1. Start Small
When I was getting started, I found regular horse shows hosted by the county fairgrounds in two neighboring counties. I went to them as often as I could. Sometimes, I went with just my camera. Sometimes I set up a small booth or just sat in the stands and sketched or watched. I got to be a regular and made friends with some of the horse owners. I didn’t always sell anything. In fact, I rarely sold anything on-site, but it was time well spent.
The purpose of attending such shows on a regular basis is to be seen and to see. If all you do is make friends and take pictures, you’ve had a good day. Building relationships is key. Think of it as laying the groundwork for future business.
Local shows are often free admission and close by, which means reduced expenses all the way around. If you’re in the position of working for a living and building an art career on the side (which most artists are), cutting costs wherever possible is a necessity.
And those pictures could become the reference materials for a new drawing or painting.
2. Work Your Way Up
Leverage your time and experiences at local horse shows into larger horse shows. The friends you’ve made at the local level know where regional, state, and association shows are being held. Chances are they’ll know far enough in advance for you to make plans to go, too.
Attending a large horse show could involve a lengthy drive and possibly admission fees, so when you’re beginning, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to attend very many of them.
But you do need to go, whether you’re exhibiting artwork or not. The opportunities to meet horse people from around the region, across the country or, depending on the show, around the world, is an opportunity you don’t want to miss.
Go equipped with a camera, drawing equipment, and a stack of business cards. Take pictures as often as possible, and hand out business cards to people who are interested in your work.
If you know what type of equine art you’d like to do, focus your show attendance on those venues. It won’t do you much good to visit a race track if you want to paint reining horses!
But if you’re open to all the possibilities, then visit as many different types of shows as possible.
3. Build a Body of Work
Setting up an exhibit anywhere before you have a body of work appropriate to the show (subject matter, cost, etc.), can potentially do more harm than good.
If you’re wondering where and how to develop a body of work, see Tip 1 above. Remember I mentioned taking my camera to every show? I brought back rolls of film from every show. I still return to those pictures when looking for ideas.
Do as much painting and drawing as possible. You’ll want at least a half dozen pieces to exhibit, more if they’re small. That means six oil paintings or drawings that are as good as you can make them and framed for exhibit.
Choose your best work. You can take them all if you want, but only the best should be on display. It’s nice to have backups to replace paintings or drawings you sell, but your display should always be the absolute best it can be. This will be the only opportunity a lot of people have to see your work; make the best impression on them you can.
4. Don’t Give Up
Don’t expect over night success. Chances are you will not see significant sales right away. It is possible, of course, but it isn’t probable. You’ll need to establish yourself as a trustworthy artist with not only the skill and talent to do the work, but the determination to see it through when you do get a custom order.
For most of us, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and time to build a career as a portrait artist. But it can be done and, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort on your artwork and on promoting your artwork, you can do well as an equine artist.
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