I was talking to a friend the other day who happens to be quite an accomplished artist and a real spiritual father to many creatives around the world. We were chatting about our mutual passion to help artists thrive and, knowing I work with many hobbyist and emerging artists, posed the following question:
"How do you tell someone who is mediocre and not really called (or ready) to make his living with his art (simply because it will never sell) that perhaps God gave you the passion for art just to enjoy and glorify Him with, but it is not your calling to make it your financial sustenance?"
It's a great question and I'm sure the reason no one talks much about it is because it can be a really sensitive issue for the artist... No one wants to have that hard conversation with an artist who's thinking they are ready to take on the world when in reality, they are still stumbling around with the basics. And then sometimes, there are those really hard cases that almost seem like the American Idol auditions where someone thinks they are God's gift to art when in reality, there's not much there but desire and belief.
As I've thought about it, I hope these ideas will help you navigate your own artistic calling and season in that journey.
When it comes to art marketing, there can be a lot of confusion about what works, what doesn't and where to start. Whether you're a seasoned, experienced artist who's been creating for many years or a hobbyist just trying to take it to the next level, knowing how to sell your art is of primo importance!
Art Marketing is about the "Special Factor"
I've had the privilege of creating sculpture both part-time and full-time for almost 25 years. After moving to Asheville, North Carolina in 2009, I opened a studio in the River Arts District and began selling my work full-time. Like a lot of artists, I did the typical things like running around to craft shows, selling wholesale to shops and "hoping" for customers. For me - and remember, everyone's different - that kind of selling drove me crazy! Shows were fickle, my work didn't sell great in stores or galleries because I wasn't there to talk about it and the hope strategy... well, let's just say that doesn't work. Hope is not a viable strategy for how to sell your art.
Thankfully, because of my background in marketing and the fact that I am a people person, I recognized early on in my full-time art career that people pay top dollar for 2 things: special and connection. What does that mean, you ask?
First of all, people are willing to pay a premium for things they feel are out of the ordinary, unique or special, especially if they align with their values. Now keep in mind, we're not talking about your average Wal-mart shopper here. I'm talking about people who are genuinely interested in your art and have the means to pay for it. When your work and your reputation is seen as something to be noticed, something to be valued, not ordinary or run-of-the-mill, all of a sudden, people start to take notice. That's what happened to me. I create sculpture primarily for luxury mountain homes and I love it. One of the things I did to help leverage the "special factor" of my work was to make a decision to install all my own work (when possible) and ask if I could take pictures once installed. Consequently, I have tons of gorgeous images of my work in multi-million dollar homes. Now, when prospective buyers are considering my work, they immediately see "Wow, this guy's work is special... look at who's buying his work." It lets my customers know that I'm someone to be collected and considered worthy of a significant investment.
Art Marketing is about Authentic Connection
The other huge concept I employ in my business naturally, because I enjoy building relationships with people, is connection. I've found over the years that people who are making a significant investment in a piece of art want more than just a commoditized retail experience. They want a relationship. By and large, whether it's buying my work or the work of friends of mine who are painters, sculptors, ceramicists, jewelers or whatever, clients who are serious about purchasing hand-made, original art really enjoy building relationships with the artists from whom they purchase. It's fun for them and for us to get to know them, what they like, what they like about our work and deepen that relationship over time through multiple purchases and referrals to their friends.
I have a studio here in Asheville's River Arts District which is open 6 days a week to the public. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to hear one of my clients coming through the door with a friend or out of town visitor saying something like "Oh, this is the guy I was telling you about..." All of a sudden, they've become my marketing department and a genuine friend.
This same kind of connection is very important even if you're selling through strategic partners like interior designers or gallery / shop owners. Take time to go visit them, learn what sells in their stores, understand their clientele and then work to make them look great! I have a friend up who has a beautiful furniture store in a very wealthy area and she has a trunk show for me every couple of years. That one relationships has produced more than any other relationship in my art career simply because every time I go to that area, I stop by and say hello. I send flowers after a referral. I treat her customers very well. Yes, you guessed it: I'm building connection.
3 Tips for Your Art Marketing
If you're wanting to employ the special factor and connection into your art marketing strategy, I'd recommend starting with the following:
Art Marketing is Much More Than Selling
Listen, marketing your art and yourself is much more than simply learning how to sell your art. It's about creating an image that reflects your uniqueness in the niche you're targeting and then working to build authentic connections within that niche of clients, partners and prospects. Learn to do that well and you'll never struggle to sell your artwork. If you don't, you'll be reduced to doing what everyone else does, shlepping around your stuff to every art or craft show that will let you in, wondering who's going to buy your widget this time. You can thrive if you'll focus on the special factor and on building connection.
