Being and Artist in Business #3

October 17, 2013 ·

Alain Briot

How you can do it too

by Alain Briot

If you don’t do what you love you are not going to be good at it.
And if you are not good at it you are not going to make any money doing it.

Donald Trump


In this three-part essay, of which this is the third and last part, we have looked at the path I followed, intentionally and unintentionally, the path that led me to where I am today.  However this essay is not just about me. It is also about you, and about howyou can do it tooif you are so inclined.  This – how you can do it too – is the subject of this third and final part.

In approaching this subject my focus will be in drawing conclusions from my personal experience and outlining what I consider to be the most important aspects.  I have learned an immense amount since I started doing what I do full time.  However, some lessons stand out as more important than others, and those are the ones I want to bring to your attention.

As a preamble, I want to add that the list of recommendations about what to do and what not to do is much longer than the 11 items I selected for this essay.  So much so that I originally wrote a list which included (and still includes actually) over 40 different items.  However, I decided to shorten the list to those points which I believe are the “top 10” so to speak, at least in my mind.  If you are interested in learning what they are, the other 39 points are available on my Marketing CD, in my Marketing workshop, and through my one-on-one consulting program.


2 – Do what you love .  Doing what you don’t love isn’t going to be any easier

At the beginning of the journey I described in the previous parts of this series was the realization that no matter what I would choose to do in the world, as long as I wanted to be competitive in this endeavor, success was bound to come at the cost of a lot of work.  I therefore determined, quite accurately since I have not been proven wrong yet to this day, that I might as well do exactly what I wanted – what I love – for it was not going to be any more work.

Plus, and this is where it gets really interesting, by doing what I love I would have the added benefit of doing exactly what I wanted to do right now as opposed to hoping to do so at a later, and usually undefined, date.  I would also bypass counting the days, months and years on the way to this uncertain time at which I would be free to do what I really wanted to do.

Where it gets even more interesting, is that the most energy you’ll ever have will be at times during which you do exactly what you want to do, without any further motives in your mind, without any regrets, without any other thoughts of things that you would rather be doing.

If you look at the three elements I just mentioned  – doing what you love, right now, without any desire to do anything else– you will realize that those three elements are foundations of success.  Granted, in isolation they are not enough to guarantee success. More has to be present, and we will get to some of those (not all, some) in a minute.  But the three elements I just listed are foundational when it comes to motivation.  Doing what you love, right now, without thoughts of something else you would rather be doing, guarantees single mindedness of purpose, excitement and passion.  With this, you will be able to give your best, give everything that you have, to whatever activity you chose to do.  It goes way beyond photography, although for the time being, and for the purpose of this essay, we will not stray beyond the field of photography.  Note that we could, and that maybe we will, but not yet, at least not right now.

From the discussion of how Natalie and I share our business responsibilities, each focusing on different areas, you can see that we implement this rule on a daily basis.  You can also see that this implementation not only addresses our original decision to do what we like, but also our more “minute” decisions to focus on certain aspects of our business rather than on others.

In other words, after deciding to do what we love, which is practice and teach photography and art, we continue to make decisions about what we like most within this field. For example, Natalie likes to do matting and framing.  She also likes to do art shows. Personally, I prefer to create images, optimize them and print them, and maintain our website.  This is the way things stand right now, and I have no doubt that they will evolve from the present situation, as we continue to follow the same rule when it comes to selecting what each of us wants to do.


3 – Take control of your own destiny

Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances – it was somebody’s name,
or he happened to be there at the time, or it was so then, and another day would have been otherwise.
Strong men believe in cause and effect.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the first decisions I made was to take control of my own destiny.  Rather than hope for the best and to get lucky, I decided to take actions towards achieving what I wanted to achieve.  If luck came my way, great.  If it didn’t, no biggie, I was moving along just fine.

This is a very important aspect of doing what you love. By deciding to do exactly what you want to do, you also make the decision of being on your own, of being a freelancer if you will, although I don’t like this term all that much.  At that time you are no longer dependent on superiors to judge your progress and award you salary increases and upward advancement as gratifications for your hard work.  Rather, you are dependent upon yourself and yourself only.  To wait for someone else to take control is bound to be disappointing.   No one wants to, no one will, and worst of all, no one knows you are waiting for that to happen.  After all, if you wanted that to happen –i.e.someone to take control of your destiny — you wouldn’t have set sail on your own!  Rather, you’d be working as an employee somewhere, waiting for someone else to tell you what to do.


4 – Fame or fortune?  Make a choice!

