In this episode... How Deeann's commitment to an intentional approach led to a six-figure income during Covid.
The “Artist Success Interview Series" is a collection of interviews from artists who have had great success selling their art and reaching their goals. They’ll be sharing the biggest catalysts to their success and providing valuable tips that you can implement in your own business.
For the first eight years of Deeann Rieves’ career as a fine artist, she felt as though she was flying by the seat of her pants without much of a plan.
That all changed at the beginning of 2020 when Deeann determined that “intention” would be her word for the year. She mapped out the entire year, planning the collections she wanted to create as well as the details of her releases. Obviously, some adjustments had to be made due to Covid, but she was actually able to stick to the plan she created. Deeann credits the growth of her business to that intention.
Deeann also had to get out of her head about her perfectionist idea of what a painting ought to be and how it ought to be sold. She built a website with a shopping cart to make her art more accessible to buyers, and she started doing outdoor shows which she says helped her get in a better flow of working. Not only did Deeann find that she loved doing things differently, but she says it really helped her grow as an artist.
Listen in to learn how Deeann made big changes in her business by doing something as small as setting an intention.
Listen in as Deeann answers these three questions:
- What was the biggest mindset shift you made to get you where you are now? (00:10:45)
- What single action step helped you grow the most? (00:21:48)
- What advice do you have for someone who's not sure if they can reach their next level? (00:23:28)
Resources and links mentioned:
Learn more about selling your art:
- For more practical and energetic strategies to create consistent income and life balance, follow Jessica on Instagram @artistmarketco
- Would you like to know where to spend your time in order to create consistent sales, without letting it take over your life? Awesome! Grab your free training, "The Artist's Day" here: https://theartistmarket.co/
- Learn more about my Consistent Income for Artists program here.
Jessica Craddock: All right. We are back for another round of the Artist Interview Success Series. And I am here with Deeann Rieves, who is someone who I have been around for a long time. I love this girl. She is so amazing and great. And, I asked her to do this interview with me because I know that she is super passionate about helping other artists to reach their goals as well.
And so I thought that this would be a really good fit. So Deeann, do you just want to introduce yourself, tell us who you are, what you do.
Deeann Rieves: Absolutely. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. It's always fun to hang out with you any excuse to do something and collaborate collaborates, always good.
I'm Deeann. I am a fine artist to painter. I do mixed media paintings. I use collage and machine embroidery, on painted papers and then use the papers as collage and create abstract figurative work, abstract landscapes and abstract florals. And I've been in business for like over 10 years, but I would say over maybe the last six to eight have been more serious than those beginning years.
I live in Nashville, Tennessee, and I have two little girls. And this past year for the first time ever, my friend, Nikki and I launched a mastermind group for artists. So that was a new, fun role to play as a mentor to those artists.
I had done portfolio reviews and a few coaching mentor type things before that. So that's been a new thing this year, but mostly just painting and selling my paintings on my website. And I do a few fine art festivals a year. So like in-person type.
Jessica Craddock: Yeah. And, I remember last year when it was uber COVID-y, you did a basically you couldn't do all of your festivals that you were doing.
So you did one on Instagram, and that went really well for you. I thought that that was super cool.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah. I needed a new booth photo for applying to shows and to do that, you really have to set up like at home.
So that, cause you can take your booth photo to show people like walking by and stuff, and you need like a tripod and all the junk. So I wanted to set up my tent in the, our driveway and then I was like, well, that would be perfect. I should just do like an Instagram live. And yeah, it worked out really well.
Jessica Craddock: And last year you had a major milestone even with COVID. Do you want to share about that?
Deeann Rieves: Yeah. Last year I had my first six figure year as an artist, which was huge! In December I was like, I'm so close. I'm so close. I like kicked butt till I got there.
It was really exciting. A big deal.
Jessica Craddock: So tell me about this year that you had.
Why do you think that it, it went so well for you even with all the things that could've gone wrong?
