A Lesson In Not Selling Art

The Not So Subtle Art of Not Selling Enough Art

how do i sell more art, art tips for artists, practical advice for artists,
A Lesson in Not Selling Art

Every week, I write a brand new article for members of our four wonderful art groups on Facebook, The Artists Exchange, The Artists Lounge, The Artists Directory, and The Artist Hangout. This week we take a look at the not so subtle art of not selling art and we question why so many small business owners forget to focus on their own unique selling points, instead favouring things like the terminology used by corporate giants. We also take a deep-dive into one of the biggest barriers to making art sales, time, or more specifically, not having enough of it! Not selling art can give us a sinking feeling, so how do we sell more art?

First, A Word From Me...

As I have been doing for a number of weeks now, I am ditching the cheesy inspirational memes and instead, I will be helping you to focus on what you really need to be doing by showing you some of my art. No, I’m kidding. People who buy my art keep this site alive. So yes, shameless self-promotion will break up my ponderings and musings and if you want inspiration, You Really Are Awesome. Now repeat after me, I really am awesome, Now repeat it over and over until you believe it.

If you do want to help keep this site alive, you can buy my art from here, or you could contact me to enquire about one of my artist proof prints, or you could donate the cost of a coffee right here, or you could even just share this article and tell your friends how awesome we both really are. 

Despite many people thinking I am crazy for ditching the ads on this site, art sales through Fine Art America and Pixels and donations for cups of coffee are what pay for this site to continue independently and unbiased. I stopped creating affiliate links more than two years ago to ensure that the independence of this site remained intact and if I say something is great, good or bad, you will know that is because I have tried and tested or used something and not because I am being paid to promote anything, and even the ad in the sidebar of this site has now gone! Ad-free, free to access, and independent, these are the three pillars I now have firmly in place!

Mark Taylor, ocean art, adrift, stormy sea art, landscape art, best seascape art,
Adrift On A Building Sea by Mark Taylor

Art is a mindset…

It’s not just the business bollockology that gets in the way of making sales, it is often the actions we forget to take or the inactions we always take. It can also be about following the herd, and in a world where the only genre of art that is almost guaranteed to sell is original and authentic, following the herd isn’t really an option. The good news is that you are unique, you are in control and despite what they say, the level of the playing field is often made vertical only by what we do or don’t do.

I am, as some would say, not one for sugar coating anything. When it comes to business if you want a dusting of sweetness you should probably be selling doughnuts. This week it is time for that reality check that we sometimes need when running a business and I include myself in that. It’s easy to go through a sweet spot of sales and become complacent, but if the art world has taught us anything throughout art history, it is that success is often fleeting, at least until you die and even then it's not guaranteed. It’s not that no one wants you to succeed with your art which is a thought that pops up when your art isn't selling, it’s that more often, we might find ourselves sucked into a rabbit hole where we know exactly where the light switch is but it can feel like we are too far away and just a tad too tired to turn it on.

Over my past thirty-something years of selling my work, I have been through periods of time when I have been in that exact same place. No matter how many hours you put in, catching a break seems an impossible dream. Don’t worry, I’m not about to turn into some Tony Robbins type guru, there are still times when I find that selling art can seem impossible, but experience tells me that whenever that feeling comes along, it’s time to change the plan, switch things up, and stop listening to the same old, same old, advice that has been written a bazillion times before and updated with the latest business buzz words, and realise that sometimes it is categorically better to start listening to your own gut instinct too.  Art really is a mindset and one you can train your brain to hold.

You are not Uber…

Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to selling our art we can learn a lot from observing the way big businesses conduct their business. They are always ahead of the curve when it comes to trends, even flat earthers are ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing it seems because even their numbers are growing, and indeed many of the business powerhouses set the very trends that so many customers are queuing up to buy into.

What we wouldn’t do to just get a snippet closer to the turnover of even the smaller well-known brands and if we could just guarantee that our next marketing campaign would be a success we would all be very happy indeed. Over the years I have seen art businesses come and go, galleries open and galleries closed, and artists who are extremely talented but haven’t got the first idea on recognising their talent and selling based on that. I have also seen artists who suddenly want to become the next Uber, only to be reminded down the line that Uber is not without their own sets of problems and giving people a ride is very different to selling people a piece of art. If you want to be Uber, go and be Uber and drive a car.