At the same time I decided  to take control of my destiny, I realized that two paths were open in front of me.  One path to fame, the other to income, and possibly fortune. At the time, I was a financially disenfranchised PhD Student.  It was clear to me that I couldn’t afford to become famous. I needed to make money right now!

This statement does, I believe, need some explanation.  It may be clear to some, but it may not make much sense to others.  So let me explain.

A friend of mine is a world famous author on rock art research.  He authored several best selling books in the field, books that are sold in just about every bookstore and gift store in the Southwest and in many other places.  A couple of years ago he did not file an income tax return because he did not make enough money that year to require it.  Famous? Certainly.  You most likely know his name if you have an interest in rock art or archaeology.  Rich?  Far from there.

Fame and fortune are two different things. The reason why we frequently consider them to be inseparable is because we look at examples from the media, examples featuring essentially people in show business, actors, entertainment personalities, or again athletes in a variety of sports.  Yet, if we look at the statistics regarding how large of a percentage these represent in comparison to the entire US population, we find out that it is less than 1%.  Furthermore, if we compare what percentage of “famous” people the rich-and-famous represent, we again find out that it is quite low.  What does that mean?  Simply this: being rich and famous is the exception rather than the norm. It is far easier to be rich, or to be famous, than to be both.  The conclusion, or at least my conclusion: pick one.  As I said, my decision was simple.  Believing I couldn’t have both, I chose the one most pressing, and that was the necessity to derive an income from my activities, from my passion, rather than deriving fame.  Fame would come, if it did.  I could afford to wait.  Money, on the other hand, was needed right now.


5-Confront your fears

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.

Mark Twain

Deciding to do what you love is scary.  I was going to write “can be scary” but the fact is that it is, not that it can be.  So I’ll leave my original statement as I originally wrote it.

The only solution, provided you decide to go through with it, is to face your fears.   To do so, a healthy amount of courage is useful, if not altogether necessary.  But more than that is needed, and the next few tips may prove helpful as you get ready to embark on this journey.

The first thing is to lower your expectations.  I think that more than anything else this is what enabled me to succeed.  I didn’t know it then, but I know it now.  Let me explain.

What I think helped me the most, in retrospect, was my financially destitute situation. When it came to setting up expectations, or a “business plan” if you will, I simply divided what I made ($500 a month) by 30 (the number of days in a month) and used this figure (less than $20) as my daily income goal.  As I explained inPart I, if I made twice that in a day, or more, that meant I did not have to work for several days, at least not in the sense of selling my work.

Navajoland Cloudscape

I continue to create images of Navajoland that, in my estimate, do not duplicate the images in my best-selling Navajoland Portfolio.
I create these images for no other reason than to be creative and express how I feel about this place that I love to visit over and over again.
I could, quite easily, sell the photographs in the Navajoland Portfolio and stop creating new images.
However, doing so would make me a businessman, not an Artist in Business.

If my income had been a six-figure income, my job would have been that much tougher.  If I had been a millionaire, it may have been nearly impossible.  If I had been a billionaire, I wouldn’t have needed to make an income, and the whole point would be moot.  But, I wasn’t, so the problem does remain.

Setting up lofty expectations is often cause for disappointment, if not for failure.  For this reason I recommend to lower your expectations, at least at first.  This doesn’t have to be for long (I know we all have high expectations and want to achieve as much as we can, or at least many of us do).  The goal for doing so is to build confidence, get some notches on whatever “weapon” you decide to use, and get some mileage under your belt.  In other words, get some experience, get used to making a certain amount regularly, then regroup, set new goals (again, within reasonable expectations) and get going again.

Confronting your fears is not easy.  For artists, it is particularly difficult because these fears often have to do with how our work is received by our audience.  Common fears faced by a multitude of artists include fears of rejection, fear of people not liking our work, or fear we have nothing to say.

How to confront these, specifically, is beyond the scope of this essay.  However, what is important to understand is that although we are dealing with how to be artists in business, these fears are present in the artistic and the business side of our lives.  Being rejected by a gallery owner, or by a store owner to whom we are trying to sell our work, is just as painful and demoralizing than being rejected by an audience that does not like our work.

