Can paid social ads increase art sales? Podcast with Victoria & David Park

December 17, 2022

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Victoria Park is an abstract painter from British Columbia and is one of the top sellers that uses our art dropshipping service. David Park, Victoria’s brother-in-law, runs paid social campaigns professionally. Together, they’ve created a winning formula that’s allowed Victoria to quickly grow her collector base whilst staying true to her style.

Running paid ads is not something we have advised artists to do in the past, but this podcast with Victoria & David has flipped that script on us and we’re all in! Enjoy the podcast and if you like this episode, please share it with your friends.

Listen to this episode wherever you get your podcasts:


Stuart: Welcome, Victoria and David, and thanks very much for joining us today.

Victoria: Thanks for having us, Stuart.

David: Great to be here.

Stuart: So I just wanted to start by asking you, Victoria, when did you actually start painting and when did you realise that okay, this could actually be a career?

Victoria: That’s a great question. It was a long journey for me, starting as soon as I could pick up any form of paint brush, crayon, or anything. I have been drawing since I was a toddler. I was homeschooled so I like to think that I majored in art for the first 12 years of that educational period because I could dedicate as much time as I wanted to painting, which has left my administrative skills, which we’ll get to later with Dave, a little bit lacking.

So I was that kid that was always drawing, always painting and after high school I pursued a little bit going into the art world, doing some group shows, but nothing was really selling. And I thought, okay, I’ll apply for art school and maybe that will kickstart my career. I didn’t get accepted into my dream university because I didn’t have a second language, and that was also due to my homeschooling. Lord, bless my mom for not knowing French fluently and being able to teach me that. So it was a really good, humbling moment for me because being that kid that was always doing art and I did end up going to high school for the last bit of my education, secondary education and I was that kid that everyone’s like Oh Victoria, she’s always drawing. I was like, oh, it’s gonna be so easy for me to go to art school and then I was just totally disappointed by not getting in. It was a really good moment for me to just rethink what is this? How much does this weigh in on my identity as a person and starting this new journey of figuring out myself, apart from art because I definitely relied on that a lot?

And then I ended up going into illustration, just picked up illustration gigs. Ended up going into graphic design, worked at a marketing agency, illustrating graphics for them. And that was really cool cuz I was in that business environment of seeing how companies run and agencies and then managing clients and being a part of those projects. So that was really cool to be a fly on the wall and then as well use my skills. But it was definitely in this, I’m serving the client almost a hundred percent with whatever I create. It wasn’t, what does Victoria wanna paint? What does Victoria wanna draw? There’s a client brief. You follow the directions, and to me, I thought, this is how an artist makes money as they have to compromise their passion and find a nice little medium where they can dabble a little bit, use their skills, but ultimately it’s not really from their soul or heart or perspectives. It’s you’re serving a client, which is wonderful and it totally serves a need that people have.

I was only at the marketing agency for a little bit, and then I ran my own company, doing graphic design freelancing, focused on branding, visual storytelling. Amazing seven years, but by the end of the seven years, I was so burnt out and I felt like I was just doing it because I thought that was the only way I could make money as an artist, and it was beginning to get more and more empty even though I could create good work and had wonderful clients, it wasn’t fulfilling for me and so I ended up having a nice breakdown. As many people have gone before me have heard that it’s just that moment where you realise this isn’t working. I’m so tired. I was having panic attacks. I was overwhelmed with stress. I was having all these health issues, and so I decided to just pull the plug and do something completely different. I needed to work with my hands. That was something that I just felt in the deepest part of me that I couldn’t be at a computer anymore. I wanna work with my hands, and so I took up this gig with a nursery and I was pruning and grading ilex, it’s a winter berry. So I did that for a couple months in freezing temperatures, outside, pruning, and I never felt more happy just doing something with my hands. And that gave me a lot of time to think of what I wanna do next.

The dream of being an artist was buried, for sure, and I didn’t actually think that would be possible and I thought it was too late. I thought I should’ve started when I was 20 or when I was 19 or whatever. And I think at this time I was still very young, 26 I think. And then, yeah, I ended up getting pregnant and I worked another job at a floral wholesaler and took a break and then had a child. When the child was about, Wilber is his name, eight months old, I started getting this feeling of, I think I wanna paint again. And I think that was due to me just needing some therapy from becoming a mom and having no idea what I just got into and way too many feelings and emotions that could not be expressed without painting. I think that is part of how I was wired from when I was a little girl. I just always drew but that part of me had been balled up and I was about to explode. So it was last year, which still blows my mind.

Last year, in July 2021, I started my painting practice and at first I wasn’t taking it seriously. I thought I’m just doing it for some extra cash. I’m a mom now. I can just do this in the background and it just turned into something I never thought would happen. I just wanted to do something I loved. I just wanted to do something I loved again, and the rest you see, is history. I almost don’t even know what happened so fast.

Stuart: Yeah, that’s a very short time. So what was that kind of moment when you realised this could be a career? What was the trigger point for that?

