Shop Talk

4 Ways to Network in the Real World

There are two distinct enemies in the eyes of most artists — networking and self-promotion. As concepts, both are seen as betrayals of what art is all about. Selling yourself and selling your work are not why most people pick up a pen or paintbrush.

But here’s the truth – if you’re here, selling your work on Redbubble, you are a part of a group of entrepreneurs and freelance artists that have taken that first and most major of steps towards turning your love and passion into a living. You’ve taken the paintings, designs, and photos out of the closet; you posted your ideas and thoughts into a system designed to help you succeed; but there’s still more to do to. Your art needs to be seen where interest can grown and turn into fans, who can then be cultivated into collectors of what it is you do.

This isn’t about social media. Hashtags, Tweets, and Facebook likes. Each of those are important but first things first, the art begins in the real world, in a living space, and there are simple tools at the ready to help you reach that audience of strangers you see everyday.

Here’s another truth – as an artist who has work on Redbubble, I’ve done all of these. They’ve been road tested.

"Inner Space" by thepapercrane

1. Instead of business cards, get stickers

One of the first things I did when I started my Redbubble store was to buy a bunch of my designs on stickers. I wrote my name and email address on the back and stuffed them into my wallet. Easy enough. Whenever I’d meet someone new, rather that jotting my contact information on a napkin or emailing them with it, I’d just hand over a sticker. Conversation about the sticker usually followed. Nothing major, but enough to let them know, I made this. This is me.

"Handle With Care" by Glenyss Ryan

2. Don’t be afraid to wear your own art

I admit, I’ve bought and worn t-shirts with my designs on them. I never point out to anyone that I drew what’s on my shirt, but every so often someone asks and is pleasantly surprised. No matter how many friends and family you think know about your art, the count is actually a lot smaller. People tend to not pay attention to anything that is not put in front of their face, so go ahead and do just that.

And of course when someone asks about my shirt, I hand over a sticker.

"My first bike" by levman

3. Get out to gallery openings

I have a wife and family, a full-time job, but I make sure to make time to drive to any nearby art gallery opening that interests me. If I find none that catch my eye, I go to one anyway. The closest and easiest, just to take some sort of action. Who knows, the world is full of surprises and as an artist you hope to be one of those surprises, so why not meet others like you?

If you’re in a town that’s far from any “scene” or gallery that exhibits art that you feel connected to, that’s a rough break and I understand. I have to drive about two hours from my home to meet the artists I love, but that’s the point – I’m meeting artists that are doing work I admire.

There’s a saying that I will attempt to sloppily relay on to you, keep people around you that you want to be like. If you want to be an amazing chef, hang around other amazing chefs. Go to events where you’ll meet amazing chefs and better yet, fans of amazing chefs. It should be noted that the inverse is also wise, stay away from people that you do not want to be like. Successful people tend to not keep many negative and uninspiring friends around. Life’s too short.

"My Gallery" by Hans Kawitzki

4. Don’t work for free, unless you really want to

This one is tricky. We all know people who, once they know you create art, ask for a logo, help with a wedding invitation, an album cover, or whatever creative project they have that they don’t want to pay someone for. First, it’s always okay to say no. I’ve attempted to make people logos to be nice, but after struggling with a few disappointing attempts I had to admit that, yes, I draw, but I don’t draw that.

I have done work for bands with album covers, where I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. These collaborations were much more successful and as a bonus, since they didn’t pay me and didn’t own the rights to the work I was able to take the band names off the design and put the work in my Redbubble store. If any of the band members or fans wanted a shirt of the cover art, they had to buy it from me directly.

"One Of Seven" by S3NTRYdesigns

Have any of these methods sold any of my work? I can’t say, but it has kept me engaged in getting my art out there. When sharing your art you’ll find that some won’t like it, most won’t care, but there will always be a handful of people that surprise you with a positive response and that’s not networking or self-promotion, that’s just being a part of the world, sharing what you keep to yourself with those around you.

Get more advice about self-promotion here.