Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Business Cards for Artists

On the "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation" thread a reader asked:
Hi Edward, Thank you for the "Advice for Artists Seeking Gallery Representation" resource. What do you think of artists using business cards with images like those at Moo.com I don't mean the mini cards just regular sized cards with the usual information on one side and a quality image of your work on the other side. I see how these could be seen as unprofessional in other careers. But what about visual artists? Thanks for your thoughts.
OK, so something about this question made me wonder whether it was written by someone affiliated with the company (might just be pre-caffeinated paranoia), but there's plenty to bat about within the general topic so I'll thank the reader either way.

A lawyer/collector friend of mine once told me that having a good business card was one of the most effective means by which you can convince people you have just met that they should take you seriously. That seemed a bit overstated to me at the time, but I've since started using a more substantial card stock and design for our gallery cards and noticed that, if nothing else, handing these to people is less likely to lead me to feel like making excuses for their quality. Back in the day when we were just getting started, we used a less expensive card, and who knows what that momentary hesitation/self-doubt ("Is this person making judgments based on the flimsiness of my card?") cost me in terms of making a good impression when meeting people.

Now there's a part of me that wants to say "It's just a card, for Pete's sake...the important thing is that it conveys my personal contact information." But I know myself that after an art fair or reception, when I later empty my pockets of all the collected business cards, I do make subtle judgments about people based on their quality. Having invested in themselves (as a good card suggests they have), I'm more willing to take them seriously in the abstracted context of remembering our conversation or why I took their card in the first place.

OK, so that's about cards for business people, but what about business cards for artists? And more to the point of the question, what about images on an artist business card? For me it entirely depends on how well designed the card is over all as to whether I find using an image cheesy or classy (with classy being my strong recommendation, but perhaps cheesy being more appropriate for your own purposes).

The central assumption here, of course, is that you'd use an image of your own artwork, and so, again, for me it depends on how well that works design-wise. If, for example, you have to shrink an image of your work down to the point that it's barely readable, why bother? If you crop a detail of a larger piece and use that, it could work, but it I've seen that look cheesy more often than not. Then there's those artists who change the image on the card frequently ("Shouldn't my card reflect my most recent series, if not my most recent work?" goes the defense of this strategy). My sense of that is that if you're at the stage of your art career that anyone in the world short of your spouse would know the difference, you probably don't need a business card. Actually, my stronger sense is that if you're doing this, you have way too much time on your hands and that rather than changing the image on your business card every two months or so, you should simply spend more time in the studio making work.

Then there are the "concept" business cards...clever incorporations of scale or shape or materials to reflect something about the artist's work. My first thought at seeing a card like this isn't that the artist doesn't take their business card seriously (such cards are often much more expensive to produce), but that they don't take their art that seriously...having willingly reduced it to a logo or branding giveaway.

For me, the best artist business card is the one that does what a business card should do: convey the artist's contact information in a clear type treatment, as well as convey something about the artist's professionalism (whether that is accomplished via an appropriate image of one's work or not will most likely depend on the work). A business card need not convey anything about the artist's actual work, in my opinion, though. For the vast majority of artists, postcards are infinitely better at conveying that.

My point here (and I think I have one) is that a business card is a professional tool used to convey contact information and make a statement about one's professionalism or lack thereof (either may be appropriate for one's ultimate purposes). It's usually not, to my mind, the best way to represent one's work, though. Don't make it do double duty unless your work is extremely well represented in that smaller format.

As with all such threads, these are my personal opinions and may not reflect those of other dealers, so don't throw out any cards you currently have if they're working well for you.

Labels: art careers


Blogger Ian Aleksander Adams said...

I've had a fair amount of success by turning mine into a more humorous statement/conversation starter. I don't mean a visual joke, but more of a meta-textual comment on the idea of a card.

It's neither extremely legible or representational of most of the work that I sell, but I've had more positive response on it than anything else I've ever handed people.

It's got a block of text (in a font I found a bank manager's card) that says this:


http://www.ianaleksanderadams.com/Card/ for the actual layout.

It probably breaks a lot of design rules. I remember getting flak for it from some graphic designers, but I haven't seen a single person who didn't look down at it shocked and then smile while trying to read it. It's a 3 inch block of condensed text on really cheap stock.

I also signed and numbered them on the back to make them extra ridiculous.