Deeann Rieves: Yeah. So before COVID and everything, my word for the year was intention. And I really felt in the past I was always sorta like flying by the seat of my pants. Like randomly would be like, oh crap, I haven't released anything in a few months.
And I have some paintings going, so I needed to release them. And then I would stress and I don't know, I just, I didn't plan ahead enough. And so in 2020, like in January, I mapped out the whole year and all my collections, I mean, some things shifted here and there, but I was like, I want to do four releases.
And the fact that I didn't have shows distracting me, I think really helped. Now I do, I did go back to doing shows some, the ones that didn't get canceled this year, because I do think that like at one I enjoy them. I enjoy the in-person connection and finding homes for the paintings in person instead of just shipping them out.
But also a lot of my sales were to people in the cities where I do shows. So it was like, I had a couple emails that were like, Hey, we were going to get a big piece from you this year. Can we do a commission? So my commissions were up. But I just feel like I was able to set intention for the year and stick to it and in a calm way. Whereas this year just adding in a couple of shows I already was like, I feel like I'm winging it again.
Because at a show I need a variety of work and a variety of sizes. Whereas when you're selling online, I do one body of work and, you know, two or three sizes in that, all abstracts.
So yeah, I feel like in 2020, I was able to just really plan ahead and do the thing where you work backwards.
Okay, if I'm going to release this this week, then everything needs to be photographed, in an ideal world, the week before, which means everything needs to be finished by the week before. And if I'm going to have 18 pieces in the collection, how many weeks will that take me? You know, if I finish two a week or I don't know.
Jessica Craddock: Does that kind of planning work well?
I mean it sounds like it does, but for some people it doesn't. So I'm just curious.
Deeann Rieves: It helps me, but I always end up, and I'm, I'm still trying to figure out a good balance for myself with mapping it out. Like I've been thinking about, okay, this year I felt a little, like I'm winging it again. Like I need to go back to really setting more intention.
Get takes three or four weeks for me to really feel like I'm getting in the flow with a series, but then once I'm in the flow, I can bust them out. The issue is while I'm busting them out, balancing marketing it because that's when you also have to be like, you know, really on top of it with marketing. And I feel like I've noticed a pattern that the pieces that I finished right at the very end of a collection, I haven't talked about as much because I was like hurrying and squeezing them in.
And I haven't posted about them as much. And if they're a big piece, they don't usually sell. Whereas sometimes when I bust it right before a show and finish a big painting, it's the one that sells. Because
Jessica Craddock: You're probably the most excited about it and you're like, right. here's what I just finished it now.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah. Yeah. So, so yeah, I think in 2020, I was just more intentional. It's funny, it's I think I thought I was intentional before that, but then
Jessica Craddock: we always are, no matter what it is, we're always growing in it. I feel like I have good life balance, but. A week will pass where I do it better.
And I'm like, oh no, now I'm good at it. And same with, you know, words of the year.
Deeann Rieves: I remember, okay, four or five years ago being like, why can't I sell out, you know, a collection, but I hadn't really launched my work like that. And I feel like I was doing what everyone else was doing, but then once I actually started doing it more intentionally, it did work more successfully for me.
Just, you know, the intention of posting about each piece as it's in progress. And then as it's getting its finishing touches and then groups of them finished together or, bedroom or above the couch or something, you know, well,
Jessica Craddock: and part of that too, is that you have done it and then done it again and then done it again.
And you've learned this works, this doesn't work. I can fit this in. I can't fit this in. You have a pattern and it will continue to be a better and better pattern. I think that you are very intentional, and I really respect that about you.
Some people can do that really well. Others need a little bit more fly by the seat of your pants. But regardless of which way you go on that spectrum, it's still as a matter of that practice to find out what's working best for you.
Deeann Rieves: Right. Well, and you know, it's intention and planning ahead. Sort of the way I do my work.
Like I sketch out my pieces before I get started, but once I get started, I'm not like on this tight leash for that sketch. I'm going to do whatever I want, but I like having sketch before. So I like planning ahead, even if I can't even tell you how many times I've been like, okay, I'm going to only have two sizes in this collection are going to be 18 by 24 and 30 by 40.
