Selling Art – yet more thoughts

by Lisa Call on July 1, 2007

in Being an Artist, From The Studio, The Art World

Contemporary Art Quilt Structures #6 ©2001 Lisa Call
Structures #6    ©2001 26" x 20"

Last week Seth Godin wrote:

Most organizations need a good reason to do something new.

All they need is a flimsy excuse to not do something for the first time.

I know this is true for me as an individual also. It’s scary doing something new so I often come up with flimsy excuses not to do them.

The idea of trying to sell my artwork, to make a living at something I love, is new and scary for me. I have a lot of ideas about selling artwork that I formulated based on discussions with someone I respect very much. I didn’t spend much time talking to other artists about these issues and for the past 10+ years I’ve just worked to become the best artist I can and felt looking to the marketplace would in some way hurt my work. The freedom to create whatever I want without regards to any marketplace has big advantages.

It is also has some big disadvantages, namely the 9-5 job that takes up so much of my time and energy.

Over the last 2-3 years I began talking with many other artists, mostly through my blog but in person also, and reading biographies of famous artists. And my opinion about art and selling has slowly been shifting. It’s been a rather difficult journey and I think my post last week about selling art, titled "what am I doing", was my last attempt of throwing up a flimsy excuse to not go down this new path.

While I’m not sure exactly how this will workout for me I do think it’s time to stop worrying about what others think and embrace my own opinion and just get on with it. I’m not sure how I will approach this, I’ll be working that out over the next few months and years, but I do know I don’t want to spend the next 20 years in a cube if I can instead create another option in my studio. No more excuses.

As usual, thank you to everyone that took time to comment on my previous 2 posts on this topic.

In a related note, Edward Winkleman had a very interesting post this week about the the 50/50 split between artist and gallery. As I mentioned in my post about selling last week, I would have no problem giving a gallery their share if they are promoting and selling my work and I highly recommend reading Edward’s post here as to why they earn this. As usual for his posts, don’t skip the comments. Buried in there is a list of what he believes the gallery should be delivering for their 50% cut and a discussion about why the 50/50 cut might need to be reevaluated for established selling artists.

The piece shown above is a much older piece that I have never exhibited or shown on my website. It was just another piece in my development as an artist. I do think taking the last 10+ to concentrate on developing my voice and creating a large body of work was extremely beneficial. I am very confident about my artwork as a result and now it’s time to take it to a new place.


Ed Terpening July 1, 2007 at 7:28 am

Hi Lisa, I’m late to this conversation (in the middle of a long art trip), but wanted to give you my experience, as it may help.

First, I think you’re right to have focused the amount of time you have (10 years) to honing your craft. That’s really important as you don’t want to start selling work you’ll later regret. That happened to me. I was studying art at night (about 3 years) when I got laid off. The economic environment in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time (2002/3) was terrible. It was after the “.com” bust, and I was a long-time .com professional. No jobs. So, I thought, I’ll sell art full time and luckily had the full support of my partner, Mike.

It was good experience. I did it 3 years, but I can say I sold things that I’m not happy with. I now realize I wasn’t ready. It’s hard to say what life would have been like had I not done it, so who knows, perhaps I should have no regrets whatsoever.

Today is another story. The business climate started picking up in late 2005, so I went back to work as a consultant. The very first gig I landed I loved. I was developing some new media (social media/blogging/YouTube, etc) strategy for Wells Fargo. After the contract, they liked me enough to offer me a job that fits a part-time, work-my-art-career-in schedule. I feel incredibly fortunate now. I have an employer that loves me, and I them. I have a great team! I also have 1 full week per month to dedicate to art, and Wells gives me incredible flexibility. I

‘m fortunate in that I can combine an income stream with art, so I don’t have to make compromises–and believe me, I did when I sold full time. I had to produce what the galleries and collectors wanted. I guess you’d have to say I was a kind of Illustrator, which I guess is fine training. I’m sure you’ve read that some of our great artists worked as illustrators first.

I don’t know if this helps. We all have somewhat unique situations. I’m sure mine will change and I’ll have to deal. That’s life :-)

Best of luck, -Ed

PS. I REALLY like the piece in this post. I need to visit your blog more often, as your abstract patterns are inspiring!

Ophelia July 1, 2007 at 9:55 am

Your blog is incredibly informative and I appreciate you doing so much work to share it with us. I found your blog through a series of links, and I have spent hours here. I especially love your posts on your goals as that was exactly what I needed to read. Thank you for sharing your art and thoughts with the rest of the world..
Your art work is remarkable. I was just in Ohio and saw your pieces, I believe at the Cultural Arts Center, Just incredible…
Ophelia in NC

Pat July 1, 2007 at 10:43 am

I find the difference between your Structures #6 from 2001 and the work you’re doing today in 2007 to be pretty dramatic. These two posts (yours and Ed’s response) remind me that finding my own voice is the product of making lots of art. That said, do you believe that making that art within the structure of a series is necessary to that evolvement?

Diane Clancy July 1, 2007 at 11:55 am

Hi Lisa,

I appreciate your sharing your journey with us and allowing us to share our journeys here too. It is fun to see you move toward deciding to market more .. and to hear your hesitations. i think it is great that you have taken 10 years to focus your work and direction. I too have taken a long time – more for health related issues … but similar in a way. I try to follow my true rhythm for building the business – instead of making things happen in the ways and speed that others say I should. I think that is also important for my development as an artist … growing and changing, following the inner voice (and listening to the outer voices.)

