He sold it for $200 — They sold it for $10,000: Artist Michael Hugue talks the business of art
And what skill every artist should have to enhance their brand.
Michael Hugue’s first lesson about the business of art was hard. He was still in high school when he sold his first painting, a fairly large piece that he let go for $200. Michael was happy to make money off his art at such a young age, but when that dealer turned around and sold his same painting for $10,000, Hugue knew that he had a long way to go to understand the business of art.
From that point on, he set himself on a path to understanding everything he could about the art business. He learned it really is about creating a lasting impression, and there specific ways artists can go about doing that.
CRY: You mentioned that you had a business prior to teaching art. Can you just talk a little bit about what that business was?
The business was called More Than Art Brand and it was about getting people to see that art wasn’t just about hanging a painting on the wall. Some people wear art as a tattoo, some people wear it on their sleeve. People want art in different ways. We sold t-shirts and hoodies online through Shopify and in stores at Cool Js. The design would be painted on canvas then cropped out on a shirt.
CRY: There’s a Jay-Z quote where he says something like when I’m making a project, that’s all I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about being the best artist I could be. But then when the project’s done and it’s time to move it, I’m thinking about being the best marketer I could be. What are your thoughts on that?
That’s where we get lost. It’s marketing our artwork, how to market, what is the market? You can have the best product, but if you don’t know how to market and move that product, then you’re going to be stuck. And that’s [how] we fall into that trap.
CRY: When did that transition happen for you where you’re like, okay, I’m dope. I can create these things, I can design these things, but now I need people to actually see me. Was it a transition or was it as a moment?
That was more of a transition pretty much. The thing that I did not know was about the business out of it. And when I did my first painting, it was like 26x36, and I sold it for $200 and that person turned around and sold the painting for $10,000. It was a lesson. I was in high school in my senior year and it was an amazing painting. I already knew how to draw or paint and I wanted to learn graphic design so that would actually push me to that next level.
CRY: You mentioned this to me a few times. Why do you think graphic design was so important to your development?
Every time you look at a billboard, that’s design. Every time you open up a magazine or a book, somebody designed it. The reason I went into graphic design was to understand how branding works, the meaning behind branding concepts, and the tools I need to develop a successful brand.
CRY: If you had to select like one or two really transformational moves that you made, things that you did that had the biggest impact on your brand, on your career, on your business, on just your overall development, what would you say those two things are?
Graphic design was one of them, but the mentorship was the second part. Putting myself in an environment where everybody was trying to get to that next step or get to that next goal. Really being around those people that had the same mindset for me really, really set me apart from the background I come from.
CRY: One of the biggest questions we get from our audience, they’re always asking about how to get clients. Can you just walk through a couple of steps that you’ve taken to do that?
My biggest thing is quality. Good pictures, the advertising, whatever you post on social media, your website, your logo. I rather have one customer come a hundred times than a hundred customers come one time. And the way you fish for those is pretty much making sure the quality of your product is good. And that’s the thing that graphic design helped me with. I may be a one, two-man team or three-man team, but we look like we’re running an agency.