Thursday, December 17, 2009

How the Art Market for Pet Portraits has Changed

As I mentioned earlier, I was out of the market for 3 years.  Here and there a commission came in and I did it but I did zero marketing.

So when I began marketing again in September, I had an unusual opportunity to compare this niche market before and after the economic downturn.  Here's what I found out:

  1. The low and mid market is gone.  Before, I sold mostly my smaller, less expensive portraits.  Now, I sell the larger, more expensive ones.
  2. Selling cheaper doesn't bring in more sales.  Sales don't work.  Smaller pieces don't work.
  3. More people are comfy with looking for and buying online.
  4. People want more personal contact even if they find you online.  I've had more people call me to order in 3 months than I had before in 5 years.
  5. Printed materials have less of an impact than they did.  I used to get most of my orders through people who saw a card or flyer of mine.  Now, it's almost all online. 
I suspect others in the lower/mid markets of art are finding the same...

So, what am I going to do with this info?  Well, I am going to raise my prices.  People aren't deciding to/not to buy from me because of a few dollars.  How much more is a big issue I've been contemplating for a few weeks, and discussing with online and real life artist friends.  It's a difficult thing to know.  I don't want to price myself out of my market yet I think my work stands up to more money than I'm getting now.

I am working hard to increase my skills.  I hope there never comes a day when I don't feel I need to!

I am concentrating my marketing efforts online: Twitter, Facebook, etc. rather than running around town putting up cards.  I will still do that, but it's definitely "when I'm there, anyway" kind of thing.

I am upgrading all of the printed materials I do have.  I am having my work professionally photographed.  I need to reach more of the sophisticated buyers, and need to jump up a notch in my presentation.

Would love to hear your ideas and comments!! 

Friday, December 11, 2009

The "Little Guys" - The Other Art Market..The Other Artists

Not all of us who sell art cash checks with commas in them.  We aren't in galleries, don't have an agent and don't travel a festival circuit.  We aren't hoping the buzz in the Art World will be about us; in fact, we aren't even sure who the Art World is!  Yet, we are creating fulfilling art and selling it.  We are the little guys of an ignored market.

Now, if you don't know, I have been doing pet portraits since 2001.  From the Fall of 2006 until recently, I put my art on the back burner and worked for lawyers.  That line of work, like many others, has taken a huge hit for a variety of reasons and opportunities for me in the legal world have really shriveled up.  So I was cast back into the waters of making art with little notice and little backup.  But those three years off have given me an unusual opportunity to analyze the market for us little guys before and since The Terrible Economy.  I'll share some of my observations about that on another day.

I've had artists tell me they would literally clean toilets rather than take a pet portrait commission.  It would hurt their reputation.  And it's not as easy as some of them think it might be. Those of us who are at all successful work very hard learning the ropes in our specialty and it's an ongoing education.  Their opinion about pet portraits is great news to me...there are over 2,400,000 results on a google search of "pet portraits".  I have a full plate already getting buyers. 

And there ARE buyers.  While some of them are dog nuts who also are sophisticated art buyers, most of them aren't.  In fact, most of my buyers are buying their first piece of original art ever.  Most of them have never been inside a gallery, would feel funny about it.  They don't know art movements or anything about composition or values and feel a little embarrased about not knowing anything about Art.  They feel nervous about paying for a piece and having someone who "knows art" tell them it is junk.

Now, this isn't the art market that will make you rich on a dozen paintings a year.  Yet, it is so untapped!  This is a market that is not poor, who COULD buy art with commas in the checks.  They are a combo of nervous, novice collectors and people who have no interest in art except very personal art, like their pet's portrait.

And of course, us little guys aren't all doing dog portraits.  We're doing landscapes, still life, marine art, fantasy art.  We paint, we draw, we scratchboard, we pull prints.  We're doing art we love to do and just want to get paid so we can do it more!  We sell to a market that most ignore.  We have little guy collectors.
But getting to that market is difficult.  Every single book I've bought regarding art marketing is oblivious to that market and same with most magazine articles.  The assumption is that those selling art are gallery bound, that they have to catch the eye of the sophisticated buyers, agents, galleries.  And if not in galleries, they have a stable of collectors who buy off the easel.  So us getting there is mostly trial and error, we have no roadmap.  Trading notes online is the best we can do.

Anyway, I have to tap that market even more if I am to continue to live as I wish and create artwork instead of typing pleadings. I can't wait til I'm important enough to get into gallerys and get commas on those checks! That's where I am on my art journey now, and I'll share how I've gotten this far in a future post. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear more from those of you who are my cohorts. How did you get where you are...and how do you intend to progress?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ebay or Etsy or Facebook - a place to sell art?

Every once in a while, I go on an ebay art selling binge.  Then something happens, and I stop, so I've never been one to build a following.  Now I haven't done it for 3 years, and since then, they've changed things and the buzz among my online artist friends is it ain't no good no more.  But I did really well there, so thought I'd give it a whirl.  This is the first piece I'm trying.  I painted it, it's one of the first things I've done in acrylics, on gallery wrapped canvas.
It's 8 x10.  I had it listed on Etsy for months, not a nibble.  I lowed my price, not a nibble.  So I pulled it from Etsy and put it on ebay with a listing price of $35.50, which is $10 less than I was asking on Etsy.

I like Etsy.  I like the IDEA of Etsy very much.  The forums are exceptional.  But it doesn't seem very attuned to fine art, and that's a shame.  I've left my handpulled prints and some portrait commission listings up and am keeping the shop open.  In the future, I might try teeny tiny pieces, which I suspect will do better there.

I also have put up artwork for sale via my Facebook Art Page

I have gotten some nibbles, but both wanted the piece for themselves, not as a gift, so have to wait til after Christmas, if it doesn't see before that.

