The Art Biz ep. 155: 6 Ways to Be [Even] Happier About Running Your Art Business

It’s no secret that we love some parts of our business more than others.

There is no way I can say with a straight face that I enjoy marketing and bookkeeping as much as leading my classes like Create Opportunities or coaching my dedicated private clients.

I don’t expect you to like everything you have to do.

I can, however, say with confidence that artists who happily embrace their role as CEO of their businesses do better than artists who fight it and wish they didn’t have to deal with the grind. Wishing won’t make it go away. It only makes you more frustrated, anxious, or resentful.

Pen drawing by Jennifer Mullin
©Jennifer Mullin, Off the Grid. Collaged paper, ballpoint pen and white colored pencil on vintage ledger paper, 6 x 6 inches.

This doesn’t mean that you need to fake joy whenever you’re paying bills.

It means that you accept that it comes with the territory. You rise to the challenge because you know it’s a necessary step toward achieving your goals.

There are ways to be happier about running a profitable art business, but first you must decide that you want a business on top of making work in the studio.

I will continue to remind anyone who will listen that 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, and many artists don’t feel the same about making art once they start offering it for exhibition and sale.

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

You can be pouty and grumble about all of the hard work necessary for something you said you wanted. Or you can find ways to enjoy the journey.

How would you rather go through life?

Listen

I choose to find ways to be happier, and to remind myself to be grateful for the incredible opportunity to control my destiny. To work with talented, generous, and inspiring artists.

I want to tell you what makes me happy about running my own business. What helps me get through the rough patches, and there are plenty of those! Then I’ll share some ideas for you.

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What Makes Me Happy About Running My Business

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

I am over the moon happy …

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

When Clients have Aha! moments. When they really get what I'm encouraging them to do or try. And then …

When students and clients implement what I'm teaching and start seeing results. We celebrate client results frequently as a team.

That I can introduce students and clients because I believe they might collaborate or inspire or motivate one another. And that later, sometimes years, I receive a photo from them after they finally meet in real life—often going out of their way to pay a visit on the other side of the country or even world.

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

That 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, listened to The Art Biz podcast, or been a student in one of my online programs.

All of these things make me ecstatic to have my business.

Oil painting by Tamara White
©Tamara White, Yellow Cart. Oil on canvas, 10 x 10 x 1.5 inches.

You Should Be Happy About

If you are listening to this you are likely an artist who can express yourself freely. Millions of people in the world face jail or worse for self-expression. Forgive me for should-ing on you a bit, but you should be a little happier to remember that you have this freedom.

Moreover, you should also be happy that you have the autonomy to start and run a business that focuses on something you have such a passion for.

If you have created a business from your art, you should be happy and extraordinarily proud that you took this initiative and built it from scratch. It’s a huge, brave step. 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, and remember your blessings and all you’re grateful for.

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 (6, to be exact) that might make you even happier about running an art business.

Acrylic painting by Jane Barefoot Rochelle
©Jane Barefoot Rochelle, #33 Lions. Acrylic, 24 x 30 inches.

1. 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. Nobody wants to be around a complainer, and the complainer just keeps digging a deeper hole for their woes.

It’s easy to jump on the whining bandwagon, and more difficult to ignore the noise and irritations. Notice the things that are riling you up and practice ignoring them. I say practice because this is a muscle you will build.

Stop complaining. Period. Then get to work.

Your mailing list is your #1 marketing asset.

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2. Raise your prices.

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

[ Free report: How to Price Your Art ]

You’ll be happier when you place a proper value on your time, talent, and effort. Low prices hurt other artists as much as they hurt you.

I love it that two members of my Art Biz Accelerator just held virtual hands and raised their prices 20%. Together. They each knew they needed to do this, but it was a  big deal for each of them. They took the plunge because of the extra support and accountability, and they’re both doing better than ever.

Oil and wax painting by Pamela Hirsch.
©Pamela Hirsch, Paleochora. Oil and cold wax on a Baltic Birch wood panel, 12 x 12 x .5 inches.

