Today’s episode has some “tough love” for people who want to sell their artwork. Selling artwork is hard and it takes a lot of time to build up an audience and collector base. In the early stages of selling your art, or if you aspire to sell your artwork I have a big tip for you: conduct market research. What do I mean by this? Listen to the podcast to find out! Today’s episode is for people who are new to selling their artwork, people who want to sell more artwork, and people who are frustrated they’re not selling more artwork. In short, it’s all about art business sales!
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I’ll be back next week with another new episode. This season you can expect more art tips and tricks, breakdowns of useful painting techniques, and, of course, lots of information on selling your art and starting an art business out of your creative hobby.
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Hello, and welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren Kristine, your host. Thank you so much for joining me today for this episode. It is going to be a bit of a tough love topic today. We’re talking about painting art to sell, versus just painting for yourself and what that means. There’s a lot to explore here. So I am excited to jump right in. But as always, I want to start with a Review of the Week. This one comes from a longtime listener, William Murray Art. He said he “Loved the interview with Debbie.” This was actually the last episode of season one, the one on creative coaching. I believe it’s episode number 20, something like that. William said, “I can really relate to Debbie as a beginner in selling art. Lots of great advice and information from Lauren. Kristine, I will be referring back to this episode a lot. Thank you to Lauren, Kristine and Debbie.” Thank you so much, William, and everyone, you can check out his art at WilliamMurrayArt on Instagram. Thank you so much for leaving me that Review on Apple Podcasts. Please everyone Rate Review and Subscribe. It is the best way that you can thank me for making this podcast is to take those simple actions, because they really do provide me a lot of energy. And it’s just like getting a warm hug from you, the audience. So thank you so much. You can do that on Apple Podcasts, and now Spotify as well. So just go ahead, give me five stars and know that you’re going to be making me smile over here. Okay, jumping right in today!
We’re talking about the difference between painting art to sell (being a serious seller) and painting art for yourself (being a hobbyist seller). Here’s the thing, if I’m simply painting art for myself, and for the joy of painting, well, that means I’m painting all kinds of styles and subject matter and sizes. I do whatever I want to do, and whatever brings me joy in that moment. That means I’m probably flirting between flowers and landscapes, doing some more abstract, some more realistic, playing with different styles, seeing what I like, and learning new techniques. That’s what it’s all about, for me, most of the time! But there is a time when I’m painting to sell. And if that’s the mindset I’m in where I really want to sell some paintings, I actually find that I limit my artistic creations to things that I know are more likely to sell to my audience, or more likely to sell on Etsy.
For me, there’s a big difference between hobbyist art and art that I make with the intention of commercial ability, salability? I know a lot of artists who don’t have a clear goal, and that leads to them getting very frustrated. That is not what we want here. If you’re making art to sell, you just have to accept sometimes that you can’t always just paint what you want to paint and how you want to paint it. If you want to sell the most art than you have to paint what the audience wants. That’s a hard, tough love statement for some artists to take in.
It can be hard to strike that balance. And frankly, if you’re just starting out, just paint for you! Just paint for learning. You know, learning how to paint is hard enough as it is, whatever medium you’re working in. So I’d say don’t add tons of pressure on top of that. Okay, paint for you, paint for the love of creativity, making beautiful things, trying new techniques and learning. That is enough. You don’t have to sell just because you see everybody else selling out there on Instagram and Etsy. Just paint for you. That’s enough. You’re gonna get better and better and better through lots of practice. And that is going to give you options down the road. But if you put too much pressure on yourself to make sales, you’re never going to see improvements in your skills because you’re going to give up from being frustrated. So that’s not what we want. Okay? Let me start with that.
If you are selling your art and you want to sell more of your art. Perhaps you’ve spent some time on the foundations and the basics and you think you’re ready for it, you really do have to sit with yourself and decide, do you want to continue being a hobbyist and be what I call a hobbyist seller? Or do you want to get on a path to be a serious seller? I made up these terms but for the point of our podcast, those are our two categories. We’ll have hobbyist sellers and serious sellers.
I think being honest with yourself here is key. If you’re a hobbyist seller, don’t get upset with yourself! Still paint what you want, don’t put pressure on yourself, just sell what sells and don’t worry about it. If you put out a collection, and it doesn’t sell a single painting, or you sell just one thing, don’t worry about it. It’s all part of the tuition, okay, it’s all part of the learning and getting to the point of being a better artist. These are things that all of us go through in that learning stage. If you’re at the beginning, just build your audience, figure out your style, do it for the love of painting. And if you sell something, just sell it to clear out a few old paintings from the piles you have lying around. Okay, that’s okay to be a hobbyist seller. I consider myself to be a hobbyist seller most of the time, because I enjoy painting what I want to paint. But occasionally, the paintings do stack up around my studio. And I take to Etsy and online and you know, social media or to my friends and family and I try and sell some art. But most of the time, my motivation is just clearing out the studio, putting beautiful art into the world into the hands of my friends and family. And then also maybe making a little bit of cash to then buy more paints with, okay, that’s really my goal. And I am totally okay with saying I’m a hobbyist seller.
