My Blog Journal


Tara Fly cat art booth at Carroll County Farmer's Market, MD
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I Want to Start Selling My Artwork, Can You Help Me?

I don’t think anyone realizes (until they become an artist) how often artists are asked this question! LOL

Apparently it is a universal question, as many people are dissatisfied with their current job situations, or they have disabilities that require them to look at alternative sources of income. They begin thinking about how wonderful it would be to earn a living from their hobbies.

And I do my best to encourage people to think outside their corporate boxes and “live their Dreams”.
I believe whole-heartedly in the words of Howard Thurman:

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

 
As long as they realize that once a hobby becomes a full-time job, it no longer feels like a hobby.
It feels like work. ;)

~ There will come a time when your business is no longer “fun” ~ but you have to do it anyway to get paid.
~ There will be demanding customers who really drive you nuts! hehe
~ You will burn the midnight 2:00AM oil for weeks, prepping for a big show, only to have a lackluster turn-out and not meet your sales goal.
~ There will be beautiful, sunny days when you need to stay indoors tethered to your computer.
~ There will be cold, rainy days when you need to travel and set-up somewhere outside.
~ You will encounter rude and insensitive people.
~ Your work will not be universally admired or appreciated.

And it will totally be worth it.

There is a fullness in pursuing your passion, watching it come to life, and a feeling of accomplishment like nothing you’ve experienced while slaving towards someone else’s goals.

If you are willing to work your butt off… for less money than a McDonald’s employee… in order to be the master of your own life and career, then you can do this!

But how?

Honestly, I can’t answer that question for you. Only you can determine which path is right for you. And it takes time, much more time than you can imagine. It requires reading a lot of articles, and asking a lot of questions, and asking more questions, and reading more articles, and observing how other people do it.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to help, or that I view you as my competitor, or I don’t want you to succeed. Because it isn’t true.

There are a breed of Artists who walk about with their noses so high in the air, you can look straight into their nostrils and see their brains. hehe  They don’t want to give advice because … maybe they mistakenly believe that they can hoard all the customers to themselves?!
I don’t understand the tight-lipped society that refuses to divulge “trade secrets”, nor the elitist belief that “not just anyone can call themselves an artist”. You have to have credentials 50 miles long in order to speak to these people, to ask a simple question ~ and once you’ve reached that point in your career, you would most likely have all the answers you need.

 
Of course, I developed into an artist during the Age of the Internet. There are literally millions of people selling artwork online. I don’t see that as a Bad Thing at all. I view this large pool of talent as an opportunity to learn, to grow, and to build a community of support and art appreciation.
I am eternally grateful to the artists who befriended me on DeviantArt and Facebook, who have willingly shared their lives and experiences with their fans, and who have patiently answered a million questions.
So I attempt to Pay It Forward! :)

I will gladly answer any specific question that I’m asked, such as “How do you make prints of your art?”, “Where do you recommend selling artwork online?”, and “Where do you get your displays from?” [my husband made a few of them, and the rest were purchased here] ….

The reason I cringe when people ask me, “How do I start selling my art?”, is because there is no easy answer. There is no One True Way. I can’t tell you how to sell YOUR ART, but I can tell you how I sell mine.

However, my situation and experiences are not the same as yours. You may have opportunities, connections, and/or resources that I do not have, or vise versa. You might not define “success” the same way I do. Your financial needs may be greater or lesser than my own. We view the world, and our place in it, through two different pairs of eyes.

All I can do is share my personal story, provide you with a few tips, and encourage you to explore the possibilities on your own.


I began my journey to entrepreneurship long before I decided to become an artist. In my mid-20’s, after working in retail for several years, I decided to research what I needed to open my own small business. Since I was employed by a local IGA supermarket as a cake decorator, I dreamed about establishing a bakery, a bookstore, or a jazzy combination of “Art, Books, & Cakes” … which, in my mind, resembled Border’s Books & Cafe, with local artists’ work hanging on the walls (for sale, obviously!).

My then-husband thought the internet was “evil” (Yeah, I know! Right??), so all my preliminary research was done using library computers and checking out everything in their Business section. I had a folder stuffed with notes on licensing, funding, suppliers, etc.