What we can learn from big businesses who have teams of professionals in their marketing departments are things like how to draw in the audience, how to retain them, and in some cases, what to definitely avoid saying on social media and in public. We can gain insight into what people will be buying in their droves next season and if we pay attention to other data sources such as opinion polls related to marketing trends, or keeping an eye open in places where we know art is being sold, we can usually gain some useful business intelligence that will inch us closer to making a sale if we can interpret what it really means. The real issue here though is that when you collect business intelligence it is important that you work out what that intelligence means for your business. Is it really applicable to you and what you do or are you just trying to find some hook you can hang your coat on for a while? Much of what we do as artists stem from asking ourselves hard and difficult questions.

Adrift on Turquoise Waters by Mark Taylor, seascape art, landscape art, boat art, cloud formations,
Adrift on Turquoise Waters by Mark Taylor

Unhelpful Words...

There are certain words in the business vocabulary that really should be banned from an artist’s vocabulary and fatigue is one of them. Fatigue is a word that describes the tiredness or a lethargy towards something, and it is perhaps one of the most dangerous words I think I have ever come across. Fatigue wears us down to the point that we can’t see beyond the moment when we cave in and take the path of least resistance, the time when we don’t quite realise that if we were to just take a short pause, the decision we might make in the future will be a better decision than the one fatigue steers us towards right now.

Fatigue happens when we hit a dry spell in sales, we are doing all we can to sell our work but no one is buying. Of course, they’re buying everyone else’s art, just not ours. Fatigue takes a grip and blocks out any notion that those artists might have only just come out of a dry spell too, it prompts us to take on some free work in the hope that those great exposure tokens we get offered will really give us the promised great exposure.

Fatigue is when you are working eighteen-hour days and your net result is zero and yet we carry on even more frustrated. Fatigue stops us from taking stock and reminding ourselves that if we really think that by doing the same thing over and over we will get a different result. Fatigue is the doorway to the path of least resistance. Well, I have news for fatigue, I’m taking a break. Fatigue will shine through in your art if you allow it to though and not in a good way.

I was reminded of this while I was watching the news over here in the UK which as usual was filled with Brexit drama. Politicians were saying that they felt fatigued with the drama and how they knew that the public was too, but I pondered whether or not what they were really saying was that they are just tired of putting the same arguments forward and expecting a different set of results, they just wanted to get it done, for it to be over, and what they were missing was that by agreeing on the deal in the first place was only ever going to be the first step. 

I also pondered if politicians should be fatigued at all, sorting out the mess is the gig they signed up for, just as art is the gig we signed up for as artists. It can be relentless but recognising that fatigue is the actual point at which you need to revaluate some almost obsessional thinking might be the better way to go. Recognising when fatigue strikes will prevent you from making fatigue driven decisions which are 99.999% of the time going to be wrong. Catch a glimpse of fatigue and know that it is time to take pause and evaluate your next move.

There are other words that should be banned from an artist’s vocabulary too. Easy is one such word that should be forever banished and it can be a major contributing factor to not selling art. Yes of course I can easily complete that commission by Saturday, oh it would be easy for me to change the colour palette, easy when used in some contexts tells the buyer that the process of creating art is easy, it plants the easy seed, and we all know from experience that creating art is frequently anything but. 

That easy seed grows into the plant that devalues your skill and your art. I can get so engrossed in a piece of work that I forget to move my legs for ten hours and then I have the image permanently etched into my eyes for hours and often after I walk away, there are times when creating a piece of art has completely drained me both physically and mentally. Easy in the wrong context can be really hard.

Another great way to not sell art is to focus on the stuff that doesn’t really matter, it really shouldn’t matter how we label a process so long as the process is right for us and what we do. I have known artists get so wrapped up in business-speak that they start sounding like the CEO of a global chain. While the processes are important, the words, not so much.

While it doesn’t do any harm at all to know exactly what you are doing, over sharing the business buzz words is so very often seen as being annoying. If you have ever sat on a train and listened to the phone conversations people  have, you will learn more about fluctuating values, SSOWs, risk management, and running a Fortune 500 company between the first two stops than you would learn in a year at college. Art is a very different business, you don’t need to have a window to say you have five minutes free to chat to a client, you don’t need to run anything up a flag pole unless you are designing flags, but you do need to be human and relatable.

An action plan is clearly so much better than a passive plan but to be totally honest here, what you really need is to just have a plan in the first place. It really doesn’t matter what we call those little things we know we have to do as long as we do them. Not wasting hours trying to work out the difference between this plan and that plan is hours that you could be spending on being creative and just coming up with a plan.

