© 2004, Scott Peck, All Rights Reserved
I often speak on the topic
of "Marketing in Today's New Economic Climate" and
when looking at the topic of client diversification and expanding your
photo markets, fine art photography keeps coming up as a viable addition
to your business.
When this question comes up in my seminars and workshops, I am usually
asked to define the market. For the purposes of targeting clients, there
are actually two fine art markets for photographers. One is the consumer,
often buying work directly from the photographer, but most often through
a gallery. This is art that hangs in the home. Second is the corporate
fine art market, with sales most often through a fine art rep or an
interior designer. This is art that decorates the public and private
spaces of companies--large and small! One photographer who has
found success in this field is Scott Peck (www.scottpeckphoto.com),
a Denver, Colorado, based photographer.
How did you get your start on a successful fine art career?
Scott Peck: I'd had a custom woodwork business
that employed 20 people that was making me miserable and I wanted to swap
for something where I was, once again, a one-man show involved with something
that was both technical and aesthetic. After getting out of my previous
business, I purchased a 35mm Canon body and lens and began a several year
long, seven days a week immersion into the world of photography, guided
by Ed Lacasse who became my mentor. I read intensely, studied all facets
of color management, traditional darkroom, and lighting theory. I started
learning Photoshop and spent a lot of time shooting film and reviewing
my results. I got my first prints shown in a little gallery in 1998 and
that was the beginning of this wild ride.
SB: What tips
can you share on making the transition to full-time artist?
SP: A number of artists have obviously come up through
the ranks carrying a day job but you need to have significant energy and
discipline to make that work. It is a lot of hard work but when you are
really motivated to make it happen it does not seem all that bad. A lot
of the needed energy comes out of loving what you are doing.
Realistically, you need to be thinking like a business owner in the sense
of having a balanced operation; really quality product, a reasonable price
point, a potential market, an effective marketing strategy, and professional
presentation for every aspect of what you do. There are literally tens
of thousands of individuals out there in love with the idea of being a
successful artist who are all competing for a relatively small amount
of quality wall space. Watching and learning how those masses get thinned
out has been both sobering and fascinating.
SB: Your website
lists so many galleries; how did you get them to accept you?
SP: From my previous business, I knew that impressive
presentation and portfolio quality were everything. I also found out that
most artists would walk in with a sheet of 35mm slides and then wonder
why they did not impress the gallery owner. Instead, I would lug around
30" and 40" full-sized prints and go for the impact, backed
up with well-done literature and support material that I could leave behind.
Also, I quickly discovered that the great majority of the fine art establishments
had a negative attitude toward photography. So I would politely decline
to disclose my media when queried, adding a little suspense to what I
might have, showing my work on the new canvas giclee substrates rather
than my normal glossies. I'd try to really take advantage of a look
that I had with my work that did not immediately scream "photography."
SB: So, what
marketing or business tips can you pass along to our readers?
SP: The best advice that I can give comes from the owner
of my best gallery. He told me about the five basic requirements to have
a great career.
One, show something that is unique. If what you have is just another version
of what many others have done before, don't expect to knock anyone
over. Look for initial honest feedback from beyond your loyal friends
and family. And, do your homework so that you really do understand what
is already out there (which is very sobering).
AddTwo, do something that will
appeal to a broad audience. The more people your work touches the greater
your chances of success. I'm not saying to chase what you think
the market might want--my work did not really start to take off until
I went into the studio and concentrated on doing work that best expressed
what I liked--but you must still be realistic as to how your work
is going to be perceived.
Three, have your work priced at a point that represents a value for what
is being offered. There is a big misconception that there are a lot of
people who will buy based on the perception that the value of images come
from high cost. There aren't. Conversely, if you offer your work
for $30 it is also hard to be taken seriously. Look for the middle ground.
Four, your work must be artistically and technically well-done. This knocks
a lot of artists out who just can't come up with the best presentation.
Five, limit the quantity of what you offer; try to come up with edition
sizes that you can have sold out in 24 months or less. Supply and demand
is a huge part of the marketing game for savvy galleries and limited editions
comprise a large part of that market, particularly with today's
technology. Don't offer 1000 pieces if you can only sell three;
don't offer 10 if you can sell 100 (I've screwed up both sides
of this equation and highly recommend a good Ouija board).
SB: How did
you get so widely published?
SP: Early on, I applied to every "call for entry"
and competition that came along, knowing that no one was ever going to
buy my work if they did not know it existed. Unfortunately, I found that
the majority of these affairs were either poorly done or juried by one
person. Over time, I backed off and started just applying to the bigger
name events with multiple jurors, such as Graphis and Communication Arts.
The Communication Arts piece came from applying to their "call for
entry." I knew the odds were remote as they received over 10,000
entries from around the globe and would be picking less than 1 percent
of them. Still, I was confident that I had a unique look that was reasonably
well-done and took the chance.
My first View Camera magazine article came from sending in an unsolicited
sampling of my work and getting an immediate response asking if I would
consider writing an accompanying article. With a background in writing,
I gladly accepted and was thrilled with the response. The second time,
I submitted a pictorial of my most recent work and a complete article
already written, complete with all the necessary digital files. I am working
on my third piece for them now.
SB: What do
you think makes your marketing stand out among fine art photographers?
SP: I offer a lot of support material that explains the
how and why behind my work that also shares a very personal aspect of
who I am and where I "go" to find my images, which seems to
be very important to the average collector. Besides a comprehensive portfolio,
I have literature covering what's behind the different categories
of my work, individual handouts that personalize each piece in my repertoire,
digital CDs with slide shows, my website, and an e-mail network.
SB: Any final recommendations you can make--lessons
SP: For your marketing, the earlier phases are clearly
the very hardest and take a lot of perseverance and willingness to be
rejected, not easy when you feel that you are laying your heart out on
the table in front of critical strangers. People in the middle of the
art world are like anyone else--they are looking for a quality product
that can sell, supplied by someone who is responsible and nice to deal
with. It really is that simple. After you do break in somewhere, make
sure their experience in dealing with you is wonderful. You are laying
the foundation for networking, which is where your real growth will come
from. The first time a significant gallery or magazine calls you, you
will collapse in utter shock, but it is what you were working so hard
for. From there, it gets a lot easier. Not easy, mind you, just easier.