On Behalf Of Artists Everywhere

Say It LoudWell, HERE’S an awkward subject to talk about. Please don’t hate me for bringing it up. You can hate me for bringing up other issues, and plenty of you do, but this one is an artistic problem, so I think it’s a legitimate subject for this venue.

I was talking to several artist friends of mine and we were all commiserating about the business we have chosen. Some are on Etsy selling their wares, some are licensed artists like me, and a few only sell through galleries. We LOVE it and wouldn’t do anything else unless forced to by circumstances beyond our control. One of those circumstances is this: while we appreciate SO MUCH that people like our work and often tell us so, we can’t continue to create said work unless people actually BUY it occasionally. There. I said it. I know— crass commercialism. But there it is.

In the case of my “fine artist” friends, they realize their art is expensive and will only sell to a handful of particular buyers. They have come to terms with this, and have developed relationships with buyers and galleries, and they do pretty well, all things considered.

The artists who sell on Etsy usually have other things to keep them afloat, and they also try to only make a few things at a time or make things to order, so they’re not drowning in unsold product.

Oddly enough, the artists that are most affected seem to be the licensed artists. People see the things in stores and think, “Hey, these are cute. Maybe I’ll get one later.” Of course I do this myself; it’s called “shopping”.  Unfortunately for an artist, if this happens too often, the company producing the item, who paid the artist a licensing fee, doesn’t make their money back and they very quickly stop production.  When there is no artist involved, and therefore no extra licensing fee, they’re not so quick to stop production.  To me, it seems this process should be completely reversed! Give the thing you spent more money on more time to get out there and find an audience! But not only that—- if they pull a product because it’s not selling fast enough, they just assume that artist is a dud and they won’t produce anything else, either.

The other problem is that companies that have already spent money on a licensing fee are reluctant to spend any more money on publicizing the product. It’s a vicious circle! How can you buy it if you don’t know it’s out there?? How are people supposed to find out about it if its only out there for 10 minutes??

So it seems that the first two groups of artists, who are more in control of how they sell their art, are able to be a little more relaxed about things. Licensed artists (and their customers!) are at the mercy of both manufacturers and retailers. We are not relaxed about anything. Ever.

I know no one can afford to buy everything they want. But if you really, really like an artist’s work, and you have a little extra spending money, show your support, not just by liking it, but by putting your money where your like is!


43 thoughts on “On Behalf Of Artists Everywhere

  1. I purchased several of your 16×20 posters (not prints) from your STL Galleria store years ago, framed them, & hung them in my kitchen. So glad I did since I can’t find them anywhere now — only can find the more expensive prints.

  2. I have everything Mary…multiple calendars, pens, notepads! My husband just bought me my second print for Mother’s Day! Mary you are my favorite!! ;)

  3. Mary,

    As I read your post, I just happened to be drinking from your “OH, NO” coffee cup. You are and have been my mentor in this life of art.

    On page 49 of your book “Mary Engelbreit, The Art And The Artist,” you talk about growing impatient with the companies producing your cards early in your career. So, you took the courageous step of producing and selling your own greeting card line… and off you went, into your incredible success story! This has been a great inspiration to me.

    There are often so many problems with using any kind of middleman (or middlewoman!) to sell our art. Although I understand licensing, I am a contemporary still life oil painter, so my problem is whether to use galleries or sell my art directly to the consumer. With one rare exception, every gallery I have dealt with has been problematic. I now make a reasonable living selling directly to the customer , while my overhead (no personnel, etc.) is low and I have complete control over every aspect of my business.

    We artists must take control over our art sales. With the incredible growth of the internet over the last two decades, artists have the ability to reach international buyers. For example, I saw your post through facebook! I have art friends who publish multiple times a day just on facebook, to keep fans excited and drive the sales up.

    MARY, DON’T LET THE TURKEYS GET YOU DOWN!!!! Your name is well known. Go radically independent! Hire an internet marketing guru to spread your work all over the www. Let the customers buy directly from you on dozens of sites. Sell, sell, sell your work yourself… until those licensing folks come crawling to your door begging for a contract!

