The Blueprint Shared: Stacey Brown & The Festival Circuit 

By Whitney Bianca Carnes

Information is power; but moreover, how we use what we know is what creates the most impact. The art industry can be taboo, much of the information circulating may very well be theoretical, due to so many creative minds expressing their perspective. At times we as the art community can be misinformed. This misinformation on what is factual is typical from those on the outside, speculating. 

When realizing the fulfillment of creativity, the road to making that make sense financially can be a long one, but we are here to help bridge that gap today. People of all ages can find themselves combated with doubtful, yet inquisitive, expressions from almost anyone who has learned of their plan to do art full time. Artists are asked questions like, “So what do you want to do after graduation?” or “How are you going to use your degree?”

“Jazz Sensation”, Stacey Brown

Although, it seems obvious that many artists make a quality living creating artwork, after being indoctrinated with a contradicting narrative, on a subconscious level the “truth” that one knows and the “truth” that one has come to know can blend and merge. Without trying, sometimes we begin to doubt our own capabilities regarding joining the art industry full time.

Embarking on a self-driven career can sound exciting to some, while to others it may sound unreasonable, unrealistic and even irresponsible. Most successful visual artists make more than $90,050 per year, as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average wages ran a mean annual $53,400, which was equivalent to $25.67 per hour. On the other hand, annual compensation for the lowest-earning 10 percent was less than $19,150; this article is specifically for those on the lower end of this range. There are many ways to achieve professional success within the art field but not many artists that have lived this truth, have shared their blueprint, until now. 

Stacey Brown is a 52-years-young independent artist based in Atlanta. He is originally from Murfreesboro, North Carolina and made his way to Atlanta in 1986 while attending the Art Institute.  After graduating, Stacey went into graphic design and took a commercial approach doing advertising and print. He was successful in graphic design but found himself feeling under-fulfilled. 

I interviewed Stacy Brown on a rainy Wednesday in March and left invigorated. I was excited because I realized how valuable this information could be to so many budding artists, and what an honor it would be to share it. We discussed how much the city of Atlanta has grown, his process, his initial exposure to the festival circuit, his trust and unrelenting need to be fulfilled and how that has led him down a path of rewarding entrepreneurship.

Obama moments, Stacey Brown

In the year 2000 Stacey began his fine arts career by connecting with different artists that were already in the festival industry. He worked under artist Buchi Upjohn, who was instrumental in directing Stacey as an artist. It was under Upjohn that Stacey realized he too could make a living doing festivals and selling online full time. Brown recalls his first sale: “I was at Afro-Fest in Chicago where fellow artist Buchi Upjohn had a booth and he gave me the opportunity to create one painting to try and sell it at his booth, I created the piece and it sold immediately, that’s what sparked me to say, ‘Oh, I can do this.’” That essence of that spark is still present in Mr. Brown’s nature, work ethic and overall perspective. 

Art festivals are typically outdoor events in which patrons can walk through makeshift storefronts and shop for products and services while being enticed by food trucks and musical performances. These festivals focus on multiple art genres, including fine art, music, photography, film, and other visual styles. Festivals are happening in the United States year-round in places like Florida and California because they have the warm climates to sustain year-round outdoor events. During spring and summer months they take place nationally and internationally. This year-round schedule creates a platform for opportunity for independent artist to sell and interface directly with the public. 

Brown uses watercolor on canvas and glass and captures compelling urban landscapes and jazz scenes. Brown does a good job of capturing the essence of what it feels like to walk down the street in an African American community. Brown recalls the day he discovered a new surface medium: “I visited Senegal 10 years ago and that’s how I learned about the medium (glass), but breaking it, that came by accident. My daughter actually stepped on a piece running around in my studio, and I came very close to throwing it away, but I realized the beauty of it in the fracture of the pieces.” Brown realized that the brokenness of the glass was the perfect analogy for the very basis of his works. Strong, but fragile, translucent and vulnerable; and broken, yet beautiful. “So, I put the pieces back together and it actually turned out to be better. This prompted the series ‘Broken is Beautiful.’” 

The emergence of social media and online storefronts has also been instrumental in aiding Stacey’s independence. Free storefronts, like found on Etsy, allow artists to gain exposure and rack up sales with little to no overhead. According to Stacey, Etsy alone has sustained him in times where he was unable or unwilling to create new works. Here is where we get down to the blueprint to success. 

Understanding one’s own worth, and the worth of the art you’ve already produced, is connected heavily to raking in huge sales and revenue. One work can in fact be reproduced multiple times through printmaking, and a sale earned for that work, collected many times over the course of many years.

Printmaking allows the artist to make more art faster and is so detailed it can involve the same paint strokes from the artist’s hand. Creating a series of limited prints can be very appealing to art buyers, the lure of exclusivity is highly recommended. As you begin the process of printmaking, you’ll find many alterations and changes can be made while on the press. These changes create a unique platform to express in prompt creativity and diversity within the series. Your originals are your most vulnerable and most valuable and should be looked at as such. Hold on to them for longer and list them online or at your booth awaiting a suitable art collector willing to pay for an original work. Keep in mind, the more sales you have the higher your original can be priced.

Looking through your current sketchbook, can you identify art that perhaps you’ve overlooked before that can create some potential revenue?  Begin thinking about participating in art festivals and creating an Etsy storefront. Being a noted artist has become more than simply creating, you have to also manage yourselves and your business as if your livelihood depends on it. Once you have identified strong pieces, you can always make money from them, and that is the key point. 

Brown is also a passionate family man.  His wife, Michele Brown, is a great support for him. Support is essential, creating great relationships is essential. 

For most artists, family is a huge deciding factor when it comes to career risks and decisions. The pressures of reality can sometimes distract creatives from the pursuit of their passion, but I ask you to reconsider, similar risks and challenges await in any industry of interest. Your unique perspective is needed, signed The World. 

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Whitney B. Carnes is an American multi disciplinary artist and writer based out of Atlanta, GA. Whitney attended FIDM in Los Angeles, California and studied Fashion Merchandising and Product Development. After living in California, she returned home and graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in Studio Art.
She is the great niece of civil rights icon Rosa Louise “McCauley” Parks, close friends and family know her as “Bianca”.

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