Serenity Scenes Photography and Digital Art. The business provides digitally manipulated photography images for home and office décor. It specializes in vertical and horizontal panoramas. I am the sole owner and founder. The website is https://serenityscenes.com/
At 19 and working minimum wage jobs I was given the gift of a camera with adjustable F-stop and shutter speed and I started taking photographs and learning photography in earnest. I stared trying to make a business with nature photography but life got in the way. I got married, had a child, had a mortgage, got a good job.
In 2000 my husband and I moved to Florida and I discovered art festivals. I talked to several people who did art festivals and was very excited to find it is a way to make a living. I started my company in 2003 and named it Serenity Scenes Nature Photography. I found a website URL that reflected what I was trying to do, to bring the serenity and peace that I found in nature into people’s homes and offices. I started out with a two-pronged approach, a very rudimentary website and art festivals. Once I found the juxtaposition of what I wanted to create and what people wanted to buy, art festivals became the primary business.
At first, I wasn’t very successful. I owe a great debt of gratitude to the member of my art show photographers’ group who, when I complained about not making money at a show, told me that was because my work looked like everyone else’s. I needed to be different. I stared doing digital manipulation and creating panoramas. That has become the backbone of my business. Because I was no longer adhering to truth in nature photography, I changed the name my business to Serenity Scenes Photography and Digital Art. When I moved back to Virginia in 2011, I started creating more vertical panoramas and they are my best sellers at https://serenityscenes.com/collections/vertical-panoramas
What challenges do I face?
The biggest challenge to me with art festivals is aging. Many people don’t realize that we put up those displays ourselves. I’m getting older and that is getting harder. When I realized that I would not be able to do festivals for as long and as often as I had hoped, I pivoted to doing fewer shows and having my work sold in galleries as well as beefing up my website. That pivot done in 2018 helped my business survive the pandemic.
Weather is becoming a major challenge. It used to be once every couple years a thunderstorm or micro burst would go through a show and ruin displays and artwork. This year alone there have been four. My most recent show I just managed to get the last piece of display in the van before the sky turned black with wind and rain. I was lucky to get out with no damage. Some artists weren’t. As early as 2011 I didn’t know what a derecho was (tornado force winds in a straight line). Now I’ve been through two of them. I have the heaviest tent available and significant weights to put on it. I could counteract my aging by getting a lighter tent but then my display becomes more likely to be damaged in wind. Heat in summer has always been an issue, made more frustrating because the buyers stay home in the air conditioning. I often say that art festival artists are like farmers. We can do everything right but it doesn’t matter if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
Inflation combined with supply chain problems is a new issue. Keeping the same quality materials and the same profit margin is becoming more difficult without raising prices too high. I buy more in bulk now and keep an eye out for sales on my most used materials. Market changes are always an issue. At this point I have been through a recession and a pandemic and now inflation. Adjusting the business to the market is necessary in any kind of retail sales.
Shipping for my business has always been an issue. My work is large and under glass. It took much trial and error to find a shipping solution that not only protects the work from damage but at a reasonable cost. I also started offering free delivery within 100 miles of my home base and free pick up to offset the high cost of shipping shorter distances.
What opportunities are available today?
The internet is much more robust that it was when I started in business. Many challenges I faced in the beginning have been addressed. Credit card processing is now cheaper and easier and charges are authorized immediately. My first credit card machine cost $600 and did only what is called “store and forward” which meant I didn’t know if the card was valid until I got back to the hotel and hooked it up to a landline. Square was a major game changer and now there are more options. You can do paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram but you can also get great results from just posting good content regularly for no charge. And after you post you can check Google Analytics for free to see if it worked. My first website was hand built and would have been impossible if I hadn’t had computer knowledge. Now you have Shopify and WordPress and others that make it easy to build and maintain for a nominal cost. I have Shopify and even at the lowest tier I have a built-in shopping cart, credit card processing and shipping discounts. Most show applications are now online. Zapplication and Juried Art Services are two of the main ones and using them you can peruse and apply to festivals all over the United States.
The challenges, especially weather, make it sound like doing art festivals is just miserable. When the weather cooperates and the people come and buy it is just glorious. What job can you do where someone is saying to you that you are doing a great job every 15 minutes or so. Where else can you spend four days on the road and come home with 6,000 dollars profit.
For the beginner the most important advice I can offer is find that sweet spot between what inspires you and what sells. You can save a lot of trial and error (and money) that way. Art shows still can be very lucrative but done to earn a living require a lot of travel, physical work and upfront expenses. If you start out without a good idea of what people want, you’re going to lose money and get frustrated. So, research, research, research. Art is 50% making great art and 50% business. Make a business plan. Decide if you are going to be low cost / high volume, high cost/ low volume, or somewhere in the middle. That will control many of the decisions you make especially how and where you market your work. Who is your buyer? Is it parents with young children, older home owners, young professionals just starting out? One of the best pieces of advice I got from my art show photographers’ group was to visit shows early on Sunday morning before the show opens and talk to artists. Most of us are friendly and love to give advice but not when the show is open. A lot of the advice now, is online. There are several Facebook groups that I am a member of where you can buy used equipment, get show reviews, and ask questions.
You will need a way to display your work. Again, your business model is going to drive this. I was next to a fabulous painter at a show. Her work was different and interesting and definitely worth the prices she was charging. Unfortunately, she was using a borrowed tent and borrowed walls that looked pretty awful. People were walking right past her booth never seeing her wonderful paintings. Your display needs to be inviting and match your price point.
Another thing to learn at festivals and online is pricing your work. Take into account ALL of your expenses. Just because you paid $500 to be at a show and bring home $1000 doesn’t mean you made money. Don’t forget your materials, your advertising, replacing display items that wear out, gas to get to the show. Pay attention to the bottom line. Remember you are 50% art and 50% business.
Liability insurance is a must. Insurance covering your display and your work is a nice to have but liability insurance is a must. I was next to an artist who had a painting fly off an outside wall in the wind that landed inches from a $150,000 Tesla on display. I was at a show where the wind was very bad and I saw a tent fly and hit another artist’s high-priced sculpture and broke it. The sculpture artist was red faced and angry and immediately calmed down as soon as the other artist said “I have insurance.” Even the best tents can fly in the wind and destroy other artists work and hurt people.
It is not applicable to all types of art but if it is, register your copyright. Yes, for photographers, the second you snap that shutter you have a copyright but no lawyer will take a copyright infringement case if you have not registered your copyright. For photography, it is online, easy, and inexpensive. I do it once a year.
There is a lot of disagreement about business cards. Yes, your business card will most likely be thrown away or filed some place where it will never be seen again. I believe in giving them out anyway. I have given out thousands and the vast majority have resulted in nothing. But over the years I have sold more to people who have come across my business card, remembered me, and bought something than I have spent on business cards.
If you are doing a major event and the event coordinator has a list of addresses send postcards. Where I live, we have a yearly drop off at the dump for toxic chemicals and pesticides. Usually there is a little note on the property tax bill. We would mark it on the calendar and take whatever needed to be taken and be home in 45 minutes. One year they sent our postcards with the date. That year there was a line from the dump out to and beyond the main road. It took five hours. People will save postcards.
Make contacts. Get email addresses and send out a newsletter. Give good customer service. When something doesn’t work figure out why. Pay attention to the market and change with it. Believe in yourself.
Youtube channel: (63) Serenity Scenes Photography and Digital Art – YouTube