My absolute favorite marketing video that exemplifies this way of selling is below called "A Tour Guide to the Two Plants: NEO & Traditional." Do yourself a favor and watch it. Then comment below to let me know your thoughts. Also, for more strategies on how to sell your art, check out my artist mentorship program called "Created to Thrive". Tons of teaching videos, activities and a private Facebook community as well as live q/a sessions with me to help you thrive as an artist.
I hope you're full of faith and expectation for an incredible 2018!
To help you along that journey, I wanted to share a simple tool that I use in my Created to Thrive mentoring program called "What's Working, What's Not & What's Next".
It's a simple 5-page PDF that will help you evaluate where you are and where you want to go this year. Consider this my new year's gift to you! I'm praying this year will be your best year ever! Just download it here and then let me know how you're using it by commenting below.
How to Sell Art...
First of all, this is a huge question but surprisingly simple. It's simple because it has to be based on you, the artist. How do you like to sell your art? I've found over the years, there are basically two ways to sell your art: direct to the customer or through a strategic partner (or, I admit it... a combination of both). It's really important to understand which strategy is most effective for you when you're asking how to sell art.
When I first started asking how to sell art, I did what most artists do and looked to others who I saw being successful and modeled them. Unfortunately for me, their model didn't work for me. Many of the artists I knew were introverts who enjoyed mostly making in their studio rather than interacting with the public. Consequently, they had adopted a wholesale methodology which required them to make production items, sell at a 50% discount, sell through stores and galleries, and never have any interaction with their end user. For me, as an extroverted people person, that was very unfulfilling. When I made beautiful work and faced the reality of packing it up and shipping it off to a gallery far far away, that gave me no emotional payoff, which for me is an important part of being an artist. I love hearing people say "Oh my gosh, that is so beautiful! I love it!" Without that, I was missing something huge!
The other methodology I saw most artists doing included doing as many retail craft and art shows as possible. They seemed to live on the road. In the summers, they were in the mountains and in the winter, they all headed to Florida. Always on the road, always staying in hotels or travel trailers. Again, not my idea of a beautiful artistic life.
For me, I chose to pursue selling my art through a public studio in Asheville's River Arts District, a collection of over 200 artists in 23 old warehouse buildings in Asheville, North Carolina. It's a mecca for artists and art lovers, as well as wealthy retirees who like to incorporate local art into their homes. I get to make, sell and interact all out of my studio. I deliver most of my commissioned works and I get a high level of interaction with my clients. We build relationships. They visit the studio with friends and for me, that's huge!
So what's the bottom line? You have to determine how to sell art for yourself based on how your wired, what you're creating and the life you want. Without being clear about those questions, you'll end up really frustrated. If you're going to be an artist, you want to do so while living a beautiful, creative and fulfilled life.
Where You Sell Your Art...
Now you understand why these two questions go together. How you sell art ends up determining where you sell your art. There's no cookie cutter plan that works for everyone. As you consider where to sell your art, make sure you craft a strategy that fits how you like to create, sell and live life. The artist life is not just about cranking out product, but about authentically creating your work, connecting with others who love what you do and making a profit.
That being said, here are some of my best recommendations:
Where to Sell Your Art For Artists Who Want to Sell Direct To Clients:
We talk about these issues every day in my Created to Thrive Artist Mentorship Program and over the last year, I've created several in-depth teaching videos on this subject based on my own experience and the experience of hundreds of artists I've helped over the years. Find out more about becoming a part of my artist mentorship program here.
Also, let me know what's working for you! Comment below and let's keep the conversation going.
I can remember it like it was yesterday.
I was sitting in a gallery demonstrating my work at an art walk in Waynesville, North Carolina... Just minding my own business, when all of a sudden this guy walks up to one of my pieces and said with a gasp "It's like the hands of God are reaching out to me saying I've got everything under control."
I wondered to myself "What just happened?" and then all of a sudden it hit me. This guy just had an encounter with the living God through one of my baskets. I thought "Woo hoo, Jesus loves kudzu, too!!"
Is that even possible? Absolutely!
When you invite the Holy Spirit into your creative process, He will literally come move through the work of your hands. Your work becomes much more than just the sum of it's parts... it becomes an intersection point where God can show up and release the light and life of His presence!
If you've never experienced this kind of demonstration of God's love through your work, there's no time like the present! The next time you create, invite the Holy Spirit to be present, in and through your work. Create with all your heart, listen for His voice and then respond. After you're done, watch what he does with the work of your hands.
When God shows up, things change and He wants to use you to release that transformation.
Has something like this ever happened to you? Share your story of transformation below and let's encourage one another!
In this video, Matt Tommey shares key insights for artists on how to start overcoming self-sabotage in their life and creative expression.
