Artists usually let their work speak for them but for local artist Doug Belding, a strong social-media presence and innovative business model have proven a successful combination.
Even with a few years studying at NSCAD, an animation diploma from New Brunswick Community College, and international branding and marketing experience, Belding found selling original art tough in Halifax. “How many people in Halifax are buying $1,000 pieces of art?” he says. “Unless it’s really cheap, it’s a niche market. There’s a lot of psychology and thought that has to go into marketing it.”
He paints on location at grand openings and fund raisers, hosts his own live show on Facebook (Doug Actually), and has developed a client base for commissions. “Really, where I find my value comes in as an artist is that I help you get a story that’s important to you on canvas,” he says.
He approaches live painting similarly to his commissioned work: partnering with clients. That’s a business model that requires him to network a lot. He’s hired a professional to look after his online presence and brand. “The idea is to pull back the curtain to what it’s like to be a painter,” he explains. “But doing it in a fun, engaging way so people will think ‘Oh, I need this done, who does that?’”
Adriana Afford, owns Argyle Fine Art in Halifax and has shown Belding’s art before. “When you have stuff online, it shows people that art isn’t scary,” she says. “It’s less about chatting and more about showing people things. It kind of breaks down barriers. A lot of people think art is not allowed to be enjoyed by them.”
Painting live allows Belding to connect with potential clients, and increases the odds of selling the work. A painting done live “will most likely sell,” says Afford. “People were part of the process, and they saw it from a beginning stage to an end stage.”
Vanessa Lentz, an East Coast art curator, also works on the artist-audience connection. She works with the art auction website Artbomb, which showcases a different artist’s work each day. Launched in Toronto in 2011, Artbomb expanded coast to coast and into Asia. Lentz has auctioned several of Belding’s works. “Often people are nervous about buying things online,” Lentz says. “I often find that I need to open that dialogue and create that one-on-one personal relationship.”
She says forging a connection with clients is a must for artists. “They have to understand that they need to connect with people online in a way that has authenticity to it,” said Lentz. “It stands to the principles of operating a good social-media campaign. If [only] every artist could be like Doug. He presents himself in such a professional way.”
One way Belding does this is through nods to East Coast culture. His recent Fishermen series features 12 sketches of fishermen in varying states of undress. Some hold lobsters while others are casting off docks with only a baseball cap on.
“The idea is that it initially goes on t-shirts, but could also become a calendar, greeting cards, whatever speaks to people. What’s more East Coast than that? It’s trying to be relevant but also top of mind,” he laughs. “And it’s fun. I find it fun anyway.”