Elizabeth Berrien · World Class Wire Sculpture and Illustration · (707)445-4931
elizabeth berrien's bbc wire sculpture illustration wins the Clio award 2008.








- Art Marketing 101
- Gallery Diplomacy
- Fair Fun & Profit
- How Long It Took
- Pratfall Avoidance
- Start on Shoestring
- Working at Home




(C) Elizabeth Berrien, 1994

At a business workshop for artists, Absolute Beginners asked for clues on Starting Up. The response was a crisp shopping list of "Absolute Necessities". "First," the leader intoned, "you need Slides. You can find professional photographers charging as little as $35 an hour, and if you're really organized, it shouldn't take more than three or four hours. Then there's color brochures, for a thousand dollars or two..." The beginners slumped in a glazed, dull trance as further "essential" startup expenses were piled on in loving detail until the workshop came to a merciful close. Saving up that Startup Stake seemed as unattainable a shuttle ride to the moon.

While I agree with the workshop people that good slides and brochures are a nifty upgrade for the established professional, there are ways to get in motion without the sizable outlay they require. Here, then, is the Impoverished Artist's Absolute Shoestring:

Business Cards: Artists, like other professionals, are expected to have cards if they mean business. Cards give this subliminal message: "I exist. I have substance, I've been in business for some time. I will still be in business years from now, or I wouldn't have these cards." You'll absorb this message yourself every time you hand someone your card. Your card should be designed with Minimalist Haiku Theory in mind: as BRIEFLY as possible, say Who You Are (include a business name; it lends more Substance than your name alone), What You Do (a description of your art form, like "blown glass" or "nose flutes". Just plain "Artist" tends to lie there. If you haven't settled on a specific discipline, try "Design", which covers a host of evils) and How To Reach You (PO Box and phone #). Add in a Minimalist Visual Quark to remind people of your work after they walk away with your card; this will be your LOGO.

Plain business cards (i.e. with typed info but no picture logo) can be run up by a printer for as little as $35. If you're REALLY strapped for cash, you can do it yourself even cheaper. I've seen elegant, exceptionally memorable cards by artists who bought (or made!) a sheet of handÄmade paper, embellished it with broad sweeps of pigments, chopped it into regulationÄsize cards (some with a straight torn edge for extra impact) with a paper cutter, and smacked the colorful card blanks with a sixÄdollar rubber stamp of their written information.

Business Stationery: One artist I know sent handÄwritten inquiries to a supplier for years, but got no response. When he finally sent a TYPED inquiry on his own Printed Letterhead, he received an immediate and courteous reply. This illustrates that handwritten letters are fine for correspondence with friends but just don't cut it in the business world. Printed business letterhead (stationery with your name at the top) may cost upward of $100 for 500 sheets of paper and 500 envelopes. Once again, there are Absolute Shoestring options: many copy shops and art centers have computers available so you can design your own letterhead (cards, too!). Instead of springing for 500 at a time, you can use a copier to print up 30 or 50 sheets of letterhead on good-quality paper (flimsy paper gives the wrong message) at a dime each, CHEAP! Until you can upgrade to printed envelopes, either ask a friend to show you how a computer can print your name & address on an envelope, or get a rubber stamp made up.

Mercenary Handouts: Like your cards, these single-sheet flyers tell the Who/What/Where of your art business, only more so. Mine are printed on my Letterhead, so the How to Reach Me's already there. I've got About the Artist written an inch high, a self-explanatory label visible from a distance so folks too shy to ask can see they're available. I follow with two or three paragraphs describing my art form, how and why I do it, how long I've been doing it, interesting places I've shown, PLUS a cheerful statement to the effect that I welcome custom, commissioned projects (see Surv Tips #1, "Commissioned Works: Surviving the Experience"). When I've got it written the way I like it, I paste in a black & white image of my work. Down at the copy shop, I run up a hundred whenever I'm headed for a show. Leftovers are always useful to tuck in with artworks as I sell them. I may give MH's to people who ask for cards, especially out-of-towners; next time they think about buying art, my Mercenary Handout will remind them why they liked my work.

Note: If you get all buffaloed trying to come up with your business name, logo, etc, jam with a couple other artists doing the same thing: it's much easier and more fun to work on SOMEONE ELSE'S image, and you'll be surprised at what other artists can suggest for your own.

