The first 4 steps toward selling your art: Step #1

I’ve decided to take the plunge and build an art career. What are my first steps?

I often receive questions like this. Without knowing too much about the person, it’s difficult to respond.

But in all the years I’ve been helping artists build their careers, I can say with a good deal of confidence that there are four major steps to kick-start a rewarding art career. Today we'll look at the first step.

Step #1: Devote yourself completely to a studio practice

You can’t make a few nice pieces and sit in the easy chair. You have to work, work, work. While I don’t believe that an artist needs an art degree to succeed, I do know that art school gives artists a leg up on creating the habit of being in the studio. If no one instilled this in you, it’s something you need to figure out.

Mandar Marathe
Mandar Marathe, Toplya 2.
Acrylic on wood, 18 x 24 inches. ©The Artist.

Like anyone else who is self-employed, no one is going to tell you when to get up, when to go into the studio, when to take a break, when to stop for the day, or when to take a vacation. These are things you must learn to do for yourself.

The great thing about being self-employed is that you are free to organize your schedule so that it works for you. The downside is that some people aren’t very good at setting goals and boundaries. If this is you, don’t use it as an excuse. Consider it a challenge to change your ways.


1) Make it regular–whether it’s the same time every day, the same number of hours each week, or on the same days of the week. Not a morning person? Then for Pete’s sake, don’t say you’re going to get up early and go to the studio. Schedule your studio time when you are most creative and productive.

I’d love to say that all you need is passion and excitement about your art, but you also must have a healthy dose of discipline to channel that enthusiasm. Don’t believe me? Read Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin. Colvin shows how two people with equal parts talent take very different paths when one of them commits to a deliberate practice. And if you want to see discipline instilled in a lifelong artist, check out The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp.

2) Keep it sacred. Don’t let anyone or anything interfere with your studio time. I’ve read about a few artists lately who wouldn’t allow phones in their studios for fear that they could become a distraction. It’s also important to be able to turn down requests and invitations that would take you away from your studio time.

See the other 3 steps:

Step #2: Create Your Mailing List
Step #3: Connect with Other Artists
Step #4: Start Writing About Your Art

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32 thoughts on “The first 4 steps toward selling your art: Step #1”

  1. That’s so true. It’s the same with writing–which is a creative talent. When I first started writing, I thougt I was good. But looking back at ten years of writing, I can see a vast improvement in style and abilities. My voice has become stronger, and less timid. And I take constructive criticism in stride, and with such optimism.

    I improved because I read other talented writers, I wrote every day, submitted work and listened to constructive criticism, and I was willing to do what was necessary to improve. Even now, I see how I can still grow as a writer.

    I am hoping to take the lessens I learned from writing into my new found love of art, or perhaps I should say rekindled love of art.

  2. Having support & encouragement from those close to you is very helpful…I started painting sunsets, because I was living in an apartment with a great sunset view, & showed my Dad one day, who said ” you should become a painter”… Ever since then I have had financial & moral support from my family… If you are taking the first step, check with your loved ones- their approval at the beginning is worth millions…

  3. For a person like me who is not a full time artist (yet), the effective and disciplined usage of whatever available time is even more crucial. I try to be devoted in the available time but I know I need to be better.
    It is like a chicken and egg situation. Because I cannot spend appropriate amount of time creating (and marketing) art, it is not a dependable source of income and because it is not a dependable source, I am not able to spend more time on it.
    Many thanks for featuring my painting on this post!

  4. Even though my husband is supportive of my work, I can see in occasional language that my painting is not taken seriously – he’ll say “So it was a free day – just painting?” if I don’t have babysitting or other commitments. And I’m probably guilty of looking at it like that, too, sometimes.

    But I have felt the difference when I can get into a more dedicated routine – it feels like less of a struggle to get going, one idea builds on another, I forget that I’d wanted a bowl of ice cream.

    I’m looking forward to fall when the kids are back in school and I will have more reliable time to devote to working. Seems funny that retired grandparents have to be thinking in those terms –

  5. Couldn’t have said better. That’s a hurdle I’ve been paying attention to lately (more time in the studio). No sense getting marketing all worked out until you have something to market!

  6. Hi, just wanted to let you know I received 5 (FIVE!!!!) copies of this today. Is Feed Blitz having a hiccup????

  7. This is a kick in the rear to me. Of course, I KNOW this but I’ve moved and in so doing, my studio practice has been neglected by renovation and all that. I HAVE GOT TO BE FIRM….it is time to be back in the studio.
    Thanks, Alyson.

  8. Alyice: I’ll ditto your mention of writing practice. Nothing improves my writing like writing more. Well, that and learning from a really really good editor.

    Katherine: Coming up.

    Sari: You’re a step ahead of me. Patience. 😉

    Mandar: You are not alone. And you’re right. But it can work. It’s just frustrating, I know.

