I’ve been working on a business-related article for an outside publication, and recently put a “feeler” up on Facebook. The questions asked were great, and I thought some of our teachers might be able to better speak to them! Thank you to Cat Bennett, Diane Culhane, Karine Swenson, Alison O’Donoghue and Lynn Whipple for your time in weighing in!
Q. How do I move from doing art to making money with art? OR, Specifically how to step out of your comforting walls of your studio, stand up tall and find clients, how to make yourself seen?
I had a bustling illustration career for 30 years. I’ve now left illustration and am doing independent art projects. It’s like starting over. Even though I have years of experience selling my work, this is a whole different thing. But basically I’m taking the same approach as years ago: I do my art for myself and when I have a body of work, I ask around.
In the beginning, it wasn’t easy to approach new clients. Sometimes I would be walking into a big newspaper and feel my heart pounding. I just put one foot in front of the other. I realized if I didn’t show up, nothing could show up for me either. Of course, I encountered rejection but I found I could often learn from it. Sometimes my work needed refining; sometimes I was seeing a client who had interests very different than mine. We grow to see who we are in these encounters. I learned not to invest in outcomes but just to keep going. I think that helps lead us to our own best path.
Making art that is true to me and taking chances with it is what I really care about. I love encouraging my students to find their own strengths, their own voice and the courage to express themselves fully just as they are. They end up doing such great work; we all do if we work that way. It takes time but it happens.
Start small and local! Find a venue to have a showing of your work – either a non-profit art venue like a local art council show, a coffee house, or an artists’ collective. Make sure you are present when your work is shown – at least for the opening night. Try to talk to people about your art. Ask them questions and be prepared for a large range of feedback. Listen to what they say so you know how others see your work. You will learn more by listening than you will by doing all of the talking.
Build on each experience. Join a local art council or organization and meet other artists. You can learn a lot from other artists. Support other artists in their endeavors. Start building a mailing list right away. Your friends, fans and collectors are your biggest asset.
Q. How do you develop a balance between producing material that “sells” while still being true to your own creativity and expression?
Paint what you love. The people who love what you love will find your work if you keep putting your art out in the world. The more you show your work and listen to what people say about it, the better idea you will have of what people are looking for to buy. Make art that you would want to buy.
I paint for myself and I believe that making authentic work will sell — authentic work being from the place of discovery that comes from deep inside. One thing I will do is adjust the work when getting ready for a show, knowing I need a variety of sizes and color combinations. I’ll look at what I have and decide if I need some paintings with warmer colors or cooler colors, or smaller or bigger sizes. But in general, always be true to your creative expression and you will find an audience of your people.
Be sure to allow space to work on what you truly want to do. If it’s a commission request, consider carefully the pros and cons. If you end up doing too much of what people want you to, you may end up discouraged, feeling unfulfilled and frustrated. Also, trust your own voice as being the one that sells, even eventually, build on that, even if you have do that simultaneously. Allow space.
My basic approach is to make art that has real meaning to me, that I really care about. I try to respond to what makes me feel most alive and engaged and curious. That makes me laugh too. I get a certain feeling and I know I’m on track. Whenever I’ve tried to make art simply to sell, I haven’t felt good and the world hasn’t responded that well. That’s how it has worked for me.
Q. How can social media help sell my work, more than just “Please buy my work?”? OR, How do I use social media effectively?
Social Media is good for gaining exposure and viewers but keep it classy. Meaning, show it with confidence. Well edited photos. No self doubt talk.
Be serious, but friendly, respond to responses. Think about the image you want to create for yourself and your art: A real working artist. Don’t try to sell except when directing to a selling site like Etsy, etc. Use hashtags.
Q. What helps you manage /prioritize your time & activities? How do you order your day when you are managing producing work & running all aspects of your biz?
You must treat your art like a “job.” Have sacred studio time that nothing interferes with. Make the studio a priority. The business aspects have to be squeezed in too. I do the “un-fun” business part at the beginning of the day, that way, going into the studio to paint feels like a reward.
I work every day. I do email, writing and web stuff first thing. That’s the business part. Then, studio time.
I mostly have a project I’m working on and I get to the studio around 8:30 am and leave around 4 or 5 pm, four days a week. I’m quite disciplined about that. I do one project at a time. The other days I have other things I do. And I’m always working in my sketchbook too—playing with ideas, pasting in bits of inspiration, or just drawing. It’s a way of keeping in the flow and also growing my own vision. I do that every day, all the time.
At the end of the day, I take a look at where I am in the studio and make a note of what the work for the next day is. Every month I also do some bigger picture planning. What do I want to do in the next three months? The next year? For me, it’s helpful to plan like that though I keep it fluid because things change as I work. I always make time for friends too, and fun, and seeing things. And for reading. It’s all goes together. When I’m having a show or have a book deadline, I work more intensely but I always come back to a more easeful rhythm. I like life best that way.
What helps me manage my time & activities is asking myself what is essential — I spend a lot of time looking at my calendar, determining what really needs to be done and in what order. I write the list on the left side of the page, and then the SMTWTFS on the right side of the page. I’m constantly looking to see how to order my steps efficiently. Exercising and being with friends is also important because it keeps me happy. But the truth really is, I always want to be in the studio and just paint. Some days I can barely get out of my own way to get out the door. I get so excited.
Q. What is a good formula for pricing work?
A. Think about what has already sold and at what price and how quickly art of a similar size, quality, and time density has sold.
B. How consistently has this happened?
C. How long have you been selling your work? Is there a demand?
D. If you are selling work for the first time – look around at other artists prices, then lower yours – maybe considerably lower, as an introduction to the market. It’s hard to tell without getting the ball rolling. If it is in a good venue for sales, and sells very quickly, then raising the future price is a good idea.
There are lots of different ways to approach pricing. One way that I have found helpful is to do a pricing comparison with similar works from other artists. This can be done online, visiting gallery sites and artist sites. It is also helpful if you are attending a show in person, to take note of pricing. After “walking a show,” you can collect information that can help you settle on the price that feels right for your work.
Other things to take into account when pricing your work include the cost of materials, framing, shipping and of course your time.
Size of work seems to be a factor as well, seemingly smaller works are priced less and larger works are prices more, though there are lots of examples that don’t follow this pattern. Every artist, medium and market is different.
Q. What are some pitfalls to avoid with a creative business?
Remember, when the money rains, it pours. Prepare yourself for the drought because it is surely coming. Budget the money from the good times. Pitfall #2. Don’t overbook yourself. Doing fewer shows better is much more important than lots of shows but being stressed all the time and even having to back out of shows, which can burn bridges, and damage your image.
Do you have something to add to the above? Please let us know in the comments. 😀