Selling art isn’t made any less arduous when you begin reading the articles and insights and watching videos from those thought leaders. I’m not sure I have ever met anyone who can really describe what a thought leader is, but my friend who is officially deemed to be one confirmed what I think I already knew. It is someone who takes people aside and tries to turn them into Steve Jobs. Follow my plan and you will be the Steve Jobs of art, the Steve Jobs of making flooglebinders, or the Steve Jobs of selling widgets. Sometimes we just have to not even try to be the next Steve Jobs, we just need to be who we really are, I never want to be Steve Jobs, I want to be me! People never approached Steve Jobs when they wanted to buy the iPhone, they approached the people who sold the iPhone, the people who knew the product and could spend quality time with them pointing out its features.

Inaction and avoidance are two words that so many businesses of any size sometimes fall prey to. I have seen it so many times over the years. The bold move to sell art or a widget is finally taken and the very minute things begin to get real, the mere thought of having to figure out things like knowing who the audience is and working through the analytics or getting the paperwork involved in running any business done gets put to one side. Sadly, if you want your art to form the bricks of any business, you first have to lay down the foundations. No one else can do that for you, you really do, as they say, have to own this shit and stop avoiding it.

adrift, seascape, landscape art, Beechhouse Media, Mark Taylor, best landscape art,
Adrift Under A Burning Sky by Mark Taylor

Where does it go wrong more often?

There is no single way that can turn a good business into a bad business or a bad business into a good business, there are lots of ways to do this. It depends mostly on what your business is but there are some common themes that seem to spring up for artists more often. Usually, time management being unmanaged and not having anywhere near enough inventory are the main culprits along with not having any idea about who you are creating your art for. Those are things that will prevent you from making consistent sales and sometimes they will prevent you from making any sales at all.

One of those ways that often seems to be the downfall of an artist is the volume of work they complete. There have been pieces of art scattered throughout my own career that has involved me spending hundreds of hours to get the right result. Some of those have sold, but none of them that have, have really paid back the outlay. Yet there have been other works that I have produced in a couple of hours that consistently sell. Those kinds of works have to subsidise my longer artistic explorations, there is no way that I could ever run a business if I was only producing half a dozen works each year.

The lesson of moving dirt is something that gold miners in the Yukon know all too well. You have to move a lot of mud to get to a flake of gold. With art, you have to produce a lot of art to get anywhere close to consistent sales. This becomes a really major issue if you intend on selling work through galleries, and while much of the work I see across the internet is sellable, what I rarely see is, enough of it. The worst situation a gallery can find themselves in is not having work to replace the work that was sold five minutes ago and galleries will already know if you are productive enough for them because they will have checked.

It seems to me that the requirement to constantly create is even more crucial if you are selling your work online. The choice of works available across the entirety of the internet is impossible to count. Millions of works are available, the real problem is that these are produced by millions of artists. When the pressure is on to fill a portfolio there is always a risk that filler works will be added. Quick wins that you randomly throw out there, images that are lacking in originality when compared to the works you have shown the real love to, and this can really bring down your portfolio. Show your best work, get quicker, never compromise, and as the BE YOU GURUs say, be the best you, show your best work and take pride in what you show. Yes, this will slow your output down but only until the time you really begin to gain the confidence you need in your work.

To do this you really do have to rely on having a plan that focusses on quality. Giving pieces the time they deserve, and making sure that the work you do show doesn’t scream filler. That’s something that happens a lot on social media too, can’t think of anything to say, say anything. The more you post the more you are seen, or at least that’s one theory. Of course, social media doesn’t really work like that, there are algorithms looking out for filler content and spam, each platform has a preference for the kind of content they want you to create, and each platform is looking for original and authentic in the same way art buyers do. Posts should be an extension of your artworks, but of course, all of this takes time.

Time is something that really is a level playing field. We all have the same twenty-four hours in a day but how we chose to divide it up can be very different. You need to factor in essentials like eating and sleeping, socialising and doing non-arty things, they’re all mega-important to having a successful career in the arts, but you also need to be regimented in your approach to making time available to be creative, and to do that thing we mostly all hate, marketing.

Last year I made a commitment to myself that I would stop taking on commissions, and in part, I did that so that I could increase the number of works in my portfolio, but also so that I could focus on the public image of what I present more broadly. This year I have more than doubled my creative output without spending any significant additional time in my creative space, and increased sales have replaced what I lost from relentlessly working on commissions. Commissions can be a great source of income but they’re not for every artist.

Just a few changes to the way I started to manage my time mean that I now have works that I most likely will hold onto a while before I decide to release them, and that’s if I decide to release them. Not every work I produce gets anywhere close to being seen, some of it is really experimental, some of it, I create just to test out new techniques, and there are a few pieces I create so that I can release them when the next relevant trend arrives. What that means is that I am now releasing around 50-60 works a year, where previously I would have been releasing maybe twenty or thirty. Now I am creating almost twice the number of works that I release and by a professional artist standard, that’s not an unusual number of works to release or to create, in fact, there are many artists I know who create at least one painting per day and they do this six or seven days a week.

