Annual Report: Year Three of Self-Employment

My last day as someone else’s employee was just over three years ago – March 31, 2016.

You can read the long story about why I quit here.

I reported in after the first year and again last year. I’m doing it again for year three because, well, I need to know whether this being an artist thing is working. And a lot of you want to know whether it’s working and artists a few steps behind me want to know whether they can do it.

It’s working. You can do it. And it’s not easy.

I am thankful every day for each one of you – whether you simply take a few seconds to comment on an Instagram post, show up at one of my events, hang my postcards on your fridge or buy multiple paintings per year, I couldn’t do it without you. So, in a shareholder-type way, I feel I owe you this annual report.

Here’s what’s up…

All numbers are April 2018-March 2019.

Business stats

  • Revenue growth: 8%. In year two my year-over-year growth was almost 100% -- I feel like I was still getting up to speed then, so perhaps maintaining and then some is something to be happy about for this past year.

  • Paintings sold: 91 + 30 daily paintings on paper. Last year I sold 104; I sold 78 in my first year of self-employment and 18 during the year leading up to quitting my job.

  • Clients that bought more than one painting during the year: 10

  • Repeat customers from previous years: 10

  • Commissions completed: 13 (I did more than 30 the year before, which wore me out. I decided to not take commissions for much of last year.)

  • Shows and events: 10

  • Studio visits hosted: 9

  • Employee’s names I know at my closest USPS: 5

  • Hours I’ve spent loading paintings in and out of the truck: Wait, this isn’t all I do?

  • Wholesale accounts: 2

  • Additional stores carrying my work in Wichita: 1

  • Instagram follower growth: Um, lots – I think close to 400%

  • Months-long professional development classes taken: 2

  • Website visitor growth: 45%

  • Email list growth: 47%

  • TV appearances: 2, both on Wichita’s ABC affiliate’s morning show; here and here.

  • Speaking engagement at the Wichita Art Museum: 1 (!!!!)

  • Solo gallery shows and residencies: 1 (my second!) Read about it here.

  • Donations to charitable organizations: 3

  • Classes taught pro-bono to children: 2

  • Freelance/consulting hours worked: 22. I worked 78 in my second year of self-employment and 428 in my first year; my original plan was to freelance half-time, but being an artist has gone better than forecasted.

Life stats

If you read the long story of why I quit my job, you know that quality of life was a big reason. Success on all the business metrics is what enables all of the following, which are much more important.

  • Evenings spent not working: Almost all of them. While I love working and could probably work all the time, this is a very intentional decision to support the health and longevity of my marriage.

  • Bunnies and fireflies counted on my evening walks with my husband in the summer: 143

  • Days spent not working and not traveling over Christmas: 7? 10? I don’t know but it was amazing.

  • Week-long trips home to see immediate and extended family: 3. We have to live in Wichita for my husband’s job, so me having flexibility to travel home is significant.

  • Family birthdays I was actually home for: My dad’s, my mom’s, my aunt’s and my nephew’s

  • Duck blinds built with my dad: 2

  • International trips: 1, Spain

  • Additional, short trips with friends: Kansas City, Washington DC area

  • Times we have been to Elderslie Farm (our favorite restaurant in our new home of Wichita) for their monthly tasting menu, a three-hour affair: 4

  • Times I want to go back: Every month (every new menu)

  • Workouts: I haven’t been working out as much as last year, but I work out every other day and more often add a workout than skip one. I’d like to be slightly more active.

  • Meals cooked for friends because we like entertaining: Lots

  • Meals cooked for friends because they needed a helping hand: Lots

  • Times I made this cobbler: Too many. It really is the easiest and absurdly delicious. I add cinnamon and ginger, depending on the fruit.

 

Five myths about buying original art: Why starting your collection is easier than you think

Recently, I took to Instagram stories to discover some of the reasons people don’t buy art that they like (beyond not being able to afford it). As suspected, I uncovered some super interesting misconceptions and hang-ups people have. I’m here to disprove these myths because everyone should have things that make them happy and that bring beauty to their walls.

You need to be a gazillionaire.

Short story: If you have disposable income, you can afford art.

