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What I Learned When I Started Selling My Art

I've always enjoyed sharing my artwork. I think sharing the things we make begins, for many of us, with showing our parents the coloring page we did. It's hung on the refrigerator. We feel proud.That extra step toward making our creations "real" by sharing it, is something I enjoyed throughout my childhood.

Later, I shared less and less. Many of us get caught up in feeling like our work isn't "finished," isn't "good enough," or we worry about being a show-off. And sometimes, when we've spent hours and hours with a work that is really quite personal, we just don't want to expose it to the wilds of the outside world. That's natural. And I think that's fine.

And then, sometime around college, I started selling my works. Not often. A coffee-shop painting here and there. I did a few projects on commission for friends of friends of friends (side note: my mom might be the best PR agent ever). Then life got busy and my art practice kind of fizzled out. Went into hibernation.

Fast forward to now, and here I am, out on the wide-open internet sharing and selling my artwork in a way that I'd never even imagined I'd do before. I've learned a lot in this very short time, and I' thought I'd put it here. In case you, too, are new to sharing your art.

I Learned to Find Balance

I've always been protective of my artistic life. When things in organic chemistry class seemed to be falling to incomprehensible pieces, I could always come home to my paintings and drawings, and feel good about the world again. When, in high school, I was presented with the opportunity to make art a career, my immediate response was a resolute, "Noooooooo, thank you!" I didn't want to make my safe haven into an office cubicle. Metaphorically speaking.

So now that I've made my art into a business, I've got some thoughts about it.

Basically my Business Mantra

First: If we can do what makes us happy, and make it profitable, then we've struck gold! It's what people dream about, isn't it? To make what you love to do into something you have to do anyway?

...Or is it? Do we want to make our passions into our daily grind? This is something I've struggled with for years. And now that I've done it, I can say with conviction that we're not doomed to hate the work we used to love, once it becomes "work." We're also not guaranteed to love it every day. Like most things, it's nuanced.

I think if we practice good, creative... hygiene, we don't have to lose that joy, that spark, that passion.

I Learned Not to Monetize Everything

I won't argue that it's not good business sense to make the most out of every opportunity. For a creative, this means making the most out of every doodle, painting, song, essay, poem...

Can you turn your InkTober doodles into a series of trading cards?

Can you turn your rambling journal entries into dialogue in your next novel?

But. When every creative thing we do must fit into our business plan, it can kind of suck the fun out of the creative things we do. And that's not cool.

It's not good for our creativity. It's not good for that passionate spark. And, in turn, it will not be great for business in the long run. Our business success is dependent on our staying motivated to make stuff.

I like to make little shrines out of milk cartons. No one is going to buy these. And that's totally fine.

And so... It's of vital importance that we continue to create art that we don't sell. Make stuff just for us that we don't monetize, don't post on social media, don't make into a product. When we make stuff that is just for us, we practice creative self-care, and it keeps us in tip-top shape for making super-cool-awesome work that we do sell.

It's an investment in the maintenance of our creative equipment.

I Learned Not to Chase the Wrong Customer

I take a lot of pride in my work. Whatever it is. Whether I'm doing a laboratory analysis, writing an essay, or painting a still-life, I tend to see my work as a reflection of my effort and myself. Whether or not you're personally attached to your lab report, I think many artists have a personal attachment to our artworks. We spend hours, pouring our heart and soul into this expression of our creative selves. It's beautiful. And often, it's vulnerable.

So when a would-be patron comes by and offers a less-than encouraging critique, it can be really tough not to take it personally. This isn't a spreadsheet. This is a highly personal work, and some rando has just called it mediocre and then sauntered off to buy a taco.

As objectively awesome as I believe this hairstyle to be, I must accept that it's not for everyone. *sigh*

From the benign "it's not really my style," to the scathing "I'd never pay that much for that!" comments from the public can be tough to handle. Here we are, putting our work out for all to see, and inevitably someone will come by and devalue it.

Don't let it crush you. Don't change what you're doing simply to please them. They are not your patrons. They are not your customer. They don't get it.

Find those that do. it may take awhile, but there will be people out there who appreciate your work- appreciate you. And you'll find them. And it'll feel like magic. Those are your tribe. Those are your friends. Those might also be your patrons.

I Learned That Business Won't Always Be Great

Running a business is not picnic. And the statistics are against us. Most small business fail at some point or another. And while the wonders of the internet allow us get our art out there, at little personal cost to us- this doesn't mean that a failure to sell our work doesn't hurt. So when business kind of sucks, does it mean we should throw in the towel and never make art again?

I think you know the answer to that.

I've stood for hours at an art fair, received lots of compliments, and failed to sell a single painting. Am I discouraged? Well, yes. But do I stop painting? Of course not.

Whether your art can support you financially or not shouldn't determine whether or not you make art.

You're an Artist. It's what you do.

And maybe you have to be an Artist who also works in an office. That's fine. You're also an Artist who does laundry and cooks dinner and cleans the bathroom. Don't abandon your art just because it can't pay the bills.

A Maker's gotta make, there's no way around it.

I'm still new at this. I'm still (always, perpetually) learning more about art, and business, and being a person on the internet.

What about you? Do you share your art with the greater world? Do you have any gems of wisdom to offer? Please do.

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