    Most humbly yours, N

  4. I wish I could find more stuff….I always buy a desk calender and couldn’t find one this year. I always cut the pics out and make gift tags out of December. I use the rest for notes. Tonight at Walmart I wanted to get one of the Mary’s Mother’s Day cards, but they only had cards for Grandmothers…

  5. Thanks for writing this on behalf of all artists and sharing with your audience. I think we all need to get the word out about the reality of things! :P

  6. Great article Mary and I am one of those fairly new licensed artists at the bottom of the food chain right now…but I just keep my head down, keep swimming along, and hope I don’t get swallowed up by someone or something bigger ;)

  7. Hi Mary, Just writing to say how much I have always enjoyed your art work. I like the comment by N above. I used to work in your retail store at North Point Mall. (I even met you while I was there!) Thanks for sharing your wonderful and talented self with all of us! K

  8. Well said, Mary! I am glad to say that I have always treated myself to your work over the years. There’s nothing nicer than drinking coffee from a mug with your art, sitting at my drafting table that has a skirt of your material near my bulleting board with your calendar pages and cards pinned up in front near my pile of your magazines…thank you for giving me so many smiles over the years…may your work always be produced and reproduced!

  9. I love your work and have bought a ton of your fabrics. I sure miss your magazine too.

    I’m an artist myself and need to work at some other job to pay the bills. I just wish people would buy more of the thousands of wonderful hand made items from local artisans as opposed to junk made by wage slaves in China. **coughwalmartcough**)

  10. I would love to buy more Mary stuff but unfortunately cannot find anything in the stores around here. We have Michael’s, Target, JoAnn, Walmart and except for a few dollar items sometimes, there is nothing Mary in the stores! So sad, I end up buying older stuff off of ebay just to have some different Mary stuff!

  11. Amen! to supporting your favorite artist(s)! Because I do not knit, sew or weave very fast, I rely on my favorite artisans to supply gifts for family and friends.
    And for myself, I do track down a ME calendar every year (we live close to nothing commercial) and snag ME fabric when it’s within reach.
    Your words and art inspire me. Please know I’m spending as fast a I can;-)

  12. As a fellow artist, I couldn’t agree more – trouble with us is we would like to buy other peoples art we appreciate but are keeping our heads above water too.
    THANK YOU for making a point of this, it needs to be said more!

  13. I’ve been a fan almost as long as you’ve been creating. Even got my daughter started loving your art. You should start selling things not already licensed to someone else on your own web site and branch out to others such as Etsy, etc…I know you’ve been around a long time and shouldn’t feel the need to get out to those craft/art shows again, but there’s always that new younger crowd who needs to be introduced. And I still buy things you make. I too get discouraged when I can’t find more than one item at a venue. I would love a website to buy your things directly. Just be sure to advertise that it’s there if you decide to do it. Again, love your art!

  14. Thank you, Mary, for saying what needs to be said! I’ve always so admired your beautiful work and whenever I need a little lift, I always get out my “Just Snap Out of It” mug and have a cup of tea or coffee. I’m just starting to try to get my art licensed and know it will probably be an uphill battle, but it’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing. In the mean time, I’ll continue to put myself out there in shops, shows, and art exhibitions. Thank you for being an inspiration to me and so many others!

  15. I found my first Mary Englebreit card twenty five years ago and instantly bonded with you. Your thoughts and quotes and distinctively charming illustrations have been guild posts to me, as an artist and a human being. I keep your calendar by my desk to inspire while I plod through the necessary “business of Art” on the computer. Everyone who knows me also knows that a gift of your work is sure to please me. And now your generous insights on this Business of Art reassures and helps me to understand what my next step should be, what is a reasonable expectation on results. Thank you Mary. You have always connected with me like a girlfriend and have been an inspiration in this always challenging and changing career as a entrepreneurial artist.

  16. So true and so well-articulated!! I could not agree more. A perfect post. This is something that has crossed my mind too time and again, and I have lamented it too. Thanks so much for giving voice to something so many of us licensed artists also feel & experience.

  17. Dear Mary,
    I’m a little late to the party (reading old posts!) but I couldn’t agree with you more. Many people forget that there’s an artist behind the art. As an artist myself (with 5 children!), I create not only because I love it, but because I have a family to support. I’ve been steadily buying your products for 20 years, and I treasure every book, tea pot and tin that bears your images. I am glad that you are still at it! Creating wonderful work that makes me, and many others, so happy. I wish you many more years of continued success, and thank you for putting the word out for other artists like myself, who are just trying to get out there and show the world our visions, and hopefully pay a bill or two. Art is magical, even if it’s not always profitable. :)

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