Victoria: Yeah, there were a lot of other artists I was seeing online that were actually selling out their work and were also moms and seeing that was amazing. And I’d never seen an artist sell out, especially the ones that I knew, so seeing them do it definitely gave me the guts to try it myself. And I’d tell my husband, Mike, oh, these people are making art and they’re selling it, and they get to just paint whatever they want and maybe I should do it. And I was like, no, I should stay with graphic design. And Mike was always just like, yeah, you could try. Then in summertime I thought, you know what, maybe I should and he was the one who said, you just gotta do it, Victoria. Just do it. Don’t think, do. Go.

The best piece of advice that I’ve been given during this whole journey, which was from my husband Mike, was people don’t want a piece of your art. They want a piece of you. And that just propelled me into a way of creating my art by putting who I am actually in the centre of it. That also gave me hope that maybe I could do this because there is only one of me. And even though these other people who are successful, they’ve been doing it for years, who’s to say it’s too late for me? Because if people do want a piece of me, I gotta give it a shot and I gotta put myself out there and not hold back. And that was from the very beginning I just wanted to have no restraint. I hope that comes through.

Stuart: It absolutely does. We are often saying to people that it’s really important for someone to understand when they look at a painting, to feel why the creator made it, to feel that it’s more than just a painting. There’s a whole story behind it. There’s a whole feeling behind it. I think that varies from painter to painter, but there’s always something that brought them to this point. There’s a whole load of emotions in there. There’s a whole load of backstory and what I take from yours, and it comes very clearly across on your social media, there’s a lot of joy in the work. And there’s also the influences of where you live in British Columbia, which is I don’t exactly know where you live there, but I know you’re never that far from nature. So there’s a whole set of influences there, and they just come across and you see, when you buy one of those paintings, you get the sense of what it is and who made it.

Was that a conscious thing to put across in social media? Was that hard or was that just a natural thing?

Victoria: I think at first it felt like I was ripping a band-aid off because you put yourself out there and sometimes you don’t wanna think too hard and just put it out there otherwise you’ll cringe at yourself or think, oh, what was that? Or was that too much or whatever? And I just thought, I’m just gonna be myself and not give a crap about what people think after that and put it out there and yeah, as long as all the content is respectfully kind on the platform and is true to myself, I’m like, what could go wrong? But I think the only thing that could go wrong is me being insecure and too afraid and then not showing myself and not sharing that gift of the joy that I have. And I think with all the other elements like the music and the photography and all those things, those are all parts of my experience of also becoming a musician and dabbling in photography and all these things. So it never was planned but they just kept coming out and, and I think that’s what makes it so unique when you put yourself in the centre of the story because you have this unique set of skills or experiences in places, and it won’t look like mine and I won’t look like yours. And I think that’s a beautiful thing because you have something to offer that no one else can.

I like not restraining myself just to, oh, I just got to paint. I’m also an entertainer, like I was the drama kid at school. I grew up with the goofiest brothers right in the middle and we were eight kids. We are just goofballs and that gives me joy. I grew up with a forest in my backyard and I spent every day almost in that forest outside, and so that’s also part of the influence of why I love doing my paint outside. It reminds me of what it felt like to be a child again, right? It’s pulling on all of those things and when people ask me for advice like, how do I do it? Look at your life. What have you done? What do you love? What was that one thing when you were a little kid that you couldn’t stop doing or couldn’t stop thinking about? How can that be part of your art? How can that be part of your story? And some people, it’s a different strategy to be like, let’s let the art speak for itself. And I think that works for a few people, but I think in most cases you need to speak for your art because your art isn’t just art, it’s actually part of you and your perspectives. Showing people that whole picture has been very successful for me and I think for lots of others.

Stuart: Was that a skill that you developed over time to show that through social media? Because I guess it’s one thing saying, okay, look, I’m gonna put it out there and I’m not gonna give a damn about what people think. And that’s a fantastic approach to have. There’s a kind of presentational aspect to doing that, isn’t there? It’s still got to be coherent, like a sense of editing within the attention span, for example, that somebody has on social media. What is it, like 30 seconds or something like that? So being yourself, you might wanna do 10 minutes of your routine.

Victoria: Totally, yeah. Or have me just like in my kitchen. But people get bored of that. And I definitely do not show it all. I have a toddler and as a parent yourself behind the scenes of what’s going on there, it’s pretty wild. And that is where there is a bit of a choice of what I am gonna show. I see on Instagram that it’s a collaboration. There’s a platform out there that I can use for free. Yes, I also do paid social but reels, when they get organic reach, it’s organic reach. Our ads are separate from that. And it’s this platform that’s actually a service to me and I also wanna service the people that are there. And I, for one, have a very short attention span. So I think if I was watching this as a viewer, would I stick around for the next five seconds after this?

Dave and I talk a lot about a visual hook, especially with ads, and creating a very engaging visual snapshot right at the beginning to get your viewer’s attention and hopefully bring something of value to them that they can see, oh, this is what’s gonna come. So there’s definitely a marketing side of my brain that wants to curate who I am in a way that’s going to serve people regardless of buying a print or a painting. That is still a gift to that person that can view for free that might get some joy and live vicariously through me on top of the mountains. And that is my mission at the end of the day, I want to give people a gift and make art as inclusive as it can be, even if you don’t have the budget for it.

