How to Sell Your Art Online

I recently read a piece of advice from an artist’s manager that said you have to get out and attend events in order to make it as an artist. As I sat alone in my studio wearing sweat pants, no makeup, with a few online orders to package and ship in front of me, I giggled to myself.

No. No, you don’t have to attend events to find success. The internet is your oyster. You can do great things without ever leaving the house.

I don’t like doing in person art events. Don’t get me wrong. I love talking to people about art, and getting to know my customers, but as an introvert my comfort zone is far away from large crowds. I’ve done my fair share of events, and I’ll definitely do more in the future, but they are not my primary focus with my art business.

Rather than spending my time trying to book as many weekend shows, fairs, and events as I can fit into my schedule, I focus my time and energy on online sales. It is much harder to find your audience quickly online, but there are a few key tips I want to pass on to help you develop this income stream.

Beat this into your head: Make it easy for people to give you their money.

I can’t stress this enough. This is the number one thing you need to keep in mind with making an online sale. Don’t make it hard to accept money. If you are posting about available pieces on social media, don’t settle with “DM me to purchase” as your sales pitch. This involves too much work for the customer. I’m not saying it won’t work. I’m just saying you’re going to miss out on the lazy customers who don’t like talking to people (Hi, that’s me!).

Make it easy. Here’s how:

1. Have an online store front and payment processor.

You don’t need anything fancy, but you really should have a page with inventory and buttons to buy now. There’s a rule in the tech world that focuses on the amount of “clicks” needed to accomplish a task. (Three Click Rule) The more clicks it takes for a customer to buy your art, the less likely they are to buy. It’s easy to lose interest if you’re not all that motivated in the first place.

Let’s say you write “DM me to buy” on Instagram, a customer messages you, you tell them the price, then you talk back and forth about shipping details, how you take payments, etc.. Then you send them a Paypal address, Square Up invoice, or Venmo details and wait for them to enter in all their payment info and actually get your money. This whole exchange can take up a good chunk of your time, as well as waste a lot of the customer’s time.

Decrease your “clicks”.

If you have a store with inventory and a credit card processor it looks more like this: You post on Instagram saying “This piece is available now. Follow the link in my bio to shop.”, the customer follows the link, finds the item, adds it to their cart, and then checks out using a credit card or Paypal.

Boom. Art sale. The most satisfying thing for me is waking up to find new orders from my store in my inbox that happened in the night. That wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t have a store front.

“DM to purchase” can and does work, but it’s not the easiest way to get money.

Store Options:

  • Free Square Up ecommerce– Great for flat rate shipping, and less than 30 items.
  • Paypal Buttons– If you have your own website, you can add product photos and then paste in code for a Paypal checkout button to allow people to securely buy items without technically having a storefront.
  • Etsy- This is a good way to get started without investing too much money. You will be charged listing and transaction fees, but you’ll have access to Etsy’s large audience and great ways to organize a lot of inventory.
  • Your own website and store front- I currently use Weebly (You can use this link to get a referral discount), but you can use Wix, Shopify, BigCommerce or any similar platform. It’s more of an investment, so I wouldn’t recommend jumping into this right away if you are strapped for cash. I always recommend free and low fee options to start.
2. Make your products look good.

Once you have a store front or other place to list online inventory, you have to make your items look appealing. Since the customer can’t examine the piece in person, do the work for them with photos and details.

  • Take good photos from a variety of angles. Allow your customers to imagine they are viewing the work in person. Provide closeups, angles, staged photos in a model home, and even photos of the back of the piece.
  • Include all the details you can: Size, medium, varnish, hanging accessories, weight, etc..
  • Tell a story about the product: Do you have a source of inspiration? What meaning can you communicate to your customer to pull them in?

How many times have you shopped online and skipped buying products because of bad photos or a lack of details? I know I have done that many times.

3. Develop a following to drive genuine traffic to your store.

Posting items online for sale is not a build-it-and-they-will-come situation. You have to convince people to care about your art. Cultivating a social following is a great way to do this. Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, Pinterest, Tumblr, or any other social site, building a following will help increase the interest in your art. Also, create an email list and encourage people online and in person to sign up for it so they can get updates on your new items for sale.

