Mark and I discuss the value of having a direct relationship with your patrons and how marketing directly to them grows a fervor of support.
- Music by Old Romans: https://www.instagram.com/old_romans
You can listen to the episode here (or wherever you listen to podcasts) or read the transcript below:
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A Conversation with Mark Williams
Chain Assembly: Today I am lucky enough to have the amazingly talented and amazingly skillful Mark Williams on the podcast with me. Mark and I have run into each other at events probably over a hundred times over the last few years. Mark's one of the most, probably the most recognizable artists in the St. Pete art scene. And this is probably also the first time I've actually sat down and had a conversation with Mark. So it's definitely long overdue. So thank you, Mark.
Mark Williams: Well, thanks Nick for having me. It's great to be here.
CA: So one thing that really got me excited to talk to you about is your recent kind of move towards merchandising. I know a lot of people think of that as a dirty word, but that is my favorite word. I love talking to artists about how they expand just selling individual paintings or individual pieces because that's in my opinion, that's really where all the fun is, when you can make a piece and sell it a thousand times. I get lots of joy out of that. So I'm excited to discuss some of those things about you, with you. But to begin with, why don't you start by describing your art and how you got into the St. Pete art scene?
MW: Well, basically I started my work career as a graphic artist for an NBC affiliate right out of high school. So doing what I went, I didn't go to an arts magnet school or anything like that, but I was super involved in like all of the art programs. I was in the journalism staff, I was in the yearbook staff, I was in pep club and did the banners that all the big football players would come busting through and things like that. So everything that was art related, that's where I was. So my first job, I was lucky enough apply for a graphic artist job and an NBC affiliate. And what it taught me was basically the marketing side and the information conveyance of your artwork, like how you create this ad that basically gets people to sign up for a charity walk or to do t-shirts for some type of awareness. And then broadcasts graphics and things that were a little bit before computers and stuff like how do you convey What's going on in a story with just a simple image or whatever? So kind of got into it that way Did graphics on and off like? Through the job I freelanced outside of the job just because there were things that I wanted to do that weren't really you know Fulfilling in the in the graphic design environment so it's kind of painting off to the side, graphics and the business in the front and party in the back.
CA: I really get what you're saying. Like I could say, I mean, me also, I never studied graphic design or anything growing up. I came more from the fine art side, but as I have been teaching myself graphic design tools, I'm getting more and more inspired by graphic designers and layout design than I ever did by other artists. Because it's like when there is a need to solve a problem, great graphic design always solves it. You know, like you can't really portray information with the painting the way you can with laying things out, hierarchy of text. It's just so much more information you need to pass along if you're not there to describe it to someone.
MW: Exactly. It's like information dissemination, like, you know, point one, point two, point three, your typography is important. The way that people read things, you know, top to bottom, left, right. The way that you want to convey emphasis on something like when you see an ad for a group show and they're either trying to get everybody's name in there or they're just trying to get everybody's images in there or they're just trying to represent a theme. It's kind of, it's a puzzle box. It's kind of solving a riddle. And that's kind of the fun part of it. But at the same time, when you jump back into the fine art of it, which is kind of what led me to St. Pete, probably about 10 or 11 years ago, I really started getting into the jury shows, the group shows. I found a community here in Tampa, but it's sort of taking me more so to St. Pete than anywhere else of doing group shows and working with M’ria’s Mezzanine, who you've had on the show before, developing a community where there's all these aspects of creating group shows at breweries and restaurants and cafes and things like that. And so getting back into the fine art part of it was actually kind of fun for me because it was like unplug, decompress, don't be so, why so serious? You know, just paint for fun, paint for a theme, which I kind of respond to as a graphic artist. It's like, if there's a theme, okay, I'm gonna nail this because it's not necessarily something. that if I'm going to stand in front of a blank canvas and say, it's Saturday and I want to paint, what am I going to paint? That's going to be for me. But if somebody says, okay, we're going to do shark week, or it's going to be a sharkapalooza, then you kind of have to focus on that, those particular themes. So it was about 10 years ago that I started getting, doing the shows in St. Pete and getting involved with, um, um, various different galleries and venues and things like that.
CA: I just assumed you were in St. Pete because I see you in so many St. Pete specific events. I had no idea you were in Tampa.
MW: Yeah, actually, I've been in Tampa since 1993. I moved here from Macon, Georgia. But yeah, I'm always in St. Pete because I think when you look at the difference in the art communities in the Tampa Bay area, Tampa is a distinctly different community than St. Pete. And that's not really good or bad. But Tampa is its own little type of community. There's great artists in Tampa. There's great artists in St. Pete. But the vibe in St. Pete is so much more attractive to me. Just everything is so totally inclusive in St. Pete. You can hang your art in a dive bar or you can hang your art in a museum. You could do a juried show, you could do a group show. There's so many venues to even do solo shows. And the community is so receptive and so open. Much more than it is in other communities that I've been a part of. So I kind of feel like St. Pete, I have a working studio in St. Pete, right off the arts district off Central. And just being in that area and coexisting with all of these different galleries and different spots for Art Walk, where there's like 20 blocks up and down Central, you can't, you could throw a rock and hit like three galleries. It's amazing.
CA: So I want to ask you about that commute, because if you're in Tampa and your gallery's in St. Pete, I mean, I totally understand. There's no point in having, sorry, not your gallery, your studio. There's really no point in having a studio that's not in an arts area. Otherwise, why not just work from home? So I understand that. Does it frustrate you having a commute to go that far?
