Monday, May 23, 2016

Beyond The Ribbon: Adventures Beyond Equine Collectibles Part 1


It’s easy for a model horse artist to forget about the possibilities and opportunities outside familiar territory, but the truth is there’s limitless potential for realistic equine art! Fine art, giftware, collectibles, beads, glass, jewelry, home accents, gardening decor, industrial installations and company contracts are just some of the viable options. Expanding the scope of your work not only offers new creative outlets, but also better financial security in an unstable economy.

Nonetheless, these larger markets can be difficult to break into successfully. The diversity of competing products, new demands, maintaining an inventory, developing a new client base, creating a legitimate resume, and other challenges aren’t easy to surmount. In many ways, a model horse artist is at disadvantage because she may lack the “real world” tools for success outside this venue, yet she has all the expectations for wild success that were so easily won in the equine collectibles market! Truly, the first steps outside the equine collectibles fishbowl can be a humbling and intimidating path.

However, success in these new venues is possible. It does require a new perspective and approach, but there’s no reason why you cannot experience the benefits of a diversified studio. For that purpose, this twopart article will touch on some basic ideas to better prepare you for starting that journey. (By the way, Part 2 has the References and Resources cited in this first post.)

So let's rock!...

The Pitfalls

Before we dive into the strategies, let’s first consider some common pitfalls you need to avoid:
  1. Assuming the quality or novelty of your work is enough to sell it. In outside markets, quality is only a small part of the equation, so don’t depend on it. Instead, learn savvy marketing and networking techniques and use them with gusto. If you’re unable to initiate your own expert marketing, then hire someone who can. Get an agent or marketing professional on your side. Then learn to perceive beneficial opportunities and act on them. You'll be competing within a more diverse market, so take a hard–hitting approach! Don’t forget, plenty of well–marketed substandard work sells successfully, so there’s no reason why you couldn’t succeed with your quality pieces. 
  2. Assuming because something didn't sell in the outside market, that the outside market isn't viable. It's a big world out there and there are plenty of artists making a living. Failure probably means you’re doing something wrong or are being impatient. Research and educate yourself! An artist from the equine collectibles venue has a lot of catching–up to do with professional presentation, marketing savvy, and business acumen, so attend to those deficiencies first before making assumptions.
  3. Engaging in behavior or policies more appropriate for the equine collectibles venue. Never assume that the habits, expectations, and ideas from within the equine collectibles venue are transferable to the outside world. Very different expectations are out there, so make yourself aware of them and adapt.
  4. Not knowing how to pro–actively build a client base. Building inroads into new markets requires aggressive tactics which need time to develop. Unlike the equine collectibles  market, sales will not be instant, even if your work is brilliant. It may take months, or even years, to develop a steady and enthusiastic collector base. Be patient, diligent, responsive, and resourceful, and be educated in how to nurture your client base. You’ll essentially be starting over, so dedicate the effort and time required to hit that threshold. 
  5. Not practicing “real world” professional standards and presentation. Not having professional presentation will sabotage your efforts. Do your homework! You’re going into the world of business, remember, not venturing into a casual hobby pastime.
  6. Not understanding you need to create a conventional resume. You won't be able to include any of your model horse accomplishments on a legitimate resume. You also may have to reconsider the media and type of work you discuss in order to orient your work to traditional commercial venues such as art shows, art auctions, local fairs, etc. Ideally, your name should develop some “street cred” in the outside world if you want to approach galleries or companies for contracts or partnerships. You usually can't earn these deals with only equine collectibles references unless you've already contracted with a company inside the venue.
  7. Not realizing that you'll need to create a professional portfolio. You cannot include any repaints or customs, but only original work that's 100% yours. That would probably knock out a large part of anyone's body of work in this genre. That means focusing on original work for awhile may be needed to build a body of work for your new portfolio. And remember, it doesn't have to be full–body work, but bas–relief, jewelry, plaques, or anything arty you've done that fits the bill. However, galleries like to see coherency to your portfolio, a similar body of work. So don't offer them a wide variety of different types of work you do. For example, it may not be a good idea to include your abstract tiles in with your realistic sculptures. Stick to one type, and offer that. Or make several different portfolios for each type of work you do, and offer them to different galleries. So do your research and find out what it takes to create a professional portfolio suitable for submission to galleries and prospective corporate partners.
The New Map

You’ll also need a new map to guide you, using new ways of thinking and behaving as compass headings. You're venturing into brand new territory, remember, one with wholly different expectations and demands. Unless you tailor yourself to them, it's likely success won't be forthcoming. But the good news is, if you do, you hedge your bets that much better!

