May 1, 2019 | Alyson Stanfield

How To Be Happier About Running Your Art Business

We all love some parts of our business more than others. I’d be lying to you if I told you that I loved marketing and bookkeeping as much as creating a course.

After doing this work with artists for nearly two decades, I can say with confidence that artists who happily embrace their role as CEO of their business do better than artists who don’t.

This doesn’t mean that you need to fake joy whenever you’re paying bills. It means that you rise to accept the challenge because you know it’s important.

©Tamara White, Yellow Cart. Oil on canvas, 10 x 10 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.
©Tamara White, Yellow Cart. Oil on canvas, 10 x 10 x 1.5 inches. Used with permission.

There are ways to be happier about running a business, but first you must decide that this is what you want. As I've said many times, not every artist should turn their art into a business. It's a whole different game when you start asking for money for your art.

But if you choose to go the route of earning money from your art, own it. 

You can be pouty and grumble about all of the hard work, or you can find ways to enjoy the ride.

Which way would you rather go through life?

What Makes Me Happy About Running My Business

Running a successful business means long hours and many sacrifices, but the rewards are unparalleled.

I love that …

I can work anywhere in the world and at any time of my choosing.

I am over-the-moon ecstatic when …

Clients have Aha! moments. When they really get what I’m encouraging them to do or try.

Clients implement and see results.

I connect two clients together who can benefit from collaboration, inspiration, or motivation.

I am blown away when …

I receive an email or card full of gratitude from a client who took the time to write.

I could go almost anywhere in the U.S., and almost anywhere in the world, and meet up with someone who has read my book, is on my email list, or has been in one of my online programs.

You Should Be Happy

(Forgive me for should-ing on you a bit.)

You should be happy that you’re an artist who can express yourself freely. Millions of people in the world can’t do this without fear of going to jail or worse.

©Jane Barefoot Rochelle, #33 Lions. Acrylic, 24 x 30 inches. Used with permission.
©Jane Barefoot Rochelle, #33 Lions. Acrylic, 24 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

If you have created a business from your art, you should be happy that you took this initiative and built it from scratch. You’re not just making money. You’re also building a legacy.

Many people will never have the guts to do what you’re doing.

Yes, there are things you have to do in your business that you won’t love, but avoiding them will only hold you back. Try to have fun along the way. Try to smile more.

Make a game of being in business if you need to. Discover the little things that bring you joy, and do more of them.

Because I’ve been working with artists like you for so long, I have an idea or two (8, to be exact) to share with you. See if any of these might put a smile on your face.

8 Ways To Be Even Happier

1. Raise your prices.

There are few things more dispiriting than selling your art for a price lower than what it’s worth.

Raise your prices if and when the situation merits. Money isn’t always part of the happiness equation, but it doesn’t hurt.

You’ll be happier when you're valuing your time and effort at the levels they deserve.

In the Art Biz Accelerator, I walk you through a series of steps that show you exactly how you can earn an income goal. Sabra Lynne Crockett went through this process and exceeded her goal. (Read her story here.)

2. Collaborate with more people.

The artist’s life can be solitary, so make a point of connecting with people that you can collaborate with. I know it can be frustrating working with other people, but the potential reward is too promising to overlook.

Not only will you be happier when you collaborate, you will also stretch your business muscles and expand your audience when you bring more people in on what you’re doing. You could:

  • Collaborate on the art itself.
  • Schedule joint exhibitions and open studios.
  • Work with dancers, musicians, and writers to expand the impact of your art.

3. Help another artist solve a problem.

There is something deeply gratifying about helping people. It takes the focus off of you and your struggles.

©Fred Newman, Woman in Purple with Cat. Photograph. Used with permission.
©Fred Newman, Woman in Purple with Cat. Photograph. Used with permission.

Maybe you can respond to a question online or in a class you’re teaching. Pat yourself on the back for making someone’s life easier.

4. Go complaint-free.

Stop complaining about being so busy or about doing work that you don’t like. It’s exhausting to be on the receiving end of this, and it feeds a negative mindset. Complaining is an enormous waste of energy–yours and that of those around you.

Stop complaining about other artists, politicians, or (fill in the blank).

Just stop complaining. Period. Then get to work.

5. Exert self-control on social media.

By self-control, I mean controlling not just what you post, but what you consume.

