So, who the hell are YOU?

by Owen Garratt | The Art of Marketing

I  spent close to ten years selling my art door to door. If there’s a harder, more harebrained, more difficult way to do it, I haven’t found it, but I can honestly say that I learned a few things.

I’d go wandering into industrial parks with an aim to selling some of my limited edition prints to companies, and it wasn’t too long before a two-fisted oil company dude hit me with a tough one (er, verbally, that is):

“So who the hell are YOU?”


Huh…that’s a dashed good question.  Who the hell was I?  The question pre-supposed that I’d better be somebody, because this bare-knuckled fella wanted to know…and ‘Owen Garratt, Pencil Artist’ wasn’t what he meant.

He meant, “Why should I buy some of your art? Are you supposed to be a somebody?”

There’s a famous quote by Leroy Neiman that changed my life: “The artist is more important than the artwork”.  Most artists have a problem with this; and it kind of offends me personally.

But it’s perfectly true. Think about it; name 3 songs by the group KISS.  Time’s up…not very many people can name 3 songs in less than 10 seconds; yet everyone knows who Gene Simmons is.

How about the Beatles?  They’re much more important as an iconic group than any individual song they sing. What if Hermann’s Hermits recorded ‘Satisfaction’ instead of The Rolling stones?  One could argue that it’s essentially the same product, but it’s the Stones that made it what it was.

Another example: Friend A buys a new limited edition print and runs home to tell friend B about it.  Friend B never EVER says “What’s it a print of?”

Friend B ALWAYS asks “Who’s it by?”

Then whole world runs this way. If you need to update an insurance policy, you don’t ask your neighbor about his policy…you ask who his agent is.

It’s the personality, not the product.

Who are you?

Whoever you are; this is your brand.  You have to stand for something. You need to be special.

Why is that so important? It sounds like an obvious question, but seriously: what’s the answer?

You need to have a way for the public to relate to you and you need to be unique.

In marketing here’s a phrase that originated in the 1940’s by Rosser Reeves that’s called a USP, or Unique Selling Proposition.

In essence, a USP answer the question in the public’s mind: “Why should I come and do business with you VS every other option I have?”

Here’s the thing; the ‘shelf’ space in the consumer’s mind is pretty limited – you’ve got to connect the dots for them, and they can only hold one dominant thought at a time. You can’t expect the public to automatically have the desire or the ability to sift through all kinds of data to make an informed buying decision.

It sounds nice, but it just doesn’t happen that way.

They need a penetrating, memorable and obvious message that cuts through the clutter and tells everything about you and why they should get on board.

Having heard that, a lot of artists will say “Well, my art work is unique and is what differentiates me from the rest”.

If that’s really true, then terrific!  Art certainly can be a perfect source of differentiation. There are certain artists, musicians, and writers who are identifiable from a mile away. I’ve done consulting with three artists in my own area who have this down cold. They’re all different, they’re after different markets, and they’ve got a solid base to build on.

When you’re creating art, think beyond the piece you’re working on. Think about creating a piece of art that’s a part of a whole world of your creation.

It’s kind of a sideways example, but let’s look at The Simpson’s®.  Every episode is what’s called a ‘stand-alone’, that is, if you’ve never seen The Simpsons ® before, there’s enough character and story development for the story to stand-alone.

However, they weave in storylines with past episodes and have a whole cast of characters in a unique and compelling world that’s larger and more fulfilling than any one show.

You need to develop the same in your art and with you as the artist. Show what YOUR world is, and how it mirrors, complements and contradicts real life.

THIS is what draws an audience in and creates demand for what you’re going to do next.

The Art IS the marketing.

I want to caution you here. Most artists who say, and maybe even honestly believe they’re unique…aren’t.

At all.

Unique means unique, as in “not done by others”.

Rare and unusual isn’t unique. Just because you’re one of only 15 artists in your locale who sticks your head into a bucket of paint to stir it up doesn’t make you unique – it might make you weird, but if there’s 15 of you, it’s not unique.

Also, far too many artists jump on the bandwagon and try to emulate (copy) some other artist’s successful ‘formula’ – much like the legions of writers who sell out by trying to copy the success of Harry Potter by writing some teen magic book.

The public needs to have a hook; a way of mental grasping who you are and what you’re about. Ideally, your art should have a hook, and so should your story.