First, disassociate yourself from the model horse venue when interacting with those outside of it. Truth be told, there’s no better way of being ostracized than to peddle yourself as associated with the model horse venue. Additionally, avoid referencing model horse accomplishments on your resume, artist statement, or elsewhere in your materials. That doesn't mean you can't still be active in that genre, but just don't tout it outside of it. 

Why? Gallery owners, art collectors, store owners, company buyers and the like are quick to dismiss anyone associated with “toys” or “hobbies” no matter how exceptional your work may be. Remember, they have their own reputation to maintain. The fact is that plastic horse companies have distinguished their product as toys, and anything associated with them will be interpreted similarly, especially by the public (which is of keen interest to those you approach). The model horse world maintains a problematic public image, too, that no amount of spin can turn into something respectable in the professional public. So if you wish to venture “beyond the ribbon” and avoid prejudicial treatment, don’t ignore the reality, even if you don’t agree with it. How you frame yourself and present your work has a tremendous impact on your success.

There's one exception, however. If you've done contractual work for a model horse company (like sculpting for their production line), feel free to include that in your new ventures. Why? Well, it tells other potential companies that you can deliver and that you've experienced the corporate commission before, with success. It also tells galleries that your work has enough popular demand that a company actually hired you to sculpt for their line. 

Second, have realistic expectations of the world market. The insular nature of the equine collectibles economy keeps clients orbiting artists like moths to a flame. In contrast, sales in outside markets may not be as forthcoming. You also won’t be able to rely on customers to advertise through word–of–mouth or showing, a practice characteristic in the model horse world. Instead, proficiency in marketing and business strategies will play a big role in your success.

Third, know how to develop a client base (which is an art form in itself). Client bases in the model horse market are self–generating, but the distractions in outside markets can obscure your spotlight. Your first step is to identify the desires of your target market. Your second step is to pay close attention to your clients’ buying trends and to adjust accordingly. The third step is keeping them through good customer service, a cheerful, accessible, professional nature, and top quality, consistent work. All this requires observation, responsiveness, research, diligence, and patience, yet these efforts often determine whether you succeed or fail. Also, study how successful artists develop and maintain their client bases, and employ their strategies. Remember, too, that you and your client base should evolve together, so keep them interested by offering a diverse and changing catalog of work every year.

Fourth, you should always be attentive to how your present yourself. Your behavior, appearance, and social skills will have a direct impact on how you and your work are perceived. A big part of selling your art is selling yourself! People have plenty of other choices in the open market, so be sure their experience is positive when they choose you.

The Gear 

Now that you have a new map, you need gear, or the tools to forge down a new path. Let's get yo outfitted...

Think beyond “model horse.” Just because you can sculpt realistic full–body horses or paint them doesn’t mean that’s all you can do! There are many other applications of these skills, everything from Christmas ornaments to construction installations (such as tile designs for the floor or wall) to home furnishings (with busts and bas–reliefs) to garden accessories (concrete or plaster castings), many of which offer lucrative licensing agreements with companies. And look at the lovely Llandro® Arabian: Pure Breed—that piece could have so easily been sculpted by “one of our own” had we been better positioned! The equine motif is a universal one, so think big!

Use your own voice. A lot of work in the model horse industry is “borrowed,” either through painting blank bodies, customs, or other collaborative efforts. In contrast, this practice isn’t well regarded in outside markets, so refrain from presenting this type of work there. Instead, only feature your 100% original work and present your authentic, original “voice” at all times.

Mind your reference terms. When referencing yourself and your work, avoid terms such as "model horse, hobby, plastic, toy, customizer, repainter, or model horse artist"—all terms related to model horses. Instead, opt for words like “sculpture, figurine, painting, piece, art work, giftware, collectible, and studio." This includes how you reference the size of your work, so avoid using “traditional, classic, Stablemate®” etc. Instead simply provide the dimensions, or depending on some markets you can use the ratio, like 1:9 scale. And if people ask what you do, you’re an “artist, sculptor, equine artist, animal artist,” etc. not a "repainter, customizer, or model horse artist."  

