Episode 162 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Offering Donors Something Special

Offering Donors Something Special

One of the first ways I decided to get sponsors for my work shortly after I graduated college was not by the example above but by asking them to pay for artwork in advance. This is something you could do right now, and it is one of the easiest ways to get funds fast. Write a letter that begins with “Dear Collector,” and send it out to everyone that has ever bought any art from you. Send it out to family members or even friends who you have given your art to, because they are all “collectors” of your art whether they realize it or not. If you can only come up with five or ten people, including family, that’s OK; send it to them. When I wrote my letter, I sent it to a few people that had bought my work as well as my girlfriend’s father at the time. I was making abstract mono prints then, about thirty by forty-five inches, on paper. All the prints were in fact originals, much like selling paintings on paper. In the letter, I began as I mentioned above and then quickly explained that I was working on making a series of prints. I also said that I was writing to them so that I could make a large edition of work and that I had an opportunity and an offer I wanted to make. I explained that normally my prints sell for about $1,000. Then I said that I wanted to make them a deal if they bought work in advance. If one print is $1,000, then five prints would be $5,000, and I would also include a handmade box that they would all go into. The total cost for them was only $2,000! I put all the numbers together very much like that. I said that if they supported this now for $2,000, that I would send them $5,000 worth of artwork and a handmade box worth $200 dollars. I knew where I could get the portfolio boxes custom-made for me, at about that cost. I sent the letter out to fifteen people, and five of them sent me checks—that was a fast $10,000!

I was offering them a financial deal that seemed to be a very good investment. The actual numbers I put at the end of the letter again so the deal was clear to them, that is, for $2,000 now, you get over $5,000 in art and a custom box shipped to you. I was thrilled when I got the $10,000. This was the first time I had ever asked for money, and it worked. With that money, it was easy to make the custom boxes, which cost me $1,000, and then I had another $9,000 to make art. That made a lot of art indeed and also paid bills, took me on a short vacation, and more.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 161 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Keeping in Touch

Keeping in Touch

One of the most important things is to keep in touch. If for some reason you have not heard from the person you sent a letter to, then call them up! It is polite and professional to make a call and ask an assistant if they have received your letter. You just need a yes or no. If they have received your letter, then continue to wait for a response. If after two weeks you do not get a response, call again, and if they already told you they received your letter, ask if they know the status on your letter and if it will be reviewed. That is polite, and you will get an answer. After you do get an answer, hopefully with a check inside, be sure to send a beautiful thank-you note back right away. The note can be brief, but make it very sincere. If you cried when you got it, out of joy, tell them. If you began screaming and saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” then tell them. It is OK to be excited; in fact, it is what they want to hear. Just put yourself in their position for a moment. When you give someone a present, what do you want in return? How do you feel when they say, “Thanks, you shouldn’t have,” as opposed to “Oh my god, I can’t believe it! Thank you so much! I love you for this!” Wouldn’t you rather have someone gush, even if it is over the top? I know I would, and generally the people you are writing to feel the same way. They want to feel happy, and they want to feel that through you. Once when a donor sent a letter to me with a check in it, I quickly sent a text to her personal phone that said, “Wow, thank you! Your help has put a tremendous breeze under our wings, and we are soaring because of you!” I also sent her a letter, but since I had her cell phone, I sent a text as well. She wrote back right away and said, “I love hearing that, it sounds beautiful.”


That is what I do, and it is quite simple and very human. We all want to feel that people appreciate us, and the more we hear it, the better. Can you tell someone too much? I don’t think so. If you sent someone a letter every week saying how much you appreciate them in different ways, do you think they would find that annoying? I know I wouldn’t. The more we hear that someone appreciates us, the more we want to help that person to keep the gratitude coming. Just like giving presents. When someone has a wonderful reaction to a present we give them, we want to give them more. It is a natural reaction. We all want to be happier and more grateful even if we don’t acknowledge it. We want to be more alive and share in the enthusiasm of others; that is why being enthusiastic and grateful to those who support you will take you very, very far.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 160 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Charm


Once I was talking to the avant-garde theatre director Richard Foreman and I was asking him about raising money for different projects. He started to tell me about Jonas Mekas, who is the director and founder of Anthology Film Archives. AFA is a building in New York that is dedicated to showing avant-garde films. It is a nonprofit institution that was founded by an artist with the help of many other people. Mr. Foreman told me that Jonas Mekas was great at talking to wealthy people at parties. He said they used to call him “Saint Jonas” because he was so sweet to everyone, and they loved him. Foreman said Mekas was able to ask many people for large sums of money to support other artists, and they gave it to him. I never learned many more details of this story, but it is clear that part of the way he raised millions to build his institution was to befriend people in a charming manner.

