What’s in a name?

The old adage says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” And that is true until you choose the wrong words to identify your art business. If you are creating artwork that is original and/or one-of-a-kind, this article is an important one to read. If you are creating individual, expensive, and collectible works of art, you probably need your name to be front and center.

These are some names you might know:

  • Glass Artist: Dale Chihuly
  • Wood Sculptor: David Nash
  • Ceramist: Beate Kuhn
  • Metal Artist: Henry Moore
  • Jewelry Artist: Peter Carl Fabergé (although he became famous for his Fabergé eggs)
  • Textile Artist: Sheila Hicks

Whatever your medium, you likely know the names of your famous counterparts. They became branded by their names. And that branding adds big dollars to their art. (You want some big dollars for your art someday, yes?)

But! You might be excused…

If you are reading this and saying, “But Mckenna, I make moderately priced items by the dozens that I sell at art fairs. I am not trying to get into an art exhibit. I just want to get into some of the top art fairs & shows and do some wholesaling to stores. Besides that, I have a great name for my business and it’s well-established and has a big following.” (If that’s your situation, then you have my permission to abandon this article. See you back here in two weeks!)

To repeat: If you have no long-term goal of being in a gallery representing yourself to collectors or getting your actual name on an art exhibitor list someday, no worries. I get it. I have a line of jewelry myself that is 100% a “product/accessory” for sale in stores, shops, and galleries by the name, Currents – low impact jewelry – check it out here. (FYI – Nothing’s for sale. I don’t even put my full name on the site. The site is purely for wholesale inquiries.)

Other types of art business that can be excused would include anyone in the service/accessories/commission types of creations. For example, pet portrait painters, muralists, stained glass installations, gardening “accessories” like fountains or bird houses, kitchen “accessories” like cutting boards or coffee cups, household items like lamps or clocks, and the list goes on.

If the above describes you, you probably need to have a stand-out “commercial” business name. You are under no obligation to use your name for your art business. After all, you are in competition with other “products and goods” sellers and the really big retail outlets so you might want to have your business and domain name include the word lamp or stained glass or murals. You need to be found easily in a google search, right?

Of course, you can still use your name! “LampsbyMaryLamb” might be perfect to keep everyone on the same page when they search for you online. For those who only remember your first name and that you made their lamp, this would be great!

Decisions, decisions….

For some of you, it’s a no-brainer. You have this figured out and you are thriving. For those of you who are not “branded” yet, it’s never too late to rethink how your artwork will become branded. If you have a website, but no strong following yet, you might want to consider a course correction.

One way to think about this is to ask yourself, “Do I sign my work with my personal name?” If you are not signing your work at all, then you probably don’t need to give this much thought. Go get a clever domain name that “brands” what you do, rather than who you are and go make a living from your art!

For some of you, you might recognize that it’s time to get rid of the clever name and re-establish your personal name. It might even be necessary for you to create a new or separate business site that reflects your artistry and your personal name.  It might be time to abandon the commercial name. It might even be time to abandon creating mass produced items created in a factory somewhere, but that’s a bigger decision. Only you know what is paying your bills and keeping you in your studio playing with your ideas and artistry and paying your bills.

Of course, it is possible to have a collection of originals for sale in your personal name and a collection of mass-produced reproductions of your art for sale on another site with a commercial brand name. In rare situations (very rare) you might be able to have both your fine art and commercial art on one site. It’s rarely done because the marketing and selling logistics are often very different. How do you introduce your collectors of your fine art to a commercial line of goods?

I don’t want to beat anyone up, but I must pronounce you crazy if you have a strong history of fine art shows, group exhibitions, and maybe even some solo shows in your history, and you want your artwork put on a pillow. If you are wanting serious galleries in serious art districts to give you space in their high rent neighborhoods, they will want you to be devoted to an art career, not a career that includes being a seller of household goods or novelty items.

Oddly (even somewhat ironically), when you are very well known and your work sells for many tens of thousands, then you can launch into commercial licensing. But as you climb the ladder, purity of purpose is in high demand.

The bottom line is: Name recognition for fine art is very important. I recently worked with a wood sculptor who has the intention of getting into some art exhibits next year. He had a clever domain name, but I pointed out that when someone sees him at an art opening they are meeting him, not a clever domain name. For those who collect his art, they are buying his name, the one he carved into their sculpture, not the clever domain name. If they tell someone about him and refer people to his site in the future, they will google his name, not some clever domain name.

Your clever domain name might just be better as your tag line! That’s what was done for the wood sculptor’s branding.

Final warning

Getting your personal name as a domain name can be increasingly difficult. Remember that you can always add more descriptors as needed. So janedoe dot com would be tough, but artistjanedoe might work. Or janedoeartist or janedoewoodworker and so forth and so on.

In creating my first website for my jewelry business (way before FB, Twitter, etc), I was shocked that “Currents” dot com was taken. And back in 1995, my then three-year-old business was pretty established so I couldn’t change my business name. And the domain name currentsjewelry was unavailable (it’s available now – go figure!) and I didn’t want to be currentjewelry and have any confusion going forward. So, I went with lowerimpact.com – I knew I would never sell online, so for me, it didn’t actually matter. I didn’t want the general public to find me anyway.

I tell this story so that you can really give deep thought to how you will be found online. Unlike me, most of you will be wanting sales online or at least to be seen online. That means you need to pay attention to “what’s in a name”.

Whatever you do… go get all the Social Media names secured if you haven’t done that yet. You may never use Twitter, but you sure don’t want some weirdo or nasty person to be using your “brand name” and confusing your fans and collectors!

So now you have some food for thought. Share any thoughts you have in the comments. And if you need to brainstorm your branding strategies, feel free to book an appointment.


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