Never underestimate the first impression. A good first impression is crucial, not just through your website and presentation materials, but in–person, too. Present yourself as someone worthy of investment, and be considerate and confident. This does require preparation, so are all your “ducks in a row?” “Look the part” and "act the part" and have everything you need at hand, professionally presented. Remember, when some entity considers to enlist your work, they're taking a risk. They're going out on a limb. (Yes it's true—you aren't a sure bet!) So present yourself in a way that helps to confirm their confidence.

Also, don’t imply that realism is the “ultimate” art form. The world is full of far bigger ideas than those found in the model horse world. Disparaging other artistic perspectives to elevate yourself is a bad idea. Don’t try to convince outside venues that equine collectible creations are art, either—it’s argumentative. Just accept these conditions and behave accordingly, whether you agree with them or not. It's much better to say that equine realism challenges you in welcome ways, and leave it at that.

Network and connect. Get to know others in these new fields and make connections. Go to socials, parties, and receptions to meet colleagues and potential new collectors. Don't be intimidated if you think there are cliques either. Cliques exist everywhere, but they aren't impregnable. Introduce yourself, be polite, be unassuming, make friendly conversation, offer your best self, and be cheerful. Don't hover in a corner, quiet, brooding, and inaccessible. People notice, and it reflects poorly on you. Don't boast or be a blowhard, either. Offer ideas, insights, tips, and encouragement when prompted. Above all, offer compliments. Never appear to disparage another's work, even with body language or what you think is out of ear shot. Always find something wonderful to say about someone else's art or achievement—be supportive and reaffirming. If you make yourself accessible and gracious, people will be drawn to you and engage you in conversation, and that's always a good thing!

Networking isn't easy, granted. It takes a bit of chutzpah to get out there and force yourself to meet new people, especially for shy artists accustomed to being sequestered away in a studio all day. But it's important to get out there and get known on a personal basis. It offers you new colleagues, new insights, new inroads, and new opportunities, and that's what you'll need to make your new ventures a go.

Do field research. Gather relevant catalogs and surf websites that specialize in equine art or giftware items. Visit galleries, stores, bazaars, seasonal shows, studio tours, festivals, farmer's markets, and art and craft shows. And don’t forget those home, garden, or giftware expos, either because corporate buyers shop there and your work may have potential in that market.

Observe how works are offered and sold, too. Look for advantageous patterns or trends. Also, determine how to make your work unique among that already available. Analyze the marketing tactics and packaging schemes of successful artists. Consider their payment options and their price brackets. Identify what shows they’re frequenting, which galleries are promoting their work, or what companies with which they’re partnered. Study the booths at art festivals and determine which ones get the most business, and why. Study their presentation packaging and how their booth is set up. Pour over catalogs featuring equine items (such as giftware, jewelry, housewares, etc.) and look for ideas about what was bought by that company, and why they thought they could sell enough of that item. Visit galleries and observe how equine art is presented and marketed, and study the narratives behind each work. Look for what types of work are in gallerieshow is it different from the equine collectibles venue? How is it similar or different from your own work? There's a wealth of information out there for the taking if we're willing to take the first steps and keenly observe.

On that note, determine which venues are a good fit for your work to maximize your efforts. You want to match your pieces with a vendor that fits it best. And it doesn't have to be for all your work; it could be for some of it. Don't feel it's an "all or nothing" proposition. For instance, trying to get your Saddlebred work into a store that focuses on western gear isn't really a good bet. But trying to get your mustang bas–reliefs in there is a much smarter proposition! And perhaps some venue is better for your jewelry lines whereas another venue is a better option for your bust work. However, balance a sales venue’s benefits with its overhead. Each venue has its pros and cons, so be careful they work to your longterm advantage.

