– Okay hi, this is Ann Rea coming to you live from San Francisco, California, and I’m speaking to Steve Clef who is a student in The MAKING Art Making MONEY Semester.
And where are you living on the planet, Steve?
– I’m just outside of Philadelphia.
– Just outside of Philadelphia, okay. You study art, right?
– And do you mind me asking what you studied, and where you studied?
– Sure yeah, I graduated with a BFA in illustration from Syracuse.
– Okay, well Syracuse is a good school, has a good reputation. So, what did they teach you about selling your art?
– Well, there was a specific class just for the business of illustration at the time, and it was kind of basic, kind of rudimentary. They talked about … They talked about targets, but different than the targets you talk about. It was really trying to find out who would hire me. It was more of a career focus than a business focus.
– Got it.
– In the semester.
– Well, what’s interesting about that is even if someone hires you as an illustrator, you still have a business. I mean, you still have to file a profit and loss statement. You’re not gonna get a salary. It’s very, very unusual that you would be hired as a full time. There’s nobody who needs a full time illustrator, or very, very few. So, you go from gig to gig, and it’s a business.
– Right, right, yeah. But it was kind of like a salaried mentality with a business situation.
– So yeah, so the expectation doesn’t match reality. The expectation is they’re training you to be a salaried employee but be … So, they’re setting up that expectation. The reality is you’re just not gonna get a job. You’ll get gigs, but you won’t get a job.
– Okay, well that’s … That’s not good.
– Yeah, it caused some struggle. I had to learn a lot. Some of it was helpful, but I had to throw a lot of it away kind of quickly.
– Yeah. So what part did you keep and what part did you toss away from that program?
– Well, the part that I kept was really trying to identify appropriate markets for my work, so not to go to somebody who … I don’t do abstract work. I do a lot of figurative work, so if there’s a place I wanted to work at that only hired abstract artists it would be a waste of everybody’s time.
– By the way, there isn’t anywhere that hires only abstract artists. That place does not exist except in your mind.
– Well true, I mean I think gigs for.. Look for abstract art, different freelance jobs. But thinking about it from that regard. As a 20, 21 year old it was helpful to think about other people for a change.
– Yes, that does help.
– So, that was good. I think … Some of the stuff that I threw away was just I went at a time a little while ago, and it was at a time when the industry was changing a great deal just becausewas coming in. So, when I was a freshman the goal was someday I would get on the cover of Time and then people will come to me, or I’ll get a rep. You know, that’s kind of it. Rolling Stone, you know, that kind of stuff. And then that all..
– Oh, you’re cutting out. So I think what you were saying is basically someone we’ll bestow you with these fantastic jobs, and then these jobs will mean that people will just fall at your feet and ask you to do illustration.
– Yeah, they did describe it as kind of a turning point, like an inflection where instead of me making the calls the calls would come to me, and then you could–
– They actually told you that in art school or in your art program that people would be calling you at some point?
– Correct, that if you can recruit yourself a little bit then you would get a rep, and the rep would do all the hard part. And then for the rep they’d have to call places, but then eventually you would get this reputation and then people would come to you. So, that was a thought, you know?
– Boy, okay, what’s interesting is I was good friends with a very famous illustrator who’s passed away now named Jan Nash-in-bay-nay. He had representatives. He was very famous in Japan and in France. And his life was not like that, just so y’all know. His illustrations were in very prominent book covers, and he published his own books, and his life was not like that. And he struggled, he struggled having enough … Even at the, even at the echelon he was at he really struggled, and the reason he struggled is because he didn’t want to deal with the business side. So, if you are in business, which you are if you’re an artist or an illustrator, and you hate business, then how good is it gonna be? So, it’s like being an illustrator but hating drawing. It’s really … It is just that simple. You have to love it, and if you don’t you have to learn to appreciate it and love it. But, the reason I asked you to talk with us is because you were considering, and thank God you didn’t, you were considering paying submission fees for $45. What the hell was that for, who was getting that money, and like what was that about? This whole idea of artists paying submission fees is kind of new. That did not happen to me, and I’m really appalled by it.
– I’ve heard about it for a few years now. So, I’ll tell you about the specific situation. There’s a pretty successful gallery owner who’s worked with some artists who are doing very well. And it was presented as this gallery owner and curator is giving every artist the opportunity in a call to artists. For a $45 fee you could submit up to three pieces, and if they selected you then you would have a number of pieces in a group show coming up in August.
