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Graphic Communication for the Fine Artist
by L. Diane Johnson

WHILE VIDEO, CD ROM AND THE INTERNET have become more popular for marketing products and services, the majority of fine artists are still effectively using slides and printed material to present their artwork to buyers and juried shows. Whether your advertising budget is large or small, the print medium remains one of the most practical ways to visually promote yourself and your work.

This article addresses the steps in planning presentation materials for promoting your artwork along with suggested services which might prove helpful in finding assistance in graphic design and printing. The steps required to formulate a successful presentation package are straightforward; first, identify your "image" second, target your audience; third, know what your competition is doing, fourth, be consistent in appearance and use of your materials, and fifth, know what your advertising budget is and work within it.


You and your artwork are unique. Your "image" is projecting your personality and artwork in a visual way to your target audience. Your presentation package is very often the initial and sometimes the only opportunity you will have to get your image and message across. Therefore, your package should communicate and reflect your artwork in a simple and effective way. For example, is your artwork conservative and reserved or bold and imposing? Your image needs to be accurately translated to printed material, whether it be a large full-color brochure or a black and white note card.


Before you can create effective presentation material, you need to establish who the target audience is. Identify the groups you want to target; corporations, individual collectors, galleries, museums, publications, etc. Then get to know your audience. Skipping this step might risk wasting time and money creating material that just doesn't connect.

In order to create the most effective materials possible, you must marry your image with the visual preferences of your target audience. For example, do you want to market your work to museums? Get to know how they operate and what criteria they use in selecting work. Identify the decision maker and begin to build a relationship with that person. Find out what type of presentation materials they require or prefer from artists. You could approach restaurants in your area to either purchase your work or to display pieces for exposure. Talk to artists who already have their work in restaurants. Some restaurant owners prefer the unique...try presenting your work using a menu format; painting images listed with titles and descriptions under appetizers and entrees. Don't be afraid to be creative, most audiences expect it from artists. Do you want to approach corporations? Find out what presentation material corporations respond to best and create your look accordingly. For instance, most corporations are impressed with a clean professional appearance; using a loud, brassy presentation might fail to generate the necessary interest and might risk looking amateurish. Therefore, be creative, but employ the type of graphic design which your target audience responds to most favorably.


As with selling most products and services you want to know who your competition is and what they are doing. Many artists fail to recognize the existence of competition in selling their work. Knowing how other artists market their work is worth taking a look at. See how others have designed and printed their materials and how you react to them. Ask yourself questions about how effectively the artwork is shown, the quality of the written material, and if the treatment was appropriate for the artist's style and image.
Ideas are free, but as with fine art, direct copying of someone else's design is not legal. You can however, utilize similar types of graphic design elements in a different way to create a look for yourself which is as unique as you are.


Whether you spend a little or a lot on presentation materials, the consistent use of and continuity between your printed materials is vital. Consistency and continuity exemplifies an organized professional and shows that you will be around for awhile. Potential clients and galleries want to know you mean business and take pride in your work. If you can only afford black ink on paper, you can still attain a consistent use of your image. If designed well, pieces printed in black and white can often look more professional than expensive full-color materials that are poorly designed and project a mixed message.
Some key ways to achieve continuity in your materials include using your name or logo on all material, using the same colors and graphic elements, employing the same paper style (different weights) for printing, and using the same typeface(s) throughout.


Determine what your budget limit should be for design and production of your presentation material. You do not have to produce every item at once, unless of course, if you have a generous budget. Make a list of all the promotional material you will need for your package. Develop a six month and one year plan to develop promotional material. Some artists start by allowing sufficient resources to get their basic promotional materials designed and printed such as letterhead, envelopes and business cards. Then, in 6 months or so, print another piece and so on.

One way to save money and contribute to continuity is to design material for dual purposes. For example, some of my information changes frequently. To make matters worse, I send out small quantities of printed material. So I have designed a sheet in one color (with the name of my business preprinted) to which I add information. Some of my audience responds better to photographs than slides. So there are places on the sheet dedicated to mounting color photos of my paintings and adding the paintings title and size by laser printer. The page is then inserted into a plastic sleeve and added to my portfolio which I present to galleries and clients. This same formatted sheet is also used to print my biography, resume, price lists and other text materials.


Once you have identified your image; your target audience; have an idea how your competition uses materials; and have established a realistic budget. How do you go about actually creating your visuals? If you happen to be a graphic artist as well as a fine artist it's easy. However, most fine artists will have to secure design expertise through someone else.

The following is a list of design and printing resources. Whichever you choose, be certain they are experienced in developing materials consistent with your target audience. It is vitally important to see examples of the designer's finished printed work and to get a written quote before you commit to using any services. The following design organizations will either charge by the hour or by the job:

1. Advertising Agencies
Agencies are accessible just about everywhere. If you have a large budget, this is a viable option for you. In addition to creating printed graphics, larger full-service agencies can create videos, CD-ROM's and other types of visual communication. All agencies are not created equal however. As with fine artists, each agency has it's own personality and philosophy of design. Find an agency which will best reflect you and your image.

2. Graphic Designers
Designers today can be found in ad agencies, large corporations, small businesses or working as individual contractors. You can locate one by word of mouth or, if you see a brochure or mailing you like, find out who designed and printed it. Once you have chosen a designer, working closely with him/her will ensure you get what you want in terms of image and message.

3. Graphic Artists
Graphic artists usually do not have the extent of design experience that graphic designers have, but some do have good design skills and are usually very reasonably priced. They can be found in agencies, corporations, printers, small business and as individual contractors. Word of mouth is the best way to begin looking for a graphic artist.

4. Printers
Many printers are now offering limited graphic art services to their customers. They sometimes post a list of hourly design/pasteup rates. If you use a printer's art department, they will assume they are going to print your job also. So be sure this is the printer you want as well. (Finding and using a printer is a whole other subject.)

5. Mail Order Houses
If a customized "look" is what you seek this service may not be for you. Mail order houses usually offer a limited number of pre-formatted designs. This can sometimes save time and money because you can simply select a format you like and drop-in some pictures and text and viola! If you already have letterhead and envelopes and you just need a full-color flyer presenting some of your work, this may be the way to go.

Another advantage of some mail order houses is their low cost on "short-runs" i.e. small printing quantities. This can vary widely from 100 to over 1,000 pieces depending upon the printer. Conventional full-color printing is costly, especially for short-runs. You may have recently noticed the number of companies offering postcards for a low price. Occasionally the print quality is acceptable, but on average is fair to poor. Again, be sure to secure samples before putting your money down.


ARMED with this information, you are ready to start the design phase of creating your visuals. Collect samples of printed pieces that you like along with any of your own ideas and utilize one of the five graphics services identified above. You can find these services by word of mouth or in the yellow pages. You may have more control over the process if you use local services. However, this being the fax and express mail age, do not rule out using services outside of your area.
Marketing fine art today is becoming more competitive than ever. With well planned designed and printed graphic materials of your work, you will do a better job of demonstrating your professionalism, impressing clients and boosting your sales.

L. Diane Johnson is an award winning graphic designer, illustrator and fine artist with over 29 years experience. Diane is represented by galleries nationwide. Visit her site for more information at,and can be reached via email at

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