My Biggest Mistakes As An Artist
While I love sharing the successes I have achieved as an artist, it is often a lot more useful and interesting to share my mistakes! Especially if they can save you from making the same ones, and I hope these are helpful to you and your business.
- I didn't start an email list in the beginning. While it is never too late to start building an email list, I didn't do this for the first couple of years of being in business, so left a lot of money on the table here. Why? Because customers who have already bought from you are much more likely to buy again. While I collected email addresses from the people who bought my paintings, they were often on scraps of paper, soon to be discarded after they had been added to my gmail, and I never contacted them again. Once I set up my Wix website, I started my first email list and added new customers to it (with their permission of course). While my list is not huge, I have a couple of hundred people I now send a newsletter to every two weeks with new images of my work. This has lead to a lot more sales.
- I made it hard for people to buy from me! I often forgot to ask for the sale, providing no details on how people could buy if they were interested in a piece. This may have been due to a lack of confidence in the beginning, and an overcomplicated website perhaps. If I post a new painting on social media now, I make sure people know if it is available to purchase and how they can contact me to find out more.
- I sent my work (via email!) to all the galleries in my area. Rather than researching which galleries were a good fit for my work, I contacted them all soon after I'd just started, and sent them images of my work via email. This was a mistake for a couple of reasons. First, it was way too early and my work needed to develop a whole lot more before I was ready to show it in a gallery. Second, it is always better to go and introduce yourself in person, if you are able to do so. It creates a much better first impression, and it is also best practice to make an appointment beforehand.
- I posted sub-standard photos of my work. While I did the best I could with what I had at the time, looking back on some of the earlier images of my work makes me cringe! I hadn't yet learnt photo-editing and how best to present my work. However, I am not too hard on myself for this one as I didn't have these skills yet.
- I said yes to everything. It is very hard in the beginning not to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. While there is an initial period when I feel like this is the right thing to do, it is important to focus and ask yourself how it will help your business move forward in the direction you want it to go, and is it in alignment to you as an artist. I got pulled in a few different directions at first, and while they were interesting experiences, I quickly learned what I didn't want to do alongside how I wanted to spend my time. I enjoy teaching, however it does drain my energy and isn't my absolute passion, so I choose my teaching opportunities carefully nowadays. I also took part in all sorts of markets and fairs, some paid off but others weren't right for me or my work. I am much more choosy about how I spend my time these days!
- I didn't invest in myself or my materials. Investing earlier in my education around learning certain business skills would have got me further, faster. It's hard when you start as there isn't a lot of money, and it's tricky to know where to best spend it. I skimped on art materials in the beginning and slowly upgraded to better quality materials once my work started selling. I believe it is worth getting the best you can afford, as it shows you are serious about your work and want to be seen as a professional artist. I am still upgrading all the time and recently invested in some beautiful (yet expensive!) linen canvases which were twice as much as I usually pay, but I believe in myself and want to keep improving. I am also now part of several business memberships and this has helped my business more than anything, along with having the support of fellow business owners. My best advice is to never stop learning or improving.
- I tried to do too much, too soon. I quickly got overwhelmed by trying to build a website, start a blog, post on social media as well as create and sell my work. Pick one thing and do that. Decide on a focus for the month, such as getting your website up to scratch (it doesn't need to be perfect), and concentrate on that. Don't try and do all the things at once, it leads to burnout and takes the joy out of creating a business you love.
- I didn't keep records of what I was producing. Not everything I made was worthy of recording and archiving, but there were still some key pieces I wish I'd written more about at the time, and created records for. I try and do this for all notable pieces now, by creating a folder with images of different sizes and meta data (descriptions, size, medium, if it sold and who to). Artwork Archive is a great tool for storing this information, however, it's good to have it on your computer as well.
Saying the above, there are a lot of things I have done well and I now have a successful art business! However, the mistakes are just part of the learning process and by sharing them, I can give you a few clues on what to avoid yourself.
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