From a Fellow Artist
Making money from art sales is HARD. Let me just vent for a hot second…
I just had my worst month for sales since October of last year. I went from three online sales a week on average, to two sales for the entire month of April. The worst part was that March happened to be the best month I have ever had in my entire life as a working adult…and then crickets.
I wanted to cry a little bit. I wondered if people were finally tired of my art and if they were done with me. I did a little bit of wallowing in self-pity. I frequently thought, “It’s official. I’m failing.” Even though I was still doing all of the things that were working for me for the past 5 months.
Then I shifted my perspective.
Maybe it was just a slow month. Usually, people get their tax returns in February and March so they are eager and willing to spend cash. For those who owe money, taxes are due in April. Plus the season is changing which means people are most likely spending money on making their yards pretty or taking trips and not focusing on their walls.
Any retail business owner knows that sales fluctuate through the year. Why would things be any different for a professional artist?
I would have been incredibly excited about making two sales in one month this time last year. When your sales increase, regardless if it was from zero sales to one sale or ten sales to 100 sales, it’s something to celebrate. But, when your sales decrease—it’s hard not to internalize it as a personal failure.
I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t do that! At least, not immediately.
Before you throw a pity party about not making art sales, think about these points:
Human behavior is hard to predict.
I thought January would be a slow month after the holidays, but I somehow beat December for sales. I thought having a larger Instagram following would help keep sales consistent, but my income each month is still unpredictable.
I can’t predict what others are going to do. I can only control what I do. If I know I’m putting in the effort to produce new work, research new ways to market myself, and continue to put my work out there, then maybe I just need patience.
Sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re working hard for nothing, but keep going!
Creative endeavors rarely pay off immediately. Authors spend months, even years writing a book and then possibly spend years after that to get it published. Creative people labor over their creations without certainty that anything is going to happen once finished.
As an artist, you invest countless hours into your work, and then you may have to spend even more time building your following and gaining exposure before you see results–and even then there is no guarantee of a payday.
I have had to disconnect my sense of success from making sales. To really enjoy life as an artist, you must find fulfillment in the process, and not the paycheck.
Creative income through art sales is a gamble. If you want financial stability and consistency, you shouldn’t quit your day job.
I always have to ask myself why I am pursuing a creative career. If it’s just for the money, my life is going to be filled with disappointment. When I quit my full-time job, I wasn’t expecting to completely replace my income with art sales immediately. I was honestly just hoping to be able to live my life in the most meaningful and enjoyable way possible.
If I needed more money right now, I wouldn’t be an artist. So, when my sales decrease, it’s okay because I’ve built my lifestyle to withstand financial insecurity.
Do yourself a favor and expect the slow times. Squirrel away money in your savings account. Buy art supplies when they are on sale and never at full price. Live frugally and pretend you’re a starving artist even when your sales increase.
You shouldn’t change your style to make art sales.
When my sales slowed down, I immediately wondered if people just didn’t like what I was doing anymore. If I would have followed this thought, it would have given me one option: Change what I’m doing to satisfy other people, and as a consequence, I’d probably lose my direction as an artist.
Here is a better train of thought: I like what I’m doing. I’m going to keep doing it. I will find the right buyers eventually. Since I don’t NEED the money right this moment, I can wait and just keep creating and working on new ways to gain exposure.
Give it time. Maybe this is a mini vacation.
When you struggle to make art sales, take it as an opportunity to try new things. Or plan vacations around the usual down times you experience per year. Obviously, November and December are the best months for sales so be prepared to focus, but some months will inevitably be slow.
Maybe April is my dud month. The only way I will know for sure is to keep doing what I’m doing and track changes over time. As a data junkie, I’m kind of excited to carry on just to be able to watch the numbers.
Is progress happening in other areas?
I’ve been trying to be a more optimistic and positive person for a while now, so I can’t help but take out my mental pen and notepad and start a list of all of the good things that are still happening even though my sales suck.
I challenge you to do the same thing. Have you gained new Instagram followers? Have you perfected a new technique? Have you explored your style more? Have you gotten nice comments from strangers about your work? Did you book any events? Have you discovered more about yourself and your art?
Find all the good things and keep that list in the forefront of your mind. Any progress should be acknowledged and celebrated. Remember that a lack of progress in one area doesn’t negate progress in other areas.
A lack of art sales could be your fault, but don’t accept failure and quit.
Sometimes, it is our fault when we don’t make art sales. Maybe I wasn’t promoting as much. Maybe I stopped updating my store. Maybe my work isn’t polished and professional.
Maybe it is my fault.
Sometimes this is exactly the problem, but that is no excuse to give up. I failed a bunch when I first started selling my work years ago, but I took each failure and figured out how to improve. If you consistently aren’t making sales, then keep researching and trying new things until something works.
Lastly, believe in yourself.
I have to remind myself all the time that questioning whether I have the ability to succeed doesn’t do any good. Allowing yourself to feel like a failure without productively trying to find a solution is just going to hold you back.
When I wasn’t making any sales at the beginning of 2017, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was just because I couldn’t do it. Should I just accept that I’m not ever going to be able to reach my goals? No. I wasted so much time on this train of thought.
Stay focused on your passion. Get in your studio and get messy. If you love what you do, then don’t let anything stand in the way of it. Especially yourself.
I hope this has been helpful to my fellow artists who might be experiencing a discouraging number of sales. It’s part of the process! Keep creating and doing what you love. Even if you don’t make money doing it, at least you’ll know your time was well spent.
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P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.