My Secrets to Financial Success as an Artist

19 Feb 2014

I am writing this as things have never looked better for me financially, as an artist. I have had a few huge sales and wildly successful shows over the years, but I feel as if I have tapped into a new realm of possibilities in recent months. And this in a time of financial hardship for many across the globe. I want to pass on a few things I have learned about art and business in my almost thirty years of experience. And, yes, it starts with admitting that the old adage is true--you must love the art more than food. I remember many years of my family eating little other than beans and rice while I tried to get my art business going!

Portrait painting of a saxophone player by Shen, titled Blue Bird.
Portrait painting of a saxophone player by Shen, titled Blue Bird.
1. Relationship. Get yourself out there. You must get out of the studio and meet people for them to ever come to know and appreciate your work. Your art is a reflection of who you are. So, if they meet you, and actually like you, they want to have a piece of you, and for us that means a token of who we are--our art. Think of it another way--when you visit a wonderful city like San Francisco, you buy a little snow globe with the Golden Gate Bridge in it to commemorate your visit...even though it doesn't snow in San Francisco, but that's another issue!

The people you meet are the most important "press releases" you can ever have published. They love a piece of work and tell their friends, and so on and so on. But remember, the deeper and more positive experience they have with you, the more interested they will be about sharing your story with others. So this comes back to being our best selves. I, for one, believe that the days of the "obscure, flippant, know-it-all" artist are long gone.

2. Go where the money is. A stranger I met at an airport last year who quickly became a dear friend gave me some very wise words of wisdom. He told me, "It is just as easy to make friends with rich people as it is to make friends with poor people." This statement stopped me in my tracks. I started evaluating where and whom I hung out with in a casual atmosphere. My real friends will never change and I couldn't care less how much money they have because they are as close to me as my own heart. But I am speaking of placing myself in environments where I might make new friends. So I started venturing out to areas where the rich and famous hang out. Guess what? My friend was right! Just as easy! And I came to realize that for years and years I had been intimidated by the wealthy. Not a good thing for an artist wishing to sell work. It took a bit of time, but I started to feel as comfortable mingling with my new friends just as I did with my friends from the other side of the tracks.

3. Shameless self-promotion. Did I mention how crucial it is to get yourself out there? And...for me...this also means dancing! This past weekend I showed my work at a music festival, and while many of the attendees were sitting in their chairs (Okay, all of the attendees!), I was at my eye-catching booth displaying my art, doing a painting demo and, yes, dancing! Now, if this is not who you are, please spare us all the discomfort of watching you not be able to find the beat. But for me, dancing is my thaaaaaaang, especially to live music! Many onlookers came up later and told me how much they enjoyed my show, and some even bought art! Do your thaaaaang, and you'd be surprised at how easy it is to draw people to you.

A portrait painting by Shen, titled Hendrix. A portrait painting by Shen, titled Billie Holiday.
A portrait painting by Shen, titled Hendrix. A portrait painting by Shen, titled Billie Holiday.

4. And don't ever hesitate to strike while the iron is hot. I have been featured in the local newspaper in my town, which is a pretty affluent one, almost a dozen times since moving here about a year ago. Every time something exciting happens, I call the arts editor because I've made a point of having a relationship with them. In one particular situation, I used a high-profile model that many of the people in the area know for a painting demonstration. Immediately there is a connection point when I meet new faces: "Oh, that's her, I love her!!! How do you know her?" Any seed of commonality can get a conversation started. It is up to us to ride it out into an actual relationship. Being shy is cute for kids, but detrimental to the livelihood of an artist.

Last year, while speaking with two very influential art reps in a Chelsea, NY gallery, a man who looked like a reggae musician walked up us. I told him that I would love to paint him (he had a great look). After he walked away, one of the reps told a story of how a relatively unknown artist walked up to Wall Street executives on their lunch hour and suggested portrait painting their loved ones just as the man had just come up to us. The artist did very well for himself after this point because he had the gumption to put himself out there. He may have had to eat soup while doing these commissions, but that is part of the process. I know I've been there!

I hope these tips help you to fully become the artist you were meant to be, in each and every way! Cheers to you and me for hanging in there on this long and windy road!


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GarysArt wrote
on 22 Feb 2014 1:37 PM

Great tips, many thanks

mahatef wrote
on 23 Feb 2014 3:44 AM

very helpful tips .. thanks for sharing

on 23 Feb 2014 6:26 PM

thanks for sharing and your generous spirit and outlook on life. artists love other artists--it is nice to hear how someone has 'made' it!

Lee Cusano wrote
on 24 Feb 2014 11:57 AM

I like "Go To Where The Money Is". Most of the time, people with money are much easier to get along with than broke people anyway. I too learned not to be so intimidated by rich people thru my house painting business.

Lee Cusano

Bob Ragland wrote
on 25 Mar 2014 11:01 AM

I have a steady art career. I make enough money to heat and eat.

I do the following- I send real mail to people, I draw on the mail, I send career updates, I get press by calling, I call to talk to a real person, If I get the story, I copy it at the instant printers, I write my letters on the back of the copy, I put ALL of my contact info on my mail, that means snailmail address. I talk to reporters and story tellers to get  a FEATURE story, I stay in touch, I carry my postcards at all times, I will show my work in a buyers home, I get out and about to meet NEW people,

I get sponsors to finance art projects,

I pay them back with art. I make certain to do BUSINESS tactics everyday.

Don Paint wrote
on 18 Apr 2014 9:38 AM

Painting creative style is more challenging, and very meaningful than actual scene.  I have been painting for almost 2 to 3 years for creative or abstractive painting.  But over the time, I feel losing direction of  my painting journey.   I spend much time in creative painting, and sometimes joining some exhibitions to display my painting.  So far, no feedback, no sales, no return and no even response.  I puzzle about my efforts to continue painting.  What is painting meant to me?

Art4Kelly wrote
on 19 Aug 2014 11:59 PM

Thank you for the inspiration! I have a terrible time selling myself but I am working on it :D

Art4Kelly (need to change this too)