Stuart: One of the videos that I saw of yours, one of the reels, you have your son walking down the corridor and you are saying, It’s fantastic for him because having an artist as a mom, he gets to be surrounded by amazing things. It’s like you see him going down this corridor and it hooks you in. It is really clever because I’m sitting there going, what’s he gonna see when he pushes open the door at the end of the corridor and he pushes in this really bright light inside and you are there and you’re very surrounded by your art.

So there is that aspect to crafting the video side of it, something that a lot of artists do struggle with in the sense that it might not necessarily be at the start, their niche or whatever. Was it a process to learn that? Was that a kind of whole skill? Because you do have this limited time with people and you do want to get across what drives you.

Victoria: Yeah, absolutely. That was at the beginning of the account. I used to run a music account for my music before, and I would do a lot of things like skits and comedic, entertaining, that kind of thing. And so going to the art world as, okay, how do I create a message that reflects how I feel about my art, which is, yeah, comes across entertaining in some ways, but in most ways, it is a very deep pit of my soul that I’m displaying on there. And it took me a few months to just start creating reels. I would look at what I liked on Instagram, what reels would catch my attention. I’d go, oh, I’d stop. Why did I catch my attention? Is it the music? Is it the way they edited it? So I would take some notes, and then I tried my own, and then I also experimented with my own storytelling ideas, and one of them was the start to finish of a painting and showing the whole journey, but then sprinkling the inspiration and shots of me painting and also with nature. And then that, I believe, was one of my first reels that really took off and that was, okay, that’s good data, let’s keep doing more like that.

It’s an ever-growing process. It always changes. Even now, I’m still changing my strategy or my editing style of telling a story based on Instagram and people are adapting on Instagram and what people like and what reels get more attention and just taking notes. I know it can be draining for some people to think, oh, I’m just like always curating myself for this thing but I see it as a fun challenge of how I can put myself and make it feel like me. I don’t have to be like these people, I don’t have to do that dance move or whatever, but like, how could I take what’s good from that and use it in my own way, in my own storytelling. That’s something that when we talk about ads, like the storytelling aspect is huge because most of our most successful ones have been telling some sort of story in a short window and you don’t really see that in the ad world. It’s usually a bye and that’s it, right? So we really strive to connect the customers or the collectors and the audience with me, and then if they like that, then it would be a joy for them to purchase my art. Right? It’s offering them something that’s valuable, and if you like it, here it is, if not, all good. But storytelling, I think, is the foundation of the success of our marketing campaigns.

Stuart: That’s really interesting you say this and I’d like to bring you, David, in on that because I know that you’ve been quite instrumental in a lot of the paid social campaigns. We’ve never actually had that much experience of talking to people on this podcast who have done paid social, so it’s really fascinating to hear about that. So how does it differ, David, to how you would approach, say, organic social?

David: Good question. If I think back to when we got started with the paid side, we actually started by amplifying what she had already created. So she had been creating the reels similar to what you’ve already seen on her social channels, and we said, what would happen if we just put a small budget behind these? What would the cost of traffic be? How much reach could we get? Would it expand her audience? Would the people that see the videos through a paid channel click through and follow her account maybe? Like what would happen? So it was just a fun experiment. For additional context too, like I’m Victoria’s brother-in-law, so it’s kind of a family thing. Her husband Mike is a good bro to me and we’re super close.

My day job is as a media buyer so I spend many millions of dollars on paid social media as my profession. So I had a lot of context on what good looks like, if you’re gonna start running paid social, what does good look like? So we were just having some fun really. The initial kind of launch of this project seems to be going well. Let’s see what happens if we basically amplify that. So we just took her existing reels. We were like, let’s bring them into the ads manager and launch them to see what happens and really, within a matter of days, all my core KPIs or my metrics inside of the platform were telling me there’s definitely a winning formula here. The audience likes the content and they’re very responsive to it, and we did start seeing a pretty meaningful growth in the audience. And I think when we started with paid social it was about 400 Instagram followers and then we started seeing like a pretty meaningful increase in follower growth within a matter of days.

So to answer your question, we started with really what she’d already created and eventually we used visual hooks quite a bit but Victoria had a natural sense of visual hooks in her editing style before we started doing any strategy at all. There was already a really great eye-catching sense to it that I was like, this could work. That was the beginning of it. It definitely evolved from there. I’ll spare you the technical details of how you grow a campaign over a year and the iterations and testing of audiences and creative, but we did start to get deep into specific editing styles and like she mentioned, visual hooks and looking at trends on social media platforms of what’s gonna stop the thumb scroll. So there’s this thing called the thumb stop ratio in media buying, which is a percent of the audience that sees the ad that actually stops scrolling through. So we started tracking, okay, what’s the thumb stop ratio and how can we increase that based on different types of things? And so sometimes she would already have edited a video and we said, what if we swap that one clip to the beginning? And see if that gives us additional thumb stop ratio. So we just started thinking a bit more analytical, tracking some of the KPIs and platforms and that was kinda where we got started.

Stuart: You mentioned these visual hooks. Just to get some context to people, could you give some examples of the ones that worked really well?

