How I Got My Start and Became a Full-Time Artist
I've been asked so many times how to begin selling your artwork. This is SUCH a loaded question, with so many tangents I could go on. But for now, I will just tell my story. My successes and my failures -- my seven year long journey of trial and errors since college, and how I got to the place I am today. This is long one, so bear with me...
College. Oh, College. I really loved my college experience, attending St. Mary's College of Maryland. A really tiny honors liberal arts school in the middle of no where, Southern Maryland. (Seriously, the closest town had ONE bar, ONE pizza shop, and ONE liquor store/gas station.) But it created this isolated little dream of an experience. But this isolation honestly did NOT prepare us very well for real life.
My seven fellow Studio Art majors, our senior year!
Made lifelong friends (and bridesmaids!) through this unique experience!
Also: note the vintage Instagram filter, hahaha!
I majored in Art & Art History, minored in Math, and at the time LOVED the program and my professors. But now looking back, it was a very singular academic perspective of Art. We were expected to graduate, go get our Masters in Fine Arts, get our work in galleries, become a professor, and yada-yada.. (basically, just follow in the footsteps of our professors) Instagram was barely even a thing yet (graduated in 2011)
Our courses taught us how to think and talk like and artist, heavy in theory. But very little in technique, or applicable artist business skills for beyond the academic/gallery/high art world. (They didn't teach even Graphic Design or Ceramics because they were "crafts" not high art -- insert eye roll here) At the time, I bought into all of that pretention and thought I would surely fit their mold of an artist, and be on my way.
And then I graduated. And entered the real world, working my minimum hourly wage at an art gallery. Exhausted, with no time or energy to make art. (Or even BEGIN to think about taking out a massive loan to uproot to a major city and enter a Masters program like my professors had pushed) There HAD to be a better way.
This was right around the time blogs and Pinterest were really gaining steam. I hadn't yet discovered many artists blogging, but did follow and love a ton of lifestyle bloggers (many who I still follow today). I watched them grow a massive following through putting themselves out there, creating this fantasy/but also approachable world, and crafting a unique voice and style.
I started a blog and Etsy shop Spring semester of my college year -- called Amaryllis Truth Studio. My face is turning red just thinking about my first posts (I'll spare you in the embarrassing photos, but I'm sure they're out there on the inter webs if you search hard enough). The blog and name actually started as a business idea to create handpainted upholstery fabric with my mom (who is an amazing seamstress). I don't think we ever made or sold a single product (maybe I should look back into that!) But I now had a platform to begin posting and establishing my online presence. I moved in with my boyfriend after college (now husband) on this beautiful farm on the Potomac river, so posted a lot about our experiences and inspiration there, some Outfit of the Day posts, and started sprinkling in painting here and there. The handpainted fabric idea never got off the ground, but I kept the name and Etsy shop and began with listing a few paintings, all soft and dreamy landscapes inspired by the farm where we lived.
I slowly grew my blog following. But like really slowly. I think I had maybe 200-300 followers the majority of the time, maybe even less?
One of my very first paintings sold!
(Photographed on the farm where we lived)
But eventually I sold a painting! I still remember it like it was yesterday when that notification came through. I started with 6 paintings in my Etsy shop, all soft and dreamy landscapes inspired my the farm we lived on. SUPER cheap. I think I started selling 12" x 12" paintings for about $80 each. And to my shock, my first order was for TWO paintings. What an honor, someone wanted two of my paintings. I seriously was thrilled, and it was just the boost I needed to keep going. I would love to find that person today!
My Etsy shop was pretty underwhelming -- even then (2012-2013) Etsy was pretty heavily saturated and hard to get discovered. I also was noticing the price point for Etsy for original work was way too low. I knew my work had value, and quickly realized Etsy buyers were probably not my target market. I started a Big Cartel shop at this time, up'd by prices (still pretty undervalued though) and began working with a few established galleries to help validate my name and work.
