Hudson

Resource Type: Book

From the author: “When I started my Etsy shop, I tried looking for a book that specifically focused on selling art and art prints on Etsy, but couldn’t find one. This ebook includes everything I wish I’d been told right from the start and outlines the strategies that worked well for me in the first eight months of having my Etsy shop. There’s also a chapter on tips from other Etsy shop owners who sell artwork.”

It covers everything from creating a successful brand to writing engaging descriptions and effective tags that will help lead customers to your work.

Commonly Asked Questions about Estate Planning – ANSWERED!

This is a compilation of advice from experts and articles. We advise that you seek legal counsel before taking an action as these answers are supposed to be guidelines not action steps.

What should be done with my art work?

You have a few options:

Sell your artwork before or after you pass. Selling art is more expensive than selling other assets. The capital gains tax on art is 28% vs. the usual 20%. The artist is responsible for paying a sales commission, taxes, and most likely, shipping.

If you sell the works after you pass, the capital gains tax is reduced or eliminated. Make sure the work’s value is clearly recorded and communicated. Sometimes family members or executors do not know the value of works and may sell them for less at auction after you pass.

Give pieces to your family and other beneficiaries. It’s highly recommended to leave records and resources to your beneficiaries so that they can maintain your art. This includes names of appraisers, insurance agents, framing experts, gallerists and other specialists.

Set up an LLC. You can leave artwork to multiple beneficiaries through an LLC. What is an LLC? A limited liability company (LLC) is a corporate structure whereby the members of the company cannot be held personally liable for the company’s debts or liabilities.

An LLC allows family members to be responsible for the collection as a group. If they decide to sell one piece, they split the profits evenly. Can’t decide who is your favorite child? You can avoid choosing specific pieces for specific family members.

In an LLC, the heirs own the interests rather than the artworks. The managers are typically responsible for maintaining insurance, display, storage and sales. You can have more than one manager of the LLC.

Set up a trust. A panel of experts at a NYFA legal discussion highly recommended setting up a trust. Why? You can save on taxes. There is a one-time credit available; the IRS allows up to $5.5 million of the value of artwork to NOT be subject to taxation. The exempt amount of artwork can be set aside in a trust and not be taxed again. The appreciation of the work is free of taxation.

Donate to a museum or other type of organization. Donating artwork during your lifetime is called inter vivos gift. There are three requirements for an inter vivos gift.

  1. There has to be an intent to divest the title by the donor.
  2. The donee has to accept the artwork.
  3. The donor has to deliver the work to the donee.

If you donate your art to a charitable organization or museum before you pass, you get an income tax deduction of up to 30% of your adjusted gross income. The deduction is based on the value of the work at the time of the gift.

Donating your art to a museum is the simplest option. No one has to worry about tracking and managing separate pieces, your entire collection is delivered to the museum and your estate receives a tax deduction based on the current valuation.

Make sure your intent is clear. Produce a written document that clearly describes your intentions and the rights that are being extended through the gift. Note: An artwork’s copyright does not automatically transfer just because the physical object is gifted to someone.

Can I only leave artwork to my relatives?

You can leave artwork to anyone. A beneficiary / heir does not have to be blood related. The technical term for heirs is a “non-charitable beneficiary.”

Why is it important to keep an inventory of my art? And what should it include?

Imagine your loved ones going through boxes of papers and manila folders trying to make sense of your collection. That seems brutal, right?

It’s good practice to keep track of your artwork in a systematic way whether that’s using an online or desktop database system, or an organizational product like Excel. It’s even more important to make sure all that information is centralized and easily accessible when you pass away and cannot help those that have to sift through records and post-it notes.

There have been major lawsuits and issues over authentication from poor record keeping. When an artist fails to keep records of their works during their lifetime, it is hard to determine authenticity.

An art inventory should keep all records of your works including: photographs, sale records including the contacts, storage or consignment information, artwork materials and dimensions and any other relevant information that would be helpful for say, someone wanting to mount an exhibit of your work – press releases, notes about the creation process, etc..

How do I start the estate planning process?

First, start documenting and inventorying your artwork. Maintain accurate records (value, location, maintenance needs, etc.) and keep it all centrally located. You can find many desktop or cloud-based art inventory systems to fulfill your needs. Just Google it.

Keep all information related to your art and career in the same central location. This includes show reviews, photographs, invoices, correspondences with dealers, collectors, artists, etc.

Make sure to:

  • Sign, date and title all of your artwork….legibly.
  • Price your work or get an appraisal.
  • Assign an executor.
  • Assign a power of attorney.
  • Leave no loose ends. Make sure your representatives (executor, heirs, agents, etc.) know what you want done with your art.