MW: Not really, because my second, I had a spare bedroom in my condo that I used for a studio for probably six or seven years. And it was very convenient for me to get up and grab something to drink and walk into the studio and hit the ground running. And other than taking a lunch break or a bathroom break, I'm gonna work until I drop. The music's playing, the inspiration is there, I'm uninterrupted, and I can just keep going. Plus there's no dress code in a home studio, which I love. The the contrast to that is when you have a studio that you're actually paying rent for and it's, you know, 14 miles away, getting into the car with that divine purpose of going to the studio, you're committing to the creativity, you're committing to the process. And when you get to the studio, you may not always have a plan, which 90% of the time I do because I'm thinking about what I'm going to do when I get there. But sometimes you can go to the studio and not have a plan and just being present and just showing up, there's a different vibe, there's a different head space. When you're looking at art that's flooding you, I'm particularly a person that loves to use, overuse at times, color. So when I'm in my studio, I call it my happy place. You can't be in my studio with so much color registration, unless you're colorblind, and not be happy. There's just so, there's this overabundance of color and I see pieces at different times in the process where I'm going, hey, I might want to involve that technique. I might want to revisit this technique, whatever. So having a studio that's not home based is it has its pros and cons. But when I get into the car and I set out and I go there, it's, it's a, you're, you're locking into that mentality. And when you're showing up and being present, it's, it's kind of its own type of inspiration.
CA: I really latched on to that idea of you saying you use your drive as a way to prep for your studio time. That makes so much sense to me. I feel like I have always my best ideas while I'm driving. It's great that you can then just quickly roll that into a piece when you arrive.
MW: One of the things that I like to do when I drive from Tampa to St. Pete, and because like I said, I'm only 14 miles away, so I'm like really 18 to 24 minutes and I drive really fast 14 but I listened to Art Podcast almost exclusively on the commute. In other words, typically in the car, I'm listening to music. You start the car, you start the Apple CarPlay and then you're jamming out. But when I get in the car to drive specifically to the studio, I'm listening to Art Podcast to sort of prime the pump. And I actually, when I'm coming back from the studio, I'm listening to music, but when I drive to the studio, it's almost always an art podcast.
CA: I know St. Pete and Tampa are not exactly far away from each other, but mentally there's a bay between us. Since I moved to St. Pete, I'm like, I've got no business ever going to Tampa unless I have to go to the airport. It's really more of a mental distance than it is a physical distance. I grew up in Miami where it takes you an hour and a half to go 10 miles.
MW: Exactly, exactly. Like it takes an hour to get to Atlanta from Atlanta. So if you're from it, if you live in Atlanta, it takes an hour to get to Atlanta from Atlanta. So I get that. And the great thing about it is, is like, I live kind of not far from the Gandy. So I can just jump on the Gandhi and go, or I can jump on, you know, any one of the bridges to get there. And then my studio is right off the interstate. So it's really kind of a clear shot to do it. But as far as like being in one city to do your art and show and do whatever, it's coming home is almost kind of like a refuge. It's kind of like a bat cave where you can just like decompress and chill. I used to show a lot more in Tampa and I used to be involved in Tampa a lot more. And I'm kind of excited that like the Ybor community is coming back and the Crest building has got studios and stuff like that. But St. Pete for the past 10 years has just killed it. It's like I'm so excited to just be a part of like any given show in St. Pete.
CA: So let's try and change this to something a little less specific that maybe more national listeners will find interesting. So one thing that I'm always curious about, since I rarely ever do like paint to canvas art, is there a general rule of thumb you have regarding pricing? Is it based on size, time? Is it just a number that feels right?
MW: I think that particular question kind of is an evolving question for artists when they're on their on their on different spots in their journey. For me, basically, when I would create a piece, you know, many years ago, and it's almost like, who am I painting this for? What is the subject? What's the skill involved? How long did it take? Whatever. Once I got to a point where I could paint frequently and regularly, I would see paintings move faster and I would think to myself, well, maybe there's an increased perceived value of the piece. When I look at sizes of light kind and quality paintings and I would see that my prices would be somewhat in line with that, I would feel more confident, more secure in my pricing. There's always a general rule of thumb that you can do like a square foot pricing. Like if you have an X amount for a 16 by 20, for an 18 by 24 for 24 by 36 that you could do that. To me, on my journey at this point, it's kind of gotten away from intuitive pricing, square foot pricing, to what I know my paintings have sold for in the past, and what I want to sell them for based off, it's almost sort of a business acumen to where I'm looking at what my expenses are, I'm looking at the time, I'm looking at the cost to show if there's placement costs, if there's gallery costs and things like that. So it's kind of a, it's kind of a combination of all of that. But where I'm at now is really kind of more of a business centric pricing, like taking into consideration, you know, what I'm, what I'm actually putting into it, time investment materials, things like that, and also what the market will pay.
CA: So with that in mind, do you kind of lock in a price for a piece? Or if it's a piece that you painted five years ago and you had it for sale at this price, still hasn't sold, and you're bringing it back up to another show, are you changing that price? Are you consulting what the price was before? Or are you just looking at it, looking at the state you're in now and deciding this is what I need to sell this for at this moment?
MW: Well, I guess I'm lucky that I don't really have pieces that hang out so much.
MW:I mean, I do have some pieces in storage from a few years ago and those pieces, my pricing has been pretty consistent over the last couple of years to where I don't really have it adjusted. But if I did bring something out and I did show something that was relevant to, you know, maybe a retrospect show or things like that, I would probably see my prices going up just because I know that my buyers are paying this for this and they have a perceived value in my work it probably would price it just that way. I do have collectors that, you know, when they buy four or five, six pieces and they sort of expect to know what to make based off the quality and the size of the piece.
CA: So at what point do you assign the price then? Is it as soon as the piece is done, you put it in a spreadsheet, take a photo, label the picture, save it on the computer? Or do you set the pricing when you're working on labels, art labels for the show? And like kind of what does that process generally look like for you?