The key here is to embrace the stage you’re at, because the goal is to keep going. If you keep going, you’re gonna get better, you’re gonna have more options down the road, whether that’s selling, painting for you, painting for galleries, or museums, or whatever you want it to be okay, if you keep going, you’re gonna keep all options on the table. So that should be your number one goal: just keep going!
In this episode today, the tough love here is for the people who are aspiring to be serious sellers, or maybe some serious sellers out there that just need another push? You have to paint what the audience wants. That’s my tough love today. You have to paint paintings that match their homes, match their styles, match their tastes, and match the preferences of a wide swath of the general public. If you want to sell more art, it has to appeal to a wide audience and to a wide swath of people. You probably cannot just make whatever you want to make all the time without a plan, and then sell out all your art. That’s very hard to do.
You probably need to take a little more of a an intentional approach if you want to maximize sales. Part of that intentional approach is doing promotions, putting yourself out there, getting offers into the world, meeting people telling people about your art, telling a wide audience of people, whether they know you or not – that you make art, here’s where you can find it, and getting them excited about it.
Okay, promotion is one piece. But there’s also the question of what you’re promoting, what art you’re making, and how, how you go about that. The best companies out there do market research before they ever bring a product to market. My approach, my advice for people who want to be serious sellers, is to do something very similar. Do your own market research! Just like these big companies out there, before they put out a new electronic, a new home decor item, or they choose the house paint colors for the year, they are doing market research. They’re asking people for opinions. They’re going into people’s homes, they’re watching how people interact with their products right now, they’re listening to feedback, they’re listening to what people want. They’re actually putting in a lot of effort upfront, in order to make sure they’re building the right product for the audience.
Doing everything you can to de-risk your creations would be a great thing to do if you want to be a serious seller. Before you go spend 100 hours in your studio, making a collection of let’s say, bumblebee paintings, or moth paintings, or tree paintings, or landscapes or florals or whatever it is, tind out if that’s something that people want to display in their homes in the first place! Ask people on your Instagram, what do they want to see you paint more of? Ask your best customers: “What sizes of art are you looking for in your house right now?” Go do that market research and find out what your audience wants.
Number one, you have to know who your audience is, or who your target audience is if you don’t have an audience right now, and what they want, and what their price point is for what they can afford. You triangulate all those things, and you figure out where the market opportunity is for you.
What’s another way to go find out what people want? There are so many ways to do this. One, you can go to a local craft fair, in your town. Go there, see what booths are the busiest. See what people are buying, see what the prices are for the objects that are being sold. Don’t just look at the paintings that are being sold. Look at the ceramics that are being sold. Look at the other home decor items. Look at the candles, look at what people are selling, what the price points are, and what booths are getting the most attention and what those booths are doing to get that attention to get those buyers interest. Okay? Now, you have to be stealthy about this. So, just get a coffee, sit in the corner, just observe the market, observe what’s happening. Go around, talk with people see what you can find out. That is like a real live fishbowl that you can dive into and you can see what’s working in real life. There are real people, they’re making real buying decisions, you can listen to what they’re saying and see what they walk away with, if anything. That’s step one: go do that in real life. Okay.
There’s a second option of how you can go do more real life research. Go to whatever big box home decor shop you have nearby. Okay, get in your car, go to Target, Home Goods, world market, even Hobby Lobby or Michaels. Okay. All of these stores sell paintings, they sell art, they sell home decor. Why not piggyback off the market research that the best companies are doing in your space: home decor, home accents, and art. See what’s selling, see what they put on their shelves.
For Target, when they decide what art they’re going to stock for a season, their buyers are looking at trends, they’re looking at colors, they’re looking at trend forecasting and trying to figure out where trends are moving, and what the general public wants to buy. That is so useful to you as an artist, because you’re gonna get a good idea from looking at the shelves at Target or Home Goods of what kind of art people want right now. The general public, they’re going to want what’s trendy so find out what colors are trendy right now. What sizes do you see on the shelf? What subject matter? All of these provide you great clues to what sells to the average buyer if you want to appeal to the most number of people as possible. This is a great place to start. Now, don’t copy, you don’t have to make a carbon copy of everything that’s on the shelf at Target that you see. Find your own niche within these areas but use what you see as a guide.
If you want to get sales, you have to paint what people want for a while to build your following. I think that’s just the easiest way to do it. Now, if you can get 10s of 1000s of people following you on social media and buying your art regularly, you can do whatever you want. But if you want to build up to that point, you’re probably going to need to do a lot of market research, and give the people what they want in order to get yourself to that point. And that’s really how I define a serious seller is they are thinking about it, in terms of what will sell, what will appeal, how they can skate to where the puck is going, and get ahead of trends, and be there with what people want when they want it.