You can of course use SEO (search engine optimization) to have your store and items pop up in organic searches, or you can pay for ads on Etsy, Google, Instagram, and Facebook. But, given that you may not be an expert on those things yet or have money to burn on ads, start by cultivating your social following. Instagram is a great place to start.

4. Update your inventory often and remind your customers that you exist.

I try to add new items to my shop once a week. This is recommended on platforms like Etsy to increase your odds of showing up in search results. Always keep in mind that people have short attention spans. If you update your inventory and only tell your following once a month, their attention is going to be tuned into the 4,000+ other ads they see each day. You have to stay relevant and consistently put your work out there.

You can do this in subtle ways just by posting engaging content every day on social media. I post 1 to 3 times a day on Instagram and do hard sales pitches a couple of times a week. My cycle is: Create new work–>post process videos–>upload new items in my store–> post hard sales pitch to click on my shopping links–> create new work–> and repeat.

The internet moves quickly, and you’ll get lost in the noise if you don’t establish a schedule and do the work each day.

5. Run sales/promotions.

I’m sure some hoity toity artists and collectors balk at the idea of discounting art, but sales are effective at driving your following to at least look at your products. (That is, if you have already made them want your art.) Here are a few tips:

  • When you price your artwork, always have room to come down in price but still make a profit. Don’t discount your art to the point you take a loss.
  • Don’t run sales so often that your following becomes desensitized to your art being discounted. I personally don’t run a sale more than once a month.
  • Create discounts and sales campaigns that have an expiration date. You want to create a sense of urgency in your customer.
  • Try different types of discounts and promos to see what your customers respond to most: Buy one get one, certain percent off all orders, free shipping, percent off orders over a specified amount, etc..
  • Hype the sale. Make it sound exciting. Michaels always sucks me in with canvas sales, because I’m afraid of missing out on an awesome deal. Think about how your favorite companies pull you in and mimic what they do.
6. Have a plan for shipping.

Calculating, charging, and arranging items for shipment can be a nuisance, but a little research goes a long way.

When preparing to sell your artwork online, I recommend creating a test package with dimensions and weight for each size of art you plan to sell. This way you can input the specs into your preferred carrier’s (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc.) online shipping forms to get an idea of what shipping will cost.

It takes a little bit of research to source the appropriately sized boxes and estimate costs, but it will prevent you from being surprised by shipping charges after making a sale. (Here’s how I ship my work.)

Are you ready to sell your art online?

I hope these six tips have given you a little more direction for starting your online art business. It can take time to build your following and continuously get traffic to your online store, but if you’re an introverted artist like me, it’s worth it.

Please leave questions or comments below while commenting is open, or reach out to me directly through email or Instagram. I’d love to hear from you!

You can also visit my shop to see the way I sell my work, or view my consulting services if you want more guidance.

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers! I have added two new tiers that include discounts to consulting services and one-on-one email support to help you with your art goals.

Further Reading:

You Don’t Have to go to Art School to be an Artist

Once upon a time, (my short art education bio)

I’ve been creating art since I was physically able to grasp a crayon (like every child). All through K-12, I took whatever elective art courses my school offered. During non-art classes, I drew on all of my notes. At home, I doodled for fun.

I went to college for art. Well, not at first. I started my freshman year of college in 2008 with a declared major in Biochemistry at the University of Minnesota (because why on Earth would I want to be an artist when the economy was in the sh*tter?!). One semester and a nervous breakdown later, I switched to a state college and decided to pursue art as my major. Because art makes me happy and some schools are needlessly expensive.

Three more semesters and an identity crisis later, I switched my major to creative writing, thanks to the art program pissing me off. Annnnd, two semesters and a major breakup later, I quit school for a year and came back with a desire to pursue psychology as a major. (There are many reasons why I chose the name “messy ever after”. My personal life was a big factor.)

During my last year of classes, desperate to stop my academic indecision, my school let me build a bachelor’s program that argued art, psychology, and creative writing were an educational trifecta, and I should be given a Bachelor’s of Elective Studies.

Now to the actual point of this post

How an art specific program or school can be a total waste of your money and energy.

