The Only Gift You Need to Build Your Mailing List

What I love most about the holidays isn’t receiving gifts. It’s giving them.

I love everything about the process: from trying to find the perfect gift for a special person on my list, to wrapping it and watching them open it.

I throw parties and give “lovely parting gifts” to our guests (as if the party wasn’t enough).
I decorate envelopes to delight recipients.

The thrill of gift giving is sacred in my book.

Unfortunately, when building a business, giving gifts can be tarnished by the giver wanting or expecting something in return. It’s part of the list-building process.

©Rebecca Nolda, Brave, Sweet Pink. Mixed media on gallery-wrap canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Used with permission.
©Rebecca Nolda, Brave, Sweet, Pink. Mixed media on gallery-wrap canvas, 36 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

In return for your email address, I offered 6 free video lessons or perhaps a checklist, special report, or webinar at some point.

These presents are easy for me to deliver because I offer a service. I have loads of content that will help you gain recognition and sell more art.

It’s harder for artists to offer gifts in return for email addresses.

Stop Trying to Solve Problems with Your Art

When consuming marketing advice, it’s important to distinguish the difference between what I share to help you in your art career and what other business coaches might be teaching.

Many of these coaches are working with small business entrepreneurs (like me) who sell services. Our business model is to solve problems that potential clients might have.

At Art Biz Coach, I help ambitious artists gain recognition, build confidence, and sell more art. With my private clients, we customize marketing plans with strategies that are the best fit for each artist’s individual situation.

The free gifts that I offer and those from others that are most consumed online are those that solve a problem. They promise the consumer or artist any or all of the following:

  • This will save you time.
  • This will save you money.
  • This will save you effort.
  • This will make you money.

When you read this list of promises, it’s hard to see what you as an artist might have to offer in exchange for an email address. On the other hand, if you also teach art, you can create a free report to attract students.

But let’s just stick to the fine art and put the possibility of teaching aside for now.

©Marti Leroux, Matrix. Oil on stretched canvas, 24 x 36 inches. Used with permission.
©Marti Leroux, Matrix. Oil on stretched canvas, 24 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

You could make the argument that art solves a problem. Maybe it fills a hole in the wall or a void in someone’s life. But this argument is weak.

Most people, outside of artists themselves, don’t need art to survive or to overcome a tough situation.

The truth is, the empty wall over the sofa and the garden don’t need your art. They will be fine, although arguably less aesthetically pleasing, remaining empty.

Here’s the bottom line: Stop trying to fit your art business into a formula created for other products and services. Art is special. Your art is special.

The Purpose of Art

Art doesn’t solve a problem. If you insist that art should have a purpose, try any of these:

Art delights. It adds joy to one’s life.
Art surprises.
Art questions the status quo.
Art piques our curiosity.
Art brings back fond memories.
Art educates us about religion, philosophy, history, and geography.

For the people who need it (you and me), art is absolutely essential. But we have to face that not everyone feels this way.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world live in poverty and have no place for art purchases in their meager budgets. Fortunately, most art can be observed free of charge in galleries and art centers, on museum free days, and online.

I love the way Elizabeth Gilbert frames art’s role in society in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which every artist should read. She insists that art is nonessential and embraces the notion that she makes useless things. She says:

It means I am not exclusively chained to the grind of mere survival. It means we still have enough space left in our civilization for the luxuries of imagination and beauty and emotion – and even total frivolousness.

Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift.

Focus on the Gift

Your gift is your art.

©Karen LeGault, Still Life with Red Pears. Watercolor on paper, 24 x 36 inches. Used with permission.
©Karen LeGault, Still Life with Red Pears. Watercolor on paper, 24 x 36 inches. Used with permission.

Your gift is using your art to communicate something special to the world. Focus on the gift and give more of it.

Instead of looking to receive something in return, give freely. No, I’m not talking about giving your art away. I want you to share it more openly – in emails and on social media.

Focus on your art and the stories behind it, as well as your life as an artist in your communication. Stop trying to make your art fit into a certain marketing formula.

Delight. Surprise. Educate. Through your art. This is your gift.

Your Turn

Let’s talk about giving gifts and building your list. Please leave a comment below.

Share this post

Your mailing list is your #1 marketing asset.

Your Artist Mailing List report

A transcript with the 3 lists every artist should have + a 3-page assessment for understanding the health of your list. FREE with opt-in.

