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Art NXT Level

The Truth About Cultivating Collectors - Day 200

Ride the Blinds by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

"Ride the Blinds" by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

There’s a myth that continues to circulate – one that many artists still (want to) believe. It says that all we have to do is create great work and the artwork will sell itself.

Anyone who’s been in the business for any length of time knows that isn’t entirely true. How do artists bust through the glass ceiling and bring their art sales to the highest level, developing loyal collectors for their work?

David Phillips knows what it takes to get his artwork noticed. Phillips is a painter who moved from Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California in search of an audience for his abstract work. In the beginning of his career, he took his paintings from gallery to gallery, never giving up until he finally got representation. He later landed a spot on CBS News, along with articles in the LA Times and Seventeen magazine, and has been working as a full-time artist ever since.

Even with gallery representation, Phillips never stops putting his work in front of as many people as he can. In 2011, he created a “public art project” by putting small abstract paintings in colored bottles – 500 of them to be exact – and placing them all up and down the California coast for people to discover and keep as they walked the beach.

Wino-Strut Bottles by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

Wino-Strut Bottles by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

One of his favorite stories is about Willem De Kooning, who sold a painting to a client for a case of wine and then had to walk the oversized painting all the way uptown to claim his payment. Phillips called De Kooning’s walk a “Wino Strut”, which became the name of his website as well as his business motto of “doing whatever it takes to make the sale”.

While his paintings dry, Phillips also creates videos and posts his work online, further marketing his artistic vision. Here’s a short video of one of his promotions from a recent gallery exhibition, which might be considered “off the wall” by more traditional artists, but is a brilliant and highly effective presentation of his unique style and wit. He knows how to “brand” his work and reputation, holding nothing back when it comes to putting his message out there.

I greatly admire David Phillips’ out-of-the-box marketing style. But everyone knows that while marketing can certainly attract attention, translating that attention into paying clients is the ultimate goal. How does he attract – and keep – collectors? Is it simply a matter of getting into the “right” gallery, or does his creative marketing provide the foundation for sales to happen? Here’s his answer:

“I do not think anyone really wants to hear the real answer to that question,” says Phillips. But he offers his response anyway. “To be honest, there really isn’t any single answer – but I will say that it is extremely difficult. Difficult to the point where I am still not sure if it was ever worth the struggle.”

“Buyers or collectors do not just ‘appear’,” he says. “They are earned. They are created. The right gallery does help, of course, but to even get to the point of getting good representation, you must have previous sales. A lot of previous sales and a following – an audience who is interested in what you are creating.”

Kung Fu by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

"Kung Fu" by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

“An artist is born an artist – it’s in their blood. A full-time artist, i.e. an artist who makes a living solely off the sales of their art, is extremely rare. If you are an artist you are creating a product. A commodity. You have to be possessed with pushing your product. It is a lifestyle. A brand. It is the very same thing as owning a business…..it IS a business.”

“There are no hours – you work all day, every day. with no time off or vacation. You will never retire. You can never stop pushing your product. Creating interest in your product is your number one goal. Your tunnel vision. You create interest by marketing your product and you market by creating unique and interesting ways to get people to look at your product. Once you have ‘interest’, you offer sales. Once you have a sale, you have a client.  The client is your most prized possession. A client who buys more than three pieces is a collector.”

“The collector is the only means to longevity in an art career. You should appreciate your collectors as much as you appreciate your parents, or the air that you breathe.”

“Of course the art has to be good…..that aspect is a given. Lots of people are capable of creating good art. A much smaller percentage are capable of marketing and selling their art. Unique marketing and original art are what attracts the biggest buyers.  It is a very simple solution yet extremely difficult and a long road to tackle……”

I appreciate David Phillips’ honest account of attracting and keeping collectors, especially since he makes it look fun and easy. Collectors, television spots and magazine articles do not happen by chance. Phillips makes sure he’s prepared, so that whenever opportunity knocks, he’s ready to open that door.

It’s a good lesson in the reality of making a living from your art.

- SerenaK


For those of you who are new to Artful Vagabond, I have made a resolution to write a year-long series of daily posts: A 365-Day Tribute to Artists and the Creative Mind.

Here’s the story behind these daily “resolutions”:

A Juicy New Year’s Resolution


Artist Credits for the images included in this post:

Untitled Abstract Face #135 by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

"Untitled Abstract Face #135" by David Phillips. Copyright © David Phillips

Image featured above:
Ride the Blinds
David Phillips, California
Oil on canvas

Wino-Strut Bottles
David Phillips, California
Edition of 500 – Typically left as a public installation (coastal Los Angeles)

David Phillips at the Downtown Art Center Gallery
David Phillips, California

Kung Fu
David Phillips, California
Enamel on canvas

Untitled Abstract Face #135
David Phillips, California
Acrylic on paper

David Phillips’ artwork can be viewed at: Wino-Strut

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