June 20, 2019 | Alyson Stanfield

When the Commissions Gig Dries Up with Leslie Neumann

What do you do when one of your major sources of art income disappears?

I wish I kept track of how often I have heard this story. It goes something like this.

Leslie Neumann painting of a sunset
©Leslie Neumann 2019, Waiting for Eight Bells. Oil and encaustic on panel, 45 x 60 inches. Used with permission. Photograph by George Blanchette. 

Artist gets a really juicy gig. Maybe they have a wealthy collector who buys tons of their work to outfit all of their offices and homes (because of course they have more than one). Then the collector is done, dies, or disappears.

Or they have one gallery that is selling their work like hotcakes. Until the gallery doors close or the director skips town because of back taxes owed.

Bottom line: The gig dries up. You have placed all of your eggs in one basket and, due to circumstances beyond your control, what was once reliable income is no longer available to you.

This is what happened to artist Leslie Neumann.

Leslie Neumann's art commissions calendar
Leslie's method for keeping track of her commissions schedule. Um … Wow!

She had a sweet deal going with Firebird Restaurants for more than four years. Their purchases of her original paintings accounted for 50-60% of her income during that period.

And then it stopped. But there’s no need to feel sorry for her! As you’ll hear in this episode of the podcast, Leslie rose to meet every challenge. She does, however, have a cautionary tale.

Music by Wildermiss

Show Notes

In this interview, you will hear about:

    • How Leslie got her gig with Firebirds Restaurants in the first place, and how she landed her deal with them from 2014 to 2018.
    • Why her time with them came to an end, and a lesson in when there is a change.
    • The role of her art consultant, and the pros and cons of them working so closely together.
    • What her production schedule looked like while working with Firebirds including payment, deadlines and production.
    • How she came to pick the 10-13 same paintings that were used and replicated over 4 years.
    • How she survived her deal with Firebirds ending although it was on average 50-60 % of her income.

Leslie Neumann is earning more of her art income from private sales
Open Studio, 2018. Visitors studying Leslie's artwork, New Horizons. Oil and encaustic on panel, 45 x 60 inches.

  • The importance of living frugally and debt free.
  • The one person show that Leslie put on in June of 2018, which made her a half of a year’s earnings in just one night.
  • The mistake that Leslie made, and why she doesn’t want you to make it — stay in touch with your base no matter how busy you are.
  • What she re-established that had gotten pushed aside and how she uses her newsletter and social media to stay in touch using her authentic voice.
  • Leslie’s strategy in the next year: Playing to her strengths of interfacing with people rather than doing business over the computer screen.

Quotes

“The production was like a puzzle, and I like that kind of stuff.”

“What was appealing for me is that I got to paint every day.”

“It always works out.”

“Stay in touch with your base.”

“Make the very best art you can and start planning for whatever it is that will provide income next.”

Resources

Leslie on Instagram 

Firebirds restaurant locations

Interview with Helen Hiebert about multiple income streams Collector Relationship Essentials – my course that helps you make sure you are staying in touch with the people who are valuable in your life and career

About My Guest

Leslie Neumann works on an art commission
Leslie Neumann in her studio in 2018. Photo by Beth Reynolds.

Leslie Neumann has worked as an adjunct professor of studio art and art history at St. John's University and, at one time, built a business selling prints to other dealers, which produced enough capital to fund a livelihood from the sale of her own art. She has been a self-employed, professional artist for 31 years. Her work is in 10 museum and public art collections, 64 corporate collections, and she has been awarded 5 grants and fellowships. 

Her advice for being successfully self-employed? “Be ready with good art.  Know your concept. Know your craft. Treat your business as a business.  Alyson can help you with this.” (Thanks, Leslie!)

Music by Wildermiss

13 comments add a comment
  • Hey, Alyson!! wish I could afford to come to ALL your wonderful meetings. But, got laid off very abruptly at the end of 2018, so I am now struggling to build my art business was FULL TIME, instead of just being able to do stuff part time. One can never tell what the future will hold… Plan for the best, prepare for the worst.

    BUT~! I got a piece in a visions art museum on line show !! I WAS SO over the moon!!) and then they used my image as the announcement for their next show, so I must be doing something right.

    I have two pieces in the SAQA show preview June 27 at foothills art center.

  • Alyson,
    This podcast was so much fun to do with you! I love working with you. Thanks for the opportunity, and I hope it inspires and informs other artists.
    Leslie Neumann

  • I’m not the only artist who forgets her titles?!

    Very eye-opening interview. Thanks for having these.

  • I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Leslie talk about her commission gig and its subsequent end. I have had a similar experience and it was refreshing to hear another artist discuss how she moved forward. Two things I learned: put my titles on my work when posting to social media, even when the work is still in-progress (guilty). And, get on a plane or car and go see the people I want to work with. I did this once-years ago-and it worked great. I forgot how important this can be, so hearing Leslie discuss her success with her efforts was really helpful. Most important was the sense of community I felt listening to Leslie and Alyson talk about the highs and lows of being an artist. I was working in my studio all while I listened to this podcast. I am doing good work, but am at a low as far as sales are concerned. Leslie’s “it will work out” attitude gave me a lift. Thanks to both-really enjoyed this discussion.

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Meg: Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m so curious about the titles for works in progress. What happened???

  • Thank you for featuring Leslie Neumann, she is a wonderful artist and person.

  • Ann Larsen

    Wonderful conversation about the art biz; as a former gallerist and art business consultant (late 70’s/early 80’s) I really appreciated the working relationship between Leslie and Alyson, which is essential to making things happen for both parties. Thank you both!

  • Terrific information !

  • Great questions and responses! Thank you so much for all you shared. Leslie, your tremendous work ethic, ability to play to your strengths, and clear joy in what you do was uplifting and inspirational.

  • ‘Play to your strengths.” Game changing podcast with Leslie Neumann. Thank you Alyson and Leslie for your thoughtful conversation. I love getting the overview.

  • This was truly inspiring. Thank you Alyson and Leslie!

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