Marketing is part of being a successful artist


Marione Martin

Artist Thomas Stotts stands by his painting of an elk in a fall forest. His work is on display this month at Graceful Arts Gallery in Alva.

For Thomas Stotts, art was something to do on weekends or after work. It's only after he retired that he began to fill his days with painting and teaching.

Stotts was born in Oklahoma City, grew up there and still lives there. At a young age, his parents noticed he had an aptitude for drawing. At around the age of 10, they enrolled him in some oil painting classes.

"It was a facility similar to Graceful Arts (in Alva)," he said. It was the Kirkpatrick Center in Oklahoma City." He would spend a couple of hours on Saturdays during the summer learning from two artists who taught the classes. "They taught me basics about shading starting with pencil and black and white paint. They brought us up slow," he said.

Wooden circles, squares, rectangles and similar shapes were positioned with a bright light to the side providing shadows. "We kind of had to prove step by step that we could do certain things. Then they finally moved us into full color oil painting," said Stotts. "I did that in the summer. It's funny. At school ... I really didn't talk about the art. I tended to have (art) classes away from school. I just did sports in school."

After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma, Stotts joined the Oklahoma Art Guild. When he was around 20 or 21, he entered a show sponsored by the guild. This was a show that included artists like Bert Seabourn and Cletus Smith who were "a bit older than me. I looked up to them." Stotts placed third in oil paintings.

"I think I won $50, and it seemed like $1 million to me. I was so excited! Once you taste a little success in anything you get a little hooked on it," he said. "I started painting all the time and entering shows."

"A lot of my life I worked in the construction business, did some drafting and design with architectural work," Stotts said. His art was again relegated to weekends.

"Then in 2009 I decided to retire from that, and we traveled all over the country in my Chevy van," he said. "We (he and his wife) just had a ball." That lasted for a couple of years, before he decided to just do local shows, mainly in Oklahoma.

Now that he wasn't traveling so much, he started teaching art at the Norman Firehouse Art Center and in the Edmond Fine Arts Institute. He entered only a few shows a year.

Marketing Your Work

"I really am having the most fun I've ever had and I'm excited to be selling art," Stotts said. "That's (selling art) never easy for anybody. It's just a constant battle to find opportunities to market your work. Social media helps nowadays. That's a good way to get your art out." He also places his work in galleries and art centers as well as various art shows.

"I teach mainly retired and adult students. If any of them want to sell (their work), I tell them a good way to start is to join an art club," he said. That way they can start small without a big financial investment such as tents for outdoor shows. "That's kind of how I got started."

"I enjoy passing along the painting knowledge in my classes, and I really kind of like to pass along marketing knowledge because a lot of people don't really know what to do. I've just about done it all," he said. "I've had great success and I've had a big zero at times. You just never know.

"It's like fishing. You don't know if you're going to land the big one or you're going to do nothing. I love the marketing as much as the painting."

Current Focus

Stotts said he generally works in acrylics and is primarily a landscape artist. "As artists get older, they want to try some new things just to refresh their own minds. So I started doing some abstract painting and also some pure wildlife," he said. "It's been good for me and it opened new markets as for sales.

"It felt like my marketing with the landscapes was getting a little stale. I kind of saturated my area. I felt a refreshing was needed, and that's why I got into the abstract and the wildlife."

He has not always painted with acrylics and oils. "I was a watercolorist in the '80s. I really looked up to Cletus Smith. He was one of my favorite local artists. He inspired me a lot. And I also looked up to Andrew Wyeth ... loved his watercolors especially. He did a lot of old farmhouses.

"Most of my career, I'd go around Oklahoma and take 35 mm shots of the old farmhouses. In the '80s there were just so many of them still left. They were abandoned."

A trip to New Mexico began to move him away from watercolors. "In 1991, I went to Santa Fe and got invited into a gallery there. They wanted mainly works on canvas. Really it's kind of a financial thing. People tend to value things on canvas more," he said. "I think there's a little misconception that it's not archival. It's not as long-lasting. It is though; it's archival. It (watercolor on paper) lasts a long time.

"But that's what the galleries wanted. They could get more for them. I wanted to sell work, and I'd always done some work on canvas, but I began to shift more of my focus toward acrylic and oil on canvas because I wanted to stay in some galleries in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos."

That lasted from around 1991 to the Covid-19 pandemic. "Everyone (galleries) I had just went under or they downsized so much that they weren't showing too many people," he said.

After all those years of marketing through the New Mexico galleries, Stotts said, "I thought, 'I don't want to go out and start again.' I just began to focus more on Oklahoma and Oklahoma City."

He said social media is also a way to get his work seen. "People will buy over social media now, even expensive items," he said. "Used to, they wouldn't. There's a lot of high-priced original art that is sold through social media. It's surprising to me.

"Art, if you want to continue to do it, you have to think about the financial part of it. You've got to remain solvent personally. I take into consideration what I love to do, and I take into consideration what I think is more marketable as well. I don't think the two conflict. If you want to succeed, you want to succeed. You want to be able to make a living doing it, and that's not easy."

Stotts' work is on display during June at Graceful Arts Gallery in Alva. During the First Friday Art Walk June 2, Stotts said this was not his first time in Alva. "I was running track for Central State, UCO now. We drove up here for a meet with Northwestern in like 1974. It's been a few years."

In conclusion, Stotts said, "I think the thing about art, the older you get, it seems like your peak years as an artist continue to build. As you get older rather than peak and then fall as you retire, you tend to not want to retire as an artist. I'm 67 now, and I feel like every day, everything is getting better."

A video of the interview with Stotts may be viewed at


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