I don't know if something like that will work for everyone. I've got a large collection now from educational events and arts conferences, etc, and the ones I've liked best are just really simple on a good stock.

So and So
Visual Artist and Educator

Since I mainly use them to try and find a social network link or rss feed I can subscribe to to keep track, simplest is usually best.

But I guess there's an exception to every rule.

5/26/2009 09:27:00 AM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

Once again, Edward, big thanks for laying out some very level-headed advice on this one, in some ways business cards seem such a small issue but it has naggled at me from time to time, such that I'd like to share an alternative I've come to adopt and hopefully see what the consensus is on this matter.

I'm based in Canada but did my MFA and two years of residency and practice in the UK. I had a professionally printed card for those last two years - fairly basic design, with image - but obviously those contact details became redundant once I moved back to Canada in 2007. I also moved back incredibly skint, so not only could I not afford to print new cards anytime soon but I wasn't sure how long I would be staying where I was (free lodgings in my hometown, mobile phone on loan, etc.) and didn't want to have another whack of cards printed with a phone number that might well go out of date shortly (I'm still sitting on a massive stock of the last, now-unusable card, and cringe at the waste).

Thinking on the problem, I remembered an emerging gallerist friend of mine in the North of England, who once told me a story about traveling to some art fair at the last minute and how his business cards weren't ready in time. As a desperate sort of stopgap he used a stamp he had of his name and basic contact details and stamped that onto found pieces of paper throughout the event on an as-needed basis. He ended up receiving a lot of positive comments about it, such that people perceived this as his standard practice of distributing contact details.

So, in the meantime, I've been holding off on having new cards printed and doing something similar: I work in ink and invariably produce a large amount of heavyweight scrap paper from testing ink wash tones, and have taken to cutting these down to standard business card size and simply writing my name and current contact details in a legible pen colour. Like my English gallery friend, I've found handing these out generates a fair bit more conversation than when I used my old pro-printed card. It's also proven useful as I'm a critical writer as well as an artist, and frequently when I'm networking as a writer and bring out that card, the first reaction is almost always 'And you're an artist too?' despite the fact that I don't identify myself as an artist (or a writer) on the card - the quality of the card as a cropping of a studio by-product is enough to communicate my practice.

So while I've had some success with that method, and would recommend it for anyone in intransigent circumstances, I do wonder when or if I might need to suck it up and just print new cards (it's been almost two years), or if this might be a viable alternative. Does the found-material, hand-written card communicate a stripped-down environmental concern, or just cheapness on my part? Probably both, I reckon?

5/26/2009 09:38:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Cards are a necessity especially for the blogging artist for press passes etc. Many gallerists also appreciate a card to later follow up with a look at my website or email. Just the other day a dealer mentioned how he was surprised that many artists did not have one.

It's so easy to create with free, minimally priced software or photoshop. I have an image of one of my paintings on it that I regularly switch, like collecting playing cards. Need to add bubble gum.

5/26/2009 10:19:00 AM  
Blogger Tatiana said...

I agree with Edward: simple, to the point and memorable. If it should include an image - put it on the back, like frosting on a vanilla cake.

5/26/2009 10:33:00 AM  
Blogger C. L. DeMedeiros said...


You're not wrong about being a little paranoid,
there's always someone trying to take advantage of something...

I like to use water color paper they throw in the recycle bin at the art school, it's a wonderful paper and the paint give kind awesome look and I seal one by one. I've successful giving it away as business card. My art school made some pretty ones for me, because the AAF 2009, I'm using it. Look more professional. by the way, I was pick by I gallery we're in the process of "let's make this the best for all of us" kind thing.
I was very luck to have in my mind some stuff you post in "do and don't s".The last thing I need in my " engadment is my foot in my mouth. Believe me with me is like a mitzvah have learn after read a lot of your material in how to get gallery representation.
I spend ( before met you and your blog) a whole year, doing therapy just going to suppress my fear of succeed ... Succeed now means make all those little steps to I don't know exacly where . So I still need to read more of your wisdom.


the bride(gallery) found me)
I was the groom ready to thing this marriage was pure illusion.

5/26/2009 10:35:00 AM  
Anonymous Scott said...

Sorry for just dropping this link but it is completely on point. Feels like performance art.


What do you do guaranteed?

5/26/2009 11:51:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

What do you do guaranteed?
Well, I chuckle at that level of pomposity guaranteed, but I see his point. Thanks for the link.