41 thoughts on “The Only Gift You Need to Build Your Mailing List”

  1. Alyson,
    This is one of the best posts you’ve published (and I read them all, and use them!). It really gets to the heart of it all and puts things in perspective- a keeper for sure.

    thank you, and have a wonderful holiday.

  2. Alyson,
    Thank you for this post! Being able to make Art is gift I am grateful for. When I can combine my images with words (in my blog), this makes me happy, whether or not I happen sell the painting. By the way, I have started the book Big Magic on tape, and it’s terrific. Thanks for recommending it.

  3. Hi Alyson
    I am hard at work trying to tidy up my appalling mailing list and all the other stuff that is just thrown into one messy file. However it will take ages and I am working slowly towards this goal. Sadly some of the organisational software is prohibited by my Mac. So I am just putting everything onto Excel(instead of paper). I have so much to do that I am just not sure that I am ready for the rest so quickly. I have your book downloaded and will go through this systematically. I am also taking heed of your advice from your videos and putting out feelers for exhibition potential, with collaboration particularly as the language makes it just that much more difficult (no whining!). I do speak a reasonable German and still have lessons after 16 years here, but of course everyone else speaks dialect. Not easy but I plug away. I created a work FB site about 3 months ago and am also on Instagram. So that is about where I am at for now. Essentially the answer is’ I am not sure about joining as yet.’
    Thanks for your inspiration.
    Best wishes
    Claire Linder

  4. Alyson,

    As Kristen said, this IS a keeper for sure.

    The key for me is “…the bottom line: Stop trying to fit your art business into a formula created for other products and services.”

    Thank you for articulating something valuable that we all can use. A gift indeed.



  5. I agree wholeheartedly with Kristen O’Neill’s comment – ‘permission to stop trying to do something that didn’t fit’ because I thought it was the right thing to do. I had felt Elizabeth Gilbert’s statement but couldn’t find the words: “It means we still have enough space left in our civilization for the luxuries of imagination and beauty and emotion – and even total frivolousness. Pure creativity is something better than a necessity; it’s a gift.”
    I also saw this on a button at an art fair recently that kind of says that, as well:
    “Life Is Short.
    Eat the Dessert.
    Buy the Art.”

  6. I really liked this post. In thinking about it, I’ve thought of making a small ePub featuring my work as sort of a developmental time line from my first efforts in painting 38 years ago to the present. It would feature images not found elsewhere on my website or portfolio and perhaps include anecdotal comments along with the images. It would be a free download in return for signing up to receive email newsletters and the like. You could also add a link within the ePub to receive some other surprise perk. Coupon? Another free download of some sort?

  7. LOVE this!!!Thank you for this gift today Alyson!! I will hold it with me and share my gifts at my Holiday Open Studio & Sample Sale THIS Saturday!! Keep it coming…this is very inspiring to me!! I’m feeling REALLY great about my upcoming artist open studio. Happy December! xo

  8. Thank you for permission to give….I love finding new homes for what I create and while I respect (and desire) the integrity of pricing for perceived value, sometimes someone needs a little art in their life and my ability to make that happen is all I need. I want to be the gateway (drug of choice) to the un-arted as they learn and find their way towards more acquisitions. And “do-dads” as gracious pillow gifts and dinner party favors for friends? Be still my heart, I love the excuse to dabble and share. This is a read again … and again.

  9. I have always understood that nobody needed my art. It is wonderful that that truth is acknowledged by others.
    In certain circumstances people want my ability to create a portrait very much, especially people who have lost a family member and don’t have a good photograph of them.
    As a portraitist, my work is often so personal to the family, that I don’t often feel able to share that art with the world. So I am getting a name for animal portraits, which I can share, but don’t challenge my talent to the same degree!

  10. I’m still in the process of producing art beyond the hobby stage (workingo n the direction in Video #1!!) but your words mean the world to me – thank you, Alyson, your gift of insight is so rare and the art world needs it so much

  11. Thank you Alyson for this uplifting article !
    I feel you have lifted a weight from my shoulders.
    Delight. Surprise .Educate
    I love this idea and I will hold on to these sentiments going forward.

  12. Alyson
    I have just read Big Magic and it has shifted my mindset dramatically.
    Loved it in that she truly understands and respects the gift it is of being an artist.
    I am cultivating gratitude for this creativity that has chosen to be in my life.

    Marianne Gargour

    I’m another of the tired and weary of twisting my brain in knots (for YEARS) of how to figure out what problem my art solves AND what gifts to offer my email lists, etc.

