Branding Your Art Business

For years I have tiptoed around using the word “brand” for fear that it made art sound too commercial. No more! I’m ready to embrace the idea of branding after spending three full days at Re Perez’s Branded: The Event last week.
I encourage you to embrace it, too.
Everything I have been sharing with you since 2002 will help you create a stronger brand, so we might as well call it what it is.
I’ve been teaching basic tenets of branding for years, but, boy, I had no idea about everything that goes into creating a memorable brand. Here is a sampling of what I learned at Branded: The Event.

Wade Hinderks in front of Branded the Event slide
Wade Hinderks of Purpose Into Profits gives a video testimonial for Re Perez’s Branded the Event.

A brand is a desired perception.

Your art is created in the studio. Your brand is created in the mind.
Not your mind, but in the minds of others.
A brand doesn’t appear after one or even two meetings. A branding expert spends many hours, weeks, and even months talking with you about your business.
Once you start promoting your brand, it takes time (years) for it to stick in people’s minds.

A brand is much more than a logo.

A logo is only the visual expression of a brand.
While most artists don’t have logos, you do embrace a certain typeface and, perhaps, color combination. Your art serves as the visual expression of your brand.

Bag for the People
Branding for the People (Re Perez's company name/brand) swag at Branded: The Event.

To get to complete visual packaging, a branding expert helps you articulate core values and aspirations. He or she also helps you position yourself in the marketplace – the art market, in your case.
This is almost impossible to do on your own because you’re too close to your work. Without a branding expert on call, you can start the process by talking with trusted advisors.

Build your brand for a specific person.

Bloggers often talk about writing for a specific person – your ideal reader.
The same goes for branding. Rather than saying, “My ideal buyer is 40-60, female, and lives in the Midwest,” you drill it down and give her a name.
“My ideal buyer is Barbara. She is 48 years old, has 2 teenage sons, and is overworked at the nonprofit agency where she serves as executive director. She has an MBA and lives in the suburbs of Chicago. She drove a van for years as she was shuttling her two boys to their activities, but she’s now thrilled to be driving a Toyota Prius. . . .”
A branding expert, like Re at Branding for the People, will ask you to be this specific.
Do you have an ideal buyer in mind? Most artists who have been selling for awhile already know one by name and can complete a profile such as this.

The green horse outside of the event room reinforced the hotel's horse-themed brand, but was also “branded” with the name of the event.

Everything is an opportunity to reinforce your brand.

Every time you tell someone you are an artist, you have the opportunity to support or to detract from your brand. For example:
What are you wearing?
How do you communicate?
How do you package your art and products?
How do you display your art?
How do you follow up?
Branding makes you memorable, leads to higher prices for your art, and creates fans. It also helps you make decisions because your selections should align with your brand.
Start today by articulating your values, your ideal buyer, and how you will reinforce your brand.
Share your insights in a comment here.


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48 thoughts on “Branding Your Art Business”

  1. Thank you so much!! I have been doing a lot of research on branding – trying to learn more about it and how too implement it. It is a huge task and I appreciate your insights. I didn’t realize it was a project that can take such a long time. I am looking forward to learning more!!

  2. Brand as an artist = The image of you and your art. That image which you wish to be known by, that image you want the world to know you by. Check out my website perhaps? It’s my brand working for me 24/7…365!

    1. My brand contains my aspirations not keen on emotional expression [my personal dyslexia rules that out]…
      This is another thought provoking good read Alyson.

  3. Good info Alyson! Here’s another point to keep in mind. If you don’t proactively develop your brand, people will create your brand for you at which point you have lost control. While a lot of work, it is easier to create your brand than to re-brand after your brand was decided by your market. Good luck everyone!

    1. Karen: Yes! Others may attach labels to you that you don’t like. I say this when I talk about your artist statement, which also helps give you control over how your art is perceived.

  4. Another critical part of branding is messaging. What are the three key messages about you and your brand? If they aren’t part of your artist statement or a tag line you are missing out on the opportunity to define your brand.
    “Painter of light” – recall how Thomas Kinkade locked up that brand???

  5. Hello Alyson,
    Thank you for coming around to this branding evil.
    Did Coco Chanel create art?
    How about an Hermes scarf?
    Is Jonathon Ive an artist or a sell out drone inside the Apple campus?