When I switched my major from art to creative writing, it wasn’t because I didn’t want to do art anymore. I’ve always wanted to make art. Even when I run from it, it just keeps pulling me back in. I left the art program, because I wasn’t getting what I wanted from my education.

I declared an art major to learn art techniques, to better my skills, and to become more technically proficient. Sadly, that was only about 50% of what I paid for.

When I took my first 3D design course in college, I was expecting to work with traditional materials and do figure studies or learn how to use tools for classic sculpting. (Think, Bernini) Instead, we were given pink rigid insulation and cardboard and given an assignment to make “conceptual” art. I didn’t want to make conceptual art. I wanted to be taught art techniques. “Conceptual” art isn’t a technique. It’s a way of thinking.

By the end of my third semester majoring in art classes, I wanted to scream every time someone said “conceptual” art. I know, I know. I’m an abstract artist that doesn’t work with tangible subject matter most of the time so my art is a bit conceptual, but that’s not the point. The point is that art schools don’t necessarily focus on teaching you art skills. They focus on teaching you how to THINK like an artist.

Though, not just any artist. They teach you how to think like an artist that would fit in with the higher echelon of the current art genres. Like Damien Hirst, Banksy, Jeff Koons.  It felt very, “make ‘x’ kind of art to make it as an artist”. I didn’t want to do that kind of art. I wanted to do my art.

There are many many types of artists in the world. There isn’t a mold that we need to fit into, but educational institutions can’t help but create a mold, standardize it, and then shove all the students into it. It’s the American way. I, being incredibly stubborn, was pissed off all the time when making art for some of the classes I took. I wasn’t proud of the end products, and I was being told the art that I wanted to make wasn’t actually ‘art’.

Granted, I had a few instructors that were phenomenal and didn’t force their opinions of art onto the students. They gave assignments that left enough room for the students to explore their unique vision. I liked them. These were the very specific classes like Drawing 101+, Painting 101+, etc.. They did in fact focus on the specific techniques I was hoping to learn. Unfortunately, if I wanted to graduate with an art degree I would have had to continue slogging through the bullsh*t courses geared towards conceptual “high” art and abstract thinking. No thank you.

Things I learned and loathed in Art School:

  1. You can’t be a fine artist if your art doesn’t make people think.
  2. If you just want to draw or paint “pretty” things, you are not a fine artist, you are a “crafter”.
  3. Your art can lack technical skill, but if the ‘concept’ is intriguing and fresh, you can make millions.
  4. State colleges often employ adjunct art instructors who also work at the expensive art schools, because the education system sucks at paying instructors a livable income. (So, a fancy art school can literally give you the same art education as a cheap state college.)

I didn’t like what I learned while enrolled in an art program. I wanted to make pretty things. I wanted to make art that was pleasant to look at. I didn’t want to make art that elicited a visceral and unpleasant reaction from the audience. I didn’t want to have to explain why my art was meaningful. I just wanted to make my art and work on my technical skills. Thus, I switched to creative writing and worked on art in my own time.

I’m going to keep saying it, but you don’t need to go to an art school to become an artist. In fact, you might actually become your best artistic self by avoiding the institutionalized mold a school will shove you into. There is value in college courses that focus on technique, but I am wary of people telling me the “right” way to think. Yes, thinking conceptually and abstractly is a really important skill, BUT it’s not the only way to make art.

It’s not about where you received your instruction. It’s about the hours you’ve dedicated to practice.

To become a technically proficient artist, you don’t need the best instructors, expensive supplies, or a fancy degree. You need time, patience, and the ability to push past your work that ‘sucks’. Yes, some people are born with a little more natural skill than others, but all artists have to practice. We don’t just magically become a skilled artist. You can’t avoid all of the ugly practice.

Whether self-taught or art school graduate, if you put in the hours, your source of education doesn’t matter.

Again, you don’t have to go to art school.

In fact, I encourage you not to. For one, you’re going to have a degree that means nothing to most employers. If you want to be an artist, you may eventually be self employed so does the degree really mean anything?

Two, liberal arts education tends to be wildly overpriced when compared to the income you’ll make after graduation. Please, please, please avoid graduating college with over $40k of debt and a liberal arts degree. This shouldn’t be the norm.

