Category Archives: The Business of Being an Artist

Running an Art Business During a Pandemic

~ by Maria Benner

In business school I was taught to react to a crisis that affects one’s business, but none of the case studies ever described a drawn-out external threat to the business that lasts nearly a year, like the current pandemic. Making and selling art for a living is already considered a risky career option, and people often remind us of that with their pessimistic and inappropriate questions about our finances when they find out we make a living from Scott’s art. So, when the pandemic hit, I felt especially vulnerable at first. We had art shows lined up at local breweries, and other than that, we were selling art online. When everything shut down at the end of March, we were pleasantly surprised as our Etsy sales more than doubled compared to the same time period last year. People were bored at home, and they were shopping. The building where we lease our studio was locked to the public, but we were still allowed to go into our studio, so we kept mailing orders, and Scott kept painting commissions, and new pieces for his upcoming art show in June at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. When everything opened back up, we swooped in and had a successful art show, despite the pandemic, before the brewery was closed again for on-site consumption for the month of August. Orders kept rolling in all summer, and we kept working.

I took advantage of having extra time to learn HTML and CSS, and built a new website for Real Art Is Better. I also combed through all the Etsy listings, making sure photos looked good, descriptions were correct, and keywords were optimized. There were a couple requests for proposals announced for public art in Alaska. I applied for two, and we were granted one, and Scott is a finalist for another one. He’s working on his final proposal right now.

We spent most of the summer in McCarthy, where the majority of businesses were open, including the gift shops in McCarthy and Kennecott. We sold art there all summer, and sales were only a couple hundred dollars lower than during normal summers. We also fulfilled a wholesale order for a book shop in Haines, and I now plan to build a wholesale program for the business.

We maintained our social media presence, posting updates every weekday, and sending e-newsletters every other Friday. Since we can’t travel, Scott has had extra time to work on oil paintings. He decided to paint a few pieces on canvas for a change (he normally paints on wood panel) and completed a large painting that sold right after the election. Having more time to try new techniques has been valuable to him. He also kept teaching painting lessons at the studio.

Then the Mayor of Anchorage announced a third hunker down order for the month of December, which is when we usually do in-person sales events like craft fairs. This year the craft fairs were cancelled, so I set up live painting/pop-up events at two local breweries. When I heard about the shutdown, we contacted Anchorage Brewing Co. and were able to reschedule one of the events for the Sunday before the emergency order went into effect. We also were able to go ahead with another event as planned at Odd Man Rush Brewing. Since the shutdown does not apply outside Anchorage, we scheduled a live painting/pop-up event at Bleeding Heart Brewing in Palmer for December 19.

Tonight we are hanging oil paintings at Turnagain Brewing, eventhough the taproom is closed for onsite consumption, but is open for to-go orders. The art show is scaled down to just one wall, but we’re still doing it.

There are several lessons I learned during the pandemic about running an art business.

  1. Keep working; making new paintings, posting on social media, sending e-newsletters, blogging, applying for public art projects, doing art shows, going to the studio every day. We didn’t cancel anything, were pro-active about contacting venues, and were available when people asked us to work on projects.
  2. Have a strong online presence and SEO.
  3. Be safe, but also show up whenever you can.
  4. Offer excellent customer service, including curbside pick-up, and free shipping.
  5. Be flexible enough to re-schedule events, or adjust how they happen so everyone stays safe.
  6. Just keep going…
Alaskan Artist Scott Clendaniel and his oil painting called Stairway to Sunrise
Staying safe while delivering and hanging a new painting during a pandemic.
Alaskan artist Scott Clendaniel sold his octopus goalie painting at Odd Man Rush Brewing
Selling art at Odd Man Rush Brewing.
Alaskan artist Scott Clendaniel with his painting of three barleywines at Glacier Brewhouse
Worked on this project for Glacier Brewhouse for their 12 Days of Barleywine artwork.

How to Support All Your Favorite Local Small Businesses and Artists Without Going Broke

During these crazy times we all need each other’s support.  Everyone is saying we should support our local restaurants, small businesses, independent artists, but when times are this uncertain, saving money is also a good idea.  Maybe you don’t need art, or certain services at the moment, but you may need them in the future, and that’s why we want our local businesses to get through this lean period.  So, how can you support all your favorite businesses without going broke?

