Nowadays, artists have to be equipped with a business plan — not just a paintbrush.

Jennifer Taylor knows how to hustle.

The Riverside, Ill., entrepreneur has an aggressive marketing campaign in place to promote her business. Taylor designed a company Web site, ordered car magnets sporting her logo, printed up business cards and brochures, placed ads in local publications, compiled a mailing list of potential customers — the whole nine yards.

But her “product” isn’t quite the standard fare that falls under the category of goods and services. Taylor sells fine art. Paintings and hand-painted furniture, to be exact.

“You really do have to be business-savvy to survive as an artist. It’s not just a purely creative endeavor anymore,” Taylor said. “You can’t just sequester yourself in the studio and wait for someone to discover you. Building your brand and getting your name out in the community is a must.”

For many, a job description that includes strategizing on public relations tactics, budgeting supply costs and signing contracts seems at odds with an image of the white-collar worker’s free-spirited counterpart: the tortured visionary who weaves a story on canvas using bold brush strokes. One is ruled by figures and the bottom line; the other, by emotions and aesthetics. Yet, lately, the divide between left- and right-brain thinkers is closing for a growing number of artists dabbling in traditionally corporate undertakings.

“It’s tough because even if you’re more than a hobbyist and have studied art in school, you never learn how to sell your work, do the bookkeeping or track your supplies costs. Business classes aren’t usually part of those programs,” said Jim Currie, owner and operator of Westside Multimedia & Gallery in Berwyn, Ill. “But artists are being forced to bridge that gap given the current economic landscape — especially if they depend on their art to pay the bills or want to achieve a certain level of success.”

Tending to entrepreneurial tasks might not be the most glamorous, sexy or mysterious part of an artist’s career, but it’s becoming a necessity. So much so that the Alliance of Fine Art, a nonprofit professional association of suburban Chicago art organizations, is planning a February workshop focused around related issues. The awareness-raising event is an attempt to beef up artists’ arsenals.

“Very few of our members have any clue when it comes to this stuff, so it’s a huge challenge. There is little or no training or even foundation to use as a jumping-off point,” said Liz Popp, workshop chair and Lemont Artists’ Guild member. “It’s like math — nobody wants to do it, but you have to to meet real-world demands. In this case: to be profitable or even just to recoup your costs.”

Expert speakers will lead how-to sessions covering topics such as writing an artist’s biography and statement, drafting a brochure, negotiating with gallery owners, protecting copyrights and more. Participants will be given templates for press release write-ups about their work, exhibits and award recognition and taught how to navigate contract agreements for different occasions.

In the meantime, the checklist for success has been distilled to a bunch of essentials for the modern artist.

Web site

According to most artists and marketing experts, having an online presence is crucial.

“Managing your own Web site dedicated to your portfolio is absolutely vital. This is 2008, and anyone who doesn’t have one in this business is lame,” said Taylor, who calls her company the Painted Board Studio and purchased a matching domain name. “They’re cheap and easy to build and maintain. Web sites increase your visibility in a way that no other medium can.”

The painter pays about $30 a year for the URL and roughly $5 a month for hosting costs. The investment has driven a lot of traffic to the Web site, which has translated into more inquiries about her work and word-of-mouth marketing.

Popp held onto a piece in The Artist’s Magazine that lists Web sites where artists can register and upload their work. Some are free of charge and others have service fees. Popp has found the article to be a useful resource — especially for those who are more comfortable leaving the domain name, hosting and other technical, jargon-infused computer issues to someone else. The advantage of going this route is that these portal-associated portfolios are easier to happen upon through Google searches, maximizing the artist’s exposure.

Nancy D’Agostino, a Lisle, Ill.-based painter and president of the Downers Grove Artists’ Guild, has run her own Web site ( for seven or eight years now and said she can’t imagine doing business without it. Like many other artists, she also has started a free Facebook page to exhibit her pieces, join virtual art and graphic design groups, and network with artists around the world. Additionally, D’Agostino blogs about her creative process to keep her supporters following the progression of her collection.

Newsletters, e-mail updates and mailings:

Each month Taylor sends out an e-mail newsletter showcasing recent artwork to a mailing list of about 800 people who have filled out her store’s guestbook or visited her Web site over the years.