Okay, okay, so art can be quite expensive (of course), but it isn’t always. Depending on the size, and especially if you are buying from an artist early in his or her career, it’s pretty easy to find original art for under $100 and especially for under $500. Look at my collection of small pieces. These ranged from about $50 to $250 each.

Bottom left:  Molly Whalen ,  Erin Spencer , me. Top right:  Erika Lee Sears ,  Polly Jones ,  Sari Shryack , Cuban street artist,  Donna Walker .

Bottom left: Molly Whalen, Erin Spencer, me. Top right: Erika Lee Sears, Polly Jones, Sari Shryack, Cuban street artist, Donna Walker.

I’m not saying $100 isn’t a chunk of change, but there are a lot of things people spend $100, $500 or even $1,000 on without thinking twice. A new phone when your old one still worked just fine. A little shopping spree at the beginning of the season. Dinner and a movie (and movie snacks). A gym membership you’re not using. Going out for lunch every day. A designer purse. New cars every few years. A weekend getaway.

I learned that a lot of people have disposable income, they are just buying other things instead of art. So, can you actually not afford original art, or do you just think you’re not the type of person that can buy it? Are you prioritizing other things and have you evaluated whether your spending aligns with your values?

Certainly, if you are struggling to make ends meet, I am not advocating for buying art over groceries, etc.

You need to have a huge house.

Many people think they don’t have room for art (I understand that some truly don’t), but you don’t need to have a giant house to start your art collection. And even if you want to go big, you might be surprised to realize that you have a couple options for hanging large pieces in your home. The painting below is HUGE – 5’ tall by 4’ wide. See how it fits just fine between my two normal-sized windows in front of my normal-sized table and chairs?

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This painting over the fireplace is five feet wide! Even in our home full of windows, there are several other places we could hang these big pieces.

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You and your significant other need to agree on it.

I’m lucky in that my husband is very creative and is interested in art and design. We have an eclectic collection of art and furniture that we have found and made over the years. So yes, when looking for things for our main living spaces, we look for things we both like. But surely you have at least a little space over which you have sole jurisdiction.

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This map over my dresser is so big that it fits in the “we both need to like it” category, but the little pieces on my dresser? That’s my territory. You might have a desk at home or work. Or perhaps you or your partner have a man cave or a she shed or a large walk-in closet or dressing table where you could display small work.

You need to have interior design know-how.

I don’t know the first thing about interior design. I just know what I like. My husband and I have a range of art in our home. When buying art, you don’t need to worry if a painting is going to look good next to the one other painting you have, because you probably aren’t going to hang them right next to each other! With the exception of my collection of small paintings, our art would not look great hung side by side. But mixed in with our furniture and other décor pieces (blankets and pillows on couches, lamps, coffee table books, vases, flowers, decorative dishes, etc.) it all looks very “us” and tells our story.

This is a limited edition screen print. We love this rapper and went to this concert on our anniversary. We framed it in a cheapo frame from Wal-Mart or something.

This is a limited edition screen print. We love this rapper and went to this concert on our anniversary. We framed it in a cheapo frame from Wal-Mart or something.

I love this colorful  Erin Gregory  giclee print from One Kings Lane, but hope to “upgrade” soon and put a piece of original art here.

I love this colorful Erin Gregory giclee print from One Kings Lane, but hope to “upgrade” soon and put a piece of original art here.

We commissioned this buffalo by  Kasie Sallee  to commemorate our time in Oklahoma.

We commissioned this buffalo by Kasie Sallee to commemorate our time in Oklahoma.

You have to frame it.

Sure most paintings look great in frames, but there is no rule saying you must frame paintings. Many artists will sell their paintings ready to hang on a wall without a frame. Custom framing is rather spendy; if you’re dead set on a frame but can’t handle the additional expense, buy the painting now and frame it sometime later when you have the funds.

*****

So, that’s it! Buying original art isn’t as big of a deal as you might think. What did I miss — what are some other reasons you haven’t purchased art that you like? Does this make the whole thing seem any more approachable? I’d love to hear from you.

Arnold Gallery Residency at STUDIO | SCHOOL

I am honored to have been selected as the first recipient of the Arnold Gallery Residency at STUDIO | SCHOOL in Wichita, Kan.