• Follow your favorite businesses and artists on social media, and sign up for their e-newsletters.  Do you love a picture they posted?  Then like it, share it, comment on it.  The more engagement a post has, the more likely other people will see it, and then the small business won’t have to spend as much on advertising to be seen.

• When you need to buy something, don’t just automatically go online to look for it, take a few seconds, and try to think of a local place that may have what you need.  They already spent the time and money to get products delivered to their store, so give them a call, or go to their website and see if they have what you’re looking for, or maybe they can order it for you.  Amazon will definitely survive through this, but isn’t it nice to have local brick-and-mortar stores around, in case you need something immediately?

• Post pictures of the food you are about to enjoy, or your favorite piece of art by an artist you follow.  Tell people why you love what they do.

• If you can’t afford to spend money at every business you want to support, then tell your friends in real life about why you love a certain shop, or restaurant, and maybe they will try it for the first time.  Attracting new customers is much more difficult than keeping existing ones.

• If you hear of an opportunity for artists, don’t assume that all artists know about it, forward that e-mail, or text the info directly to the artist.  I have had several friends text me about opportunities that they thought are a good fit for me.  Most of the time I find out about them eventually, but it’s nice to know that I am top-of-mind for some people, and I also appreciate having the extra few days head start on the application process.

• If you have a blog, or are a freelance writer, feature a small business in your next blog post, or article.

• Write a review on Facebook, Google, Yelp, etc.

What other ways can you think of to support your favorite businesses?  

People say it takes a village to raise a child, but it takes a community to have a thriving local economy.  We can get through this if we are creative about how we do it.  Lastly, I want to thank my patrons who have continued to purchase my art online and in person.  You make my art career possible!

Time to Start Thinking about Commissions for the Holidays

Today is already the middle October!  I’m so sad that I haven’t been able to have open studio gatherings to see you all.  We’re going to figure something out for the December party we normally have.  Since, I think we can only have about 5-7 people in the studio safely at once, we may schedule visits if you want to come in to sample a little homemade brew and shop for holiday gifts.  I will announce that possibility as we get a bit closer, and depending on the status of C-19 cases as winter weather sets in.  We haven’t even gotten through Halloween yet, so I assume most of you aren’t in the right mindset for that as of yet. 

What I do want to talk about right now is COMMISSIONED artwork.  I have had a nearly perfect record with successful commissions.  I just finished a piece for a local fire fighter who works just down the street from my studio.  He wanted a painting to commemorate a trip with his girlfriend to Orca Island in Resurrection Bay.  The painting was supposed to be a surprise, but he told his girlfriend about it when she was having a bad day, and she cried!  The only problem with commissioning a painting for a holiday gift is I run out of time to get them all painted, so getting in early is better.  In 2016 I completed 24 individual paintings that my patrons commissioned for holiday gifts.  I felt like an elf that year, and my beard started to twinkle with a bit of varnish by December 15, the last day possible for paintings to dry in time for the 25th.  I suggest you look through the pictures of your favorite trip this year, or last year (considering a lot of us have been hunkering down and not going anywhere since March).  It always brings a smile to see people so excited to give the gift of a special painting!  Cheers, and I look forward to seeing what you bring for me to paint! 

An Art Show During a Pandemic. The show will go on!

First Firkin Friday with Scott Clendaniel at Midnight Sun Brewing

We recently returned from our cabin in McCarthy to the metropolis known as Anchorage.  Maria and I both experienced small culture shock from the peaceful surroundings of our ten acres near Wrangell – St. Elias National Park compared to the industrialized buzz of the Anchorage city scene.  At the end of a two week stay all the treats we stockpiled to bring to the cabin start to run out and pretty soon you are making a lentil casserole from leftover ingredients.  At the cabin the birds were chirping and the loudest noise in the area was ourselves.  In Anchorage, the place where supplies are plentiful, we ordered sushi the night we arrived to our condo.  It was crazy to hear sirens, neighbors’ doors opening and closing, and the garbage truck.

We returned because I have an art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. starting this Friday, June 5th, and lasting for the whole month.  I have been working hard to get a new group of paintings together for this show.  The new pieces represent the four seasons of nature in Alaska’s Boreal forest, and I think they turned out pretty well.  Alaska is still experiencing over a dozen new cases of the Covies each day, but the Governor said we can start socializing again, so the show will go on, but don’t forget your mask.  I’ll tap the firkin at 5pm, and last call will be at 8pm.