Refuse to participate in negativity. Negativity breeds negativity. Don't take the bait! When you see it online, run the other way.

People post all kinds of crazy things on social media. Some are happy and inspiring, while others are depressing. Why gamble when you’re trying to stay positive and happy?

6. Make someone smile.

Be happier by making a fellow human happy. Brighten someone’s inbox, Facebook page, or mailbox with your art.

I’m not encouraging you to spam people with your art, but if you make uplifting art, send images of it along with sincere love and gratitude to your friends and family. Imagine their joy when they receive your message.

Who can you delight with your art today?

7. Get your art out of the studio.

Two things cannot happen when you stay in the studio.

  1. You cannot have a financially viable business or career by hiding out in the studio.
  2. You cannot be emotionally or professionally fulfilled by keeping your art to yourself.

©Jane Appleby, Colourful Conversations 1/2. Diptych acrylic on canvas, 20 x 32 inches. Used with permission.
©Jane Appleby, Colourful Conversations 1/2. Diptych acrylic on canvas, 20 x 32 inches. Used with permission.

What happens when you're in the red and unfulfilled? Disappointment, negativity, gloom. (Frown.)

Getting your art out of the studio and in front of people gives you a greater chance of selling it. (Smile!) The circle of creation is complete because people are viewing and responding to it, and you are connecting with those people. Which brings me to …

8. Get thee out of the studio.

Too much time alone in the studio isn’t good for your mental health, your creativity, or your prosperity.

Don't just drop off your art and retreat back into the studio. Haul your butt out the door and go to openings and lectures or just hang out at the coffee shop.

When you really want to be inspired, visit art museums with the highest quality of art on the planet. There, you’ll be reminded of your connection to art history. Revel in the tradition you share with these brilliant men and women.

You have the freedom to have a business and the opportunity to delight many people with your art. You can choose to be happier.

Resources

This post was originally published on May 5, 2016, and has been updated with original comments intact.

28 comments add a comment
  • Finding my niche and believing in the quality of my work makes the business aspect a relevant part of what I do and who I am. I suppose for me it was a struggle between insecurity and “don’t bother me until I get this right according to my own true nature” syndrome. I am finding the small rewards, like joining my local Chamber of Commerce and having my first shipment of nano-sculptures arrive at Amazon Handmade artisan shop (not sold yet, just arrived at the facility), makes me feel professional, accomplished and proud. Maybe I am just easy to please but I feel like a kid in a candy shop.

  • Thanks for your post. I have been feeling a bit shaky the last few days, but your post reminded me about why I am an artist. I find joy not only in the studio but also learning about the business of doing/selling art. Recently, I joined two other artists (also painters) in sharing a studio and we are having our grand opening next Friday. We will be part of the 2nd Friday Art Walk that is held in my town. My recent paintings are framed and ready. I’ve been working on publicity and extending invitations. Thanks to one of your recent posts, I have included a postcard of my work with my announcement and enclosed them in a nice envelope. At the same time, I also struggle with the insecurity of perfection, but by having a plan, I can just work on my to-do list and get things done.

  • Thanks Alyson, as usual you know the mindset of an artist and you provide ways for us to move outside that mindset, so we can create success from out art! Love your book “I’d rather be in the Studio”. Beginning from the bottom as far as market myself, this book a treasure of helpful info.
    So what makes me happy about running my art biz?
    The simple act of just doing it, being proactive and not procrastinating. I am still in the infant stages, crawling and learning along the way, but I’m moving and that’s what counts!
    Above all I love to make my art and I want to share this art with the world. I believe it invites happiness in!

  • Pamela Neswald

    Not very high-minded, perhaps, but receiving checks! When someone puts their money where their mouth is, that is the ultimate compliment.

  • My favorite part of running my art business is selling my work to people who really connect with it. I also love all of the wonderful new artist friends and connections I’ve made since declaring myself an artist. It’s amazing how much my world has expanded since I started my art business.

  • Christine Sauer

    One aspect of my business is that I teach Art workshops. When I promote them through my newsletter or social media I enjoy the positive response. When they register or even leave a nice comment, I feel I am building community. It takes alot of work and initiative to make it happen, which can sometimes feel like a slog. Of course, it is fun and feels great to help others on their creative journey. It is great motivation.