You can do more of this trend research on Etsy as well, or on Instagram. You can do this research from your couch. Get on Etsy, type in keywords that you’d like to paint and see what pops up. Do the same thing on Instagram, look for artists doing art that you align with – maybe the subject matter, maybe the colors, maybe it’s abstract, whatever it is that you want to paint, look at what’s out there already. And look at who’s actually making sales, just numbers of followers on Instagram is not enough, you want to see: is that artists selling out collections quickly? That’s a great hint to the demand of their products. And this applies across the board, whether it’s paintings, or ceramics, or woven baskets, or macrame, whatever kind of craft or art form, you’re looking at. Looking at what’s out there, and how successful they are right now will give you an idea of what that market looks like.
On Etsy, look at how many sales a shop has made. It’s right up in the top headline, when you click on a shop name, go to their shop, their online Etsy store, it’ll say how many sales they made. Look at the number of reviews they have, although that’s going to be just a subset of their total sales, of course, because not everyone leaves a Review. But look at the number of sales they’ve made. And use that as your guide to what is popular on the online world. When you see something on the shelf at Target, you know, it’s pretty popular because Target would get it off the shelf, if it wasn’t selling, it would have a big fat clearance tag on it.
So, you know, there’s there’s different clues you use in different different places. Online, you’re looking for sold out collections, you’re looking for artists that sell a lot of work, you’re looking for high numbers of sales on Etsy. Those are all clues to, you know, just a trend or an aspect of their art that appeals to a lot of people and appeals to their audience. So as you’re building up your audience, these are all clues you can use so you can get closer to that bullseye. Okay, that bullseye of what people want, what you want to make, what the price point is that makes sense. You need to find the spot where all of that overlaps, and that’s that Bullseye that you’re aiming for.
It’s okay if you’re not there right now, working toward it does take time and effort, a lot of effort. But it can be worth it. If that’s your goal, go for it! It’s doable, but it takes time and effort and perseverance. Now with all this being said, I still don’t really advocate for selling seriously. If you’re a self taught artists, just go have fun with it. Don’t put pressure on yourself to sell more or get upset with your sales or sales related outcomes. If you’re going to put that pressure on yourself, then you need to ask yourself if you’re setting yourself up for success in sales and if you’re doing everything you can to drive sales? And that means sometimes making the hard decision of painting what the audience wants. Painting what the general public wants, and not necessarily what you want.
Personally, I love bright colors. I love neons I wear Lilly Pulitzer clothes, I’m all about bright colors all the time. Doesn’t matter what season it is. Doesn’t matter. I have them up in my home. I wear them my jewelry, everything’s all about bright colors. But when I look around at the homes of my friends, they do not have bright colors all over their walls. Their artwork is more muted. It’s more minimalist. And that’s that’s my friends. That’s how they tend to decorate. And taking that in mind, I made a few paintings that were more minimalist in style. They did really well with my friends and family audience. That was a choice that I made at that time, because I wanted to sell some art, I wanted to get some art out in the hands of people in the world who would love it. But that’s a choice that I made, so that I could sell more.
So if you’re putting pressure on yourself, just ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to drive sales? And are you making the tough decisions to do that? Because if not, then just stop putting the pressure on yourself and go back to enjoying art, and just be a hobbyist seller and know that that is okay. That’s more than okay, that’s great!
I know this artist who goes to a lot of craft fairs locally. And, you know, she gets really upset with herself, because she hasn’t been selling a lot at these craft fairs. Her paintings don’t really fit with what the general public in her local area is looking for. And so I know it’s disheartening for her at the craft fairs to watch other artists make more sales than her. But she has not been willing to change her painting style, or change her subject matter to fit what people want. And I’ve told her! I don’t know that she’s at the point yet of wanting to make that change. But the hard thing is, is I watch her be really hard on herself about her “failure.” That’s not a failure. She’s painting what she wants to paint. She’s putting her artistic creations into the world and making something that didn’t exist before. That’s all a success. But she gets hard on herself. She gets upset when she judges her success by how many paintings she sells at a craft fair.
So just ask yourself the question, are you doing everything you can to make sales in order to set yourself up for success as a serious seller? Or are you a hobbyist seller and you’d be better off just, admitting that to yourself that you are a hobbyist seller and you want to paint what you want to paint and you’re okay with it. If that’s the case, take that pressure off yourself and just get back to enjoying of making art. T enjoyment of making art… that’s what we’re looking for. Above all, that’s our goal.
So I know this is a tough love episode. I know someone out there needed to hear it. And it’s hard, it can be hard to hear, but it’s just my opinion. So you do whatever you want to do on your artistic journey. We’re all on our individual paths and individual journeys. So just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Until next time, my friends Happy Creating! Please leave me a comment in a Review on Apple Podcasts or give me a five star rating on Spotify podcast, it would mean the world to me. And if you have any thoughts on today’s episode, feel free to reach out at Lauren, Kristine firstname.lastname@example.org. Til next time!
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