And then I start working and I make 24 by thirties. And I'm like, this wasn't one of the sizes I said I was going to do. And then I'm like, okay, I'll do three sizes. And then I ended up doing four or something. Sometimes you're gonna have the spontaneous, change the launch date because something happens in your life, or change how many pieces you're going to release because you haven't had the time you thought you were going to have. So sometimes it's adjusting from those plans, but the fact that you've even thought about it, mapped it out for yourself, it's going to help if you plan ahead a bit.
Jessica Craddock: I'm a huge fan of planning. I love planning, but then I usually blow it up. Like 95% of the time I blow up all my plans, but just having been able to get them out of my head and onto paper is extremely useful to me.
It's like a, a calming effect, but then I can open it up for, okay, now where's the inspiration going to come from? What do I really want to be doing, and how can I make that work within what I have set? Yeah, that's a really fun way of working for me. So I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions about specifically last year, you hitting that a hundred thousand mark so other people can one believe it's possible for them, but also get a little bit of how to mindset actionable strategy to do so as well.
[00:10:45] What was the biggest mindset shift you made to get you where you are now?
Jessica Craddock: So my first question is what has been the biggest mindset shift needed in order to get to where you are now from 10 years ago to not taking it very seriously to last year, breaking that six-figure mark for you?
Deeann Rieves: I think the biggest mindset shift for me, years ago in Atlanta, I had coffee with an artist, Michelle Armis.
Really respected her career, and she was so nice. At the time, I mean, honestly, it was before Squarespace was like a common thing. And I didn't have a Squarespace site. I had more of a like portfolio, like the kind of the way in art school, they were like, you make a portfolio website and you have your CV. And you apply to group exhibitions and shipped the work. And they ship it back, and you build up this prestigious CV of art shows.
More power to you if that's what you want to do. But I was making no money. Yeah, I was excited and I loved going to like gallery openings and Nashville, or like driving work to Knoxville or whatever.
But then we moved to Atlanta. And I was like applying to stuff like that and just getting nowhere. And Michelle was like, why don't you have a shopping cart on your website? And I was like, I didn't say this to her. Cause she had it. But I was thinking, I just think isn't that kind of tacky because that's how they taught us in school.
Don't like, why would you ever do that? And I remember Britt Bass, who I ended up getting to know too in Atlanta. I remember her calling her work collections and I was thinking like fashion, because in school they, it was a series. So it was just sort of like, okay, let's talk in this language that people know.
And let's add a shopping cart on your website because that makes it more accessible. Because Michelle was like, instead of getting an email that says, hi, I'm interested in the piece entitled, blah. Is it available? And what is the price? You need to get an email that says this painting sold, ship it.
And, she was like, that happens to me, you know, all the time. And she had an assistant and I was like, I want that. I would love that. And she was like, think about how many people don't email to ask the price. Cause they're like, what if it's too much, and they're embarrassed. You know, transparency in that kind of thing has become the norm, which I'm so happy about.
Over the last however many years. So I got a Squarespace website and made it where you could have a shopping cart and then started to sort of think of my work in like collections, which wasn't a huge shift, because I had definitely worked in series sort of.
But that same year I did an art show at a school, like a fundraiser. A lot of the schools in the South, like private schools, will do a fundraiser art show, and you give 30% of the profit to the school, which at the time I was thinking, well, that's great because galleries take 50. And I did one of those shows in Atlanta, and it was great. I met tons of really nice artists, and all of them were like, you should try outdoor stuff. And I was thinking again, ooh, tacky. No. And they were like, you can make good money. And I was like, really? And, it was a joke at the beginning.
Me and my husband would laugh because literally every person I talked to about outdoor shows said, yeah, I make about 5,000 a show. And I was like, at the time thinking like, what, how. I never sell anything when I do it, you know? But they also said everything you need to buy costs about $5,000.