– And then how much would they take from that if you were, if you were … If your $45, if you paid your $45 and you got into the group show then how much were they gonna take from you?
– I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 50%. That’s pretty standard with the galleries is anywhere from 30 to 50 percent these days.
– So, it’s actually 50 and above. If I can tell you anything everybody, you cannot buy your way to success. It’s just not gonna happen. So for example, let’s just say … Bloomingdale’s has worked with a lot of famous designers, right? And let’s just imagine that they told a bunch of emerging designers, “Well, you can pay a $45 submission fee.” They’re not gonna do that, right? They’re never gonna put merchandise in their store that they are not rock solid in knowing that it’s going to sell, not in their store in front of their most important customers. They might put it in a backroom and have a little party. You can’t buy your way to success. You can’t buy your way to a position. Some products actually do pay for shelf space, like that’s actually a thing, but that’s when we’re talking about like millions of dollars and known brands. But, if you’re just starting out I can’t tell artists enough please don’t waste your money. If you’re gonna, this is … How much, I don’t know how much Marilyn Rose … You know Marilyn, Marilyn Rose, the fellow student of yours?
– [Steve] Yes, yeah.
– I did an interview with her and I don’t know what it was like, it was like.. I asked her to add up how much money she had spent on fees. These submission fees, and the shipping, and the framing, and all the BS, and it was like 9,000 bucks. Don’t quote me exactly, but it was a pretty impressive number. And she sold one painting out of that entire effort. You have to find your target market. First of all, you’ve got to provide something of value, right? If your art is no good, if you don’t have anything of value to offer, it is what it is. You’ve got this sea of talent. But more importantly, after you’ve got something of value you have to find your target market and engage them and really provide value to them. And save that $45 for a foot massage or something. But anyway, you resisted. So, tell me a little bit about that process in your head. You were presented with this, and then you obviously … I don’t know, maybe you thought, “What would Rebel do?” I don’t know. What made you decide, “I’m not gonna do this?”
– It was purely from being in the class and having … You know, before I started the class I listened to a lot of your weekly sessions, and you’ve got four free lessons. You know, I studied before I joined the class to make sure that it was right. So, I’ve heard many times some of the core principles of what you’re talking about. And even then at first I didn’t remember some of the specific reasons, but I just knew like this is not something that people in the new creative class as you describe it do anymore, right? It doesn’t help you–
– The middleman is increasingly irrelevant. If you can take nothing away from this it’s the middleman is increasingly irrelevant. That’s what you gotta know. Yeah, so you watched some of my free training. You came to some of the Saturday webinars is our live trainings also?
– And then it rolls. And if it worked through the course. So I knew, but it was a tug of war. I really like the gallery owner. I really like his taste. I like the artists that he selects, and kind of the old me would find it very exciting if I got selected to be in that gallery.
– Okay, let me just stop you right there. So, just so you’re all keenly aware this is exactly what art contests, and art contest organizers, and what gallery owners charging these submission fees are playing off of. They are playing you. So, what you just said Steve, “It would’ve been very exciting for me to be selected.” Okay, that’s waiting for permission. And I know we all want to be approved of. It’s our human need. We want to be approved of. We want to be accepted. And here’s the thing, that desire is always going to be there. But, you have to focus it on a target market or you’re gonna be played. You’re gonna be played.
– Well, it’s interesting that you bring up that specific point. That was the thing that came to mind. So, I kind of did it just knowing that I was part of the new way to do things. I didn’t really remember, I didn’t really internalize like the core principle there. And I was glad when the submission deadline passed and I hadn’t gone to the trouble, and written up my–
– So tell me about that. Tell me why do you think you were glad that you missed the submission deadline anyway? Just the word submission, it tells you everything. You just submit.
– Exactly, and then get approved. You know, it was because I knew that it wasn’t gonna get me closer to where I wanted to be. I knew it wasn’t gonna help me build my business. I knew it wasn’t gonna help me find my target audience. I know they’re not gonna be at that gallery. I’m still working through the course and defining exactly who that is, but I know who goes there. I have a lot of friends who show at these galleries, so I kind of know who goes and who doesn’t, and it just it would not have got me closer to what I wanted. So, when it was break any bad habit, you know, when you’re away from that temptation.
