Creative Insights: Quinn McDonald

Do You Really Want a Business Career in Art?

Almost every client in my creativity coaching practice wants to turn art into a full-time career. It feels validating, making a living from the thing you love doing.

Before you write “artist” in the line called “occupation” on your tax form, ask yourself this powerful question: Do you really want an art business? The pertinent word here is business. Not everyone who loves working with papers, art stamps, inks and thread automatically loves spreadsheets, business plans and marketing. An art business is not for everyone. Instead of turning to your studio for stress-relief and creative fulfillment, you may actually add stress to your life by having to manage your art business in addition to your family responsibilities.

Unfortunately, our culture applauds success but measures success in dollars. Hobbies are vaguely suspect unless they make a profit. Share a card you made, and you are likely to hear, “How much can you sell that for?”

Your first job as an artist is to make meaning. Dollars are not an automatic by-product of art, although there are rich artists. You are an artist if you leave your studio understanding yourself and your purpose in life, not if you sell your work for enormous profit. Freedom from placing a price tag on your art is precious. It’s guaranteed in our constitution as a “pursuit of happiness,” and you should pursue it to your heart’s content.

What if you feel compelled to sell what you create? Great. Wanting to test your talent is fine. But starting a business is one thing; turning an idea into a moneymaker that provides an income is another matter entirely. Let’s look at four facts to face if you want to make money with your art.

1. Time making art is shared with time developing your business. Writing a business plan, creating a budget, monitoring all incoming and outgoing money is as important as time making art. Computer software has made recordkeeping easier, but managing a business takes time. And time is not something we make, time is something we save.

2. Be ready to promote yourself and market your work. No one will discover you magically. To get yourself noticed, written about and your product mentioned you will have to develop press kits and videos, send emails and make phone calls to galleries, stores and potential clients. In the beginning, you will spend the majority of your time marketing yourself and little time making art. You will always market yourself to gain new clients.

3. Selling your work depends on developing new skills, including salesmanship. Artists often shy away from selling because they fear rejection. Experienced artists distance themselves from comments about their work while listening for clues about appeal, practicality and client-need satisfaction. It is a skill that improves with practice.

4. Time making art will become time making art that sells. This can be both satisfying and frustrating. Instead of making whatever you want, you’ll be making what the public wants. That’s a struggle you will manage, rather than win.

The business of art is an exciting, ever-changing experience. Great satisfaction lies in turning your art into a business. The mystic Nasiruddin said, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” Running a business allows you to learn, fail, and thrive every day. It’s truly a both sides of the brain career.

Read Quinn’s Contributing Editor Profile here.

Listen to a podcast with Quinn and Ricë Freeman-Zachery here.

Learn more about Quinn’s upcoming book Raw Art Journaling here.


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2 Responses to Creative Insights: Quinn McDonald

  1. Timaree says:

    I give most of my handmade articles as gifts and it sure is true that when presented an artist will hear something about how much money could be made selling the card, gift or whatever!

  2. tdavenport says:

    Yes, hearing positive feedback from others that you present gifts to, certainly is enough to make you stop and ponder the possibilities.