So, for now, that's my 3 tries outside of my pet and childrens portraits website.  I'll let you know how...or if...any of them work.  By the way, I also put a pet portrait gift certificate up for bid. You can see them both:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bulldog Pet Portrait

Here's a photo of a pet portrait that I'm currently working on.  Just one of the array of photos of this bulldog commission.  Two things I don't like..the coverlet and the hidden paws.  Luckily, the owner did provide more photos that showed paws and I have a lot of tricks up my sleeve for cute foregrounds/backgrounds! 
Promotions wise, I joined up at Yahoo and contributed to the Yahoo buzz.  Just another giant place to put my links, I've been anywhere between number 40 and 48 on searches under "pet portraits".  If you have a spot online you could add a link to my site at under pet portraits, boy, would I appreciate a link.  It can only help!  Robin

Monday, November 30, 2009

Art Magazines

Picked up a few art magazines over the weekend. I don't get them all the time, just on occasion...but there's something kind of scary to me. I see so much beautiful art and art I'd like to do in addition to my portraits, and hope I have the time to learn everything I need to be able to do what I want to do.

I really wish I started doing this way earlier in my life....

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pet and children's portrait website, totally had to redo!

I was really proud of myself for listening to online advice and cleaning up my pet portrait and childrens portrait website: I was told my site was too chatty and that I really ought to just have the art and let it speak for itself.

WRONG! What I did was erase my search ranking for "pet portraits". And it didn't look like me, sound like me or be like me. (I think I hear a Bob Dylan song here...)

So I spent 3 hours of precious art time yesterday retooling it and turning it back closer to what I had before. Questions and answers. It worked for me for 7 years and despite some bad advice to "adapt or die" and not rely on what worked in the past because the art world has supposedly changed, I think my "old reliable" spruced up a bit will do the job I want it to.

I found that I was getting hit, but just bounced right off. The text mixed with some "teaser" portraits already has worked to keep visitors on my site longer and the longer they stay there, the more likely to buy or refer me.

Last night, I became convinced that I ought to do a Facebook Fan Page, and some really generous fellow artists have been really helpful answering quesitons and showing me examples. But that is going to have to wait a bit. This morning, I start a big new commission of 2 dogs and I got the deposit for another one yesterday. I know from past years that this time of year can be crazy and I want to be in the position to be able to take and finish anything that comes my way.

Incidentally, my 2 small sizes are going very slow. Not one order for an affordable 5 x 7, and only one for the 8 x 10, which was my most popular size for the first 5 years I did this. Now, my most popular size is my 16 x 20! So I think what it says about the economy is that lots of folks have been hit really hard and can't buy anything at any price that's not a necessity. And those not hit? They can afford to buy exactly what they want and feel that if they're going to do this, they're going to do it up right.

What do you think?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lept, where I lept to!

So...more than a month post-launch, what's going on?

I made my first priority doing some children's portrait samples. I only have 3, but did already get a gift certificate order for Christmas. I have a portrait of my son playing hockey on the board, but (YAY!!) animal commissions have knocked that off my front page.

I did some life drawing workshops, really worthwhile and fun, but I feel at this moment that every minute before Christmas counts so probably won't go back til after that.

Now, tucked in between my commissions (2 of which I got as a result of twitter), I'm hoping to do small and mini acrylic paintings..for two reasons. I think they may sell on ebay and then be a nice promo for me AND I want to paint better. I am hoping to be able to paint reliably. In other words, I've done some paintings that turned out great. Then, I did some that turned out horrible. I don't know enough to KNOW what to do, like I do with the colored pencils. I almost don't have to think to know what color to do next. I want to get to that in painting so I can be more creative and not thinking so hard on the technical end.

I am worried about after Christmas, of course. So I am continuing to market like a crazy person. Next post I'll talk about how I'm tracking what works by using google analytics on my pet portrait site:

Right now, though, I am TRYING lots of things and time will tell what is worth it and what is a waste of time and resources. Some worked successfully for me 3 years ago before I took that horrid day job, some are brand new:

1. Twitter
2. Printing and placing business cards and flyers all over town.
3. Mailing flyers to out of town vets who request via twitter.
4. Printing and distributing bookmarks with my dog portraits on them along with dog quotes and just my website at the bottom with "The Dog Portrait Art of Robin Zebley". I have made and sent out thousands to rescue and retail dog events.
5. Craigslist.
6. A newsletter to former customers.
7. Chatting in the etsy forum.

Craigslist used to work for me. Now, the Flaggers remove anything in the pets forum that isn't related to a rescue. None of the other categories has brought me any inquiries so I think that resource is beat and not worth it.

I am thinking of doing google ads.

Mostly, though, what is important is to produce. I can't work more than 2 hours straight without getting sloppy and unable to "see", if you know what I mean. So I've tweaked my daily routine. More on that in another post, but for now, fellow artists, I hope you're also doing more art! Art is in the air, and it's a beautiful thing! Robin

Monday, September 21, 2009

Leaping, leaping, lept!

Well, while I was planning and working toward leaping, life took care of it for me. My "day job" evaporated and so here I am! Ready or not, here I come.

Since I saw the day job collapse coming, I ratcheted up my marketing a month ago. What worked for me like a charm a few years ago has resulted in a few nibbles and then..silence.

So I'm thinking that while this economy settles down more, and I have a bit of a buffer moneywise til I have to earn my own keep again, I'm going to take a step back and really work on upgrading my skills and networking.

I am going to take some life drawing/painting classes this week, that are drop in and pay for the day. They are offered by the historic art clubs in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Sketch Club and the Plastic Club. I think they will help me enormously. My son who is a trained artist insists, and can your kid be wrong? :D

Second, I am going to paint, paint paint. Acrylic or oils? I've done both, like both, but haven't done either enough to feel comfy. I think I'm going to revisit them both since I have the supplies and make a choice and run with it.

Third, I am practicing my children's portraits. I have already begun with a double portrait of my nephew's gorgeous daugher and her cousin, two little princesses. There are enough kids in my life now for me to get lots of practice. I think I have to be a full-service portraitist for me to survive in this economy when I go back to commissions.

Fourth, I am going to take painting classes. I just missed getting into them for the fall, so for sure in the winter.