MW: At this point right now, I pretty much have an idea based off size, what I'm going to sell for, because if I'm looking at, you know, if I'm selling in my studio, if I'm pitching it to a show, um, I love being in gallery shows because when you have someone that's running a show, they're doing the selling, they're doing all the heavy lifting, so they're earning their commission. So those are my favorite shows. So, you know, I want to make sure that the painting is priced accurately so that they get their commission and that I'm not short changing myself. When I'm selling it in the gap in my studio, then basically, you know, I'm looking at I don't really have the commission overhead. I'm doing the heavy lifting myself. My time is still worth the effort, but there may be a little bit of a discount because they're visiting me on site that they're actually in studio. But for to answer your question, the pricing is pretty much consistent and I pretty much come right out of the box with knowing what 24 by 36 is gonna cost what a 34 by 48 is gonna cost. I pretty much have that dead set It's not really done after the fact
CA: Gotcha. Okay. So maybe you envision like a piece is done you envision what the gallery sale price would be and your sorry your studio sale price and then based on where it's showing, you'll increase it dependent on whatever the gallery is, their cut is gonna be.
MW: Yeah, and I think that's fair because like when you're showing in a gallery setting or you're showing where there's gonna be a commission, and a lot of times I like to work in a series. So if I have an idea for one piece, I want to maybe develop that concept to maybe three pieces, four pieces, six pieces. And then that kind of spurs the creativity to say, okay, well, now you've got four pieces to work on instead of one. You've got, you have something to say. You have a little bit more of a stronger message. You paint a really great piece of art, and I've learned this early on, and people go, I love this piece, I wanna buy it. Do you have any similar pieces? Do you have anything in your body of work that would be complimentary? Maybe I want a piece in a dining room and then I want another piece in the liver room to sort of tie it together. And I would say I don't. Learning that working in a series is probably one of the best pieces of advice that I could, you know, give a fellow artist is that, you know, if you have a piece that you feel really strongly about, you feel motivated about, you feel passionate about, develop the concept further, paint more pieces because you can engage your audience and you could tell a bigger story, you can engage your audience, and then you have a bigger story to tell to where people would say, I want one, I want two, I want three pieces.
CA: Well, to add to that, one thing I've learned is that customers always want to put you in a box. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I know I'm always shooting myself in the foot by having such totally different products available for sale at my booths. But if I have a whole series that's all similar and they see that, they're like, okay, this is the guy who does that. And that makes them feel a lot more comfortable when they're engaging with your work.
MW: And I think there's a big thing where, you know, a gallery that is looking to represent artists, they're basically wanting to make sure that an artist is consistent. You can look at an artist and say, this is their look, this is their feel. Like, you know, if you get that, like, right when you enter their booth, you know, people are really happy about, and jazzed about but as an, and that's really, I think, particularly true when you're merchandising. For an artist that wants to paint and wants to grow and wants to experiment with different mediums and different subject matters and things, it's fun to kind of break out of the box and to do something different to where somebody says, this doesn't look like you, this looks different. And, you know, I don't think it really corresponds with a particular career track of an artist that's, you know, seeking gallery representation. But I think for an artist and to have growth, I think it's actually kind of a great thing because, you know, I like doing different pieces. I see stuff that inspire me, inspire me differently. And then sometimes I just want to check out a different medium and try something different. I always kind of come back to what I'm doing. I sometimes involve it into what I'm doing. And then I take that, that style to the next level, but it's kind of fun to kind of break out of the box a little bit.
CA: You probably have better engagement with your patrons than most artists out there. Can you tell me about what it's like developing relationships, collecting leads, just basically keeping your fans informed on what you're working on?
MW: And one particular role that I had as a graphic artist for a company here in Tampa, the progression of that job allowed me to work in a sales and marketing management capacity. I basically got tired and bored of designing the ads. I actually wanted to make the ads do things. And so I actually kind of took over kind of some sales and marketing, just cutting my teeth and doing things like that. That involved a little bit of trade show mechanisms and going offsite to do these things and communicating with customers and things. And that experience basically allowed me to internalize it to my artwork. So communicating with your customers when someone buys a piece of art, it's like, what about this artwork spoke to you? How did this move you? I'll approach it from a different mechanism. When someone visits me in a studio and they're staring at a painting, I'll generally go up to them and kind of tell them the story behind it and then once you engage them with the story behind the artwork, they're, you know, 50% more likely to be interested in buying it. And then a lot of times you ask them, like, where would you hang this in your house? Do you have an idea or a spot? You know, would you, is this something you'd want to look at when you wake up in the morning? Is this something that you would look at while you're reading? Is this like something you'd put in your kitchen and have a, you know, a glass of tea or whatever? And sometimes when you engage them about how the artwork speaks to them and how they would live with it, how they would involve themselves to it. You learn so much more about the buyer that if you're lucky enough to have that cell, then you have this community, you have this relationship with them. When I add someone to an email list and I communicate with them, I like to let them know what's happening in the studio, what pieces I'm working on. On the email list, we'll say, you know, I bought this piece and I love this piece, but these colors are very similar and I like this and I like the size. And so you get this communication, you get this feedback, whether they're interested in purchasing or not is one thing, but it's just the actual dialogue that you establish with them, which has kind of led me to the merchandising part of it that we can talk about whenever.
CA: Before we get there, I had just some more logistical questions regarding that are you using any specific tools to track that email list?
MW: Yeah, I'm a Mailchimp fan. I've used Mailchimp for probably 20 something years. For better or for worse, I'm just used to it. I've been around it. I've grown with all the updates and it just makes a lot more sense. I have a couple of websites that are hosted by a few different providers, but one of my is closely integrated with MailChimp and I love it.
CA: So with MailChimp, are you sending like a monthly newsletter, weekly newsletter, or just whenever you have an idea of information you wanna share?