Managing time is difficult. Twenty four hours is nowhere near enough time to get everything you need to get done. I used to hang around for the weekend before starting major projects, now I take the few hours I would have previously spent watching TV in the week to make a start and even having a couple of hours a day to work on getting things started has seen me become much more productive. I might start three or four pieces during weekday evenings and that means on the weekend I have three or four pieces that can go through to the finishing stage.

If that kind of quantity scares you, a hundred pieces of art per year is only two each week and you can take a vacation too. When people say they haven’t got a creative bone in their body, well, nobody really has. It’s all about training your creative muscle and the more you do it, the better and faster you get. The problem for a lot of artists is that those two pieces of work each week might be tied down to specific timeframes and you only need one thing to happen that hasn’t been planned to happen and your time will go out of the window. Back to those gold miners in the Yukon, they never just dig a hole in the hope of hitting a paystreak, they prospect, plan, and put enough time aside before the season starts so that they can make sure that when they do start digging, they’re not just wading through the mud. Be an artist is being a gold miner at times.

If there are any concerns around working too quickly, I really wouldn’t worry too much at all. You simply won’t make a living off selling 300+ hour works in the early days unless you can cover the cost of those hundreds of hours and the materials you need to put into those more complex works. I know artists who set a timer and if the work is not finished within a few hours, it is either left for later or they move on to the next. I didn’t ever think that would work for me, I worried that the quality would drop and I would be left with dozens of half-finished pieces, but that really hasn’t been the case. Some works just need a little more time, not even that much, but remember what I said about fatigue, that is something that can strike and make you feel compelled just to get the thing done when the better play is to walk away and come back tomorrow.  I will go into how to protect any time you do have a little later.

Adrift Under A Glowing Sky, Mark Taylor, artist, landscape art, cloud formations, ocean art,
Adrift Under A Glowing Sky by Mark Taylor

The Other Traps…

There are hundreds of other traps that can make or break your potential to sell art. Not knowing when to call a work complete is something that I struggled with for years, and never getting to the point of finishing a piece because I was constantly looking for some kind of mythical perfection was a struggle too. Perhaps one of the biggest traps though is the one that means you stop learning and you put a hold on your own professional development. Never learning new techniques and subsequently never being able to bring anything new and original to the table is something that can become a real problem and can make great work look stale over time. 

What often surprises me is when I meet artists who procrastinate over their continued education, they sign up for the wrong courses at college and forget that there are other more relevant courses, things like business management or artistic disciplines are going to serve you better in your endeavours than some course about something that you cannot use in your artistic career.

As I said earlier, not all of my works will ever see the light of day publicly. The reason for that is that some of the works I create are specifically created to test out new ideas. Before my recent Adrift series, I must have created around thirty works where I focussed completely on refining my ability to create realistic clouds and some of the early tests can best be described as car crashes. I can see a huge difference in the clouds I create today compared to the clouds I created a year ago, there was no magic or mirrors involved in refining them, just lots and lots of practice. That’s why it is so important to spend time on your own professional development, refining your skills so that you can do things better and faster has certainly for me, been the best way of creating more works that are more sellable.

There is another trap similar to the fatigue trap that can trip you up too. It is a trap that sounds so cosy and secure and can make you feel as if you are wrapped in cotton wool. It is the trap of finding yourself in a safe space.

The issue with safe spaces is that they’re comfortable and warm, they are designed to shield you from reality and to be totally honest, not very safe at all if you want to find success. If you are hanging out with the same people, exhibiting at the same events, staying indoors instead of going out to spread the good word of your art, or you are relying on a dozen Facebook friends on social media to build your business, it is easier than facing the challenges that will bear the real fruit. Those challenges are well outside of the safe space so if you want to take them on, you have to step out of that safe space once in a while.

I have always believed that to make great art means that you have to collect experiences on the way. Experiences are what bring life to our works, they shape our thinking and whether they are good or bad, experiences can be used to inspire what we do, shape the stories we need to tell and make us and our work more relatable. Too often the only thing lacking in an artwork is a life experience, not the experience of painting or drawing, but the experience we need to draw from to create works that resonate.

This safe space could even be fatigue's identical twin. Whenever I have worked with new artists they have mostly been fixated on a couple of things. Usually, gallery representation and commercial success and neither make you what you really need to be successful as an artist. What you need to focus on is being an artist first. 

Gallery representation, if that is indeed the path you eventually want to take will only ever happen once you have mastered the craft of becoming an artist in the first place, and besides, gallery representation is no longer anywhere near as important as it once was. You can be successful without ever walking through the doors of a gallery at all, and that is simply because it is now 2019 and not 1886. 

