Earlier this year, rolling ball sculpture artist Tom Harold did what so many artists dream of doing: he quit his day job! (Way to go, Tom!) We interviewed Tom in early July to learn a bit more of his story and to learn about the trajectory that led him here.
Tom made his first piece for fun while working at a consulting firm. As he worked on it, he provided regular updates to a coworker who got very excited about seeing the finished product. (Proof that work-in-progress updates on your blog and social media can be a powerful way to garner interest in your work!) That coworker bought the second piece Tom ever created.
I’m definitely not naturally a salesman. But I was so excited about what I was doing that I was putting stuff out there.- Tom Harold
As he continued to create new pieces, Tom’s work received a lot of quick interest and people began commissioning pieces. At the time, Tom was working only in copper, which became a roadblock for him.
Tom: “Pretty early on I had people asking me to do more. The pay was okay. I wasn’t bringing down a thousand bucks or anything, and I probably wasn’t getting paid near what I should have been, but I’d do a piece for somebody and they’d pay me $300, and that’s money you can count, you know? So I just kept doing that, and I knew I was limited with copper. Part of it mechanically, soldering, and there were several practical aspects of it that didn’t quite suit me, but the big thing about it is that you can only build so large with copper. It’s really soft, so you have to keep adding supports and adding supports and adding supports, I wanted to build something like six feet tall. I wanted to do something big. And I loved the idea of welding.”
During this phase of his early career, Tom began to focus on investing in himself. When he realized that he needed to buy a $1200 welder in order to be able to work in steel and create larger sculptures, he made the difficult decision to sell a valuable and rare harmonica amplifier to raise the money. He also began to take welding classes. It was during this self-improvement period that he discovered The Abundant Artist.
Tom shares what TAA taught him and how it influenced his thinking:
Tom: “I know that I have learned a lot- I know a lot more than I realized. TAA has given me a realistic set of expectations, and that’s incredibly important. I now have what’s necessary to get from A to B, rather than just “oh, I heard this thing, I’m gonna try this thing, and I heard this other totally unrelated thing, and I’ll try that.” So there were a lot of things, like the thought process behind having your brand set up. When I got my website set up, I went and found TomHarold.com. I had to buy it from some guys, but I knew that I wanted it, because I wanted my name directly associated with that. I knew that was gonna be my brand, and that was really important to me.”
Tom: “One thing I learned was that people take you more seriously when you have a website that legitimizes their perception of you as an artist. Another thing I learned from TAA is that you want to have eighteen to twenty pieces in your portfolio as a really good starting point. There’s that mental shift- people are like “oh, this guy is pretty serious.” And learning how to present yourself online. My website still needs a ton of work, but I have all the basics down. I learned things about making it as easy to navigate as possible. And just presenting things in a clean format. I still think all the time- ‘Do people really read the about page?’ Yeah, they do.”
Tom shared that the greatest influence The Abundant Artist’s courses had was on helping him to develop the mental framework necessary to approach his art as a viable business.
As Tom’s pieces gained popularity and he launched his website and learned how to use Instagram, he realized that he was working hard on his art on nights and weekends. The workload in addition to his day job began to feel overwhelming. After a discussion with a friend, he realized that he was at a crossroads- quit his art, or quit his day job.
Within 3 days, he had made his choice.
Tom graciously composed a list for us of the top 20 lessons he’s learned from The Abundant Artist:
- “You need a web site. People don’t view you as a “real” artist if you just have a FB page or Insta or whatever. Real business people have web sites.
- You have to show people who you are. This includes putting pictures of yourself on your web site and social media posts and writing about yourself as well.
- People WANT to know more about the artist him/herself. (Goes along with #2)
- You need to interact with your followers on social media.
- You need to come up with realistic pricing AND FEEL GOOD ABOUT IT! (Value yourself or no one else will, either.)
- You need at least 18-20 pieces of art in your portfolio before people unconsciously feel like you are a serious artist.
- You need to repeat yourself about all kinds of things in a way that may make you feel like you are a broken record, because people skip details or ignore things you post about, and they’ll need to hear it again and again. (I’ve been on IG for four years, and my profile states I’m an artist making these sculptures, and I post all the time about commissions, shipping work to clients, and all that. I STILL get people asking, “Do you sell these?” So every once in a while I make some mention that will make it rather obvious that I do sell my art. You have to repeat yourself.)
- It is okay to ask for press from press sources (social media, TV, radio, magazines, papers, etc.)
- It is okay to ask your followers on social media to do things for you like tell other people about your work. In fact, you NEED to do this, and people like to help you!
- It is okay to state a price of a piece of art in one of your social media posts.
- Don’t hide the pricing of your art. People would like to know how much it costs. You won’t scare them away, at least not the ones who are able to make a purchase. The ones who can’t, well, that’s okay, because you need to focus on finding the ones who can.
- Don’t keep reworking something over and over again, delaying the release or announcement of it until you have it “perfect.” You’ll make much more progress by getting your initial plan together, carrying it out, making mistakes, then going back and fixing the mistakes, than you will if you keep reworking and waiting for “perfect.”
- It’s okay to talk about yourself! If you do something awesome, like selling a piece or getting some press or getting a compliment/like/share from someone notable, TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT. In fact it’s okay to tell them more than once! People don’t see it as bragging, and if they do, you can ignore those people.
- Regarding point #13, your audience takes in that sort of news and really does use it to verify their feelings about the quality and desirability of your artwork.
- If you don’t sound like you feel like your artwork is awesome and worth a million bucks (or even a couple hundred), then other people feel that, and it makes them back away. Again, this is bragging or being self-important. People buy art in large part based on the artist, and if you don’t feel your art is worthwhile, no one else will, either.
- If you tell people to do something, like visit your web site or buy your art – THEY’LL DO IT! Not everyone, and not always, but they WILL do it.
- You need to ask for the sale. This doesn’t mean beg, but if you post an available piece on social media, you canNOT assume that other people will assume it’s for sale and that they like the unnamed price. Simply state that it’s available and the price. You can get fancier later if you like, but this is perfectly acceptable for starters.
- Sales methods or other efforts that work for some people may not work for you at all. Try something, see if it works, see how you like it, then do what works and what you like repeatedly as long as success and your feelings about it continue.
- Don’t give your work away for exposure unless there’s a GREAT reason for it or unless you really just enjoy the opportunity. You can waste a ton of time and energy that way.
- If you sell through second parties like Etsy or specific art web sites, you lose the ability to connect with your collectors and develop repeat business. You also lose the ability to get business from your collector’s friends, since you have no contact info for them! If you can market for yourself and develop your own leads, there’s no reason to pay someone else to do it. (Again, unless there’s a GREAT reason for it.)
There has to be a ton more, but I’ll stop at 20, because that’s a nice number. I thought Cory and the staff would like to get more detailed feedback. As I said in my interview, I often forget just how much I’ve learned, because I just feel like it’s natural knowledge now, but there was a time when I knew little or none of it. I’m armed with a good set of tools, including a supportive network, thanks to TAA.” – Tom Harold
TAA can help you not only learn the business skills, but develop the overall mindset that will help you succeed. Click here to discover which course is the right fit for you.