This leads me to the second tip I can give you which is to not give up after your first attempt.  Why?  Because, and I am trying to remain positive here, I have to tell you that this first attempt is likely to fail.  Not necessarily, but likely.  I wish it wasn’t so, but it turned out that way for me.  Why?  Because I didn’t know what I was doing.  It would have helped if I had sought guidance from someone who was where I wanted to be, but I didn’t (more on this later).  The bottom line? Regroup and try again. If it still doesn’t work try a third time, then a fourth if necessary.  Then try some more.  Eventually, those who succeed aren’t necessarily those that are the most gifted, or the best at any given endeavor.  Those that succeed are often the most tenacious, those who don’t give up easily, or at all.  As Churchill said, and although there is debate about how many times he repeated it: “Never, never, never give up.”  If you remember that, you are already way further than you might think.  Personally, I keep it in mind.  It frequently comes in handy, usually at the least expected time.

Courage, so said Mark Twain, is not absence of fear.  Courage is superb knowledge of fear (I paraphrase). Courage is intimate knowledge of fear.  Confronting your fears does not mean removing them (personally, I couldn’t even if I tried).  No.  Confronting your fears is becoming comfortable with the knowledge that, first, they are there, and second, you know exactly what they consist of.  From there you can go to work.  Armed with these two elements, you are ready to face the enemy.  What fears each of us has to confront, learn about and put to rest, varies from individual to individual. But fears there are, and fears there will be.  What makes the biggest difference is how much we know about our own fears.


6 – Seek help from people who are where you want to be.

No one can do inspired work without genuine interest in his subjectand understanding of its characteristics.

Andreas Feininger

I mentioned “the school of hard knocks” – my metaphor for unpleasant experiences that, should we get over them, make us better at what we do – several times in the course of this essay.  I also mentioned, or if I didn’t I do now, that it is best to enroll in a minimum of classes at that school.  No matter how few you willfully take, their number is bound to grow.  At any rate, it is an unpleasant experience, and no one said that learning had to be unpleasant.

My recommendation in order to minimize the number of classes you are taking at the School of hard knocks is to seek help from people who are where you want to be.  As they say “don’t try to re-invent the wheel”.  Somebody has already done so.  Find out how they did it, then follow their instructions and do it yourself.  In other words, whatever you do, don’t start from scratch. Instead, learn how others did it before you, learn from them, and then improve on what they did.

How else would you do it?  Well, believe it or not, many, when it comes to selling art, start from zero and want to do it all over again.  After all, so they believe, how hard can it be?  People will buy my work because they love it.  It’s that simple.  Therefore, all I have to do is put my work out there for all to see, with the finest display and the finest image and framing quality I am capable of, and off we go.  Simple plans are the best.  There is no way I can fail.

Fact is, fail you will, most likely, because there is way more to it than that. Exactly what is involved is beyond the subject of this essay as it addresses “how to market fine art photographs,” a subject I teach and write about in another series.  Those who succeed are not those who got started last week, at least not normally. Those who succeed belong to one of two categories: They either have been at it for years, if not decades, or they have been getting help from someone who is where they want to be.  Sometimes, they belong to both categories: they have been at it for years, if not decades, then, because they were unsuccessful, they sought the help of someone who is where they wanted to be and things got better for them.

I know what you are going to ask: Did I seek the help of people who were where I wanted to be?  You bet.  I didn’t find all the answers myself, though at a certain point I did find answers that these other people, those who I sought help from, did not find out.  I did essentially because the questions I was asking were different from the questions they were asking. But that is a different matter altogether, again material for another essay, somewhere down the road.

So yes, I did get help from people who are (or were at the time) where I wanted to be.  As I mentioned in Part 1, I attended a class titled “taking care of your own destiny: the Artist in Business.”  Later, I hired a marketing consultant to help me with severe pressing issues I was encountering in my business.  And finally, I studied how others had done what I wanted to do.  No, I did not reinvent the wheel, though I frequently had to adapt materials, approaches, techniques and more that had originally been developed for a field other than fine art photography.

What I have done since is design a course on marketing fine art photography, in particular fine art prints but other materials as well, because of my awareness of the lack of such a course.  The goal was two folds: first, to share the unique materials I developed, materials which, as I said, had been in part adapted from other fields and in part found by myself and in part learned from others.  Two, to prevent others from following the rocky road I followed on my way to where I am now.

Spiderock, Spring 2006


7 – Opportunities often come under the guise of hard work

Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work,so most people don’t recognize them.

Ann Landers

Indeed.  You most likely know that already but I thought it wouldn’t hurt to mention it. Plus, it’s an important item on my list.  And, finally, I am regularly amazed at how frequently some dismiss it, or overlook it altogether.  Fact is, being successful is going to be a lot of work, no matter what occupation we choose to do, as I explained before. That’s why, in my view, we might as well do what we love.

