I was asked that question recently by a designer interested in promoting their patterns and I recall asking fellow designers that same exact question not too long ago. What a wonderful question to hear, for too long we’ve been concerned about the decline of Decorative Painting and now it seems to have had a slight resurgence. I for one think that is a bonus. So I started asking myself if I were to give someone ideas for getting published or getting their work out to the public what would be the steps that I would suggest. Then it came to me, in the shower of all places, I seem to have inspiration come to me in the most unlikely places, write a step by step quick guide to help prospective designers get their work out to the public. I keep hearing that the public is clamoring for new designs so why not encourage prospective designers. Keep in mind that these are the steps that I used; they may or may not work for you.
Draw, draw, and draw some more. Paint, paint and paint some more. It sounds repetitive I know but practice your drawing skills; you practice when you are going to try to learn a new skill why not practice when you are trying to learn to paint or draw. You need to activate that creative area in your brain that we as adults tend to lose as we age. Learn as much about basic drawing skills, perspective, color theory, composition and design that you can. Go online, to your local library, or to your local book seller and find the books that will help you understand the concepts that will make your designs stronger.
Once you’ve gotten to the point where you are feeling comfortable with your designing ability test the waters by giving the designs as gifts or selling them at craft and art shows. I found that designs that I thought were darling were not always well received by the public and what I discovered was that I was designing for myself. I needed to think about what was popular at the time and I needed to learn about the trends in home décor as well as the current color trends. Folks who work in retail understand that perfectly, go to furniture stores, clothing stores, fabric stores and see what is out there that is selling, we may hope that we can design what we like but the truth is that if your goal is to design for the general public you have to keep what they want in the back of your mind. Look at magazines and see what they are forecasting for the upcoming season. A great resource is the online fabric companies as they spend thousands of dollars keeping up with the newest hottest trends.
Find your visual voice. That means find your own style. This is how folks can identify your work immediately. I know that when I see designers work I can immediately tell whose work it is without even seeing a name. You want your work to be easily recognized, find something that you always include or a technique that you use frequently that is something that defines your work.
Protect yourself by copyrighting your work. You can go to http://www.copyright.gov/ to find out how to copyright your work. Talk to designers who have submitted for copyrights to find out how they submit. Once you submit a work until it has been either accepted or rejected you are considered to be protected under copyright law. Remember that copyright infringement exists and we all need to be vigilant to make sure that we as well as our friends are protected. Fighting a copyright infringement case can be expensive and lengthy.
So you’ve done your homework and you have a set of patterns that you think that the public will enjoy, start making the rounds of the online or local craft stores that sell surfaces, books, and patterns and find out their policies for taking your patterns. They may offer to buy them outright at a wholesale price or they may take them on consignment and pay as they are sold. Businesses are often interested in taking on new artists if there is some guarantee that they won’t be stuck with patterns that haven’t sold for them. Only send your work to a company that has a good reputation and has been in business for a lengthy time period. Try to be as proactive about your patterns as you can be. Call the companies, without making a nuisance of yourself, to inquire as to how the patterns are doing and to find out if they have any suggestions that might make your patterns more marketable.
We live in the age of information due to the computer and the internet; take advantage of those opportunities to network with painters at online painting groups. There are so many of them available you should be able to find a few that you feel comfortable participating in. Many of them have requirements for promoting your designs consequently look at those rules before you market your patterns.
Go to national conventions; take your portfolio around to the various surface and pattern companies that are at the show. Have color copies of a sampling of your pattern photos to leave with the companies with your company letterhead and business card attached. Have a plan for wholesale sales ready to present to them and discuss the opportunities. Find out their policy for surface samples, some companies will just give you the piece with no questions asked but others will want to sell to you wholesale. Never take more surfaces than you can actually paint on, it lowers your credibility to not complete and publish a project. Many conventions do not allow attendees to sell on the trade show floor but you can promote yourself and then follow up with a phone call a week or two later. Apply to both paint and brush companies to participate in their artist support program, understand their requirements for receiving payment for both patterns and magazine articles. It is so frustrating to be waiting on a payment to only find out that you didn’t fill out the paperwork correctly. Make sure that when you apply to either of these two that you love the product and can live with the payment format that they have established. Don’t think you can afford to go to a national convention ask for money for birthdays and holidays instead of gifts and save your money to go. You will never regret going to one. You will come home with a renewed creative spirit.
Network!!! I can’t stress that enough, meet fellow designers that are working, teaching, and publishing in the field. Don’t be shy about asking questions of them, I can say that I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many talented designers who are ready, willing, and able to share their experiences with you. This is a very generous industry. I was recently at a convention and was asking a fellow designer questions about promotions on her website. She mentioned to me that the key was to keep trying until you found something that worked for you personally. There is no one size fits all in this industry, what might be working for me might not work for you depending on your situation, but to keep trying new things.
Submit to magazine editors, they also love to publish new artists. Many designers get published on their first try but many of us submit repeatedly until the editors find something that they feel is magazine worthy. Don’t be disappointed if you aren’t accepted on your first try. I can’t tell you how many rejections I’ve had over the years, more than I can count. As I was told many years ago you need to develop a thick skin if you want to participate in the industry.
Develop a website. There are so many “do it yourself” sites that are now available that are an inexpensive way to promote your artwork. If you don’t want to do a full blown website offer your patterns on some of the free photo hosting sites. Your customers will need to contact you directly to purchase your patterns but it would be an inexpensive way to start developing a customer base. Keep track of your customers and develop a newsletter through one of the companies that offer inexpensive or free newsletter opportunities. Or collect the addresses of your customers and send out your newsletters via your email address. You can have promotions on your website such as BOGO, purchase 5 patterns get one free, or even dollar days.
Freebies are an excellent source of self promotion, offer to demonstrate for your paint or brush company if they encourage their artists to do so at a national convention or even at your local SDP group. Do free projects for either your own website or for the companies that give you free surfaces, it is a great way to thank a company for supporting your artwork and is an excellent way to get your name out to the public, who can’t resist a freebie.
Submit to teach at national conventions, your local SDP group, or even through a local Adult Ed course. Teaching is a great way to promote yourself as a designer and get yourself known as well as giving you the confidence to speak to a large group. It is also a wonderful opportunity to promote an art form that you love.
Occasionally you might be an overnight sensation, which has not happened to me. I’ve found that it takes hard work, determination, and jumping through some hoops to get to the point where you want to be. I’ve not reached that point yet so there is still work to be done, contacts to be made, painting friends to learn from, and opportunities to be discovered. Who knows where this endeavor might take you but I’m sure that you will enjoy the ride as much as I have. Happy Painting.