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Colorado Springs artists offer advice to turn a paintbrush into a profitable business

July 24, 2017 Updated: July 24, 2017 at 8:31 pm
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photo - Artist Ramona Lapsley looks at a print that she pressed and will paint at the Manitou Arts Center on Monday, July 24, 2017. Currently, Lapsley's linoleum block prints are on exhibit at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo.   (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)
Artist Ramona Lapsley looks at a print that she pressed and will paint at the Manitou Arts Center on Monday, July 24, 2017. Currently, Lapsley's linoleum block prints are on exhibit at the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

There is an art to starting a company - and even more with beginning an art business.

Members of the Colorado Springs art community offered their resources and advice to local artists at the Courses for Creatives interactive workshop this summer. Each year, the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center and Pikes Peak Art Council offer free and low-cost workshops to help artists turn their creativity into a company through arts-focused training, information and business skills.

"There's a balance between making art and selling it," said Deborah Thornton, executive director of Imagination Celebration, a Colorado Springs nonprofit arts organization. "Artists have to use their creativity in all they do from art to business."

Similar to any aspiring business owners, local artists have a lot they can learn.

"Artists should perpetually be in a learning mindset," Thornton said. "Allow yourself to experiment and play."

The biggest challenge Thornton said she sees with artists is the fear of failure.

"You sure don't want fear to stop you," Thornton said.

Another struggle Thornton said artists face is maintaining enough spectators to either make a profit or open a gallery.

"You have to engage the audience," Thornton said. "You don't have to have all the money to do it."

Owners of the Colorado Springs-based Chavez Gallery, Kris and Liese Chavez, showed Thornton's advice was true by opening their art gallery.

"We opened our space with a credit card," Kris Chavez said.

The Chavez Gallery is an interactive gallery that engages clients through demonstrations, magic tricks, selfies and performance art. The gallery's art pieces range from $1-$7,500.

"Don't be afraid of opening your own business," Chavez said.

After about 15 years of showing their work at other galleries, the Chavezes said they realized they were only making 50 percent of the profit.

"Open your own space to make all of the profit," Liese Chavez said. "Make it too awesome to fail."

The Chavezes said they found it helpful to connect with patrons, paint in public, use social media and be memorable.

"People are buying you as well as the art," Liese Chavez said.

Taking advantage of local resources such as the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center, Commonwheel Artists Co-op and Pikes Peak Makerspace was a good idea too, Liese Chavez said.

"Talking to other artists as much as possible helps you see what pitfalls are out there and what ways to go and not go," Liese Chavez said.

Local groups based on an art medium such as the Pikes Peak Watercolor Society, The Colorado Woodworkers' Guild and the Pikes Peak Art Council could be great to join, Liese Chavez said.

"Only take advice from those who are doing what you want to do."

Among the many community resources is the Manitou Art Center, which is an art gallery that offers a maker space for artists to create their works.

"We are able to provide folks with a 24/7 tool sharing, space sharing and skill sharing place," said Natalie Johnson, executive director of Manitou Art Center.

The gallery displays studio artists, and Johnson said she helped many of them set price points to sell their work.

"I tell people to really try and figure what the actual cost of the product is," Johnson said. "To sell something immediately for $5,000 is unrealistic."

The difference between a starving artist and a successful one partially came from the ability to take chances.

"It also helps to be a little crazy," Johnson said. "There's never a secure place or time to start a business, but it's worth it to take a risk."

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