Recently, I received a letter from a woman who felt she was at a crossroads that many of us have found ourselves, or are considering visiting: whether to create art for the sheer pleasure of it, or to use our artistic talent to begin a business. She asked me if I could tell her how to know when the time is right to show others her art, and how she would know if she really has talent. She also feels that parting with her art would be like parting with her children. Sound familiar? I experienced this dilemma when I was starting out, and can sympathize with her. The way I see it, we create art for a few reasons: we can paint for the pure enjoyment of it, to gratify, heal, or nourish ourselves (I like to joke that I paint because it's cheaper than therapy); we paint for monetary gain, to make a living, or to supplement our income; or some combination of the two. If you paint to please yourself, then frankly, who cares what other people think! (The important thing in that case is that if you think you're fabulous... well then you are!). But if you are intrigued by the idea of kicking it up a notch and beginning a business relationship with your brushes, then you've got some homework to do.

Is Your Art Good Enough?

There's only one way to find out, and that's by taking the first step: ASK! Don't underestimate the value of your friends' and family's opinions. They may not be able to tell you why, but they know what they like, and can give you a sense of what the general population may prefer in the way of subject matter, treatment, medium, size, etc. It's also important to get a professional opinion. Why not reach out to your local arts community - ask a local artist who you admire to critique your work and offer you balanced feedback, or an art gallery owner to review some of your pieces. The insight you gain from this experience can help you determine if you're ready to launch a new business venture with your artwork.

Art Start-Up

Once you've made the decision to sell your paintings, you'll need to determine a few things:

A business plan is a must. Include your personal goals for your business. Do your market research homework to understand your potential market niche, and outline your basic business model. Include marketing strategies, legal and financial obligations, and identify opportunities for grants or other start-up support.

When are you ready to turn your hobby into your business? Timing, as the old saying does, is everything. You may want to hold your debut show in November, for example, to capitalize on the Christmas buying season.

What styles / subject matter / mediums / sizes / formats is the market currently buying? A good gallery manager or framing retailer can help you figure that one out.

How will you determine your prices? Usually, pricing is dictated by a combination of size of support, level of detail or intricacy, what the market will bear, notoriety of the artist, and other factors. Take a look at other artists' price points to get a sense of the potential price range.

Make sure you keep good digital photographs (at least 200 dpi) of your artwork - after all, you'll want a record of them if you sell them, and if you plan to build a website, those digital images are key content.

If selling your original art feels like parting with your children, why not explore the prints market - the retail price points on prints are usually low enough to ensure a higher volume of sales, and you can keep the original painting for yourself. Another option is to license the images of your paintings to fundraising organizations for holiday greeting cards, calendars, or prints. You keep the original, they pay you a nominal fee for use of the image to raise money for a worthy cause - it's a win / win proposition!

Finally, if you're having trouble reconciling the loss of your artwork, just remember that you created this masterpiece once - you can always paint another one for yourself (it may even be better - consider the first one a practice run!).

Mind Your Business

Marketing is critical. As with any successful business, artists must market themselves relentlessly. Take some time to prepare a good artist's statement, biography, resume, and portfolio of your work. Have creative business cards printed, and hand them out at every opportunity. When you plan your first exhibition, prepare brochures that include small pictures of your paintings, your website address, and most importantly, your contact information.

Advertising in your local newspaper or community bulletin can be an effective way to raise awareness for your art, but it can be costly. If you can't afford to advertise yet, why not volunteer to teach classes, organize art-related community events, or donate a piece to a cultural fund-raiser. This will help you to get your name known by the arts community, and by potential buyers. Call your local newspaper & ask them to include a listing in their Entertainment section - many offer free listings of this type as a community service!

These days, having a well-designed, comprehensive website is a must. If you are serious about selling your artwork, you'll want to be able to refer prospective buyers to your site to view your body of work. You can approach your Web presence in a couple of ways: develop an online "brochure" that displays a catalog of your paintings, with sizes & mediums included, and contact information for prospective buyers; or an e-commerce enabled site that allows buyers to order online. I recommend the first option in most cases - current research shows that most people use the Web to research, browse, or "do their homework", and then buy off-line. The Internet is an excellent business tool that can make the difference in reaching a wider art-buying audience. And while we're on the topic of the Web, consider joining a number of online websites and artist communities. There are so many good ones out there that offer a matchmaking service, directing prospective buyers to artist sellers.

While most artists are creative right-brainers, we can be quite disinterested in the important accounting and finance side of our career. If you fall into this majority, consider making a specific effort to address these key business requirements:

Learn basic bookkeeping, and keep a detailed record of your art-related income and expenses.
Use separate bank accounts, cheques, and credit cards for your art business
Track your time, and make sure you record how many hours you spend working on your art, attending exhibitions, delivering finished paintings, etc.
Learn the specific income tax benefits that artists can take advantage of at tax time, or better yet, find a financial expert who is familiar with the art sector.

Choose Your Venue

If you've decided you can part with your art, there are a number of venues and sales opportunities out there. Get familiar with your local art environment, and start small. Once you gain valuable experience & key learning about selling your art, you can expand your approach with confidence.

Select a number of your best works to place in restaurants that hang local artists' work. It adds to their decor, and gives you some exposure. It also gives you a place from which to showcase and sell your art or photography. Many restaurants don't take any commission on the sale of your painting, and are more than happy to hang your work for sale. You can even hold a vernissage at the restaurant - an opening show of your own, where you invite friends, relatives and most importantly, prospective buyers. You will learn so much from this first experience - make sure you apply it to your subsequent shows.

Look into local art shows and craft fairs, and find out if there are other artists with similar offerings involved. Be prepared to bring enough pieces to replace the ones you sell.

Check out local consignment stores, framing shops and galleries, or craft marketplaces. They are continually searching for artists that will bring traffic to their businesses, and your artwork might be just the thing they're looking for. Be aware that you'll have to part with a consignment fee, commission or booth rental, usually in the 20-45% range.

Only you can decide when your art hobby will become your business. Use your creativity, not only to develop your art, but in all aspects of your new business. The entire cycle, from creation of your "product", through marketing to prospective buyers, to closing the sale or securing commissions, to reinvestment of your profits into your business, can be a fulfilling and creative learning experience.

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Art Designs by Leslie Rohonczy