    THANK YOU for taking me OFF THE HOOK!!!!!


  14. Hey Alyson, this so resonates with me today! I always have pause for thought when I do my newsletter because I have both coaching clients and collectors on my list. Sometimes I write two different newsletters but I know that some of my collectors are wanna-be creatives and like to read my coaching articles so I go for publishing an all-in-one. I was about to press send when I realised that my art wasn’t central enough so I redesigned the newsletter to start with my art news and put the coaching stuff later. In the end, you’re so right, my art is the gift I have to share. Everything I’m able to help my clients with comes from what I’ve learned from my own art-making experience. Art is not only the gift I have to give, but the gift I have received because being an artist is such a privilege! So glad you loved Elizabeth Gilbert’s book too!

  15. what wonderful remarks that have been written today. You have inspired me to keep trying in all my interest in art. So many times I have remarks of what is she thinking but now I shall ignore and love my art. Thank you

  16. Colleen Michelle Connors

    Yes, I love to paint, I love how it takes me away from everything else happening in the world,
    Thinking that is really a gift to share it , without the expectations of sales is very freeing.

  17. I bought Big Magic on CD for the trip to Golden but I did not read the fine print. IT CAME IN GERMAN! As awesome as that is, I don’t speak German. SOMEDAY I will find the right person to gift it to!
    This reminded me to go ahead and buy the book.
    Sometimes I do better with audio as I listen and paint.

    Here is to more magic in the world and in our hearts.

    1. I would actually be interested as I am German although I am living in France, married to an English husband … maybe you consider me? In case you do, please ask Alyson for my email address. And yes, great article – Vera

  18. I am confused by this – the problem is definitely that art doesn’t ‘solve a problem’ – so as an obsessive follower of marketing blogs and ‘how to’ downloads – it makes writing formulaic copy impossible – how can you address the needs of a target market(?) if they dont need

    but are you really expressing an alternative.

    Should the email subject lines read ‘a pretty picture’ ‘another pretty picture’ ‘more about me’ disguised as ‘a gift to you’ ‘another gift to you’ ‘my opinion about my gifts to you’ – will this really work?

  19. Thank you Allison, this is very inspiring and timely. Yet art is something that has to be done, like word that has to be spoken, and act that has to be accomplished, like there is no other choice, or it’s the best choice out of many other possibilities. Art has to be shown, and there are then those who have to have it for the same reason that it’s the best choice. Just my musings at this time and space 🙂

  20. I’m so happy to see this post. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I have to offer in a newsletter besides ‘a pretty picture’. I thought a lot about the people who collect art, display art, gift art, etc. and I asked myself what I’d like to get out of a newsletter from an artist. I realized that I do have a lot to offer them besides just a nice picture once a month. I can offer information about process, materials, conservation and behind-the-scenes stories/inspiration about my own work. I made a more detailed list in each broad category and was pleased to see I had enough topics for several newsletters. [Add on a section about current classes, exhibits, fairs, etc. and that’s a decent newsletter.] Refine one or two of them into a very nice pdf and you have a newsletter sign up reward. Expand those further and you have an ebook or class.

  21. This post has been INVALUABLE to me! So inspiring Alyson, even after a failed attempt to sell some of my art yesterday. I came away from that experience a little angry, then thought of something cheery, then immediately made some positive determinations…in other words, I didn’t react as I used to before Breakthrough. And now, with your post today, I feel even more empowered. Thanks!

  22. Hi Alyson, your words over the past few months have made me rethink my marketing approach and I have been slowly implementing it in a more focused way. It has relieved a lot of pressure about the ‘shoulds’ of marketing which were never a right fit for me. I’m in it for the long game, it’s about the one-on-one relationships. I’m more comfortable with the soft sell and I try to put my focus on showing up in a meaningful way. It’s a relief to know that showing up can make a difference.

  23. Dear Alyson,

    Thank you for your article, it hit the mark to say the least! Working on re-opening (is that what it’s called?) my blog. And look forward to sharing the creative process, and being with this community once again.

    fondly, Magdalena

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top

Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

Privacy + Terms

You're invited!


  • More than 7 strategies for growing your list lists, and why 1 shines above all.
  • How to redirect your energy for better results.
  • How a gratitude practice can help you shift your mindset.

I’ll also give you a peek behind the scenes at our classes and community.

This event is coming up soon. Will you come?