David: Sure, and I’ll definitely get Victoria to speak to this too. So one of the things that worked initially was there was a lot of progress work so we’d start with a wide shot of her kind of doing some work, and then within a matter of seconds it would zoom into kind of a closeup of the progress in place. An example of how we would test an alternate would be like, we would start with the close up. So one really successful thing that we noticed on the platform is that really detailed, ultra detailed closeup shots of the painting in action or water going onto the canvas or something like that had a great effect. Oh, and by the way, as an aside, we also use audio as a hook as well. So you can use visual hooks, you can use audio hooks. We’ve done ASMR versions of stuff where she’ll just record super detailed audio of the painting in progress and those have been super effective as well.

I think if I would give an answer like in a more broad sense, it’s really what Victoria said about the storytelling for the visual hooks, right? So trying to pull somebody in as quickly as possible into a story that’s like a process. And by the way, just another thing, I’ll let Victoria speak to this, I think the pacing of the cuts is really important. So if you think of the visual hook as the first two to three seconds of an edit, that’s your visual hook opportunity. You could have five clips that happened within three seconds quite easily. So you can actually combine things into a visual hook. Victoria, did you have any thoughts on the visual hook aspect?

Victoria: Yeah, you’re definitely on track. I like what you’re saying about you wanna take someone, you wanna show ’em where you’re going in the story and I found some of my biggest reels have been me walking with a canvas about to go somewhere to paint for just a second or two seconds, and then I’m painting. So people already feel like they’re on the ride and they’re in the moment with me.

Stuart: That’s the kind of instant what’s gonna happen here? What is she gonna paint? Hang on, you’re in this beautiful location, you’ve got a blank, it’s obviously a blank canvas, right? So it’s a really nice kind of, there’s that curiosity angle, isn’t there? That’s probably a big driver of thumb stop. I love that term, by the way, I love it.

David: Yeah, thumb stop ratio. So we have another one by the way, it’s video view ratio, which is of the total folks who see it, how many make it to 25% of the video. So just taking a peek at that stuff could really help set a bit of a compass on thinking about content strategy because it’s like I’m just reaching more people if what I’m trying to do here is grow my audience, and this is giving me a very clear signal on how I’m doing that better. The thumb stop ratio and the video view ratios are super great for that. Definitely. It’s one of the core KPIs that I use with many brands that I work with. It’s right up there at the top of our lists.

Stuart: What’s the ideal length of paid video, paid reels? Is there an ideal length?

David: We don’t pay super close attention to that, particularly for Victoria’s brand. I think for some brands you might wanna optimise for a longer view time, but total video length actually we don’t pay attention to. As long as that thumb stop ratio is where we would want it, and the video views ratio is where you would want it, those are the key things. Then we do track many other indicators. I don’t know how technical you wanna get, but even cost per click is a super easy indicator, like the ads showing how much does it cost for a single click through to, whether it’s the website or her social page, or CPMs, which is the cost per thousand impressions. So tracking those are also good, what we call proxy indicators for the success or how receptive the audience is to the content.

Stuart: What’s your goal with a paid piece of content, with a paid video? Is it to get a follower? Is it to get someone through to the website to sign up to the newsletter, or is it a sale or is it a combination?

David: It’s really all of that. So when we originally started, it was from scratch, an ad account with zero spends. There’s no data. What we do is very data oriented, so there’s an acquisition of data process that happens when you start a new account. So at the beginning, the goal was basically to drive clicks to her Instagram page. So the goal there is, let’s see if we can get folks to go to her Instagram page and if they go there, do they follow? Is that something we can get to work? And that worked immediately. Then we actually stuck with that formula for about three months and what we found was that the clicks turned into follows, the follows turned into website visits, the website visits turned into email subscribers, the email subscribers turned into purchasers. So we had put together like a simple kind of marketing funnel stack, right? We did some workshopping on the website, got her set up with kind of the essential direct to consumer Shopify Klaviyo stack. Got that all integrated and then we were able to start capturing audience members through Instagram and then all the way through onto the website, and it definitely led to sales. The question was how much of this audience growth is gonna lead to corresponding sales? So it was just a wait and see type thing, and then it slowly just started growing and the sales grew along with it.

Stuart: That’s interesting. So if you were starting to do paid social now, I think what you’re saying is that you wouldn’t expect to get like a load of sales right off the bat. You would expect there to be a progression of deepening relationships effectively with the person who sees the ad. So first of all, they might say, I’m gonna follow you because I want to see more of this content because I really like it. And then they’re gonna eventually click through and they’re gonna say, hey, I want to get the newsletter because I wanna get more of this content and I don’t have to just rely on the algorithm to show it to me. I know I’m gonna get it through the newsletter and plus I might get some additional content that’s not even on the feed. And then eventually it goes through to sell.

Is that the kind of expectation that someone should have? So they shouldn’t just think, I’m gonna spend $1,000 on some ads and I’m gonna expect $5,000 in sales back.

David: Precisely, yeah. So we talk about the purchase conversion lag, there’s definitely a lag in that whole customer journey, right? I mean you could call it a customer journey, you could call it a collector journey. What we’ve noticed with Victoria’s audiences is that because she’s so vulnerable and so expressive, like she’s super, super real, there really is a very real relationship building thing that’s going on there. And that takes time to develop. It’s not like an instant thing like, they see a piece of content on social media, they follow her and then immediately they wanna buy. We actually have analytics mechanisms in our marketing stack that allow us to get a broad sense of how long that journey takes. It varies. I think a typical turnaround of around three or four weeks is like a common one that we’ve seen, but sometimes it can even be longer.