How do I find a lawyer who will understand my needs as an artist?

Ask fellow artists, your art dealer and other professionals. Check out Arts & Business Councils and Volunteer Lawyers Associations near you. They often have connections to attorneys practiced in art estates.

How much will this all cost? Storage, executor fees, taxes, etc.?

It depends. You’ll have to pay your attorney and most likely your executor. There will be taxes on selling your work. And there are additional costs for artist estates – storage, insurance, and appraisals. You can reduce the cost of storage by gifting it to organizations that will handle that aspect, like museums. It’s recommended to hire an accountant for all of this.

To learn more, read this helpful PDF produced by the Pittsburgh Arts Council.

 

How to Photograph 3D Artwork with Dimension and Detail

We recently posted How to Photograph Your Artwork: Professional Photos Without the Cost, which focused on photographing two-dimensional works. This week we’ll cover how to photograph sculpture, ceramics and other three-dimensional art.

Photographing 3D works has its own unique challenges. How do you best capture the dimensionality and volume of the art? How do you capture its texture and avoid losing details? We’ve break down the process into simple steps.

Step 1: Position your art

  • Place the art on a flat surface with a neutral background.
  • If you don’t have white or light gray walls, buy a roll of seamless paper and set up a sweep. What is a sweep? It is a smooth and continuous backdrop formed by paper in an arc shape. To form an arc with the paper, tape it to the edge of the table/flat surface and sweep it to a vertical point behind the table/flat surface.
  • Don’t place the art too close to the background; give it some space. If using a sweep, don’t place the artwork where it starts to sweep up.

Step 2: Light the art

  • If you want even, diffused light, position two lights 45 degree away from the art. Learn how to easily accomplish this in our post about photographing 2D works.
  • If you want contrast and shadows, use two lights and play with moving one of the lights around (adjust distance and angle from object). Avoid competing shadows that will make it hard for the viewer to focus on the work itself.
  • Add a third light if you need more dimensionality.
  • If photographing ceramics, it is recommended to use only one light, and to place it directly over the subject so the light shines down onto it. This creates a shadow under the bottom edge and grounds the object.
  • Adjust the softness of the light by raising or lowering the light. The closer the light is to the subject, the larger and softer the light will be. Soft light lessens the harsh edges of shadows and creates smooth gradations of tone and color.  
  • Use a diffuser. A diffuser is made of translucent material and is placed between the object and light source to soften the light and shadows.
  • Shape the light with cardboard. Place the cardboard between the work and the light and play with angling it to create preferred gradients.
  • Tip: Strong shadows create a sense of weight to a piece, which allows a potential buyer to imagine how it would feel to be held.

Step 3: Set your camera settings

  • Set the camera to shoot in RAW so you get the most digital information in your image.
  • Set the ISO to 100 to reduce the “noise” in the image.
  • Set the camera to Aperture Priority and set the aperture to f/8 or higher to get your entire work in focus (if you want it in sharp detail). You want a larger depth of field when shooting a work up close – more depth means more details.
  • Set your white balance. Our earlier post walks you through the process. If you want to set a custom white balance to get your whites absolutely white in challenging light situations, we recommend using a gray card. Never used one before? Here is an article describing how to use a gray card.

Step 4: Position your camera

  • Place your camera on a tripod or a secure platform like a shelf to avoid camera shake and blurry photos.
  • Play with angling the camera to capture different perspectives of the work – shoot straight on or from above.
  • Place the tripod so that the art fills almost the entire frame. Avoid distortions by zooming.

Step 5: Snap away

  • Make sure to photograph your work from multiple angles.
  • If you’re not using a tripod, use your camera’s timer so that your pressing of the shutter does not create camera shake – it doesn’t take much!
  • Shooting an installation? Use a wide-angle lens to capture the entirety of the work. Wide-angle lenses allow you to get more in the frame.

Step 6: Edit your photos

  • Crop the image.
  • Adjust color, focus and contrast if necessary.
  • Save as a JPEG or TIFF. You can make derivative JPEGs from your TIFF to match upload requirements — like CaFE’s, which just changed to make your life easier! Read about it here.
  • For more helpful tips, read our post about making photo edits, easy.

More of a visuals-type of person? Watch this YouTube video by Dan Meyers to get more advice and techniques for photographing your 3D work.

Now start propping, lighting and snapping professional-looking photos of your 3D works and get it uploaded to your CaFE portfolio so you can start submitting wow-worthy photos of your art.

10 Art Business Books to Ignite Your Art Career

There are over 73,000 results for “Business of Art” books on Amazon. That’s overwhelming! We’ve curated the list down to our 10 favorites.

These art business books will help grow your career whether you need advice on art marketing, legal issues, selling or grant writing.


