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Creative Art Marketing: Urban Flash Mob Painting with Gary Smith in Toronto, Canada

Gary Smith's life is a creative masterpiece. He blends values of creativity, talent, an indefatigable work ethic and joie de vivre into a colourful life as an  entrepreneur, artist and teacher.

We have known each other for over twenty years, and in that time he has never ceased to amaze me with the energy he brings to everything he does. You can read my full interview with Gary here, and "A Juror's Inside Story" here.

If you put your heart and mind into marketing as Gary does, the experience can be joyful and as creative as your art. Recently Gary told me about his latest creative marketing adventures - urban flash mobs.

©Gary Smith - Toronto 2011

"I love living the life of an artist! Luckily for me, many of the things I do for fun help my art career.  Certainly Aletta applauds that sentiment although she is a lot more clever and scientific about the process than I.

A good example of this is an activity I invented last summer here in Toronto ~ Urban Flash Mob Painting. Strangers meet, paint as a group, surprise people and disappear.

"A flash mob as a term appeared in 2003 to denote a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and sometimes seemingly pointless act for a brief time, then disperse, often for the purposes of protest, advertisement, entertainment, or satire. Usually all the details about the event are spread around the members via telecommunications, social media, or viral emails."

My flash mob painting events demonstrate two of the Ten Commandments of making money in Rabbi Daniel Lapin's book 'Thou Shall Prosper.'

  1. Provide a product or service people want.
  2. Enlarge the circle of people who know you.

I didn't come up with the idea because I wanted to make more money. In fact, I had been noticing that every time I contacted my artist friends and students it was always to ask them to join another event for money. Come away for the weekend, or off for a couple of weeks to France or Portugal (this July). In other words, I was always asking for money.
So I thought I would take time off from chasing dollars and send out the word that I would be painting at a certain date and place, and any painters could join me for free. We could simply enjoy the act of painting in a group and surprise the locals.

We first went to an ice cream store and painted kids eating ice cream. Some artists came to paint. Others could only take their lunch break and just sketched the happy little kids eating their ice cream. It was blissful.

It was a good move business wise, not just for the ice cream store but for me too.  People do want to enjoy painting in the city but not alone. Aside from the community building, my circle of artist friends grew considerably.
Furthermore, great stories came out of these days. And Aletta will tell you that marketing is all about conversations and stories.  

  • ©Gary Smith - Yoga Poses - Toronto Island 2011Peter, a maker of violins as well as a painter, sat on a hill to paint the panoramic view of the Don Valley.  A curious Chinese father and his young son approached him and respectfully asked whether his son could watch. Peter said, 'sure,' and before long the boy had settled in about fifteen feet away, so as not to intrude. Peter became absorbed in his painting unaware of the boy until he heard the boy quietly humming. To his astonishment and delight, it was Beethoven's 4th!  Few could have appreciated the joy of that moment more than Peter.
  •  Another day  we went to the Toronto Islands because there was a huge East Indian 'Yoga Meltdown' Festival. The crowd was 40,000 strong. Teams of people practiced different types of Yoga on the beach ... perfect for artists to do figure drawing!

©Gary Smith - Mannequin - Eaton Centre, Toronto 2011

  • Over the summer the group grew. Friends invited their friends, etc. One day it was way too hot to paint outdoors so we invaded the Eaton's Centre shopping mall.  I liked the various mannequins and drew them in pastels. They have great impossible poses and they don't move! Again - perfect.
  • On the day of the annual Toronto Outdoor Art Fair at City Hall, we were happily painting an abandoned and perhaps haunted house in our neighbourhood.
  • The roaming photographer of a local TV station who had been dispatched to cover the Toronto show wasn't too happy about it. He said the event seemed too commercial.  So when he noticed us on his way there, he knew he had found some authentic artists. He stopped to interview me, photograph us and our paintings for that night's TV coverage instead of the big Toronto show. 

©Gary Smith - Mannequin Sketch - Eaton Centre, Toronto 2011I did not do this motivated by money but I did sell paintings, made more friends, got more students and got TV notice too.  Not bad results for a friendly gesture. That was last summer.

©Gary Smith - Haunted House Sketch - Toronto 2011

This year a young lad, Nelson Gatnesh, began a Meet Up group called Sketching Around the City that has already grown to 83 artists. We were introduced and have become friends.  Our two groups will combine naturally.  His mission is a good one ~ to help more and more people love art.

I wanted to paint what I like and it is now a business. I wanted to share my painting knowledge and that has also grown into a coaching and traveling business.   I feel fortunate because the more I do what I like and the more I share that, the more my world opens up.

I know it sounds corny and I AM a corny guy but it works for me. I feel like Johnny Appleseed, planting artists and watching them blossom."