How to make a living out of art and what may be holding you back

How would it feel if you would earn a good income from your art?

I want to be an artist when I grow up“. Did you say this as a child? What were the reactions from your family? Were they all for it? Or did they reply with something on the lines of:”That’s great, but you’ll be poor”, or “You’d better choose a proper career like law or engineering, because you’ll never make a living our of art”. Did you do it anyway? Or did you take their advice, got yourself a ‘proper job’, became miserable, and then went back to your original desire to be an artist later in life?

Whatever your situation, those early messages about being a poor artist are likely the biggest reason why you are currently not making enough money, and why you are reading his post. Let’s explore this a bit more.

I want to talk to you about how to make money from selling art. How do you sell artworks? Who do you sell to? Where to find art buyers? Those are the main questions I get asked by my artist clients, when they come to me for help, because this is what they struggle with. My artist clients are a special niche of mine, and require a different kind of business coaching. I work with many entrepreneurs, but helping product (art) -based businesses, is very different from coaching service-based clients, like photographers or life coaches, for example. As an artist you are not selling a transformation, or clear solution to a problem. Selling art is much more about emotion. How on earth do you sell emotion?

But, although my artist clients come to me because they are feeling overwhelmed and unsure about how to sell more art, these ‘how’ questions come later. The real issue for their financial struggle, and feeling lost as a creative entrepreneur, require much more profound work. It is about mindset.

I have worked with artists and creatives for over 20 years, and what I learnt is that nearly all of them have self-limiting beliefs and a poverty mindset that originates in their childhood. Most people become an artist out of a passion and real calling, but deep inside they don’t believe they will ever make it, because someone once told them that. Some come out of art school with a lot of zest to conquer the world, but only a minority is usually able to secure exhibitions, commissions or interesting projects to get involved in straight away. Most start their life’s journey of making ends meet, often working part-time in other jobs. Their belief that being an artist equals low income, becomes reality. Their parents were right. Right?

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Why does this happen? And why do so few artists tell us a different story?

It won’t help that artists working with cultural institutions are almost always dependent on grants, which means waiting for some funding body to decide whether they think you are worthy of money. Being rejected time and again doesn’t help the old self-esteem. But more often than not, there is something else at play, namely, the deeper mindset of the artist, and how much they actually believe the stories in their head. What you focus on will grow. If you expect to stay poor, and have a chip on your shoulder, you won’t attract any abundance. Mindset dictates success. If you act out of fear of rejection, fear of failure, and fear of not making any money, then you will attract just that.

Say the following words out loud:”I am a successful artist and I am worth to be paid a lot of money for the work I make.” Do you feel any resistance? What beliefs and feelings come up?

A poverty mindset and accepting low-paid commissions

It doesn’t matter if you are a life coach or a painter, if you don’t believe in yourself and what you are offering to the world, then who will? If you keep undercharging, giving discounts, or marking things half price, who will value your work for what it is worth? You are not even valuing yourself.

If you make art, but you never call yourself an artist out loud, then how does this mindset come across in your marketing? If you keep mumbling that you are “just an artist”, how will you attract those amazing clients who are looking to buy from you? Showing up with confidence means people will take you seriously. You need to start seeing yourself as a real business, a professional, and someone who makes and sells art for a living.

One of my artist clients was asked to do a commission for the entrance of a building by a property developer the other day, but was offered a fee of just 150€ for making this drawing, which would have taken her around 10 hours to finish. I asked her how she felt about this. She said she was OK about it in principle, as she would also be allowed to use their machines and material to create some prints. I asked her if she would have accepted 150€ if she had been offering interior design solutions for the lobby of this same company, taking up the same 10 hours of drawing. “No, I wouldn’t”, she replied. I asked her why. She hesitated, and then said: “Because that is a professional service, and they are potentially bringing the company more clients.”

selling your work as an artist
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Send them to the high street if they think you are too expensive

This ‘I am just an artist’ mindset is what holds artists back. Seeing themselves as somehow lower on the ladder than other businesses, will keep them right there at the bottom. By accepting a very low fee for producing a unique piece of art for a commercial outfit (whether or not organised through a not-for-profit foundation that links artists to companies), the artist basically tells the client that her art has little value. She keeps the company’s belief alive that art is not a serious purchase, but ‘nice to have’ or ‘just’ an unimportant accessory.