Upon returning to Anchorage I was pretty stoked to go into MSBC and have a beer with my friends again.  MSBC didn’t get to celebrate its 25th birthday on the 5th of May the way it normally does, so this week the brewery is having a small celebration by offering some serious barrel aged beauties on draft.  Yesterday I stopped in and they had Arctic Devil barleywine, Sloth imperial stout, Bar Fly smoked imperial stout, the 25th anniversary barrel aged quad, and the Grand Crew Brew all on draft.  The walls at the Loft were bare when I got back Sunday, so I hung some paintings Monday.  I will hang the remaining 33 paintings tonight, and I will see if those barrel aged beers are still on draft.

Tomorrow is one of my favorite nights of the summer when I get to host the First Firkin Friday for June.  If the barrel aged delights are no longer on the menu, never fear, because there will be a special cask of Sloth aged on blackberries!  I will be bringing my craft fair table and will be selling art cards and stickers while sipping the tasty brews around my face mask.  It has been since 2013 that I have been enjoying MSBC’s hospitality in June, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the beginning of summer than sharing a small glass of Sloth with you!   So don’t go hiking at 5PM tomorrow, because you won’t get back in time, the brewery still closes at 8pm.  This isn’t a problem in the winter, but during summer, sometimes you have to set an alarm to make sure it doesn’t get too late for fresh beer at the tasting rooms!  I look forward to seeing all your sparkling eyes, if I miss being able to see your big smiles under your masks tomorrow!  Cheers to summer!

A Tractor in Exchange for a Painting

Tractor

Today I would like to talk about the most recent acquisition to my 10-acre property in McCarthy, Alaska — a vintage tractor!  This 1967 International Harvester Low Boy Cub was a trade I made with my long time friend and virtual little brother, John Hickerson.  I will be making a large oil painting for John when he moves to Oklahoma.   John will be buying a farmhouse and will need a centerpiece painting for his new home.  I feel this is a great trade for this sweet piece of equipment.  John has been restoring this tractor for three years, and it runs really well.  We still have some plans to finalize the restoration.  We have some parts on order to rebuild the clutch, and we will be installing a new head gasket, and replacing the piston rings.  It has already undergone a 12-volt conversion, and uses an alternator and battery from a Ford Focus.  Earlier this week we used the tractor to spread gravel and grade our driveway.  It was a real work horse — some of the lumps we destroyed would take weeks to level by hand.

I am really happy with the IH tractor, because it means I won’t have to break my back when I pop stumps out of the ground.  It is rear-wheel drive, but has a mean set of rear tires with tire chains.  It is really fun to drive, as the throttle is a hand lever, and there are two brakes — one for each rear wheel.  These tractors are really popular, and getting parts is pretty easy and affordable.  I have plans to build a barn to house my McCarthy motorized vehicles.  I’ve acquired quite a fleet with my four-wheeler, snow-machine, tractor, and a 4×8 utility trailer.  I’m looking forward to getting this tractor running like it was brand new, then pulling the trailer with a bale of straw, and we will have hay rides around McCarthy and up to my place!  Maybe I’ll even join the 4th of July parade in McCarthy this year!

Why You Need an Artist on Your Team

Pint of Man by Scott Clendaniel parody of the Son of Man by René MagritteOne time I heard someone say that successful people have a team of professionals.  I’m not talking about a CEO with a full staff of suits, but am referring to individuals who work with a group of specialists who are ready to help.  Over the years we’ve found some good people to help us out when we needed their professional expertise.  Our team consists of the following people.

Medical: general practitioner who can refer us to specialists, and a dentist.

Financial: insurance agent, and a CPA who helps us with taxes, and answers our tax-related questions throughout the year.

Legal: helps having a brother who’s a lawyer.

Household: plumber, handyman, auto mechanic.

If you’re not an artist yourself, you should also have an artist on your team.  There are many instances when you’ll be glad you already know one.  If you start a business and need a new logo, if you need art for your home, or for a gift, and especially if you took a really great photo of your dog in front of a glacier, and you want an artist to paint it 🙂  Many of you who are reading this blog post already know me, and I’m honored to be on your team.  And if you’re looking for an artist as you read this, then consider me for the job.  My reviews speak for themselves.

Fur Rondy and Iditarod Open Studio Events – A Tradition at Real Art Is Better

We’ve had our studio inside the 4th Avenue Market Place for almost five years now, and each year during the Fur Rondy winter festival, and the Iditarod race start we’ve been turning the studio into a pop-up gallery, and opening our doors to the public.  The studio has large windows facing north, with a great view of the carnival.  Yesterday the carnival rides showed up in the parking lot across the street, which means the festivities are right around the corner!