MW: That's a good question. So my lists are segmented because I think having segmented lists are very important. When you have someone who basically subscribes to your website, if someone visits my website, you get the typical pop-up that's pretty standard today. It's like join the website, learn about discounts, be in the know. Those are basically the subscribers. Those emails I usually will send out about once a month. I like to send those out usually the first part of the month to let them know what's happening during Art Walk for various shows. I always like to approach any type of holidays or any type of relevant times during the month at the beginning of the month so that people can plan for it. So that when I can tether that with social media like next week I'm going to do an open studio Saturday. This weekend I'm doing an open studio Saturday. Tomorrow is open studio Saturday. Today is open studio Saturday. The buyer list or my patron list as I like to call it and I love these people. They typically will get one to two emails a month in addition to the subscriber list and the reason for that is I'm so appreciative of people. I'm lucky that I have a fan base that are repeat performers. They see something, they buy it. They see something else, they buy it. Part of the merchandising that I do, I have this one particular item that is a bag and it has a flap that snaps on and that flap is sublimated dye printed. The flap can be removed and you can buy a new flap to put on the bag. So you have one bag, but you can have multiple pieces of art. If I publish on social media a particular painting or drawing that I'm working on, I will get a message from a client going, is this available as a flap for my bag? And it's like, it will be by next week. We're going to upload this, and I'm going to invoice you, and then I'm going to ship it to you, or you can swing by the studio and pick it up so we have this dialogue back and forth, especially through the merchandising. But if I'm going to do a show, I like to let the patrons know about the piece before it's actually hung. I'll complete a piece, photograph it and say, you're getting a sneak peek of this. This is going to be available at this show. It's available now for you. And I usually try to clear it with the gallerist or the curator of the show that, Hey, I like to pre-market. I like to market prior to the show. And if I have a buyer, can you red dot this on day one? Can you red dot this for your VIP showing? Because some galleries will do a Friday show and they'll bring in their buyers on a Thursday. And that's why you get red dots on a Friday before you even get there. So I like to-
CA: That's a genius idea. I love that.
MW: It's one of the things when you email market to people and you solicit subscriptions to your website. What is a VIP when you're an artist? Well, I could give you stuff, but then I'm not gonna make any money. To give you first crack, to give you advance notice, to show you works in progress videos, that's kind of a social media type thing. But when you direct them specifically to the people that are your audience, that are your core, the people that you're so appreciative for keeping the lights on, you know, they love that. They want to know that, hey, I actually am a VIP. I'm getting to see something two or three days before anybody else.
CA: I mean, that's inspiring. I severely neglect my email list. And I also am lazy about posting on social media, but yeah, I just wish I had the energy and the, what do you call it, the rigidity of being on top of things like you. But you know, if you don't have a goal, where are you? So let's talk about some of the merchandising. So how do you have that set up? Was it like, did you ease into it from like Society 6 and Redbubble and decide to find your own manufacturers? What is all of that organization look like, where did it start, where's it headed?
MW: I think there's a particular journey that I've seen with artists friends and in communication with artists and in the community. And that journey for me, kind of did start with the Red Bubbles and the society six and, you know, Etsy, we have done the Etsy before. The thing and selling artwork is great. When you go to a show and you have the one piece, you don't have the series, and somebody likes this piece and it's gone, prints. So there's your obvious transition as a fine artist to go into merchandising. So you go and you do a handful of prints and then there's a whole religion on how you do prints. Are they limited edition? Are they signed? Are they not? Print on demand is so much easier than fulfilling yourself. Going through and then doing the marketplaces, the red bubbles, the T public, society six and things, I've done all of those things, but then to utilize social media to sell those, it could be quite costly because then you basically are paying to promote a post to get that link into there. And the biggest, the biggest obstacle that I've seen in working with marketplace sites is that there's an absolute loss of control of the wine and dine. You don't get the ability to communicate with your customer effectively and directly. Um, to give you an example, using Society6 is a marketplace. I call them a marketplace because you're going to go to Society6, you're going to see what's going on. You've got, you're competing with all these different artists. It's the same thing with Etsy, even though it's print on demand, it's not, you know, maker source. But the thing is you're sending your traffic to that website. And when someone buys something from you at Society6, you have no idea who it is. So you've probably heard this 100 times before. I've actually been lucky enough with the relationships that I have with my patrons that would post on social media. I just bought this super cool mug, or I bought this, or I bought that. And they'll put it on their Facebook, and they know they're wise enough to tag me on it. And then I'll go in and I'll check my account. And I have not been paid a commission on these items and so then you have to go and browbeat these people and say, hey, where's my money? And it's like, well, how do you know that you sold this? And I'm like, here's a picture of the social media of the person that did it. Their first and last name is this. And then they say, well, send us their order number. And I'm like, well, I didn't place the order and I'm not going to go to your customer and tell them to do this. Can't you check your bins to see where you sold this mug to this person based off their name? So those got really frustrating really quickly and not being able to communicate with your customer was sort of kind of going against the grain for me. So I wanted to do my own prints. I bought a professional printer to do that. I like the ability to be able to sign my prints. I like the ability to be able to offer different stocks, whether it's a watercolor, whether it's a metallic luster, whether it's a photo glossy, things like that. And I wanna make sure that the color quality is there. I don't like uploading a particular file and seeing colors shift and it comes back from the printer and now I'm stuck with 25 ill color-registered prints that I'm not gonna use as a placemat.
CA: So which printer did you go with?
MW: I bought a Canon Pro 100 several years ago and kind of looking at maybe going a little bit bigger, but this thing's like 80 pounds. It has the Chroma Life 100s to it. I get really good color registrations from my artwork. I photograph everything with my digital, my DSLR, and I'm really, really happy with the results that I've gotten out of this printer. Probably I don't do as much prints now because people are more interested in Doing the originals and that's kind of where the passion is But I still do the prints on occasion.
CA: I Recently purchased a Canon image pro graph 1000 and I adore it 17 by 22 is the max size.
MW: That's like an amazing
CA: It’s a beast. Yeah, I guess so hard to find a place to fit it in the house.