I think when we started spending, it was like, okay, we’re just gonna look at audience growth. We’ll keep spending and then there’s this launch coming up. I think it was like a launch that happened a month or six weeks after we started spending. And it was a very small amount of money too. So low budget. A little bit of spending. The audience was growing. We’re like, that’s a good thing. And then, yeah, we did have to wait it out to see the revenue come through, that’s for sure.

Victoria: And that journey is that specific example of when we started in November, I had just released a series a couple weeks before and hadn’t sold out. There were still, I think half of the pieces were left, but when we started the marketing, pieces one by one just started selling and then we grew. We started the customer journey at the end of November and these people that had been following along with the next series got to see the whole series start to finish, and then that series sold out in under an hour.

David: And just to speak to that, we are running paid, so we’re growing the audience. She’s getting new followers. And then to her organic feed she’s telling the story daily of this new series coming into existence, and so these new followers who maybe they saw like a little titbit from the last series, or like a little start to finish process video or some just general process video, now they’re getting what, in my world, we call it remarketing on organic. So we’ve acquired a new follower and then she’s posting organically to her feed, which we don’t have to pay for to get through. That’s just naturally gonna serve. And then now we have this little funnel, this little marketing funnel or this little relationship that starts to get nurtured over time.

Victoria: I would also like to add something of the difference between the content going viral versus what we do with paid that I find is a really smart move for artists. With the paid social we actually are able to get the audience that would purchase an original painting that actually has that budget for these larger pieces versus I’ve seen a lot of videos that will go viral. Usually you actually end up attracting other artists, which is amazing, that are inspired by your work, which is great, and that serves a purpose, but those people aren’t necessarily going to buy your high-priced art and so that was something that for us, it actually guarantees, it doesn’t actually guarantee, but in a sense it does guarantee that you are actually reaching people that would be potential collectors versus relying on, I’ll just do it for free. Instagram’s free. I can go viral maybe, but are you getting the right customers?

David: That’s definitely worth emphasising for your audience, I think, as like a key differentiator between organic and paid. So with organic, Victoria could put together a really cool piece that gets a huge amount of reach organically. And the question is, what’s the mechanism there? And the mechanism is the engagement through organic channels, incentivises Instagram’s kind of algorithm to give it more reach, right? So what that’s gonna do is grow an audience, but more reach on organic doesn’t necessarily mean these are customers like buyers of art, right?

So what we were able to do with the paid social, as Victoria said, is we capture customer data, customer interactions of the people who actually bought, and then we target audiences using the paid that are customer audiences. And then we’re growing the audience of people who actually are not just wanting to consume the content on organic, they actually want to purchase art. So that’s been really cool to see where you can refine who sees the content a little bit more to make sure that these are potential customers that are actually seeing the content.

Stuart: That’s so fascinating. I never even thought about that. It makes so much sense because we see some correlation, sometimes with the amount of followers and sales, but often actually it’s not the people with the most followers that sell the most amount of art. And it’s really interesting because again, Victoria, you are, I think, if not the highest individual seller, I think you are in the top three in terms of all the people that sell through us and there are people with 10 times the amount of following, who are selling a lot less than you. And I think that speaks exactly to what you’re both saying.

It’s not about the number of people, that’s just a vanity number. It’s about who you’re targeting, right?

David: Yeah. I don’t wanna belabour it too much, but I’ll give a really simple example. So when we’re building a campaign on the paid platform, you can choose exactly what you want that campaign to do for you. Do you want this campaign to create a link click to a page, or do you want it to create a purchase? Do you want it to drive a purchase? Now, I won’t get into tons of detail, but for the first six months we couldn’t actually do a purchase optimised campaign cuz we needed more data before we could actually optimise for that action. There’s a whole tech stack that goes into making this work, right? But at first it was just link clicks. So we just want link clicks, let’s get people to click and see what happens. And then over time you switch it to a purchase conversion and that means Facebook is looking for purchasers. So we can grow the audience and find people who are genuinely looking to make a purchase.

Stuart: Okay and how do you target geographically? Because I notice your work, Victoria, it’s obviously heavily influenced by the place you live. Does that kind of influence your targeting, for example? Would you target someone living in a big city in Asia or Europe? Would you feel like they would relate to that less?

Victoria: I think for us, we’ve not done very specific geotargeting for Vancouver, BC. We’ve done a much bigger brushstroke for Canada and the US but then through just the algorithms that the ad manager does, it also reaches people that live outside as well as through my organic reach on Instagram. So the audience is quite worldwide, about 50% is Canada and the US and it’s almost about an even split between the two. Some of that happened naturally and then we can then put more spend behind that if we see something is working in a region. But we haven’t yet intentionally sought outside of North America. That has just happened naturally.

Stuart: People have found you organically from lots of different places and do you see the same kind of conversion rates? Because one example I could think of right from the top of my head, we printed a show years ago, now the first ever show that by this guy, Mr. Doodle. I don’t know if you know this guy, Mr. Doodle. He’s quite a character and he’s amazing. He just blew up huge in Asia, and people in Asia absolutely love his work. And so there is just sometimes some resonance like with a certain culture or geographically or whatever that people have with work and it speaks to them in some kind of way that’s not necessarily always gonna be obvious to you cuz you’re not gonna know necessarily what the kind of cultural appeal is gonna be in places that you’ve never really spent time in or whatever.