– Right, well the way you’re gonna know is by completing the course requirement, which is the prototype project. So just for everyone listening, my students are required to earn back their tuition investment at a minimum through their final project, which is the sale of their art, and the testing of their target market, and the testing of their value proposition. So, that is a … So, that’s a minimum requirement. I’ll explain it to everyone just so you know how it works. Essentially, students work through their four part code. They have to pass a test. They have to get 90% or above. And then once they’ve done that then we have a one on one consultation. We review as much of your four part code as we can. And if you’ve done the work after that you should be ready to go and approach people who you believe is in your target market with your offering. And you just tell them the truth. My students just say, “I’m doing a homework assignment. “I have to create a prototype series. “I think that you’re in my target market. “I’d like to create this with you in mind. “I’d like to walk you through my pricing and my terms, “and if it’s something that you want “I’m gonna give you X number of days to acquire it. “And if you don’t, “I’m gonna ask you to be really honest with me “about why you don’t want it.” Because that’s just as … Why someone approves of you, not you personally, but of your offer, is just as important as why they don’t approve or want to invest in your offer. Here’s where the big thing is. And I said it, I made a Freudian slip, your art is not you. The purchase decision is not about proving you. But I bet, I’m gonna guess Steve, that the urge to actually apply was to feel like you’re okay as an artist.
– That I had made it.
– Yeah, but–
– Really what would you have made? You would’ve given $45 away and never seen it again. And then you may or may not have sold anything in a group show, right? And then if did sell, how much would you get? And lastly, if someone bought it, you’re never gonna be able to sell to them again because you’re not get anywhere near their contact information.
– Right, so it would’ve been not building of a business, it would’ve been a one time thing.
– The thing is it’s not a … Just so you understand, these terms that are offered are archaic. They’re in no way stacked for you to succeed. There are a few lucky lottery winners who actually make it, but the chances are about the same as winning the lottery. So, I don’t know. I’m pretty practical. But as we talked about earlier, you kind of got set up for that. When you got your BFA this whole idea that you were gonna get a job with a paycheck, so. So, what do you think … How do you feel about your decision to pass on this?
– Well, I feel great. So, the last piece for me, because what happened was then the deadline got extended …
-Of course it did, because he didn’t have enough artists willing to pay him 45 bucks.
– Or the opposite he thought, “Great, I’m raking in a lot ofmoney.”
– Or that, too, yeah, you’re right actually. Yeah, that could’ve been it.
– And then somehow I remembered the reason why I was doing it specifically, as you said before, is that what I’m doing by sending that is asking for permission to be an artist, and I’m not gonna build a business and make it happen and connect directly with my work. So I don’t know. If there’s an alternate universe where Steve went submitted and everything and won the lottery, that’s great, but either way I feel better about this certainty that I have that I’m making these choices for reasons that I believe in more, and that are gonna be longer lasting, and they’re gonna help me make smarter decisions in the future. Pretty good. I feel pretty good. You know, it’s funny. I’ve been in similar situations in the past with submissions like these, and I’ve said no for, you know, I didn’t have the inventory to submit or whatever, and at those times I felt bad. I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough. I wasn’t doing all the things. I wasn’t taking it seriously. And now I just have this very different feeling where I feel great. And that’s why I posted about it just to let other people know in case they went through a similar thing.
– I’m glad you did because I think, I’m sure, they have.
– Yeah, yeah. I mean these things pop up. And just to say that there’s there’s something a little bit deeper with the course which is really about how you approach things then it is just going through the motions of the lessons or anything like that. I think I started originally kind of like that. I was going through the motions. “Oh, we don’t do that,” right? “We don’t do submissions.” But, when I connected with the reason why that’s when I felt more empowered to make even more difficult decisions moving ahead.
– Good, good, yeah. I mean you have to operate from business terms that make sense. And it makes no sense to be giving away half the money if you don’t have to. Although, I’m not opposed to that if they sell on a regular basis, but they usually don’t. It just makes no sense to limit yourself. You limit your distribution channels, which most galleries require you to do, I mean if you have to go get permission to show at another gallery or they’ll drop you. It makes no sense to cut off contact from people who buy your art and convert for you to other collectors, because most small businesses receive over 85% of their sales by way of referrals. So, if you’re working through a middleman you’re never gonna see those referrals, and you’re never gonna grow your business, your reputation, or your brand. And it makes no sense to set yourself up for rejection from someone who doesn’t frigging matter. Who matters is your target market, right?
– [Steve] Yeah.