Someone really needs to update whatever book it is written in that the linear path to artistic stardom only ever runs through the gallery door. It doesn’t and hasn’t for many years, and gallery representation doesn’t guarantee anything and especially success. There is still a heap of work involved if you are represented and here in 2019, gallery representation could even stifle your market. If thinking that having representation really is your perception of what is absolutely needed to find success, the art world has changed but it is likely that you didn’t get the memo.

Upon A Breathing Tide, art by Mark Taylor, beechhouse media, landscape art, tropical art,
Upon A Breathing Tide by Mark Taylor

The Gorillas in the room that prevent us from making sales…

Okay, we know there are elephants in the room that no one ever likes to acknowledge, but there are 600lb gorillas in there too and they’re talked about even less. The issue of presenting a professional image is one that is brushed aside too frequently. Back in 2017, I wrote an article that looked at professionalism for artists and if you missed it or want to recap, you can find it here

In that article, I explored some of the most seemingly random things that consistently trip up artists when marketing and selling their art. Social media was perhaps the really big one because so many of us rely on it as a marketing platform, yet the gorilla in the room here is that no one can even see the gorilla.

That gorilla is, of course, the way social media is handled, filler posts that are placeholders for the good stuff, incoherent marketing campaigns that look the same as the million-plus other marketing campaigns and which aren’t really campaigns at all. A campaign is not one single post about your latest work, it is a sustained effort to raise awareness of that work using a range of strategies across a range of channels and doing it so that the same message is presented in different ways to suit different channels and audiences.

Things like making sure that your posts display perfectly on every platform, respecting the image ratios of each so that that quickly shared image from Facebook looks as good on Twitter, making sure you have the squareness that Instagram demands, these are small things that reflect on how people perceive you. Here’s one thing we can learn from huge corporations, at least they usually get the formatting right even if they don’t quite ace the content.

Remember that email list you started to collect when you made the promise of sending out monthly updates about you and your work, well, we’re still waiting! I see this a lot and not just with artists. Email lists are generally all, nothing, or spam. When you have expended so much effort to convince people to sign up to something, which is in itself something that is increasingly harder to do, and then you ignore those people for months or until you have the next new work, it really does begin to look like what it is, and not what was promised. What it is, is here’s a random email to ask you to buy this product so that I can spend the next three months doing what I want to do in a chaotic way. What you are saying when you say how valued those people who signed up are to you is, I value your money, you, not so much.

Sounds harsh but the reality is that so many email lists are abandoned in between making a call to action. They offer no value other than informing people that once again you want their money and yes, of course, you do, but you have to value people for them to find value in you.

The other reason email lists get abandoned or paused can also be down to not knowing what to say. Your email list is essentially your list of potential buyers and if you ignore those people there is little chance that they will remain as buyers or convert into buyers. An email campaign is similar to a social media campaign, it is another tool that you can use in your marketing strategy but it is also one that needs to constantly add value if you don’t want people to click on the unsubscribe link. We often talk about the need to be authentic on social media and throughout the rest of any art business and the email campaign is one of the single best ways that you have of reaching out to clients and making those connections, nurturing relationships and building on those essential business foundations.

Maybe though, the biggest gorilla in this particular room is that of the website or rather, the lack of having a website. I spend a lot of time listening to artists both online and offline and one of the most common things I do hear is that no one buys work online. Despite my best efforts, I can’t find any tangible evidence that backs that argument up. People do buy online, but maybe people can’t find you online and if they can, are enough people finding you? Are you presenting yourself professionally and giving them a reason to choose you over and above everyone else who is?

What I do hear is that artist X hasn’t sold work in eighteen months or they signed up to print on demand and despite pumping out a hundred posts on Facebook there have been no sales. The common theme here is I am afraid to say, you. You have to let people know you are there, where to find you, and you have to make it really easy for them to buy your work. Having a web presence isn’t just something that you should eventually get around to, it is something that you have to do from the off. Print-on-demand companies are a service to fulfil your order, so it makes sense that they will only ever promote those who have a sterling sales history. Is it unfair? A little yes, it is a catch-22. But as they say, it is what it is.

When you do finally get that web presence that goes beyond Facebook or your print on demand storefront, you then have to maintain it, and yes, that’s a heap of hard work too but no one in the history of art history ever said any of this was going to be easy. Or they did, and we should really be banning the word easy because it never is. Having a web presence really isn't something that can wait. People will see your work and there is a fair chance they will be researching it online, and if they can't find you that is a real problem.

