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Last Update: Tuesday June 15, 2021

Key Idea: Do What Works

Yes, do what works.  Ken Done and other owners who have growing companies know what works and repeat it over and over to achieve profits through scale. More...

Key Question:


Try things and watch what people say and do with your product or service.

Q:  How did Ken Done know that the first consumer product he created would sell?

A: The demand was greater than the supply. The day he held his first exhibition, he printed up some t-shirts which were given to the media. His goal was to get them to think well of him and write about his paintings. We don't know if a painting sold on the first day, but the media loved the t-shirts and asked for more. By printing up more and selling them for $12, Ken was in business. He wasn't stuck on the fact that he never intended to sell t-shirts; he intended to sell paintings! The profits weren't great from his tiny output, but he knew he was on to something.

Q: Why did Ken Done say that his company happened by accident?

Because he thought he was going to be a typical artist who sells paintings.

His plan for making a living did not include selling t-shirts or anything other than fine art. And, the real reason he responded to his market was that he was not  afraid of business. Most artists who venture into spending all day every day doing their art have not had business training. Ken Done spent years helping big companies market their products. so he knew that if you make what people want to buy you can prosper.

Q: Do you think giving away the t-shirt to a group who could talk up his paintings was a "perfect" idea?

Yes. We all know that word-of-mouth advertising is the best. In web-speak this is called viral marketing.

Think about it

What can you do to create more accidental business? What can you do to listen more to the customer? Are you making/doing things that don't bring you enough profit? Should you stop making/doing certain things and look for new products and services that could bring you more profits?

Clip from: Ken Done Gallery, Sydney - Leverage Art

   "I see business... as the most creative act of all." - Ken Done

Sydney: Meet Ken Done.  He has become one of Australia's most  beloved and respected artists with his own world-class following. We all struggle to master our talents and apply these talents in a meaningful way. That's life. And, that is how the best among us also define our work.

Meet a man who spent eighteen years mastering his craft and learning business skills. Then, he broke away to go down his own path.  Almost unwittingly he started a business through which he learned how to leverage his art in creative ways.

This business is a family businesses.

You meet Ken Done, his wife, Judy, and their daughter and son. Ken was never a starving artist yet he certainly paid his dues. With over 150 others working within this family enterprise, they make art affordable, often wearable and  even whimsical.

Today you meet an artist who like so many others follows his own heart. Often there is a price to pay  among the art community's elite.  In the earlier days they were not gentle on this man and his work. But Ken Done stood firm within his vision, he persevered, and today even his critics are giving him his due.

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The Ken Done Galleries

Ken Done, CEO, Artist-in-Residence

1 Hickson Road
The Rocks

02 9274 2740

Visit our web site:

Office: 02 9274 2740

Business Classification:

Year Founded: 1991

Do What Works

HATTIE: Hi, I'm Hattie Bryant. Our mission here is to foster the success of small businesses and those who dream of owning their own business by showing them how others have solved similar business problems, have become even more creative and knowledgeable within their expertise and have taken very calculated risks to follow their dreams. This is a story of an accidental business. Painter Ken Done reached for a higher perfection. He stretched for a new aesthetic. And by trying only to please himself, he pleased others and accidentally built a business.

KEN DONE: (Voiceover) Well, I suppose artists paint because that's what they do to try to communicate to people. And it is a great joy to be confronted by a big blank canvas and to then have the opportunity to put down something. KEN: But I want to be a Monday painter, not a Sunday painter. I wanted to be a painter, which I still do. The fact that I've found a way of supporting myself, you know, is just kind of secondary, really.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Ken Done is Australia's most famous artist. Since 1975, he has painted nearly every day.

HATTIE: (Voiceover) From his massive body of work has sprung an enterprise that employs over 100 people. It has galleries where his paintings are sold and shops where customers may purchase swimwear, sportswear and accessories, all designed by the Ken Done studios.

JUDY DONE: These are the new prints for the next summer season we're working on. And all of them would have come out of artwork, paintings or drawings, that Ken has done...

HATTIE: (Voiceover) Judy Done, Ken's wife, applies her fashion design expertise to direct the consumer products division of the company.

JUDY: (Voiceover) And it's coordinated. We have an accessory range that works back with the swimwear, as well.

KEN: To get into the businesses that we're in at the moment, it was almost accidental in the sense that from my first exhibition, even though I'd been painting all my life--for my first exhibition when I was 40, I made 12 T-shirts to give to the press to remind them of that particular show. And, look, they liked them so much that people wanted more.

So it's a very straightforward exercise, isn't it? If you make something and it's well priced and people like it, almost inevitably you realize you can make some more. And in this sense--I mean, I'm a painter. That's how I spend all my time. But the concept of repeating the singular effort or taking one part of a piece of design and multiplying it is essentially, you know, what business, I suppose, is about.

KEN: Good morning, Eva. (Voiceover) I mean, I'm not afraid of business. And, in fact, I see business in a sense as the most creative act of all.

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