– How long is this dude gonna be around, and how much art is he really gonna sell? Even if your friends who say sell their art there, I wonder how much they sell and how regularly they sell. And I wonder–
– I mean, I don’t know if any of them are gonna see this, but it’s, it’s a challenging life. It’s a challenging life. You’re waiting for a lot of other people to decide if you’re gonna be successful or not.
– Well, and they’re not gonna. And I’m telling you, this is not … My program doesn’t make it easy, okay? I am very clear about that. I say, “It’s not easy. “Selling your art is not easy. “If it was easy everyone would damn well do it, right?” Anything really rich and rewarding and fulfilling and profitable is not going to be easy. But, if you want to make it easier and know that it is possible, I know this works. And I’m open to other ways that work, but it’s a fundamental shift in our economy that it’s not just affected fine art, illustration, craft, it’s everything. The middleman is increasingly irrelevant. Here in San Francisco in Silicon Valley there’s a lot of disruption happens in markets. So, a friend of mine works for this startup, really interesting. They’re eliminating the middleman in real estate, and they’re doing it. Like that’s pretty bold. That’s pretty big, right?
– So there are all these tools at your disposal. They’re online tools. With that said, you’re not ready to leverage any of that until you really know who you are, what you stand for, and what you stand against, which congratulations, it sounds like you’re learning more about that, until you really know your value proposition, you really know your target market. And, you prove it in person first by doing prototype projects. Then you can look at other channels. But I think it’s just take it one step at a time. The first goal here is to complete the A courses, right? Then the next goal will be to pass your knowledge check and get all the documents together. And then the next goal will be to do the prototype project. It’s really just step by step. But, this step that you just made is a very, very important distinction. It’s a very important step. You decided, you realized and then you decided you do not need to ask for permission, and you sure as shit don’t need to pay anyone $45 for the privilege of them to say no. ‘Cause you know it probably wasn’t gonna happen. They’re gonna say no.
– Oh yeah, I mean I know enough about it to know who they’re gonna bring in, and it’s different for a few different reasons. Yeah, no it would’ve been low probability. It’s funny you mentioned the lottery earlier or something. I could’ve just bought 45 lottery tickets.
– Maybe you should, and then report back what your return on that investment is.
– I’ll let you know, I’ll let you know what the return is.
– Well, I want to thank you for your time and for posting that. And for just being brave and owning your, you know, owning your own power, taking your power back. That’s my favorite thing. That’s my favorite thing is to watch artists take their power back. And it’s not easy when you went to school and earned a degree and they told you in your degree programs what you’re supposed to do and then you find out, “Oh man, most of this is crap and “oh, I can’t even use it.”
– Yeah, yeah. I’m very grateful that you’re doing what you do. I mean you.. You don’t need to do this, and I think it’s really benefiting a lot of people. Every time I talk to you I say thanks just because I spent a lot of years flapping around spending money, you know, bad money. Yeah.
– Well, I appreciate it. Well on that note, if someone was sitting on the fence … It sounds like you waited a while before you took the plunge and applied and enrolled. If you could go back to the Steve who was kind of, “Oh, I’m not sure,” what would you say to him now, now that you know what you know about the program?
– Well, I think like a logical and kind of a psychological conversation I’d have. I think that the logical conversation is that I was gonna spend the same amount of money on low return activities. So, it’s not like it was a choice. Oh, I don’t know, submissions, or self promotion, but you know even … You know, when you do some of these submissions you’ll make work just for it. There’s a pretty significant investment not only in the–
– Materials, but the time, exactly, and then the value that you’ve created that sits in your–
– I would’ve spent the same amount. But then from a psychological perspective it’s really that until I understood the … I’m still learning completely understand all the principles at work. I’m gonna make decisions that aim for my goal. And so … In some ways you know this is where it’s hard work, right, like you said. Why not get started right away? Why not put the hard work behind you and get closer to–
– Right, why wait?
– The rewards, right, exactly. So … You know, there are some other options out there that aren’t as helpful and legitimate as yours. And that’s part of what you were competing with and that’s part of why I took my time. But, just looking at it … That’s what I would say is just stop waiting, find a way to do it. You’re gonna get the money back. You’re gonna get the time back. Honestly, you’re gonna find a different way of thinking about yourself that’s gonna effect other areas of your life than just your business, you know just the way that people treat you.
– Sam, my interview with Sam.
– See that.