Reflections of Cornwall, Cornish art, landscape art, Mark Taylor, Cornwall,
Reflections of Cornwall by Mark Taylor

Identity matters…

I covered the thorny issue of when to call yourself an artist in this article right herealmost a year ago. In the article, I discussed that the best time to identify yourself as an artist is really about the same time as you first pick up a paintbrush. Being an artist is a mindset and before you can ask people to believe in you and identify you as an artist, you have to identify yourself as an artist.  

Once you begin to shape your mindset everything else will begin to fall into place. It’s still not going to be an easy ride, but if you are serious about wanting to find some success, you do have to put the work in, not just in your art but in your approach to creating it and marketing it. Art does not sell itself and if it did then Amazon would have a department refining the artificial intelligence that sells it.  

Much of being an artist is about having the confidence to call yourself an artist. It doesn’t matter that you might be working three side jobs to pay the bills if you want to be an artist first, that’s really the mindset you need. You can be a plumber, a chef, or a candlestick maker in the day, but you are also an artist. Now repeat after me, I am an artist.
Your work has to be identifiable too. Whether it is original, in that anything like it has never been seen before, or whether it is consistent in style and quality, work should immediately tell the viewer who the artist is. There’s a heap of stuff I have written over the years about consistency, whether or not you follow one particular discipline, theme, subject, medium, style, or whatever, and you don’t always have to. Again, this is 2019 and the markets today are very different from the markets described in most textbooks, but you do have to know who your market or markets are.

There are positives and negatives about jumping between styles and themes, it really comes down to what your market wants from you. If all they want are landscapes then focus on the landscapes, but you may have multiple markets. That’s nothing other than being business savvy and surviving, and many artists thrive from diversifying their portfolios.

Identity might be other things such as offering great value or exceptional quality. Identity and making your mark in a consistent way aren’t exclusive, you can be known for offering quality in whatever you do and something as simple as using low-quality materials where the pigments fade too quickly can put a halt on repeat business. Quick tip here, using the most expensive products doesn’t always mean that they are any better, get advice, see what others are using, and never fall into the trap that more expensive is always good or that the cheapest makes more economic sense. If people know that they can expect a quality product, it adds to your brand and can help them identify you.

Great Exposure Tokens…

Oh wow, I have just counted up all of the great exposure tokens (promises) I have collected over the years and I now want to cash them in. The problem is that I can’t seem to find anywhere that still takes them. We have most likely all come across this one, I don’t have a budget right now but it will be great exposure. Yep, no it won’t. My question is now, tell me exactly how and what that great exposure is then because if it means taking a piece of work to hang in your lounge, I’m not too sure I can live on the proceeds from your irregular dinner parties.

If, on the other hand, that great exposure really is great exposure then, of course, it might be worth going all in, but in my experience it rarely ever is. If it advances your career, helps you make more sales, supports a charity you deeply care about or exposes your art in places you want it exposed then do it, but if not, I would be very wary.

These kinds of gigs can bring any business down. Not many of us who regularly buy products from major retailers will go in the store and haggle on the price. Generally, the price is what it is. If you have ten bucks into a piece of work and someone offers you five bucks, that’s a really quick way to become a millionaire, assuming you started off with two-million in the bank in the first place and don’t mind giving the other half away.

Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall, lake district art, countryside art, landscape art, Mark Taylor,
Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall - My favourite work I have ever created!

Focus on your unique selling points…

The business buzzword is USP, what it really means is finding your own strengths and using those to your advantage. Adding in layers and layers of complexity by introducing things that can alienate your buyers will serve no real purpose. Instead, focus on being you. Trying to be anyone other than who you are is really hard work and takes most of that USP away. 

This is one of the other things I notice with new artists who have yet to gain the experience and I totally get why. They haven’t found their market, might not have found a niche, and might want to try to imitate other artists who have come before. The problem with that though is that you then have to be way better than the artists you imitate.

It’s something that happens on social media too. Honestly, take a look through many of the business pages on Facebook and it is quite remarkable at just how many are similar. The only difference at times might be the art or the widget and sometimes even that has a familiar feeling. This desensitises people and they continue scrolling past in their belief that they have seen it all before, we are living in a world of scrollers so your mission is very simple, you have to make them stop. Be you, be authentic, engage, and stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, especially when it comes to your art and marketing.

Time doesn’t come easy…

There’s that easy word again! If anything was to be singled out as the biggest barrier to making sales, it is time. Either managing it, finding it, or getting anywhere near enough of it. But once we have found the time, we also have to take affirmative actions and do something productive with it. There is always something that needs to be done, whether it is taking the dogs for a walk, making lunch, cleaning, ironing, rebooking appointments, replying to a million emails, killing off chain-posts sent via Messenger (seriously, how do you even find that kind of time?), designing products for Christmas, Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, sleeping and looking after yourself, the list of things that we have to do is endless.