5/26/2009 11:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Best artist card is card-shape cd containing sample images or clips from portfolio.

I don't agree that fancy card means the artist is not serious (in fact it can be a sign of pretention which apparently is a little necessary to become successful), and more importantly: I don't agree that an artist not serious (or pretentious, while we're at it) means that their art is bad. I find they are 3 sides to artists: there is persona, intellect (brain), and art. You can have an artist with no personality at all and who dress really badly, and they can be awfully clumsy if not downright stupid when they talk about their art and then...ah well, the art is just magic.

Fancy card may be about the persona, but it's a mistake to assume it's about the art.

Cedric C

5/26/2009 12:01:00 PM  
Blogger Ian Aleksander Adams said...

Cedric, if you pay a lot for it per card, it probably isn't worth it.

They have a tendancy to actually break disk drives, plus I guarentee it will get scratched next to my keys in my pocket.

I'm going to visit your website anyway. It's also easier to visit your website than put a cd in my drive. Seriously, I've still got promo cds from people half a year ago that I haven't put in, while I try to hit the website when I get home.

5/26/2009 12:50:00 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Ha, just gave my card to a young lady in the press office at the Montreal Biennial. Due to my lame attempt to speak French the links on my card resulted.. ah, oui, whould you like a press kit?

After a few days I'll at least be ordering wine somewhat fluently

5/26/2009 02:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Curious what do you think about postcard sized business cards with a larger image of the work on one side and your info on the back. It is sort of pain to give out but people instantly get an idea of the work at a reasonable size and have the contact info and often the card ends up being kept because of the good repro on the front.

5/26/2009 02:12:00 PM  
Blogger David Cauchi said...

This reminds me of the scene in 'American psycho' where they're all trying to one-up each other with their business cards.

Not that I'm alleging that anyone here is a yuppie psycho though!

5/26/2009 05:55:00 PM  
Blogger Mery Lynn said...

Postcard sized business cards don't fit in with the other business cards, don't fit into a pocket. So unless you are handing them out at a place of work or to someone with a briefcase/purse, they are inconvenient.

5/26/2009 06:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

OMG, if the Montreal Biennial press office can't even speak english it's almost scandalous. Poor Montreal Biennial, they look like they suffered the economy crisis X 10 times (or maybe the wrong person directs it).

Cedric C

5/27/2009 01:23:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

It's worse that I speak so little French. I think it was a student intern holding down the lunch hour, very sweet. As far as what I've seen of the show itself it's has an MFA thesis feel to it, a few interesting pieces though. It's spread out over the city so more walking today.

5/27/2009 09:26:00 AM  
Blogger Lady Xoc said...

Non-standard business cards are so annoying to store and handle that I toss them immediately. If you want to do a postcard or any other promotional piece, you can make it any size you want. I have received cards of all sizes and configurations from the ultra small (read: precious) to the outlandishly large with all kinds of folds, die-cutting, embossing, variegated foils, you name it and bad design is bad design. This guy in the video is a clown with NO taste. Also, single-sided is best.

My own card uses a detail from one of my images, I keep the info straight and to the point and when I run out of cards, I order a new set with a different image. Artists don't need conservative cards that look as if they came from a large corp. Day jobs are bad enough; we don't have to espouse the lifestyle in our (real) professional lives.

If I were a gallerist, I would strive for consistency in presentation, ie: There should be a stationery system utilizing the same logotype, typography, color scheme, paper stock if possible. all print pieces should look as if they came from the same place and help to reinforce the aesthetic & persona of the gallery.

Years ago, I wouldn't have dreamed of using a business card for my art, but now, I don't leave home without them. People seem to appreciate receiving them. They are much cheaper to print than ever before; I wait until one of the online companies sends me a "FREE" offer (It's not really free, because you end up paying $10 or so for shipping). But I have also done the solutions mentioned above (handwriting rubber stamping onto painted card stock, etc.).

5/27/2009 11:53:00 AM  
Anonymous plastic card said...

Good work done by you, thanks for sharing such a nice information which is useful for my knowledge. I think now a days Business cards have their own importance on the business scenario.

9/16/2009 06:23:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a concept card is great though. I don't really think it's cheapened in any way since it kind of becomes an artwork of it's own. Annd i think the person who asked you about moo card meant that their artwork will get ptinted on the back side.

8/24/2010 08:10:00 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home