Carnival rides getting set up in a snow storm.

The timing of the winter festival is perfect.  By late February, most Alaskans are fed up with winter, and start experiencing cabin fever.  The best cure is to head downtown to watch sled dog races, outhouse races, check out snow sculptures, ride a couple carnival rides, and maybe even participate in the blanket toss.  There are so many activities starting Feb. 28.  Here’s a link to the entire schedule.

The Real Art Is Better studio will be open both weekends.  Stop by to warm up, enjoy freshly-baked cookies, and check out the view.  We’re inside the 4th Avenue Market Place in Suite 4, which is in the NW corner if you walk in from 4th Avenue.  333 W 4th Avenue.

Open Studio Hours:

Saturday, February 29, 11am – 5pm

Sunday, March 1, 11am – 3pm

Saturday, March 7, 10am – 6pm

Fur Rondy carnival Anchorage Alaskaworld championship sled dog races anchorage alaska

Paintings Commissioned for Holiday Gifts 2019

Each year several thoughtful gift-givers commission me to paint custom oil paintings for holiday gifts, and so far I’ve always finished them all on schedule to be delivered several days before December 25th.  This year most of the paintings were dog portraits, and sadly two of those were of loved pups that had recently gone to doggy heaven.  No one ordered a cat painting.  Hmmmm.  One person really liked one of my existing float plane paintings, but wanted a smaller version, so I painted one for him.  I’m always impressed with the concepts that my patrons develop for these pieces, and my favorite part is finding out the stories behind each one.  I hope all the recipients liked their gifts.  I did receive a couple photos of smiling people holding their custom Clendaniel originals.

Click on each one to see it in more detail.  All paintings are framed in a natural wood frame, with hanging hardware installed.  The turnaround time is 2-3 weeks.  You can order a custom oil painting at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter, or by contacting me at info [at] realartisbetter [dot] com.

Real Art Is Better in Person

Since I don’t have gallery representation, I don’t get to show people my art in person as much as I would like.  Throughout the year, people can see my art by making an appointment to visit my studio, or attending an open-studio event and art shows at local venues.  Sure, I post photos of my paintings online all the time, but that doesn’t do justice to the colors and texture.  Seeing art in “real life” is a completely different experience.  That’s why I’m so glad to be participating in, and hosting several events this month where you can see my work.  I’m looking forward to seeing you at any, or all of these (if you’re on Facebook, you can see the Facebook events by clicking on the images).

1. Winter Market at Anchorage Brewing Co. November 30th and December 21st, 2-8pm.  Great beer, and pizza baked in a wood-fired oven!Anchorage Brewing craft fair winter market

 

2. The Holiday Studio Sale at the Real Art Is Better studio!  We clean up our studio, and turn it into a pop-up gallery for First Fridays a few times a year, but this one is not to be missed, because it’s more like our holiday party.  December 6th, 5-8pm.  333 W 4th Ave, Suite 4.  Real Art Is Better holiday studio sale

 

3. I will be the featured artist at Turnagain Brewing Company in December, so you can see my art there all month long.  I’ll have a meet and greet event there on Saturday, December 7th, 5-7pm.  My art will be available for sale directly from the brewery.Turnagain Brewing art show Scott Clendaniel beer artist

 

4. I will be joining many talented local artists and crafters at the annual Makers Market at the Atwood Center.  December 14 & 15, 11am – 4pm.  That will be a great place to do all your holiday shopping!

The holidays are always a busy time of year, but I’m grateful for each and every one of you who has supported my art career!

Cheers!

What Did You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Ask any kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and the kid almost always has a quick answer.  This is not something they need to think about, they just know… with certainty.  I still remember what my answer was.  I wanted to make pizza and sell it out of a truck.  So, like an ice cream truck, but for pizza.  I also thought I could make a fortune selling chocolate chip cookies using my Grandmother’s recipe — she makes really good cookies!  Somehow as I grew up, I forgot about my aspirations.  One thing lead to another, and I studied art all the way through college, and now I work as an artist — a dream job for many kids, I bet.  Maria says she wanted to be a candy salesperson.  So, what did you want to be, and what did you end up becoming?

If this whole artist thing doesn’t work out, I can go back to my original plan to sell pizza from a truck.