Every year, thousands of Americans participate in Black Friday, looking for deals and discounts during the holidays. But it’s not just mega-retailers getting a sales boost.

Last year, when photographer Christopher Sherman noticed an uptick in sales of his pictures the weekend after Thanksgiving, he got the idea to launch Artists Sunday, a day dedicated to promoting independent artists across the country amid a week of Black Friday deals. This year, Artists Sunday is Nov. 29, though Sherman said deals can span throughout the weekend.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic canceled art shows and closed galleries, artists were often left to independently promote their work and gain recognition in their respective communities. Sherman said he hoped this free marketing campaign and movement would unify the voices of artists across the country to give them visibility.

“It’s traditionally the largest shopping weekend of the year, and Black Friday has always been dominated by large companies with large marketing budgets that say ‘Black Friday, Black Friday, Black Friday,’” said Sherman, who lives in Marion, Iowa. “The whole goal is to have all these organizations, all these artists talking about the same thing, which is to shop for art during the holidays as opposed to Black Friday.”

Photographer Christopher Sherman, who is based in Marion, Iowa. He had the idea to launch Artists Sunday after noticing an uptick in sales after Thanksgiving. (Courtesy of Christopher Sherman)
Photographer Christopher Sherman, who is based in Marion, Iowa. He had the idea to launch Artists Sunday after noticing an uptick in sales after Thanksgiving. (Courtesy of Christopher Sherman)

Like Small Business Saturday or Giving Tuesday, Sherman said Artists Sunday is part marketing campaign and part movement. Some artists are promoting themselves independently, while others will be showing their work in communal galleries or shops. Some may host online events and sales, while others may offer in-person art fairs. The main goal, Sherman said, is to support artists. It’s a volunteer effort; Sherman said he’s not getting a cut of any sales artists make.

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Customers can search for participating artists, galleries and organizations in their area via the directory on the website, ArtistsSunday.com, as well as virtual and in-person events. Artists, galleries and organizations across the country can register on the Artists Sunday website for free, where they are given access to marketing materials and a listing in the site’s artist directory, patron directory or partner directory.

Sherman started working with Seattle-based artist Cynthia Freese early this year to build the website and start spreading the word across the country.

As of Nov. 7, more than 2,000 artists and 300 organizations are participating in Artists Sunday. Sherman estimates that about 200 artists, and some 20 organizations, from the Greater Seattle area are participating.

Sherman expects most events will be held virtually, though some artists may offer one-on-one showings or socially distanced events. Although the original motivation behind launching Artists Sunday preceded COVID-19, Sherman said it’s now more important than ever to participate.

“I think it was important before COVID just because it was a fragmented thing where these artists were trying to get sales on their own. There was no unified messaging,” Sherman said. “With everything that’s going on, it’s kind of killed in-person activity across the country.”

Kirkland-based artist Joy Hagen, who creates encaustic-style paintings — an ancient art form made from beeswax and resin — said she’s participating in Artists Sunday.

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As the pandemic swept through the country, art walks were canceled, galleries were closed and craft fairs were postponed — leaving many artists like Hagen hit hard by lack of sales and exposure. 

“For me it’s been a huge impact. It’s been actually terrible,” she said. “I’m an independent artist, so I’m not represented by a gallery, so I have to sell myself and that’s just harder and harder when everything is shut down.”

Hagen, who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, said her encaustic pieces are inspired by trees and her love of nature. The beeswax in the encaustic paint can be difficult to manipulate, but that’s what Hagen loves about it.

“I sort of stumbled on it accidentally and didn’t really like it at first, because it’s really hard to get it to do what you want it to do,” she said. “Now I started liking that part of it, because stuff would happen that you didn’t really expect.”

“Slash & Burn — Flow (View #1)” by Joy Hagen.  Hagen says the beeswax in the encaustic paint can be difficult to manipulate, but that’s what Hagen loves about it. (Courtesy of Joy Hagen)
“Slash & Burn — Flow (View #1)” by Joy Hagen. Hagen says the beeswax in the encaustic paint can be difficult to manipulate, but that’s what Hagen loves about it. (Courtesy of Joy Hagen)

Hagen said she’ll have a promotion on her website and is looking to participate in some events on Artists Sunday.

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“I’m hopeful that Artists Sunday is going to be a good thing and that it continues,” she said. “I think it’s a unique idea, especially now. I think it’s going to be quite a while before you get another art walk to the extent that it used to be.”

Ray Freeman, another artist in the Seattle area, said he’ll be promoting his art on his website during Artists Sunday. Freeman is an architect and said he does a little bit of everything, from large sculptures to 3D-printed wall art.

“Alternatives,” from the Gridlock Series by Ray Freeman, a Seattle artist. Freeman, who is taking part in Artists Sunday, says “the series title ‘Gridlock’ refers to not only the geometry I am exploring with these pieces, but the situation we find ourselves in, both socially and politically during the pandemic.” (Courtesy of Ray Freeman)
“Alternatives,” from the Gridlock Series by Ray Freeman, a Seattle artist. Freeman, who is taking part in Artists Sunday, says “the series title ‘Gridlock’ refers to not only the geometry I am exploring with these pieces, but the situation we find ourselves in, both socially and politically during the pandemic.” (Courtesy of Ray Freeman)

“From my history in making art, other than the large-scale art, I tend to focus on series,” he said. “In other words, I will make a piece and then another one that incorporates a lot of the same elements, but in a new way or with a different subject matter.”

Freeman has been a part of the Seattle art scene for years. He served as the president of the Center on Contemporary Art for four years and is a long-standing board member there. 

“A lot of people don’t think about buying art … I think most people don’t have a real sense of the fact that there’s art out there that they can probably afford and have,” Freeman said. “So I think it’s public awareness and education.”