BLOG*October 27, 2010

Photos by Spalenka

Street Artists make a living selling directly to the public. (part 2)

The concept of creating income doing what you really love is difficult for most people to comprehend. We were not brought up to think that way. Generally we passed from elementary school through high school and college with the idea firmly planted in our heads that we were preparing ourselves to get a job. Aptitude and skill set were the criteria that determined what job you would fit into. Entrepreneurial possibilities were not considered.

If you were an artist you had generally four choices:
1. Gallery Worlds: Commercial to blue chip, take your pick. This usually entailed earning a masters degree so you could teach to compensate for the sparse income made as a fine artist.
2. Commercial Art: Included graphic/industrial designers, film makers, architects, photographers, illustrators (publishing, advertising), concept designers (film, and now games).
3. Become a starving artist.
4. Make your art a hobby.

I have been an industry artist in publishing and film for many years. It was only through showcasing my art for 20 years at the San Diego Comic Convention that I came to the realization that it’s possible to make a living outside the corporate model. The internet opened new possibilities of promotion, but connecting one on one with your fans, patrons, and collectors changed everything. The growth of the handmade movement attests to this shift.

Street artists have been doing this forever! Their marketing techniques could be more savvy, but they have talent, passion, goals, and make a living doing what they love.

Ron Jones

Ron Jones went to Parsons. He has been selling on the street for years. His work was very linear and graphic, almost graffiti like but with a sophisticated finish. All painted on plywood. “I love your work, Ron. Can I see you online?” I asked. “Not yet. I have to get my website up,” he said. “I would really like to be in more galleries,” he added.

Ron gave me his business card. Upon closer inspection I realized this was an original drawing made with markers! Every card was a piece of art. He even had his working hours on the back of it, Mon thru Sun. I noticed that this promo was made over the note pad paper of another artist agent with his URL on it (showing through the black bar at the bottom of the promo). “Are you represented by this agent?” I asked. “No. I just used that paper to make the card. I recycle paper all the time.” Ron looked more closely at the printed words showing through his black marker.

“You are promoting your competition, Ron!” I exclaimed. “Damn,” he said, “You want me to cut that part off?” Ron is very talented and creating some very cool work. With a little more marketing refinement he could be expanding his art empire in a big way.

Rob Hann

Rob Hann has been a professional photographer for many years with clients such as Times Magazine, The Telegraph Magazine, Monocle, Carl*s Cars, Wired, Time Out, The Independent On Sunday Review, Q Magazine, Glamour, as well as all the record labels. Born in Salisbury, England he has lived here full time since 2003.

When commercial work dried up he took his art to the streets out of desperation. Now he says he actually enjoys his intimate gallery on Prince st. “You have some people who will roll their eyes when they walk by but most people are really nice and enjoy the work,” he smiled.

Rob Hann

Rob’s set up was very clean and presented with a designers touch. Prints were impeccably matted and protected under mylar sleeves. His promos were printed postcards. Everything reflected his sophistication as a professional. Even his chair fit in.

Rob Hann

Rob works on personal photography projects around the US. “I love shooting photos of America and it’s people,” he says. “How are your prints selling?” I asked. “Every day is different. Right now I am just getting by, but at least I am getting by,” he said in a British accent.

Rob Hann

I mentioned it is different selling this way than having a freelance gig you are called upon to shoot.” “Yes it is,” he replied still smiling.

Vartouhi Zerdelian-Pinkston’s street side set up was unique in that she added an enterprising spin to it. Vartouhi had her father holding down the shop! “She is at home with the kids, working,” he said. Talk about taking the street art business a whole new level.

Vartouhi was born in New York City in 1973. Her website states, “her work is admired and sold in the United States and countries such as England, Brazil, Germany, Spain, Greece and Japan. In the Summer of 2009, her etchings were exhibited at the Swirbul Library Gallery, Adelphi University, New York.”

Vartouhi’s small intricate etchings (usually and inch or two in size) are fantastical gems that could be viewed through a magnifying glass.

Her father proudly pointed out the children picture books she had written and self published. His warm attitude and obvious love for his daughter brought a nice energy to their set up. With some attention to her booth design and presentation Vartouhi could make an even finer presence on the streets of NYC.

Ray Sumser

Finally we come to a street seller that was not in NYC but instead outside the San Diego Comic Convention last July. I wanted to showcase Ray Sumser with the New York artists because the spirit is mutual. It was early morning and I was walking to set up my booth in the convention center when I saw Ray sitting on a bench out front. His shop was a cardboard box, rolled up posters were lined up for sale. He was dressed in pants that had his very detailed and brightly colored art printed on them.

Check out his poster here.

“Wild pants! Why aren’t you selling your posters inside the convention center in Artist Alley with thousands of potential art buyers walking around?” I inquired. “I could not get a badge to get in,” he replied. “I might be able to help you get a badge,” I suggested, “but seriously think about showing your art in Artist Alley.” Ray thought for a moment and said, “Thank you for the offer but I sell these out here just fine. There are as many people outside as there are outside.” He was right. It was just as insane outside as it was inside the building. I asked him for his card which he had ready to hand out.

I checked out his site later. He had his art, products (shirts to match the pants), a good amount of his social media set up. Ray could still use some refinement and focus with all of it, but he was doing it his way. Selling on the street worked just fine, thank you.

How much income were these artists making selling their art, their way? They made an average $200-$500 a day! Do the math. That is $1,000- $2,500 for a five day week. $4,000- $10,000 a month. $48,000- $120,000 a year. With some intelligent promotion, and social media these individuals could double their income. Now you know why I believe in the power of the independent art empire! There are an infinite amount of possibilities on how you can create your own. It all starts with the desire to share your vision with the world.

I bow to all the awesome creative individuals who shared their experience with me. Keep making art!

To your prosperity,