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STUDIO | SCHOOL, Wichita’s former Metro Boulevard Alternative High School, was purchased and upgraded by Logan Pajunen, who envisioned a space that would bring artists and entrepreneurs together to foster community and collaboration. The building features multiple artists’ studios and a high-end gallery space. The Wichita Eagle covered the school’s reopening with an article and video.

At the beginning of March, STUDIO | SCHOOL and Pajunen welcomed me for the first school’s first residency.

The Arnold Gallery Residency invites artists into the bright, spacious gallery to work, making it a place of active creation. The residency also includes a Final Friday show and reception, as well as the opportunity for the artist to host a talk or critique.

I have spent one week working in the gallery and am completely in love. While I also love my home studio, the gallery at STUDIO | SCHOOL is huge and bright. (See my Instagram videos of the space here.) I have the ability to display and view multiple paintings at once and to view them at a distance. I love the old, wood floors and high ceilings. I also love being around other creative people and leaving my house to go to work.

STUDIO | SCHOOL will host a Final Friday reception for me on Friday, March 29th, from 6 - 10 p.m. You can see the Facebook event for Final Friday here. STUDIO | SCHOOL is located at 751 George Washington Boulevard in Wichita. The residency will continue through mid-April. Please contact me if you would like to come visit.

Who Knew I'd Want to Paint Mountains?

In late October, I traveled to Eastern Oregon to visit my little sister. She lives in a tiny ranch town nestled between rolling hills of hay and craggy, imposing mountains. Despite growing up in Portland, I had never spent any time in the eastern part of the state.

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This was a good trip for a couple reasons: my sister and I don’t get to see each other very often and I really enjoyed my 48 hours with her (and all the Arrowhead Chocolate we ate).

But also, my husband and I expect to move home to the Northwest in about a year and a half. While I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the PNW is more beautiful than Oklahoma and Kansas, I have never been compelled to paint mountains and 1,000 trees.

So while I can’t wait to move home, I’ve had this nagging concern bubbling up about what I will paint when we get there. (Of course, I can continue to paint flat land and big skies, but I’ve found that it doesn’t hurt sales to paint the scenery that your local market knows and loves. Plus, I only paint from my own photos, so I need easy access to views I want to paint.)

CatherineFreshley_Wallowa

I saw a painting everywhere I looked while visiting my sister in Wallowa County. The big sky, the remoteness, the wheat-looking crops felt familiar and the mountains, at turns purple, pink with the rising sun and a deep blue, called my name in a way that surprised me. This unexpected desire to paint these scenes was a relief; it felt like the beginning of a transition toward home after what will be 15 years away, like my artistic sensibilities were “getting ready” and I could trust myself to not let me down.

CatherineFreshley_Wallowa3.jpg

I came right back to Wichita, sorted through my hundreds of photos and immediately covered a dozen canvases with the first coats of paint. The series (which also includes two paintings from the most special place to me – Oysterville, WA) is now very much in-progress. I hope to finish it and make it available to you by the second week of December. I’ll send an email a couple days in advance to let you know the exact date and time that the paintings will be available on my website. Email subscribers will get first dibs.

Annual Report: Year Two of Self-employment

My last day as someone else’s employee was two years ago – March 31, 2016.

You can read the long story about why I quit here.

A year ago, I reported on my first year of self-employment and I’m doing it again. I love numbers and metrics so you better believe I am keeping track of all this for my own nerdy enjoyment, but also, in an annual report-type way, I feel I owe this to you.

Every purchase you make is an investment in my dream. Your purchase conveys that art is a valuable component of our lives and that being an artist is a worthwhile vocation that deserves compensation. It tells me, emotionally, that I should keep going. That’s important because though I love painting and building a business, it’s not easy. But in addition to the touchy feel-y, this exchange of art for money allows me to keep going. I am fortunate that my husband has a great job, but I have always loved making money and not making money is not an option I give myself. If I don’t sell paintings, then I have to go back to working for someone else. Back to helping someone else build their dream. No thanks.

All numbers are April 2017-March 2018.

