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Digital era challenges local artists who want to share works and make a living

POST PHOTO: BRITTANY ALLEN - Steve Ludeman in his home-based studio in Welches. In the time of re·nowned creators such as Van Gogh and Rembrandt, art was a commodity reserved for display and ownership by the wealthy. These days, you can find many of these artists and their contemporaries' images being sold on a coffee mug on Amazon.com for about $10.

What does this mean for the modern-day artist? With a market saturated with prints and copies, how does one make their art visible? Is there a fine art to selling art?

There remains a somewhat recognizable line between those artists who have embraced technology's rather new role in the process of displaying and selling work, and the gallery purists who resist creating a web presence for their art.

That divide can even be readily found in the Sandy area.

"In the beginning, you had to be in an established gallery," Welches watercolor painter Steve Ludeman explains.

This isn't as common now.

Ludeman has sold his art for the past 30 years, learning sales practices along the way from consultants and colleagues. He says one consultant once told him, "In order to really sell your art, you need five ways to sell it."

And this was in the early 2000s.

"I like to go wherever I can go to get exposure for my art," Ludeman notes. "If you're going to be an actual artist, a good portion of your time can be spent on marketing and sales."

He has art displayed in several places around Oregon, including Timberline Lodge and The Dalles Discovery Center besides what is online for purchase.

Watercolor painter and career entrepreneur Caryn Tilton recently took it upon herself not only to create a virtual venue for her work, but for her fellow Mount Hood artists such as Ludeman.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: CARYN TILTON - The Mount Hood Art Online logo.The all-in-one gallery and digital storefront is called Mount Hood Art Online.

One thing Tilton says she realized upon entering the art world in her retirement was that many artists are not, by nature, marketing people. But she adds that nowadays you almost have to be.

She notes that with the dissipation of the gallery requirements Ludeman spoke of, many today are acting as independent artists, forgoing galleries altogether.

On one hand this makes the artist more free to operate as they desire, but on the other, Tilton says, "People might miss collectors."

"I think that currently, there is somewhat of a disconnect for artists between creating the art and marketing the piece," she explains. "It's true that there are a lot of little efforts to get website and get art out there, but I contend that many will go unseen by the general public. It's going to take a much bigger effort than (artists) might be aware of."

One who still operates a physical gallery and chooses to go somewhat against the tide of technology is 1mag1ne Anyth1ng owner Allen Wilson.

Though Wilson doesn't consider the photography he sells in his Pioneer Boulevard location "fine art" and aims more to provide affordable decor for Sandy residents, he still prefers face time.

"I don't sell online," he says. "We take our gallery on the road."

Most if not all of Wilson and his partner Brian Ballentine's marketing is done in-person at festivals and markets.

"Were kind of going against the grain," he explains. "Our concept is old school, but it's working for us."

He refers to his business as "the gallery experience of internet prices," and thinks the affordability of his artwork helps sell itself.

Another factor that keeps him only selling in person and not via a URL, is the fluidness of his inventory. His stock of art changes so frequently that keeping a site up-to-date would be a full-time job in itself, and he can't afford to delegate.

"We're (also) trying to create an atmosphere and ambiance," he adds. "Something you can't find online."

Tilton still appreciates the traditional gallery space, and she tries to get some of her artists' pieces on tangible display. For her, being online is not only keeping with the times, but taking advantage of an opportunity to market oneself.

"You just sort of have to be on-point all of the time," she explains. "Always keep an eye open for opportunity. If their goal is to be an independent artist and make a living at it, pull out all of the stops. If your goal is to support a family or be successful, approach it as a multifaceted endeavor."

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO: STEVE LUDEMAN - 'Jonsrud View' by Steve Ludeman.As with creating art, everyone's approach to selling their work and creating their image differs. For artists, many struggle to find that balance between art and commerce.

"My philosophy is, even thought my art might not sell (where it's hung), I'd rather have it there than leaning against my wall at home," Ludeman says. "The only reason I'm not on other websites is that I already spend too much of my time on the computer. It takes me away from my painting."

Tilton weighs in saying "The challenge for selling online is: if you think you're going to have a website and sell art, that is only the tip of the iceberg. My advice to somebody that wanted to work online would be to understand all that's beneath that iceberg."