The client will not appreciate the hours and effort (let alone the years of training) that go into the production of art, nor will they start seeing art as a business.

They will however regard the person who designed their office space (and who probably presented themselves with a lot of confidence, a shiny portfolio and big price tag), as more important and worth paying for. It’s all about the vibes and perception. But why on earth would a designer sofa in the lobby be more essential and valuable to a company than a unique piece of art on their wall? Just throwing that thought out there.

If you recognise yourself in that example, remember it for next time. Have the courage to say no. Saying no to low fees is the first step in your journey to becoming the artist you want to be.

Yes, you will find that scary, and yes, you will think you needed that bit of income, and what if no other jobs come in this month. But trust me, by putting out that message into the universe, and more importantly, into your own subconscious, things will start to shift for you. If a client is just looking for ‘some colour on the wall’ without any appreciation of your work, tell them to go and buy a mass-produced print. Think about it: what does a framed poster at Ikea cost? How much different is that from what you are being paid for creating something of a similar size?

This poverty mindset is not easy to get rid of, it runs deep. But you have to face these demons if you want to attract better paying clients and sell more art. You have to stop playing the ‘poor artist’, and start looking inwards to find out what it keeping you there.

Start by asking yourself how you feel as an artist, in general. And then ask yourself how you want to feel. How do you feel about your work? Why are you an artist, really? To start building your confidence as a professional artist who is worth buying from, you need to understand these things.

Take a moment today, and write down in your journal:

  • Why do you make art, why your work is meaningful to you, and why people should care. Why did you choose to be an artist?
  • How much money you would like to earn in an ideal world, no rules, no poverty mindset, with all the clients at your feet.
  • If you feel resistance coming up, write down what you feel. What are you resisting? Do you feel you are not worthy? Not good enough? What is that feeling?
  • All your fears around putting yourself out there, and showing up as the artist you desire to be. Why are you keeping yourself small, and accepting low fees?

Self-inquiry is the key to growing as an artist

This self-inquiry will give you very valuable insights about why you act in certain ways, what decisions you make as an entrepreneur, and where this comes from. Yes, you want to know how to sell more art, but that is not the real issue here. You will sell more art. That is the how. First you have to dig deep into that soul of yours, and find the answers to your why.

You got to lift the fog before knowing what direction to drive in.

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Your big ‘why’ holds the answers to many questions, including what motivates you, who you want to work with and sell to, and what the story is behind your work.

As an artist, your work is very personal, and your own thoughts, inspiration and unique style feed your practice. Knowing your big why while working on your mindset, will help you gain clarity, confidence and direction. If you want to become an artist who makes a full-time living out of selling art, try and imagine how this would change your life. Feel it. Embody it.

You’re selling a wonderful, soulful package: your original creation, your time and energy, and all the love and dedication you put into making your work. That is meaningful, and you deserve to be rewarded for it. No more keeping yourself small, because of some rubbish old belief that was once put in your head when you were 10 years old.

Next time you are in your studio painting or drawing a new piece, try and imagine clients buying your work and paying the price you want for it. Picture it already hanging on the wall of someone’s house, and how pleased they are with it. Imagine your reputation growing, and how people are now recommending your work to others. Orders are coming in every month, wonderful opportunities arise. Really feel it, as if it is already happening. Lift your vibes, pull yourself out of that old mindset. Brush off those chips on your shoulder. From today on you are the successful artist you are dreaming of. I believe in you. Now go and believe in yourself.

If you loved reading this story, and you feel the calling to work with me on your business and mindset, you are more than welcome to book a free 30-minute call to find out more.

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