Thank you, Ed, for sharing your experience – a good reminder. And Pat, I know for me that series have been helpful in developing my work – but I usually have different series going at once. And then series can tend to block me in … so for me, it keeps changing.

~ Diane Clancy

jafabrit July 1, 2007 at 4:24 pm

I agree about honing your craft. I feel that it has taken me 10-12 years to get to a point where I have enough experience that all I have to concentrate on is the vision aspect rather than the methods to get there.

Still trying to figure out a different approach to the biz side of my art though.

bridgette July 1, 2007 at 9:51 pm

lisa, just wanted to echo what some of the previous commenters said in thanking you for sharing your journey here. I am also on a similar path with figuring out the business side of my art and selling my work. Someone recently asked me how i could sell my work since my paintings have very personal meaning. And I replied that if I sell a painting then it makes room for more work to come out of me.

I have a quote that I taped to my studio wall when I was taking the first steps of selling my paintings and facing new and intimidating situations. “That which hinders your task is your task”.

Your work is beautiful. You are creating your intentions and goals and they will happen. :)

Sheree Rensel July 2, 2007 at 6:34 am

Lisa, Lisa, Lisa,
Even though we are artists of different ilk, our mind set could be considered a mirror image. I have been going around in this LOOP of thought for the past year. I too have a day job. I too have been beating myself up because I haven’t marketed my work (recently). At one time in my art career, I did live the Bohemian life. I sold my work through galleries and to private collectors. It was fun, but a meager existence. I had a daughter and then I had to make money to buy her food! (Gee, who woulda thought?) So I jumped on the 40 hour per week bandwagon. I never gave up my art. I have always created and showed my work, just at a slower pace. Another interesting thing that happened was I started to make art for ME. Since I had that weekly paycheck, I didn’t give a flying flip if anybody liked or wanted to buy my work. Now, I have come full circle. I want to get back to the marketing grind. I want to sell my work. I have been going around and around with this whole concept for a year now. I have bought every art marketing book on amazon. I am making notes and lists like a psychiatric hospital inmate. I have run myself ragged trying to figure out how I am going to do it ALL. I laughed and laughed when I read the following line from one of your past posts because I too came to this conclusion just the other day. In fact, I think I said that exact same thing to myself!
“My first thought this morning was that I need to stop whining and just do the work and things will happen.”
I think that is great advice for BOTH of us!! Great good luck!!
Sheree Rensel

gregg July 2, 2007 at 7:30 am

Hey, found your blog through google alert.
I have found selling is a form of public critique. It is hard on the ego and a good way to test the market. I sell the stuff that I don;t wand around on ebay and take what I can get. I enter juried shows to see what my peers think. If you don;t you’re kind of like the monk on the mt contemplating his navel. It;s fun to see what folks will go for. doubt is an excuse for failure.

cynthia July 2, 2007 at 9:30 am

Wow, I can really see the evolution of your work since 2001!

I think marketing one’s own work is incredibly exhausting. If I had a gallery or 2 who consistently sold my work – a 50-50 split would be worth it to me. I would have 50-75% more time on my hands to make work which would be a more productive use of my time.

Meagan July 2, 2007 at 4:00 pm

Something a little off topic, but still related: How do you know when your art work is “good enough” to start marketing it? (Obviously this isn’t a problem for you, Lisa, since your art is amazing!) Previous commenters (Ed) have mentioned that in the beginning of their career, they sold stuff that really wasn’t very good. How do you know when your art work has reached that particular level?

Kiandra July 4, 2007 at 2:23 am

This is such a good conversation, and I am amazed at what I’m learning. I clearly see that I need to focus on developing myself and identity as an artist. I wish I could say that I’ve got ten years invested…but ten years ago I was a new college student confused and excited about life. At least that has changed. (not the excited part)

Anyway, I wish I could contribute more, but, I don’t have enough experience…but I will say that I have been showing in local galleries, been in group shows, and in some cases it has been stifling…there has been times when I had to confirm to a “theme,” especially in group shows. There is so much more to be gained creating what you want to create.

Locally I am apart of a struggling artist “community,” I am lucky that our city has recognized the underground art community and is starting to “invest” in the arts here locally…despite the modest opportunities we have locally…this is still the daily, weekly, monthly discussion…how do we stay true to ourselves but survive.

What seems to be something that is working here is incorporating “jobs” that piggyback off of our art. For example, my best friend started a framing shop that also does graphic arts. Another close friend teaches art classes part-time, another works for our local arts council.

I don’t know if that helps, as I find I have more to learn than to teach in this discussion. Either way, thanks for sharing your journey…opening up such a pertinent issue, and kudos to your wonderful readers with so much experience they are willing to share.

I am taking notes!

Susie Monday July 4, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Good luck Lisa. I think you have laid a good foundation for marketing with your blog — it is so well respected and read. I suspect you will find a gallery that will work for you as I truly think they stand up to being seen on the wall with good paintings. That may sound like a backhanded comment, but few galleries deal only with textile work, or even what some might call “fine craft’ – but I predict that an excellent gallery that carries contemporary work in different media will have success with your work.
Another option for income you might want to consider is teaching. I don’t know if your family situation would allow you to travel, but I know you do have wonderful skills, techniques and approaches to work that might be very marketable.

Lisa Call July 10, 2007 at 7:04 pm

Thanks everyone for the comments again. There are a lot of good suggestions here and I’m going to discuss some of them (like teaching and “how do you know your work is good enough”) in an upcoming post.

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