Fifth, I'm keeping my online presence going so I'm not starting from scratch when I restart commissions.

Sixth, I'm going to do a newsletter. I have hundreds and hundreds of people who have either bought my art or expressed an interest in it. I have never taken the time to recontact ppl who have expressed an interest in my art!

Seventh, woodcut prints. I really enjoy doing them and have a lot of ideas for that. I have some on Etsy, but have never sold. I think it's because I have so few of them. I have the time to do more with them and more of them. I'm hoping to progress to getting them juried into shows.

Eighth, I am working hard to regain my stamina that was totally zapped by sitting in an office every day for 3 years.

So those ar my plans for now. All of them need to be done, but the priority is definitely in the art, not the marketing.

I'm also looking for a part time job. I'd like to mix it up a little, but I'm not sure it will by typing for lawyers again. I just don't think I can drain my soul again doing something that does no good for anyone. What I did was try and make sure insurance company "A" paid less for the accident than insurance company "B". I would like my efforts to do SOME kind of good, not to just make money for a lawyer and insurance company. I'll see.

Of course, my biggest enemy is wasting time. I can't use the excuse that I'm too tired, I have all day. Of course, all day is an enemy, too! It's easy to goof off early on when you have ALL DAY to accomplish something.

Those of you who are already fulltime, professional artists, know that all of the above are necessary, other tips are welcome!! I can use every suggestion I can get! Robin

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Gearing up

Hello fellow artists! I hope everyone's having a great summer. I'm still relaxing, doing my house stuff, walking Otto a lot, and doing more thinking about art than making it although I am making it.

I'm gearing up for what I hope is a big leap. I've been reading some books and thinking a lot...the most helpful of which was Seth Godin's "The Dip" to think about where I am and where I want to go.

Some things: He talks about being the best at what you do. Is that possible for me? Can I be the best pet portrait artist? The best printmaker? Better than everyone else?

Well...I doubt it. I am better than a lot of people. A lot of people are better than me. Do I have to be better than others or just ... better? Again, the quest to move ahead hitting me right between the eyes. I have to jump up in commitment and skill.

And not just in making the art. I've been really lax in learning how to photograph my art and present it online. For instance, I have a horse I painted on gallery wrapped canvas. I think the galley wrapped part is important, and if I showed the sides and showed it hanging up, it might help sell. But I don't really LIKE to take photos so have let myself slide with that.

Second: Why should someone in the market buy from me and not from the other 10 pages of pet portraitists in front of me in a google search? What makes mine unique? It's not price anymore. One thing is my backgrounds. Many of my "competitors" are afraid of them, and I love them. My past clients always mention it. What else is it about MY art? That I really love it counts. That I love working with clients counts. How do I convey that?

And my's a mess. It is dated. Back when I created it, I had to convince people go buy online. In a few years, that has become commonplace especially with my target audience, so I don't have to be so folksy and comforting and wordy on my site. My other blog does that job. I've known it for a year at least that I have to update but haven't. So...time to do that. Here it is so you know what I'm talking about, my pet portraits site:

And fourth, even if I WERE the best in the world, who knows it? I'm going to invest MONEY in myself and my marketing and no longer rely strictly on free advertising and word of mouth. And have been kicking some ideas around about how to get the word out.

And finally, Seth says to write down what exactly it takes for you to take the leap you want to take. I've done that. I know what it is and when it is. I just have to do all the things I mention above and if they work, I'll know it's time. Wish me energy, luck and focus? Thanks!! Robin

Monday, July 27, 2009

Puttin' in the Time

Several of you are joining in with the 20 hour challenge, that is, setting an hour goal per week and striving to meet it. We are keeping track very casually on the American Artists forum.

What I have learned from puttin' in the time, is that it frees me from avoiding work that is too big, too tall, just too much to fit into the time I have available. RAther than worrying about what the priority should be, I have found that the hours take care of the priorities themselves. It's time...not rearranging a to-do list...that really matters.

It also helped me to see what are the black holes my valuable, precious time gets lost in. Trading carving a new print for arguing online with some egomaniac know it all? Trading working on a colored pencil portrait to watch a Seinfeld episode that I know every word of? I've done it!

Inertia is a powerful thing!

I am taking a vacation from my personal art challenge for the next 6 weeks or so to work on some house projects I've been longing to get to. These are all HUGE in my mind...making new curtains, organizing closets, restoring some windows, etc. But what I have learned from the 20 hour challenge is the size of the project doesn't matter, I just have to put in the time.

A hill looks huge until you start walking up it. Then you look back and see how every step, every minute, gets you there. Don't over analyze it. Don't avoid it until you feel you have the optimum opportunity to tackle it. Just put in the time.

I'm still going to do my art for the next 6 weeks. But on "summer mode". But what I'm determined NOT to do is waste my time with activities that don't result in anything and NOT to let that procrastination because it just seems too much to overwhelm me.

I'll let you know how I make out! Meanwhile, PLEASE. Examine what wastes your valuable time and keeps you from reaching YOUR goals, whether art goals or otherwise. Let's move ahead together!

I'm American Artist, Robin Zebley. My pet portrait site is My other blog, enjoyed by artists and non artists, is Thanks for visiting and I hope you'll comment! I love to hear what other artists have to say!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Step Backwards, but Okay

I just finished printing my second version of a woodcut portrait of a really adorable white bulldog. I was 95% happy with the first one I did, everyone I showed it to (including the artists in my life) thought it was super, and my client probably wouldn't have noticed the little things that I didn't like...but I'm so glad I redid it! It's so much better. Those little things that weren't quite right the first time made all the difference in the world. A much stronger piece.

I'd love to BE the best at what I do, but DOING the best I CAN at what I do has to be my standard. I just think a little sloppy or accepting less that my best is a baddddd slippery slope. I have to go forward, get better, not fall backwards.

And let me tell you, dear fellow artists, it was so tempting to just say "good enough!" In fact, I thought about it for two days before I finally decided that morally and "artwise", I just couldn't accept 95% of my personal best.