Tags/Labels/Invoices,: When you see the difference in your sales when you use cards, letterheads and Mercenary Handouts, a light bulb goes on and you think, "This is fun! This makes me feel real! What other Trappings of Professionalism can I try?" Well, as you make more sales, plow your money right back into the business. Order that big batch of letterhead from the printers (one benefit of the mini Basic Batch is that you may discover changes you want before you've committed to the Big Batch). While you're at it, ask about gummed shipping labels, invoices, and informative tags to attach to your work.

Pocket Portfolio: If I had a dollar for every slide or 9 x 12 glossy I ever sent out and never saw again... while I do, reluctantly, send slides & glossies for situations that absolutely call for them, I've been happier since I cooked up the Pocket Portfolio, a folder with two side pockets and a little inset for my business card. I load a pocket with a stapled set of photocopies from my REAL portfolio; the other pocket holds my resume, news clippings, & other written materials. To a person receiving my Pocket Portfolio, this is much more attractive, orderly and effective than the previous hodgepodge spilling from a manila envelope; I've even seen my Pocket Portfolio tastefully displayed on clients' coffee tables. The whole works only costs a couple dollars, so I invite special clients or prospective galleries to keep it on file as a future resource.

OTHER HELPS: Find an attractive blank book to use as your Day Book. Every time the phone rings, open the Day Book and write directly into it. When I talk to a client about a commission, I open my Day Book and draw up what I'm making, how much deposit is taken, when it's due, and the client's address & phone number. My Day Book is full of notes on appointments, supply orders, crazy inspirations and mindless doodles. When I travel, I jot down cheap but pleasant motels & restaurants for future reference. I look through past day books to see what I was thinking and doing a year or more back; I transfer addresses in it to my Mailing List, so I can send Secondary Mercenary Handouts (announcements of upcoming shows & sales) to anyone who showed enough interest to get in my Day Book in the first place.

[Author's note: Now that we're within the Age of Internet, let's add a good website to your startup shoestring. Ask a friend to show you how to design one...]

If you haven't got one already, get a State Seller's Permit. While it's a minor hassle keeping track of the money you make, the immediate Reward Factor is that now you can buy art materials without paying sales tax on them; that expense is handed on to the person who buys your finished Art. In many cases, once you've got your Seller's Permit and Business Letterhead, suppliers will let you buy goods at considerably reduced Wholesale prices. Sometimes they require a daunting Minimum Order; that 's when you link up with other artists to place a Combined Bulk Order.

Linking Up: There's no measuring the help you can get from linking up with artists who've already faced many of the challenges of going professional. Join and support one or more of your local artist's groups; when you've got the blues because nothing seems to move, nothing helps half as much as mingling with your peers and discovering anew that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Artists share information about galleries in and out of town, new supply sources, hot gossip about possible leads, and more. Some folks call this kind of interchange "Networking", which to me is an '80's concept of Mutual Exploitation. I much prefer Symbiosis, with the underlying philosophy that you give back more help than you borrow. If you're just starting out, don't feel obliged to have some sort of Information Trading Stock; there are other ways to give back into the Cosmic Balance of Things, like calling up your Arts Organization and asking what kind of volunteers they need this week. I guarantee, when you head home from a Volunteer Session, you'll know more about What's Going On than when you showed up, and you'll have new friends grateful for your donated time.


Dear Auntie Social: I think I can make up a decent logo for my new business cards, but don't you think I'm being a bit presumptuous making up a business name too? I mean, it's not as if I was a REAL professional.

My Child: Professionalism is a Self-Fulfilling State of Mind. It is defined within two separate spheres: the nature and quality of your Work, which is your INTERNAL quest, and the manner in which you present it to the world, which is your EXTERNAL quest. In a nutshell, the reason you want a Business Name is to bolster you up when you are asked by certain individuals or institutions, "Occupation, Please?" Alas, the proud answer "I am a Self-Employed Artist" is often perceived as "I am an Unemployed Deadbeat". Try "I operate a Design Business, 'Aardvark-o-Saurus'". See the difference?

This article was first published in the news letter of the Ink People Center for the Arts in the 1990's.

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World Class Wire Sculpture · Elizabeth Berrien (707) 445-4931 · email wireladye@yahoo.com

Content and images © 1968-2010 Elizabeth Berrien. All rights reserved. · Updated Aug 10, 2010 · this page valid HTML 4.01

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