Research, Research, Research

Google is your Best Friend. Google until your fingers fall off, and then staple them back on, and Google more.

~ Google “Becoming a Small Business Owner”.
~ Search for “How to Make a Living at (Insert your Hobby)”…

“How to Sell Artwork Online” may have brought you to my website, but this is just the first stop along a very long road. Read the rest of the search results.
At the very least, bookmark SBA.gov and take time to read it daily.

This should take awhile. There is no express lane, unfortunately.

Sure, you can throw some artwork onto eBay or Etsy, and wait for it to sell. But while you’re waiting, read everything you can get your hands on about running a small business.
If you are tempted to ask questions such as “Do I need a business license to sell art?” Find out! Read this webpage.
FYI: some states require one, and others don’t. If you’re in doubt, drive down to your local County Courthouse and ask the clerk. :P


So what happened to my little bakery/bookstore idea?
Well, I divorced the man-who-hated-the-internet, although that wasn’t the reason why I left him. My 4-year-old daughter and I moved to a different state. With so much instability and financial uncertainty in my life, it didn’t feel like the right time to start a business, and so I continued working in retail for several more years.

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” ~ Howard Thurman

While working as a Grocery Mgr. for a large retail chain, I discovered Deviantart.com, where several of my friends had art and photography accounts. Initially, a friend convinced me to join as a stock model, to share photos of myself dressed in costumes for artists to use as reference. Then I began experimenting with Photoshop, creating my own photo-manipulated artwork. A couple of years later, I was inspired to return to an old hobby of mine ~ painting cats! I painted a few cats wearing costumes and shared them online.

I noticed that most of the artists whom I admired on DeviantArt also had Etsy shops where their work was being sold. So I opened my own Etsy store ~ after doing extensive research (i.e. reading Etsy’s blog and forums) for months. And I listed a few paintings on eBay, as well. I sold my first couple of paintings, and decided to paint a few more. And I took a few commissions, too.

Here is the point where my business began to take shape and form…. but I didn’t start painting cats one day, and “Poof!”, a fully operational business appeared with a line of customers hungry for my work. I only wish!!

Make Contacts

Meet artists both online and in person. Where do artists hang out? Find out!

~ Get to know working artists; their lives, their stories, their business experiences.
~ Read their blogs!
~ Check out their websites. What platform are they using? Did they design the site themselves, or hire someone, or buy a pre-made template?

Before asking them really unanswerable questions, such as “How do I sell my art?”, find out how they began selling theirs.
Many artists allow fans to Friend them on Facebook; if they won’t accept your request because they want to keep their personal account private, then follow their Art Fanpage instead.

~ Watch how they market themselves, and how they interact with their followers.
~ Where else do they sell?
~ Are they active on Twitter or Instagram?
~ Are they members of any groups?

This is also considered research because you are learning how art careers are managed by observing artists at work.


By the time I started asking my peers for advice, I had already narrowed my questions down to specifics: “Which model of Epson printer do you have?”, “Which WordPress plug-in for social sharing do you recommend?”, “Why did you decide to close your eBay store?”….

Trust me when I tell you that artists are more willing to reply to these focused types of questions, because there are simple and obvious answers, and specific questions prove that you’ve done your homework first. ;)

Find Your Customers

This is the tricky part! Nearly every day, I run across people complaining that the internet is saturated with art, with millions of artists trying to sell paintings and crying, “Woe is me! Nobody is buying my oil paintings.”
There are entire LinkedIn art groups that ought to be renamed “Moan and Groan About Fake WannaBe Artists Stealing Our Customers”… and sadly, this is not a joke.

Putting your work online doesn’t guarantee it will sell. Neither does putting it in a gallery, or setting up a table on the sidewalk.

You need to use your contacts.