Around this time, I also discovered Interior Design blogs --- this was a huge first step in to getting my work out there to my target market (And not just the casual blog reader shopping for a $20 mug, or pair of earrings on Etsy). I reached out to probably a dozen of designers all across the country, to introduce them to my work, and potentially advertise (for just $20-30 a month) on their blogs for an ad or featured post if they felt we were a good fit. Through advertising, and networking, and just commenting on other blogs and building relationships (similar to how Instagram functions today) I continued to gain a little more traction and started offering commissioned pieces for clients and Interior Designers. By upping my prices, and elevating my clientele, I really started to validate myself and efforts as an artist (even if I was still only making a few thousand dollars a year -- and maintaining a part-time job all the while :/ ) but I was making progress!
I moved home to save money, for the year before our wedding. I was leaving my minimum wage job at an art center (still probably the most demanding job I ever had -- was THRILLED when I got that $1 raise to $9/hr...) and looking for work in my hometown. This was really a really pivotal point in my career/life to make art my priority -- this is what I was going to do for a career, so how was I going to make this work? For one, I wasn't going to bust my butt at a low paying job just to stay in the "industry" anymore to pad my resume -- my resume now was my portfolio -- I needed money and time to focus and build that portfolio.
I ended up finding sort of a random administrative position through a friend, that allowed me really flexible part-time hours and nearly $25/hr (I thought I was rich at this point!) It was easy work, that I didn't have to bring home with me. They knew I was trying to do the art thing and thankfully respected that. This job afforded me time to paint, and money to save for a new car and our wedding and first home. It also gave me a little cushion to rent an AMAZING studio space -- at this point, I was comfortable my painting sales could at least cover my expenses. (But wasn't turning much profit at this time -- thankfully, my job made up for that)
Oh, I loved this studio.
(If only it was a tad bigger -- with water, and more than one electrical outlet, and free parking, and storage...)
Beautiful, but not very practical!
For the next three years (2014-2017) I worked part-time, while continuing to my business. I made a crucial shift from blogging to Instagram to promote my work -- it was much easier to throw out a simple photo and thoughtful caption, than try to spend hours crafting the perfect blog post. Time was limited, and I'd rather spend that painting.
It was during this time, that most of you reading this probably discovered my work.
There is a lot to say about the strategy behind an effective Instagram presence, but at its core I really think my success came down to consistently painting and posting good work that people were interested in following. I've allowed my Instagram to pull the curtain behind my process and strategy as an artist -- I'm just real person (and now wife and mama) trying to create my dream job, and live the most beautiful life I can imagine.
This past winter when I left my part-time job for maternity leave, I had just trained my temporary replacement, my art business was pretty successful financially, but admittedly stagnant. It was my "now or never" moment to go all in to my business to give myself the real energy and time it required to take it to its next level. I moved studios (to double the square-footage, but half the cost) to help with some of the financial burden, and really just went for it. I'll be honest -- I wasn't a hundred percent sure it would work. My husband was also going through a major career shift, we had a brand new baby, and it was a HARD decision. Thankfully my employer was SO understanding, and gave me to the very last minute to decide. (In my heart, I always knew I had to do it -- but just needed the logistics and my spreadsheets to fall into place to give myself peace with the decision.)
And here I am today -- I still have moments of panic, Can I really pull this off? But in those moments of doubt, I just keep my head down, and continue to put in the work. When all else fails, I believe in my art and my talent -- and I think that is ultimately all that matters.
Soo... that could be it's own novel... if you've stuck through all of that, to this point. THANK YOU! And to those that may have gotten distracted along the way, I don't blame ya. It was pretty long-winded, but really wanted to give you guys the full picture beyond just those little instagram squares.
I'm curious to know when and how you discovered my work? Leave a comment below!
ALSO! Kinda a big announcement --
I’m testing the waters to offer coaching to artists that may be just starting out, or perhaps have been creating art for years but looking to pivot and shift more of their energies to social media and selling online. Not sure how to price your artwork? Identify and reach your ideal client? Do you want to grow your Instagram audience and convert followers into sales?
Does this sound like you? I'm eager to share everything I've learned over these past six years!
If you're interested to learn more, click here!