Alas, there aren’t many of us who have personal assistants who do that life one point zero work for us. We have morning routines, lunchtime routines, evening routines, and there is every chance that some spanner will find its way into any spare time you thought you had and then you are left playing catch up for the rest of the week which eventually turns into a year. Before you know it, your creative time has gone out of the window or something else has to give way.

The good news is that it really doesn’t have to be like this. As I said earlier, time is the only level playing field that you share with every other independent artist who faces the same battle for hours in the day. Everyone gets the same 24-hours, and I am sure that there are a lot of artists who have to also squeeze in that life one point zero stuff too. It really boils down to two things, how you manage that time, and how other people perceive that time.

Yes, there’s another gorilla in the room that we need to get past first and that gorilla is one of the people who misinterpret your art time as your fun time. Art might be fun and relaxing, but we all know that when you are creating art on any professional level, it comes with its burdens too.

The fun and relaxing bits are often seen by others who are blind to the number of hours you need to put into other things such as marketing, exhibiting, preparing social media posts, and developing both your art and your business knowledge. What they see is the nice bit, the fun parts of your work, and what they see when you are marketing on Facebook is you looking at funny cat videos again. I call this, selective sight. People see what they want to see, but are blind to what it takes to be an artist in the modern-day and we can't really blame them and especially if we are telling them that it is easy.

We can’t really blame family and friends for only seeing the ‘easy’ bits, they’re not to know just how much of the essential business stuff you need to do, especially because you haven’t really told them. For everyone else, social media is easy, they might log on a few times a day and have bags of time to comment on everyone else’s posts, as an artist, social media is part of the job, it is work. So maybe, there is something in how we engage with our practice that needs to change.

If you had any other job it would be way easier for people to comprehend that time spent working equates to do not disturb. With art, it is so much more difficult because people who don’t have a real insight into the work of a professional artist will only ever take away the elements that look like fun. Creativity is not commensurate with traditional methods of working by its very nature.

Mastery of art, the production of art and everything that goes with it, requires long periods of uninterrupted creative time, and that old adage that great things happen when we are pushed for time has never, at least for me, applied to creativity. Maybe that is because much of our society is focussed on output and outcomes, but creativity also needs lots of other things to be in place and they are things that don’t necessarily have a physical output. You need to research, hone your skills, polish up your technique, do that not so fun stuff like marketing that is absolutely essential, so not everything you do will be visible to those who see only the fun aspects of what you do or who only see the final image.

There is some good news here too though, and that is that it is within your gift to change how people look upon your work as an artist. You need to protect your creative time. Creativity is what pays the bills for professional artists, so we might have to remind or even educate people that what they often see is really just the tip of the iceberg. Firstly though, you have to be serious about wanting to protect your creative time in the first place.

Last Light of the Day, art by Mark Taylor, landscape art, sea art,
Last Light of the Day by Mark Taylor

Then you really do have to make any protected time you have, non-negotiable and that includes being non-negotiable for you too. There are so many times when we find ourselves with time but then we might decide that we can just squeeze in an ounce or two of something else as well, protected time isn’t just about protecting your time from the calls of others, but protecting your time from you as well. This bit really isn’t easy.

The best way of making sure you don’t cave into requests on your protected time is to be more accountable. Create a schedule and commit to getting things done within the time you have, and never make your goals too broad. If we say we are going to get healthy, what we then don’t have is anything that tells us how we are going to get healthy, we ponder what we need to do to make it happen and failure comes because we don’t know where to start. 

Instead, make your goals much more focussed and include the how will I’s and the how do I’s when you set out your plan. When you do this though, make sure that the goals you set are really achievable because not hitting them will set you back more than a step or two.

By becoming accountable you can really start to get the most out of any protected time and ensure that you don’t drift into old habits but to make it even better, get yourself an accountability buddy. Someone who will be honest with you and maybe you with them, share your goals with each other and push each other to answer the hard questions like, did you really prepare three social media posts this week for your Christmas campaign?
If you say that you have been too busy, what are you really saying? Chances are that you still found time to do something that could have waited. Having a buddy system where both buddies can be open and honest and make each other accountable is powerful because you now have an outside influence on how you spend your time.

One of the biggest shocks people get when they first start freelancing or working from home is that suddenly there is so much more freedom than you would get if you turned up at a day job where the day was structured and you had the presence of office-based accountability from your peers.