    Becky: Yes, YOU have to project that professionalism before anyone else can be expected to do so. Check out this newsletter:

    Tracy: Yep, it’s hard to market something that doesn’t exist!

    Dot: Sorry about that, but thanks for recognizing that it’s FeedBlitz and not me.

    Cheryl: Consider yourself kicked in the rear.

  9. I agree with the basic premise. However, I am easily distracted and tend to work in short bursts of 30-45 minutes. The key is to keep at it day in and day out.

  10. As the business manager of a successful artist, I have to say Tracywall couldn’t be more right! Spend the time perfecting your craft before you leap into marketing. And when you have a body of work ready for marketing; by all means follow Alyson’s advice. She is on target!

  11. As a non- art degreed person (BA-Communication Arts) and now artist, I completely understand and have seen the advantage of an art degreed’s practice and discipline. I do lack some of that discipline and “being a real artist’s” mindset. Proving to myself that I will not let that stop me, I own, read, highlighted, dog-eared, and quoted Twyla Tharp’s book (an Alyson recommendation!). It has helped IMMENSELY. Talent is Overrated, but not help in getting disciplined!

  12. Pingback: The first 4 steps toward selling your art: Step #2 — Art Biz Blog

  13. Wow, Alyson!!! It looks good around here ( I mean on your website)! Nice jog and great look! I’ll go read your post now. Have a blessed day!

  14. Pingback: Connect with other artists — Art Biz Blog

  15. I agree with the theory, but when you work a regular full time job with a 45 min each way commute, it’s really hard to find time to work on your art!
    Even when I have enough energy (which is rarely), I am dependent on whether I have an internet connection (my focus is digital photography) in the remote location where I live and other factors.

    Right now I am trying to do an hour’s work both before and after my “real” job. It’s easy to get distracted. I do not have a “support group” for my creative pursuits…

    Looking forward to future posts

  16. Dmitriy: I think that’s fine! It’s fine if you work well in short bursts as long as you keep up those short bursts over and over again. In other words, they’re regular.

    Cindy: Thanks for agreeing with me. Love it when that happens. 😉

    Marilyn: You ARE a REAL artist. Careful with your language.

    Rosemary: Glad you like it!

    Tammy: It doesn’t matter if your devotion is 50 hours a week or 10. It’s the devotion part that’s critical.

  17. I am in the same boat as Tammy and Mandar but with an added spritz of guilt. I have a regular full time profession and know I should set regular time to creating but here is what stops me: I have enough inventory to sell so I feel guilty creating any more pieces.

    On the other hand, I am frustrated with trying to market on the internet. I have spent a ton of money on getting a website up but have made not a single web sale in a year. I have no idea how to blog or facebook to generate sales. I do sell when it is any sort of live presentation but I don’t have a lot of time for shows even though I enjoy the one on one interaction with clients.

    So the ideal for me would be to have someone else do the marketing and selling because “I’d rather be in the studio” when I am not at work. Alyson, what is the best way to find someone to handle the website, blogging, gallery sales, and live shows?

  18. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Janie: Sure! To subscribe to my weekly newsletter and updates, go to

    Najia: Sorry! Can’t recommend having someone else do the work. BUT I can recommend getting help! Can you afford to hire an assistant? Most virtual assistants are paid $30-40/hour and you can hire one on retainer and save. (Say . . . 10 hours a month for $350 if their regular rate is 40/hour)

  19. I am doing research towards the creation of a not-for-profit arts organization in which the mission will be to create or find venues including festivals, conferences, exhibits, installations or online venues for the purpose of bringing together artists of very diverse disciplines, visual, writers/poets , songwriters and performers ( of the sort like performance art or some music). I am going for doing a festival at the camp/resort where my husband and I work for 5 months a year in the Catskills mountains of NY. He is a director for the facility which serves all sorts of groups who rent the facility and is camp fo r kids for 6 weeks in the middle of summer.
    I am a retired art professor and artist. I want to plan for either June or Sept of 2010. I have verbal committments from several artists and writers and an improv teacher in theatre as well as a drum circle who does world rhythmns for novices. We will have a campfire, a band and a lot of fun. The facility is perfect for this. What I need is a keynote speaker. I have sent inquiries to people who seem to possess the glue needed for such a diverse group.
    I would like to ask you first if you think your message would be appropriate for a diverse group of creative people (as opposed to only visual artists) and second what your expenses and policies on doing public speaking at an event like this are.Like, how much do you cost, when do you need to be paid and how long would you require as notice if it all fails and no one signs up!
    I am very early in planning, just doing the legal work on becoming a group and starting an interactive mail art project to act as a kick-off fundraiser for the event.
    Please consider and get back to me. Thanks, Kate Miller

  20. Pingback: I Don’t Have Talent

  21. Hi–Just wanted to say I recently discovered your site and book and I’m finding them extremely useful!

    Keep up the great work!


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