words / JOSHUA SOUCIE
Kit King starts her mornings with a hearty dose of social media and a side of relentless emails.
King is a fine art, oil painter that specializes in contemporary realism. Most days, before her brush touches the canvas, her husband usually joins her in the studio. He is also a painter.
“We paint for hours until our stomachs remind us that time and hunger exist, and force us to break,” says King.
Thanks to her online presence, having amassed 368,000 followers on Instagram, King has acquired quite a reputation. She is preparing for her second solo exhibition at the Athen B. Gallery in Oakland, California from August through September.
King says the Internet has enabled her to overcome the professional challenge set by her agoraphobia, which is a disabling fear of public spaces and new faces. Due to this, King could only do the interview via email. King says she initially had no way of popularizing and selling her work, which is why she turned to online communities for support.
“Once galleries and collectors started to take notice, I realized it was imperative to create a professional portfolio online, and even carefully curate my social media in a professional manner,” King explained.
Heffel, one of Canada’s largest fine art auctioneers, put the growing significance of online art sales into perspective. In 1999, Heffel launched their first online auction which made the corporation $15,000. This year, Heffel made $2 million in online revenue. David Heffel, the president of the auction house, says he sees online sales continuing in growth.
“In this last year, our online transactions comprise over 20 per cent of our gross annual sales. Within the next five to 10 years, online purchases will likely represent 50 per cent of all sales,” Heffel says.
But all new technologies pose challenges.
“One of the biggest issues that people face when they want to publish online is the idea of balancing the wide dissemination of their art, while also gaining recognition and acknowledgment for having created the work,” says Jessica Zagar, legal counsel at Access Copyright.
Zagar says that the notion of copyright is fairly simple. The author or creator of a given piece is the first owner of copyright.
“Where things begin to get interesting is when a creator can license, assign or transfer rights to someone else,” Zagar says. “If you are working for a company while creating, they might end up with the copyright.”
Zagar says that artist should also be wary because certain sharing websites’ terms and conditions might transfer rights from the artist to the sharing platform.
Access Copyright is a not-for-profit that represents the interests of writers, visual artists and publishers by licensing their content to various organizations for fees that are given to the copyright holders.
Similarly, Marcia Lea says CARFAC Ontario offers their membership, made up of visual artists, legal advice from lawyers based out of Toronto.
“A lot of professional artists learn about this and join our collective,” she says. “I would think a lot of amateurs don’t know.”
Lea is the Acting Executive Director for CARFAC, which stands for Canadian Artists’ Representation. It is a not-for-profit that gives voice to Canadian visual artists that apply for membership.
Beyond offering legal counsel, Lea says CARFAC has a fee schedule for royalties that can be found on their website. That is to say, artists can consult CARFAC’s resources to gain a better understanding of how to license their work for fees.
Despite copyright complications, the Internet remains a viable way for artists to make money.
How To Make Monet
The 2016 Deloitte Art & Finance Report is a global review of the health of the contemporary art market. New York’s art auction sales have fallen by 8 per cent in the last year, and experts see very little growth potential for North America’s art market for 2016.
But Heffel has only seen his auction sales climbing.
“In November of 2015, we set a $23 million auction record sale. Then, in 2016, we doubled it in excess of $44 million,” Heffel says.
Heffel says that, for artwork valued under $1 million, online platforms provide more powerful tools than a live platform.
“The digital platforms give you the tools to compete with collectors in bigger cities,” Heffel says.
King seems to be on the same page. She says her professional website has been a vital component to booking shows and building an audience.
“A gallery will be reluctant to give a solo show to an artist that does not have a website where they can see past exhibitions, along with a portfolio of their work,” King says.
She explains that a professional website featuring an online portfolio is just as important as the promotion an artist does for themselves on social media.
“Though it’s not as immediate as posting a photo to Instagram and putting a hashtag that can bring hundreds of new views in a matter of minutes,” King says. “A website may take a bit to gain an audience, but it will undoubtedly be a stronger audience with a genuine appreciation for your work.”
“The Internet has enable many relatively unknown artists to build up a following of people all over the country and the world, which would have never been possible before,” echoes Cory Huff, the blogger behind the Abundant Artist.
The Abundant Artist is a popular blog that advises artists about the best ways to go about making money from their work. Huff is based out of Portland, Oregon. After university, as he began working for a marketing firm, he began asking himself how creative people made money. He then began to have informal interviews with artists and started a blog.
“It began as a hobby, but people began to ask me to teach classes and do consulting,” Huff says.
Huff has two primary pieces of advice for aspiring artists: “Understand that your art itself, not only needs to be good, but artists that do well usually have a cohesive vision and style.” He also suggests that, “On the business side, understanding how people will feel when looking at your art and knowing which audience to target, is very important.”
Still, in order for artists to make money, corporations must be willing to pay and acknowledge them for their work.
Andrew Simpson, manager of communications and affiliate relations at Access Copyright, says the not-for-profit has commissioned original illustrations to be included in their annual reports because they believe creative work must be paid for.
“We can’t forget that artists need to eat, and if we want to live in a society where people can do this as a career, it’s important to continue to find ways to pay artists for their work,” Simpson says.