Technology and the Business of Art

Over the past 10 years, computers have greatly changed how some artists make their work and how most of them do business.

When Lisanna Sullivan started out as a photographer in high school and university, she developed her images in a wet darkroom. Leaving those institutions, she stopped shooting. Without the ability to develop the images herself, she lost the drive to shoot.

The advent of digital photography changed that. “Back in 2000, digital had not caught up with film. Now, people ask if my digital photographs are film or digital.” An untrained eye can’t tell.

The chief frustration of Sullivan’s last eight years of shooting has been bringing her files to other people to develop. “They usually get it wrong.”

So she bought a high-end digital printer herself recently. She’s looking forward to “having full creative control” again. However, “it’s not just a question of buying the equipment and turning it on.”

Making sure the digital camera, monitor and printer all have the same colour calibration takes awhile to figure out.

Sullivan has owned the printer for over a month and is still working on setting it up.

Lillian Loponen, a watercolour artist, experienced similar frustrations when commercially produced prints of her paintings looked totally different from the painting and from the images on the screen. Then the technology improved to the point where it was worth having her own home printer.

Loponen prints her own art cards. I caught her restocking her popular cards, which she maintains about two dozen images.

Loponen has educated herself to keep up with technological advances: “It’s changed my business completely.”

She took a business course with Dana Nae Ventures. Selling her own art cards became part of her five-year goal. Not having the cash flow to work with commercial printers, she learned how to do it herself.

After several digital design courses, including Photoshop at Yukon College, it still took hours and hours of fiddling and reading books to set up the configuration on her computer so that what she saw on the screen was what she got out of the printer.

As part of her five-year business plan, she has her website up and is working on taking her winter-themed art show to Finland.

E-mail is crucial in setting up international contacts.

“You have two hats: an art hat and a business hat. Using the technology makes good business sense. You can’t do without it today.”

Darren Holcombe manages much of the business side of Lara Melnik’s polymer-clay-based art practice.

He reflects, “at the end of the day, technology doesn’t change what the art is, but it can certainly be used to help an art business prosper.”

He breaks the use of technology into six main areas.

First of all, e-mail has changed how artists get show information out there. He reflects that you don’t see so many mail-out invites these days. It’s easier and cheaper to send an e-mail. “Social utilities” like Facebook can be used in this way, too.

Then there’s digital photography. Although its long-term archival quality can be debated, it sure is handy for artists. You can “get good images for next to nothing.” Melnik uses real photographic prints for her art cards as she prefers their colour. However, digital images are handy for websites, e-mails and digital inventories of work.

Thirdly, as we discussed above, technological advances have improved personal printing to the point where it edges out more expensive commercial printing. Holcombe makes full-bleed, full-colour digital invitations costing five to ten cents apiece, using simple design software.

Fourthly, Google is a great resource for artists: “You can research all aspects of your art business ranging from doing taxes, ordering supplies, reviewing other artists’ work, checking weather, cheating at crosswords …”

Fifthly, it’s much easier now to create and publish an artist’s personal website. Holcombe designed Melnik’s site using the software he figured was easiest to use. Artists can use websites as personal virtual galleries of their work and can sell work from their site if they choose to.

Even if an artist doesn’t want to take on having her own site, she “can easily use or another third party group site as a way to advertise or exhibit work.”

Blogs also initiate dialogue between an artist and her public. Val Hodgson’s daily painting blog is an example of a Yukon artist showing work in this format.

Finally, Holcombe points out that small business finances have become easier to handle with better software. “This eliminates the need for a small business owner to meet with and pay an accountant.”

Holcombe’s formal training in engineering renders him comfortable with the use of computers. He worries that others without this kind of background may feel left out in cold in this contemporary world where “very little from the business end of things is not touched by technology.”

Val Hodgson’s Blog:

Lillian Loponen’s website:

Lara Melnik’s website:

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