MW: Oh this this is easily 80 pounds and probably almost three feet and it's smaller than yours But it's it's a monster printer It has its own little table and a print rack and you know, the inks aren't cheap by any stretch of the imagination But yeah, I said software
CA: I just bought my first packet inks and it was 700 bucks
MW: Yeah, but you've got the software that helps track it. So, you know if you're into the metrics and the whole thing, it's really I think it's worth it as far as getting the color control and being able to print what you want, when you want. And I think people really appreciate that extra effort.
CA: I definitely appreciate not having to... So I loved ordering prints. I always got them shout out to Shutterfly. Their pearlescent is beautiful. They're very easy to use. There's always coupon codes flying around, but I, I was never really good at like, I'd go to a market and soon as it ends, I would just pack everything up and leave. I don't take the time to track, okay, I sold four of this print, five of that print. I'm only tracking the sizes really. So by getting my own printer, I can then at my leisure just think, oh, I haven't seen this image in a while. I probably need some more of those and just print out two or three and then I'll be set. You know, it's the convenience, just like you said, of being able to just have my own prints at the ready is so great.
MW: And being able to control the stock and being able to make sure that when you're delivering it, I mean, backing boards and bags are not super expensive and you can just, you can customize the level of things. Sometimes I would burn off some test prints on some eight and a half by 11 watercolor stock and they would be really cool looking prints, but they're not like things I wanna sell. I would call up, I would put them in my sample bin. Well, I'd get an order for like a 13 by 19 print and I would put that into the bag in the back with a sticker, you know, whatever a card and like a thank you card. And a lot of times I would, I would print on a piece of paper, the thank you message, but I would put it inside of the thank you card and leave the envelope unsealed. So now they even have a thank you card from me that has artwork on it that they can reuse or do whatever they want to. And having that ability of customization. I think gives you that next level that I wasn't able to get in some of these print on demand places or some of these marketplaces that were really somewhat impersonal.
CA: One thing I hate about those platforms too is if someone's looking at your art, they're at that same moment being marketed other people's art on their same screen.
CA: It's not that I don't think my stuff holds up to other people. It's that I only because it came from one person, the only context it really should have is art from that other person. So another thing, just like you're saying, where you can't control how the information is portrayed to the customer on those tools.
MW: Exactly. If you think of it in terms of like, one of the things that I like about my studio practice, and I've been in the studio now two years, and I've learned a lot from being in the studio, and part of the merchandising, a part of my merchandising journey has really been accelerated in just the last couple of years alone because of the studio practice. Because when I go to an art show and there's 200 people and I'm in this big 25,000 square foot event and it's, you know, a bar's over here and entertainment's going on over here, you don't want to just stand there by your artwork and try to talk to people and capture leads and give out cards and things like that. But you do So I try to identify with my piece of art that I'm showing at the show. And one of the ways that I do that is I will hand paint a jacket, either a denim jacket or a tuxedo jacket, I'll gesso the back of it, and I will paint the image that I've painted for the show in some type of version or format to match the jacket to the painting. This way, when I'm walking around, I'm going to the bar, I'm going to see the entertainment. I want to walk around and look at the other art, I want to visit with other art friends or whatever, I'm identifiable to the piece of art if I've done my job right. So the print on demand aspect of creating clothing, because I don't always have time to paint an article of clothing like I would a painting because it takes about the same amount of time, just on a little bit smaller scale, is creating shirts and creating, you know, shorts and pants or shoes or jackets or whatever and by doing that in a print-on-demand environment, and I have several different vendors that I like to use for different things, I can have a theme show for this particular series of artwork, and then I can very easily create a shirt, like a print all over t-shirt, or shoes, or shorts, or whatever, and have those ready for the show. People look at the wall, they see the artwork, they look at me, I'm easily identifiable, I don't have to wear a hello, my name is tag. They know it, they get it. Then people come into the studio, they like this piece, and they go, I'd like one of those shirts. I wanna buy that shirt. I'm like, well, it's really just self marketing for me, but if you really want one of these shirts, let's do it. So it sort of began that way. I used to carry around this flat bag that I mentioned earlier that I got that had my logo on it, and it had representations of my artwork on it. And this was my show bag. It had my markers, my tape, my price tags, labels, things like that. And people would see that bag and say, that's a really cool bag. Where did you get that bag? And I said, it's my supply bag or whatever. So I started making these for clients. Because the flap is removable, it just snaps on in the back and it can be easily replaced. I would make new flaps and offer those to my email list. And almost every holiday season, I have people that come to me and go, what are the new flaps? What are the new flaps? What's available this season? And so I have to be ready for it, you know, by third quarter because that's gonna ramp up. So the marketing kind of took an interesting turn, especially being in person with people and marketing my art the way that I was you know, self promoting and self marketing myself, it sort of became a whole different line, which is kind of actually why I've created a website that I launched this month for art inspired clothing and wearable art. And it basically is based off of my artwork, but it's not really selling my artwork directly. It's basically selling print on demand art off of digital and original art that I create.
CA: So that's MWilly.com, M-W-I-L-L-I.com, right?
MW: That is correct.
CA: Yeah, and so what'd you build that site on? Which tools?
MW: That is a Squarespace site because I like the customization. I've actually designed websites in the past and kind of dabbled in web design and things. Actually did the first Fox 13 website years ago. But I actually like the drag and drop and I like not having to get under the hood and do all the coding and just focus on the art. Squarespace is really effective for that. It's got the look and the feel. It's easy to customize. It actually has some of the marketing aspects if you buy the business level plan to where it does the abandoned cart. It does the, you know, you put something in your cart but you walked away. When people sign up it actually comes back and goes, Hey, thanks for signing up. What is it about my artwork that you like? And it sends them an email for that, which creates a conversation. I love that aspect. When you're out of stock on something, it's like notify me that something's gonna be in stock. I can very easily get, Hey, I need to order more of these things. I email them and let them know, Hey, I've ordered your item for you. It should be here. Let's coordinate a time to pick it up in the studio or I can ship it to you, whichever you prefer. So it's very, it's very functional for me like that. Some of the vendors that I use online, like I've used different vendors in the past. I'm exploring several of the items, like with the Printful group. Printful's got some things that's-
CA: I use Printful.
