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Blending the Avant-Garde with Artistic Tastes of the General Public

UK artist, Helenya Apostolou, creates light reactive paintings that come alive when exposed to different wavelengths of light.

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of the Stay Sketchy newsletter.

You might think going to art school makes running an art business simple. That’s not exactly the case…

This week we’ve got:

  • ⭐️ Helenya Apostolou as our featured artist

  • 🏃‍♂️‍➡️ More useful websites for figure references

  • ✉️ Boosting art sales with your own newsletter

Helenya Apostolou - Light Reactive Artist

Courtesy of Helenya Apostolou

📸 Instagram: helenya_art

🌐 Website: helenyaapostolou.com

Going to art school can teach aspiring artists a lot of skills.

What it doesn’t teach, however, is how to successfully walk the line between the avant-garde and the everyday artistic tastes of the general public.

Helenya Apostolou experienced this firsthand after graduating university with a degree in Fine Art.

Gone were the structured lessons and conversations surrounding head-scratching pieces like a banana taped to a wall. Helenya now needed to chart her own path as an artist.

She strove to do this by developing a style that appealed to everyone but was also aesthetically empowering and novel.

It wasn’t easy.

Courtesy of Helenya Apostolou

Helenya grew up in an very remote part of the UK. She was born into a creative family that spent time chasing artistic pursuits, and never had a TV in the house. Instead of watching movies and playing video games, Helenya filled her time with drawing and making art.

In school, she was a bit of an introvert, and spent her free time hiding in the art building working on various projects.

When the time came to decide on what to study in university, she chose Fine Art because she couldn’t imagine what else she’d want to pursue more.

University taught Helenya art history, how to present one’s work, and generally expanded her overall level of creativity.

After school she began working as an artist slowly, supplementing her income for the first few years with jobs in waitressing and in nearby school systems.

Eventually, her experience doing commissions built up and she started to take her art more seriously. She posted to Instagram three times per week for several months and eventually had her first viral video that brought in a huge wave of orders for prints she created and sold through an online shop.

Since then, Helenya has continued to make commissioned pieces as well as many of her own originals.

Her unique light-reactive paintings bridge the gap between what can be considered pushing artistic boundaries, and appealing to the interests of the average person. By layering different colored subjects on top of one another, Helenya’s paintings seem to move and change form when viewed under specific lighting. You can read more about this effect on her website, here.

Now, Helenya continues to work on a steady stream of commissions, sell prints through her online shop, and even create paintings for clients, like Nissan, to be used in their marketing campaigns.

Helenya was kind enough to share a handful of great insights when it comes to the early days of building an art business.

Courtesy of Helenya Apostolou

Obtain Client Testimonials

After completing a commissioned piece for a customer, Helenya will often ask for feedback or a testimonial. These statements can then be displayed on sales pages for similar products.

Positive endorsements can be extremely helpful when it comes to driving more sales. Customers that read these when considering a purchase are much more likely to click “buy” because a good testimonial will provide social proof that the artist produces high-quality work.

This is widely known as one of the most effective strategies in sales conversion rate optimization.

Fully Utilize Instagram Stories

Helenya ties much of her recent success as an artist to her activity in her Instagram stories.

  • She learns about her audience by posting questions and polls they can respond to.

  • She increases the level of engagement with her account by responding to messages and questions that people send her based on certain stories.

  • She shares new product information and points people to her website which, in turn, drives more sales.

Helenya intentionally posts a high number of stories each day. These usually far outnumber more permanent posts and reels. Since stories only exist temporarily, they can typically be “lower quality” and so take less time to create.

Take Yourself Seriously Early On

Rarely will there be an inflection point in your journey as an artist where you say to yourself, “I’m really happy I waited this long to establish an online store, figure out where I source my materials, and get my accounts in order.”

Even if you’re just starting out, you should get in the habit of visualizing where you want to be and acting like you’re already there. Don’t put yourself down if you feel like you’re not making progress, but start taking yourself seriously early on and others will too.

How do artists take themselves seriously?

  • Have a dedicated email address you use for all things pertaining to your art business

  • Establish an online shop showing high-quality mockups of your work.

  • Provide certificates of authenticity with sales of originals and limited edition prints.

  • Learn new skills that can help improve your creative workflow or the efficiency of your business.

  • Reinvest profits into the business to help it grow.

Courtesy of Helenya Apostolou

  • Obtain client testimonials after delivering your work. Use this positive feedback on sales pages for similar products/artwork.

  • Fully take advantage of Instagram stories for connecting, engaging, and selling to your audience.

  • Act like a professional artist early on and that’s how people will perceive you.

Additional Tidbits
  • What’s occurring in Helenya’s art may not be immediately clear when viewed without an explanation. Because of this, she often adds on-screen text in her Instagram reels describing exactly what’s going on in the video. She also demonstrates the different forms the piece may take when viewed under each appropriate lighting condition. Explaining a piece is a great content idea, and also provides an opportunity for a customer to better understand the artist’s intent, increasing the chances of a sale.

  • Helenya noticed a significant uptick in engagement when she began showing her face and performing her own voiceovers on her Instagram posts. Some artists aren’t comfortable stepping out in front of the camera, but many who have done this have reported very positive results. Ultimately, it helps the audience better connect with the artist and understand who they’re buying from. People don’t just buy the art, they buy the artist.

Helenya’s Tech Stack
Useful Websites for Drawing & Painting References

In a continuation from last week’s edition, here are some more websites to use for figure references:

Character Design References - A website filled with visual libraries and drawing boards for character design and anatomy references.

Bodies in Motion - A database of high-quality figure references inspired by the human body in motion.

Hikaku Sitatter - a tool to help visually compare the heights of different characters.

Why every artist NEEDS their own newsletter ✉️

The simplest step an artist can take to improve their sales is to create a mailing list.

That’s right. Not grow a huge following on Instagram or TikTok, but a modest - or even small - list of email addresses belonging to dedicated fans.

Why is this so valuable?

  1. Customer Retention. Don’t just get a sale then send that customer back into the marketplace maelstrom 🌀. Capture their email. Establish a longer term relationship with them. Build hype for upcoming projects. Sell to them again in the future! Maybe they’ll become a collector of your work 👀.

  2. Platform Independence. Don’t be constrained by the algorithms of Instagram, Etsy, Facebook… A mailing list is completely platform independent. You control the narrative, and if you decide to change the platform you use to send your newsletter, you can just export your entire mailing list and take it with you wherever you go. It’s yours forever 🤩.

  3. Cultivate Relationships. Use your newsletter to create long-form content for your fans. These folks love your work and might want to hear more about your process than what you squeezed into your latest Instagram caption. This can even lead to new business opportunites and partnerships down the road 🤝.

If you’re asking yourself where you can get started, look no further than this newsletter! Stay Sketchy is built on a dedicated newsletter platform called Beehiiv.

Beehiiv was created by the developers that made the Morning Brew newsletter into the media giant it is today (so they sorta know what they’re doing). It’s got a ton of tools that help you grow and better understand your audience.

The best part is that you can make your newsletter on Beehiiv for free - and not for a limited amount of time, but free forever.

If you DO, however, want to take advantage of one of their payed tiers that offer more features, the button below will give you 20% off your first 3 months with Beehiiv after a complimentary 30-day free trial.

Whether you want to send your newsletter weekly, monthly, quarterly, or even just a couple times per year, adding this one feature to your business might be the lowest-effort, highest-return change you ever make!

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Thanks for checking out another edition of Stay Sketchy. Catch you next week! ✌️

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