    1. I hear you, Cassandra. I’ve been doing the same thinking since someone at the conference, in an exercise we had to do, described me (based on what I looked like and was wearing) as “conservative.” Not what I’m going for.

  6. Hi Alyson, I really enjoy your blogs. This one is very enlightening. However, because I love to diversify in my art, I’m afraid of pinning myself down — into one way of painting. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed, but am trying to find a theme/brand? that fits all. Phil Kendall’s comments ring true – the image you wish to be known by and the image you project – guess I have loads of work to do.

    1. Lesley: How long have you been at it.
      This is such a common thing I hear from other artists, but the more variety in your style (not your media, but your style), the harder you will have to work to create an identity.

  7. Thanks Alyson for branding reminders! Everything we do and how we interact and communicate with the public affects our brand. Quality of business cards and other marketing collateral, delivering things on time, quality of work, packaging, how we present our work in a show, style of selling/working with clients, how we present ourselves, it goes on…

  8. Wow Alyson, this is loads of lessons stripped down to the fundamental essentials. It’s great to see it like this all at once. I have a lot of it put together, I think, but now have to polish my brand so that it is as elegant as my work and I guess I am going to have to bite the bullet and create my imaginary target buyer.
    Maybe a consultant is a good idea but ehen does one know she’s ready for that step and not just excited about branding?

  9. I might like to add to the words of Phil Kendall that Brand as an artist = The image of you and your art.
    I liken the “image of you” as your reputation in the minds of others that you do business with. Your brand should be your Name and your product which is your art. Those 3 things seems to be what makes up a brand for an artist. Linda Rossa mentioned Thomas Kincaid. Certainly you recognize his name, his tag line as it were “Painter of Light” and his work.
    How about another artist named Warner Sallman. You’re wondering who that is right? According to Wikipedia one of his works sold more than 500 million copies and I would venture you’ve seen his work. He certainly got more exposure than most artists dream of. If you Google his name, you will see what well known painting he’s credited with. This was an example I gleaned out of “The Mystery of Making It” written by Jack White and he mentioned that this artist never earned a living as a painter. It just illustrates, there was no branding of his name despite the exposure. Just goes to show exposure alone isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. You have to associate a name with the work. I think that’s what branding is.

  10. Thank you for jumping on the branding bus. I too have begun to figure out how to brand myself. I’m noticing more what goes into the brands that I like. More thought, writing and research is definitely on my todo list. I’m excited to see you you lead the way!

  11. I think one way to “brand” and keep our brand consistent is through blogging consistently, because you’re then forcing yourself to write, and if you write authentically (what is important to you instead of what pleases others) and consistently, you can’t help but start to build your brand.

    1. This is a great comment. Initially I blogged because I was exploring my art and not caring and then people took me seriously and I sort of lost track of it because I became self-conscious, wondering who is reading and what they’re thinking. Suppose I have to get back to that naivete.

  12. I love branding – even as an artist. I’ve been working on it for about a year in my own community. The image I wanted to put out is the image people are remembering in a very short time span. So it works! I wanted to project a positive, inclusive, and gracious attitude…with a lot of spunk and fun. SO I created a fun self portrait that is on all of my marketing material and a tagline that can be found to go with it and I write out my ideas, hopes and dreams on my blog and Facebook. Now I show and sell more regularly, I participate in my art community, and I just began curating for a local gallery…but my horizons are broadening with new opportunities in New York and Seattle next year. Why has it happened so fast I ask myself all the time. I think it’s because I didn’t sit back and wait for someone to recognize who I was…I went out and made the image for myself and included everyone I have met as genuinely as I can. Check out what I’m doing on my website and let me know if you think it’s memorable, too?

  13. As it is said, “To thy own self be true”! I feel that a brand has to reflect who you are and what your art is about! When a client takes an interest in your creations it’s because they see a part of you in it and may identify with it. I designed logos for a living in Dallas years ago and one of the main things I’d ask the client before even drawing a thumbnail sketch of any of the ideas I would come up with, I would sit down to find out who they were, what they do, how they wanted the public to see them as, is there anything they are known for? The list goes on. In other words I would get to know them! This then would give me clues to what the image had to look like. The more I knew the better I was able to create a logo that best convey who they were.
    The same is true with us as artists. Who are you? What do you want to be known for? Are there colors you use in your art that others identify you with? Are you abstract, realistic, or something else? Alyson is correct to point out that its important to know the kind of clients you attract and to figure out why. It’s part of knowing ourselves and that in turn helps us to put our personality into our art which then clients fall in love with and can identify with. Hope y’all see my point and that it helps? Thanks Alyson for your great insights as always! They make us think and become better artists! Blessing on you! Edna K.

