With Paintings for Ants, Lorraine Loots has become one of Cape Town's favourite artists. The idea is simple: every day for a year, Lorraine will paint one miniature. Her works are an inch in diameter, and exquisitely detailed.
The work itself is wonderful, but it is Lorraine's process and business model that I'm most interested in. This is a side-project that has grown into a full-time gig.
Selling art for a living isn't easy, but Lorraine has sold hundreds of paintings this year. This is partly due to her extraordinary skill, but also the fact that she's got a business model that works.
After completing the highly regarded Business Acumen for Artists program, Lorraine committed to doing one small painting per day, starting from 1st January 2013. The idea was that people could buy a date, and suggest 5 possible themes for the subject matter of the day. For example, I got the 12th August to celebrate a special day (thanks, E*).
The business model makes sense, and is predictable: people can book a particular day well in advance. It's perfect for presents, lends itself well to commissions, and can memorialise moments on the day they happen.
The results have been remarkable. Lorraine started off selling each piece for R500 each, and sold out in 2013. She is now already sold-out for 2014 at the new price of R900. At this rate you can see how the pieces would be a worthwhile investment.
Not only is the work getting pricier (rightfully so - supply is limited, demand is growing), but the work is getting better: with the extra time, daily practice and growing resources to support the process, you can see how Lorraine's style has progressed from the early days to now.
Finding the time
Each painting takes 3 - 6 hours to complete. I asked Lorraine how she managed to find the time to keep it going in the beginning, when she had to also earn a living doing other work. This is what she told me:
"When I first started Paintings for Ants, it was something I did for myself on top of the 13 other things/jobs I was doing. One of those was Production Management - so I would get up at 5 in the morning, collect catering for 20 people, pick up the team of photographers and co-ordinate the day's activities - super intense work. When we wrapped at 8, I'd often have to take the photographers for boozy dinners and drop them off at 12/1, go home and only then start painting. I'd get to bed at 3 and repeat the whole process again. So those were difficult days. But in my mind, I had committed to something, so come hell or high water, I was going to get that little painting done every single day".
After a few months the consistency started paying off, and people started booking paintings in advance, she could start quitting the other jobs she was doing to make more time for it. Eventually, she did the maths, and went out on a limb to make it her sole occupation. And now there are new challenges, but once again, it's ritual to the rescue:
"At first, I would procrastinate as much as possible and often only post my painting at 2/3 in the morning. I soon learnt that, the sooner I got it done, the sooner I could relax and take care of all the other things bugging me. So now, I get to my studio at 9 and start painting immediately. It's been a complete turn-around".
A productivity tip: Lorraine loves listening to podcasts while she paints.
"It keeps me intellectually stimulated in the moments where I'm just zoning out on a painting, and doubles the excitement to get started".
Social Media Promotion
A rule of thumb with social media is that audiences enjoy themes and consistency. So Lorraine's process really works to her advantage here, and she has been astute in ensuring she posts her work online every day.
She has been particularly successful with this on her Instagram, where people are hungry for this kind of daily, themed, visual inspiration.
Her website isn't fancy but it works by allowing people to understand the project, browse the archives, and book a painting.
Each side-project is different, but if this kind of project appeals to you then here's the stuff you can and should copy:
- Be clear about the project parameters: this is a great side-project because there is a clear completion goal (1 painting per day for 365 days, 365 paintings in total).
- Stick to your commitment: You won't find the time, you need to make the time. You won't make the time unless you have a firm commitment to yourself, or some kind of accountability system (like posting daily on social media)
- Share your work: documenting your process and your outputs as they happen can be the best form of marketing. It's a natural form of emergent storytelling.