However, just because we now do what we love means it is going to be a piece of cake.  No sir, it’s going to be a lot of work, just like it was before, and just like it would be if we did anything else with the goal of being the best at what we do.  So it makes sense that any opportunities that come our way will require a lot of work. Fact is, opportunities that come our way usually require even more work because they come on top of everything we are already doing. In other words, when opportunities come knocking at our door, they are added to our current workloads. Opportunities are extra work, that is the truth.  And if you are not willing to work harder than you are already working, then there is no way you will be able to take advantage of these opportunities.  Opportunities may come knocking on your door, but you will only be able to answer them if you are willing to work harder than you already are.  Otherwise, they’ll pass right by you on their way to someone else.  And that someone else is called your competition.  Food for thought.


8 – Press on Regardless

Business Art is the step that comes after Art tt

Andy Warholy Warhol

Doing what you love can be challenging at times, and when things get hard it is easy to feel down or depressed.  Natalie and I have had our share of such situations.  What has saved us, and what has got us to where we are now and will most likely take us to where we are going next, is to not give up and, most importantly, topress on regardless.

Press on regardless is an interesting concept, based on the notion that it is when things look their worst that you should move forward with all you have.  In other words, don’t give credit to the difficulties or to the challenges that you are faced with right now, no matter how severe they might appear to be.  Instead, continue to do what you would normally do, in fact work on whatever you need to work on even harder, because doing so is the best remedy.  Adversity finds energy in your willingness to acknowledge it, listen to it and give it importance.  Disregard adversity and it shrivels down to nothing in an amazingly short time.

Granted, adversity is not a person. It is not even a thing. It is an event.  But events, like anything in this world, are set into motion by people.  In other words, behind the events you are facing are individuals who either caused these events or are bound to benefit from these events.  And it is those people who, eventually, benefit from the depression, despair or overall downtime that is the result of you giving too much importance, or any importance at all for that matter, to adversity.

Therefore, I recommend that you treat adversity as you would a dog barking at your heels.  Let them bark and move ahead unencumbered. The dog barks, the experienced businessperson moves forth.  And moving forth  — regardless — is what business is all about.  There is, after all, but one way in business and that is forward. Any backward motion is a step towards regression and, eventually, withdrawal and business losses.


9 – It’s about You

Absolutely.  Who else could it be about?  Since you do what you love, it’s about what you love, why you love it and who you are to love it.   Many make the mistake of thinking it is about their audience, or about the gallery owners, or the stores to which they sell their work, or again about the shows at which they display their artwork.  Certainly, these all play a very important role, but you do not do what you love because of them. You do what you do because of you.  And therefore, all of this is about you primarily and the factors that plays the most important role of all is yourself.

The proof is in the pudding, and in this instance the pudding is art, namely fine art photography.  And in art, what matters most is the artist. In a recent poll I conducted on my website, over three fourth of the voters said that the number one reason they buy art is because of the artist’s vision, inspiration and personal style.  The second reason is because of print quality. Both of these reasons are determined by you.  You are responsible for your vision, your inspiration and your style.  And you are equally responsible for the quality of the print you create.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this attitude is selfish.  It is about you, and accepting this is not selfish.  Rather, accepting this is the key to success.  Your audience has no clear idea about the artwork they expect you to create. Stores and galleries that sell your work do not know what quality you can produce or what vision you have for your work.  Only you have an idea about that.  Your work is about sharing this idea, sharing your vision, your inspiration, your style and the print quality you are capable of with your audience.


10 – Quality or quantity? Make a choice!

               Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.

John Ruskin

You need to decide whether you want to sell quantity or quality.  Sorry, you can’t have both.  As I explained in Part 1 and 2 of this essay, I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could create countless number of pieces of the highest quality possible. I wish I could “crank out” as many pieces as I would like and that all of them would be world class. Unfortunately, this is not to be.  As quantity increases, quality decreases.  This seems to be an unchangeable equation, one that holds true no matter what.

Furthermore, a part of you goes into each piece you create, and that part diminishes the more pieces you create. You get to a point, when you go in the direction of quantity, where that part of you which is in each piece is so small as to be unnoticeable.  In essence, your work is no longer yours.  It is a production piece, the result of an assembly line approach.  You may be the creator of the original piece.  But the product that your customers receive is one with which you had little, if any, contact with.

Which one you chose – quality or quantity – is up to you.  Personally, you know which way I went and you know that I won’t go back. I tried quantity, and it nearly killed me.  I now know that quality is my salvation.  I also know that quality is the only way I can share the message of beauty and quality I want to share with my audience.


