As the founder of the trendy NYC spa/cafe Chillhouse and its media arm The Chill Times, Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton represents a new generation of entrepreneurs. She’s a CEO, but she’s also a style influencer, media maven, and self-care guru. Last spring, when Ramirez-Fulton asked her to share the best career advice she’s ever received, she responded simply, “Your personal brand is everything.”
At the time, Ramirez-Fulton’s advice was primarily targeted towards entrepreneurs, but it’s equally applicable to creative professionals. We asked eight artists working across disciplines–painting, sculpture, collage, and more–to tell us about how they’ve built a recognizable name and brand identity for themselves. Read on for eight simple ways to apply some modern-day business-savvy to your daily life as an artist.
Find your niche.
Building a personal brand starts with understanding what makes you unique. The more specific you can get about who you are and what your message is, the better. “The primary goal needs to be finding what you are interested in,” painter Mary Iverson explains. “This could be a process, or a theme that you can chew on and be obsessed about for years to come.”
Unfortunately, there’s no shortcut here. The only way to find your “voice” is to put in the work behind-the-scenes and in the studio. “It’s good to first find out what your personal values are, because those are the cornerstone to build your brand on,” artist Stephan Brusche (iSteef) says. “With branding, it has to feel authentic, especially as an artist. The only way to accomplish that if it’s really connected to who you are. It will also help you make choices going forward.”
Forget about trends.
“Social media is a fantastic tool, but it tends to globalize and standardize art, and some young artists today become a copy of a copy of some great artist,” contemporary artist Marco Rea tells us. “It is always important to be different, innovative, and recognizable. I personally couldn’t care less about the fashions of the times. This may make things harder in the beginning, but in the long-run, it tends to pay off.”
Paradise Bells (sapele wood, urethane paints) by Dan ‘Nuge’ Nguyen. Photo: Kevin Tam
Share the journey.
Every brand has an origin story, and artists are no different. “I created my brand simply by being transparent with my life and work,” artist and woodworker Dan ‘Nuge’ Nguyen admits. “In a way, I am the underdog who has just entered the art world. I think people have enjoyed following along with my progress and rooting for me to succeed.
“The fact that I found a hobby and then turned it into an art career isn’t so farfetched, and maybe that’s why it resonates with a lot of people. My brand is about chasing your dreams and working your butt off to make them a reality.”
Develop a “look.”
“I carefully studied and created an aesthetic I liked,” painter Silvia Pelissero (who also goes by the moniker agnes-cecile) explains. “This aesthetic represents me and my ‘character’ as an artist (for example, I like white with hints of red). I believe the important thing when creating a ‘brand’ is to be consistent and coherent in terms of your aesthetic.
“You can change along the way, of course, but if you combine a bit of everything without thinking about it, your brand could be damaged. Staying consistent helps your audience to remember you and know what to expect from you.”
Learn to write about your work.
Marcel Duchamp invented the “readymade”; Roger Fry invented “Post-Impressionism,” and Kazimir Malevich invented “Suprematism.” Words matter, whether you’re putting them in a museum press release or an Instagram caption. Keep your voice and tone consistent, and don’t be afraid to come up with some original terms of your own.
“Once I saw that my paintings had evolved into a distinctive style, I coined the term ‘Open Impressionism’ to describe my work,” painter Erin Hanson says. “I think the way you message yourself is very important. This makes you easily identifiable.”
Listen to your audience.
So far, we’ve touched only on things you can do to control how others perceive you, but at a certain point, your audience will take your personal story into their own hands. In 2016, for instance, when Barbara Segal’s orange calcite sculpture of a Birkin Bag went viral, she was surprised to see that beautiful stone had reminded some commenters of prosciutto.
“At first, I was upset but then reveled in the unintentional layer of humor and meaning,” she tells us. “Visually resembling meat and also referencing the animal-based materials used to make a luxury bag, I renamed the bag to ‘Ham Bag.’ From this one post, there were many articles and videos created all around the world showing other works of mine as well.”
You never know how your followers will respond to your work. Once you’ve told your story in your words, let other people tell it in theirs. You might learn something from them along the way.
Mind the details.
Once you’ve established a foundation, it’s time to home in on promotional materials like your logo, business cards, and website. “I think it’s very important to establish a corporate identity that visually matches your ‘brand,’” collage artist Irie Wata explains. “Using a good logo and staying consistent in your marketing ensures that you’re taken seriously by clients and other brands.”
Build a style guide for yourself with a color palette, font choices, and more. Jot down some key phrases about how you’d like to be seen and perceived (e.g. minimalist, handcrafted, colorful), and use those words as a point of departure in your designs. If you don’t yet have the skills to tackle your own marketing materials, it might be worth investing in a website designer or professional photographer.
“While consistency is important, personal branding can be a trap if it’s too limiting,” fine artist and embroiderer Andrea Farina admits. “At the end of the day, I can’t forget that my work evolves and everything I do must leave me the flexibility to grow.” Your personal brand is a guide and a foundation–but it’s also subject to change. Allow it to shift as you continue to define yourself as an artist.
To learn more about personal branding, check out Cyndi Ramirez-Fulton’s Skillshare Original, Branding for Entrepreneurs: Building an Aspirational Brand in the Instagram Era and the thousands of other Skillshare classes on how to find success in your creative career.
Header/Thumbnail image credit: Dior haute couture by Marco Rea (detail). To learn more about Feature Shoot, click here.