You can start writing a letter today. Think of what you need money for: to complete a painting series, or make a new sculpture, or for the development of some other project or dream you have in mind. Then write it down and get into it, get excited about what you are writing, and express that with enthusiasm so the person you are writing to feels it and comes along for the ride. Then when you send updates, continue the excitement of your accomplishments.

Don’t Be Negative!

A special note here is to remember not to be negative or say that you need the money because you are broke. The reason for that is simple; people want to fund your dreams, not pick up the pieces. They want to attach themselves to someone who is flying, not get on a sinking ship. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Put yourself in the position of donor again. If you are about to give a small or even a large donation, you want it to really make a difference, you want people to be happy and grateful, and you do not want it to just be a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. The last note about writing a beautiful letter is to come up with other ways for the letter to stand out. I often use sealing wax on the back of the envelope and I use a coin to stamp it. It looks beautiful and is one more way your letter is standing out from all the rest that come in. Or consider scenting the letter lightly with perfume!

I also do not usually mail a letter like that with the address on the front as I would with a normal letter. Sometimes I do, but generally I put the letter in a FedEx envelope or in a priority mail envelope. That way it is protected and will usually be opened first as well.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 158 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Using Your Contacts

Using Your Contacts

The next step is to go home and keep the cards you collected in one place. As soon as you meet someone and get their card, go home and send them an email within twenty-four hours. Even if you don’t get their card, remember to look up their names and find a way to send an email to them. You might not find their personal address, but you can probably find a company address for them. Write them a polite email saying that you enjoyed meeting them and that you would like to keep in touch and give them a link to see some of your images. Then keep going to openings; you will see them again, address them by their first name, and ask them how they are and talk again about what you are seeing. This is the way I do it, and it is one of the basic ways to make new friends in a setting like this. After meeting them twice, you can begin to ask them to lunch or tea and get to know them better and tell them more about who you are. See chapter 3 on presenting yourself for more information on what to do at the lunch meeting.

The idea, of course, is that you are making friends with people who can help you, and the next step is to ask them to help!

Writing a Beautiful Letter

Once, when I met a trustee of a museum that I wanted to talk to further, I asked her at an opening if I could call her and ask her advice on a new project I was working on, and she said yes. I tried calling her several times and only got her assistant. Then I asked her assistant when the best time to catch her was, and she told me between 7:30 and 8:00 am. Since then I have found that the time to get people who have assistants is in the thirty minutes just before the assistant arrives.

I called her back at that time and I said hello and reminded her who I was, and said that I wanted to ask her a quick question about fund-raising. I proceeded to ask her how I should go about asking people for money for my artwork. She was very forth- coming. She told me that in her experience, there were several things that were needed for her to give money to an artist for a project. She said that when artists send her beautiful letters, she responds. By beautiful letters, she meant that the letter was handwritten on beautiful paper, in a beautiful envelope. And the letter itself was long, chatty, and asking for a specific amount of money. She said that when people send her letters like that, she not only writes back, she saves the letter because it is so beautiful. Now there was something very important that she mentioned about how much money you are asking for in the letter.

Like most people who are involved in the arts and give a significant amount of money to the arts, she has a foundation of her own that administers how the money is given out. That means that you can search online and see what her foundation has given to in the past. She said it was important to her that people knew who she was and what she gave money to and how much she had given. The reason for that, she said, is so that people don’t ask her for too much or too little money, but an amount that makes sense. She also said that she doesn’t like it when people only write to her for money and don’t send her letters in between giving her friendly updates. And, at the end of our talk, which was about twenty minutes, she said, “When you get the letter done, send me a copy.”

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 157 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Introducing Yourself

Introducing Yourself

So let’s take it one step at a time. You have your list of people you want to meet who are potential supporters, and you have printed out their pictures so you recognize them when you see them. Now you are at an opening reception, alone. Don’t bring a friend or you are sure not to meet the person you are seeking, or even someone new, because you will be talking to your friend the whole time. Look around at the whole scene. See if you recognize anyone from your research. You may or may not see someone, but look. If you don’t see someone you know from your research, then be a detective. You can tell who is the wealthiest by the clothes they are wearing, their shoes, their watches, and other accessories. Now is the time to be brave; you really have nothing to lose here. If you recognize someone or they just seem like they would be a good patron from their dress and attitude, go up to them, be confident, and hold your head high, extend your hand for a firm handshake, and say, “Hello, my name is X, I’d like to introduce myself.” They will shake your hand back, and all the while, look at them right in the eye and be confident.

If you act too nervous or skittish, you will make the person you are trying to meet feel the same way. So do your best, and after introducing yourself, if they do not introduce themselves right away, ask them, “May I ask your name?” They will tell you, and then you can begin a brief conversation. Ask them what their favorite work in the show is and listen carefully to what they say. Respond to their words thoughtfully. If they say they do not like a particular work, ask why. Then in the conversation that ensues, offer your own thoughts. Don’t make jokes, curse, or say anything negative. Be upbeat and enjoy yourself. They will most likely ask what you do, and that is your opening to say that you are an artist. If they do not ask, then you can say, “I am an artist.” And then add your own comment about the show and why you came there.

