Money stresses me out. And thinking about how to monetize something I love – art in my case – has always seemed stressful too. You can probably list all the typical concerns I had:
- Monetizing will make your hobby feel like work.
- It won’t be fun anymore.
- You’ll do it because you have to, not because you want to.
- Your work won’t be as good if it’s done for money and not some higher artistic calling.
These ideas were weirdly ingrained into my subconscious. Probably because I kept hearing these messages from people and the media and that amorphous blob we might call society. Don’t we generally accept these ideas as true, at least for some cases?
Let’s Talk Artists and Money
The relationship between art and money in particular is a tricky one. On one hand, we have the starving artist trope. What has contributed to this idea are the dozens of now-famous artists who were never appreciated during their lifetimes. On the other hand, we have abstract artwork selling for millions of dollars while the general public looks on and scoffs, “my child could have done that!”
So somehow, artists are both dreadfully poor people with no hope of making a decent living AND mysterious beings who have the ability to become millionaires with a well-placed scribble or paint splatter. Obviously, the reality is far less exciting. But these tropes exist in my head (and probably yours) nonetheless.
The Mythical Artist: Creativity as Sacred, Special, and Limited*
Another myth is something we might call the sacredness of art (or any creative act). Artists (or writers or musicians) don’t simply create. They lay around and wait for “inspiration” to strike, and when it does, they become incredibly prolific and produce masterpiece after masterpiece. At least, until that inspiration dries up.
*Doesn’t this title sound like a journal article? I think I’m ready for grad school.
I Can’t Do It for the Money
So with an image of art as a divine act and confusing messages about my ability to ever make money with art, I never thought too seriously about running an art business.
One, I had other things to do. Two, because I doubted my ability to produce great art under pressure. If I had to wait for inspiration, how could I create art on demand?
What if doing art for money killed my creativity?
Or I accepted a commission but then didn’t have any inspiration?
Or worse, what if my art turned out no good and the client ended up hating it?
But now, having started an art business, I worry about none of that.
How Do You Get Over the Fear/Discomfort/Stress of Monetizing Your Art?
I can’t know exactly what will help you get over any discomfort with monetization, but there are two points that helped me: having a real product in mind and keeping my focus where it needs to be.
A Real Product
The final push that led me to start an art business was my desire to create a specific product: enamel pins. As I began setting up the foundation for an enamel pin business, it became a natural step for me to sell other forms of art.
Currently, I’m selling prints and pins. I don’t do commissions, which were the main source of my past worries. But in the future, who knows? I know now that “commissions” for me will never look like some broad, undefined art project full of uncertainty. If I offer commissions, they’ll be a specific product I know I can produce, like pet portraits or witchsonas, to name a couple products I’ve seen other artists offer.
Having the physical product in mind made it clear exactly what I needed to do to get into business. Now I’m well on my way, with one pin currently in production and up for preorders, and a pin set in progress.
Profit is Not the Focus
The second change I needed to start an art business confidently was to not focus on profit. I’m sure this may sound naive or like a luxury to some. But I don’t mean you should only do art for art’s sake or that you shouldn’t sell or market your work. I’m talking about changing your mindset. Shifting my focus away from monetizing has freed me from any concerns about inspiration, productivity, and enjoyment.
I still enjoy doing art, because I do art that I enjoy. I’m not especially worried about inspiration or productivity. There are days when I’m full of ideas and keep reaching for my sketchbook to capture them. Then there are days when I’m too busy with work and other projects to muster the energy for new ideas.
Then What Is the Focus?
I’m running an art business for myself. It’s my way of pushing myself to make art more consistently. I don’t expect to make a significant amount of money from my artwork, and maybe that’s the starving artist trope still talking, but I’m okay with it. This is a side hustle, not my main gig.
But You Still Need to Do the Work
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sending my art out into the world and just hoping someone will buy a few prints. I’m serious. Otherwise, I would have stuck with social media and left out the art shop. Just because my mindset isn’t centered on money doesn’t mean my business isn’t. Think of this split as the difference between a company’s vision and values vs. their business goals.
My vision is about producing art I love. But my goals involve getting this business off the ground. I like what freelance writer Christina Vanvuren says about goals. Wanting to make $5,000 a month is nice. But “making $5,000” is not an action you can take. Actions you can take include designing and creating products, building an audience or following of potential customers, and promoting your work regularly.
In content marketing, your primary tasks are creating valuable content and promoting it. You should spend 80% of your time on one and 20% percent on the other. Guess which one should take up 80%?
Promotion. Good marketing practices say you should spend far more time on promotion than content creation. Because your amazing content can’t do a thing if it’s left alone in the dusty corners of the Internet.
My Turn to Work
While I’m still drawing, painting, or designing pins every day, the most important daily task for my art business right now is promotion. And that’s what I’ll do with you now. It would be hypocritical of me to say “promote yourself!” and then not mention any of my projects, don’t you think?
I could tell you to follow me on social media at @Monicartsy (on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Vero) OR ask you to visit my Etsy shop OR even preorder my first enamel pin (this cute little Zebra plant that’s only available at a discount until March 14th). But instead I want you to focus on my biggest project right now: an enamel pins series on Kickstarter.
True to my current plant-hoarder branding, I’ve designed a series of succulent pins. Part of the appeal of succulents is that they’re cute and you can plant them in all sorts of cute containers. Don’t deny it. I personally love seeing succulents in cups. Currently, I have succulents growing in teacups and cocktail glasses. So I ran with that idea and added fall and winter variations.
Right now the fall paper cup might be my favorite, but I’m also really satisfied with the stars added to the winter mugs (a last minute change suggested by my sister Alyssa).
I’m really not much of a salesperson – I was never any good at those school fundraisers with all the cool prizes – and in any case, funding or preordering one of these pins is your decision. Maybe you don’t want to fall into the black hole that is enamel pin collecting. I can respect that. It’s too late for me, but good on you.
But I’d still love it if you took a look, and if you like what you see, spread the word to your friends.
Help me with that promotion!