I hear you, you gave up working for 40-hours for someone else so that you could work a hundred hours for yourself and the last thing you want is to have someone breathing down your neck. But firstly, this is often only needed until you get into a new routine and you can gamify accountability in a way that you could never do in a normal nine-to-five. Set challenges with each other, get those three posts prepared and the quickest to do that wins a coffee. Announce that you are going to do something, even announce it on social media if you need to or set up a WhatsApp group of like-minded people to share your goals with, because if you tell a bunch of people you are going to do this or that it gives you the motivation to actually do this or that.

Being an independent artist really doesn’t mean that you have to do everything on your own. You will need encouragement and support and having a buddy system in place will not only give you that help and support, but it will also give you that accountability that you need.

Why protected time is so important…

This shouldn’t really need much explanation but protecting your time is vital when your creativity is the absolute centre of what you do as a professional artist. It will make you way more productive and inherently happier. But it is also important to have protected time that is just for you so that you can focus on the things that you have been itching to do. This is the time when you can play with those new techniques without any external pressures, there is nothing that you do in this time that should be done with an eye on a sale. This time, really is your time and it will tell you so much about your own art practice and it prevents procrastination creeping into the business side of your art practice.

Protecting time for creativity forces you to focus on what you need to get done. You might block out some time for creativity and some more time for preparing your marketing materials and social media posts, or maybe planning out what it is that you want to post and when. Setting down the ground rules of protected time forces you to become that awesome project manager you also, need to be as an independent artist, but you also need to make sure that you know exactly what every project will entail to within an inch of its life, and how much capacity you really have to complete the project in the time you allow.

You need a regimented approach…

I rarely have a typical working week. One week I could be out and about for most of the week with the day job, but regardless, the moment I put the day job to one side for the day, no matter where I am, I take on a regimented approach to my art practice and writing for this site. It is really difficult to do but you do have to learn to say NO more often. You have to defend your protected time even when outside influences are protesting for your presence. 

You will have to revaluate where you go and when, and you have to never be afraid of saying no even when you feel compelled to say yes. Sure there will be times when you absolutely need to do things outside the norm, but again, this is when making yourself accountable pays dividends.  

I honestly couldn't do what I do without being regimented and protecting my creative and business time, not just because of all of the other life one point zero pressures but because of my Crohn's disease which tends to flare up more frequently when I put myself under too much pressure. I have a chemotherapy-based treatment every week to manage the Crohns, but making sure that stresses are kept to the absolute minimum and making sure that I take enough time to rest is just as important as any treatment. 

Having that protected time also stops me from feeling guilty when I do need to take some time out because I really do believe that a lot of what leads to frustration and procrastination is compounded by the feeling of guilt for not getting something done. Whilst protected time is protected, the exact time can always be flexible, at least to an extent but you do have to be strong enough to not let things slip. It really is about figuring out what is the priority, for now, what can wait, and being disciplined enough to not try to convince yourself that what first appeared on a to-do list three years ago is still relevant because chances are, you ain't getting around to doing whatever it was anytime soon!

Adrift on Still Waters, art by Mark Taylor, serene art, landscape art, beechhouse Media, Fine Art America,
Adrift on Still Waters by Mark Taylor

Your homework for this week…

What do you mean, we have homework too? Yes. This week you need to remind yourself how badly you want this. Focus on how awesome you are and finally make that plan. Plan not to fail, and work out how to protect your time. Plan to be epic, plan to sell more art, plan to be who you really want to be and plan on how you might have to educate others of the importance of respecting your protected time.  

Sometimes we do have to be reminded of the things we already know, our gut often tells us exactly what we need to do in certain situations but there is no way of validating gut instinct so we often ignore it or fail to recognise it. I really am a believer that gut instinct is either a third-eye or another brain, we just have to tap into it and harness its power. 

We also have to remind ourselves that we are human too and that we really don't have to do absolutely everything on our own. You don't always have to wear a cape to be a superhero, sometimes asking for help is the strongest thing you can do. There are times when you shouldn't ask, for example, if it is because you are just looking for a shortcut because that's not sustainable. But legitimate requests for help will help you to become a legitimate artist. If you want to sell more art, then it really does have to start with how you approach what you do, how you manage your time, and how you identify yourself as a professional artist. The rest of it is easy, well maybe!

If you have any great tips for selling art, managing time or making sure you don't sink under the pressure of your art practice, we would love to know! Feel free to leave a comment below and let's get the conversation flowing! Also, if you would be interested in listening to a podcast of some of my in-depth blog articles, let me know that too! It is something I have been toying with the idea of doing for years so let me know if that would be useful!

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contribute to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website. You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here


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