I always enjoy reading the business plans that come my way from participants in Assets for Artists. Some are epic, the business plan equivalent of The Odyssey, while others are like an 18th century miniature, astounding for their compression of a rich life onto a tiny canvas.
I particularly enjoy when an artist manages to pull off a strategic plan and financial portrait of their business housed within a kind of personal manifesto on living creatively for one’s daily bread. That’s what I got the other day from painter Michael Wolski of Becket, MA.
I love Michael’s simple, evocative paintings with their colorful, folk art aesthetic that he terms “naive.”
But the “old world” style of his work masks a lot of wisdom about turning that work into a modern day living. Every year, Michael travels up and down the east coast to numerous high-quality art fairs, sometimes as many as 18 in a single year, putting himself and his work in front of potential art buyers. It’s arduous, but he has built a strong following and has learned first-hand why people continue to buy his work. As Michael explains in his business plan (excerpted here with his permission):
I chose to be a sole proprietor because of the relationship I have with the work that moves through me. I have found that the sharing of my process with the public attaches a story to the item being purchased. Meeting the artist, hearing about the image’s inspiration, and understanding how the image unfolded, is part of what the client values. It is what he or she wants to take with them and returns for. Through this exchange of conversation and ideas, I learn more about my work and gain a more educated public. With that, my business grows stronger.
There’s a mutual respect between artist and buyer that needs to be valued and cultivated. Slick marketing materials and creative distribution channels matter, of course, but you can’t overstate the importance of the relationship that a successful artwork forges between the creator and the buyer. As Michael goes on to say:
Throughout history there have been great resurgences of art and culture; the very creation of art is for the most part unexplainable, yet by practicing it daily you receive small gifts of understanding, which people who are not doing it for their life work love to hear about. The future is in the strength of the work, whether it resonates with a large enough part of the population. People will always be looking for the hands-on, original work that they can appreciate, debate and relate to. The market will always be there; I think you have to keep looking out for its changing nature, and remain flexible.
Check out Michael’s schedule of upcoming shows (14 more this year!) to meet him in person. I’m sure he’d be happy to chat and share more wisdom on making a living from making art.