MW: Yeah. I like high levels of customization for items. I like to be able to create different panels and different components. The brighter, the louder, the better for me. I'm not designing for L.O. Bean. My artwork is crazy enough and I want the colors, I want the registration, I don't want it to bleed out, I don't want it to look boring. I've got other brands that I like to use. I've looked at Contrado, I've looked at Nova Tomato. Um, different websites that basically, I think there's another website called Art of Wear that has a couple of interesting things to print that, um it's kind of one of those journeys where you have to go to the site, you have to order a couple of sample pieces, you have to feel comfortable with the level of quality, you know, are you getting it from, you know, stateside, are you getting it from Canada, are you getting it from Mexico, are you getting it from China? It just, some people say they're shipping it from one place, but they're actually shipping it from another. So, it's, you kind of want to gauge where you feel comfortable with and what the product's like for me I'm looking for quality and I'm looking for registration. I'm looking for how it properly represents or adequately represents my artwork and my brand.
CA: I've used a printify in the past. When I was first starting off exploring with the print on demand stuff, I had printify versus printful. Printify was cheaper generally on all products, but the quality was very hit or miss because they're not an individual printer company. They just farm it out to small mom and pops all over the country. So you don't really know who's gonna be printing it or if like, I mean, they'll tell you, they could tell you who it is. You could choose which place you want, but it's not, there's no quality control. The order just goes out to that company and that company ships it to you. I found Printful to be much higher quality because as you're tracking the order from your interface, you could see when they receive it when they pick the material, when they print the material, when they apply the sublimation to the material, and then that last step is quality control before they ship it out. And I've never had anything from them that I did not like. So I'm a big fan of Printful.
MW: I'm finding that to be the case as well, because pretty much as I order like one of everything, and you know, it's kind of interesting because some of the products that I get, like especially women's clothing, um, I obviously can't fit in it, but I'm ordering it for friends of mine that I know can, and then they're giving me the feedback that this fits properly. This doesn't fit properly. This fits me. This is ill fitting and you know, it's the lowest common denominator that you've got to kind of work with. And I've had a really good, um, response with Printful. There's other places. There's like LeGallerist out of Canada that does some things. There's another company called the Art of Wear, W-H-E-R-E. They're hit or miss, they have some good things and then they have some things that are just like, don't wear it in the rain. It's either gonna fall apart or bleed. But it's just trial and error. But I think as an artist, when you're trying to look for your brand, you're trying to figure out how to represent your look and your feel and what your people are gonna wear. I happen to know that, you know, part of my merchandising, demographic is 25 to 65 women. So I'm looking to outfit that group of people. Those same women, well, they'll buy golf shirts and they'll buy golf shorts for their husbands because they want to dress them up. But it's the women that I speak to.
CA: I think you've also done a really good job of creating products that are unique enough that. their statements on their own, not just because of the art that's on them. And so that your chiffon wraps, you know, most people just do a dye sub shirt or a print on demand shirt, but you're doing chiffon wraps. And that is really helping separate your products as something more than just a red bubble item.
MW: That is an item that was so popular a year ago last, it was over a year and a half ago, a friend of mine wanted me to make a beach wrap because I'd made beach towels in the past, I've sold beach towels in the past, and she wanted a beach wrap, a coverall. And so I went out and I found this place that did them and I said, okay, I'm gonna take this really colorful pattern called The Best of You. It's based off my Best of You painting. It was done for an androgyny show at the House of Shadows, super popular painting. Lots of colors, lots of line work and I uploaded it, I made this beach wrap, and she absolutely loved it. And so I bought a handful for some other people that I thought might be interested, and I marketed to my list and sold them all. I had a solo show in November last year at my studio, and I had two of my patrons show up wearing those beach wraps with black all-body outfits, like black tank tops and black jeans and the black boots. It was two different women, but they both wore the exact same wrap and they wore it as evening wear and instead of beach wear. And once I stopped crying and had my picture made with the two of them, and I was like, this is the best day ever I realized that, okay, maybe if they're wearing these things, not at the beach and not at the pool, maybe they would wear them as evening wear and going out wear or whatever. So I placed another order and I had them in the studio and I had a studio assistant that was working with me to help take orders and talk to people because sometimes you get 10 or 15 people in there, it gets busy or I'm over here selling something so somebody's asking about something. So I had her wearing a different wrap each weekend or whenever we were open for Art Walk. And just her representing that piece alone, there would be six or seven of them being sold on a Saturday. And I'm thinking, why can't I sell beach towels like this? I'm selling a beach wrap, I mean, what the hell? So it was kind of a happy accident that that kind of happened. And then I started putting them online and I actually can't keep them online fast enough because some of this stuff is print on demand. Some of it is self-fulfill. And the reason for the self-fulfill is I like to do my own quality control. At some point in time as the sales grow, I know that I'm gonna lose that. But I'm still kind of that person that when I'm doing print on demand or I'm developing something, and I have clients that ask me to make them things. Like they want a shirt or they want a dress or they want a skater dress or they want a blouse or they want something and I actually design it for them. We talk about the artwork, we talk about the cut, we get the sizes, and I actually send it to them. These are not things that I actually put on the web because it's kind of that commission type business that we kind of keep with the VIP customers, with the patrons. But it's one of those things where, you know, you just don't know what's gonna take off. You think this is gonna sell and it doesn't, and then this it's like, OK, whatever. And then it just keeps going.
CA: So with those chiffon wraps that you're selling at the studio, are those ready to go off a shelf, and you're selling them, and people are buying them and heading out the door? Are you taking orders for them, and you're going to fulfill it later?