Three, the art school mold. Do you want to be taught how to think like a modern artist, or do you want to be taught art skills to make YOUR art? New art genres aren’t taught in school. They are pioneered by the artists that do their own thing after learning the basics.

Four, artists gain inspiration from the world around them. Going to college for something unrelated to art can actually inform the art you produce. When I chose to focus on psychology, I was more inspired to create. Take in as much information as you can in a variety of subjects that intrigue you.

You still need an arts education.

You just don’t have to get it from a school. I am thankful for all of the exposure to the arts I’ve had through my life, but art teachers cannot make you a great artist. That’s all up to you.

For example, in drawing classes, your instructor will likely spend 10 to 15 minutes giving you a lesson on basic art techniques and then give you an assignment to practice those techniques. You’ll spend the next hour or more of your class doing the work. Then you may get another 5 to 10 minutes of corrective advice from the instructor. After class is over, you’re expected to spend additional hours working on those techniques. You have to put in the work.

You can easily watch a YouTube video with the same instructions and then learn how to self-correct by stepping back from your work. For free. It doesn’t matter what your source of education is to be an artist. What matters is how much time you’ve put into your art.

When you DO need an art degree.

Should you have a desire to be an art instructor in K-12 or universities. You need a degree. Depending on your goals with art, you may actually need that expensive piece of paper in order to get hired by an employer or seek post-graduate degrees. Plan accordingly.

But again, to be an artist, display in galleries, sell your own work, do freelance graphic design work etc. you do not need to go to art school or have a degree in art. Most of the time, you just need to prove you know what you’re doing.

***

Every artist is different, and maybe you will thrive in an art school. Maybe your instructors will inspire you instead of pissing you off. I will say that education in general has value. Never stop learning.

All I want you to get from this is that you don’t need art school or an art degree to be an artist. Anyone can be an artist. You don’t need permission to learn or create. You don’t have to spend a bunch of money, and you don’t have to create what someone tells you to create. Make the art that you want. You don’t have to fit into a mold.

If you are looking to learn more about art techniques, I’ve put together a list of resources to learn for free or for cheap here.

But what do you think? Do you need an art degree? If you already went to art school, what was your experience? As always, leave me your thoughts in the comments while they are open. Or reach out to me directly through Instagram (@messyeverafter). I love hearing from you!

Now, go make some art!

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers!

Further Reading:

9 Ways to Learn How to Create Art Without Going to Art School

You don’t need to spend a bunch of money to learn how to create art.

In fact, you can learn for free! I am a lifelong learner, and I am always trying to find cheap ways to be a better artist. I have explored many options to learn how to create the art I want, and I want to share those options with you.

I have put together a list of resources for you to increase you abilities without enrolling in an art program (because honestly, an art degree is a horrible investment for most of us).

1. YouTube

I LOVE YouTube.

You can find anything on you want and plenty you don’t want on YouTube. I have spent a lot of time browsing tutorial videos for everything in my life. Hair styles, makeup, recipes, home improvement, fashion, health, and a crap-ton of art videos.  It’s free!

You can search for how to draw. How to paint. Drawing basics. Fluid art. Watercolors. Oil paints. Whatever you want! YouTube probably has it. If one video sucks, find another. There are plenty to choose from.

When I started to learn more about watercolors this was one of the first videos I watched. You can find really high quality tutorials. Start there.

2. Skillshare

Although Skillshare isn’t free, it isn’t expensive either. This is a subscription service with great tutorial videos. You can learn from independent artists from a wide variety of disciplines. Skillshare contains more than art classes, so a subscription could help you in many ways.

Browse art classes here.

3. Drawspace

Drawspace is similar to Skillshare, but is tailored to artists. It has free options as well as membership options for courses.

Explore lessons from Drawspace here.

4. Artyfactory.com

If you like step by step written instructions while you learn, check out Arty Factory for a variety of art lessons. In my opinion, it’s not as convenient as the video tutorials from the first three options, but it’s another way to learn and it’s free.

You can also purchase art technique books with similar written instructions. They are great resources. I personally own this one (affiliate link) for figure drawing  and I had a lot of fun as a teen working through it. 

5. Nature and the world around you.

Old school. I know.