11- Do a little bit everyday

In the US Southwest, and more precisely in the Sonoran Desert where I currently live, there is a plant called the Agave Gigantis.  This plant grows for about 50 years without ever producing seeds.  Then, when it reaches the apex of its life, it grows a stalk 20 foot high and over a foot in diameter, then drops a million seeds. Having used all its strength and resources in this endeavor, the plant dies shortly afterwards.

The Agave Gigantis relies on the “big bang” theory of reproduction: either its “win all or loose all” approach works and some of the seeds germinate.  Or, if something goes wrong regarding the weather, the soil, the moisture, the wind direction or whatever else may be playing a role in this process, all is lost and no seeds germinate. By using this approach the plant does not give itself a second chance. Things either work or they don’t.

I call this the big bang theory of reproduction. If the seeds grow into adult plants, the Agave Gigantis has been successful.  If the seeds do not germinate, the plant has been unsuccessful.  Unfortunately for the plant, there is no second opportunity for success.

Clearly, this article is not about reproduction or botany, it is about being an Artist in Business and about how to reach success in business.  If we compare it to business endeavors, the Agave Gigantis big bang theory approach is comparable to creating a “master” business plan (which often is over-ambitious, expensive and unproven), implement it, and wait for success.  If it works, great.  If it doesn’t, discouragement usually follows and sometimes precedes going out of business altogether.

I see this all the time with students and other photographers.  At first, ideas fly, motivation is high and ideas are implemented rapidly.  But, unless success follows in amounts comparable to the photographer’s initial efforts, discouragement sets in and things come to a stall.  For example, web sites remain in their initial “start up” configuration for years and no news, photographs or features are added.  Mailing lists are not built up.  Web traffic is not increased.  At shows the display booth remains the same year after year, usually featuring major mistakes in terms of display, traffic, prices, target audience or other.  Marketing either is never implemented or cut off quickly, usually under the excuse that it takes too much time and money for not enough financial returns.  In short, the big bang theory was implemented and failed, and as can be expected nothing was left for a second attempt.

Playa Reflections, Death Valley National Park

I made an artistic breakthrough during my visit to Death Valley in the Spring of 2006, only two months ago.
During this visit I created several images that I had never thought of, or “seen” before.
Whether or not this will make a difference in my business remains to be seen.  Let’s just say that it can’t hurt.
What matters is that it certainly made a difference in my artistic life.  Reaching a balance between art and business is very important.

Certainly you may say that the Agave Gigantis “big bang” approach works since the plant has been around for millenaries.  But the fact is that this plant is not working alone.  The Agave is not after personal success.  It is after survival of its species.  In this respect, while numerous individual plants may be unsuccessful at producing a single new plant from millions of seeds, most likely one or several plants will be successful.  Even in years of particularly dry weather, when not one plant will produce siblings, other plants, not having reached maturity yet, continue to grow, insuring that the next year, or the year after that, seeds will germinate.  Since only some Agave Gigantis produce seeds in a given year, in the following years some plants will succeed in creating germinating seeds.

As an Artist in Business unfortunately we are more concerned with personal gain than with survival of our species.  Certainly, the well being of other photographers arguably should be a concern and so should the laws that regulate our operations, but really, if we do not do well, it is us who, individually, will go out of business, not the other businesses.  For this reason, the big bang theory does not work for businesses.  We cannot hope to prepare ourselves for years, get the results of our efforts on the market, and hope for the best.  To follow this approach is unrealistic at best and suicidal at worst.

Instead I recommend we do make our best effort initially, and then – and this is really the most important part – make sure we continue this effort every working day.  What I recommend is a strong start in the right direction, then a continued effort day in and day out, to further complement, refine, redirect and fine-tune the direction we took initially.

I myself make sure that each day I do something to improve my business, and this on any level of my operation, from the creation of new images and products, to the delivery of these products, and of course including every step in between.  Doing something each day means that each thing I do can be relatively minor. I have 365 days in a year to make significant changes, so I am looking at the sum of the parts as being the final improvement.  Rather than trying to make a huge change all at once, I make many small changes year round.  This approach does remarkably well in regard to reducing stress.  It also keeps me focused on the day-to-day operation of my business.  A little bit a day, every day: try it, you might like it.