Don’t talk too long because you want to end the conversation gracefully, so take out a business card and hand it to the person you are talking to, with the printed side facing them so they can read it, and say, “I’d like to give you my card.” If you don’t have a card, by the way, print some now! You just need your name and email address and either the word “artist” on there or something about your medium. I prefer just having the one word “artist” on mine. Then ask if you can have their busi- ness card. They will usually hand it right over to you, but even if they do not, tell them it was nice talking to them and to have a nice evening. Then shake their hand firmly, smile, make good eye contact, and move on to another person the same way. If you didn’t get their card, remember their name and write it down a piece of paper. At first you will feel awkward doing this, but after a little practice, you will get better and better, and before long, you will be collecting many cards from people who could be potential patrons of your art.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 142 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Contacting the Business You Are Interested In

Contacting the Business You Are Interested In

If you are trying to develop an income stream like this, you have to write a letter and introduce yourself to a business or corporation. It is OK if you are awkward at first; the main thing is to be bold and try out your idea. However, if you want extra help, I would talk to someone who works in the corporate environment and has experience communicating with businesses. It could be a friend or relative, or you could look for someone. When I was trying to start a company based on representing other artists in the corporate world, I put a notice on Craigslist. I made an ad that  said  I  was  starting  a  company  that  involved  artists and corporate environments, and I was looking for someone who could help me—someone with an MBA degree. I was more specific, but you get the idea. Then I interviewed several people about it. I didn’t end up hiring anyone, but I learned an enormous amount by talking to them. One person told me how to put together a “book” as a proposal for the corporations. He offered to do it for me at a cost of about $1,500. I didn’t take him up on that, but I understood what was needed. I learned more about what language to use and how to approach a corporate or business client. You could certainly use this same method to develop your income and your ideas.

You will learn a lot in this particular kind of process, and it could take you to many places you never thought possible. Like the rest of this book, it is about conducting yourself like a professional. Do you have an idea? Want to start a company or be an artistic director of some kind? Then reach for it! The way people do it, like the case I just mentioned, is by putting into words what they want. That is why you are reading this book, but also, you can seek out the advice of people who are already in the position you want to be in, or a business person who can help you present yourself, by looking over what you have written. In the workbook, you will do an exercise based on this, but for now, we will move on to another possible income stream.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 132 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Book-Ending Technique with a Friend

Book-Ending Technique with a Friend

This is a classic technique where you check in with someone regularly. It could be a friend or someone you hire, like a coach. But you have an agreement with this person that goes something like this: “I will write to you every weekday before 6:00 pm, reporting on the work I did that day.” Then you design your new schedule as we have before. You choose one thirty-minute period, not much longer or shorter, and you do your work in that period and send it to your friend or coach.

This is an exercise that works for me. Also, if you ask this of a friend, you are asking them to help you, to help you accomplish a goal, and if all they have to do is receive your emails once a day, five days a week, why not? Wouldn’t you help someone wanting the same thing? Offering an exchange like that with someone can work very well. This can be done with a family member, old friend, or someone you hire like a coach or an assistant. For the sake of experimenting here, you could ask a friend or someone very close to you. Tell them that you need their support and are doing an experiment to see if you can reach a particular goal. Tell them your plan: you will work thirty minutes a day on it and email them every weekday to state your progress. That is all. They have to read it but do not have to respond if they don’t want to. Chances are, they will respond a little, and you will have a relationship over just this issue.

The main issue is that you hold yourself accountable by writing that check-in report every weekday. Also, you are reaching out to someone and telling someone what it is you are reaching for, and when you begin telling the world that you will do something, it tends to get done.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 120 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / A Major Celebrity Connection

A Major Celebrity Connection

That was all a digression to illustrate how getting someone well- known to host your party may not be as hard as it sounds, or for that matter, to meet someone well-connected or famous.

Here is another example I saw when I was a teenager. My mother worked for a thrift store that existed to fund a local youth program. It was a small used-clothing store no one knew anything about except neighbors. The woman who was running the store wrote a handwritten letter to Yoko Ono one day, saying that she was a big fan of John Lennon and that she was sorry he was gone and a little about her thrift shop and the organization it supports. More than anything, the letter was an honest and heartfelt statement. It was not formal in any way and did not even directly ask for money, but it was effective. She got a call from Yoko Ono’s office saying they were sending a check for $2,000. The woman who wrote the letter didn’t even believe the call was real at first. She thought it was a friend joking with her. In fact, Yoko Ono did send a check for $2,000 to her and asked specifically that it not be announced in the press. Amazing, isn’t it?