So do you deliberately throw a bit of a wide net there and look at, oh wow, the people in Korea, in Japan, they love this, or in South America, wherever it might be. Did you look at that and feed that back into it?

David: Yeah, we’ve had ongoing discussions from the very beginning about the geographic opportunities. We haven’t explored it as much as I would like, obviously we’ve had many things going on, so I think that’s something we’re gonna expand into more in 2023. We did some testing of some specific geos in the UK and on both Instagram and Pinterest and saw some good results. And then we were like, maybe we’ll focus on North America. So currently we are a majority North America at this point from a paid standpoint. Obviously the organic component is global for sure. And definitely there’s some amount of revenue coming from global audiences for sure. I think it’s just a matter of incrementally expanding into those geos and basically broadening the testing.

When we initially started, we were very focused on Canada. That had the most traction initially, and then now I think the US has surpassed Canada from a revenue standpoint, but Canada’s still quite strong. I think there is a geographic component to like the BC coast, the natural component that definitely strikes a chord, but there’ve been some really cool people, I mean, that Victoria’s become friends with actually, that are from the UK for example, the better fans of the work.

Victoria: And I think the work itself will also influence that as we’re hoping to do more travel next year and bring my paintings with me somewhere outside of Canada or maybe within Canada. And I definitely have a wishlist and we’re probably gonna work it out so that me and my husband and the little guy can actually travel and bring a whole body of work with us and tell a story about the places that we’re experiencing. But there has been a lot of resonance with the work, especially in Europe, because it is actually similar in a lot of ways. We get a lot of rain. We got a lot of mountains like Switzerland and Germany and the UK, Ireland. I’ve had so many people say, this reminds me exactly like summer in my home, or this totally looks like our mountains that I’ve sketched in BC. So there’s definitely some resonance there.

Stuart: When I look at your work, I very much get a really amazing flavour of Canada and the rural aspects of where you live, which I’ve spent a little bit of time there, and it would just be really interesting to see you go to different places and to see that reflected in your work. And it got me thinking about how important it is to have those projects where it’s thematically different?

Victoria: Doing the work in series has been how I’ve always done it since I started last year, so I don’t know different in other cases where some artists will just do one-off pieces and it’s available, or they have a print shop and they might add new prints every once in a while. But I was really attracted to that idea because I enjoyed watching other artists tell a story over the span of two to three months where I got to see the very beginnings to the very end, the climax of all the work being released. And that to me is a story. And it’s a long form story, and I think that also is refreshing to feel like you’re journeying with somebody. Like how we like TV shows when we feel like we’re part of these people’s lives and we think about them like, oh my goodness, what’s gonna happen next? And it’s like there’s this emotional connection. I think the same goes for working in a series, is that it is this longer form story and you don’t know what’s gonna happen next. And I don’t know, I tell people it’s all time. They’re like, what’s the next series from me? I don’t actually know until I start painting. And that is really fun.

I think that does pique people’s curiosity, right? Oh, maybe I wanna stick around and see how this turns out. But yeah, I think it definitely helps us with people purchasing artworks. And then that gives us a full story, a lot of content for Dave to work with too, with creating ads and building up our funnel, so to speak, of people that are interested in the work. And then having the originals release all in one day, have that big boom, and then doing our print release hopefully a week later so there’s a lot of anticipation and buildup. I really like change so this also just works as my personality is that I love change and so I am happy to finish a series and then, okay, we’re gonna just pack our bags and go over here and we’re gonna do a whole new thing. And if it’s not your cup of tea, I’m gonna do another series after that’s gonna be totally different, inspired by something different. And I think that brings a lot of value to people and people enjoy being part of a story and actually feeling part of my life cuz it is a big part of my life and this work reflects that.

Stuart: I think your site’s fantastic. Now, it’s got an amazing sort of backstory and your influences as to how you became an artist. Do you see at some point there being a place on that site to show your archive and to show this journey and to show those blocks of work? Maybe you’ve travelled to Europe and you’ve spent three months here and you’ve produced the body of work here, and do you see that as important for you or do you see that as a bit of a distraction maybe?

Victoria: No, I think it’s absolutely important. That’s actually something we’ve been working on with the print shop because before you just go on a page and it had prints. And now when you go shop prints, we’ve actually divided it into collections so you can shop by series and when you select that, you want the experience to be similar to if you’re buying an original because when you buy an original, there’s a picture of me with the body of work, and then there is the backstory or the write up that explains my thoughts and my perspective on why I made this body of work. So we also added that for each print series and I would love to expand that more and have maybe some key videos in that experience. Definitely something that we’re always evolving is the website and how to make that a better customer experience. Absolutely.

Stuart: How do you find the other social media platforms? Have you tried any sort of paid social, for example, on TikTok, and I think you said you tried Pinterest. How do they compare in terms of building that relationship with a collector over time?