So I was like, why is everything 5,000? And then one artist said, it's not that much. She was like, if you get this tent and these walls, you don't have to buy an RV. Like you can, or trailer like these walls roll up and they're mesh. And so you can put them in your car. And the tent in the walls is like $2,200.
And then you need to buy a little table and a director's chair and start applying to shows. And I was like, okay, maybe I can do that. So I remember this being like a huge conversation between me and my husband. Can I spend $2,500 to like, maybe try to do outdoor shows? But luckily since I was in Atlanta, which is such a big city, there's tons of outdoor shows I could apply to without having to think through like a hotel expense or travel expense,
Jessica Craddock: Yeah, those add up too.
Deeann Rieves: Right. When I started to prepare for that first year that I got into maybe three shows or four.
I remember thinking, okay, I need 30 to 40 pieces in a variety of sizes. I need it to look pretty in the display. So like now I have this like graph paper that I have, like my booth drawn out and I try to make sure that the pieces are the same height across. Or I'll make a little vignette with a tall piece and then the pieces on the side, or like symmetrical or something.
When I started to plan ahead for that kind of thing and started to think, okay, I need 30 pieces. And then if I sell five or six and I have another show, three weeks later, like I'm going to have to make five or six more. That year, just the quantity, making that much work for all those shows. I grew as an artist because I got out of my head a bit with oh, this has to be like this gallery worthy, whatever.
And they were still really nice pieces. Like not to say that I was doing anything less than craftsmanship wise, but just the idea of making so much work. I just got in a better flow of working.
Jessica Craddock: You got out of of the perfectionism trap.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah.
Or just like the pressure that you put on one painting, and while I was working on a big piece like that, I would start to make small pieces and practice and play and whatever.
And, I just got in a better head space on working in a big collection like that. And then once the shows started, I got so much feedback from the people. I mean, yeah, you have the random people that are like, say stupid stuff, but not as many as the people who give you good advice. I noticed, they would say you know, do you have anything that's vertical?
Like all my pieces were horizontal. And I was like, Ooh, okay, note to self. Or they would say, do you have a pair? Or I was thinking I needed something, but I want it to be like framed or whatever. So just free feedback on everything I'm doing that I could consider.
Jessica Craddock: And it wasn't just feedback from some random Joe Schmo.
It was feedback from people who were looking at your work and interested and cared enough to come into your booth and ask you these questions too,
Deeann Rieves: Right? Yeah. So that, that year was a big risk. I spent all that money on my tent. I spent forever on my website trying to get my Squarespace website launch.
And honestly, I didn't sell work off my website for, I mean, not significantly for at least a year, maybe even two. And about that same time, Instagram became a big thing. So it was like the perfect storm for me of like I got Squarespace. I started really upping my game on Instagram and by the end of that year, I have 5,000 followers, and I remember thinking the next year, oh, maybe by the end of next year, I'll have 10,000. And by the end of February, I had 10,000. But Instagram was feeding me to people at that point. I wasn't doing as much of the hustling to get followers.
I feel like it just, everything takes time, building your website and trying out different avenues of selling your work and finding your people, on Instagram or on your mailing list.
It just all takes a little longer than you think, but it does pay off when you keep doing the work.
Jessica Craddock: Well. And even with, I mean, I know that the large following helps you as well, but I also know that you are very good at talking to people and networking and meeting people in your area and having coffee with people.
And I feel like that is a, huge way that you are able to create a lot of these sales, as well as you know, you do have a really big audience and that's so useful. But is this, am I, am I off base here? I feel like a lot of people that you sell to are people you've had conversations with and maybe met in person, or they saw your work at the show, or, you know, all these different little things that weave together to create the perfect storm for you.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah, when I do my collection launches, I released to my email list first for a couple of hours. And that's usually when all the sales happen. Obviously, some people come from Instagram. Pretty much every collection there's definitely been some where I was having 12 and 15 and 20 conversations with people in DMs.