Funny tag to the story: 7 years later, Mr. Tough Guy Oil Chap became a client, and I’d go so far as to say chums, and by a quick reckoning, he’s spent close to $7500 on my art of the past few years.

And he doesn’t remember me from when I called on him years ago – he’s the type who’d say so – but I sure remember him…

Finding an answer for his question made my career…

Speaking of making careers, you may want to check out The Fast Start Art Marketing Primer!

Will it make your career? Who knows; that’ll mostly depend on you.  But if you’re looking for a boot in the pants to get you going, it’s pretty tough to beat!

 Check out the Fast Start Art Marketing Primer!

“Just a note to say thanks to Owen for his courses. It has already changed my whole concept of marketing my work and makes me actually feel in control of my future. Thanks Owen!”

Tony Alderman
Durham, NC

“I’ve gotten great value out of this course. It really speaks to the artist in a no B.S. way that clears the mental clutter, and gets you to pay attention to what you really need to get the ball rolling.”

Fay Wyles
San Clemente, CA

“It was light-hearted, it had charm and humour and kept me engaged the whole time!  I loved it!”

Suzi Campbell
Melbourne, Australia

“The first or second lesson got my money back in multiples already. So brilliant…you shook me!”

Marta Spendowska
Domino, OK

“Owen’s course literally saved me from a slippery path that I would probably have never recovered from.”

Gregg Arnold
Kingman, AZ


  1. Ziggy oleary

    You are so right about the artist having a story. But what if your just a regular guy, wife.n kids middle aged. Blah blah. I don’t want to be insincere, or lie to people about who I am. Louis CK I notice makes no excuse for his personality. He doesn’t try to be someone he is not. So what I am asking for is how do you stand out but still remain true to yourself. I’m a big fan of your ideas in marketing by the way Thank you for sharing them. Very eye opening

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Ziggy!

      Thanks for the kind words, and I agree with you; one mustn’t be insincere or lie about themselves! None of this is about trying to be something you’re not – it’s about revealing other facets of your diamond. While your day in/day out life of wife, kids, and domesticity may be the biggest part of your life, it’s not likely ALL of your life! Hey, my day to day gets pretty mundane too…but here’s the nice bit: we don’t HAVE to be proportionate in our stories, and we get to decide which facets of our lives that we share with our clients.

      For example, part of my story was being a full time drummer on the road for most of my 20’s, and now I’m also the Drum Sargent with our local Firefighter’s Pipe Band. I can either use these tidbits or not based on the situation. I could also talk about Stinky the Anxious Dog we just somehow ended up with, and how I’ve had to kiss strolling barefoot in my backyard goodbye and how I’ve been reduced to plucking ‘poopsie-daysies’ off the lawn. Or not.

      Story isn’t just a collection of facts; it’s the decisions about how and if those stories are shared!

      By the way, your art is terrif!

  2. Vishvesh

    Great article! I have gained wisdom from your articles and courses! Thank you!

  3. Jessica Stadtmueller

    I have a reply for Ziggy….I took a workshop with Wendy Rosen and Carolyn Edlund of ABI. Wendy said let’s say you are at a cocktail party and ask people what they do for a living. If they say “I’m an accountant/lawyer/administrative assistant/etc….” people just nod and say ok. If you say “I’m an artist,” people perk up, and want to hear more. Why? I wrote down her exact words in my notebook:

    “Most people’s lives are boring and wish they had your life.”
    “People want to *buy* a piece of the self-employed dream that you live.”

    With that in mind, your life is not boring.

    I shared a picture on instagram yesterday morning, with a pile of vintage lace I tea-dyed while I had coffee. Someone replied: “Lovely and inspirational first thing Monday morning! (Now off to the day job…grrr)”. See what I mean? A pile of old lace hankies soaking in tea, photographed artfully, made someone feel inspired. And a touch envious.

    I also snap pictures of mushrooms I see in my yard, because I think they’re lovely and inspire my work. A customer of mine yesterday said she finds it absolutely amazing that I “see” these things she just goes past every day.

    Artists are very different minded people, and things we find very normal and everyday, are incredibly quirky and interesting to non-artists.

    At the same time, lots of people are married and have kids, and identify as a “regular guy” too….so you have the added bonus of connecting with the next Louis CK kinda guy that browses your art as well. He’ll see that your life is pretty much like his, except maybe a little more interesting. Don’t sell yourself short!

    Hope that helps. 🙂


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