MW: I do both. I generally will keep fulfillment on a select number of items. Usually, the bags, the bag flaps, shirts, some shirts. I do very small quantities of t-shirts, but most of those are print on demand. The chiffon wraps I do like to have in the studio just simply because of the experience that I have. I'll order a small gross, maybe 50 or so. I'll have those in the studio and they're usually gone in a month. Wow.
CA: That's a great problem to have.
MW: It is mean, I literally placed, I placed a reorder last night because some of the sold out messages started popping up. So I just go back into the provider and they have a buy again button. I just click it, submit, we're done.
CA: So did you go through different providers before you settled on the one that you're using now or is this one just worked great from the get go?
MW: It's hit or miss. It's trial and error. I just really, I try to.I try to, like I said, I've gone through the process kind of like what you have and order uploads of pieces, design them, I get them, they don't look like what I want them to be, I don't feel comfortable in them. If it's not something that I would wear and wear proudly, then I'm not going to sell it. If it's something that I believe that I can wear, with the exception of the women's clothing, then I would definitely say, okay, I'm going to stick with these guys until I get a mismatch or I get a color registration that's off or whatever. But as far as this particular provider, I love it. I think that they work great for me. I would like to get different styles, different links. Some people like them belted, some people don't. There are different types of, some places call them kimonos instead of chiffon wraps and those those pieces I've had interests in before but I've ordered them and depending on the material whether it's a silk or whether It's a polyester or some type of blend. You just you really have to decide you have to kind of Hit or miss and you know trial and error Some pieces look great. Some people sometimes they're a little Too short. Sometimes they're a little long, but the the shoulder lengths are not proper. So developing a relationship with your buyers, being able to meet them in studio and pretty much size them up and know how the product wears and how it looks, and being able to tailor it to your customer is one of the reasons why I like to self-fulfill, because as you know, returns are a nightmare. Just sending something out and if if your manufacturer is in Mexico, if your manufacturer is in Canada, if your manufacturer is in China, they all seem to think that we don't eat cheeseburgers for lunch and we do. So we're a lot bigger in person than they actually imagine us to be. So you almost have to go one or two sizes up. When I'm selling a shirt to an average guy who's like 6'2 and like 188, I'm getting like a 2XL. and it's because that particular provider is probably Mexico or China or whatever. And it's not, you know, an ideal U S fit.
CA: One thing I did appreciate, one of the manufacturers I worked with in China to do all over print tank tops, they had asked me what dimensions I wanted for each size, because I just ordered, you know, four of each size. And they said, OK, what actual measurements do you want those sizes to be? Because they're sublimating the fabric and then sewing that those reams of fabric into the tank tops for me. I was able to define, OK, extra small is going to be 400 millimeters, I have no idea, I don't remember what it was. But I was able to define that from the get-go, and they're able to put on the tags accordingly to match my exact desires. So that's great when you can work with a manufacturer who's doing everything from the ground up.
MW: Exactly. I mean, I've had a lot of luck with just being able to upsize something or upsize it twice. Because shoulder lengths versus girth and length of the body, I've been able to do that I can kind of eyeball that. And when I actually get a print on demand supplier, I do vet them seriously hard. Like I will order one of everything. I will have items that I can display in the studio. I actually recently bought a hanging rack and I have, it's kind of like some of these stores that you go in that you can like look at the clothes, but you actually can't buy them off the rack. You have to actually order them online and have them sent to you. There's a couple of stores out like that. I think Bonobos is one of them. You actually go in this brick and mortar store, there's clothes on the wall, but you actually just take the look and touch it and feel it, but you don't get to buy it. They actually ring you up online and send it to your house. So I'm kind of adapting that model a little bit. And when I buy these one-offs, these samples from these different places I can pretty much retain them there for two reasons Once you get the look and feel people won't necessarily buy something off a website even after they see you displaying it and modeling it They kind of want to be tactile. They want to feel it number two if I'm not gonna sell it then I Do a promo in the studio where it's like come to the studio Sign up on the website and win free art and the asterisk to that free art is I've got these one-offs that I'm probably it's it's based off my artwork You're going to recognize the pattern you're going to recognize the colors You're going to recognize the style based off what I have in the studio and if this particular Size person male or female comes into the studio And they actually fit one of these one-offs that i'm probably not going to sell I may use that as the promo for that sign up.
CA: One thing I did in the past was every year I would release a new line of dye sublimated baseball caps that I get from a manufacturer I found on Alibaba. They're in China and they sublimate the fabric and then they sew it into the hats, which is great because you have every step of customization along the way. So I would have like a puff embroider logo on the front and then I'd have printing on the bill and then the all over print on the outside, etching on the back or stitching on the back. It was great. But one thing I would always do to kind of figure out if my pattern would look good as a hat is I would go to Printful and I would order their all over print fanny pack because that's pretty much the same way that your pattern's gonna be cut up if it's cut up into a hat. So those fanny packs, if it looked great, then I know it'd work well as a hat. If it didn't look good then I know I wouldn't want to use that pattern as a hat. Because with the manufacturer in China, you have to order at least 100 at a time. But the fanny packs, you could do one at a time. And I never had any trouble selling those fanny packs at a market.
MW: That's brilliant. So that's absolutely brilliant. It's nice that you're able to kind of double dip with things that way. Yeah, I mean, they serve dual purpose. And I ordered these Tyvek windbreakers. And they were zippered. They had a pocket. And they were that really thin material and it was kind of slickery but I really just wasn't super happy with the quality, but they made great promos in the studio and they matched one of the pieces that was hanging on the wall at the time. So people had this connection, hey, I want that painting, but I can't afford that painting. It's like, well, I'm gonna buy this jacket. And I've had people come back and go, I really like where my jacket is really cool. I wanna see some other pieces. And I would sometimes have these smaller pieces that were fit in the same style. And people would buy those paintings. If I had a canvas print, sometimes I'll do a canvas print of a bigger piece and make it a little bit smaller, make it more affordable. People eat that stuff up. During COVID, there weren't a lot of shows to paint for, it wasn't a lot of stuff to do. So I got with the Procreate and just started drawing everything and anything. A lot of that artwork transcended into canvas prints. And during the holidays, you know, little eight by eight prints are just you know, walking out in series. And I would always do like a series of things, not just one-offs, but I did like a whole Wizard of Oz kind of tarted up series of six pieces. I did, I took all these Halloween horror masks and put flowers in them. So Jason's mask almost became kind of like a vase or like bud bouquet type thing. So it was kind of one of these things where you just figured it out as it happened, you know.
