Interview with Artist Malcolm Dewey
Malcolm Dewey Bio
Having started in graphic design in the 1980’s Malcolm was attracted to fine art through his love of landscape and nature. Contemporary Impressionism is the driving force behind Malcolm’s painting ideas.
Together with a loose brushwork style Malcolm’s paintings are filled with light, color and movement.
His aim is to describe his painting with an economy of shape, but without compromising on paint and generous brushwork. He teaches this approach with equal generosity to his art students both online and in workshops.
Malcolm has written several books about the artist’s life. He is a dedicated blogger. He contributes regularly to publications like the South African Artist Magazine. His painting courses are popular worldwide and he is one of the top-rated art teachers online.
Malcolm lives in South Africa with his wife and family.
How did you get started as an artist?
Drawing became a necessary part of my life from as early as Grade 1. I recall that clearly and since then I always had a sketchbook and fineliner pens close at hand. Fortunately, my high school outsourced art lessons to a local art school. I attended this school through the last three years of high school. This made a huge impression on me as the teachers were very “artsy” but also hard workers. I studied graphic design at this school and commercial art was my aim.
After high school, I went to university, but studied law instead. A long story, but in 1985 this seemed like a wise decision. However, I kept creating art part-time. Eventually, after fifteen years in my own legal practice, I retired from law for full-time art. I believed my painting had matured into a fine art Impressionist style that was already popular with local collectors. This leap of faith was necessary for my personal development as an artist. But it was not reckless either. I had tested the market and studied in my own time. Another factor was the growing trend in blogging and video on the internet. Developments that suited my personality and enabled me to reach a wider audience.
Please tell us about your art business?
My art business has two aspects: creating paintings and teaching. I have sold paintings through craft and art markets, art galleries, online, and directly to visitors to my studio. Of all these approaches I prefer selling face to face at markets. This is not always practical so the second most effective has been via my website. I am not a fan of galleries for the most part as I believe that artists can be their best salesperson. This does mean learning about marketing yourself. Now the majority of my paintings are sold internationally and I fulfill these orders with couriers.
The second aspect is teaching. This did not come naturally to me, as an introvert by nature, but persistence does pay off. A necessary quality for success as an artist (entrepreneur) is fierce persistence. I took several paths at once: hosting workshops, creating content like blogs, books, videos and also creating online courses. With Covid, the online courses saved my teaching business. I have added personal online coaching to cater to artists wanting in-depth teaching as well.
Is it difficult for artists to earn enough money from selling their art alone?
In my experience multiple streams of income are vital. This probably applies to any commercial venture and artists are no exception. I suspect most artists give up because they are tied to one thing only – selling their art. However you will see big-name artists covering many commercial opportunities such as teaching, selling various products, endorsements, collaborations, writing, and much more.
Only selling art results in a feast-and-famine state of existence. Amazing when sales are good and despair when you have a few dry months. By adding to my streams of income I could make a full-time living. Secondly, my art improved rapidly while teaching. Being generous with your skills makes others happy and this is extremely motivating to an artist’s spirit. This also paves the way for a growing business.
Please explain the difference between your art membership and art classes?
Art courses focus on a medium or set of skills. This is tied to a specific goal. The membership approach is for enthusiastic students who want to keep working with me. It is an open-ended system that is more interactive and basically a friendship with artists. There is a learning aspect, but also a strong community spirit too.
I find the two systems complement each other. From a pure business perspective, it is more important to have courses. Then add a membership when your teaching business is on a solid foundation. Membership does take commitment and I would recommend this approach only to someone very comfortable with their trade.
You have 25 thousand subscribers on YouTube, do those subscribers lead to many customers for your paid classes?
YouTube does attract business. It is a huge platform and can seem insurmountable at first. I started there not expecting to make money from it. Instead, YouTube forced me to gain confidence on camera. Learn video editing, and improve my message. To find my voice you could say and build trust. I also learned what was popular and what artists wanted to learn.
Problems can happen when you try to spend too much time creating for YouTube. This is a race to burn-out in my opinion. For me one video a week is plenty. Remember that these are not your platforms. They can disappear or change their algorithm anytime. However, YouTube is good for marketing if you also encourage viewers to visit your website and sign up for your mailing list.
You also have a large Pinterest following, is Pinterest a good platform to advertise your classes?
Pinterest is my top social media platform although YouTube is more fun for me. Pinterest does drive a huge amount of traffic to my blog and courses. Perhaps the Pinterest platform has matured now and is a bit more difficult to get off the ground than it was five or more years ago. Overall Pinterest has been my most successful source of traffic. All unpaid too.
What else is working to promote your online art classes?
I am surprised by how committed podcast fans can be. I do get people contacting me about my podcast even though I do not have the time to really make podcasting big. If you love chatting on a podcast then consider that route.
I suggest repurposing content into other products like books, articles, free downloads, and so on. Also, consider collaborating with others. This could be artists and businesses linked to art. A paint shop may want to join in with a video, for example. We are all linked in many ways. Help others and they will help you too. Always keep the human element in mind.
What percentage of your time is spent promoting your work versus painting and teaching classes?
I would say two-thirds of my time is marketing and creating content. I can spend an hour creating a small painting. But it takes two hours to edit videos and upload that to my channel. That is one example. It does help that I have always enjoyed entrepreneurship. I used to sell things as a kid and that was fun. If you can channel that spirit into your art business then you will have fun too.
You do not need a business degree. I have learned all my online marketing tips through books, blogs, and videos. Then take action and try things out. Be curious. What is the worst that could happen? Ask for help too. For example, a good accountant saves you time, stress, and money.
Do you have any advice for artists early in their careers?
If you want to sell art professionally then work on improving your art every day. But do not wait until you are perfect either. That is fear. Focus, create, and put your work out there. Start selling even if your work is not amazing. Not everyone wants to buy a high-priced artwork. Start humble but start. Improve steadily for the rest of your life.
Marketing is a process that must become second nature. Build your mailing list from the get-go. Social media is one aspect of marketing, but not the most effective. Cut out the time-wasting on social media. Out of six channels on social media only two work for me: Pinterest and YouTube. Find what works for you. Focus there.
Take breaks. Think about what is working and what makes you happy. Go down that road.
Finally, do not ignore your loved ones. A happy artist with a good support structure will be successful.
Malcolm Dewey Artist Links
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