Mary Johnston is one of my top-selling artists. Not only are her large-scale contemporary oils rich, fully conceived, and beautiful, they seem to transport anyone looking at the art to a different place. Whether it’s a large expansive sky, a peaceful water scene, green forests, or the wind through the grass you're there. You can feel the warm sun upon your face, you can hear the water lapping upon the beach, you can hear the birds chirp in the trees and the branch break underfoot or the wind make music through the bending grasses. It’s no wonder why so many buyers seek to have her work in their environments. Who wouldn’t want to be transported to such beautiful, serene, and peaceful places?
Art Inspired by Place
Mary grew up on the Great Lakes surrounded by natural beauty and spent her adult life exploring the natural world all over the United States. When she wasn’t appreciating nature’s bounty, she was exploring other artists’ interpretation of it. After graduating from the University of Minnesota, Duluth, she and her husband moved to New Jersey. Close to New York, she had the opportunity to explore many of the New York City art museums and galleries. It was in Bedminster, New Jersey, through the Somerset Art Association, she discovered and honed her own artist talents in watercolor and faux painting. She then moved several times—including a stint on the West Coast—that exposed her to the Pacific Ocean and the topography of the West Coast. When she, her husband, and her three children settled in Indiana in 2003 for her husband’s new job, she discovered her current passion—oil painting.
The Importance of Conferences, Competitions, and Trade Shows
She currently works out of her studio on the third floor above the Magdalena Gallery of Art in the Carmel, Indiana Arts & Design District, and is the consummate busy, working artist. She has built her business traveling throughout the U.S. attending tradeshows, conferences, juried competitions, art fairs, and being featured in galleries and art consultant groups. If there is any artist who knows the value and ins-and-outs of conferences, competitions, and tradeshows, it’s Mary Johnston.
Here Mary stands with Rick Barnette of Redwood Media Group accepting her "Spotlight Artist" Award at Art Santa Fe.
Mary has built her success and income on attending art shows. “Indoor and outdoor shows can become a major money-maker and very important part of your business as an artist,” she says. But you need to have your market or buyer in mind. “Indoor and outdoor markets offer two different types of buyers,” she says. “It’s good to get a feel for both to find out where your market lies and how to exhibit at each type of show.” She does her homework before attending and makes sure that work she exhibits appeals to the general buyer. “You might have some crazy, off-the-wall pieces that you’re really excited about and want people to see, but if you’re investing in a show and you’re looking to sell, you have to go into a show with your buyers’ needs in mind,” she recommends.
Worth the Investment
Mary knows that shows can be costly, but they’re worth the investment. “They’re where you meet people. You have to put your work out there in front of the world if you want to sell,” she says. She also advises artists to come prepared with their wholesale and designer prices, because trade professionals and gallery owners attend these shows with the intention of scouting new work. “I go to many shows each year and they’re all important to my business,” she says. But she also knows that you have to be willing to diversify. “Galleries sell my work as well, but you shouldn’t rely on one source for sales. Each dealer’s clientele is limited so having a presence all over the country is the best way to explode your art career.” She also adds that exhibiting with a gallery or entering into a competition like Art Comes Alive can be a great way to get your work to a show to test the waters or work on a budget. (Mary’s work won both purchase and gallery contract awards in last year’s ACA).
Mary’s also had success at regional outdoor fairs and festivals. A Midwesterner, Mary knows her market and where her work will be appreciated. She tries to attend such shows as the Edina Art Fair in Minnesota, Port Clinton Art Festival in Chicago, and the Ann Arbor Art Fair annually. And she recognizes the approach to outdoor festivals and fairs is different than indoor trade shows. Because of the range of visitors, she advises, “You need to have pieces at every price point and you should sell from every price point. If 100,000 people come by your booth and you only sell one large piece, regardless of the monetary gain that’s not a successful show.” Again, like all professional artists and gallery owners often advise, Mary is a proponent of doing one’s homework. “Find out which shows your work fits into and invest wisely.”