CA: So looking at where your business is now, what percentage of your sales or let's just say income would you say is originals and what percentage is printed materials? So like traditional prints, canvas prints, as well as merchandise.
MW: At this point, I really have to say that the originals, where I'm painting, the size I'm painting are still a predominant force, probably 70%. 30% is the more affordable, it's the gateway, it's the merchandising, it's the bags, it's the wraps, it's the shirts, it's the shoes, it's the shorts. That's a whole lot of stuff, but it's more of a volume type thing. Whereas the originals is where I still, and I still, I reticently got into the merchandising part of it and I still love it because it's still marketing. It's still the thrill of the hunt. It's still the sale. But I still want to be that person that's painting the pieces, that paints the series, that you can't decide between the two pieces so you buy them both. So it's probably like a 70-30 split, I would say.
CA: Would you estimate that that 30% of merchandise sales has aided in increasing your original sales?
MW:I think it does because people, it's actually the stickiness that gets people to come to the studio. It's the people that will buy the bags or buy the umbrellas or buy whatever that will read the email that they get. Because now they're a patron, they're not a subscriber. So they're a different segment as far as I'm concerned. So their message is different like to show my patrons a little bit of appreciation. So they'll get a 20% discount through the end of the month. And it may be that I run that same 20% discount for the end of next month. So these guys are kind of like in the know and they get a deal. And my 20% discount is not just for the merchants for the original art as well. The the people who buy stuff now, will aptly confess that they don't have the money to buy original, but they want to buy this original. If you keep them kind of in the loop, maybe they won't buy something now, but maybe they'll buy something later. I've had people say, that's always been my favorite piece, it's always been my favorite piece. One of the emails that I like to send, I call it like a romance email, and I'll just highlight a particular painting, and I'll go, this is one of my favorite pieces hanging in the this year and the reason why is the story behind it and the colors and sometimes I move it around because I want the light to hit it differently because of the metallic paints or because of the varnish or whatever. And just by telling that story, somebody who loved it two or three months ago, perhaps couldn't buy it then, they will basically respond to the email and go, is this piece still available because I would like to come in and buy it.
CA: So there's definitely a value in showing things again, for sure.
MW: Yeah. And that, that to me is so much more satisfying than placing a Facebook ad. That is so much more satisfying than boosting a post on Instagram because regardless of the number of followers that you have, I don't have tons of followers, but I feel like my followers are super high quality I feel like I've got this concentrated crop of patrons that literally are paying attention to every post that may want to identify or adapt it to a bag or a t-shirt or something. Whereas when you send an email and you're not hyping up like the whole studio, you're not hyping up this wall of paintings, you're just talking about one piece. You're talking about this piece that represents androgyny in a very sincere form. You're talking about this piece that represents breast cancer awareness for women and women supporting each other. You're looking at this piece that, you know, represents kinetic energy and emotions and empathy that people can sometimes feel, taste, and touch. So you're telling a story about a piece and people go, I love this piece, I love the colors. I didn't know all of that. And they might have seen it six or eight months ago and sometimes it's not hanging on the wall. Sometimes I have it in storage. And then I took some time off this summer to basically go to a whole bunch of concerts. And I literally sold more art in July when I was not in the studio, when I was not working. I sold more art in July than I did when I was working. So I was thinking, okay, take more vacations but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I have an email list, I have a marketing calendar, I like to schedule my, um, marketing messages. I kind of have a proven strategy or flow for me where I don't necessarily try to say today is, you know, so-and-so's birthday so I'm going to show you a piece of art for this particular person that I painted four years ago, I don't necessarily want to be relevant and topical that way. I'd rather just tell a story about a random piece of artwork so that it's not obtrusive, that it's sort of informational. It's emotional. That's why I call them romance emails. Um, and if you like it, you like it. If you don't, you know, click delete, move on. But I think it engages people. I think people understand that the story that's coming from me is sincere and it's my passion about my art and if they're there to read the email then they connected with me at some point and on some level at some time in the past that we can still continue that relationship and that's probably the most important part of selling art for me to people is like I'm not going to hard sell you I'm not going to tell you you need this I'm not going to try to sell you a print of it but if if you love it let's make it happen.
CA: I think you have a very healthy and inspiring relationship with your patrons. So thank you for sharing all of that with us.
CA: And I think it's also a great place to end. So anyone who's interested in Mark's work, you can find him on Instagram at Mark Williams Art, or M. Willie underscore art. That's M W I L L I underscore art. Your websites are Mark Williams.gallery for your original art and prints or the new site is MWilly, M-W-I-L-L-I.com for your wearable art, and on Facebook.com slash Mark Williams Art. Anything else you wanna leave us with, Mark?
MW: No, it's been a sheer pleasure and a blast. I appreciate you having me today.
CA: Well, you have been a very easy interview. Thank you so much for having so many wonderful, important things to say. It's given me a lot to think about with my own business.
CA: Awesome, thanks so much, Mark. Thank you.
Chain Assembly: Art for profit sake is recorded through Riverside FM, distributed through Spotify for podcasters, and edited on Adobe Audition. The music is provided by Old Romans. If you learned anything useful or found this podcast helpful, please rate and review us five stars. If you want to learn more about me or my art, head over to ChainAssembly.com.