I first starting learning how to draw from observation by studying my pet parakeets and cockatiels as a kid. I wasn’t taking lessons. I would just sit, stare, draw, stare, sit some more, draw, erase, stare, draw, stand back, evaluate, draw some more. Nature can be one of the best teachers. Pick something, observe it, put pencil to paper.

It takes a long time to be able to draw things just from your head. Using reference photos or drawing something right in front of you is the best way to work on your skills. Otherwise, how will you know what to correct if you don’t have something to compare it to?

The best thing about this option is that it doesn’t require electricity, the internet, OR money.

For those who like having a teacher:

I know not everyone enjoys self-guided learning. If you are the type of person that craves classroom settings the next few options are for you.

6. Community Education

If you live in a decent sized city, chances are good you have access to community education classes for art. These classes are often very affordable and are taught by local artists in the community.

Check out your city’s local government or school websites to find details. A quick google search for “(city name) community education” works well.

7. Community College Courses

You don’t necessarily need to enroll in an art program or pursue an art degree to take art classes at local colleges. You can simply choose a class that looks interesting and enroll. Intro drawing and painting classes give you an excellent base knowledge of tools and techniques that you’ll use for many years.

Community colleges are usually more affordable than Universities, and some even have discounts for non-traditional learners.

8. Workshops at Art and Craft Stores

Some arts and crafts supplies stores will host classes and workshops for artists and crafters. The focus of the classes will likely be on specific products they want you to buy, but you’ll get to play with supplies and have fun. Though, this isn’t the best option if you want to sit down and learn traditional art techniques.

9. Painting Parties

If you just want to have some fun with art for a night, local painting parties are pretty great. I have attended and instructed painting parties. If you are a beginner, you’ll learn how acrylic paint behaves and get step by step guidance to start and finish a piece of art.

It’s laid back, and you don’t need to invest in any supplies to get started, or have ANY experience with art. Also–you get food and drinks 🙂

***

I hope this list has been helpful! I want to make sure you know, you don’t have to go to art school or spend a bunch of money to be an artist or play with art supplies. Art is for everyone.

So, what’s your favorite way to learn? Do you like to work on your own, or do you prefer the classroom setting? Leave a comment below or reach out to me directly on Instagram. I love hearing from you!

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers!

Further Reading:

You Don’t Have to go to Art School to be an Artist

How to Get Started as an Artist

Art Thieves: Stop Stealing Digital Content

*This rant has been brought to you by too much coffee, and the desire to yell at someone on the internet. I don’t actually expect art thieves to read this and suddenly change their behaviors, but it sure does feel good to vent.

To Artists,

Sometimes the content we produce to promote our art and our businesses gets stolen and posted online without permission or credit to us. Any artist knows, it’s hard to carve out a place in the art world. The internet has made it easier to connect directly to our audience, but it has also brought our work closer to thieves.

It’s really frickin’ annoying when you see your content online without credit to you. I could write a post about how to safeguard yourself against art theft (ugh, watermarks), but I’m getting a little tired of the practice of only teaching victims how to protect themselves rather than teaching other people not to be a**holes.

So this is for the a**holes.

To the turd who stole my digital content,

You stole my art. Not cool.

But, I get it. The internet is fast paced, and maybe you don’t actually have any skill of your own to share. Any online presence you’re trying to build is likely going to take a butt-ton of content that you can’t produce on your own. What do you do? You turn to other creators and snipe their videos and photos.

It’s just an image, right? Or a video here and there. No biggy. Followers start coming in. You get compliments. Everything is great.

Who’s going to notice you are lying?

I promise. People will notice.

The art world is small.

Just this morning, I got a message from one of my followers with a link to one of my videos that was stolen. This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten a message like this and it won’t be the last. See, as an artist grows, it’s harder and harder to get away with taking their content.

Sure, if you can steal from the little guys you can get away with it for a while, but that’s a dick move. Never step on the little guys to boost yourself up. Have some class.

Your lack of skill is showing.

Let’s say someone was really interested in purchasing the piece pictured in the photo you stole. They message you. What do you say?

Or, maybe you aren’t aware that artists develop a distinct style over time and you post all sorts of different content. Any actual artist will be able to look at your content and see the disconnect.

