THE TRICKY BUSINESS OF ART

I’ve been an artist since I was a child. I never knew how not to do it, but being an artist is not the same as being a professional artist. I embarked on this around 2006 or 7. I started to realize that it was my time to do what I had always wanted to do but didn’t allow myself to really pursue. What’s the difference between being an artist and being a professional artist? As an artist you are creative and passionate about what you do. As a professional artist, you are creative and passionate about what you do but you are also in the business of selling your art, for a living in most cases. This may be oversimplifying but you get the idea. There’s money involved and that’s when it gets serious for me. However, making real money for your art can be a ‘tricky’ business.

Heather painting all over the place.

Heather painting all over the place.

Trick Number One

The number one thing you should focus on is producing the best art that you can produce, whether it be porcelain dolls, illustrations, woodcarvings, or fine art oil paintings. Learn to do what you want to do to the best of your ability. This is an ongoing process with art. Good artists never stop learning so I don’t believe that you should wait until your art is perfect before you start selling it. For many artists, its never going to be perfect. That is how they come back to the easel or the workbench everyday to try again to get close. I do think there are buyers for art at every level of one’s professional career as long as it is priced right. Pricing is a different topic for a different day but, if you choose to be a professional artist, there are buyers out there for everyone.

Ad running in Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, Nov/Dec 2016

Ad running in Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine, Nov/Dec 2016

Trick Number Two

They have to see it before they can buy it. I know many people who go through magazines and catalogs and say “I paint better than that” or “My friend so-and-so can make better ‘insert type of art piece here’ than that”. Well, are you or so-and-so making sure that people get a chance to see the work like the people that are in those marketing materials? You have to spend money to make money. Spring for the advertising when you get accepted to a show. Run ads in magazines that you respect in your industry. Do a Facebook marketing campaign occasionally. Do something to get your work seen by potential buyers.

Just received a delivery of birch panels.

Just received a delivery of birch panels.

Trick Number Three

Treat your business like a business. Art is my profession and it is my 9-5 and bread and butter. I show up every day to do something related to my business. I paint. I photograph the work. I keep my inventory software up to date. I keep my financial software up to date. I keep my inventory stocked. I keep my materials stocked. I know how much art I need to be producing each month in order to keep supplying my galleries and I keep detailed records of where all of my art is at any given time. Plenty of people try to run businesses in any field but if they don’t do these things, they fail very quickly. Just because you are an artist, it doesn’t mean you are exempt from these rules. Get a personal assistant if you can’t handle these things but somebody’s gotta do it.

Here are the quick plugs for the vendors I use: Quickbooks for financial software; ArtworkArchive.com for inventory, customer and show tracking; FineArtStudioOnline.com for my website; Meininger Art Materials for local supplies, RosemaryandCo.com for my brushes, Gamblincolors.com for mediums and varnish; Winsornewton.com for paint; local lumberyard for birch panels. I’ll try other things occasionally but I keep coming back to these.

Trick Number Four through …

Getting into galleries, getting accepted to shows, getting invited to invitationals, etc, etc. These things come after you do tricks 1 -3. The journey is different for everyone so there are some things you may not care about. Things can also change for you on a daily basis and you have to readjust the plan. I know that if you are focusing on 1-3, the rest will become more obvious and easier.

Thanks for reading! I hope that I have helped you in some way. Feel free to comment. I look forward to reading them.

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  • Dena Peterson

    Well-said, Heather! I’ve been a professional artist for 20 years and I still haven’t taken some of the steps you have outlined here. The “business” part has always intimidated me! Thanks for the gentle nudge!

  • Cyndi Tang

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I liked how you’ve simplified the “tricky points” and made them easy to remember. No one can skip a step and become a professional artist… but unfortunately, many tried. Back to the saying: Doing the same thing but expecting different results. Unless our mental state mature, there’s no changing in our habits. So, points taken, and thank you for the generous reminder.

  • Marie Bergman

    A wonderful bit of information, for the novice and the professional

  • Thanks, Heather for laying this out so clearly. I come across many artists who just want to paint. Oh, but then they also want to sell. When I suggest how they might make that happen it sounds like so much trouble (yes, it is) that some never get around to it. Great job of telling it how it is.

  • mary Rose

    I enjoyed her article. It helps to have $$$ behind you, and lots of artists do not have the luxury of just being an artist.