This morning, I woke up as with a song in my head I often do. The song was one by Tim McGraw called “Always Be Humble and Kind.” The line that was most relevant to what I want to write about today is “When the dreams you’re dreaming come to you. When the work you put in is realized, let yourself feel the pride but always be humble and kind.”
This has been on my mind as I sit at home making art, which has been a dream for much of my life. I now have a real studio in my house and my own website. I have sold some paintings to people who seem to really like my work. I am now thinking about where I want to go with this. Do I just want to make lots of paintings and decorate the walls of my basement and my living room? Do I want to figure out what people want to buy and make paintings that will follow that formula so I can make lots of money by reproducing my paintings on coffee mugs and posters with inspirational sayings? Do I want to become a recognized, acclaimed artist who started late in life like Grandma Moses? These are questions that I had to answer in the first lesson of a new on-line program I have started about looking at the business of art and how to promote and sell your paintings in galleries and shows. (Click on the contact button or write me a message below if you want to know the details and I will send you the information.) The first lesson was to write about where you are and where you want to go. This program is helping me to establish goals for myself and decide what I ultimately want from the dream I have realized of being able to make art full time.
So back to the song. One of the questions I had to answer was “What is the greatest challenge between you and a successful art career?” As I thought about it, the song says it perfectly. “Let yourself feel the pride but always be humble and kind.” The question is where is the line between pride and humility? How do I find that balance? How do I know whether my work is even good enough to promote? How can I stay centered and humble while getting into the business of asking people to pay me money for something I created? This is what I’m pondering today.
My first consideration is the question of whether my art is even good enough to be accepted into a gallery, sell at a show or win a prize in a competition. So far, I have sold some pieces in coffee shops, shows and in a gallery where I was a guest artist. Many of the pieces I have sold have been to friends or people I know but some have been sold to people who had no idea who I was but liked my art (woohoo!) I have not yet found the courage to approach any galleries about representing my work. There are three steps I have identified that I am taking to try to develop the confidence in my own judgement about whether my paintings are of the quality that will help me feel good about promoting them to a gallery or entering them in a show or competition.
1. Continually work on my art skills and education. I take classes, read books, and participate in several on-line groups that help me with technique, vision and general quality of my paintings.
2. Participate and seek out critiques from anyone and everyone who will give me feedback. The key to this one is to accept the feedback with an open mind and an open heart. This is where the humility must come. I have also found this to be the most helpful of all of the steps I take to improve my work. If I open myself to criticism or suggestions from other artists, teachers or even friends who I know have a good eye for color, composition, and light, I almost always find that their suggestions for change improve the paintings (even when I thought the subject of the criticism was one of my favorite parts of the painting.). I have never had anyone just say to toss it and start over, although I have made the decision to do that occasionally. I have learned that if something is bothering me about a painting, the little voice telling me that there’s something wrong is amplified and clarified by those critiques. It’s always a relief to have that little voice validated so that I can give myself permission to make the changes or start over.
3. Enter every local show or competition that I can find, getting used to putting my art out in public and trying to learn what appeals to people and what doesn’t. I have been able to steel myself to sitting in a booth at a show and watching people walk by and look but not buy, or going back to a show that is hung for a period of time, only to find no awards and no sales. I have learned to consider the kind of show, the taste and style of the judge's own work, and whether anyone else sold pieces at that show before I judge whether my own work is worthy.
The other issue is about the business of selling art. I have never been a business person nor have I ever been a sales person. One of my greatest challenges was putting together this website with help from Cody, the wonderful consultant who helped me set it up. I am dedicated to maintaining it so that I can refer people to it when I post my paintings on Instagram or Facebook. I chose not to upgrade it to having an on-line store because it didn’t make sense to pay to have a store when I wasn’t selling enough art to pay for the store. I don’t think I have really gotten the hang of how they all work together or how to take my art business (weird to think of it that way) to the next step- actually selling paintings. I don’t need to make a living with my art. I am fortunate enough to have a steady income without the art income but I would really like to make enough money from my art to cover my art supplies, entry fees for shows, marketing tools like maintaining this website, and travel to workshops and retreats.
It also helps to just have the affirmation that people like what I’m doing. I once had someone ask me in another life as a singer, why I would want to get up on a stage and perform for other people. My answer was two-fold and applies to both music and art. I love doing it. It’s fun and rewarding. I also believe that if I have a gift or talent that can bring people joy, musically or visually, I want to share that gift. If it ever stops being fun or bringing people joy, I will stop doing it.
So I signed up for the 31 lessons in the Art Business Academy to try to figure it all out.
When I first decided to write a blog, I had planned to write once a week- on Thursdays for some reason. After a few weeks I realized that planning a weekly post was becoming more of a chore than a way to express things that were meaningful and from my heart. So I decided to write when I had something I considered to be worth saying. So that’s what I am doing now. I will keep posting here about what I am learning and how it’s going. Thanks for your support.