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5 ways you can turn the tables as an Artist

Note: This will be useful if you sell originals and/or prints.

You hear this statement made all the time: “I heard it’s difficult to make money as an artist” - I agree and disagree with this statement. On one hand it isn’t desirable to be in a business where people are either getting super rich or stay poor. But I’m certainly starting to discover the grey area in the middle for commercial artists to build a proper career. 

I’ve seen and perhaps been a victim of the typical business model on how to make money out of artists, the game is rigged for us. Here are 5 ways artists can take back control, and be our own bosses.

1) Less exclusivity

“I want this artwork only for me, nobody else can have it.”

People should pay more for this privilege! Of course, it’s great for your client to be the only person who proudly owns a piece, but this is a luxury because the asset becomes far more valuable if it’s exclusive to them. This is also the case for limited edition pieces! If I do sell a ‘one-off’ piece, I want to sell it for a price where I feel no resentment in my heart- because once it’s sold, it’s gone forever.

2) Open up the market

“Only people with extra cash to spend can afford my work”

If your brand and reputation is on the up, but your not quite established as an artist, why not find ways to diversify your product to widen your audience? I did this by moving from only selling oil paintings as a younger artist to selling limited edition prints for a cheaper price. Now I have my own online shop, and can sell work to people my age!

3) Don’t trust ‘The man’

“This could be a big opportunity to you.” 

‘Exposure’ is a very very very VERY misused word when galleries or venues present artists with opportunities to display or exhibit. Whilst exposure is important, and it’s always great to grab opportunities, make sure you look out for the warning signs. Be aware of anyone who doesn’t let you have full freedom to display work and tries to ‘water down’ your work to something different. Watch out for the % cut taken and other charges, be realistic about how much you can actually sell and simulate various scenarios for yourself.

This scenario is especially common when an artist is approached for the first time by a gallery and they may feel overwhelmed by the opportunity and more likely to accept a bad deal.

4) People need you as much as you need them

“One thing leads to another.”

I’ll draw from personal experience here. I positioned myself in the market and aspired to create some of the most intriguing and sophisticated Indian art placed with the sub-cultural context I’ve experienced in the UK- I was happy with my product and I believed in it. Once I was in this position I needed to get myself out there beyond private clients. Through this I learnt that people needed me and I needed them, and business could be done in a mutually beneficial way. 

I got my first magazine article because they needed content, my first restaurant because they were desperate to fill it with Indian art, my first live painting performance because a venue required entertainment, my first radio interview because the exhibition hosts required marketing. The beautiful thing is, these events just lead to more and more opportunities.

5) Don’t forget why you do this

“People seem to buy elephant paintings. So I need to paint more elephants.”

During a routine catch up (& after several pints), my friend reminded me why I do what I do. Yes, there is a deeper psychological reasoning the drives my art - but there is a far simpler answer to what keeps me thriving: Creating damn good work. It’s not about creating art for other people, it’s about doing it for yourself. I realised that I was being sucked into over-thinking my art and watched it turn into more of a business. 

It was after this conversation with my friend that I decided to finally apply for the BP Portrait Artist of the year award- before this, it didn’t make financial sense to apply as there is so little chance of winning. Now that I’ve submitted my portrait for the competition, I have to say it was an incredibly fulfilling experience which has boosted my reputation as a craftsman.

Create damn good work, be great, be your own boss.

Karun Soni