If you’ve been an artist for any time at all….say more than a minute or two…you will begin to wonder what to do with all your wonderful creations. Maybe the closet is full, or they’re being stacked in the back room or your studio. Maybe someone in your house is urging you either subtly or more strenuously to get rid of that stuff!
I’m not really sure where the notion that creating something with the intention to sell it became tainted, particularly for artists. After all, we have bills to pay, food to put on the table, braces to buy for the kids. I can’t really think of any other profession where not making any money by your labor is considered a good thing. So unless you are willing to live rough and sacrifice some of the niceties like flush toilets and a shelter, then you must really give some thought to creating in order to make money.
This doesn’t mean that you should only consider the financial aspects of your work, but it should be in the equation somewhere. I think the key here is to find balance between doing what you love to do and making some things to sell.
For instance, I did art fairs around the country for many years. This can be a rough way to make a living but I knew quite a few artists who made their entire living doing fairs. Packing up the vans and trucks, carting everything across the miles, setting up in various weather conditions….not easy. But some of the artists and crafters loved the lifestyle. Live up north in the summers; move to warmer climates in the winter. I even knew a couple of jewelry makers who floated around the Gulf of Mexico all winter long, only stopping long enough to catch their mail. They would then put the push on to hit the art fair circuit from May through September.
I actually enjoyed talking with patrons. I had figured that I could sell at least one red painting per show. (For some reason, people always have room for a red painting.) And I would have my big showstopper paintings which would entice people into my booth in the first place although they often settled for something more modestly priced. My bread and butter work were the all original line of fruit and vegetable paintings that I did, all 8 x 10, matted and wrapped. Yes, that felt more like production work but well…
Since the advent of the internet, the world of options has expanded exponentially. We’ve all become accustomed to shopping from our laptops or phones. You can set up shops at Etsy or Ebay or your own websites for very low fees. And guess what? You don’t have to worry about the weather, either! There are print on demand sites, and group websites, the list is endless.
But that brings us back. What to sell?
Here is where a little trial and error comes in. Or just walk around some galleries, gift shops, art fairs, etc. Do some online research, too. (You can get ideas but don’t copy!) What do you like to do? Make chairs? Do you really think you can sell those $2,000 masterpieces? Well, maybe…eventually. But how about looking at what you do like to do, then trying to scale it back? You don’t have to give up the big, challenging pieces. Those are what inspire you to keep going. Your style may change over time. That’s OK. Maybe you’ll look back in ten years and wonder what you were thinking when you made it. Or maybe it will be a collector’s item and the crowds will be demanding that you make more, and bigger.
I guess the bottom line here is that don’t let anyone tell you that you’re selling out if you decide to devote at least part of your time to creating work that has a ready market. You’re not. You’re trying to stay in the game and affording yourself the opportunity to make more, bigger, and better creations. So, unless you have a large trust fund or a very wealthy sponsor, just keep digging in and keep on keeping on. You only have to answer to yourself.