Business stats:

  • Art revenue growth over the previous year: 98.9%
  • Paintings sold: 105 or more than two per week. I sold 78 in my first year of self-employment and 18 during the year leading up to quitting my job.
  • Calendars sold: More than 100.
  • Calendars gifted: More than 20. These two stats make me especially happy because I worked with a local printer to design and produce them.
  • Cards and prints sold: Lots
  • Clients that bought more than one painting during the year: 9
  • Additional repeat customers from previous years: 6
  • Commissioned paintings completed: 34
  • Minutes spent looking for the end of the tape on a roll of packing tape: 43. I now only buy 3M. It's worth the extra dollars
  • Shows and events: 9
  • Events at which I definitely didn't cover the cost of my time: 3
  • Instagram follower growth: 360%
  • Website visitor growth: 213%
  • Front page features in the Enid News and Eagle: 2 (here and here)
  • Emails I sent to reporters and interior designers that went unacknowledged: Feels like dozens
  • TV appearances: 2
  • Solo gallery shows: 1 (my first!)
  • Five-day plein air painting workshops: 1 (it was amazing; read about it here)
  • Professional sports teams that commissioned a huge painting from me: 1 (Oklahoma City Thunder)
  • Original paintings donated to charitable organizations: 3
  • Additional donations: 3
  • Bad paintings that I painted over: At least 4
  • Words written about how to not be a starving artist (aka free advice for other artists and small business owners): 7,357 (start here with post one)
  • Weekly, hour-long, video status calls with my mom: Every week so far in 2018. She recently quit her job to focus on her multiple artistic interests.
  • Freelance/consulting hours worked: 78. I worked 428 in my first year of self-employment.

Life stats

I quit my job because I can’t not paint. But with a full-time job, I could only paint nights and weekends, which meant that other aspects of my life weren't getting the attention they deserved: my health (eating well, exercising, sleeping) and my relationships with my husband, family and friends. Without hesitation, I would say that my health and my relationships are more important than painting, but it was easier to ignore those than my easel. For that reason, these “life stats” are hugely important to me as a significant indicator of whether this is working.

  • Evenings spent not working: Almost all of them. My husband and I went on a lot of walks after work or after dinner during the last year and spent a lot of evenings in our inflatable hot tub. Yes, that’s a thing and it’s awesome. It allowed us to actually spend time outside in the summer in Oklahoma. Don’t heat it and you have a little pool!
  • Winter Olympics events watched: So many. I’ve never watched so much of the Olympics in my life and it was fantastic.
  • Players I can name on the Portland Trail Blazers' roster this year: 11 AKA I've never been such a good fan
  • Friends’ weddings attended: 3 (Portland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis)
  • Week-long trips home to see immediate and extended family: 2
  • Additional, short trips with friends: Santa Fe, Dallas, Monterey, Carlton Landing, OK, West Tennessee, Oklahoma City
  • Books read twice: 1 – I read and re-read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown because it was so good.
  • Five-workout weeks: This is my new thing and I’m loving it. I’ve been working out five days a week for the past 10-ish weeks. I haven’t worked out that much since the last day of high school track practice in 2005. (Between 2005 and 2017 I probably averaged 3 days per week.)
  • Hours meditated: 15
  • Meals cooked for friends because we like entertaining: Lots
  • Meals cooked for friends because they needed a helping hand: Lots

You guys. You are making this happen for me. I have replaced my income and my quality of life (and my husband's) has vastly improved. "Thank you" doesn't begin to cover it. XOXO

"Beneath Blue Skies" Opens at Wigwam Gallery in Altus, OK

UPDATE: Show extended through March 30.

I am pleased to announce that my show, "Beneath Blue Skies: The Landscapes of Catherine Freshley," curated by Aaron Moses, is now open at NBC Oklahoma's Wigwam Gallery in Altus, Oklahoma.

CatherineFreshley_Wigwam

The show features 15 original paintings of Oklahoma and Kansas, four of which the bank has purchased for its permanent collection during the past two years.

Moses said, "The landscapes of Catherine Freshley succeed in capturing both the appearance of the rural American landscape and the sensation unique to walking or driving in great open spaces."

