May 5, 2016 | Alyson Stanfield

How To Be Happier About Running Your Art Business

You love making art.

You probably think it would be great if you could just make art all of the time and do nothing else.

The title of my book on self-promotion for artists didn’t come out of thin air. It came from hearing artists whine about not wanting to do the business stuff: I’d Rather Be in the Studio.

Yeah, the studio is a great place for you to hang out and be creative, but two things cannot happen if you stay holed up in the studio:


Nadia Louderback's hibiscus watercolor
©Nadia Louderback, Crystal Hibiscus. Watercolor, 12 x 12 x 2 inches. Used with permission.

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

For these two things to happen, you have to embrace your role as the leader of your business. This doesn’t sit well with many artists who prefer pretending that they can ignore the business stuff.

There are ways to be happier about running a business, but first you must decide that this is what you want. As part of that decision, you can decide to be pouty and grumble about all of the hard work, or you can decide that you’ll 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 if I had known about the deep satisfaction that results, I might have explored the options much sooner.

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 …

Jane Barefoot Rockelle's Purple Shoes
©Jane Barefoot Rochelle, Purple Shoes. Mixed media, hand-painted torn paper and acrylic on deep boxed wood panel, 22 x 10 inches. Used with permission.

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 bought my book, is on my email list, or has been in one of my online programs.

You Should Be Happy

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.

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

Many people will never have the guts to do what you’re doing. [Tweet this.]

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 to share with you. See if any of these might put a smile on your face.

8 Ways To Be Even Happier

1. Collaborate with more people.

The artist’s life can be solitary, so make a point of connecting with people that you can collaborate with. Yes, 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.

2. Raise your prices.

There are few things more dispiriting than to sell your art for prices 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 if you make more money from your art or are at least getting what it’s worth.

3. Help another artist solve a problem.

There is something deeply gratifying about helping people. It takes the focus off of us and puts it on someone else.

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. Stop complaining.

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. It’s an enormous waste of energy (yours and that of those around you).

Stop complaining about other artists, politicians, or …

Just stop complaining. Period. Then get to work.

Laurence Devalmy's macaron painting
©Laurence de Valmy, Life Should Be Like a Box of Macarons. Acrylic, 24 x 30 inches. Used with permission.

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. 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 delight when they receive your message.

7. Get your art out of the studio.

Remember that two things cannot happen in the studio:

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

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.

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.

Your Turn

What makes you happy about running an art business?

19 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.

  • 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!

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