How One Artist Gets Big Visibility in a Small Town

Rich Sigberman is the consummate small town artist in Corte Madera, California, a small community about 10 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

The life of an artist sounds idyllic, but it’s a business like any other — and, in fact, it’s an awfully tough one, requiring not just artistic talent but business sense to complement it. We talked to Rich about his work and the challenges of surviving as an artist in a tough economy.

ISBB: What kind of art do you create?

Sigberman: I do two types of art: illustration and so-called “fine art.” While I don’t necessarily make that distinction, my clients certainly do. It helps to have both going for me. The illustration is mostly working with small local businesses to create images, often humorous, to promote themselves. I work closely with my clients to ensure a great flow of sketch ideas going back and forth, as well as a successful conclusion to the job.

Fine art is another story. I create three basic categories of it: jazz inspired (pictured), pop, and abstract. Getting them seen is challenging enough; selling them, even more so.

How do your gain visibility as an artist?

Really, it is usually a case of good timing. I do not have a gallery, so I’m currently showing my abstracts at a furniture/design store in San Rafael, called Der Keller, and my jazz art has been hanging at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz for a few months.

Joining the local Chamber of Commerce was quite helpful, especially when I first moved to Corte Madera. The manager of the Town Center Shopping Mall liked my art enough to allow me to display it in a storefront that was vacant for a while. I’ve also shown and sold my art at restaurants and hotels. In other words, getting the art “out there” is better than having it lying around in your basement.

How do you keep busy?

Fortunately, the illustration art keeps me working actively. I have a number of repeat clients, and my networking groups like the San Francisco Chamber’s Business Alliance help make me new ones. I use the internet, too, with a website and blog that get some random hits and are also something of a “deal sealer,” as well as a Facebook page and Linkedin. A site called Guru.com has helped me find a few new, non-local clients. Working long distance is not a problem in the least since I can scan and send out a sketch, showing them finished art faster than if I were delivering it personally.

How much time do you spend promoting your art?

As an artist, promoting oneself is a constant job, and it really should occupy nearly 50 percent of one’s time. One must be relentless and be fueled by a strong belief in one’s talent.

How do you sell enough paintings to make a living?

The best means I’ve found for selling my art is at festivals. I took booths at many jazz festivals, neighborhood fairs, and crafts fairs. I didn’t only sell originals, I sold reproductions and note cards of my art, so customers could purchase my art at nominal prices if they weren’t in the mood to pop for $1,000. I’ve also gotten commissions from these shows.

Here’s another odd one: Random acts of kindness from me, entirely meant to be altruistic, have often led to commissions. I have no idea how or why this is, but there must be some universal law at play.

What’s your favorite type of art to draw?

I’m versatile. My website shows off commercial work for businesses, architectural renderings, abstracts, pop, jazz art, and the “life cycle” art I create for gifts on special occasions. By doing all these reasonably well, I’ve managed to be a full-time artist since 1983, with no day job.

Who are your best customers?

My best customers have tended to be people with whom I share some cultural background, sense of humor, and love of music. Somehow, this shared sensibility helps us work together to create art that helps their businesses.

I’ve been creating an average of three highly elaborate cards a year for a jewelry store in San Francisco since 1996. The owner has a highly creative mind, and our collaborations are sometimes fairly far-out ways to sell jewelry, but they do, at very least, keep his store’s name in front of some 7,000 customers. My guess is that the recipients of the cards hold on to them for long periods of time, since the art is both amusing and colorful.

Of course, repeat clients are to be valued highly. While I try my best to make all of my clients deliriously pleased with my work, not everyone is inclined to commission art pieces more than once or twice. As I mentioned, there are some with whom I really “click,” and I’ve done many jobs for. There is personal chemistry, and a mutual respect, as well as a high regard for fun that comes through in the art.

How much business do you do through networking?

My long-term jewelry client came to me through the San Francisco Chamber’s Business Alliance some 15 years ago. It was supposed to be a one-shot deal, but it went so well that we’re still working together. The various Chambers of Commerce in Marin are all well worth joining, too. It does help to be a bit of an extrovert by going to the mixers and networking. One does not have to be constantly selling oneself or ones’ products at these meetings. By simply showing a genuine interest in the person one is chatting with, good things happen. My Business Network International referral group has also been great in providing me with some long-term clients and friends, and, of course, I do try to return the favor.

How have you evolved from an artist to being adept at marketing your art?

Drawing, painting, and singing came easily to me, and I’ve managed to combine the interests as often as I can. Marketing and business do not come easily to me at all. I would suggest a business class or two for every burgeoning artist, so they understand what it takes to run an art business, and take it seriously. And remember: Never, never, never, never give up!

To see samples of Rich Sigberman’s artwork for birthdays, businesses, events, postcards and more, visit his website.

About Gil Zeimer

Gil Zeimer is the Creative Director of Zeimer's Advertising Shoppe. As a consultant with 25 years of advertising and blogging experience, he is a Mad Man who works with businesses large and small. Read his marketing musings at www.zeimer.com.
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