Are you a brand? If you’re an artist, the answer is “yes!” Most people think the term ‘brand’ applies only to companies like Wal-Mart, Apple, & Nike. ‘Most people’ are wrong. All businesses, regardless of size need to think about brand. You, as an artist, are a business. And that means you have to think like a business. And that means creating a brand identity and using it consistently. Branding for artists isn’t all that different from branding for other businesses, but artists frequently think it is – to their detriment.
When deciding how you want to brand yourself, think about how much work you really want to devote to differentiating yourself. Using a brand name, like I do, can make it a lot easier to be found online and in the real world. You don’t have to worry about competing with all the other ‘versions of you’ out there. Don’t think short term when you consider your brand. Too often artists get stuck thinking “I’m just a local artist.” What about in 5 years? 10 years? Aside from changing your mind, someone with the same name could move to your area. If you aren’t focused on your brand, especially if you use your real name, they could steal it right out from under you. Do you want the spend the rest of your career saying “you’re thinking of the other John Smith Art?”
In this post, I mention search engine rankings frequently. While I realize many artists don’t understand (or care about) the importance of search rankings, not understanding (or caring about) something doesn’t make it unimportant. People will search for you on the internet. If you want to ignore the internet, you do so at your own peril.
Hate reading lots of words? Skip to the bottom for the TL;DR version.
Your Name May Not Be A Good Brand
The first step to creating a brand is coming up with a name. Most artists never consider using anything other than their actual name. This can be problematic for many reasons…
- “I’m Really Bad With Names”
How many times have you said that, or heard someone else say that? I think it’s safe to assume the answer is “a lot.” Yet when it comes to the business of art, most artists use their name. Using your name as your business is fraught with issues, but knowing how many people are “bad with names” tops the list of reasons to reconsider using your name as your brand.
- Every Third Person I Meet Has My Name
Is your name the proverbial John or Jane Doe? If it is, that’s a problem (and one I know well). Lots of people with the same name means the odds of a few of them being artists is pretty high. There could already be a few with established careers. Even if you “only want to show locally,” a few may already live in your area. A few may move to town over the course of your life. You may change your mind at at some point. Whatever the case, you will be competing with “yourself” which takes a lot of time, devotion, and resources.
As an artist myself, my brand is WhiteRose’s Art, not Heather Miller Art for this reason. Heather Miller is an exceptionally common name, even among artists. Branding myself with my name alone would require a lot more effort to differentiate me from the dozens of other Heather Miller’s already on the internet. This could become a problem locally as well. There are several Heather Millers that live in the DC Metro area. One of them lived in the same apartment building I did a few years ago. The mailman constantly put our mail in the wrong box, & package delivery was a nightmare. Imagine if we were both artists and opened studios called Heather Miller Art? We lived in the same building, so it stands to reason that our studios would also be in the same general area. People would constantly walk into the wrong studio. What about websites? HeatherMillerArt.com is owned by a mixed media artist (who’s a lot more talented). HeatherMiller.com is also taken, by a designer. So calling myself Heather Miller Art is not an option.
- “Um, How Do You Pronounce That??”
There’s no faster way to lose customers than using a name no one can spell. This is true no matter what country you are from or where you live.
I toyed with using my maiden name for my art because, at last count, there were two of us in the US. Then I realized that no one can pronounce that name correctly much less spell it (including in the country of origin). Additionally, there are people that have known me since childhood who still can’t spell my maiden name properly. If they can’t how can I expect someone I only met once to?
Last names aren’t the only problems. First names with unusual spellings, or that have many variations are also bad. I’ve met Kathy, Cathy, and Cathi; Amy and Ami; Brian and Bryan; Jon and John. See the problem? Someone might remember your name, but not how to spell it.
I used to know a girl named Vicque, which is pronounced Vicki (or Vicky). If she were an artist introducing herself as “Vicki”, no one would think to spell it the way her parents thought was clever – which means no one would find her by a Google search either.
If you’re thinking “they’ll have my business card,” that’s a big assumption. Business cards get lost, so don’t bank your career on a little piece of paper.
- Getting Married? Divorced? Name Changes Complicate Things
If you plan on marrying at some point, and taking your spouse’s name (or hyphenating), this is also a consideration. An artist friend of mine had this very dilemma. She was in a committed relationship, knew she was going to get married, and knew she would take her husband’s name. Having been through a divorce already, she was leery of using her full name to brand her photography business. Her solution? She uses her first & middle name followed by ‘photography.’ If you think a name change might ever be possibility, no matter how remote, give some serious thought to using your full name.
What To Consider Doing
- Look at your art. Do you have a theme, style, or medium that is predominant? Consider using a variation of that for your brand: Amazing Abstracts, Oil & Water (for oil painters who paint a lot of seascapes), be creative but not complex. Brand names can suffer from the same issue as personal names. Too often US-based artists think foreign words are a good idea. They aren’t, even if it’s an art term. Not every art lover can read French.
There was an art business that opened in my area a few years back. It had a fancy French name. It went out of business rather quickly. Not only was pronunciation an issue, most people (myself included) had no idea what it meant so people didn’t visit. I ran into someone, who knew the owner, and they explained what it was. It sounded awesome and I was going to go…… but I couldn’t remember how to spell the name, and my guesses were pretty bad, so I couldn’t find it online (not a website or an address). Not long after I learned it went out of business. A bad name can kill any kind of business.
