Making Art Your Business: Where to Begin

Making Art Your Business: Where to Begin

You’ve been an artist long enough to start thinking about making art your business. Carrie Lewis shares a few tips for getting started.

The first question for December Q&A month comes from Michalina, who is also thinking about turning her artwork into something more. Here’s her question.

Hello Carrie,

I’m a long-time “hobby” artist that has worked in a variety of media. In the past year I went back to colored pencils and got more serious about trying to “do something with my art.”

I’m developing my portfolio, but am not sure about my next step. Are juried or other art shows a good way to get your art out there, or selling prints on Etsy or other places?

I’m just not sure where to start. Welcome any advice or tips!

Thank you, Michelina

I’m delighted to hear Michelina wants to do something with her art. I’m sure she’s not the only artist thinking that way.

There are so many different ways to “do something with your art,” that I probably won’t be able to provide a really specific answer.

Making Art Your Business: Where to Begin

A lot depends on what you want to do with your art, but no matter what your goals, the following suggestions are good first steps.

Create a Portfolio

If you’re serious about turning your art into a business, the first thing to do is create a body of work that accurately represents your skill and style. How many pieces should you have?

Opinions vary on an exact number. I suggest between six and a dozen. Six is enough to show potential buyers what you can do if you’re thinking about accepting commissions. Twelve is enough to satisfy gallery managers or to start a business with reproductions.

In this digital age, it’s a good idea to maintain a physical portfolio and a digital portfolio.

A physical portfolio is ideal if you want to present your work to a gallery manager or owner, or if you want to display your work at an on-site location. I used to exhibit originals in a vendor booth at horse shows and other places. Twelve pieces is a minimum for such exhibits. As you can see, I had more pieces than that for this show.

A digital portfolio is perfect for setting up a print-on-demand business with a platform like Fine Art America, or for entering juried or online exhibitions.

In both cases, the overall body of work should be the best you’re currently capable of. If you’re planning to show your originals, they should be attractively framed in a way that sets them off without overwhelming them.

Digital images should be 300 dots per inch (DPI) resolution. Horizontal images should be 3000 pixels wide and vertical images should be 3000 pixels in height.

Decide How You Want to Market Your Art

This decision isn’t so much about whether to use social media, auction platforms, or print ads. Those decisions are important, but before you make them, you need to decide how you want to sell your work. A few questions to ask yourself are:

Do I want to sell original art or reproductions?

If I want to sell original art, do I want to accept commissions, or do I want to sell art that’s already made?

If I want to accept commissions, what subjects do I most want to work with? Pets? People? Houses or other architecture?

If I want to sell reproductions, do I want to print them myself and sell them direct, or do I want to sell them print-on-demand?

No two artists want to market their work in exactly the same way. Some artists do commission work as their main focus, but they also sell reproductions and maybe even merchandise (mugs, calendars, etc.)

Some artists don’t want to accept commissions at all, and only sell art they’ve already made.

There is no wrong answer to these questions. Take the time to answer them truthfully, however, because the answers you give will help you decide how best to promote your work when the time comes.

Identify the Best Places to Market Your Art

Once you’ve answered the questions above and any others that come to mind, you’re ready to consider places to sell your art. Once you’ve answered all the previous questions, you’ve automatically narrowed the field of options for this step.

For example, if you want to accept commission work and you’re not interested in selling reproductions, then you don’t have to explore the places that sell reproductions.

And if reproductions is all you want to do, then those places are where you can focus all your attention!

The First Steps to Making Art Your Business

If you’re serious about making your art your business, have courage! You can begin today by working on your portfolio.

The fact is that you can do the second two of these three steps while you work on your portfolio.

If you have a good portfolio, then you can start concentrating on deciding how and where to market your work.

Thank you again to Michelina for her question. I don’t get to talk about the business side of art very often on this blog.

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