So understand how to identify your target market then learn how to cater to them. Discover where they shop, and how they like to shop. Think about their needs and wants, then go about filling them. Likewise, observe how different venues attract different customers. A local art fair is a great place to study, so wander the booths and do your field work. Likewise, relevant stores offer a wealth of information, so study them as well. Tack stores, gift shops, housewares, and furniture stores can provide ideas, for instance. For example, our local Idaho souvenir store, Taters, caters to a very tight niche market, but they do so with a wildly varied spectrum of products—everything from T–shirts to soap. Likewise, our local "indie made" store downtown, Idaho Made, caters to another tight niche market: local handmade items. And again, they do so with a wide range of items, everything from jewelry to paper hearts. Those are important ideas. What we do is also a tight niche market—sculptural equine realism, so learning from venues such as these is a great way to glean ideas to help us succeed. For starters, it tells us to offer a variety of work at key conduits, and at different price points. And the more, the merrier! (Tip: A “Made in [your state]” stamp on your giftware items may be a good idea! Visitors love to buy local, handmade items for their loved ones back home, and such a stamp really puts a nice finishing touch on such a gift item.)

That said, remember that galleries and perhaps a whole segment of your customer base have very different buying tendencies. Galleries prefer consistency to a collection so they tend to discourage showcasing a wide kaleidoscope of work, but instead will pick those that share similar traits or qualities, i.e. are a cohesive collection. Similarly, some of your collectors may have the same sentiments. They're collectors, remember, and they often like to have a cohesive, complete collection. Galleries also tend to look for narrative and "weight" to the meaning of the work. They value permanent media, too, such as ceramics or metals over resins. Permanent, timehonored, traditional materials lend substance and reliability to a buyer's investment. 

When out doing field study, don’t forget to also learn from those who are buying. What kind of work are they buying, and in what price bracket? How do they interact with the artist? Listen to their conversations with the artist. Even more, listen to their conversations with each other when the artist is out of earshot to gain another perspective. (It’s OK to eavesdrop here!) Being able to identify the buyers of your work and their wants is a huge part of the equation, so learn and apply.

Understand the authority of media. A hierarchy exists with art media, so design accordingly; the materials you use often have more influence on your success than the quality of your work. 

Discriminating buyers demand quality workmanship with traditional, archival materials to ensure their investment. They want proven, quality construction. Therefore, permanent media like ceramics, metals, wood, glass, and stone are highly regarded in art. In contrast, resins, epoxies, polymer clays, and plastics usually are not. Likewise, oils, fine color pencil, fine acrylics, fine pastels, water color, and various glazes or enameling are held in esteem, but craft paints and similar bargain materials are not. 

On the other hand, resins, polymer clays, and plastics are well suited for less expensive trinkets such as magnets, ornaments, plaques, inexpensive figurines, etc., making it a good medium for giftware, household, or garden items. These materials can also be used to produce affordable interior design elements such as busts, wall plaques, or other home accents, especially if the material has a “faux” finish or is a coldcast metal.

So determine which kind of market you wish to target before producing your work in a certain material. Generally speaking, create in permanent, traditional media for the art world and leave other materials for different markets. 

Identify your target market. Ascertaining the type of customer who would buy your work and at what price point is important to maximize your limited resources. That's where your field research comes in! Then once that’s done, determine the best ways to get your work in front of that customer.

However, pay attention to the diversity of a collector base because you can create different kinds of work to appeal to different people. For example, if you create ceramic art tiles, don’t overlook the full scope of accessories available for tiles that can be used to create gift boxes, coat racks, tables, trays, etc. Likewise, don’t dismiss housewares, construction installations or gardening notions.  

It’s important to realize that many horse people are attached to their breed or performance specialty, too. Therefore, create work targeted specifically to that focus when appealing to such buyers such as offering Arabian items to the Arabian community or Quarter Horse items to the Quarter Horse industry. Narrower still, offer cutting motifs to the cutting industry or jumping themes to the jumping crowd. Pay attention to details in your work to make it authentic. People specialized in a field have a discriminating and honed eye—they demand accuracy! 

Never forget to listen to what people in your target market are saying about your work, and then act on the comments to create the kind of work they want. You can often maintain your artistic perspective, but adapt at the same time so be flexible. 

Don’t ignore options you may consider unusual, either. For example, unicorns, pegasi, carousel horses, and Christmas ornaments appeal to just about anyone, even nonhorsey types buying for their horseloving friends or family. These may be perfect for targeting the science fiction ad fantasy markets, or seasonal sales, too. Don’t forget the “New Age” market, too, with its affinity for animal totems.

