Tips to Start Your Art Business

Hey all! If you're here, maybe you got here by watching my recent Youtube video of the same topic. If you didn't catch it, rewind, and give it a watch here.

I've been in the art biz for a little while now, and have seen some modest success with selling my art. These tips come entirely from my own experience and are only guidelines. I had to learn by doing, so I wanted to share this wisdom, in case you'd like to take a "shortcut," instead of going about it blindly (like I did.)

1. Practice Your Skills

I took a WHOLE YEAR to practice my watercolor painting until I felt it was good enough to begin selling. When I started, it looked like this:

and now, it looks like this:

Big difference, right? That's because I sat my butt down and did it every. Single. Day. During that first year, I was serious about improving my technique. I did a bunch of pre-made, 30-day art challenges to keep me motivated. It was rough, but also liberating, inspiring, and helped me hone the style that I wanted to eventually have.

2. Get on Social Media (ASAP)

I already had an every day, normal Instagram account, but what I really wanted was a full-fledged, 20k follower feed. Easy, you say? Hardly! It's taken time to build up a community of people that love and appreciate what I do. I recommend finding other accounts that have art similar to yours, and like and follow THEIR followers, to get some interaction going. Also - hashtags are your best friend.

It might sound a little selfish, but I knew I needed praise if I were to stay motivated in painting. I already realized that I'm someone who is spurred onward by a "Good job!" or "That's beautiful!" It makes me want to paint more!!! Also, a community on social media can help shape your work into something you AND other people love to see. A lot of my followers like to give suggestions of what to paint next. It's a win-win-WIN!

3. Paint for Friends and Family

Pretty simple. As you are practicing, or when you feel your work is up to par, start painting specifically for people you know. They might love it so much that they can help spread your name around. (This is just the boost you need to get a headstart on marketing, btw.)

4. Get an Official Website

This point will vary depending on what you want to do. If you know that you'll only be selling art or prints through Etsy, then get over there and start posting! Otherwise, if you're like me and want to do other things in the art world (exhibit in galleries, do editorial illustration, in addition to selling original work) then get a website. You can purchase a domain and use a platform. I LOVE Wix. It's easy to use for me and for my clients. (NO, NOT SPONSORED...YET)

As you're assembling your website (i.e. PORTFOLIO) think about grouping like works together. Maybe divide your pieces into the following categories:




-Objects / Still life

If you take a look at my home page, you'll find that I choose my best work and group them into like / complementary colors. I don't want to overwhelm my viewer with too much, and yet for the pieces to still mesh.

5. Begin Selling Your Art at Low Prices

When you start out selling art, it's easy to say, "I put in X number of hours, thus I should be paid Y." If your skills are superb, maybe you're ready to start selling your work for what it is fully worth! But, if you're relatively unknown, don't get too big for your britches. Take a step back and say, "What would I be willing to pay for this piece?" Take into account that not everyone can afford art, and so maybe small pieces or low prices are best for starting out.

I've had the best sales when I sell my work for much less than what I feel it's worth. I do this for two reasons:

a. Usually there's a holiday coming up and I want to milk to season for all it's worth

b. If I have low prices, I can sell out of my inventory. And that's what you want - to ultimately have your art adopted and living happily with other people!

6. Do Your Best

Sometimes, I get too excited for a commission that I start in before I've really thought through what I'm going to paint. MISTAKE! So, if there's a hiccup in what I've painted, instead of making my client pay for a sub-par piece, I do it over. I've wasted a lot of paper this way :-( But, I know that I've ultimately made clients happier when I suck it up and start over. Doing my best is the reputation I want. In the words of Ron Swanson: "Don't half-ass a lot of things. Whole-ass one thing."

7. Little by Little, Raise the Prices to Your Ideal

You might have started out selling art for a low price, but it doesn't have to stay there! Factors like time, your popularity, and the amount of orders coming in, should affect how much to charge. If you find that more people are purchasing commissions than you can churn out, time to up the price! This process automatically selects the clients that are dying to get your work and gives you a smoother schedule. No Sweat!

In all of these things - as you're starting an art business, remember to be gracious.

You're making art for a living!! Someone is paying you to put symbols of color on a piece of paper! It's magical and wonderful and such an honor to get paid to do this, so stay humble, kind, and gracious.

Also, you might happen upon some misfortune, especially with the Post Office. I try to keep shipping prices low for my clients, so I stick with USPS (sorry FedEx and UPS, only for super-special orders.) However, when I trusted "First Class" mail (the cheapest service) they have disappointed me several times. Best to leave First Class to prints and replaceable things, and send original through Priority. It's a little extra, but it's worth the insurance that your client will receive the art that you made, rather than worrying about a refund or redoing a piece.

Ok, I hope this was helpful! If you all think of anything else that should be noted when starting an art business, leave a comment below, I'd love to know your thoughts!

Marni Manning - Artist

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