I work with a local artist who is turning his watercolour skill into a source of revenue.  A successful watercolour business, we are finding (not surprisingly), is first of all, a successful business.  He is really good at watercolour.  Jim Collins asks “what are we passionate about?  Well, this is what he is passionate about.

Yet in the business of art, excellent watercolour is only incidental.  In fact, it is irrelevant!  Once an artist has established a metaphor, using a suitable subject, they don’t have to be very good at putting marks on a surface to make a good income.

So how is he doing?

In his Financial Perspective he has set conservative Revenue Goals.  For now!  The wisdom in the art industry is to start out with low prices to increase distribution and build a brand as an artist.  His Costs are well defined.  He is confident in his capacity to achieve sustainable Shareholder Value.

Revenue-growth in art is tightly related to Brand-strength.  He wants to build his brand.  His image as an artist is one who likes to paint on site, in any weather.  He has defined an ‘Artist Statement’ and offer as watercolourist.  His target market is becoming clear.  And he focusses on three attributes of a good painting:

Seymour Washington

Seymour Washington

  1. It will ‘Arrest you’: It will stop you in your tracks as you surf the work online or in an exhibition.
  2. It will ‘Touch you’: What you see will stir something in your heart.
  3. It will ‘Communicate’ with you, or challenge you.

He is also clear on his requirements for Learning and Growth.  In terms of Human Capital he is working towards developing business acumen.  His priority in Information Capital is to develop an integrated digital and hard-copy folder system providing quick and trouble-free access to his works.  He has established and tested an online system to sell his work.  In terms of Organisation Capital he has established a personal culture of discipline and delivery.  Now all he requires is a culture of pushing and selling his work.

Now we are focussing on Internal Processes in which he will:

  • Create a body of work: For five years he has been completing one painting a day, as well as larger, more dramatic works.
  • Log each painting: This is a significant administrative load.  As each painting is completed it is scanned, logged on a spreadsheet then filed (digital and original) and posted online.
  • Price his work: Pricing is affected significantly by the brand strength of an artist.
  • Sell his paintings in galleries: He has had a string of bad experiences with galleries, mostly due to his lack of controls (not collecting consignment records and managing stock).
  • Run an online shop: This demands high quality processes, integrated with social-media marketing and a water-tight hard-copy and digital filing process.  This requires significant time and effort.
  • Market his work: Ad-hoc exhibitions do not elevate his brand beyond the ‘hobbyist’.  We are working on a marketing plan to get his work out in front of targeted clients.


He is juggling a cacophony of contradictory drivers!  “Get Organised!”  “Why aren’t you out there selling?”  “You want HOW MUCH for that???, “Where is your submission for the society exhibition?”   and  ”Where is your masterpiece for the day???”

Fortunately for my client he also has access to a useful model from Kaplan and Norton:

Intangible Assets

Following this model his plan includes:

  • Steps to get his operation working smoothly, before focussing on Marketing and Sales.
  • Not focusing too long on operations.
  • Being ready to initiate an effective innovation mill, once customers are being satisfied and retained.
  • Dealing with critical regulatory issues such as tax, payments and legal up-front. Then being ready to squeeze value by investing in specific communities.

What remains to be seen is whether he can weather the shift to professional painter, maintaining his love for watercolour, outdoors and people while building a successful business.  He wants to share works with the world – like this.

We agree that this is something for which the change is worthwhile.