Annnd then you get called out.

Let’s not forget what you’re doing is illegal.

I would like to live in a world where we don’t have to involve lawyers to protect our creative property, but because of people like you I can’t get my way.

There is a little something called “Copyright Law”. I don’t know what it’s like in other countries, but in the United States it’s kind of a big deal. Artists have ownership of what they create. Including the photographs and videos they make.

The stolen content you posted can be flagged, reported, taken down, etc.. Your accounts can even be deactivated. If you continue to be an a**hole and piss off an artist who has a good lawyer, legal action can be taken.

Maybe just don’t steal stuff, k?

What’s the point of Stealing?

Money and attention without working for it, right? Cool. Good for you. Enjoy inflating your ego and profiting off of the work of others. But, also enjoy being universally hated by all creative professionals.

Again, I get it. Stealing stuff is a hustle just like creating art. We are all just trying to make it in this world. Some of us just have a little more integrity and aren’t too lazy to put in the work.

What you could do instead:

Here’s a wild idea. How about you just credit the artists? There are many successful online brands and accounts that profit off of actually helping other artists instead of just stealing their content.

As an artist, I can say I love when other people share my work. If you repost one of my videos on Instagram and include @messyeverafter in the caption, you are my best friend. You get to build your profile with entertaining content AND you helped give an artist more exposure.

Everyone is happy. No Copyright laws have been broken. Everyone wins. Whoa, right?

What have we learned today?
  1. Don’t steal.
  2. People will eventually catch you.
  3. Share artwork. Don’t steal it.
  4. Credit your artists. Always.
  5. Don’t be an a**hole.

kthxbye.

-Kelly

***

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers!

Further Reading:

How to be a Better Professional in the Art World

8 Things You’ll Hear as an Artist

 

5 Ways to Combat Creative Burnout

Creative Burnout is real.

Your passion can exhaust you

I started the new year by making goals for myself as an artist for 2019. I accomplished way more than I thought I would in 2018, so it was time to sit down and get ready to hustle for another 365 days. I woke up on January 1st with a plan. I had goals to reach for. I had tasks outlined to get me there. I had a dream. I also had a brand new box of paints and canvases from Dick Blick. Everything is perfect, puppy dogs and rainbows.

Carpe Diem, right?

Well not so much. In the spirit of being a fully transparent artist on the internet, I have this to say:

F*ck seizing the day. I hate art right now.

Welcome to Creative Burnout

Every artist will experience creative burnout. This isn’t my first time and it will not be my last. I’m being dramatic of course. I don’t actually hate art. I just don’t want to see it, think about it, touch it, or push myself to create.

I’ve been ignoring everything on my to-do list except for the high priority items. My brain wants to run from anything and everything art related.

When you create professionally, there is a tightrope like balance between optimizing your creativity for a business and preserving your love for what you do. A lot of artists don’t want to put a burden on their creativity to make it produce an income. This was why I avoided the thought of being an artist when I was in high school (that and the fact that I graduated during the 2008 recession). Pursuing a creative career will always introduce a pressure to create that is mostly absent in the hobbyists experience.

Sometimes that pressure can be beneficial. Sometimes that pressure can be paralyzing. It depends on who you are, and how diligent you are with recharging your creative battery. For me at the moment, that pressure apparently manifested into a desire to do anything else besides art. Anything.

Burnout is not procrastination or laziness

Now of course there is a difference between procrastination/laziness and creative burnout. This isn’t the same as trying to go to the gym when you just don’t feel like moving from the couch. This is like trying to go to the gym, but the thought of even stepping on a treadmill makes you want to scream while you cut up all of your sports bras and then cry in a corner.

When you’re lazy or procrastinating, you need to push harder to access the energy you already have to give.

Burnout is not laziness.

Don’t make me create. I will snap that paint brush and light it on fire.

Creative burnout is when you do not have the energy to give to your craft no matter how much you push or try to focus. Everything you touch sucks. Your inner critic is set to “ruthless”. Your creative tank is empty. You have nothing left to give.