- Use only part of your name: Melanie’s Mixed Media, Phil’s Photography. While a name is still present, it’s a lot easier to remember someone’s first name as opposed to their full name.
It’s even easier when you use a literary device. In the examples I gave above, notice that the first letters are the same for each word. If your name rhymes with your medium, that’s a fantastic brand because rhymes are very easy to remember.
- Use your initials instead of your full name: JRM Photography or LRC Art. Personally I think this is a bit boring but if you’re really that attached to using your name, this could be a good compromise. However, triple check that your initials aren’t an acronym commonly used in texting, or worse, sexting.
- Play up a personal trait or characteristic. I recently saw a post for the “The Silver Haired Artist.” It’s clever and easy to remember. Do you have an iconic traits that you can use in a name?
Think you’ve got a good brand name? Not so fast….
- Did you Google it first to see who else is using it?
This is important online and offline too. As I pointed out above, there are several Heather Millers who are artists. Even if you’re convinced you are only going to exhibit locally (which is irrelevant in today’s world), check to be sure there isn’t another artist with a physical studio with “your” name. 5 years from now you could change your mind about being “just a local artist” and discover your name is being used by multiple other artists (be it a personal name or brand name).
- Did you do a domain name search to see if it’s already taken?
Just because someone registers a domain name doesn’t mean that Google will find it. Type it in manually.
- Check the social media sites you use (or might use) to make sure the name is available.
Brand Identity: Image(s) Are Everything
Once you have a name you also need to consider the image(s) that you will use to market your new brand. Why? You’ll be using them on your website, business cards, social media sites, etc. You want to be consistent. When people see that image, they’ll immediately know it’s you even when your name isn’t there. This is known as ‘brand recognition.’ Whatever image(s) you chose should be indicative of the type of work you produce.
For the first few years, my brand was a mess. I used the same font but the images were all over the place. A few people pointed that out, but I’m stubborn as hell. In part, I had a hard time coming up with a consistent set of images because I didn’t have a large body or work, so I randomized what I used and where. I don’t work in any consistent theme, material, or style so brand image was/is harder for me than for someone who only paints beach scenes. Over time, I finally settled on 5 images from my portfolio to use as the main graphics on all my social media accounts. They’re bright & colorful. I also use a black & white photograph of a white rose. The white rose graphic is found everywhere I am, online or off. If you see me at an Artomatic event, that rose is the only graphic on my signage. The larger collage image is used on social media and on the back of my business cards.
One last thing, YOU need to be present in your brand. Until recently, you would be hard pressed to find an image of me anywhere. I hate having my picture taken. However, as I research ways to be “success” on social media, I’ve learned that having a picture is actually important. People have more trust in sites and profiles that show a person’s photo rather than an image (like my rose). I’ve read many anecdotal accounts of people getting much more traction on Facebook, Twitter, and even their own websites just because they included an image of themselves. Based on the growing amount of material I’m reading that suggest doing this, I’ve decided to do it as well (even if I hate having my picture taken) because it makes sense. It’s a lot easier to trust a person than a generic icon. The social media profile you see here is my Tumblr page. As you can see, I haven’t included my picture on it. I’m still working deciding the best way to do this on each account.
Are you already using a name & realized that it isn’t the best one? You can change it. It takes a lot of effort but it can be done. With careful planning you can avoid needing to do this – and the headaches that can come with it.
I rebranded myself a few years ago when I realized my original name, TexelGirl Art, not only no longer fit, but people thought I was from Texas (I’m not)……and it turned out to be a breed of guinea pigs. I owned the original domain name for two years after I stopped using it to make sure people knew I changed names. For at least a year, all my social media profiles, bios, and other documents said WhiteRose’s Art (formerly TexelGirl Art). My name change took place somewhere around 2010-2011 and I still can’t get PayPal to fix the name change everywhere. To this day, when someone pays one of my PayPal invoices, their bank statement says “TEXELGIRLART”, even though the rest of my PayPal account says WhiteRose’s Art.
- Consider using a brand name instead of a personal name:
- Brand names are more memorable that personal names
- You don’t have to worry about people misspelling it (don’t use French art terms, that’s just as bad unless you’re in France).
- If you have a common name, this becomes infinitely more important. Your domain name may already be in use. Someone might own a gallery or studio with your name. Your common name makes it much harder to be found so you have to work even harder to make sure that people are finding the right ‘you.’
- Google the name you are thinking about using.
- Also do a domain search. The domain may not come up in a Google search if the owner isn’t active anymore so manually type in the domain name to see if someone already owns it.
- You may discover there are more than one of ‘you’ out there, and some of them may also be artists. Even if you want to “ignore the internet” you can’t ignore the version of ‘you’ in your area that has a physical studio or gallery with ‘your’ name on it. You also don’t know where you’ll be in 5 years, 10 years, etc. Plan for the future, not for right now.
- Choose images wisely and use them consistently.
- Don’t use one banner for Twitter, another for Facebook, and yet another image on Instagram.
- If you’re using an image online, it should be used on your business cards & other materials as well (signage, postcards, etc)
- Images are just as important as the name you choose. Choose one, or a collage of images, that really stands defines the type of work you do.
- Include a picture of you whenever possible. It builds trust, people like seeing the face of the artist (or writer, or band, or voice actor, etc). You may hate having your picture taken (like me), but that’s not reason to skip this part.
I hope “Branding for Artists” has given you something to think about before you launch Jane Doe Art. Spend some time thinking about your name then research it thoroughly. You’ll be happy you did.