Guest blogger Doug Hoppes speaks from the heart about family support and the realities of selling your art.
Friends and family. You gotta love them. If they are truly there for you, they’ll say lots of kind things about you and your artwork. I remember, when I was starting out, a lot of my friends and family “ooooh”-ed and “awe”-ed about my paintings and drawings. They talked about how talented I was and I was totally going to make it as an artist. I believed them. I was thinking… yeah, my work is pretty original. Nobody is doing anything like I do and it’s just as good as a lot of professional work that I’ve seen. I’ve got this in the bag.
The problem about friends and family is that, for the most part, they aren’t giving you actual money for your work. As they say, talk is cheap. They want you to feel good and be happy. They don’t want to tell you that the figure drawing that you did looks like some sort of deformed alien. Or that the house that you painted is seriously leaning to the side and the colors are really garish. They want to support you in your endeavors.
So, you sign up for some local art fairs (I did), look around at all of the other vendors and think… hmmmm… hopefully, you brought enough stuff. Well, you could always raise your rates as the inventory gets lower. These were the things that went through my mind the first time I started showing my work to the public.
Well, that was eye-opening. The customers came and, guess what… they said that your work is lovely and that you are really talented. However, they also walk out of your booth without purchasing anything. At the end of the weekend, you may have sold a couple of small items but nothing to make up for the booth fee. So, what went wrong?
Simple…. you believed people who had nothing to lose by telling you that they love your work. Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s important for your moral support that you listen to them. You need that “ooomph” to get you over hurdles when you are struggling. You need that feeling that there are others who believe you can make it. However, that’s as far as it should go. When you are starting a business where you plan on selling your work, you have to have a plan that actually gets people buying your work.
So, after the first couple of shows where I wasn’t selling, I stepped back. I took a look at what was selling and what wasn’t. I realized that I had pen/ink birds, watercolor buildings, watercolor abstracts, watercolor landscapes, oil pastel abstracts, pencil portraits. I was all over the place. So, I stepped back and realized that people were buying my pen/ink birds and watercolor landscapes. Nothing else.
So, the next set of shows, I just sold those. Things were getting better. I was improving my watercolor paintings and my drawings of birds. Okay! Got it! I made it…. now I know what to sell. Well… not so fast…. I was making booth fees at the really small shows but was losing money at the larger shows. I have to do better! So, I studied the shows (I had just started painting in oils) and realized that a lot of the landscape oil painters were doing well…. but their work was light years ahead of mine.
As the shows got bigger and bigger and the competition got stronger, I was still chasing that idea that my friends and family said that I was going to be a great artist. Nowadays, I realized I was chasing the wrong ideal. Today, I paint for myself and I find the market that will fit my landscape oil paintings. I realize that, if I want to sell my paintings, no matter what my friends and family say, the person with the final say will be the customer that hands me their hard-earned money for my vision. A vision that is expertly painted and speaks to them.
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