What have I Learned?
I switched careers from a corporate job to full time artist, and the deep dive into making and selling art online taught me valuable lessons about creating art, and letting it go (to collectors) immediately, even if it was the best watercolor I’d ever painted.
Back in the day, 10-12 years ago, I sold watercolors on Ebay. It was a rewarding experience at the time, and I learned a lot about online art sales. I had never sold my art on a regular basis, so making money from doing something I loved was a revelation. Along with the “excuse” to paint frequently, there was also a king’s pantry of practices that were totally new to me.
As watercolor sales ka-chinged via email, they also doled out a fly-by-seat-of-the-pants crash course filled with Do’s & Dont’s of online marketing & promotion, relationships with collectors via email correspondence, photographing & listing art, writing html code, packaging & shipping art, resisting the pull to only paint-what-sells, scanning & photoshop, international & domestic post office snags, crafting better descriptions of my work, the importance of policies, writing & updating a concise bio, the beauty of online friendships, and most of all – the practice of making art, all the time.
An Excellent Take-Away
Here’s one of the big lessons I learned in those first years: selling your art teaches you to let go. You finish the work, post it online, make it available for sale, and then flick the switch to gear your brain over to the department that makes more art. Getting attached or ambivalent about selling a piece doesn’t help a working artist. Attachment can stall your engines.
Making vs Keeping
After seasons of rolling through a thriving make-and-sell cycle, you earn clarity in the value of the process of making. And you learn to kick the urge to keep, save, or cling to your art. There’s a big difference between the artist’s making brain and the artist’s attachment brain. Making the art is the important work we do as artists, and it grows fertile in creative expression, inspired ideas, self discipline, experimentation and focus.
Hoarding the art we make has a suspicious connection to pride, ego and accomplishment. Feeding those sentiments can seduce an artist into complacency in the studio. You don’t try as hard if you’re sitting idle, staring at your best painting.
Clinging to your work also says something about lack of trust – of yourself. If you believe you’ll never paint anything as well, hanging onto your best piece of art may be a real-life manifestation of that nay-sayer’s voice in your head. Title it, scan it for documentation in your files, and move forward. Trust that you’ll have more creative successes in the studio, because you’re earning them by working hard.
When Patrons Love Your Work
There’s a whole other cupboard of pleasant satisfaction to be had in knowing that someone out there loves that piece you just made, and they pine to gaze at it for a long, long time. If you sell it & miss it, you can always brew a cup of coffee, fire up your computer and stare at the jpeg.
Making Makes You Better
If you make a lot of art, you’re less inclined to feel clingy towards a particularly successful piece, because it’s natural that you will get better and better, but only if you’re producing work. If you keep your hands busy in the studio, pretty soon, your favorite painting will be so out-shined by the successes that follow it, you’ll look at last month’s best piece through a more mature lens, and observe a map of passages you’d adjust with your hard-earned, freshly acquired new knowledge.
Just Keep Making
Leave that bread crumb trail of your ever-improving process in the hands of collectors who resonate with the work you’re producing. Just like every selling artist in history has done before you.
Here is a link to a blog post from an artist I admire so much – David Hettinger. He’s writing in this post about why artists need to seed the earth with art – even more so when things look darker around us.
Let’s Plan to Make Art
How many pieces of art would you like to produce each year? And have you ever reached that goal? Working small helps if you’re aiming at lots of practice and sizes that are easy to mail. What plans do you have for the coming season of makery in your studio space?
Thanks for stopping by, and I’ll see you in the next post –
P.P.S. The lessons outlined above are some of the topics I’m marinating on for a series of video courses. (Thanks for all the feedback on that in the last three posts.) I wish someone could have guided me to avoid the uncertainty and bumps in the road when I started to sell my work, so I’m pondering whether that flavor of curriculum would be helpful to emerging artists who follow this blog. What do you think?
N.C. Wyeth’s children were beginning to reveal artistic sensibilities. Watching them sketch one evening in 1920, Convers remarked “Drawing! That’s the outstanding stunt in this house! All five around a lamp, each one seriously bent over a tablet of paper, recording all sorts of facts & fictions of Nature. One would guess this was night art school – or that we’re all nutty in the same way!” ~K. Jennings