So a few days ago I noticed this letter in my Etsy inbox. It took me reading it a few times over a few days, then writing and rewriting a response to this seemingly young, and definitely frustrated, artist. And although I am far from an expert at marketing artwork, I felt like I passed on some pretty sage advice;advice I would have appreciated being given earlier on.
I have been creating art at a technically advanced level for a number of years now, yet have only recently started marketing my custom pencil portraits in any kind of serious way. Most of the social media/email newsletter/consistent blogging stuff is quite new to me and I'm wading through the best I can (fake it til you make, right?!) but am I anyone to actually be giving advice?
Well either way I did, and perhaps there are other folks who may appreciate a short word of advice from an artist who still takes all the advice she can get too. Feel free to add to it in the comments!
Thanks for reaching out to me as I love to connect with other like-minded and creative souls.
I feel where you are coming from as far as not making the commissions you wish you did, and I applaud you for reaching out and trying to drum up more work. However, unfortunately, I think you are going about it in a bit the wrong way.
Because you took the time to write me such a personal letter, please allow me to give you an equally thoughtful and honest response. Some of my advice will be things that I wish I had realized a few years ago when I first tried online selling.
Etsy sales, like any other online sales, rarely happen out of thin air or coincidence (unless you are ALREADY a very well-established artist). I, just like most other professional artists, am promoting and networking and working a hundred hours a week to get each and every sale and accolade or recognition that I possibly can. I literally work tirelessly on not only producing high quality work on a regular basis, but on maintaining two websites, an active blog including producing tutorials, and a flurry of social media hubs, as well as being present and engaged in the local artistic community enough to get my name out there on a personal level too. Not to mention the fact that I have been studying art at a serious level for 20 years now, and have invested my personal and scholarly life up through a Master’s degree all focused on my fine art.
I’m not telling you this to gloat whatsoever or to pretend that I am more serious or better than you talent or other –wise. I am telling you this so you will understand that choosing to make fine art your career is a many year uphill struggle. A majority of your sales are based around you as person and the connections you create, so to ask another artist (of any level in their career) to send you their ‘scraps’ is basically asking another artist to do all the hard work for you, and then you will send them 20% of a much lower fee than they would have charged anyway. You say you don’t mean it as an insult, but it comes across as such because you are asking artists, regardless of what they themselves typically make for a portrait, to essentially second-hand represent you for a tiny fee that you set.
Not to mention that by an artist sending a client your way, they are putting their name and seal of approval on whatever you produce, and that is A LOT to ask another, perhaps more experienced, artist to do.
Plus, to be brutally honest, you should never come from a place of weakness, begging, or ‘starvation’. A professional artist understands their worth in this universe and knows that these things, like all worthwhile things, take time, and begging for scraps will only lead to more scraps, never actual recognition.
Two years is barely scratching the surface of what it takes to forge a real and sustaining career in the fine arts. If I could leave you with only one piece of advice it would be don’t quit your day job. And I don’t mean that in a cruel way; I have a morning job, just like many other professional artists do for most of their early careers. And so should you because starving and going without basic necessities is not actually the romantic “true artist” story it’s cut out to be. It will lead more to frustration and stress than raw creativity.
Have a steady income, work really hard on producing quality new work in your free time, do some research on social media marketing, and get out and be friendly in your local artistic community. That’s it. Those are the answers. I hope I have helped:)
Patience is a virtue, and the only way you will truly succeed.
I sincerely wish you all the best!
originally posted: November 8, 2016