I follow the exact same approach when it comes to running my business on a day-to-day basis.  By this I mean printing, matting, framing and shipping orders, as well as taking care of all other business related aspects: paper work, ordering supplies, upgrading and installing new equipment, learning new techniques, answering email, paying bills, etc.  I cannot apply this to taking orders since they come when they come, but I do apply it to marketing, preferring to do a constant, year round marketing approach to a bi-yearly, or quarterly marketing approach.  A little bit everyday works for me. It allows me to pace myself and get into a rhythm, rather than cruise along slowly then work like crazy for a week, before going back to slow-cruising speed.  I don’t like sudden changes in rhythm.  That’s me.  Your taste may be different.  Remember, being in business is also about character and personality, just like personal style is.  My way, as always, is not the only way.


12 – Integrity

Integrity has no need of rules.

Albert Camus

Integrity is the last item on this list, before moving on to Skill Enhancement Exercises designed to help you get started doing what you love.  As they say, it is last, but not least.  The last item in a list is often as important, if not more, as the first one.  In short, and in regards to being in business, it is important to maintain integrity in order not to lose your vision, personality, sense of ethics and your belief in what is right and wrong, to financial considerations.

In regards to sales, I recommend you make sales by being completely open with your customers.  If you have to lie, disguise the truth, or tell only part of the story, you are not doing it right in my opinion. If I were to do so (i.e. lie, disguise the truth, etc.) it would make me feel totally uncomfortable.  I do what I do because I want to be who I am, not because I want to disguise who I am.  In my estimate, if you explain how you do what you do truthfully to people, most will understand and it will not hurt your sales.  And if you tell them the truth and they don’t like what you say, they are basically saying they don’t like you.  In that case, I don’ know about you, but in my experience no one ever buys artwork from artists they dislike.

The whole challenge is knowing how to explain what you do and who you are. This will take time to learn and to figure out. What we admire about Ansel Adams is that he was very successful doing exactly what he wanted to do while explaining to all who wanted to listen exactly what he was doing.  He was able to present things in such a way that made people be on his side, understand why he was doing what he was doing, and want to support what he was doing as well as do it themselves.  He knew how to present it.  Others, who didn’t know how to do that, weren’t as successful or didn’t have as good of a rapport with their audience.  Of course this is only one aspect of success, but it is a very important one, much more important than many people believe.

In regards to financial success, in my opinion financial success is meaningless if it comes at the cost of your integrity.  I have seen many photographers succeed at the cost of their integrity and do not respect it.

Upper Antelope Canyon

13 – Best sellers

Being successful in business hinges upon having products that are guaranteed to bring in a solid and regular income.  In other words, and to relate this to photography, being an artist in business is about being able to create best sellers.

I am often asked if and when I create best sellers.  The answer is yes.  In fact, I often say that sales of one of my images single-handedly paid for the house I currently live in. Those that visit my studio get to see it as I have it prominently displayed, as I should.  After all, I owe a lot of thanks to this one image.  So yes, I do have best sellers.  In fact, all the photographers who have been successful selling their work have best sellers.

The real question is how do you create a best seller, and this is what I want to focus on in this section.  Coming after a section on integrity, you may have an idea where this is going.  If you don’t read on.  After the next few paragraphs, you will know.

There are two ways to create bestsellers in my opinion.  The first involves finding out what the public wants and giving it to them.  This, after all, is a relatively simple process.  Take the Grand Canyon for example.  All you have to do is find out which image(s) sell best in the stores and copy them.  After all, the landscape of Grand Canyon isn’t copyrighted (at least not yet) so taking your own photo of a specific place at a specific time in a specific situation, even if it comes so close to someone else’s work as to confuse your work and their work, isn’t punishable by law.  Fact is, many photographers do just that.  Do I recommend this approach?  Not in the least.  In fact, I personally despise it and consider it borderline in regards to integrity and absolutely pointless in regards to developing a personal style.  However, in regards to business it can be quite lucrative, provided only you do it… If numerous photographers start to use this approach, then competition can get very nasty.

The second approach involves finding out what you like and creating it for yourself.  This approach is more complex, takes more time, and involves finding out what kind of images you like, what vision you have, and what is your source of inspiration.  The result are images that are unique, photographs that are truly yours.  If someone copies someone, it will be someone else copying you.  While you cannot prevent this, and while it can be upsetting when it happens, you can at least feel secure in the knowledge that your integrity remains unscathed.

One might say that approach number two is less reliable than approach number one in regards to sales.  After all, approach number one can be quantified, sales-wise, before the photo is created, simply by looking at the current and past sales for this image (provided you can get access to this information).  Approach number two on the other hand is a complete shot in the dark in regards to business.  No one knows if the image will be successful, and if it is no one can tell how successful it will be or what kind of income it will bring. 