Finally, identify the peculiarities of your target market(s) because you must adapt to them. For instance, a home decor market may favor palomino Pintabians, making that motif a better investment of your resources. A local handmade tourist shop may want pieces only depicting the state horse, so be open to that. A gallery may only want to showcase your Warmblood work, so be prepared. Remember you're a business, so don’t let inflexibility get in the way of your potential success.

Think “outside the stall.” When identifying a target market, don’t assume real horse people are a viable option because the fact is that many horse owners tend to funnel their money towards their horses. Generally speaking then, it’s the less involved equine enthusiasts who usually are the collectors. Those searching for horserelated gifts for a loved one can be a good market, too, especially for gifts that are unique, of quality, and handmade. Never assume the obvious to understand the full scope of your potential.

Make your work unique. Your work must be novel in the spectrum of work already out there so create a kind of monopolyproduce work that only you can produce. Make your work extra special and distinctive. Plus, customers may be buying gifts, and a unique item has far greater appeal. So besides amplifying your own artistic voice then, make it personal, meaningful, and distinctly yours. Think about narrative and meaning. And remember, people also collect a bit of you when they collect your work, so don't be afraid to infuse a bit of you in there! 

Develop an artist statement. An artist statement is a sound bite distilling what you create and why why you create it. It can also mention your artistic style and your creative philosophy and motivations.

It should be concise and to the point, with no more than three to five tightly focused sentences. This takes careful thought to get it right, so be honest and precise. Above all, “because I love horses” isn’t a suitable explanation. Give your work a mission. Serious collectors often need to understand your deepest motivations, so avoid superficial, easy answers. Make it mean something unique people will value. Creating an artist statement is a good exercise for you, too, because it forces a clearer understanding of your motivations and goals. 

Your artist statement should be presented professionally. Write in the first person (“I sculpt,” not “Peggy sculpts”) and it should be devoid of grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. Phrase it to entice people to explore your work with a sense of respect and curiosity, but keep it lowkey, modest, informative, and a positive reflection of your work. Avoid an excited, emotional tone, or the use of exclamation points or bold lettering. Never use slang, casual wording, selfdeprecation, or overly personal information. “Preciousness” is a real turnoff, too, so avoid a pretentious or pompous tone. Lastly, refrain from verbose wording, tangents, or longwinded explanations as well. Stay on target.

Don’t be satisfied with the first draft. Run it by trusted individuals for critique, and let it stew. You should have to rework it several times to get it exactly right. Because your artist statement will be included in your promotional materials, resumes, portfolios, packaging, and interviews, be sure it has mass appeal and “readability.” It may also change over time as you evolve and diversify, so keep it current. 

Creating an artist statement is more important than most artists realize. The public and potential business partners will measure your work against it, so the two should reflect each other. Study the artist statements of other artists (which are often on their websites, in promotional materials, or in exhibition or gallery brochures). Seek advice if you’re unsure how to write yours.  

Develop a tagline. This is optional, but often very useful for promotion. In essence, it should be a witty, poetic distillation of your artist statement into a catchphrase so people can instantly understand your art. 

It should be one phrase of no more than seven words. Like your artist statement, it’s not easy to create a good one. A good start is to identify some key words that identify your work, or why you enjoy creating it then figure out a way to form a short idea from them. For instance, if you focus on fired media, a potential tagline could be, “Expressing Equus with the Elements.” If you work in metals, this might work..."Timeless Beauty, Captivating Quality."

A tagline should appear on all your promotional materials to help cement it into people's minds. Ultimately, a good tagline will speak for your work and for you. It will become associated with your work in people's memories, so make it clever, memorable, eloquent, and meaningful. Above all, never copyeven in partanother artist's tagline, or the idea of their tagline. Keep it unique and wholly yours.

Establish Your Studio Branding. As a professional business, you’ll need to formulate studio branding, or that “visual identity” that immediately distinguishes your business. Branding consists of a name, logo, tagline (optional), identifying font(s) for your name (and tagline), and even a color scheme that embody the essence of your art work. Branding is everywhere in business because it’s an essential marketing tool for establishing an identity in a large and diverse global economy. Your studio is no different! Your branding should be on all your materials from your portfolio, your website, your promotional materials, and even stamped or inscribed onto your art work when possible.