– Oh, well check it out. So Sam is a student of mine in Australia, and I just recently interviewed him, so you can check that out. And he just like really understood, really embraced and understood, the concept of creating smarter goals. So, he enrolled earlier this year. He has earned over $120,000 this year. He has over $60,000 of that is in the sale of his art this year. He has lost 30 pounds, and he paid off $10,000 worth of credit card debt. And it wasn’t me, it was Sam who said it’s because of what he learned in the Making Art Making Money Semester. So, I’m glad he said that. These principles are not just contained within to benefit your fine art enterprise. You are your enterprise, and so there’s a ripple effect that you can benefit from, if you do the work.
– Right, yeah, and it’s not even–
– Sam did the work, he really did.
– Yeah, you’ve got to be ready for it, because it is hard work. You really have to dig deep in some lessons and really confront some things that it’s way easier to avoid, but the benefits are worth it.
– Let me ask you this, what do you think is harder? Do you think it’s harder to do the assignments that I give or would it have been harder to continue along the path that you were going before you enrolled?
– It’s definitely harder to continue the path. I think that some people might think that it’s okay to keep going on that path because it’s not, it’s easier to be in denial about some of that pain, right? You have to really be honest with yourself about something hurts inside because I’m not doing what I’m supposed to be doing.
– I’m pretending to be whoever it is for my day job, or whatever it is you do. And you get used to that stuff over time and you don’t realize that you’re doing it. You know, it’s funny. I’m sure you’ll like this. So, after our first call … When a student enrolls you do like kind of a screening call. And we decided to move forward and I enrolled and I talked to my wife and she said, “I haven’t seen you this happy in months.”
– And what was interesting was to see myself through her eyes and compare it. I didn’t realize I was so unhappy, right, because you get used to it.
– Yeah, well it’s very painful. I mean it’s very, very painful for people who have studied art, which is not a small endeavor, and they identify as artists, and yet they’ve got nothing, they’re not selling art, so there’s nothing confirming their identity. There’s nothing confirming their values. And then they go and hang out with other artists who are competing with them and who are jealous if they’re successful. It’s a very painful … It’s a very painful state. And that’s why the study partners are so important, because we don’t have jealousy. We don’t have backbiting. We don’t have that. When someone, like when you posted and said, “I decided not to submit “and play this silly game anymore,” everyone cheered you on. Everyone was like thrilled for you.
– Yeah, it was pretty nice. And it makes you want to look out for the other folks in the group. And I picked up a study partner today.
– Somebody contacted me and I just said, “Do you need a study partner?” And they said, “Yeah.” So, it’s a very–
– That’s wonderful.
– Yeah, it’s good. And it’s not … The getting to who you really are and what you really believe in and your four part code is not something that … You know, you’re thinking about things that people don’t typically talk about at least in the US culture. And … To put that stuff out there and have other people encourage you, and support you, and then give you some helpful, constructive, useful feedback, it makes it easier. As you put some energy out there you get more of it back.
– Makes you want to help other people out in the same way. It’s good.
– That’s right. That’s such a keen observation. What goes around comes around. And even if you just you help someone, they don’t give anything back, trust me, it will come back. It will come back another way. So, the point is for you to build a support network of friends, people you like. I tell artists if you meet with a study partner and you don’t wanna meet them again, don’t. I don’t care. I just want you to find friends. I want you to find people who are honest, who maintain a no whining policy, because there’s no place for that, people who are open, and just give you energy. It all boils down to one of the exercises in the accomplishing course. When I meet with this person, when I speak to this person, does it give me energy or does it take it away? So, when you got off the phone call with me you didn’t notice it, but your wife noticed it. You had a different energy. You were happy that you’d made this decision. So, pay really close attention to all of that. Like if you’re not sure about submitting to the the art contest or whatever it is, right, ask yourself does it really give your energy to think of writing that check for $45 and going to all the time and trouble of creating a unique piece? So sometimes our logic … What bottom line is, sometimes our logic doesn’t always work because we were taught all these other things in school during our formal education. So, rely on your intuition. Rely on to how something feels or doesn’t feel. You’re all artists, so you’re a sensitive in this regard, and you’ve got an advantage here. You know how stuff feels if you’re an artist, right? So … Well good job. I really, I think it’s great. Just keep going, just keep going. We’re all here. We all want you to be successful, and I’m sure you will be. You made a good move, congratulations.
– Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
– Alright, take good care. Thank you for your time.
– You’re welcome, bye Ann.