This is all true and fairly easy to analyze after all. What is more interesting in my eyes is comparing these two approaches to draw some conclusions.  Regarding approach number one, the fact that potential sales can be charted ahead of time means that at best you will be able to reach the same sales level as the images you copied.  In other words, you are looking at a finite target.

Approach number two on the other hand, despite all the unknown variables that surround it, does not suffer from such limitations.  If your photograph becomes successful it may potentially exceed the sale of any photograph ever created.  In other words, you are looking at a target with infinite capabilities.

Which one you choose is up to you.  Personally, I have never been able to go for approach number one. First, I don’t like being a copycat.   Second, I am too strong headed to not do exactly what I like, which foregoes duplicating what someone else has done before me.  And finally, I place integrity very high on my list, and just that part would bother me enough to stop me from trying should I be tempted to.  But eventually, it is the limitless income aspect of creating a best selling image on my own that has always attracted me.  In this sense, maybe I am more ambitious than if I was simply trying to achieve what others have already achieved.  Or maybe I like to make things more difficult than I could make them.

At any rate this is not really for me to say or to find out.  Fact is, this approach works for me. Granted, the landscapes I photograph have been photographed by others before me.  However, I create my photographs based on the images I see in my mind’s eye, not based on those I see in coffee table books, posters, calendars, postcards and the like.  In fact, at the present time I have all but stopped looking at such materials.  I find them utterly boring, save for a few, and find my own work much more exciting.  Call me narcissistic. At least my endeavors are not geared towards copying someone else’s work.


14 –Skill Enhancement Exercises

A –   Are you doing what you love?

a.      If yes, make a list of why you are doing what you love.

Make a list of the specific things that you love and are already doing.

Make a list of the specific things you love that you are not doing now.

b.      If no, make a list of why you are not doing what you love.

Make a list of the specific things that you love and are already doing.

Make a list of the specific things you love that you are not doing now.

B –    Make a list of people who you believe are Artists in Business.

a.      Next to each name write what percentage of their work is art  and what percentage is business (by work I mean the totality of their occupation as you perceive it, i.e. the sum of all their efforts at creating art and marketing it).  This is your opinion and no one else’s. There are no right and wrong answers, just what you believe to be the truth.

b.      Did you find out, after close inspection, that some of the people on your list are really 100% artists or 100% business? If yes, cross these out.

c.      Are there any people who are 50% business and 50% artists?

d.      Re-write this list with at the top people who are 50-50, and, going down the list, people whose percentage moves away further and further from this balanced state.  At the bottom write the names of those who are close, or at 100% of one or the other side, business or art.  Next to each name, use this writing format: 40% Art, 60% business, using the percentages that you have previously defined.

e.      What are your percentages of art and business?

f.       If you were on this list, where would you fit in terms of percentages?  Would you be at the top, at the bottom, or in the middle of the list?

C –    Make a list of art you are comfortable selling.

a.      List all the items you can sell either now or within a week.

b.      List all the items you intend to make and sell within a month.

c.      List all the items you intend to have for sale within a year.

d.      List all the items you want to have for sale eventually.

D -Design a business plan.

a.  Make a list of all the goals you want to reach.

b.  Make a list of attainable goals you can reach in:     one month

three months

one year

five years

E – Make a list of what you know about marketing.

a.      Make a list of everything you know about selling Fine Art photography.

b.      Make a list of everything you’d like to know about selling Fine Art photography.

F – Decide who you will be modeling your business after.

a.      Make a list of people who are where you want to be.

b.      Make a list of people who are where not where you want to be.

15 – Conclusion

The true challenge about being an artist in business is becoming financially successful while striving to achieve the highest level of artistic achievement.  On the one hand it is all too easy to become just a business person and forget about artistic achievement.  On the other hand it is also all too easy to remain an artist and not become successful in business.

Eventually, on one level it depends what you personally consider to define success when it comes to your photography. It is entirely possible that after reading this series of essays you decide that being an artist in business is not something you want to engage in.  In this case, you may decide that much (if not all) that I wrote in this series of essays, and particularly in this third and last essay, is superfluous.  Not being interested in being an artist in business, the conflict between art and business is not yours.  My story, hopefully, will remain something you will remember, the story of someone who did something you do not intend to do.  There is, after all, much to be learned from reading what others did that we won’t do.  Personally, I did not climb Everest, and I have no plan to do so,  However, I learned a lot from reading books by and about those that did.  I am thankful those accounts were written, even though they convinced me that my decision to not climb Everest was the right one for me.