This is my first solo show at a gallery and I am honored to have this opportunity. The gallery is hosting a reception on Thursday, March 8th at 6:30 p.m. I hope you will join me.

CatherineFreshley_Wigwam1
CatherineFreshley_Wigwam2

Wigwam Gallery is located at 117 W Commerce Street in downtown Altus and open by appointment only, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To schedule a showing, email Moses at amoses@nbcok.com. The show hangs through March 22.

Stillwater Medical commissions six paintings for waiting room

I am pleased to share that I now have six paintings hanging in the waiting room of the new Stillwater Cancer Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

REES, out of Oklahoma City, was the architect and specified my work for the project. I was hired by D&K Art Design, an art consulting firm. I worked with D&K to develop a body of work that would fit the space and their color scheme and, of course, hopefully bring peace and optimism to the center's visitors. Four of the paintings are 36"x36" and two are 40"x40."

CatherineFreshley_StillwaterCancerCenter2
CatherineFreshley_StillwaterCancerCenter1
CatherineFreshley_StillwaterCancerCenter3
CatherineFreshley_wheatinEnid

Stillwater Cancer Center is a division of Stillwater Medical, partnering with Oklahoma Cancer Specialists and Research Institute.

To learn more about my corporate work, click here.

How to Not be a Starving Artist: Part 3 -- Be Professional

In my first post in this series, I outlined three requirements for not being a starving artist. I said you need to be visible, open for business and professional.

As a quick review, being visible means sharing the fact that you are making and trying to sell art. People must know that you and your product exist! Your endeavor needs to be visible to the people that you regularly interact with – friends, family, coworkers (as appropriate), your kids’ friends’ parents, people at church, etc. You also need to be visible online and out in the real world at shows and events.

Being open for business means that you are properly set up from a legal perspective, you have developed your branding, you have determined and are confident in your prices and you are ready to make sales in person and online.

For this post, I have made a list of my top five components of being professional. Of course, I don’t get everything right every time, but this is what I strive for.

1.       Stick to your brand religiously

We talked a lot about branding in the last post. Even if you’re thinking you’re a fine artist and “What does a ‘brand’ have to do with me? That sounds super commercial. I’m not selling out…blah, blah, blah,” branding matters. Your brand is your reputation and what customers and potential customers expect of you, based on every interaction they have had with you, your art and your physical and digital content since they first became aware of you. It matters.

So, once you have defined your brand, you need to honor it.  

You should work toward having a branded version of the following items: website, business cards, stationery, mailing labels, PowerPoint (or other presentation software) template, packaging/shipping and certificates of authenticity.

In addition to visual brand consistency, you’ll want to make sure your art and your behavior is consistent with your brand.

If you paint landscapes in a certain style, like I do, don’t show up at your next event with a bunch of dog portraits collaged out of magazine clippings. Ok, so that is extreme, but I personally wouldn’t even show up with a bunch of beach scenes. That is not what my collectors and fans expect to see from me, and that’s just confusing. You don’t walk into Whole Foods and see a display of Cheetos and Fun Dips. If you did, you would be confused and you would begin to doubt everything Whole Foods has ever told you about who they are, what they sell and the role they want to play in your life.

Important: I am not saying you can never change, just think long and hard about trying to do more than one thing at once (after you’re set on a brand) and when you do want to introduce a new series of work, do so deliberately and with excitement. Take Teil Duncan (a young and wildly successful artist) for example: she releases her work in collections and has painted a range of subject matter. But each collection is only one subject (beach scenes, animals, girls in dresses) and all paintings are in her signature style.

You should also think about the type of products you sell and where you sell them and make sure that these choices are aligned with your brand. If you are a fine artist, do you reproduce your work? As high-quality prints only or also on iPhone cases, mugs and pillows? Do you sell only in galleries or also in coffee shops? Do you go only to fine art festivals or also the church bazaar? There isn’t one right answer, I’m just saying these are all reflections of your brand (reputation) and decisions worth thinking through. And, huge disclaimer, don’t let not having this all nailed down prevent you from starting.

2.       Get your mind right

If you are trying to sell art, you need to feel worthy and you need to be confident. You can’t go out there with work that came out of your heart and soul without guts and feeling like you’re damn worth it. You need to feel like your art is worth buying and that you are worth someone spending their money on.