~ Tell your family and friends that you’re creating and selling art.
~ Build a website somewhere, showcasing your artwork, and direct people to it. It can be something fancy like a custom WordPress site, or as simple as a Flickr or DeviantArt account.
~ Put your work on Facebook so people can share it.   Yes, OMG, you want people to share your art! Don’t hide your work for fear of its getting stolen ~ you can’t sell art if people can’t see it! :P
~ If you like Pinterest, use it to Pin your work.
Ditto with Instagram. Tumblr. Twitter. Whatever floats your boat. Get your work in front of people!
~ Get business cards. Make sure your artwork is on them. ;)

~ Ask your friends and family which arts festivals or craft shows they attend.
~ Ask your artist contacts which shows they enjoy doing… or simply watch their Facebook feeds for upcoming show info, and find Event listings on their websites.
~ Make a list of likely shows and festivals to sign up for.
~ Find the festivals’ websites online and download the vendor applications.
~ Fill them out. Send them in. ;)

Research what you need to attend a show: you need a tent, displays, tax license, and obviously something to sell. Will you sell prints and assorted merchandise, or just originals? Don’t ask me… this is your business.
What do you want to create?

You can Google “finding your target customers” and “marketing your artwork”  until your fingers fall off for the fourteenth time. Word of Mouth is usually your best bet, and it’s free! Once you have a few friends or customers who love your work, let them share it for you. Offer them something in return, and their testimonials will be more convincing than the slickest sales-pitch.

Unless you are adept at playing a sleazy car-salesman.
And if that is the case, why are you reading this? You should be teaching ME how to sell art! :P

Additional Tips

~ Experiment, learn, and grow as an artist.
~ Show your progress.
~ Take risks.
~ Be genuine.
~ Share what you have learned the hard way, and pass along the good advice you’ve received.
~ Listen to your customers and fans. Use their feedback to develop art that will sell.
~ Have patience with people who ask, “Can you tell me how to sell my art?” ;)
~ Pay it Forward.
~ Learn from your mistakes.
~ Accept criticism, but don’t take negativity personally.
~ Embrace what makes you different.
~ Be kind to your neighbors and fellow artists.

~ Most importantly, don’t quit!

If you aren’t 100% convinced that an art career is the path you wish to take… wait awhile, research more, continue to create art, and discover what you really want to achieve in your life.
Once you start down the road, however, do not look back. Keep moving forward!

It’s all too easy to get discouraged and feel like a failure. The internet makes it easy to compare ourselves with our peers, and the downside to joining the greater community of artists is the realization that you are a very, very small fish in the global fishbowl.

Some artists will sell their work with seemingly little effort, for thousands of dollars, while you struggle to get $50 for your painting.
You will encounter artists with 500,000 followers and wonder, “Why is that person so famous? Why don’t I have that many fans?”
Someone will share a link to another artist’s work, which looks eerily similar to yours, and you realize that your “original” idea wasn’t so original after all.
Their work might even be executed with greater proficiency, and you ask yourself, “Why do I bother?”
Or worse ~ their work is shoddier in quality to yours, but people are paying 5x more for their Name.

I believe that the secret to being a successful artist includes commitment, drive, and the ability to see the Big Picture.

Successful people view set-backs as challenges to solve, not as Signs from the Universe to quit altogether. They surround themselves with equally motivated and committed people. They can look five or ten years into the future and predict where they will be, and what they will be doing.


And that is why, when you ask the question, “How do I sell my artwork?”…
I reply, “Only you know yourself well enough to answer.”

“What I have written is but a fleeting intimation of the outside of what one man sees and may tell about the path he walks. No one shares the secret of a life; no one enters into the heart of the mystery.” ~ Howard Thurman

Tara Fly

About Tara Fly

A Crazy Cat Lady ... who divides her time between painting portraits of cats dressed in period costumes, watching BBC mini-series, growing weeds and wildflowers, and baking pumpkin pies seasoned with cat hair. Would you like some fur-flavoured coffee?

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2 Comments

  •    Reply

    I never thought I would be a benefactor to an artist. Now I R one, and proud of it. Your strongest suit is that you are indeed genuine, and you can be proud of that. Keep up the good work, and, incidentally — be healthy. Don’t ever sacrifice your health and that of your family. Research what you eat, drink, and use in your home. You have no idea what a dividend that will pay. Take that from (one professional to another) someone who specialized in, and taught, population and environmental health — then practiced it in my life.

    •    Reply

      Yes, sir! We are working on becoming healthier… I am certainly happier now that I am working at home. :)
      The retail environment exposed me to a cesspool of germs and was emotionally draining as well.

      I am also proud to have you and Janet as patrons of my work. You two are very special to me. :)

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