Since I have the great honor of working with hundreds of Christian artists in my artist mentorship program, I'm always getting questions. One of the most common questions I get from newbies is "what can I do right now to start thriving?" Here's 12 things you can do right now to start thriving as a Christian artist:
1. Just show up & do the work
There’s just no substitute. It’s been said it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at your chosen artistic medium. So whether you’re a painter or metal artist, potter or basket maker you’re going to need to put in some serious studio time. The beautiful thing about it is that for the artist, the process of being in the studio can be the reward. Yes, we’re all after fantastic art that we can sell and make a living from, but for the artist, the magic of creativity happens long before the sale happens. It happens when we walk in the studio, turn on the music, prepare our materials and just get in the zone.
2. Push through the ugly
Every Christian artist I’ve ever known, including myself goes through periods of creating
crap. Sometimes its for a week, or months or a year or sometimes it’s in every piece. If you stop in the ugly phase, you’ll never get through to the place of creative resolve and resolution. Keep pressing, reworking, walking away and returning until you know that you know it is finished.
3. Encourage yourself and silence your inner critic
The voice of the inner critic will never go away by itself or by wishing it would stop. The voice must be silenced by a greater voice; the darkness pierced by the purity of light. The dominant inner narrative in your soul can be guided, not by your emotions but by your choices. Who are you and what do you want? Practice some creative visualization, create a treasure map, journal your personal and creative affirmations daily and listen as the critic is silenced.
4. Take time to rest and renew
It’s been said that creativity happens best on the edge of order and chaos. That being said, we can’t live 100% of the time in that tension. You need time to reflect, rest and renew your physical body and your inner life so that fresh ideas can clearly come to and through you. This is not a luxury for the artist, it is essential.
5. Fill your creative well
When it’s time to create, we all go inside what I call our creative well to draw upon the inspiration and understanding that lies within. If the well has gone dry, then the work becomes mundane and our experience in creative bored and anxious. What exhilarates your spirit? What makes you stand in awe and wonder? Movies? Music? Sculpture? Great art or theatre? Whatever feeds your inner life should be on your regular menu. "
6. Don’t eat seed
Over the years I’ve found that emerging artists have one main question they are always asking: “How do I make money with my art?” The better question is how can I keep the money I’m making with my art. Becoming a successful Christian artist for most people is able building a bridge to a dream; transitioning from a 9 to 5 job or even beginning to sell your work to the public for the first time. Regardless, all of that takes money. I always encourage artists to take the money that’s coming in initially from selling or teaching and put it away in your business envelope. That way, when a big show, marketing need or other opportunity comes along and you need capital to invest, you have it. Money invested at the right time in your business can be valuable seed to produce the harvest of success you desire.
7. Create what you love
We’ve all done it. You sell a couple of pieces that are similar and you start thinking “If I make 1000 of these, I’d be a gagillionaire... so I better get to work!” Only to find out that at the next show, you only sell a grand total of zero. While we must always keep an eye on what’s selling and what our clients are genuinely responding to at the end of the day, we must make what we love. Otherwise, we become robotic craftsmen just replicating patterns with wrote skill instead of creating out of the place of inspiration and passion. Create what you love and trust the money and opportunities to follow.
Fulfill Your Calling as a Christian Artist!
Connect with a Community of Thriving Artists
MAKE THIS YEAR YOUR BREAKTHROUGH YEAR... Find out how here
8. Reach up and reach back
None of us have gotten where we are in life without those special people providence placed in our life at the right place and time to teach us, lead us, guide us and inspire us to go to the next level. No matter where you are in your creative journey, you can do the same for someone else by reaching out in genuine relationship. In addition, there’s always someone who’s further along than you are in whatever creative endeavor you find yourself. Continue to purposely reach up to them as well and become a river of inspiration; both receiving and giving the abundance that’s flowing through you.
9. Tell your story
Art is not a commodity. No one buys great art or fine craft because it was the cheapest or it was on sale. People buy fine art and fine craft because they desire connection; connection with the maker, the process, the materials and ultimately their own human experience. Your personal creative story is a huge part of that because when people connect to you they connect to your work. It’s no longer just a basket, mug or painting, but rather a reflection of the story of the maker who poured their heart and soul into the piece. Art becomes like ancient cairns, pointing the way and commemorating significance in the journey.
10. Dream Your Dreams
Most Christian artists I’ve met over the years are so completely overwhelmed with where they are right now – creatively, relationally, financially – that they’ve lost their ability to dream and imagine outside of their current life experience. What happened to the kid on the playground who believed he could climb to the top of the highest tree on the mountain? What happened to the little girl who wanted to be a famous fashion designer in New York City? I’ll tell you what happened. Life happened, they got bogged down in the details and lost their dreamer. Without dreaming and imagination, we become robotic manufactures of commodities. With dreams, desire and imagination become artists who allow all of life to converge in the studio where we create beautiful objects that help others to live with wonder.