Ask Directly

In chapter 2, when I talked about sending out letters to fund my own art, this was one of the stories I was thinking of. I had written to Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Jenny Holzer, and other well- known artists asking for a direct donation. In those cases, they gave it to me in amounts between $200 and $500. The point I am continually trying to reinforce here is that you can directly ask people for what you want, and the higher you aim, the easier it is to hit your target because there is less competition there. Most artists are applying for all the traditional grants and services that are out there. I am not saying that you shouldn’t apply for them too, but when you think outside of the traditional box and write to people directly, the odds of success increase dramatically because there is no one you are competing against! So keep this in mind as you plan your studio party. From your guest list to inviting a famous host for your party, there are ways to make it a very special event that will attract the people you want!

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 119 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / Building a Collection of Your Own

Building a Collection of Your Own

Mark told me he would go to artists’ studios, famous ones, and look for a very small drawing, even something on a scrap of paper or something that looked odd for some reason, and he would ask about buying it. The artist would either give him a payment plan, or in most situations, they actually gave him the work for free! They gave him the work because it seemed small, and they liked that Mark was so enthusiastic about it. In Mark’s apartment, he framed all the works beautifully, and it was one of the most interesting collections of modern art that I have ever seen. Each piece was fascinating because at first it looked nothing like what you would expect from the artist who made it. Upon closer inspection of the work, you might see traces of the style of the artist, but it had many surprises in it. This was the person who made me realize that the world of art might work very differently than I previously thought. Just as I casually advised a friend to call an artist he wanted a studio visit from, this is the person who shifted my perspective from not knowing to seeing a way into a world that I knew very little about and had no connections in.

Getting a Dream Job

There was another time I had a friend who was looking for a job. She graduated as an industrial designer. She wanted to design her own products but also to work for someone she admired. I asked her who her hero was, and she said the name of a woman  I had never heard of, but was a major designer now in her early ’70s. In short, I encouraged her to write a letter to the designer, telling her why she liked her so much. My friend wrote a letter and sent it off to the designer (via regular mail), and when the designer read it, she called her up and asked her to come down. When my friend arrived at her studio, she told me the designer announced, “Here is the angel that wrote to me, everyone, come meet her!” And though my friend was a bit embarrassed by this introduction, she was offered a job right away and kept working for her, quite happily, for several years.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.

Episode 118 – Making It in the Art World by Brainard Carey / The Hero Arrives

The Hero Arrives

This story continues with the actual studio visit. When Andres Serrano came to his studio and looked around, he said, “These are some of the best works I have seen in a while,” or something very similar to that! He also gave the artist the name of a dealer (Stefan Stux) and said, “You should go see him and tell him that I love your work and recommended he see it!” That is a pretty good recommendation, isn’t it? Now you might think there are extenuating circumstances here. After all, the artist lived in NYC, and so did the person he invited, and also, the timing was right. You might think this wouldn’t work for you. However, this is not the only way to reach people and ask for something, to ask for help or advice. You can write to people as well with regular mail or email.

My First Mentor

The reason I gave that advice to a friend was because of an experience I had in my first year of undergraduate art school. I had met a friend there named Mark. He was an art student, and I hadn’t chosen my major yet. He told me that he liked my drawings and that I should try to get a show in New York, and I should show the work to other well-known artists. At the time, I was not only very young, but I also didn’t even have much work. I continued to listen to my new friend and watched the way he worked. After college, he was already working with some of the most popular painters of the time, like Ross Bleckner and other painters from the ’80s and early ’90s. I asked him how he met all these artists who were famous, and he told me they are all in the phone book! He simply began calling them all up and asking them a question. The question he would ask depended on his situation. One question was if they would consider selling him a small drawing or something that he could pay for in installments, since he was a student.

Think about that for a minute. A well-known artist gets a call from a very young artist, asking if he can buy something on a payment plan because he doesn’t have much money. That is an unusual call that is quite flattering to the artist. Because even if that artist does not really need the sale, he or she also realizes that the person wanting to buy their art is more sincere than the average collector who is making an investment. Do you see the attraction? Even though the caller, my friend Mark, does not know the famous artist, the artist is impressed that someone without much money wants to buy his or her work. What would typically happen next is that he would get invited to the artist’s studio. That was nearly enough reward for him, because while he was there, Mark could talk to the artist, see the studio, and maybe even ask for a job. Did they need studio assistants?

The result of his efforts was to get a job as a studio assistant in New York City and an incredible collection of art by major artists! That’s right, Mark built an amazing collection this way.

To learn more about Brainard Carey and his services for artists, or to take a class from him, click here.  To join one of his free weekly webinars, click here. To download the workbook mentioned in this series, click here.