“I include a photo of chairs I custom painted for Mary P., and then Mary P. is going to say ‘Let me forward this to all of my friends so they can see how I’m redecorating my kitchen,’” Taylor said. “This circulates your images — which are your selling points — and gets people talking about your stuff.”

Marilyn Dale, a Naperville, Ill., marketing consultant and former featured speaker for Alliance of Fine Art workshops, said she thinks this approach is key.

“Postcards, listservs, whatever — anything that ensures people remember you and can combat the out-of-sight-out-of-mind trap,” she said. “That way, artists aren’t just waiting for someone to wander in a gallery and happen to fall in love with whatever’s up, but they’re actively pursuing customers. They’re continually updating their inventory for interested parties in a very visual way, which keeps the lines of communication open and can score you a devoted following.”

Professional associations:

“Get involved in local art organizations or national associations in your media — whether for watercolor or pastel or photography artists. It’s a credibility builder,” Dale said. “Annual membership fees are usually nothing earth-shattering — between $30 and $50 — and this gives you access to other colleagues, discounted classes and speakers.”

D’Agostino always takes advantage of community outreach opportunities through these affiliations.

“The networking that goes on is really valuable,” she said. “You’re essentially growing your contact list of people in the field who may be able to pull strings for you or pass your name along or share wisdom to guide your career trajectory.”

As an active member of Illinois' Naperville and Plainfield guilds in addition to her Downers Grove leadership position, D’Agostino also receives chances to participate in monthly shows and exhibits — oftentimes without a hanging fee — that are open to the public. And she has accepted many teaching and demonstration offers through these leagues to supplement her income.

Taylor also advises artists to join these groups because of information about fellowships and grants that often gets passed along to those in the directory.

“If you have your ear to the ground through these coalitions, you can find out about these endowments you can apply for,” she said. “If you’re selected, you might be given a chunk of money to live on so you can afford to not work during the time you’re pursuing your artistic passion.”

Fair booths and galleries:

Displaying work where people can view it is perhaps the most obvious but trickiest part of pushing sales.

“You should be discriminating about where you’re looking — whether it’s a gallery opening or show,” Dale said. “Do your homework before you shell out for the entry fee. Keep tabs on the place for six months to a year, attending the exhibits to see whether they’re adequately promoting featured artists, what they’re showing and what’s selling.”

D’Agostino agreed.

“You want to go survey the gallery to see how closely pieces are hung to one another. You have to check on whether your artwork would be competing for attention with others in close proximity,” she said. “And figure out what percentage they take off of any of your sales. If it’s 50 percent, you have to ask yourself whether you’re going to get lost in the shuffle with 20 other artists or whether they’d work hard to market your collection.”

Taylor has struck partnerships with trendy restaurants, nightclubs and other businesses, who will decorate their walls with her paintings for a certain length of time. Interested buyers are then directed to her.

Volunteering artistic services for village auctions — whether the fundraiser consists of being sponsored to paint a cow, bench, barrel or milk can — isn’t a lucrative venture, according to D’Agostino. But it’s a fantastic way to get an artist’s name out into the community and can lead to commission work or other opportunities.

This also can be a nice transition into sidewalk fairs. But as much as the promise of visibility can be alluring, without some selectivity, artists sometimes can end up with a steep rental cost that yields no purchases. That’s why Dale recommends artists have a solid understanding of the demographic they’d likely reach based on the subject matter, style and medium of a collection. This doesn’t mean pandering to an audience, but it does help narrow down geographic markets they’re vying to break into so they waste less time in areas where residents aren’t as receptive, she added.

Coming to terms:

“I think it’s a struggle for a lot of us to play the game and sell ourselves,” Popp said. “Especially because some are inclined to think that that cheapens their art or makes it seem commercialized. We’re trying to fight the misconceptions and help artists understand that they have a responsibility to go out and promote.”

Ted Knaffel, a Geneva, Ill.-based photographer, has slowly accepted this reality.

“It’s incredibly difficult to switch gears between creating and promoting. When you’re first pledging your life to preserving snapshots of the world and people inhabiting it, no one tells you about this other aspect of the job,” he said. “I could tell you anything you’d ever want to know about aperture settings, but it took me awhile to get to a place where I began to educate myself on putting together an Excel cash-flow spreadsheet.

“It’s been a real eye-opener to realize you need a business plan as an artist,” he added. “But it’s a prerequisite if you want to see your work anywhere other than occupying a spot on your mother’s mantle.”