To this end, choose a name for your studio. Keep it concise and unique and don’t choose a name that sounds like another studio. You can use your name (first or last), or make up a new one. For example, “Minkiewicz Studios LLC,” “Studio Michaud,” “Blackberry Lane Pottery,” “Pour Horse Pottery,” or “FireHorse Designs.” You’ll have to choose a distinctive font for your studio name, too, so buy one if that’s necessary (a particularly handy online font store is provided in Resources). Above all, choose a font that’s unique and easily to read and will remain so when applied to various uses and scales. You’ll need to pick a different font for your tagline, as well. Make sure the font for your studio and for your tagline "marry" together well; that they're complementary.

Designing a unique logo will convey who you are and what your art work is about. It should be clear, "clean," clever, distinctive, and easily scalable. It can be an original image, your signature, or your initials. So be creative! Sketch different options and see how they lay out together. Above all, the logo should be original, stylish, and designed according to quality graphic design standards, and clearly embody what it’s meant to convey. If you cannot design one then hire someone who can.

Develop a suitable portfolio. A sophisticated portfolio isn’t only an invaluable advocate for your work, it’s also expected in the professional world. You may need different types of portfolios for the different venues you target, or “leavebehind” versions for galleries and store owners. CD portfolios are becoming more popular, too.

All work depicted in your portfolio must be 100% your own work. Don't include model horse “borrowed” pieces, or works that weren’t created entirely by you. The images should be impeccable and developed by a reputable, quality photo lab (don't print them on your printer or use “quickie” developers). Buy a good photo editing program and learn how to use it well. Understand the standards of quality photos, too. To that end, study the photos and their presentation of successful artists for ideas and insights. Photos should also be in a traditional format, devoid of “photo show” props, realistic backdrops, or depicted like real horses in any way; i.e. don’t present your portfolio from a model horse perspective—present it as art. 

Quality images should show the work accurately for an authentic inspection. Quality images are your personal assurance on the quality of your work, and are often the only means for people to decide to do business with you. This is why quality images are paramount! So if you cannot take quality images yourself, hire someone who can—they're that important. You'll get nowhere without them, so keep them a top priority. 

Why are great images and a solid portfolio important? Any artist can have tremendous talent. Yet when an artist fails to show the committed followthrough with a professional presentation, she’s saying, “Yes, I’m talented, but I really don’t take it seriously,” which means “I don’t take my business deals seriously, either.” This doesn’t inspire confidence in anyone.

[Note: The RESS Marketing Guide has an article on formulating a portfolio, and many online articles address the subject, some of which are provided in Resources.]

Building a New Resume. Because you’ll be unable to use references from your model horse involvement in your new resume, you'll need to start making inroads into conventional avenues of art, commercial exhibition and exposure in order to have something to include. Indeed, you may find it difficult to gain access to these conventional avenues if you insist on model horse paradigms such as submitting “borrowed” work or media that isn’t held in high regard. Rethink your approach!

Strive to gain acceptance in art shows and nonmodel horse auctions or sales. Apply for booths in art fairs or bizarres (be aware that many of them are juried, including for your booth setup). See if you can set up an exhibition in a gallery or rented space. Work to get your art in stores or catalogues. Overall, try to get legitimate forms of “street cred” attached to your name because this is what will be looked at when potential business partners or galleries evaluate you as an investment. 

Now it may seem like a Catch22—how does one formulate a new resume to get into these new venues when one may need a new resume to gain entrance into them in the first place? This is where entering into art shows can be a good foot in the door. The more art shows you're accepted into, the more you have for your new resume. So get out there! Also think about offering classes or workshops that can be included, or art fairs you participated in, or conventional (nonmodel horse) donations you offered. What stores or coops is your work featured in? What nonmodel horse awards has your work won? What books have you written? What articles, and where? Keep at it and keep adding, and soon those new opportunities will open up which you can also include to get the ball really rolling.

Above all, know how to create a professional art resume and keep it updated. [For more information, please refer to Resources.]

