Barney Davey Speaks with Bob Killen

“A Wisdom Interview With An Art Marketing Pro”

I’m facing my computer screen with an image in process, when I hear that soft ‘ding’, a musical note that alerts me about important e-mail arrivals. In the lower right hand corner, I see a familiar message, “The Barney Davey Dailey is Out.”  I pause. Open the link. Once again, I find several power marketing and inspirational articles that restore my belief in my audience development mission.

For the last several years, I’ve been following Barney’s news, blogs, tweets, and books and resources. He is an art industry writer, blogger, art news aggregator, and speaker who teaches the tools, techniques, and systems to market your art. He covers all of the art, as the development of art audiences is much the same among sculptors, painters, printers, and fine art photographers.  But what makes Barney so special, and why he is a major resource that I recommend to my fine art students, is his consistency, the quality of his information, and the volume of learning materials, which helps artists see diverse sales and marketing opportunities. He does not preach—he provides— and each day you can take advantage of valuable tweet links, new trends, innovative ideas, case histories, and inspiration.

Yes, there are many great art coaches and numerous writers, but few are as dedicated, prolific, and accurate as Barney Davey. So, I contacted him for an interview and I believe his story and opinions will enlighten you. If you are serious about developing an audience for your work, then follow his links at ( and follow his Twitter.

BKFA—How did you become interested in the art industry?

Barney Davey
Barney Davey

BD – I am the son of a talented painter and I gained an affinity for art starting at an early age because our home was full of books on great painters. One of my mother’s works hung for a time in the St. Louis Art Museum and I spent many Sunday afternoons there with my siblings and her. In 1988, I became an account executive for Decor magazine. The March 1988issue had 350 pages of advertising and was two inches thick. To promote something that successful was an ad rep’s dream. The magazine helped art galleries, especially those in the print market, and picture framers run their businesses more profitably.

I took it upon myself to learn about our most successful advertisers, which included the top selling art print publishers and self-representing artists in the world. I figured if I could learn from them and pass along the knowledge, I could help my new and struggling advertisers and show exhibitors become more successful. As a result, they would buy more ads and tradeshow space from me.

When I left there in the early 2000s, I started using the same knowledge to do workshops, which led to books, blogging, and everything else I do these days.

BKFA—In the last several years you have begun to follow fine art photography as well as painters, and the Giclee print movement. How do all of these mediums relate to each other?

BD – To start, it is all 2-dimensional art destined for a wall somewhere. The digital aspects of creating, manipulating, and printing fine art reproductions and fine art photography are closely related. Likewise, the marketing of art prints and fine art photography prints are marketed side-by-side. I found photography as much as it found me. Some of my most loyal followers include photographers such as Andrew Darlow, Jeffery Stoner, and Derek Jecxz. Meeting you was a natural, too.

BKFA—Fine Art Galleries are beginning to sell online in conjunction with their bricks and mortar stores. How do you feel this online component will affect fine art photographers in terms of opportunities?

BD – I see it as all good. Most businesses that sell goods of any sort are moving online. It’s where their customers are shopping. Having a physical location is great, but it will be much more profitable when supported by search and traffic coming from an online presence. Things are moving fast and picking up speed. It’s either adapt or fail. Online creates headaches because it’s one more marketing thing to do, but it also flattens the playing field in that the small guys can find the cracks where they can get ranked along with the bigger players. The old saying, “There’s riches in niches”, applies to visual artists.

BKFA—Fine Art Photography and Paintings sell because of their subject, interpretation, and the tactile qualities or sense of surface and touch. How can photographers portray these qualities in an online environment?

BD – The right presentation will overcome the loss of tactile senses being involved. Look at It is selling tens of millions in art annually. My friend, Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, is is doing well selling originals in the multi-thousand price range on his Xanadu Studios site. It adds 15 – 20% of the total revenue for the business.

The world’s largest picture framing supplier, Larson-Juhl, is doing very well with its open edition spin-off site, Jen Bekman’s 20× has had great success selling limited edition prints online, and has had top shelf investment money poured into it. If Zappos can sell billions in shoes, visual artists can successfully sell art online. It’s never going to be the only solution, but online marketing will add sales and smartly support all other selling and promotional activities.

BKFA—In your experience, why do talented fine art photographers, painters, and sculptors with great work often fail? 

BD – Talent is only part of the equation in any of the arts. You can find superb actors who can’t get out of local theaters. I have a quote, “Ambition will where talent will not.” Taylor Swift and Madonna are ambitious beasts whose voices are so-so. Nevertheless, they both know how to tap the Zeitgeist with lyrics and hooks, and they use blind ambition to relentlessly mine a vein when they hit pay dirt.

No one was ever confused to think Thomas Kinkade was the most talented artist, but he was good enough to sell multi-millions of art prints because he found a look and marketing scheme that consistently resonated with his collectors. You can be the best angler who ever lived, but if you don’t go where the fish are biting, you will not be successful.

At the end of the day top selling artists know how to mix art and commerce.

BKFA—What should a new artist do first to enter the market?  