  • Fran

    I love your comment: You cannot be emotionally or professionally fulfilled by keeping your art to yourself”. I do not sell my work. I have traded it. But I keep piling up small paintings and drawings that I would love to share. Posting online helps, but I would love for others to like it enough to purchase some. I am not looking for a huge endeavor, but am not sure how to start.

  • Fran, one way to start is to check out your local businesses, especially cafes and restaurants. Many of them are happy to show art on their walls-instant decoration for them and exposure for you.

  • My favourite part of the whole process is opening night of an exhibition. In 2009 after a long break to raise my children, a piece of my work was in a stunning group show, it was the most thrilling feeling! That is what I work towards; the making, the admin, the business is all part of that process and it gets a lot easier the more of it you do :)

  • Hi Alyson,
    Thanks for this post and I’m very happy to have my art featured with this post.
    I would say that my favorite part is to meet so many interesting people. When I mention I paint, people tend to open up about their own personal interests and it goes beyond the simple conversations about “jobs”. ;-)
    I agree with all your advices and try to follow them as best as possible!

  • I love being a creative practice coach as well as an artist.

    Not only do I get to help other creatives realise their dreams but it helps me stay focussed on my own creative work as I have to make sure I practice what I preach!

    The other added benefit is that it because it takes some of the financial pressure off selling my work, I’ve lately been able to experiment more and finally consolidate my creative direction.

    So lots to smile about :)

  • Wendy Laigne-Stuart

    I need a way to find the confidence that someone would want my work.

    • You reached out in this blog about “confidence” but that was a confident move in itself, and I believe Alyson’s expertise with artists can help in this area.
      I am glad you started this “colourful conversation”…I am the artist with featured art in this article and am happy to have it being seen. This sending out may in fact start more colourful conversations and that’s what my painting was about. So… I encourage you to also take the adventure of showing your work – do you have it online someplace? I would love to see it as would the person that may want to buy it. I believe creative work likes to find homes :)

  • I truly enjoyed reading all the positive comments in this blog…WOW! Each person touched on something that connected with herself that could be a stepping stone for future connections.
    I am taking action by becoming more involved with the Vero Beach Art Club, connected to the Vero Beach Museum of Art. There are several opportunities for me to share my art associated with the Art Club. And I plan to reach out in my community to some interior decorating stores/companies and see if my art might be a good fit.
    Thank you for all the inspirational comments included here.
    I look forward to the upcoming conference in Ashville!

  • I just returned from the Plein Air Convention & Expo in San Francisco. I connected with other artists participating in ArtBiz, artists I have admired for decades from across the globe, and some who I had not seen in a long time and I met many new ones. Also connected with an art supplier and talked about doing more business together. Also learned a tremendous amount from the artists who demonstrated and shared their stories. Key take aways that reiterate what Alyson said: 1. Never stop learning 2. Make time to paint even if you have a full time job and family 3. Raise your prices 4. Make connections.

  • Hi, Alyson! Greetings from Lake Eufaula!

    I love this article. Being positive is a choice. We both make that choice every day, and your suggestions are wonderful. I especially like the one about getting out of the studio. I recently went to another town and entered a Plein Air competition for the very first time. Oh, my! I can’t tell you what a rewarding experience that was. I have at least one new collector and I made some really wonderful friends. It boosted my serotonin and coaxed my lazy muse out from her hiding place.

    I love being around other makers. Sometimes the ones we’ve been hanging out with are too busy complaining (I like the go-complain-free suggestion, too) to qualify as inspiring company. Changing it up did wonders. Thanks again for bringing your message to us as you do. Take care.

    • Alyson Stanfield

      Beth: How awesome to see your name here. Congratulations on getting out and running into the muse.

  • I thank Alyson for this opportunity to share my artwork “Colourful Conversations” in this most encouraging blog post that “should” (sorry to “should” on you too) help us all grow wonderful gardens of art and meaningful relationships.
    Let us encourage each other along this creative path we are journeying on and take note how colourful it is.

    I invite you to also enjoy my youtube videos on “How to Paint Landscapes” with Jane Appleby: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCt_PKiq0FUAwhC614dPXzHA
    Here is a collaborated effort of a video maker, and musicians creative work (on the fast motion ones) and is what I “choose to do to be happier” as Alyson puts it.
    What are you doing to be happier?

  • What a great article Alyson! Being positive is so important in building a business and going through life. Love your tips!

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