So even though it seems that I took a step backwards, having gone back and started from scratch, I just feel it moved me forward a notch because I learned and improved. So one step backward and two forward, not a bad outcome.

I hope the same is true for you in your art life. I hope you're really striving for YOUR 100% and not settling for less than you're capable of. Our runway is short, we just have to take every opportunity to grow!

And this brings me to no commissions right now. I have done pretty well this spring, and am looking forward to a summer of some goofing off, and lots of working on things I've been wanting to do for a while. I'm going to take a few weeks off of marketing, as well. It's vacation time. We're going away, sitting in the garden, and hanging out. Time to refuel!

Monday, June 22, 2009

The In-The-Home Studio Nook

In my recent efforts to produce more, (and always,of course, better) art, I've had to face that one of my obstacles is poor studio practices. My studio used to be a whole room, where I had plenty of space to leave things a mess in one area and just do a clean up every once in a while. I did myself no favors working that way.

My studio right now, is now a nook in my dining room, and just like those of us who have had large kitchens and small kitchens, the same kind of meals can come out of both if you organize and run things right. I've been thinking about how I have gotten so much more efficient because I now run things right in my tiny, but productive studio nook!

The worst thing is when you are all ready to make art, go to your studio area and get so discouraged by the looks of it that you just turn right around. We are here on earth to make art, not watch t.v. (and of course, there's some other reasons we are here, but making art is what we all have in common, right? :D )

Here are my suggestions for a small, but efficient studio, learned from experience:

1. Don't "borrow" equipment from the studio. It's just not that expensive to buy another pair of scissors. I have had to search high and the bathroom because I cut my bangs? In the kitchen where I was cutting string? Same with rulers, tape, packing tape, razor blades, etc.

2. Don't stash non art stuff in your studio. Organize your "other life" in other places. You shouldn't have to root through drawers past the bills, family photos, notecards, etc. to find your art stuff.

3. Remember the 80/20 rule! I read somewhere long ago that we use 20 percent of our spices 80 percent of the time. So naturally, put those 20 percent in the front, accessible. Don't have to get past the peppermint oil to get to the parsley. Same with your art supplies. Okay, if you're reading this, you're an artist, and I KNOW that means that we buy...overbuy...all the time. That's a good thing! It makes us more creative. But even if you have a large space, 80 percent of your time is going to be at your art nook within your studio - your easel or table, so keep the stuff you need the most there within reach.

Those with a nook, like me, see if you can find another place to stash all those media you're going to learn to use someday. Is there a cabinet you can clean out in the basement for the stuff you are not actively using? Big tubs in the garage? I store my large sheets of paper under my bed in a cardboard sandwich and hang my large paper ripping straight edge on a nail behind the basement door. Don't put away in an attic that's not easy to get into, or behind or under things so you can't get to it. Just not in the prime real estate of your art nook.

4. Keep "jobs" together. I keep all the tools I need to rip paper for printmaking together in one spot. I keep all my printmaking supplies and equipment together in one box. I keep all my art marketing materials together in one box. I keep all my mailing and matting things together. All of these activities take place on my dining room table, right behind my easel. I just have to go retrieve them from their "other spot" in one trip, do the work, and back into the box for one trip back. In a small spot, I think it also helps to gang up jobs as much as possible to make for easier clean up. I often have more than one commission going at a time, and I prep as many as I have at the same time.

5. A place for everything...and everything in its place. Yeah, yeah. It saves soooo much time. Blindfolded, you should be able to put your hand on anything you need.

6. A large enough trash can within reach. Since I'm right around the corner, literally, from the kitchen, that's easy. When I had a whole room, that made a difference.

7. Clean up every time. You wouldn't cook and eat a meal and not clean up for a week would you? (Don't answer that!). Seriously, if you ever have had that life experience, you know how it is...there's less and less counterspace, less and less sink space, less and less correct tools for the job, you avoid it forever and when you finally get to it, it's a HUGE job, you're scraping what should have rinsed off. Same in your studio. You can get away with it in a larger one. In a nook, no way. And the bright side is it will save you money. No thrown out brushes, dried up paint, etc. And if you are literally using a part of another room, leaving your art debris around just makes the rest of the room look messy.

8. Keep a nice dog bed in your studio. Now, this is the most important part. Nothing like a little company of the very best kind!! If you don't know me, I am pet portrait artist, Robin Zebley, and my website is

How do you keep your studio, large or small, organized? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Twittering for fun and prospects!

Tweeting has been driving a signifant number of new viewers to my art sites! Of course, the more eyeballs that hit my pet portrait sites, the better my business! It takes a while, I think, to figure out how to do this, but this week I felt like I'm getting it:

I followed ppl who I think will be interested in following me. Animal people. I follow who they follow.

I then decided to follow those who aren't really potential customers: other artists, online market experts, tweeters who inspire others to go for their dreams, organic gardeners, crafters. And their followers. Although not "blatant" animal ppl, lots of folks who are organic gardeners, crafters and inspiring people also HAVE pets and might consider a pet portrait for themselves or for a gift. And I noticed some interesting things about how those who have a lot of followers tweet:

What happened was that twitter became a more interesting experience for me, I followed links in tweets that seemed interesting to me, and started following blogs that will help me.

So I learned what makes a reader take that more active step of clicking on the tweeter's profile, going to their website, etc., which is exactly what I hope to accomplish and HAS been happening...a lot...this week. What did I learn that I brought into my tweeting?

First, I respond with @ responses. It's so nice to know that someone is paying attention. Which means I skim through nonsense tweets to find something interesting so I can respond in an interesting way. With twitter, you gotta find the meat fast.

So, I am culling out who I follow. I am culling the animal rescues. What can I say? I know they're all great folks with desperate situations, but I can't adopt them all. I cull those who tweet every few minutes. I culled those who tweet stupid stuff, like "going to get coffee", "coffee is so strong, going to get more milk" "I'm back people! This is good coffee". I cull those who market...and only market...obviously and desperately. I cull those who only talk about the weather, follow fridays, etc.

