Year 4 of Selling Art Full Time – 7 Things I Learned in 2014

Evening Light - Justin Vining

Year 1: How to Sell Your Art – 5 Things I Have Learned

Year 2: How do I start selling my art? | 8 More Things I have Learned

Year 3: of Selling Art Full Time: 6 Things 2013 Taught Me

Year 4: These are my biggest takeaways from being a full-time artist in 2014:

  1. A Better Understanding of My Value 

Since the beginning of 2012, I have been keeping accurate sales records for all of my original paintings.  I keep track of all the basics: painting size, medium, surface, sale price, creation date, and sell date.   I have all of this in an excel spreadsheet, and after years of modifications, I now keep track of all sorts of metrics extracted from all the data.  For example, I track average price per piece, average number of days to sell a piece, price per square inch, etc.. I, then, break that down by medium, by surface, by size, and by year.  All of the sudden, I have years of data that help me understand how and where I make my money.  I am in the process of writing a more detailed post diving deeper into the weeds of how I use that information to drive my business forward, but in short, this data helps me understand my value, how to price work to sell, how to price it to sit, what types of pieces make the most profit, what sells the slowest, how to forecast future income, lead generation, etc..  In 2014, my “Hot Sheet” has quickly become the most valuable tool in my business tool bag having used it to negotiate more favorable contracts with both galleries & custom projects.

  1. Momentum

I have experienced the “hot and cold” times over the years in a variety of different ways.  But something I have noticed this year, especially as my average price per piece has almost doubled in the last 12 months, is that this modest success has been very momentum driven.  Essentially, I pushed the gas pedal all the way to the floor at the beginning 2014 and have not let up.  The ways I have “floored it” include: 

  1. Intentionally scheduling a heavier schedule in 2013 for 2014, so I would have less down time in between shows this year.
  2. Simultaneously, I have been working with different art supply companies as their brand ambassador helping promote their products, and in turn, I was featured in a national advertising campaign in Watercolor Artist Magazine and other locations.  These types of opportunities have helped establish credibility and increased my perceived value along with building valuable contacts within my industry that will likely help open a variety of different doors in the future.
  3. While doing all of that, I have been proactively trying to improve as an artist and improve the overall quality of my work by taking private lessons and seeking counsel from those artists I am surrounded by on a daily basis.
  4. Also, while maintaining the scheduled 2014 shows, I fearlessly over-committed, throwing in a variety of opportunities that arose last minute throughout the year such as the Madron Gallery exhibit and speaking at CreativeMornings which couldn’t have come at busier times, but I committed and made it work.

What I have noticed though, by never letting off the gas pedal, is the momentum has just continued to have a snowball effect, and all of the sudden, I really believe people can “see” and “feel” my drive to succeed which I believe has translated directly to an increase in value (I can see it in my numbers).  It seems like the harder I push forward, the more people feel the need to grab and be a part of it.  Moving into 2015, I guarantee I will not be letting off the gas pedal any time soon.

  1. Lead Generation: Proactively “Go out & get it”

As a full-time artist, my #1 job is making art; a very close #2 is sales and marketing.  In any type of sales role, the most successful sales people are generally the ones that “hustle” and “go out and get it.” Generally, these people do not wait for selling opportunities to come to them; rather, they proactively go out and find it.  Selling art is no different, I just happen to be making the product I am selling.  Since 2012, I have been recording and documenting any person who has expressed interest in my work along with any details that arise with the inquiry: price range, size, content, color, etc.  In 2014, I have been able to leverage the years of inquiries more than ever to go out and actively sell into these people.  More often than not, a direct “sales call” to these people does not result in a sale, but sometimes it does.  I have a feeling that as I continue to move forward in my career, this list will continue to grow and become even more valuable. 

  1. You Can’t Get What You Don’t Ask For 

I also had this in my 2013 list, but in 2014, I have become almost fearless with what I am willing to ask.  In my experience, at worst, people will say no, but I am finding that more often than not when I can back the “ask” with a solid reasoning, people are willing to find creative solutions to all sorts of my questions.  In my business, “asks” can range from everything like scheduling gallery shows for specific months to negotiating sponsorships with art suppliers and lower commission percentages with venues. A quick example from this year: my biggest gallery show yet stemmed from an opportunity to display a handful of paintings at a one night private event at a very prestigious Chicago Gallery.  Through “asking” and pushing for more, I turned this opportunity into a six week solo exhibit that opened with the private event and included a public opening a few weeks later.  It was an incredible honor to exhibit at that gallery, and it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t professionally pushed for more. You can’t get what you don’t ask for; don’t be afraid to just ask. (If you don’t know who to ask, go out and find out who.)

  1. Community

Last January, I moved my studio to the Harrison Center for the Arts.  Prior to this, I had been on my own for over 3 years working out of a studio in a different part of town.  I quickly realized that, in hindsight, I had no idea I was missing a sense of community while being out on my own.  In my almost 12 months here at the HCA, I believe I have grown tremendously as an artist.  I am creating a new body of work for an upcoming show and the influences of those artists around me are obvious.  In my opinion, this body of work is my strongest yet with those HCA artists around me really challenging me to leave my comfort zone, which has resulted in an interesting evolution in my work.  If you are an artist and do not have the opportunity to work in a space with other creatives, I encourage you to proactively surround yourself by other artists and soak in their knowledge and wisdom.  The actual process of evolving can be counterintuitive and difficult, but in my experience, the results are worth it. 

  1. Continuing Education 

In most professional fields, continuing education is a government or industry requirement.  In the creative world, most fields do not require any form of continuing education.  In 2014, I decided to invest in my professional growth by taking private lessons from a variety of artists.  I have found this experience not only important to my improvement as an artist but also beyond valuable in growing my technique. The expansion of my artisitc knowledge and skill is easily worth the small amount of money and time invested.

  1. Tell a Story 

Time is money. I can only create so many paintings a year, and I have learned that I really need to focus and understand why I create each individual finished painting.  I have a lot of studies, drawings, and quick works in my studio but thats not what I am talking about here and that is not what I focus on selling.  I am talking about my higher end finished paintings that take at least 5 hours to complete. I personally need to understand why I am investing my valuable time to bring it into existence.  What I have found is that when I internally understand why it is being created, I can externally communicate to  potential investors.  These pieces that tell a story or carry more meaning generally become easier to sell and often command a higher price point. People love to hear the story; they love to know why it is important to me, and when I understand that, I can more effectively engage these people who are interested in my work and sometimes even those who are not. 

In Closing:

I have worked very hard in 2014, but I have been extremely lucky to be surrounded by amazing people who have provided an incredible support system that has helped me drive this business forward.  To all of these people, I very sincerely thank you. Living my dream would not be possible without you.