  14. Wow this is the first time I’ve heard someone (besides me) have this conversation with artists. Alyson it’s great that you’re able to help artists see this side of their business. I try to do this every day with my clients. Thanks for the insight here!

    1. Laura: I think I used it a lot in the early 2000s, but then got scared away from “branding” by artists who were breaking out in hives when I used the term. I’m more confident than ever that this must be discussed.

  15. Alyson you nailed the brand experience. I worked for the largest Branding agency in the USA for 16 years. As a creative I developed branding for Fortune 500 companies and learned it doesn’t matter if you are a McDonald’s, Citi Bank Visa or a small business branding is key.
    I loved what you said at the beginning of your blog — “Your art is created in the studio. Your brand is created in the mind.
    Not your mind, but in the minds of others.” Everyone should hang your words up in their studios.
    I tell my clients branding isn’t just a great logo and business cards, but the entire experience you portray. Your brand effects all of the senses. When you walk into a Starbucks it’s the smell of the coffee, the music, look and feel of the counters, the smiling barista… You get the idea.
    Focusing on your customer truly helps you target your market. Cuts through the clutter and allows you to have laser focus. Which saves time — No wheel spinning.
    Branding makes you look professional — let me say this again branding makes you look professional. Let’s folks see you as confident and have your act together.
    Don’t get trapped in this mindset. The biggest problem I have with clients is once the brand is established and doing it’s magic they want to change it. The reason they want to change is because now they have to focus on their product, networking and building their business. That can be scary. Take a deep breath, listen to Alyson and enjoy the ride.

  16. One last comment is business cards. I know some people print them off their inkjet printer. Big no-no. I tell my clients several weeks go by and the only thing your perspective client, gallery or network contact have to remember you by is your card. Presentation is everything — part of your brand. Keep it clean: Name, address, phone, mobile, email and web. I have six carefully crafted words describing my business. The words are Search Engine Optimization rich. I also use the back of the card. Promotes my brand, fun and playfully.
    Finally, I love’s Luxe cards. they are thick and a little wider than most cards. The paper is a sexy 32pt Mohawk mat stock. Color is rich. Time and time again when I hand the card to someone they don’t put it down. I always get complements, too. They offer nice designs if you don’t feel confident. You can buy 50 at a time for $34.99. Look for online coupons too.

  17. I like Moo cards because you can have a different image printed on each one. I can pick which image I think the individual would like or even let them choose one from a stack. More fun than traditional cards, and you’re offering up a kind of mini portfolio.

  18. Anastasia Parmson

    Thanks Alyson for including the little exercise of defining our perfect buyer, I’ve put it down on paper (her name is Catherine) and it will definitely help me concentrate my efforts.
    I am also glad to hear Marilee’s recommendation regarding the Moo Luxe cards – I have just ordered my first batch of business cards from them with great excitement and trepidation.
    I also agree with the point you make about BEING your brand – the clothes you wear, the way you talk to people, the way you respond to emails (or how long it takes you to do that)… There are so many details to building a good brand.
    Since opening my first solo exhibition I have been faced with a clothing-related dilemma. I am very much into fun and unusual accessories like bright pink boots or galaxy leggings or hats with ears (I’m 28 by the way).. but I found myself avoiding anything ‘out of the ordinary’ for fear of alienating someone who is a bit more conservative. I guess I’m worried people might perceive me as an ‘air-head’ when I’m trying to get serious about my art business. Perhaps someone has advice on that conundrum?

  19. Pingback: » Tweek! : Virginia Greaves | textile paintings

    1. Virginia, Just checked out your website through this blog and was delighted to find you. I first admired your “Lincoln” at Abernathy Arts regional show last year, that I was honored to be a part of. Your work is amazing! I searched on your site for an email address, but found none, so am taking this route to contact you. Congratulations on your successful “branding”!

  20. Branding is much more than logo. Branding makes you memorable, leads to higher prices for your art, and creates fans. It also helps you make decisions because your selections should align with your brand. Brand harvest creates a brand strategy that encompasses all the visual aspects of the brand.

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