David: Yeah, so we’ve tested TikTok and Pinterest and we’re on Google as well, so we’re covering a pretty broad spectrum. I think we’re gonna test both Pinterest and TikTok more this coming year. We’ll have more bandwidth to just expand and do broader testing. We didn’t see traction at the same level, but I am super optimistic about both platforms frankly, in particular Pinterest I’m super optimistic about, and by the way, we use a lot of the same content that we use on Instagram. We just bring it right over.

I think one of the things on our roadmap is to actually get more Pinterest specific content and iterate on that there, and then the same for TikTok. But yeah, it didn’t have as much traction. I think there’s a bunch of reasons for that, but I think Victoria’s really mastered the language, the very native kind of Instagram vibe and there were also some things that Facebook and Instagram were doing with their tech stack. They’re actually changing the software of the reels. It’s been publicly shared that they’re iterating how their tech stack works to match TikTok a little bit more. And so that definitely gave a lot of tailwind for Victoria’s project.

Stuart: As I understand there’s a slightly different demographic on TikTok so does that mean you have to make content in a slightly different way, in a slightly different style?

Victoria: Yeah, that’s definitely on my radar for next year, like Dave said, just the bandwidth. My bandwidth is increasing as my daycare is increasing next year, and that is something I’ve really wanted to get on the TikTok train, but honestly, I’ve been maxed out and we’ve been just focusing. And for next year, I definitely see a very different strategy, maybe reusing some things that I post on Instagram, but it’s a different experience on TikTok and one that I think I will enjoy very much, given that it’s even more lo-fi and even more just relaxed. I find Instagram is a place where people go to see beautiful things and it’s very much a visual invitation over there. Whereas TikTok, it’s a little bit more to be entertained and so it just changes the flavour a bit. So I hope to have fun with that and mix it up a bit over there.

Stuart: Whether you are on Pinterest, TikTok, or Instagram, is it always about leading people back to the newsletter? You just sign up and have a sort of deeper conversation?

David: We do track that closely. As part of our marketing staff, we track the cost of email acquisition per platform, per ad initiative. So we’re monitoring and we have a way to attribute, basically, if somebody subscribes, which channel were they on before they subscribed and that gives us a sense of, cause we do really want to track that as a leading indicator of purchase intent ultimately. If they’re subscribed to the list, that’s probably a good indicator that they’re likely a purchaser down the line. So yeah, we definitely track that quite closely.

Stuart: It’s really refreshing to talk with you both about this kind of the depth you go into with thinking about the marketing side of things. And I think that so many artists would really feel like that they shouldn’t think about this in this way, that in some way it’s detrimental to the concept of being an artist, which obviously from what we see, it’s just part and parcel of being an artist. If you want to make work and sustain a career, then you’ve got to think about it seriously, about reaching your audience. Ultimately someone’s gonna buy your painting and they’re gonna feel a sense of joy to have it on their walls so why shouldn’t that be taken seriously to reach people and market to them?

How do you feel about that and what would you say to people, Victoria, who feel like maybe this is thinking too commercially and that’s not what an artist should be doing?

Victoria: I can really speak to that because I had the same misconception, which was if I did paid marketing, I just feel like I’m a sellout which is so funny cuz the name of this podcast is Sell Out, which I’m a big fan of. So it’s been a journey for me. I feel like there’s a misconception that you’re selling out, your art should speak for itself or you shouldn’t have to pay for people to see it. That’s what I thought. And then when we started bringing Dave on, my perspective shifted, which was people started writing me messages saying, I’m so happy I found your ad. I love your work. It’s bringing me so much joy. Like I kept getting these messages and I’m like, oh my gosh, so you’re telling me that ads are just bringing value to the people that want it? It just blew my mind. And I am a big ad stan now because you can tell a story that’s meaningful and advertise that and if someone else finds that meaningful, you’re actually giving a gift to that person. And yeah, maybe they’ll collect original work or a print or just view, but that is actually a really beautiful exchange and in no way is that me being a sellout.

I’m sure other artists judge me for doing it, but that’s okay cuz I don’t serve artists. I love to inspire them and I’m so happy when they’re inspired. I serve my collectors, people that wanna go along the ride with me, and this is me pitching to them, not to you. And I think a lot of artists need to let go of wanting to please the pretentious artist counsel inside their heads and realise, if you love this work, you’ll do whatever it takes for other people to enjoy it too.

David: Let me just add to it, I empathise with that feeling in a big way. I was a musician and songwriter and filmmaker for 20 years before I became a marketing consultant, and so I definitely remember as a young musician and songwriter, this feeling of I should just have to do the art and that’s it. And then my wandering journey transitioned into the business executive side of things so my brain switched over and then you realise actually this is how the most successful artists do it because they haven’t been shy of this. There’s actually a book called Real Artists Don’t Starve that I would recommend. It’s a great read and it gives the other side of the story, which is actually that there’s a way of looking at marketing and growing the audience and even self-promotion through a framework that’s actually very positive, where it’s an active service to your audience to expand and make that all possible from a financial standpoint.

