Sunday, May 27, 2012

Who's On Your Totem?

Happy one-month birthday to my little blog!  It’s been a kick-butt 30 days with nearly 3500 views and 52 subscribers.  (Don’t miss out on the opportunity to win the 4 x 4 painting by becoming a follower – please click on the “Join this Site” button.)

Here is a most interesting article on Harley Davidson motorcyles, "Buying What Harley-Davidson Really Sells - Hint: It's Not Motorcyles."  As you read through the article you begin to see "The HD brand is about freedom and living life on the edge a little." 

This blog is about discovering what you and I, as artists, are really selling. Hint - It's not art.  I hope you will follow and enjoy the ride...pun intended. Vrooom!

Who’s On Your Totem?
Casey Klahn, pastelist and fellow blogger - author of The Colorist - presented a two day workshop last weekend here in Denver.  The workshop was not technique-oriented but rather about helping the participants to see differently.  The title of the workshop was "See Differently. Authenticity & Your Art."
I’m not exactly a star pupil when it comes to workshops, never seeming to produce anything worth saving, and believe me, this time was no exception.  However, I did come home with a head full of valuable concepts to explore. One concept is the idea of a totem.  The totem pole is usually associated with the northwest Native American tribes depicting their spiritual symbols. The idea has been borrowed here and used as a means of inspiration and growth for Casey’s students.  His totem consists of Degas, William DeKoonig, and honestly, I can’t remember the other two!  It was his totem after all, not mine.
I’ve been pondering my own totem and have arrived at two masters so far.  One is Georgia O’Keeffe and the other is Jean-Baptiste Chardin.  There are many other artists I admire and they do influence my paintings: Deborah Bays, William Wray, and David Leffel to name just a few, but they are still alive.  I'm thinking long gone masters.
Georgia O’Keeffe found the sensuality and intimacy of her subjects, and she held a notion of a simple, meaningful life.  I read her biography years ago and was so struck with her dedication to her craft...and the fact that she didn't cook. 
Jean-Baptiste Chardin (1699-1779) was one of the greatest masters of Still Life in the history of art.  He constructed a simple world of truth, humility and calm on his canvases. His “Glass of Water and Coffee Pot” was painted in 1760 and is so timeless it looks like it could have been painted today.
I have two more positions to fill on my art totem, my inspiration and guide for growth as an artist.

"Emma's Pansies"
6 x 6 Pastel on Paper

How Does This Apply To Selling Your Art Online?
I believe in order to be successful at selling art online (or anywhere, actually) you must  know something about what speaks to your collectors.  Most people buy art because it speaks to them. As in the HD example about motorcycles, what speaks to the customer is the opportunity for freedom and living life on the edge.
Whatever you are selling, really, must be evident in all of your marketing efforts - your website design, your Etsy/online gallery design, your tag line, and most importantly right down to the art itself. 
For me, I have always looked for the sensuality in my subject matters – mostly fruits and vegetables.  My compositions are also fairly sparse, usually a very intimate and dramatically lit morsel of food.  I’ve been speaking with two, but vaguely similar messages : 
“I love drama in my art, not in my life.” 
“Life beats down and crushes the soul, art reminds us we have one.” By Stella Adler
Once I complete my totem I will re-evaluate what my message really is and fine tune my "brand."  I’m still learning about myself and my relationship to my art.

Today’s Nitty Gritty Nugget:
     Build your totem for inspiration and focus.

4 x 4 Oil on Gessobord

What’s Next?
1.   Contemplate who will be on your totem (3-4 predecessors) and why.  What relationship does their view of the world have to yours? 
2.   Fine tune your message to your collectors, is it about simplicity? Sensuality? Freedom? What are you really selling?
3.   Build your online shop/gallery and everything that supports it to clearly communicate that message.


  1. absolutely brilliant post, Cindy - thank you so much!!

  2. Thank you Kimberly! Brilliant...I'm not sure...;-) But I'm glad you found it useful.

  3. Glad you are toteming, Cindy. I started a pinterest board for mine. I thought up that idea on the fly at Denver, but it is something I think @ a lot - who are the important influences?