3. Collaborate more often.

I seem to have to remind students and clients how important their network is, and that they need to make a point of seeking collaborations.

I use the term collaboration broadly to refer to working with other people to advance your goals as an artist. Any. Other. People.

Seeking collaborative relationships is some of the highest level thinking I’ve witnessed in the thousands of artists I’ve encountered over the past 2 decades.. Artists who collaborate simply have more ambitious goals.

I’ll give you four quick examples from The Art Biz.

In episode 27, Jill Powers talked about how she collaborated with volunteers, chefs, scientists, venues, and more for a single exhibition.

In episode 86, Jerry McLaughlin and Rebecca Crowell discuss how they collaborate on a learning platform for artists.

In episode 126, Willie Cole reveals how he collaborates with top brands.

In episode 153, Danielle SeeWalker discusses a long-running photo and film documentary with a fellow artist.

All very different collaborations designed to help the artists fulfill their creative visions.

I know it can sometimes be frustrating working with other people, but the potential reward is too promising to overlook. As curator Melissa Messina said in episode 136, your network is everything.

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.

That brings me to my next idea for how to be happier about running your art business.

Photograph by Fred Newman
©Fred Newman, Woman in Purple with Cat. Photograph.

4. Find your (artist) people.

I don’t have to tell you that the artist’s life can be solitary. You might be okay with that. I know how much I value my alone time.

But there is no reason you should try to figure out all of the pieces of your art business on your own. Your people—other artists who get you—are out there somewhere.

Within the right artist community you will:

  • Learn about opportunities before they are ever made public.
  • Find understanding for your challenges.
  • Get help figuring out strategies for your next move.
  • Celebrate your wins with like-minded spirits.
  • Be inspired by artists you admire.

Artists’ communities are everywhere, but you must make the effort. It might be a local artist group or perhaps an online community like our Art Biz Connection, which you’ll find at ArtBizConnection.com.

As I like to say, it’s fine to DIY (Do It Yourself) but you don’t have to DIA (Do It Alone).

5. Encourage someone else.

Be happier by making a fellow human happy.

Send a direct message to tell someone what a great job they’re doing. Brag on your students. 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.

This should make you smile.

Acrylic painting by Jane Appleby
©Jane Appleby, Colourful Conversations 1/2. Diptych acrylic on canvas, 20 x 32 inches.

6. Get your art and yourself out of the studio.

There are stretches of time when you must disappear into the studio—laser focused on making new work. Eventually, you have to come out of hibernation.

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

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

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

This leads to greater happiness.

Connection is the Strongest Theme

The strongest theme that emerges from this list of 6 ways to be happier about running an art business is connection.

Connecting with the right people can lift your spirits—whether you’re initiating collaborations or being a valued member of an artist community.

And remember that you don’t have to do all of this. It’s what you said you wanted.

You have freely created an art business where none existed before. Be proud of all that you have accomplished on your own while knowing that you don’t have to do it alone.

If you have been missing that community of artists, but haven’t found your people, we’d love to have you join us in the Art Biz Connection

This post was originally published on May 5, 2016, updated May 1, 2019, and has been updated significantly with original comments intact.

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28 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 155: 6 Ways to Be [Even] Happier About Running Your Art Business”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

  4. Pamela Neswald

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

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 🙂

  10. 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!

  11. 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 🙂

    1. 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 🙂

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

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

  15. 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?

    1. It just occurred to me that someone may want to acquire the original painting featured in this blog called “Colourful Conversations” and so decided to make it available on my New Online Shop: http://www.applebyart.com and also thinking about what colourful conversations it could start in someone’s home or office.
      The shop has my limited edition prints, cards and other items and now this painting: https://applebyart.com/product/featured-original-painting-colourful-conversations/

      I’d love to know what you think about this new shop- Thank you.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Great video, Jane! And thank you for sharing your art with our visitors.

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