How to stop fooling yourself as an artist and sell some art.

As an artist, you put a ton of effort into your work. If you’re a painter, you might be in a vacuum (our cozy little vacuum because we like it there). Eventually, though, we have to emerge into daylight and put our art out there. Is your art selling or not? 

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years prior to being an artist. I and my husband ran a company that made it through the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression. Made it through and thrived. On top of that, I’ve consumed a huge amount of data, my peeps. Eventually, the best ideas rise to the top. Here are a couple…

oil painting of a hand with a black background
‘Hand Me a Brick’

I’ve been working on my project Extraordinary People – Construction for several weeks now  (see my first oil painting above). I was talking about it with my husband, and JP says, ‘But who’s going to buy your art?’ Frankly, it pissed me off. Wasn’t he listening? Didn’t he get it?

I was doing my job, and he had to toss in something as practical as ‘Who’s buying this?’

I have hopes. I hope people will ‘get it’. I hope it will resonate, but do I KNOW? No.

I had planned on creating a group of work 10-15 pieces, perhaps, and then putting it out there for the world to see. (Ok, the world after Instagram). LOL.

Thing is, do I want to dedicate the next several months to this 1 project only to find that it DOESN’T hit people between the eyeballs?

That’s what art has to do, after all. Art must hit us on the gut level, or it doesn’t sell. It might be abstract art where the form and color are amazing, so someone grabs it. It might be realism in oils which is where I’m at. Whatever it is – it must hit us emotionally.

Visual arts are like music.

rock musician playing electric guitar
Photo by Hector Bermudez on Unsplash

We like it because we have an emotional reaction to it. It brings back memories. It makes us think of certain people or times in our lives. It makes us excited because it’s just so ‘HUGE and PINK’. It makes us feel secure or powerful or attractive.

When I listen to ‘Sandman’ by Metallica, it’s like that. The guitar riff plugs in, and I can feel it in my chest, *pounding*.

So, if I’m going to keep working on this project, and I don’t want to spend the next 6 months working on it only to find that it doesn’t even make a ripple, what do I do?

I have to put it out there now.


I have to get the art that I’ve already done out there as soon as humanely possible, to see what people think. To see if it sells.

If it doesn’t, I will have saved myself a TON of time and effort, and I can take that time and put it to a different project. Because I’ve got a lot of things that I’m passionate about.

This concept is not mine. Bullets then cannonballs is from Jim Collins a highly respected business author who wrote the book Good to Great.

The idea is that if we have a limited amount of gunpowder (life, effort, energy, or money), and there’s a ship coming (success, perhaps?), we could load all of our gunpowder into the cannon and give it a go — only to probably miss. Gunpowder gone.


We could load up a rifle with a bullet. Sight it in, and shoot. Adjust. Shoot again. Adjust. Shoot again, until finally we hear ‘Ping!’ as we hit the mark. THEN, we can load the cannonball.

I was talking to an artist the other day who let an art show dictate her entire summer. She worked her butt off! She was told the show would be ‘amazing’ that ‘thousands of people would be there to buy her art’. Then they told her what they wanted her to paint.

When she got to the show, it was a flop. Hundreds of people, maybe. She barely sold anything.

depressed woman
Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash

It wasn’t just that she spent the entire summer painting what other people told her to paint. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t paid for any of her efforts. It was also that she could have spent that time on something that DID pay. She’s not rich. She’s got everyday worries like the rest of us, and probably fantastic ideas, too, but she let someone else take the reins for a bit, and now … now she’s got a lot of art that didn’t sell.

Some of this comes with experience. I get it. I’m not going to know everything ahead of time. I’m not going to be ‘mistake free’. (but, that’s why we fire bullets, first, right?)


Here’s the other side — don’t let fear dictate it for you. She is out there working it!

We have to embrace the mistakes.

If I’m too afraid to make mistakes, I’ll never take a chance on myself.

If I can’t make a mess, then I won’t go anywhere.

If I’m firing bullets, though, I can work on something for a month or so, then FIRE THAT BULLET! Put it out there and see if you’re close to your target. Find some way to get feedback that’s more than just your Uncle Joe and best friend Sue.

Entrepreneurship is about making mistakes. It’s about working your butt off. It’s about working harder, lasting longer, and getting more work done than the next guy. It’s not about sticking our heads in the sand or telling ourselves that we’re artists, not business people. If it’s not a business, is it a hobby?

I think she learned a valuable lesson from this. I learned, too. Wow, it’s cool to have a big company get excited about your art. It’s cool to have others join the parade with you. BUT – we must keep hold of the reins. We have to know if the idea is viable or not.

What’s in it for them? Are they pumping you up for their own benefit because they want to make a sale or have a bigger show? Are they just excited, so you’re both jumping up and down? In the end, YOU are the business person. YOU are the artist. Wouldn’t you rather fall down on your own efforts than to fall down because someone else was throwing ideas around?

Read a ton. Listen to other business owners. Learn as much as you can.

But at the end of the day, it’s YOUR deal.

Fire some bullets first, so you can adjust your aim.

Be brave! Go out there and make a mess. Not screwing up? You’re not trying hard enough. It’s that simple.

If you’re a successful artist, I would love to know how you found your market. What was the ‘Aha’ moment when you realized your niche? Comment here or jump on my Contact Me page to drop a note to my desk.