11. Say No to the Wrong things and Yes to the Right
You’re an artist, yes, but you’re also an entrepreneur, shipping department, marketing department and custodial staff in addition to whatever personal and civic obligations that may find their way into your life. If you say yes to everything, you allow everyone else’s emergencies, priorities and passions take precedence over yours. Design your life. Dream your dreams. Create what you love. Life a beautiful life with beautiful people and allow your priorities to be the measuring stick for everything else you allow into your life. That’s not selfish, it’s healthy.
12. Connect to Your Source
If you’ve been an artist for very long, you realize that your creative gift is not your own or even the result of all your own hard work. Pure and simple it’s a gift from the Creator and we simply have the incredible opportunity to collaborate with that Creators process, inspiration and gifts in order to reflect His beauty. Without that connection we die creatively because we cut off the source of our inspiration. With that connection, we go further than we ever could on our own good ideas and hard work. With that connection, we simply lean into the process of creative collaboration that’s already been designed especially for us. With that connection, we always prosper because that’s the design of the Creator.
Don't let another year go by without stepping into your creative calling!
This year can be your breakthrough year! Find out how...
As I've reflected on my own journey and the journey's of the literally hundreds of artists who are a part of my Created to Thrive Artist Mentorship program I now understand there are basically stages an artist goes through on their journey of creativity. Most artists stop somewhere along the way but for those who refuse to give up, they reap the rewards of perseverance.
All artists start here, creating from a place of passion, connection and expression. The focus for the hobbyists is creating for their own enjoyment. Hobbyists pursue their art at their leisure and don't always have a dedicated space to create. Hobbyists enjoy the freedom of creating when inspiration strikes - once a week, a couple of times a month or even a few times a year – and often continue to create because of the spiritual connection they feel when creating. Main challenges facing these artists include frustration with lack of skill, perfectionism, dedicating time to create, connecting with other creatives for community and beliefs around their own identity as artists.
After creating for some time as a hobbyist, these artists begin to develop a passion for more focused pursuit of their art. They are serious about developing more skill, spending more time on their artistic development and are starting to sell their work to others. Emerging artists are beginning to develop the basics of their art business including things like website, printed materials, professional photography, dedicated studio space and applying for shows. Main challenges facing these artists include renewing their mind to align with God's Word rather than their own experience or beliefs, building healthy relationships with other artists who are on the same journey and balancing time to create with relationships and administrative tasks required to launch an art business (marketing, bookkeeping, communications, social media).
The professional artist has moved through the stages of hobbyist and emerging artist after several years of honing their skills and developing their unique creative voice. This artist usually has a dedicated studio space, spends time creating on a daily basis and regularly pursues selling their work via social networks, shows, commissions and other venues. They have developed their own unique marketing brand and are working to connect with those who connect with their creative voice via their website, social media, printed media and referrals. Main challenges facing these artists include cultivating fresh creativity while building upon the success they've experienced, asking for help from professionals in order to grow their businesses to the next level, cashflow and time management. Also, as an artist experiences success, it's even more important to keep their life and art centered in a vital relationship with Jesus.
This artist is living the dream, having moved from hobbyist to emerging artist, professional and now thriving in their chosen pursuits. Thriving artists create what they love in a dedicated studio space while selling their work for top dollar to clients who seek out their work. Their life is marked by creative fulfillment, financial abundance, meaningful relationships and spiritual connection. These artists have developed a niche of clients who authentically connect with them and their work as reflected by their willingness to purchase and refer them to their circle of influence. Main challenges facing these artists include balancing time with family and friends vs time given to their business and art pursuits, cultivating a thriving relationship with the Holy Spirit and taking time to give back to others along the journey who need to know what they've learned over the years.
No matter where you are on your journey as an artist, God wants to use you for His Glory in order to release His Life and Light into the world. You can be the thriving artist God designed you to be... if you're willing to start aligning with Him.
If that's you, I'd love to show you how I've helped hundreds of artists just like you achieve and surpass their goals and live the life they were created to live. Find out more...
Check out this podcast interview I just completed with my friend and colleague in ministry, Stephen Roach on his podcast "Makers & Mystics". Just click the image to go directly to the podcast recording.
I've had the privilege since 2009 of making my living primarily from making and selling art to what many would call the luxury market. My clients are typically people who have multiple homes around the country (and internationally) and enjoy purchasing and commissioning unique pieces of art for their homes ranging from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. Although many of them could probably afford anything they wanted, price is almost never a part of the initial conversation as they determine whether or not they want my work. For many artists, this begs the question... if price is not really a main issue, then what DO they care about? What are they really looking for? How do I know where to sell my art? Here's my top 4 things I know every art buyer is looking for:
Understanding and practicing these four principles are core to the success of my business and any art business who wants to thrive over the long term. Comment below and share your thoughts. I'd love to hear them as you share your insights on how to sell your art!
Matt Tommey is a world-class sculptor, speaker and author who is passionate about helping artists to thrive spiritually, financially and creatively.