Build an appropriate, quality website. The issues that apply to your images are relevant to your website, too. Those who have your portfolio will refer to your website, so why defeat all your careful work with a shoddy, amateurish website? As your portfolio is your personal “handshake,” your website is your “front door.” To that end, some key aspects to address are:

  • Don’t feature the model horse venue anywhere on your website, in any way.
  • Don’t feature “borrowed work” common in the model horse venue. Similarly, don’t have repaints or customs, of any kind, on your website (conventional derivative work is perfectly acceptable, however).
  • Don’t have “color” galleries of your paint work. Likewise, don’t offer galleries of other people’s paint work on your “blanks.”
  • Don’t have categories divided by "gender," “color,” “pattern,” or “breed.”
  • Don’t use amateurish gimmicks such as music, animated graphics or buttons, or patterned backgrounds. Keep it clean, stylish, unique, and professional.
  • Don’t have grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors.
  • Don’t frame your website from a hobby or pastime perspective.
  • Don’t offer model horse links, blogs, or articles.
To venture into the open market, your website should be stylish and function in multiple professional worlds. To that end, think about:
  • Segmenting your website according to product categories or themes. Each category page can have its own “look” to make it distinct, too, so that visitors can orient themselves on your site quickly (such as a different color background and font for each product line).
  • Featuring pieces that are 100% your own original work.
  • Presenting your work professionally as art or quality merchandise.
  • Infusing your branding, artist statement, (growing) resume, and tagline on your website.
  • Keeping links sparse and directly relevant such as linking to galleries, companies, or stores that carry your work, or conventional exhibitions or festivals that you’ll be attending to sell your work. Providing links to any press you’ve received (not in the model horse world) is a good idea, too.
  • Keeping your “bio” page only for parts of your life that directly relate to your artwork such as images of you working in the studio, at a gallery openings or exhibitions, or a photo of an animal who inspired a specific piece, etc. Your website should be “business is business” so relegate your more personal matters to a blog or similar outlet.
  • Offering a pictorial or video demonstration on how a particular piece or product was made. Providing these demonstrations on a regular basis is very effective in keeping people coming back to your website. For example, show how a Christmas ornament you’re about to release was sculpted, molded, cast, cleaned, fired, and glazed (you can offer this demonstration after the reveal of its debut, or as a teaser). Often educating people on the process can go far to enhance the novelty and value of your work.
  • Designing your website from the customer’s point of view. It should inspire investment confidence and a desire to investigate your work further.
  • Keeping your website updated because outdated information antagonizes your client base. If you wish, you can include a date on each page to indicate when that page was last updated.
  • Designing your website with easy navigation so customers can find what they’re looking for quickly. You want as few “clicks” as possible. 
  • Offering a “news” page for bulletins on your upcoming work, events that will carry it, and personal appearances. You can also offer teaser images of inprogress work or sneak peeks of finished pieces.
  • A subscription link to your mailing list or email newsletter.
  • Cart buttons to buy work.
  • A link to contact you.
  • Developing a second website for your outside work to separate it from the model horse market because you can keep your model horse business going if you’re careful. But it’s not wise to combine the two genres, even on hidden pages.  
Overall, a welldesigned website accentuates the professionalism and “must have” aspect of your work. Study the websites of successful conventional artists for ideas on design and organization. If you don’t have the time or expertise to create a good website (or keep it updated), hire someone who can—again, it’s that important.

Conclusion to Part 1

Your creativity is important to foster, but it's equally important to explore and expand. Keeping your options open is also smart business sense because it allows you to ride the highs and lows of the equine collectibles market. 

Venturing out into the "big, wide world" isn't so scary and intimidating
it's doable! And it's fun. Learning how your work can find success there is reaffirming and also validates your work inside the equine collectibles genre. Just be brave, take a deep breath, and jump in!

Above all, remember it takes time and energy. The easy kudos won in the model horse venue won't be so simple to come by in the larger experience. Don't get discouraged. Just rethink, redo, and reapply. Tweak where necessary and tackle the challenge again. Keep at it. It takes perseverance and gumption, so don't give up. Things like this need to gain their own critical threshold, and then things really start happening for you. Make connections. Network. Find opportunity, and if you can't—make it! Create your own niches. You owe it to yourself and your talents!

In Part 2 then, we'll explore more ideas on this topic. There's lots more to consider, so chew on these ideas from Part 1 for the time being.

So until next time...onward to glory!

"One important key to success is selfconfidence. An important key to selfconfidence is preparation."

~ Arthur Ashe

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