Donna is a painter based in Beaufort, North Carolina; she’s a graduate Fellow of CHF’s Art-Business Accelerator Program, and an Emeritus Advisor for the 2019 group of Fellows. Her work is representational, and explores the nautical and coastal themes of her home. Her sales strategy involves partnering with cause-based organizations to amplify their messages through the use of fine art. Recent projects include a resident artist position with Friends of the NC Maritime Museum and a collaboration with The Kit Jones Project.
CHF’s Accelerator Program Results“Being able to define what I want and where I want to go with my career has helped me immensely in so many different ways.”“When you decide what you want to do, you become more intentional about what you choose to do.”“People who get residencies, get more residencies. I went to [North Carolina Maritime Museum] and I said: ‘hey, I would really like a residency.’ This is what that would entail. Here’s what I want from you. Here’s what you’ll get from me. And with that intention, after defining myself and redefining what I want, I can actually move with a little more skill and a little more focus in order to get where I want to go.”
Blueprinting Your Career—Work Ethic, Brand Narrative & Sales Strategies“I made the decision that I was going to be a professional artist, and took away all the safety nets that I had….That ‘I’m inspired today, or I’m not’— that’s not me. I get up [and say] here’s what I have to do today. This is my list. So to me, it’s that blue-collar work ethic that is applied to fine art.”“You’re better off making a sale as you.”“It’s kind of a throwback to back in the day when you had patrons, and artists worked almost as craftspeople. And they had their guilds and they were actually working for people. It’s a very similar type of relationship. So in that respect, being a blue-collar or a working artist is more valuable because they say: ‘Oh a working artist. That means you’re actually finishing and doing a job.’ And they’re very happy with that and it does help.”“Are you an artist because you call yourself one, or should you wait until someone calls you an artist? So rather than saying whether I’m an artist or not I just go, ‘I paint!’ And I leave it at that. ‘I’m a painter. I paint pictures.’ ”“I’m in a niche market of maritime art right now. And I also live in a very tourist community. [So I’m constantly asked]: ‘Can you donate this? Can you donate that?’ and I’m like, ‘No. I cannot.’ So I figured, how am I going to leverage what’s coming my way which is ‘Can you donate this?’ with: what of mine needs to be marketed?”“…I don’t donate anything. They pay me. They pay for my materials. They pay for the framing. They pay for the advertising. And so I have it set up where I may be donating my time, but I’m not out any money.”“So if you’re serious about buying a piece from me, if you have bought a piece, or you’ve come up to one of my events, you get a special newsletter that is exclusive. And I tell them it’s exclusive. I give them options and opportunities, that once I put the stuff in a gallery or online, those opportunities are gone. So it gives them a time frame in which they actually have to do something. My open rate is between 80 and 100% for those special newsletters.”
The Work“I love hearing what other people have to say about my work. I really do. It’s very interesting. And I like that it’s adventurous…I’m trying to catch more of an emotion or an atmosphere more so than a representation of: ‘Here is the scene, enjoy it’.”“I’m going to do what I want to do, because I like doing it. And if I make a change, like I did in June— I made a change with how I actually put the paint on the board… and if my style changes a little bit because of that, then great, because I’m learning and personally growing in how I want to paint.”“You can’t add emotion into something if you’re not truly interested in it. You just can’t do it. You certainly can’t do it for a long period of time.”“You’ve got to have your role models, even if you don’t paint like them.”
Establishing Relationships“I do my best to get to the shows, because you can actually meet people there, and you can see who’s interested in your work. Then if they’re interested you can talk to them. Just by creating that relationship, it’s a bond of some sort. I know my people. I know what they like, and I know what they’ll buy. I may say: I have this piece—it’s a little bigger than what you usually buy, but you might like this. And they love that. They like the personal attention.”“People nowadays really like events and experiences. You can spend a lot of money on a show: renting a venue, getting a caterer, all this stuff. So I have a lot of collectors in this area, and I paired up with a restaurant. And when I do an ‘Art for Dinner’ event it costs me nothing. I pair with them during their slow season, get a price per plate, and I add onto that, maybe $10, and I hang up my work; but it’s not just an art show…”
Working with Galleries: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly“One thing that [my galleries] all have in common is that I’m very comfortable with them. I’m very comfortable talking to them. I think we have a shared vision of presentation, of sales, a shared vision of what we can do, and we trust each other.”“It’s more about hand-in-hand [collaboration]. [My gallerist] thinks like I do and is willing to capitalize on any small thing in order to get the art out there and to make a sale and meet people. And I like that.”“[One gallerist] gave me a show and I worked my butt off for this show. And then it did not end up the way I wanted it to be, or even close to what I thought should be proper. So I just said: ‘You know what, I think this is time. I think we’re not a good fit.’”“You have to honestly know what kind of work you do. And honestly know where you want to go and be prepared. And once you’re prepared and really have some good pieces that you are ready to show; you’re ready to go. You have to know who you are and what is your strength. If your strength is writing really good proposals, then write a proposal to that gallery and show them the images. If you are really good in person then go in person, but pick wisely when you go.”“Find the spot that sells your art, and that you as a person present yourself the way that is good for you.”“You learn the next level by putting yourself up there even if you’re not ready for it, so that you can learn. I’m going to network with [other artists], and see how they approach things. And aside from the artists I’m also going to network with the different shows that I’m going to. And also network with the people who are coming to see the art. So it’s kind of like a two-pronged approach.”