The Artist’s Guide: How to Make a Living Doing What You Love

Author: Jackie Battenfield

Jackie Battenfield, a successful artist and professional development coach, wrote this comprehensive guide to teach emerging and mid-career artists how to build and maintain a professional art career. Battenfield provides strategies for all aspects of the job – marketing, online promotion, grant writing and portfolio development. It’s all easy to comprehend through her real-life examples, illustrations and step-by-step exercises. Keep this book by the nightstand!


I’d Rather Be in the Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion

Author: Alyson Stanfield

“Enjoy sharing your art as much as your enjoy making it.” – Alyson Stanfield

Self-promotion is a big part of succeeding in the art world  and unfortunately for most artists, it doesn’t come easy.  Luckily, Alyson Stanfield, an art marketing expert, consultant, and author of the popular The Art Biz Blog, helps artists market themselves authentically and genuinely. This book focuses on Internet marketing – building a social media presence, blogging and newsletter secrets, and getting your name into search engines.


Legal Guide for the Visual Artist

Author: Tad Crawford

Whether you like it or not, the legal system is a part of our professional lives. Art law expert, Tad Crawford, crafted an informative guide of the legal implications artists face. He walks through contracts, taxes, copyright, litigation, commissions, licensing, and artist-gallery relationships with practical examples. He also shares sample legal forms and contracts, and offers tips for connecting with affordable attorneys.


Arts & Numbers: A Financial Guide for Artists, Writers, Performers, and Other Members of the Creative Class

Author: Elaine Grogan Luttrull

Budgeting, taxes and cash flow, Oh My! Books about finances are usually dull and boring, but not this book by CPA and artist, Elaine Grogan Luttrull. It’s filled with engaging stories and examples to help you succeed in your business endeavors. Luttrell will boost your confidence and expertise in taxes, budgets, money management, business etiquette, and much more.


The Artist’s Guide to Grant Writing

Author: Gigi Rosenberg

Are grants your white whale? This guide gives you all the fishing supplies you need like writing tips and marketing strategies from grant officers, grant writers and fundraising specialists. Tap into the fundraising resources at your disposal and finance your artistic endeavors with this accessible read.


The Artist’s Guide to Selling Work

Author: Annabelle Ruston

How do you sell your work in today’s competitive market? This guide covers selecting the right gallery, approaching galleries, pricing, terms and conditions, artist agents, working with publishers, and public art commissions. Ruston also gives advice on social networking and e-marketing so that you can seize digital opportunities.


Show Your Work!: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Getting Discovered

Author: Austin Kleon

“[The] subtitle could just as easily be, ‘How to Self-promote Without Being a Jerkface.’ It’s an incredibly useful and compulsively readable short book.” — The Fast Company

Austin Kleon helped readers unlock their creativity in the New York Times bestseller, Steal Like an Artist. Now, he helps artists get known in his 10-step journey of self-promotion in which he encourages creatives to share their work and voice. The book is small and short, but it packs a punch.

Kleon emphasizes audience building as a process, not a product. Chapters like “You Don’t Have to Be a Genius;” “Share Something Small Every Day;” and “Stick Around,” contribute to the manifesto of being open, generous, brave and productive in our digital age.


Art Inc. – The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist

Author: Lisa Congdon

“Art, Inc. is a revelation. At long last, there is a resource to help creative people articulate their aesthetic values, successfully brand their business, and manage their artist’s income.” – Debbie Millman, president, Sterling Brands

Professional artist, Lisa Congdon, helps artists do what they love and make a career out of it. Learn how to set actionable goals, diversify your income, manage your bookkeeping, copyright your work, promote with social media, build a standout website, exhibit with galleries, sell and price your work, license your art, acquire an agent, and much more.


Sell With Confidence

Author: Barry Watson

Sales does not have to be sleazy. Barry Watson shares actionable techniques to improve your confidence and skills as a salesperson. Understand the true nature of selling, discover the “secret sauce,” be yourself, positively redefine rejection, turn setbacks into comebacks, and create a sales-confidence game plan. You’ll also get a downloadable 7-Step Sales Cheat Sheet!


Art/Work- Everything You Need to Know (and Do) As you Pursue Your Art Career

Authors: Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber

No matter where you are in your professional career, you’ll get incredible value from this comprehensive guide. Heather Darcy Bhandari, a gallery director, and Jonathan Melber, an arts lawyer, give you the business and legal tools to stay in control of your career. The book covers business basics like inventory tracking and preparing invoices; legal precautions like registering a copyright and drafting consignment forms; promotional tools like websites and business cards; and how to approach career decisions like choosing the right venue for showing your work. Don’t learn these lessons the hard way!