Now, if you are really just starting out and learning your craft, then I’m not talking to you. If you are confident in your worth as a human being but recognize that you are in a learning phase and that your art is not ready to sell, that’s fine. You are probably right. But that phase can’t last forever.

If this is something you struggle with, there is no shortage of self-help books and podcasts out there.

I listen to a lot of podcasts while painting and driving and recommend the ones listed below. They aren’t self-help, per se, but they interview creative, successful people and the episodes tend to fire me up to get after it. Some episodes focus specifically on mindset.

Being Boss

The Chase Jarvis Show

Don’t Keep Your Day Job

Artists Helping Artists

The Tim Ferriss Show

I also recommend the book Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic also has some good tidbits about not being precious about your art.

Think about dentists or carpenters or auto mechanics. When they have learned the trade and are competent in their jobs, I don’t imagine they wonder whether they should get paid for what they are doing. I don’t imagine they feel nervous to name a price or quote a project – they know they have a skill not everyone has and that completing a project takes their precious time and material resources, which are expensive. Artist is a profession just like anything else – I challenge you to think of it that way.

3.       Deliberately blend personal and professional

Social media has changed pretty much everything. Assuming you’re on social media (and you should be, a significant portion of my sales originate on social) you need to think about the professional you that exists on social and the personal you and how you mix them.

I have a personal Facebook account that I keep pretty private and that I don’t use all that much anyway. I have a Facebook page for my art business (that I also don’t use all that much). I only have one Instagram account and I use it to promote my business.

I always like to tell people, “In any industry, people like to buy from people they know, like and trust.” That is definitely true of art and social media helps people that may never meet you get to “know,” like and trust you. Social media is intimate. People want to know what you look like. They want to see the behind-the-scenes, they want to know your process and feel like they are a part of it. They want to know what inspires you and what challenges you. 

In general, I feel like they want to know you in ways that are relevant to the art you are creating. They may not care about your dog or the amazing pho you cooked all day yesterday (unless they are your actual friend in real life), but they might be interested to see what your first strokes on a painting look like and what your work space looks like. I am not saying you can never share a photo of your adorable pup, just remember that strangers are following you because they like your art.

The photos above are Instagram posts of mine. 1. Example of the "husband as laborer" category, 2. Example of the "where you work" category, 3. Example of the "inspiration" category, 4. Example of the "process and challenges" categories.

On occasion, I share photos of me with my husband. He is a big part of my life (obviously) and also a huge mental, logistical and labor help in my business. Normally when I share photos of him, it’s either a big deal (like our fifth anniversary) or it’s him working his butt off to help me set up my tent at a festival, or because it’s something timely and I want to be part of a larger conversation on social (#optoutside over Thanksgiving weekend). Anyway, it is never, “Look how cute my husband is sitting on the couch. #weekendvibes.”

And then there’s politics/social movements…This is a tricky one. Traditionally, politics, religion and money aren’t good table manners. But, with social media, everyone’s opinion is a lot more “out there” and “important” than it used to be AND there is a lot going on in our country right now that many people feel compelled to take a stand on. Being a solopreneur is quite different than being a corporation. As a sole proprietor or single-member LLC, you don’t have shareholders or a board to answer to. If you say something offensive or that people disagree with, that is your own issue to work through. I choose to almost never post politically-charged things and when I do, it’s because I'm really fired up and very certain in my stance.

Two summers ago, after a spate of police killings, when all media outlets were awash with conversations about race relations, I posted a quote image with this, from John Steinbeck: “Try to understand men. If you understand each other, you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.” Not very incendiary (I don’t think). And, if for some reason this were to upset someone who saw it on my Instagram, fine. I would probably rather not have one of my paintings hanging in their home.

That is a good rule of thumb for me: Do I feel strongly enough about this subject that if someone un-follows me and doesn’t buy from me because of this post, it will be worth it?

