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The trope of the starving artist is alive and well. Creators and artists are told from a young age that they will have to “grow up” or “find other ways to make a living”. However, the truth is: it is entirely possible to make a living – and build a successful business – as an artist.
Of course, building an art business doesn’t come with a manual. In addition, some traditional business building practices apply. Furthermore: As creatives, we often think of ourselves as right-brained (creative and intuitive) rather than left-brained analytical or planning skills. Most artists don’t see themselves as entrepreneurs, and we don’t see many examples of artists who have supported themselves through their art.
However, they do exist. Every day, artists make a living from their art – without sacrificing their passion or creativity. By following the five steps below, you can build a successful art business that supports you and your creative spirit.
Related: How to make real money from your passion
1. An excellent product
It’s the same for any business: You have to have a solid product that people want to buy. While “great” is subjective in the art world, there are still standards for each medium. Potters must create usable pottery, painters must consider composition, and composers must write music with certain notes in mind.
Your craft is critical when selling art. While you are an artist and the raw talent is there, you also want to make sure that the art you are creating is the best possible version of himself. This means potentially investing in art training, practicing your craft and even learning from other artists.
Learning by other artists, however, is not the same as emulating other artists. When we start thinking about selling our art, it’s natural to start looking around to see what other artists are creating or selling. However, this is not the way to create our strongest art that people want to buy. However, creating “honest art” is.
Honest art is art that is true to you and your abilities. Honest art is just art you can create. The more true to your skills and experience, the more likely your art will catch the eye and buyers.
2. A business plan
Most artists will avoid “planning” like the plague. It sounds very structured, very rigid and very detailed. In general, artists are visionaries and dreamers, not planners.
The good news is: Your art business plan doesn’t have to be an 18-page printed document that you submit to a bank or investors for funding. This plan is just for you so you can clear see if you’re on track (and on task).
You’ll want to plan for things like collectible discounts, gallery shows or art fairs, commissions, and artistic development. If you want to make your first sale in the next two months, that’s part of the plan. How will you make that sale?
In general, it also helps to know how much money you need to make from your art business and how you will price your pieces. That way, you know you need to sell a certain number of units to reach that goal—and you can create a plan that helps you reach that goal from there.
Numbers, like planning, are often overwhelming for artists. However, it is a necessary step if you want a business that is viable and supports your needs.
Related: How to build and maintain a successful art career
3. Marketing strategies
Every business needs to market its products to sell. Of course, when we think about marketing something as personal and raw as our art, it’s natural to cringe. This is where artists can run up against resistance – especially from art purists who believe that art and commerce should never mix.
The most effective way to overcome this is to remind yourself that sharing your art is how it makes an impact. It also helps to look at other artists to see how they are promoting (read: marketing) their art in ways that feel true to their passions.
Take musicians and bands for example. They can release their newest songs on social media or send newsletters about their upcoming performances. Does that sound like marketing to you? No, it looks like they are excited to share their creations with their fans.
Potters and illustrators also often announce “new product drops,” letting followers know that they’ve restocked their shelves with gorgeous pottery or best-loved prints. Painters show themselves, on video, painting their latest commission in real time. Even some of the most famous performance artists out there, like JLo, Lady Gaga and Dr. Dre, add hype to their upcoming events or releases by sharing behind-the-scenes footage on social media.
When artists think about marketing, they can think in a left-brain, structured way. However, there is a way to “do” marketing in a way that feels both effective and creative. It all comes down to finding the right platforms that make the artist feel more authentic, while also attracting people.
You may find that you share your work best in a newspaper or that you want to focus on social media. You may also find that local networking and events are the most natural for you. The key is to find marketing strategies that get you in front of people who want to buy your art.
4. Build a brand
People aren’t just buying art; they are buying the artist. Think of your favorite musician, painter or band. You love what they create, but also like they create and WHO they are. As humans, we rarely (if ever) separate the art from the artist.
This is why creating a brand is so important. The most basic definition of a brand is the way in which you can distinguish your product from others and communicate that difference in your marketing.
As artists, we often think of our “brand” as our artistic style. How many times have you been in a museum and automatically knew that the art you were looking at was a Picasso or a Kahlo? But your brand extends beyond your unique artistic designs.
Your brand is your story, your medium, your personality, the way you speak—even the visual patterns in your art and your online presence. Your brand is also how you attract your people (ie, your potential buyers). who are you selling to? What speaks to them? Do you create in a specific way that people have said they like?
Consider your brand and how you represent yourself and your art wherever you appear. From local art fairs to your website and social media, your brand (and presence) needs to be consistent.
Related: How to Go From Starving, Side-Hustle Artist to Full-Time, Thriving Artist
5. Just start
No one—not even those with a degree in business management—knows what to do right out of the gate. As an artist, you may be completely new to the business world and there is a lot to learn in what may seem like a small amount of time. However, remember: you are not new to being an artist.
You have the innate skills, heart, and desire to create meaningful and honest art. People have created businesses with less effort than you and found success. of true However, the key to finding success with your art business is just getting started. Decide how you want to sell your art, how much you want to sell it for, and who you want to buy it from. It’s time to make a living from your art.