This leaves me with more quality tweets that I can engage with. My belief is that once I have a quality exchange with someone...sometimes humourous and teasing, sometimes "way to go!", sometimes a comment on a link they gave...that they are more likely to remember me as someone they like and want to really follow. I know that as a tweet consumer, that is how I reacted. It's not that every tweet I read has to be profound, I like the casual and silly stuff, too. But not if it's all silly stuff.

Second, I leave space with my tweets. Better to tweet once an hour 4 times a day than 4 times in 10 minutes. For one thing, I'm likely to hit more people...those who's habit is to be at the computer at different times. The only time I've been deviating from that is when I really want to say more but can't fit it in, and that's been once, I think.

Third, I kinda backhandedly mention my portrait business only in an appropriate way, for instance when someone @ s me with a compliment. I'll say, "rt @nice_person, thanks for the compliment on my colored pencil pitbull portrait, you made my day!" I check those @s first thing, because I miss them, generally, real time.

I also mention when I've updated my blog.

Other than that, I try to be more of a responder, and I got that from someone else's tweet. That successful social networking is more about giving. The getting follows!

Third, I send direct messages to anyone following me that I want to follow me (and block the salesmen). I thank them, tell them I'm looking forward to their tweets and tell them what I generally tweet about.

And yes this has been timeconsuming. But I have been doing the culling and following, and direct messaging during tired, down times when I can. So before bed, "watching" the Phillies, too tired to draw, I have been doing these tweet chores. Also odd moments when I go to my tweet home, I'll see some culls and get rid of them.

Hope this helps someone else make a little sense about how this can work for you. Hit twitter often, but just a short time. Make meaningful return tweets. Cull the herd to make your tweet home more interesting. Become a consumer, as well. Direct message. It's working for me!! (BTW, I tweet as "robinzebley") And hey, while you're here, buy something, huh? :D

Monday, June 8, 2009

Ratcheting up the marketing

In addition to my pledge to make art for 12 - 15 hours a week, I'm pledging a half an hour a day = 3 hours with Sunday off - to marketing. I've relied on word of mouth and if I want to make this leap, I've got to get more eyeballs on my work.

Summer is a terrible time, it's traditionally been my slowest time, but experience has taught me that marketing doesn't have an immediate payoff anyway.

I've neglected driving around putting flyers up. It's literally been years since I hit some of them. So, back to that. Time to get some new streams opened up!

And today I'll be walking down to Reading Terminal at lunch, where there's a bulletin board above the tourist info, and thousands of visitors from all over the world. I've been filling that up about once every 2 months, how lazy is that? It's a 10 minute walk, if that!!

Plus there's a great noodle house that has the BEST soup in the world. :D

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Today is International Drawing Day!

And I'm working on a horse face in colored pencil. I'll be showing it on my other blog and on the American Artist Forums Drawing forum later today.

Won't you join in and draw today? No matter what your skill level..and if you are skilled, you know the value of drawing...and let's celebrate the most basic building block of our creations!

Friday, June 5, 2009

It's Prioritizing That's Strangles US!

Lori's 20 hour challenge has change my life, I'm serious! I realized that before, it was like, "okay, what's the most important thing I have to do now", rather than, just do it. I know it will all sort out if I just stop thinking about WHAT to do next artwise and just get on with it.

It's also amazing when you pick up a magazine and think...this is eating at my Challenge time... and I don't really CARE what Tom and Katie are wearing!

And it builds on itself. Nothing like seeing how far up the hill you've climbed to want to keep going! So c'mon, join us HERE. Soar to new heights! And pass it on!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Challenge - it's working!

Committing to a finite number of hours is really working for me! I guess some ppl do well with To-Do lists, but just putting in the hours on any of my art is really moving me along. Since my day job is getting really horrible, it's such a pleasure to see so much accomplished in my art!

If you aren't trying this...I highly recommend!! Just pick a stretch and go for it. Commit to reporting your progress on the American Artist forum site below and I bet you accomplish more than you dreamed!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The 20 Hour Challenge - Join US!

How much time do I actually make art each week? The ongoing struggle for art time...

Honestly though, I can't blame all of my lack of completed pieces on the lack of time. Laziness, is of course, to blame for some of it!! So I'm jumping in with both feet (and both hands) into the "20 hour challenge" that fellow artist Lori Woodward Simons has created for herself and has tweeted about. Only I'm modifying with a more realistic 12 hours a week, being that I can't possibly do 20 hours with my more-than-fulltime day job and family responsibilities. That's still a stretch and I love the idea of us being accountable to our time pledge.

Not 12 hours of looking through art books.
Not 12 hours of chatting online with other artists.
Not 12 hours of blogging, tweeting or facebooking...even about art!

12 hours of hands-on art making. Each of us is choosing the hours we pledge, based on where we are in life and what we realistically can do. And we're going be accountable online, to ourselves and each other, and post our progess every Friday for a Friday Show and Tell on the American Artist Magazine forum on this page

We'd love you to join us, we can encourage each other and celebrate our successes! All skill levels, all media are welcome. Because I truly believe that increasing quantity of time will equal increaseing quality of work, not to mention finally building a body of work. I'd love to take advantage of show opportunities that crop up for me...

So c'mon! Join us! Get accountable! Pledge 10, 20, 30 hours of artmaking and let's see how we can change the world, one art piece at a time!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Gallery Visit at the Print Center

I'm really lucky that I work a few blocks from the Print Center and can stop by to see exhibits.

Today I saw Pulling from History: The Old Masters. Eight printmakers were the first in a series of exhibits the Print Center plans to "explore the ways that contemporary artists are "hijacking" the hsitory of the printed image to create new work".

This really rings a chord with me, I LOVE how I can use the most ancient form of printing and give it life in 2009. Similarly, the more modern old methods were also employed skillfully by the exhibiting artists. However, as a woodcut relief printmaker, I was a little disappointed that only one of the two dozen prints was a woodcut.