Stuart: Yeah, that’s brilliant to hear you both say that because we’ve spoken to a lot of hugely successful artists who have self-sustaining careers and actually a lot of the stories were: I was doing this job, this commercial job, and I couldn’t keep doing this and something had to change. And so they came to this realisation that, look, I’m just gonna try consciously pushing my work out there because I really want this to happen. These are inspiring stories to tell and they’re fantastic, but in some senses it’s a long journey to come to that realisation. You don’t have to go through that long journey to have that realisation. You can just realise it now. You have to put yourself out there. It’s as simple as that.

And I guess also there’s that thing that you used to have galleries which would do this for you, in the same way musicians can have PR companies or record companies and you used to be removed from that, so you could just do your thing. But now everybody can reach their audience directly and it’s fantastic that they can because they’re not reliant on somebody else to validate their work and say, okay, this deserves to be in a gallery and this doesn’t. But it also puts the onus back on you to say, actually you are gonna have to push yourself out there if you wanna do this.

Victoria: Absolutely. The environment for the art industry has changed and I think a lot of people are still living like it was 10-20 years ago and it’s not the same. There’s growing pains for people cuz we do have to evolve and adjust.

Stuart: What’s your feeling now on how Instagram’s changing in terms of growing and following and stuff like that? Is it still possible to do that organically or is it something where you have to blend some paid social to do that?

Victoria: That’s a big question. You absolutely can do both, I think, but it all comes down to the person and also the magic wand of Instagram that decides what goes viral and what doesn’t. I could lose my brain trying to figure out how Instagram selects these people. So yeah, for us it was definitely a blend of both and the paid gave us a significant boost into reaching people early on, cuz we’re just over a year doing this. But yeah, Dave, if you wanna speak to any of that.

David: We did notice that even paid boosts the organic reach cuz it all feeds into different algorithms. I think a key thing I would call out just around your question is be ready is what the advice I would give is just be ready and then as Victoria said, focus on the content. Facebook or Meta, as they’re called now, could flip a switch and all of a sudden you could get 3x, 5x or 10x the reach just on a given day. They could ship an update to the machine learning algorithm or they could ship a software update, and then all of a sudden you could have this incredible opportunity to grow your audience and have incredible reach outta nowhere. So be ready and make sure that the content, just work on the content daily. Build that fluency with these social platforms and share your story on these social platforms so that whether it’s an organic moment where you get something that goes viral or you decide to test some. Paid will only work if the content is good enough, right, if it’s gonna have that thumb stopping effect.

So focus on the content first, and then your opportunity will probably come, with the content being in that spot, and then you never know. I’ve seen it time and time again all of a sudden a new software update ships and the dynamics of reach on these platforms evolves overnight.

Victoria: And because of that ever changing evolution it’s all the more important to be building your mailing list in the background. We love Instagram. I love it. I know people hate it and think it’s lording over them, but I’m like, hey, they’re business. They’re doing me a service by even giving me this platform for free. But in the end, like I’m not in control. And what I am in control of is my mailing list and prioritising that definitely is something I tell artists to keep in mind while you grow, because you could get hacked. All these things can happen and yeah, keeping all the work you’ve pursued for so long, and to lose it all in a moment, it’s really hard.

Stuart: It’s great advice because I think that everybody’s worried that if they build up a large following and they spend that time building it up, then maybe the same thing will happen that happened with Facebook in the sense they literally cut organic to zero, I think, pretty much, right? There’s always that kind of sense that the rug could be pulled out from under me, but then again, something else comes along. I guess it’s just that adaptability, isn’t it?

David: I was just gonna say that Victoria has nimbleness, she’s digitally native, right? She’s been a creator for many years, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch her become more fluent with this whole thing that is social media and that can adapt regardless of what happens on the different platforms. So I definitely just like learning that skill is a huge asset. Once you’re fluent, you can adapt on the fly and be nimble.

Stuart: Excellent. Alright. Well usually I finish by just asking, if you were giving advice to someone just starting out right now, what would you say to them are the three most important things they could do to give themselves the best chance of success. And as we’ve got both of you here, we’re gonna get six pieces of advice. David, do you wanna go first?

David: Okay, sure. Victoria will speak to this better than I could, but three pieces of advice I would say: take counsel, take action and don’t delay would be my three things.

Stuart: And Victoria, what are your three pieces?

Victoria: That’s gonna be a lot more long-winded than Dave’s. It’s the classic Park. I married his brother. I’m like, that’s what Mike would say. Just give it three words. Good to go. Yeah. Not so much. I’ll try to narrow it down to three. I think number one, people don’t want a piece of your art. They want a piece of you. And two, connecting to that piece: tell your story as visually and as quickly as possible through your reels, through your posts, through getting a snapshot on your Instagram profile. Tell that story as quickly as possible. If it’s just four seconds all someone has, they can get a feel for who you are, what you do, why you do it. And then the third piece would be, learn from people who are successful in what you want to do and take notes. Yes, you can reach out to them, but there’s so much that I have learned and gleaned from not even messaging them, just watching how they do things, their messaging, how they structure their workflow. Are they doing series? Are they doing one-offs? So they work with galleries? And yeah, take notes.

It’s never too late and there’s always so much to learn. Don’t ever stay in one place. Keep learning.

Stuart: Amazing. Thank you very much, David and Victoria for your time today. It’s amazing advice and thanks for sharing it with us.

Victoria: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having us on. It’s such an honour.


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