BD-2BD – Build a body of commercially viable, recognizable, distinctive work. Be known for something or as you say, an expressive specific (see BKFA ). Work at becoming authoritative about your  unceasing passion. Be generous. Network smartly and relentlessly. Get over any negative feelings about asking for referrals. Learn how to give first and then get. It’s easy to ask for help in the way of introductions. Use all the available, affordable digital marketing tools out there. Take my advice found on my blog to tap into traditional media through press releases and publicity. Coordinate your marketing so it matters and overlays on everything you do. Stretch for higher goals, and don’t be easily satisfied. Use a percentage of your creativity on your marketing.  Smart, successful marketers not only out hustle the competition, they out think them, too.

BKFA— Social media has quickly evolved as a major market force for all things including art. How do fine art photographers and other artists harness social media?

BD – Get the right perspective on social media. All of it is a just another tool to help feed your marketing pipeline, nothing more. If you want to hang out on Facebook, or elsewhere, because that is where your friends or colleagues are, that is fine. Just don’t confuse that activity as marketing. That is a pleasurable way to while away hours.

The ultimate goal for social media is to drive traffic to the artist’s website or blog where a visitor can be converted to a subscriber, and then to a loyal fan and collector. Design your social media marketing strategy around this goal and you will not be confused about what you are supposed to be doing with it.

BKFA— Many artists shun social media because of the time commitment. Is there a method or madness that artists can adopt to manage their social media time?

BD – First, don’t try to do it all, because you can’t. Pick the social media platform where you think you have the greatest chance to make a dent. Virtually any of the best ones will do. Choose one, or two to pursue with vigor. You can have a presence on other social media sites without having to be very active on them. Learn to use tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, Buffer, and Bundlepost, among other social media automation tools. Consider hiring a virtual assistant who specializes in managing social media for small businesses.

BKFA— It is apparent to us that story, narrative, and human interest elements about the art and artists has become a major factor in developing an audience for an artist’s work. Given that, how important is it for an artist to have a blog? What is the best way for an artist to learn to develop his or her blog? Should artists consider using a blog service?

BD – There are examples of artists who succeed without blogging. However, if an artist wants the best, quickest way to gain notoriety, search engine page rankings, and traffic to their website, then blogging is the way to go. You can’t learn blogging overnight. It took time to get proficient at being an artist. It will take time to ramp as a blogger. As with most things, the more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the better you get at it.

I recommend WordPress for those not technologically challenged. That said, you can find marketing guru, Seth Godin, using Typepad, and social media wunderkind, Hazel Dooney, using Blogspot, as does Katherine Tyrrell, who runs a very successful art blog. The platform is secondary to the process. Get started, commit to a schedule, and stick with it. Use my 52 Blog Topics for Artists post for inspiration when you are stuck. Using a blog service, ghostwriter, or freelance virtual assistant can work. The tradeoff is it likely will lack your authentic voice.

BKFA— We give you the final word. Tell us what is on your mind and what artists should consider today for a better sales future tomorrow.

BD – Take control of your future. There has never been a better time for artists and fine art photographers to grow a collector base that buys directly from them. Consumer buying habits have changed. They are more open to buying direct from artists. The digital marketing tools available to help foster building relationships are affordable, and for the most part, easy-to-use.

The good old days are never coming back, and from what I remember about them, it was never easy to sell art back in the day. If anything, it was harder, if not much harder. Embrace that you have this golden opportunity to develop one-on-one relationships with collectors.

As visual artists, you need only amass a few hundred devoted collectors, or no more than the low thousands, depending on your circumstances, to create a rock solid foundation on which to build a successful career. Compare that to musicians, actors, and authors who need much larger numbers to attain success. And realize, because you have the same tools as those other disciplines, you only need to leverage a fraction of what they do to achieve an artistically and financially rewarding career.

Today, unlike any time in the past, visual artists have the opportunity to create a business around selling art directly to consumers. It need not be exclusively this way, but if successful, then all other modes of getting your art into buyers’ hands will be enhanced by what your marketing brings to the table. Unlike previous generations, artists today can become known by virtue of their own marketing. Now set your sites and get after making that happen.

BKFA— Thanks Barney. This is powerful, common sense advice, and real-time inspiration that we all need to hear, and use time and again. Enough said… back to creating your work and your audience.


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6 thoughts on “Barney Davey Speaks with Bob Killen

  1. Having followed Barney for years and with a computer file filled with 1,863 of his blogs I have saved you can guess what I think of his advice. Your interview and perceptive questions, along with his answers, distills not just the 100 proof advice every art entrprenuer needs to achieve a high with no hangover, but applies as well to almost any marketing situation. My current passion, after spending 20 years as an independent art rep selling my own art and that of many others, has now turned to how to market what I write and have written over many years. His insights are as germaine for what I am trying to do as they are for any artist or photographer working to build a following. This interview goes into my Saved file for future reference.
    Thanks to you both,
    Dick Harrison

  2. Barney is brave to say “mix art with commerce.” Agree. Most artists should have a couple of “lines of business” to diversify their brand – so following the zeitgeist is smart (business line 1), but while you are at it, create the zeitgeist if you have the passion (business line 2). His analogy to musicians and actors is sobering, isn’t it? But of course the investment in an actor or musician is not as high as it would be for an artist (compare purchasing a movie on Netflix or buying a song on Itunes vs purchasing a work of art.) Nonetheless, building your fan base follows the same path: marketing+events=sales.

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