But it was a dandy by Andrew Raftery, a chiaroscuro from five blocks in blue and gray. I especially enjoyed the linework in the darkest gray.

There were woodcut prints for sale in the gift shop, along with all other types of prints and photography, and all of it worth a look.

If you're interested in stopping in, hurry, because this exhibit ends on May 16, 2009. The Print Center is at 1614 Latimer, Philadelphia.

Monday, May 11, 2009

My slice of the pie

I think it was Tina who tweeted a post that suggested making a pie chart of how you spend your art time. (thanks, tina!) I've been mulling on this.

It's not just my "art pie" I have to manage (just how much is spent ACTUALLY making art?) but my "life pie".

When I think about how few minutes in a week I can actually devote to art, it's a very small slice, indeed! (If only my slices of pecan pie were so slim!!)

And even when I have the time to make art, the time isn't always quality. If I'm exhausted and it's late...what I make will be awful anyway. I have to manage my days better.

But I am resolved to tighten up my time outside of art to make more time for art. ("No sacrifice is too great for art", as Ray Davies says).

I'm finding a lot of success in not sitting. Truly! I usually like to have a nice cup of tea when I get home, but no least not sitting. If I keep on my feet, I get a ton done, and when I finally do sit, I'm half asleep. Half asleep but happy with what I've accomplished, whether it's from the life pie or art pie or both.

I know EXACTLY when I have to leave the house for work...and I straighten up the house every minute between when I'm dressed and I leave...less to do later when the potential to make art is!

And I'm resolved to never blow a whole day on the 'net...which I've done before. Lots. I wasted days arguing over whether the US should or shouldn't start a war in Iraq. Lots of good it did! It did nothing for my art, didn't move me along an inch, yet somehow since it was on an art site, it felt like "art pie".

So I resolve to look very closely at what IS art pie and what just feels like it. Some people want to make art. Some people just want to be artists. If my life pie can't fit in a generous slice of authentic art making...what am I?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Learning from Everyone

As much as I know I have in common with ppl my age range, I think it's important to remember that there's lots to be learned from those younger than me.

I think disregarding the lessons from younger ppl can be a real tragedy.

My woodcut teacher is the same age as my "baby" son. 20 years ago he couldn't have taught me a thing. Today, lessons learned!

Not only that but the energy and freshness of eye is contagious. I want and NEED to be with artists who haven't hit a rut and stayed in it. I think in that way, I'm kind of young at heart. It's what I disliked about an art group I was in...talented to be sure, but happy to stay in their zones.

And happily, I've found young artists are not ageist! It's the enthusiasm and commitment which matters, not the calendar!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Quiet time

There is so much noise (bad) and sound (good) surrounding choice we often have music/tv etc. on 24/7. We also think we have to multitask, do puzzles to prevent brain deterioration, be productive!

I find I really need some time with zero artifical sound filling my brain in order to tap into my creativity and really think about my art. It's not just a minute here or there, but to clear my brain and have some extended time to let my mind wander and ponder, is absolutely essential.

Some folks find that quietness in prayer and meditation and I do also, but then I'm mostly focused on people, not art. Walking and biking are also good places for me to let my mind wander. But sometimes just sitting quietly, sometimes because I forgot a book to fill my train ride, I get the most amazing, helpful thoughts!

Try it! Turn it off!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bring the Art to THEM!


I saw a post on wetcanvas where someone was doing plein air painting at a garden tour. FABULOUS idea! Bring the art to the potential buyer's area of interest, not try to get them to come to wherever your art is being sold.

For lower and midpriced artists who self represent, this can be a giant untapped resource!

A year and a half ago, I did a couple Halloween doggy parades. The tables were free, I met a lot of nice folks and got several commissions from it. What I decided I needed to do in the meantime, was having something for sale that day. If I do that kind of thing again, I'm going to think about gift cards and maybe press kind of things, which would have my site as part of the graphic...a semi-permanent business card.

Anyway, whatever you do, think about bringing art to an unusual venue. I read that less than half of Americans have EVER been inside an art gallery...yet they buy SOMETHING to put on their walls.

I saw a woman spend over $300 at Michaels for a frame for a poster. C'mon, we can do better than we are in bringing art to THEM!

I really love the potential of the upcoming spring planting season. Get your gardening friends to pot up perennial clumps, divy up those seeds, root houseplants and overwintered annuals, dig out those old unused containers and get your painter friends over for a "Garden Party Sale". Split your backyard into zones, put the garden stuff on one side, the art on another and paint while you enjoy the morning.

In the meantime, how about making some garden art? I've seen really cute hummingbird feeders, painted bird/bee houses, etc., that will NOT detract from your "real art".

Put an ad in the paper, make some pretty signs for the big day, and I bet you sell art! And you will build up your mailing list and have a great time marketing your art...almost for free.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Class Time Again!

I'm taking a third woodcut class. I love the atmosphere at the Fleisher Art Memorial. It's more serious than the suburban art places I've gone to and yet is affordable.

I miss the company of fellow woodcut artists, for $20 a night, I get studio time, free crits and a lot of motivation and fun!

And it improves my work. Another step.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Getting my ducks in order

Dear Art Friends,

I'm not a list maker, unless it's for things I HAVE to get done by a certain time. Not one to make and cross off things I can see in front of me having to be done. But I am thinking that relaunching my art effort is going to require a loooong list.

Number 1 of course is: Do the art. I've been fairly good about that. And Number 2 is: Improve the art. With classes and every day drawing and doing art as often as I can, I think that's happening too.

The rest of the list is more vague and less firmly in place. Before I relaunch, I need to update my website. I want decent human portrait samples and enough woodcut prints to make it look like I'm serious, which I am. I am thinking of a "subname" too, maybe: Portraits, Pets and Prints.

I need an art show set up. I need to find shows. I need to enter competitions. I need professionally done cards. Lots of needs!

And I want to have more energy which I know is eating better and exercising more. I'm trying to cram all these things into my limited "free" time without losing quality of work or quality of time with those I love. I also know that there's no perfect time, but I know it's not yet.

So...if I were in Candyland, I'd be pretty much a few spaces off of the starting point...and lots of spaces ahead. Where are you? Do you have some suggestions for me that I'm missing? I'd love to hear from you. Robin

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sometimes you just have to walk away..

Yesterday I posted about my frustration fighting support and pencils to do something pretty new. That old "give up" hits...

You know, sometimes you just have to walk away for a while. I think it helps that I have 2 art things I'm doing...the colored pencil/painting work and the woodcut printing.

Yesterday I printed a life sized cat I cut and proofed it and printed an edition of 9 before I ran out of paper! I loved how it turned out and will post a picture on my other blog after I get out today.

It just totally energized me. Now I feel I can tackle the portrait again, which I really want to do for my niece in law who gave me the photo. And it's not the photo, it's me who failed with it.

However, as much as I want to do art today, I think I won't be doing much. It's a real happy week in our house, our son who's a painter and has been getting a show together in Berlin for the last 9 months, is coming home to paint some commissions he has waiting for him here. And he's going to crash here for a bit til he gets resettled, so I'm moving my studio to the diningroom/kitchen. (will be printing in the kitchen, NOT over my rugs!!)

I can't tell you how much we can't wait to see him!! It's also a beautiful mornign out there, Otto is already nagging me for his walk, and I might do a little garden cleanup!

I hate to squander weekend days for house chores, but not only am I happy to for this occasion, I think it's good to walk away and take a break from art long as you come back soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


I have worked hours on a portrait of two toddler girls, on 2 different sanded support. I think I'm barking up the wrong tree here. I'm trying to do too many new things at once, and the sanded paper is going to go!!

I'm redoing a third time and this time I'm going to use the Mi Teintes that I am so familiar with. I know exactly how it will behave, so that's one thing conquered!

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

First Practice Piece - toddler on Colorfix with Colored Pencil

Here's my first practice piece. I used a goldenish colorfix paper, which has a sanded finish. It eats the pencils but I like how you can go light over dark/dark over light fairly easily.

I'm also experimenting with pastelboard undercoated with acrylics. I did a practice piece with that as well, but I was afraid to go too dark with the arcylics so went an did another coat of it OVER colored pencil, and then really overworked the thing. It looked okay from a distance but the texture was pretty ugly. So today I've got a reddish black and a sienna brown pastelboard waiting to be tackled.

Anyway, I do like the colorfix a lot. I think I'll try a darker shade to start with next time. I didn't do a real background on this because it really is practice. The ref is from the wetcanvas copyright free library, and I'm pretty happy with the likeness.

What is on my mind, though, is if I can really get away from copying photos...or trying to. I think more practice and a lot of it..will answer me.

So what are you, my midlife artist visitors, up to on this gorgeous winter day? Tell, tell!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I learned to sell art from Tupperware!! REALLY!!

It's true!! I was thinking about this recently, someone was commenting that people don't like to buy from losers.

Here's a few things I do almost second nature that I learned from my Tupperware manager. (During my very brief, but wildly successful career).

1. Fake it til you make it. I don't feel uncomfortable anymore "being" an artist. When I was starting out with my dog portraits, though, I felt like a fraud. Who was I to sell art, I had no degree, no training, etc? But I pretended to be an artist long enough to become one!

2. Have a full book. When we were starting out, our manager had us write fake party dates in our appointment books. We put in all our friends, our aunts from out of state, etc., so that we LOOKED popular, and it worked. Before I HAD a waiting list, I pretended I did. I didn't actually lie. I said, "well, I have to finish up this golden retriever and then I have a cat portrait to do, I can put you in after that". Never told them that the golden and the cat were both samples for my site! Of course, after a while, I had a waiting list.

3. Tell people what you do. I'm naturally chatty, so this wasn't a problem. And it works, also.

4. Be stocked. My dad owns a kitchenware store in Okeechobee, FL, and he told me he has to have at least 5 of everything at all times. Somehow, when there's only 1 or 2 of a spatula left, nobody buys it! I noticed during the times I put work on my site that's for sale, if there's only one or 2, they don't sell. If I have a dozen, I'm way more likely. Same with Etsy. I realized I have to be stocked if I want to sell that way.

5. Keep in touch. I'm not that good at this. I swear I will get better.

6. Love your product. I never showed Tupperware pieces I thought were stupid. I showed the things I used myself. Love your art.

7. Don't be your best customer. Part of their plan is to sell to the sellers. In other words, they have you sitting there, and they sell you on the advantages of a product so much that you end up buying it and spending your profit on their product! It's not quite the same, but I try to keep a lid on overspending on art supplies especially if I haven't really earned it back. But I live near great art stores so don't need to stock up. But sometimes, I swear I did more buying than I did selling, and every time I clean the studio, I'm reminded of this...

8. Get your friends to help you get started. I did that with my dog portraits and that's how I'm going to do my human portraits, too.

9. And this is the big one...the harder I work, the more I'll make. And talking about working doesn't count!

I bet if you think of other situations/training you've had in your "other life" you can think of ways to translate it to your art.

Any of those suggestions would be greatly appreciated here! Please do post any hints!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Feeling encouraged!

Yesterday worked on a sample portrait on the train to work, and someone stopped and inquired about my prices! Not just a LITTLE encouraging, lol! My little jump to deciding to go down this route kinda reinforced!

What about you? What jumps are you making? Or hops? Or baby steps? We're in this together!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hold my hand! I'm JUMPING!

After a lot of waffling, I'm JUMPING into people portraits. I have been so hesitant...even though I get a lot of requests...because I just felt like I needed a formal education to do it. I mean, who am I to offer HUMAN portraits???

I've done some, I enjoyed it, and I do a lot better with practice of course, etc etc etc.

I would like to take my own photos, but that scares me.