Last year when I was doing my figure collection, it was the first time I was going to release a big figurative collection. And then when I was starting to talk about it in my stories and people were like, Ooh, I love that one. I would say, what do you love about it? And just getting started on this collection, I'm still figuring out where I want it to go.
And half the people said they liked that the girl had a bun in her hair. And I was like, okay, more buns. Show the top of her head more, and make sure she has a messy bun.
As I was planning the next few like compositions, I made sure to include her messy bun. So that was funny, but honestly, I think the big following is crap. my posts don't get seen by that many people. There are artists that I know from shows and stuff who they might have four or 6,000 followers.
And they sell out of their collections every time they release something. So the number doesn't mean all that much. It makes you feel a little legit or something, but,
Jessica Craddock: But the point being, if you don't have the huge following, it's fine. That's not going to make that big of a difference.
Deeann Rieves: Right. Right. My collections have sold better when I have been more intentional in DMS and with my mailing list. If I send an email, which I'm already kicking myself, because I'm releasing a collection in a couple of weeks, and I haven't sent an email yet. If I send an email like four to six weeks before the collection to say Hey, this is what I'm going to work on next.
Make sure you're following along on Instagram. That usually goes better because they at least have it on their radar.
If somebody is going to buy a big piece, they need to know a couple months beforehand, that it's like on their radar. Okay, this is the price point. I'm going to spend $1,400 in a couple of months.
[00:21:48] What single action step helped you grow the most?
Jessica Craddock: So you might've already answered this question, but what do you think the one practical step that has helped you jump the furthest?
My thought was maybe it was that you were intentional about planning it out, but it might be something.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah, I definitely, I would say that's the most practical step I've taken in the last few years. Like just planning ahead, better. Cause like I said, I think I thought I was doing like the collection model or whatever, but I wasn't really yeah.
Not in the way that I did in 2020.
Jessica Craddock: Let me ask you a different question then. You thought you were being intentional, but you weren't doing it as well. What was the difference between those two?
Deeann Rieves: Instagram wise, I think I would think, oh, I've talked about this a lot and. I just feel like, so once I've gotten through, once I've picked a collection date launch and know the direction of the collection it's best, if you can title the collection or start talking about what it means to you with the title. So that you can create like your unique hashtag for that collection.
And then every post you post about it, you put that hashtag in the text so that if they click on that, they can see all your posts about that collection. And I try to make a story highlight too, like the collection that's happening. And so sometimes my call to action is join the mailing list. Sometimes it's take a look at the collection as it's unfolding and the story highlight or look at this, hashtag to see all the pieces in the collection so far.
And my collections have done better when I end up having 30, some odd posts with that hashtag.
[00:23:29] What advice do you have for someone who's not sure if they can reach their next level?
Jessica Craddock: What advice do you have for someone who isn't sure that they can make it to their next level, whether that's six figures or whether that's 1500 a month or whether that's a hundred dollars a month, whatever it is.
Deeann Rieves: I'm big on goal setting. I remember for years, my goal was 400 a month. And then for years it was 800 a month. I don't remember anything in between there. And then it was 1600 or were like, you know, whatever. Like I just, I think it's good to have a goal and to be aware of your goals. But my income, even though I did hit six figures last year, and this year too, it's pretty inconsistent.
When I have a collection launch, like if I have a collection launch and a show, those months will be like 16,000, and the month before that is always really low because I'm making the work.
Jessica Craddock: You're cranking it out.
Even though I talk about consistent income, in my mind, having a $2,000 a month and then a $16,000 a month, that equals an $8,000 average. I don't think that most models of selling art are going to get you the exact same amount of money every single month.
There might be some places where you can get consistent with it. But if you're like doing collection releases and shows and outdoor shows, it's going to go up and down. That's just the way it is planning for that.
And like, when I say now my low month is 2200, like I remember just a couple years ago, I had a couple low months that were like $400. Or one month, like literally once I added my expenses up, it was like I was in the red but then I made up for it the other months.
Another piece of advice I would say, so a few years back, I was at a creative conference and they were talking about like your big North Star dream. What is it that you really want?
