Have you given up?
Trying to sell art can be a demoralizing business. Putting a piece of who you are out into the world for others to criticize- or worse, ignore completely- takes bravery and a thick skin. And the truth is that sometimes your work, though it may be objectively good, just doesn’t resonate with the people who see it. This is hard enough if you’re just hoping to share a part of yourself with the world, but if you’re trying to turn your art into a real business it can suck the soul right out of you.
Steve Ogden is an artist and animator who regularly shares his comics to Instagram, which is where he shared this thought the other day:
Whether you’ve just been talking about it for years or actively chasing down your goals, you occasionally hit the wall. You wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. You’re tired, you’re losing hope. You wonder if it’s all worth it.
My advice is to remember why you started, and check yourself against that. Is it still worth it? Is it still something you want to achieve? Then don’t let up. Often, right on the other side of that dark night is the breakthrough you’ve been waiting for.
Sometimes it doesn’t come, though. Sometimes, the only thing getting you through is you. But when you finally do it, you complete what you set out to do, you’ll have that sense of accomplishment, and that is worth a lot, too. – Steve Ogden, http://wishtales.com
If you are feeling demoralized, take Steve’s advice to heart and remember why you started. If you still feel that spark of desire, if you’re still holding on to your why, whatever it is, then it’s not time to give up yet. Here are some tips for taking an objective look at your situation and answering the tough questions about the distance between where you are and where you want to be.
Assess your situation
What are you trying to do?
Are you selling your art on a third-party website like Etsy or Artfire? Your tactics and approach will have to be tailored to the unique way that those sites work. (We highly recommend that you still sell your art on your own site.) If you are trying to lean into using Facebook as your primary sales channel, your approach will need to look different from if you are doing the bulk of your marketing offline. Take a look at your approach and make sure that it’s lined up with your objective- marketing is not one-size-fits-all and there’s no quicker way to get demoralized than working extremely hard using the wrong tactics.
Where are you trying to go?
Where do you hope to be 3 months from now? How about 6 months, or a year? It’s great to shoot for the moon, but if your goals are wildly unrealistic you’re likely to be setting yourself up for disappointment. If you have never written out your goals for your art business, then it’s not surprising if you feel frustrated. Sit down and write out clear, actionable goals for both the short- and long-term. Let go of the unrealistic goals (or shelve them for when you’re further down the road).
Who are you trying to sell to?
Answering this question is an essential first step. This is Selling Your Art 101. You’ve got to identify your target market and get inside the head of your ideal collector. If you haven’t taken this step, every marketing attempt is like a shot in the dark, costing you your time, your money, and your sanity.
How long have you been trying?
Making a living from your art takes time- and probably even more than you think.
We recently published a case study on TAA artist Tom Harold, who just quit his day job earlier this year- about ten years after creating his first piece. Although we read more stories online of artists who got lucky, Tom’s story is much more typical. Setting fair and appropriate expectations for yourself will protect you from feeling that it’s hopeless when things move slowly- and sometimes they will.
Prioritize your time carefully.
Are you spending your time on the right things? Yeah, making art is the fun part, but you need to be putting at least as much time as you do making art into marketing that art or no one is even going to realize you exist. Learn more about the 50/50 rule and why it’s imperative: The 50/50 Time Rule for Art Business
Get a professional critique
If you’re not feeling objectively good about your art or are unsure about the quality level, there are countless online forums filled with friendly artists ready to share critiques. Connecting with other artists, if nothing else, is a way to remind you that you are not alone in your journey and to get some advice from others in the industry who have likely been right where you are and emerged out the other side.
Get inside your ideal collector’s head
Who is your ideal collector? Try this exercise: create a profile of a single person who represents your target market. Spending some time getting into your ideal collector’s head will give you insights into where to go to find them and how to reach them effectively.
What is their name?
What do they do for a living?
How much do they make?
What do they do in their free time?
Where do they spend their time?
Our flagship course How to Sell Your Art Online 101 has a much more in-depth study on identifying your target market.
Stop comparing yourself to others
I know… easier said than done. Your social feeds are likely flooded with the perfectly-curated representations of life that other people want you to see- and this includes other artists. If you can’t take a complete social media hiatus, try snoozing, muting, or unfollowing (you can do this on Facebook without actually unfriending) those people that you find you are comparing yourself to. Try removing the temptation to compare yourself to others for 30 days. During that time, focus hard on taking the actionable steps you’ve already written down, and see how you’re feeling. Low information diets create action, and that couldn’t be truer for social media.
Make art that makes you happy
Do not create the art that you think will sell based on what others are doing successfully. The happiest artists are the ones creating art that makes them happy. And a happy by-product of that work is that very often, your audience responds better to the work that you’ve clearly enjoyed making- or you find a new audience that appreciates it. Paula Jones, an artist doing very well selling her art to the very engaged audience she’s cultivated on Facebook, is a great example of this concept. She used to paint cows, but found over time that this was no longer what she wanted to paint- and it showed in her sales. When she began painting what was in her soul, her sales took off.
Try for some quick wins
When you’re not seeing the success you hope for, sometimes what you need is just a little push to get the momentum going. Try for some quick wins- see some ideas here: How to Get a Quick Win Selling Art Online
Remember that this takes time
We already mentioned this one, but it’s so important to remember that we’re going to say it again. Cory worked on The Abundant Artist for 6 years before he was able to quit his day job. Here are some other artists who worked for years before they were able to do what they love full time:
We’ll leave you with these encouraging parting words from TAA artist Anita Nowinska, who, as she put it, “behaved like a complete loon” and is now on track to make the kind of money from her art business that she has only dreamed of.
If I was feeling despondent or upset that things were not happening, I looked at everything I’d done, realized I was doing my best and accepted that that was all I could do. I saw that each day I had taken a step forward and that steps turn into miles.
I kept believing I could do it!
When I started to feel that the ‘work-work’ was demoralizing me, I did the fun work, the painting, and recorded it. I used it as work in progress for social media, etc.
Every few months I’d feel like my head was going to explode, so I’d get in the car and run away for a few hours and find a garden or beach to chill out in (usually sketching or taking photos to use for marketing).
I’d come back and start at it again.
I kept looking at what I had achieved, not at what I hadn’t!
Then I ramped it up and did some more work!
Hey, you know, before you say I CAN’T DO THAT, I just want you to know…
I am very conscious that I’m not writing enough blog posts.
I haven’t finished calling my whole PR list.
I haven’t perfected my website, I haven’t called enough influencers… lots of havent’s.
I haven’t done a thousand and one things I should be doing more of!
BUT THAT’S OK- I’M JUST DOING MY BEST!