The 3 Worst Pieces of Advice I Received When Trying to Make A Living with Art

Don’t you love it when people give you advice as if they know what you need?  This is true when you finally decide you are going to make a living with your art.  Sharing this decision can be difficult…not so much for you but for those who care about you.

There is always that pregnant silence as the other person tries to gather their thoughts.  

If you said you were going to Med School, there would be jubilation! But art…well, that is another story.

There is always the advice of “don’t leave your day job” but when they realize you are totally serious, the advice turns to a different tone.  They now realize you need some “solid, mature” advice.

I remember when I made art my career and shared this decision with some friends over a glass of wine.  We were sitting out on the patio, sharing stories while the sun was setting over Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs.  The colors of the sunset set the sky ablaze with yellows, oranges and pinks.  This was the perfect setting to share my decision.  As everyone listened, I realized two friends were raising their eyebrows.  

Not to dampen my enthusiasm, they shared their sage advice.

I respected their ideas, but little did I know this would be advice that would cause me enormous pain, years of struggle and rude awakenings. With this said, I hope that you recognize misleading advice presented to you as the business gems of success.

Here they are:

Sweep These 3  Pieces Of Advice Under The Rug

ONE —  Keep  your art a hobby until you make it big.  

And when you make it big, the average pay for professional artists is $52,816 a year. I would have given my eyeteeth to have made just $10,000 those first few years.  

I mistakenly believed it was OK to just learn technical skills and put everything else on the back burner. This mistake cost me time and lots of money. 

When you make your living as an artist there is no room for hobby artist mentality.   Since this is now your “job” you need to make money to pay your bills and the thought of not having enough for the mortgage will destroy your creativity.

The advice of keeping my art as a hobby until I made it big came from the “old school” way of thinking.  Artists starve and can’t make a living doing what they love.  Those giving the advice had not experienced business success themselves so it was hard for them to see success for others. 

TWO —  Don’t worry about marketing at first…

With over 5 million artists sharing their gifts, even if 10% of them want to become a professional – that’s 500,000 artists! 

When I received this advice about not worrying about marketing as an artist at 49 I took this advice to heart. 

I went on a journey of developing my skills, taking lots of workshops with the best instructors.  I pulled from my savings to pay for the travel and the workshops.  After spending $28,000 over the  4 years, my abstract work dramatically improved.  However, I was still struggling to turn a profit with my art.  

My husband was supportive but asked questions about how long I intended to continue to take money out of my savings…which was almost down to nothing.  The words “expensive hobby” kept coming up.  I knew in my heart I could succeed as I was really determined to make a career out of my art.

I sat down and figured out what was wrong.  I discovered I was terrible at certain things, and I discovered why people loved my work BUT still didn’t purchase it.  Here is what I needed to learn (I was a mess):

  • How to talk about my work in a compelling way
  • How to connect a personal story with my work
  • How to find the right people who would love my work
  • How to keep my finances up to date
  • How to find my artistic voice and style

Let’s face it….It came down to the hard facts… I knew I would not be discovered in my little studio on Brookwood Ave.

I needed to learn how to talk about my work on a deeper level.  I needed to articulate the story and emotion that made my work beyond amazing.

I knew if I didn’t convey the uniqueness of my work it would get lumped into the “just another” category, where people would look at it and say “that’s nice” and move on.  

Marketing is essential to your success as an artist.  I realize marketing is one thing artists shy away from because of the age old thinking of what marketing is. 

Here is the thing I learned that impressed me the most:

marketing is just telling your story of your art in an emotionally compelling way that makes your audience want to learn more or feel a connection to it, that’s the heart of it.

We can believe marketing is hard and boring, or move forward to practicing the ART of marketing so you will get into national juried shows, successful galleries and be discovered by the collectors who are looking for you!

The fact that marketing is hard is a myth…just like the Starving Artists myth.  Marketing is like anything else…you take it one step at a time.  You know the term…how do you eat an elephant?….one bite at a time.  It is the same with marketing.  

I now looked upon marketing as a money-making machine.

Remember, this doesn’t mean you have to do all the marketing yourself.  Hiring others to do what you don’t like to do gives you more time to create your fabulous paintings.

THREE — Paint what the public wants…

Yes, you need to sell your work to pay the bills and make a living but painting only what the public wants is not the way to become a successful artist.  

When you paint from your heart and soul, your paintings reflect a passion and depth that the public is drawn to.  Sure, not everyone will like your paintings, but staying true to yourself will prove to be a winner. 

When I started painting I wanted to paint barns.  Now I ask you…haven’t you seen enough barns in your lifetime?  Do we need another barn painting?  Do we need another mediocre landscape or flower painting? 

The key here is: whatever subject you create, make sure it is created in your unique artistic voice – because it is this voice that make your painting different and collectable.   

So, when someone offers you advice make sure you judge the source.  If it is from someone who has never reached success as a full time artist then it is advice you would want to question.

As a full time artist you want to make enough money to support yourself and your family.  Being successful in this area will guarantee less stress and a relaxed artist is more creative.  No more worrying about how to keep the lights on in your studio.

The question is…are you ready to take the leap?

For those who are working to find and develop their visual voice I have a cheat sheet on How to Claim Your Visual Voice…. click here to download.  Be sure and let me know how this helps.

Until next time!

Create brilliantly,

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