And at the time and still, really, I wanted to sell big paintings and have them in beautiful homes. And when I did my books that year, I realized was what I wanted to sell was big work, and I had only sold maybe four or five big pieces that year. But I had only made four or five big pieces.
And it was like this aha moment of okay, I've got to stop putting so much pressure on, if I'm making a big piece and I still do this to this day, if I have a big panel, I put it off for a little longer. Cause I'm like, okay, I really want it to be good. I really want it to be like something that someone's going to love or something.
Whereas my small stuff, I feel the more freedom to play because I'm like, I don't know. I know it'll sell because it's easy. Like a smaller price point. But, I realized I needed to make more big painting. If I wanted to sell big paintings, I needed to make more big paintings
Can't sell them if they're not there.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah, exactly. It's you know, if I wanted to sell 12, I needed to make 20. That next year, I did sell a lot more big pieces because at the time I was more intentional about making sure to create big work and yeah, some of those hung out with me for longer. Yeah.
Jessica Craddock: That's, that's a really big issue that I come across with people a lot as well. I really want to do this, but I can't do it yet. I have to, and I'm not saying that's necessarily what you did, but I have to play down here because for whatever reason, I'm not good enough. I can't do it yet.
There are all of these reasons why I can't because, and I feel like 90% of getting what you want is clearing out that I can't, because, and just saying, I'm going to do it anyway, and then making it work because it will work if that's where you are putting your intention and your focus.
Deeann Rieves: An artist one time told me like, oh, I always bring one really giant piece to a show. I don't ever expect to sell it at the show, but it leads people into my booth and it starts conversations about custom work.
And I thought that's brilliant because if people can't see the large scale, you've got to be able to show them like even, one time in one of my portfolio reviews an artists was like, I really want to make like really big pieces and work with interior designers.
I was like, well, then you got to make some big work because even an interior designer, who's a visionary, doesn't know what your large work looks like if you've never made any.
I can't tell you how many times someone has liked a small piece and wanted a commission of a big piece. And it is such a puzzle to figure out like how to go from small to big on something very specific like that.
Like even on Instagram. So many times when I start a conversation with, especially another artist, I'll go check out their account. And most, so many times their account is literal painting, painting, painting, painting, painting, you know, it's like full squares, full color, no wall space, no change in the depth of field of this isn't a big room or this is like the painting from the side or the painting from like across the room.
Or the painting next to another painting. I think just varying so that you give people, more of a vision of the work.
If you're going to spend $600 on a painting or $1,400 on a painting and you're looking at it on the computer, you're going to want four or five photos and angles of that piece so that you feel like, you know what you're getting.
Jessica Craddock: It's almost like a customer service thing at that point.
Deeann Rieves: Yeah.
All right. You answered all my questions. But, I did want to tell everyone in case they are not familiar with you, where to find you, how to sign up for your newsletter or your Instagram handle.
Jessica Craddock: It's @ deeannrieves
I'll put a link. And, your website is the same, right? www.deeannrieves.com. You can sign up for her mailing list Definitely follow her on Instagram because she is a big, shiny light over there.
Deeann Rieves: Hey, I try.
Jessica Craddock: Well, thank you Deeann for indulging me and everyone who is so curious I know "behind the scenes, how does it work?" Now you know.
Deeann Rieves: Thank you for having me.
More about Intuitive Art Sales
This is the show where I, Jessica Craddock, am going to teach you how to source your art marketing from within. You're going to practice claiming that authentic art business that you want and leaning into the most natural way for you to get there. You're going to learn to get connected to your intuition, your confidence and your community, so that you can sell your art consistently while holding strong boundaries on your work life balance.
Seasons 1 & 2 are full of interviews with your peers. In these episodes, I explore what each artist wants and give them the next steps to get there. You can take their struggles and their challenges and learn how to navigate your own and create actionable steps towards creating more art sales, more consistently at higher prices than you've ever sold before.
You can find all the episodes here.