4.       Treat it like a business

If you want to make money selling art and especially if you want it to be your full-time job, you need to treat it like a business. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that means you don’t get to spend all of your time painting. You need to keep records of your inventory and sales, you need to spend time marketing (building and updating a website, running social media, writing and sending out press releases), researching festivals and galleries to show at, tracking expenses and paying taxes, writing proposals for projects and drafting contracts, photographing inspiration material, checking in on clients, learning how to use a new credit card processing device, packing up paintings to ship – the list is literally endless. Do you want this? If not, that’s fine, that just means you have a hobby.

If you are, in fact, running a business, you are probably not spending more than 50% of your time on the actual art. When I was doing more freelance work, I heard a general guideline: It takes 25% of your time to get the work (marketing, networking, writing proposals), 25% of the time to maintain/grow your skillset (I thought that was kind of high) and then with the remaining 50%, you actually do the work.

I don’t do a stellar job tracking my hours, but I would say a great week is when I spend close to 75% of my time painting.

Right now I am in production mode and not really looking to drum up additional work. I am trying to roughly follow this schedule:

  • 7:30-9 am: Do all my computer work – email, bookkeeping, picking photo options for commissions, writing this blog post, etc.
  • 9-11 am: Work out, shower, get ready for the day, maybe unload the dishwasher.
  • 11-5 pm: Paint

When you are treating your art endeavor like a business, that means you are in sales. Your whole objective is to sell [paintings]. Because if you are not selling them, you are not making money and for most people, that means you’ll have to go back to doing something else.  

So, given that we’ve agreed we’re all in sales, we need to get good at closing sales and nurturing relationships. I’m not trying to turn you into a used car salesman. I want you to be great at helping people. Help them see how your art will bring them joy/peace/inspiration/whatever role you art serves, help them figure out which size works over their fireplace, help them by reminding them with a nice follow-up email that they saw you at a festival and really liked your work but were in the process of repainting their living room, help them by offering to bring both pieces over so they can decide which one is best in the space, help them by offering layaway.

I am not aggressive about trying to make sales, I just try to make it as easy as possible for people to say “yes” to me. Maria Brophy is very aggressive (but still in a helpful way) about making sales. I highly recommend reading her book, Art, Money, Success.

5.       Deliver top-notch customer service

Delivering good customer service is part of treating your art like a business, but it’s so important that I wanted to separate it. I am splitting this section into three categories: communication, appreciation and helpfulness.

Communication

Frequent and clear communication is always important, but especially with high-dollar purchases and custom projects. I (try to) respond to all emails, calls and texts quickly and always am the one to initiate communication (to arrange shipping or delivery) after someone buys a painting through my website.

When I am working on a commission, I update the buyer frequently and offer to share progress updates. I am clear with them about what I am doing and set realistic expectations about timelines.

After selling a big painting, I often email to ask if the collector has hung the painting and if they are happy with it.

Appreciation

Even though I have now sold a lot of paintings, I am still thrilled with every sale and feel so honored that someone wants to hang my work in their home and pay me to pursue my dream. I try to convey this to them genuinely.

I include a thank you (on branded note cards, of course) with every painting sale and send holiday cards to my customers. I frequently deliver paintings to customers and when I do, it’s always without charge and at their convenience. For my top collectors, I sometimes offer a discount or even gift them paintings. I sell them frames at cost and don’t charge for my framing labor. I send calendars or note cards as gifts. I offer collectors first dibs on new series of paintings. I try to accommodate quick turn requests on commissions.

Helpfulness

There is some overlap here with the things I mentioned when talking about closing a sale. Whether buying their first piece of real art ever, or adding the fiftieth painting to their collection, buying a painting can be a big decision. People are often buying them for personal reasons or to give as a special gift or to hang in a particular place (or all of the above). They want to feel confident in their purchase.

I try to be patient as we talk through what they want – remember, collectors often aren’t artists and they don’t have the same vocabulary that you do. They may struggle to articulate what they want. They may change their mind. Of course, it is important to set boundaries so you don’t get abused and not compensated for endless revision requests, but try to be accommodating. You want them to love the painting. Help them pick the right size for the space, help them evaluate color and composition options, be familiar with your inventory so you can recommend a painting they might like.

Wrap-up

Alright, guys, that’s the end of this series for now. Thank you for reading!