Wahweap Bay, Lake Powell

On another level, you may decide that you want to become an artist in business.  In this instance, much of what I wrote in this series of essays is relevant to you.  In fact, much that I have not talked about here is relevant to you as well.  So, to leave no stone unturned, let me briefly gloss about what else you need to consider.  And before you ask why I didn’t talk about it before, let me say that it is simply because this essay would: A-no longer be an essay (it’s already over 60 pages long altogether) and B-no longer be an introduction to Being an Artist in Business and become the final body of work on this subject, something this essay was never meant to be.

What I haven’t talked about, looking at the business side of things, is how to advertise and market your work.  Advertising and marketing are very important. As the saying goes “If you do not advertise, one thing will happen: nothing.”  Indeed.  While a discussion of marketing is beyond the scope of this essay, I do recommend that you study marketing carefully, either through my other tutorials and workshops or on your own.  I personally devote a large amount of my time to marketing and so does Natalie.  Without doing so we would not be where we are today.

What I haven’t talked about, looking at the artistic side of things, is image, print, framing and presentation quality.  This is also a matter that is beyond the scope of this essay, one that I also teach through my tutorials and my workshops.  Again, I encourage you to not only study this subject, but to become an expert in the matter.

The reason why I bring up quality in this essay is because it is all too easy to spread a banner over a show booth, or to announce in large type on a website, “fine art photography.”  I see it all the time these days.  Fact is, only a very small percentage of artists who claim to offer fine art photography actually do.  For the majority, this is an empty statement, a hollow claim.  When you look at the print quality of their work, or at how their work is matted, framed and presented, you realize that the quality of their work is far from the claims they are making.  Words are cheap and actions speak louder than words.  In this instance, there is a conflict between what these artists say and what they actually do.  If you don’t believe me, visit an art show in your area when you have time, or visit several galleries that represent up and coming artists.  If you know what to look for, what you will see will open your eyes on this problem.

My point is this: don’t be one of these artists.  Make sure the quality of your work matches the claims you make about your work.  Personally, I recommend that you produce only the finest quality work.  However, you may have a different take on this, and you may sway towards quantity.  After all, it is a free country and you can do whatever you please.  But you can’t overstate the quality of your work, or sell something on the basis of what it is not.  To do so is asking for trouble, and it will come back to bite you down the road.  Again, I don’t want to expound on this any further than I already did.  I just want to mention that it is a very important aspect of being an artist in business.

In closing I want to leave you with this thought.  There is a conflict between being an artist and being a business person.  For the artist, success is reaching an aesthetic ideal which, when reached, embodies the entirety of the artist’s vision.  For the business person, success is reaching a financial goal which, when reached, fulfills every material dream this person ever had.  For the artist, success is immaterial, ethereal one might say.  For the business person, success is materialized by the possession of money and of all the things money can buy.

Can one have both?  Can one fulfill his artistic vision and through this fulfillment earn sufficient money to fulfill his material goals?  At first, it seems unlikely.  The pursuit of one seems to be in direct conflict with the other.  But, upon closer inspection, there is nothing impossible about reaching either of these two goals, and there is nothing that dictates that they cannot coexist.

Certainly, for many artists this proves to be a difficult endeavor, an endeavor in which either art or business triumphs, but not both.  However, for some artists in business, it is a reality.  How this reality comes to be was the subject of this three-part essay.  It was a long road that we followed, and we are now at the end of it, or at least at the end of the path I have followed until now.  I hope my journey will prove helpful in guiding your own journey down this road.

Just keep in mind that how you get there is probably just as important as the destination you reach. As with most journeys, at least the ones I have been on, the journey is as important, if not more, than the destination.

Alain Briot

Arizona, July 2006

Alain Briot offers Photography Workshops, CD tutorials and Fine Art Prints.  To learn more about these, simply visit Alain’s web site at

Alain also welcomes your comments and suggestions on this essay as well as on any of his other writings.  Simply email Alain

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Alain Briot creates fine art photographs, teaches workshops and offers DVD tutorials on composition, raw conversion, optimization, printing and marketing. Alain is the author of Mastering Landscape Photography, Mastering Photographic Composition and Marketing Fine Art Photography. All 3 books are available from Alain’s website as well as from most bookstores. You can find more information about Alain's work, writings and tutorials as well as subscribe to Alain’s Free Monthly Newsletter on his website. You will receive over 40 essays in PDF format, including chapters from Alain’s books, when you subscribe.

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