It’s a really unpleasant feeling. It would be nice if we could be productive and creative all the time, but it just doesn’t work that way.  Though, since I still have an obsessive need to be productive, I’ve come up with some tips and advice for treating and preventing creative burnout.

Hopefully you won’t need this list…

1. Don’t force it.

Walk away from your creative tasks and do something else.

Want to know what I did yesterday? I willingly and enthusiastically chose to shave my dog’s matted butt hair, trim his crazy long toe tufts, and then take a trip to the nearest self-serve dog washing station to give him a thorough scrubbing with blueberry scented shampoo. I woke up and thought I can work on the three paintings I started in the studio OR I can get covered from head to toe in dog hair and soapy water.

I’d rather be covered in dog hair right now.

When you try to force the creative process, it can make the burnout even worse. Walk away and do something menial. Spend time with friends. Call your Mom. Shave your dog’s butt dreads off. Organize your underwear drawer. Clean the whole house. Fold all of the towels in the bathroom like sushi rolls.

Menial tasks help to shift your attention to recharge.

2. Feed your brain a variety of information.

In order to create, you need to take in stimuli from the outside world. You need input for output. If you spend too much time creating, and not enough time feeding your brain, you’re going to run out of steam.

When you have exhausted your creativity, focus your attention in a different area. Consume outside information. Read a new book. Watch YouTube videos. Cook a new recipe. Go to a museum. Learn a new hobby. Take a community education class.

Your brain needs more fuel in order to create a creative product. Feed it. Why do you think I write blog posts and nerd out on spreadsheets to track my social media growth? It’s a different way to stimulate my brain.

3. Stay aligned with your passion and purpose.

I made a mistake by starting my year thinking about the income I could make.  I should have instead started my year thinking about the art I want to make. I immediately put more pressure on my work by telling myself it needed to be financially productive.

Yes, I need to make money from this, but if I just wanted money I would be working for someone else. That’s a whole lot easier than being a professional artist. If you are a creative person, passion should come first.  Creativity is often fragile. The more you force it, the further away it gets.

Creativity + pressure to make money + real world burdens + bills to pay = “Why am I doing this? My work sucks. I’m going to fail. Oh sh*t.” 

If you want to make art, then think about making art. Priority number one. Make art to make art. Don’t make art to make money.

4. Say no.

If you are experiencing burnout, prune your to-do list and learn how to say ‘no’ to new things until you have the energy to give again. Focus on your high priority tasks and let the rest get put on the back burner for a bit.

You have a choice in everything in your life. I don’t have to write a new blog post. I don’t have to post on Instagram. I don’t have to create a new painting. I want to. These are all choices that I make. Which means, I can take a break and focus on my mental regeneration when I need to.

Giving yourself the power to say ‘no’ and to prioritize what really matters in life will help you overcome and avoid creative burnout.

5. Carve out creative downtime in your schedule.

You can’t be productive all the time. You just can’t. All creative people go through cycles that involve doing nothing, consuming outside information, idea incubation, and actually creating. You have to see it as a process and work this into your life.

If you try to force yourself to be productive and create all the time, this will almost always lead to burnout. (Hello, my name is Kelly and I’m apparently terrible at taking my own advice.)

Build your life around your creative cycles. Expect and plan for the downtime you need to keep you from burning out. Whether that means planning a few large projects a year, or only scheduling creative tasks a month in advance. Do what works for you.

Your creative self will thank you.

***

Instead of starting my New Year with a bang, it has come in with a fizzle and a whole bunch of Netflix. But, you know what? That’s okay. I’ve planned for moments like this. Even though I ignored my own advice at first and found myself in this burned out state, I can feel my energy begin to return. Maybe, just maybe you’ll find me in the studio today.

How about you? Have you experienced creative burnout? What did you do to get over it? I’d love to hear from you. You can leave a comment below while commenting is open, or reach out to me directly through email or Instagram.

Thanks for reading and make sure to checkout all my other posts!

-Kelly

P.S. If you enjoy my blogs and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep doing what I do. Plus, you get extra little perks like phone wallpapers!

Further Reading: 

How to Make Art a Habit and Stop Waiting for Inspiration to Create

8 Thoughts You’ll Have as an Artist

Are You Forcing Yourself into an Art Business Before You’re Ready?