As a business owner I think that when I suggest to others that they self-promote the impression that they get is that I am being stingy or selfish and don’t want to be bothered to do it for them. So I would like to address this issue primarily from the stand point of a tattoo collector with a few dashes of shop owner thrown in (just because I can’t completely shut myself off from the other parts of me, even when I want to).
How do I pick the artists that I get tattooed by? Obviously their artwork is a primary consideration. Sometimes I have particular projects in mind and I am looking for an artist to do them and other times I meet someone who I would really like to get tattooed by and I then start trying to figure out a project that will fit their style.
Now if an artist is someone who I am trying to find a project for – this would be someone who I encountered along the way and like them and their art. Usually someone that I have met at a convention or is a friend of a friend. Basically a friend or likable acquaintance who I would like to be tattooed by. This variety is pretty easy.
The other kind is a bit more tricky. This is an artist who’s work I have seen first before I have met them. I have seen their work online or in magazines and their style seems like it would work well for a project that I have in mind. Then the investigation begins. Is this person accessible geographically? Is it possible to get an appointment with them? Will I have to sell a limb to get a tattooed by them? The answers to these questions will not keep me from trying to set up an appointment, but they will give me an idea what I need to do to prepare for that appointment. The more difficult the solutions, the more I have to like the person’s work to keep going through with the process. And then the last item of investigation – what type of person is this? Usually I will ask around and if possible try to meet them in person at a show. On occasion I have phoned to reach out to an artist. That interaction will then determine if I am willing to spend my money, travel for the appointment and go through the stalking process that some artists require. We all have bad days, and while it is entirely possible that some of the people who I have crossed off my potential artist list have been judged unfairly or harshly – that’s just how it goes. I am sure that I have pissed off MORE than my share of potential customers over the years. Most of the time I figure that things go the way that they are supposed to go. It may be that at some point in the future I will give this person another chance, but for now it just isn’t time for us to connect.
From there I would like to tell you a story. I have changed the names and tried to remove any specifics who would let you know who these folks are (other than myself).
Mike and I have been tattooing for about the same amount of time. He started maybe a couple of years before me and we came up through the convention circuit at roughly the same time. Since I was busy being a single parent at the time, my time on the road and doing guest spots was pretty limited. Mike however hit every convention that he could for a long time. He sent his stuff into magazines. Found a niche and became a name that you would recognize immediately. He is a fantastic artist and a really nice guy. I had talked about getting tattooed by Mike for a long time, but we never could hook up at a convention. I eventually decided to go ahead and book an appointment at his shop.
The tattooing and the subsequent tattoo went as you would expect and I have a beautiful tattoo from the trip. While getting tattooed we of course talked and visited. Compared notes on life. Gossiped a little bit and caught up. In talking to Mike I asked about the other people at his shop. Most of whom are also very well known and respected in the industry. Again names that you would know if you are familiar with tattooing at all. We got to talking about one of the other guys in particular and what is up with him these days. We’re going to call him Al for the story. Al was also a sweetheart of the convention circuit. One of those guys who gets listed up near the top when conventions advertise who is going to be there. I figured that he would be just as booked out as Mike was and certainly more than me. It turns out that Al is doing tribal arm bands these days. I was shocked. How could that be? Mike said that Al never bothers to do anything to promote himself. He doesn’t send stuff into magazines, he doesn’t take photos and he just waits for whatever comes in the door to come to him…. and like most of us, what walks in the door isn’t always that exciting to do. It really really freaked me out that an artist of this caliber would be sitting around most days doing nothing and only working on flash designs when he was working.
Thinking about Al made me analyze what it was that I was doing in my own career to promote myself. How I am connecting with potential clients? Why am I working and Al isn’t? Which artists at my shop are busiest? Which ones are complaining about the clients and the projects that they get?
I hadn’t really thought of myself as an active self-promoter, but came to realize that some of the things that I had been doing all along had done just that. I started to be more diligent about updating my photos online. Started looking for other free websites to add my pictures to and promote for free. And I started to send stuff into magazines again.
While the magazines have not worked out so well (mostly due to my mediocre skills as a photographer), the online photos have helped a great deal. I have clients who I meet up with at conventions or come to see me in the shop from great distances. Which is of course flattering, but I only mention because it illustrates a different point entirely. The projects that many of these folks are bringing me are tattoos that I am excited about doing. They are fun projects and stuff that is “right up my alley”. Why? Because I put myself out there and let the public know what my alley is. This does not mean that everyone who walks in the door looking for me is presenting a dream project. In fact, I still regularly turn down projects when someone else can do a better job with it than I can. And it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone who contacts me is a really nice person (but fortunately heaps of them ARE). What it means is that I have a more diversified client base who bring me a wide range of projects that keeps tattooing fresh, exciting and fun for me. I never was (and don’t want to be) a niche artist. I don’t want to be known for one particular style or one particular subject matter. I think I would get bored if that was the way that I worked.
So if wherever you are and whoever you work for (even if it is yourself): If someone suggests to you that you get your work, your face and/or your ideology out there to the masses… we are just trying to help you be happy. To hopefully help you find clients that you can be excited about working with. Or you can wait and see what walks in the door and hope that maybe this time it will be something fun.
(or you can make it fun, even if it isn’t… but that’s another whole blog).
A great article on self-promotion from a different industry’s point of view: