I thought I’d said all I had to say about getting your stuff out there, at least for right now (meaning: until I think of something I forgot to tell you.) But then I got the mail yesterday, and in it was a package from Lucas Albergaria in Brazil, and it reminded me of something that seems far, far removed from marketing and selling but that is, I believe, every bit as important in getting your work out into the world.
Sometime last year Lucas mentioned online how much he liked Moleskine notebooks but how prohibitively expensive they were to obtain in Brazil. I had some spares, and I thought, “Oh, why not?” Sure, it’s expensive to send them overseas, but I’ve got this little jones about making people happy: if the degree of someone’s possible happiness outweighs the hassle and/or cost of the effort, it’s worth it. I sent him a couple of Moleskines, and he sent me a warm note in thanks. I grinned happily and then forgot all about it.
And then yesterday I got the mail.
I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. Yes, I love the paintings and sketches, especially this one, which I think is my favorite:
but more than that, I love the connection. Here’s an artist so far away it’s not likely we’ll ever meet, but I have a connection with Lucas right here in my studio. I love having art in my house that reminds me of someone I’ve met, whether the meeting was in real life or only virtual.
Giving your art away may seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to earn money from what you do, but it’s not. Sending small pieces of your work out into the world is a good thing. If you believe in karma, you can explain it that way. If you don’t, you can think of it as random exposure. But however you want to think of it, I believe that sharing your art can only be good.
Now, I’m not talking about the kind of calculated art-giving that some people practice. I once knew someone who would send elaborate packages of work to editors and shop owners with the expectation that this would ensure inclusion in publications and shows: “I’m giving you a gift; now you owe me.” This did not work, of course, and everyone was left feeling icky. The artist felt insulted, the editors felt manipulated, the shop owners surely must have felt slightly offended. There’s the rumor that, if you want to get your work published in a magazine, you must woo the editor with gifts. This is not true (I know because I asked). Editors want to show good work that can stand on its own merit. They don’t want to feel bribed.
So sending your work out with the expectation that you will be rewarded for it? Not such a great idea. What I’m talking about is freely sharing your work. Making up business cards that are mini works of art in themselves. I have framed postcard-sized business cards on my walls from people whose work I like but couldn’t afford. They made those little pieces of art available for free, and some of those people we went on to profile in one of the magazines. Good things go on in unexpected ways.
Usually a gift is just a gift, a thoughtful way to make a connection with someone else. Sometimes it takes on a life of its own, sure, but if you send it out with that intent, it’s not the same: then you’ve attached your hopes and dreams and expectations, and you’re bound to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, you make it a practice to share what you can when you can, it can widen the web of your connections. Maybe you send a page from your sketchbook to someone you’ve met online, and they admire it and pass it on to someone else who just happens to show it to a friend who’s organizing a project and wants you to be involved. Or maybe you make up nice cards to hand out at a show, knowing that maybe someone will take a free card rather than paying for a small print, but you do it anyway, because giving something away makes you feel good. And maybe they take the card and frame it and put it over their desk, and months later they get a tax refund or a holiday bonus and they look up and see that card and think the perfect way to spend that money is to order something from you (because of course your contact information is printed on the back, right?). You give a piece of jewelry to someone who admires it when you’re wearing it, and the recipient contacts you later and asks you to teach a workshop. Good karma, good vibes.
You want concrete ideas? OK. Donate a piece to a charity auction. Send something to the blogger who linked to your website last month. Have nice, framable cards printed and include one in every order and every note you send out. Use computer software to create small calendars to give away. Host a give-away on your blog. Make up half a dozen t-shirts with an image transfer of one of your paintings and send them to people who have made a difference to you this month–maybe a nice blog comment, maybe an Etsy order. Do it without expecting anything in return. Do it with joy. Do it with the idea that you’re putting joy in the world in the form of art you created.
See? What you do is figure out a way to share your work, something that works for you and makes you feel good and brings joy to other people. There will be benefits, but they will come in ways unexpected and at random, so they’re not the point. The point is in the sharing. Art is joyful, and sharing enhances that for everyone involved.