Today, I’d like to address an issue that a lot of us face at one time or another: Overcoming the bias against colored pencils and colored pencil artwork.
A reader recently asked a question on this very topic. She gave permission to share her email, so here’s the question pretty much as she wrote it.
How do you get over the bias against colored pencil? Every time I try to apply for a job on Upwork, or someone inquires about a commission, they drop me like a hot potato the moment they know I’m not a painter! I don’t want to paint, I’m not good at painting! It’s fun and I do paint, but it’s certainly nothing I would allow myself to sell.
I have discussed the reduced price, the more detailed nature of colored pencils, the intimacy of creating art with colored pencil with [potential clients]—nobody cares. Most stop even reading my messages, much less responding. The only people interested are other artists… and they aren’t buyers, only cheerleaders. I’m at a loss as to what to do!
Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils
There is no doubt that there is a bias among some people toward colored pencil work. The reasons are many. Among them are:
- Colored pencils are seen as grade school tools, not fine art tools
- There is a perceived lack of permanence with colored pencils
- A lot of people think “real art” must be on canvas or be paint of some kind
- The popularity of adult coloring books creates the perception that that’s all colored pencils are good for
Colored pencils also lend themselves to detailed work. A lot of colored pencil work is realistic in nature; much of it is highly realistic. I know there is a market for that kind of work, but years of working in a gallery have also shown me that there a bias against realism.
All of these factors combine to create a public perception that is not always favorable to colored pencil work. That is, unfortunately, just a fact of artistic life.
How do we, as colored pencil artists, get beyond this false perception?
The first thing we need to do is get past the notion that we must convert everyone to colored pencils. There are some people who will never accept colored pencil artwork as real artwork, just as there are some people who think realistic art is not real art.
When this happens, my best suggestion is to stop trying to convince them. When you meet someone who shuts you off the moment you mention colored pencils, then let them go!
I know. This is awfully difficult, especially if you’re just getting started and you want like anything to make a sale. I spent a lot of time trying to talk people into buying something they didn’t want to buy before I realized I could give that time to people who were interested in what I had to offer.
So find the people who are interested in your work, and then talk to them.
Artists need to educate themselves on the history of colored pencil work, and the quality of artwork created with archival materials. It’s important to know your medium well enough that you have confidence in it. If you don’t have confidence in the tools you use and the work you produce, it’s going to be very difficult to convince potential clients to trade their money for your art.
I struggled for a long time with the idea that no matter how good my colored pencil drawings were, they would never be as good as my oil paintings. That is not true, but it did affect my attitude toward the colored pencil pieces I made and marketed.
Clients and customers can tell if you lack confidence in your work. If they sense that you think one type of work is more valuable or worth more than another, they will shy away from the undervalued work, even if they really like it.
There are at least two marketing-related solutions to overcoming the bias against colored pencil art.
The first one is the easiest to correct. Make it known upfront that you use colored pencils for all your work. One easy way to do this is by coming up with a tagline something like this.
Portraits and Artwork in Colored Pencil
Also pair your name and tagline with the best sample of your work that you currently have. You don’t need a logo, but you do need to give people a visible connection between your name and the work you do.
For example, here’s one possible layout for my business cards. It contains one of my favorite pieces with my name and title, a tagline, and contact information on the front.
With a bit of adjusting, you can use something similar for the banner on social media or your website (if you have one). This gives you a consistent internet presence, which is always a good thing.
It also gets people accustomed to seeing the words “colored pencil” and your name together.
This may seem simple. Maybe too simple. But it is important. The more people connect you with colored pencil artwork, the less frequently you’ll be contacted by people who have no interest in colored pencil work.
Think of it not as a cure, but as prevention.
Don’t have any artwork you think is good enough for a business card? Find a good image of colored pencils. Until you have your own samples to share, a picture of colored pencils is just as effective.
Persistence is another solution. This isn’t going to be an overnight fix. You’ll have to earn the trust of that first customer and produce work that makes them happy. I’ve noticed that one happy customer often leads to other happy customers.
The word-of-mouth promotion of a satisfied client is worth a lot more than any amount of paid advertising.
Overcoming the Bias Against Colored Pencils
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Keep making the kind of artwork you enjoy making in the style that you enjoy. Improve your skills, share your work, and people will find you.
Yes, people who are willing to spend their money to get your work.
Got a question? Ask Carrie!