I've just decided to throw away all those little fears and go for it. I'm going to do it exactly how I started my dog portrait business...I'm going to do practice pieces for family and friends and put the best ones on my website and keep my prices low....very build up a portfolio, get lots of practice and hopefully grow as an artist.

I'm still planning on taking classes, that should help as well!

I think it is a natural addition to the animal portraits and even the woodcut printing.

Best of all, since I've been drawing every day, I have been drawing Otto my dog and humans and have been enjoying it. So I think it will help me with my goal of getting better as an artist, as well.

I'm going to be posting my progress and hope you'll all be very lavish with your advice for me!



Friday, January 16, 2009

More on Cohesiveness - Then it DOES matter!

Yesterday I talked about the importance of taking the time to experience making art fully, deadends, trying different media, etc. and how we learn who we are as artists, not to rush to a style in order to be more marketable.

I should have also said, and will here, that there's a point, and Ghislain is there and I feel I am, too, where decisions have to be made not only for marketability but for growth.

We can be a little good at a lot of things. Or we can get really good at what we found during the experimental phase, that we naturally loved and found we accomplished more than in the stuff we didn't like.

Otherwise, we might never become masters and not only won't be taken seriously, but will feel like we're spinning our art wheels, with a roomful of supplies and no growth to show for it.

I recently read that it takes 40 paintings to be able to do a one-person show. That's an awful lot of work, and of course there's steps on the way.

So sidetrips into another new medium or subject can derail at this point. There comes a time where you have to figure out what "ball" you want and keep your eyes on that ball.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Cohesiveness, Style and How to Get There

One of our participants here, the wonderful painter Ghislain Bruno raised a question on the Wetcanvas forum about the need to focus.

What a great topic to think about!

You do hear it, that you need a cohesive style, subject, etc., to be considered by galleries and shows, etc.

I'm all for cohesiveness, but at the proper time! Especially for those of us who are basically self taught, we need time to explore (and spend money on art supplies!!)

Keep in mind that formally trained artists are exposed to a variety of techniques, media, subject matter, etc. Some requirements that are dreaded can turn out to the be very thing that they love! So those of us on our own, also need to discovery exactly what we like and don't like.

I love watercolor paintings, but I hate doing it. Can't tell you why, but I just don't like the act of painting in watercolor.

Also thought I would love pastels. Nope. Same for still life. Except my foray into painting flowers made them look like they all had personalities!

Love really good abstracts...but have no natural ability to even start down that road.

Now, there's all different techniques and palettes in oil painting, as well. Some folks jut love to glaze. Others? no. It takes TIME at the easel/drawing board to discovery all this and it's personal. Nobody can predict. AND you have to master the various techniques/media/subject matter etc. well enough to give it a good shot and KNOW that it's not for you.

Only then can we really begin to think about cohesiveness...which is tied to style imo.

Now, I know I have a style. I don't know where it came from, lol! But I've drawn, painted, pastelled and relief printed animals and folks familiar with my work tell me they can tell I did it. So I'm guessing that's style.

Every single choice we make, color, value, subject, stroke, etc. reveals us.

But I think that only comes when we feel good and relaxed and confident with our materials and skills...not following books, or really even much advice. THEN, I think it's time to worry about cohesiveness. Because until then, really it's kind of artifical and strained. IMO!

But enough from me, now, I'd love to hear what you all think about cohesiveness and developing a style.

If you've just visited this blog for the first time, let me introduce! I'm Robin Zebley, my pet portrait website is My blog about animals and art is and if you'd like to read this whole blog, just click on the banner at the top and don't forget to look at the older posts at the bottom.

And don't forget to comment...I love opinions and if you disagree or not, love to hear from you! Robin

Friday, January 9, 2009

Local Shows

Some of you are talking about doing local shows as a way to start selling. If you haven't yet, or are just getting started, I bet you are like me.

I find out about them too late. I hear all about them when they are too close in to get ready and apply for them, especially the juried ones.

So I now keep a separate calendar (a free one I got from my oil company) and any shows I'm interested in, I jot down the date and staple the info on the back. Not that organized, but it works.

Many shows are at around the same time every year. So I have all the pertinent info. Even if the contact person changed, whoever the old contact person was will know who the new one is. I look at my calendar often in order to make a decision if I want to enter it or not.

I have a few in mind that I've been "following" for a couple years, not quite ready.

It's also, imo, important to visit the local shows and see if my work will fit in.

I'd love to hear what you guys do to collect and make decisions about, local shows! My pet portrait website is Come visit! Robin

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Selling Art in a Coffeeshop

Midlife artist Pam Boutilier mentioned coffeeshops in her response to my last post. While I haven't done that myself, I'd like to. And I have a very close artist friend who did well...very a coffeeshop in the tourists/artsy side of town and I'll tell you exactly what I think he did that made the difference between sales and just decorating someone else's business. I know I speak for all of us here (we have a LOT of lurkers!!) that any other ideas are most welcome.

Here'w what he did: He had a lot of pieces. BIG pieces. Pieces that fit verticle spaces, pieces that fit horizonal spaces. And all "fit" could tell the same artist painted them all.

He mounted a small tag next to each one with title, dimension and price. Double stick tape.

He mounted small, framed price lists with thumbnails in several areas.

He bought card holders and placed them in various spots including next to the register.

He gave the staff a stack of cards to fill up the holders.

He told the staff he'd be in every Tuesday and Friday at 5 and would hang around til 8 in case anyone wanted to meet him, but he'd be willing to come in and meet anyone who called.

He did that. But he also stopped by often in between, and thanked the staff profusely when they told him anyone was interested.

He gave each waitstaff member and the owner a small, signed, original framed drawing to thank them for their help. They sold his stuff! They passed on the info about when he'd be there, introduced him, gave out his card and most of all, gushed about his art.

He sold out in 6 weeks, all of it priced in the $700 - $1,200 range.

Do you have experience selling in a coffeeshop? If so, we'd love to hear your experience and ideas to make it a really positive and lucrative experience!