Are You Making Incredible Art But Not Selling Anything? This Is Probably Why.

This post about selling your art is a guest post by Sharayah Pranger, from the website The Abundant Artist. See her profile below for more information!

Are you a starving artist? 

The romantic idea of the impoverished bohemian creative, committed to creating spectacular work at the expense of luxuries like food and electricity, has plagued the art world for centuries. But it has always been a myth.

Artists can create an incredible living doing what they love, but it requires an investment into something they don’t teach you in art school: marketing.

Even seasoned artists with decades of experience, outstanding technical skills and an impressive CV can fail to sell their art if they’re not marketing properly. This may feel discouraging for artists with fewer shows, galleries, or prestigious universities under their belts… but the truth is, even less experienced artists can make good money from their work if they know how to sell it. 

One secret that many successful artists don’t talk about: the 50/50 rule.

What Is the 50/50 Rule?

The 50/50 rule is a standard rule of thumb for just about every kind of business selling a product or a service. It’s so ubiquitous, in fact, that it’s somewhat startling that art schools have still not made teaching it a priority. The 50/50 rule states that half of all time spent on your art business should be dedicated exclusively to marketing and related tasks. 

For many artists new to selling their work (or those who are struggling), this may come as a tremendous shock. “How can I possibly sell my art if I have to spend 10 or more hours a week on marketing instead of actually painting?” you may retort. But if you hope to sell any work at all, you must begin by investing time and effort into the business itself.

What Is Included In “Business and Marketing”? 

It will be helpful to identify the various tasks that you may accomplish during your designated business and marketing hours:

  • Answering emails
  • Reaching out to potential shows, galleries, clients, and collaborators. One well-known and highly successful artist, Jesse Reno, made a rule early in his career that he wouldn’t allow himself to paint until he had made ten contacts every week. Before long his career had catapulted as a result of his discipline and persistence.
  • Planning and implementing promotions, advertisements, marketing campaigns and giveaways.
  • Setting up sales funnels.
  • Identifying your ideal customer and figuring out where to find them.
  • Networking.
  • Creating promotional materials.
  • Applying for art fairs.
  • Applying for grants.

Once they realize how much there is to do, most artists laugh and admit that 50 percent of their time might not actually be enough! There need be no concern about growing bored during your designated marketing hours. Though it will vary according to your particular business model, there is always something more to do. 

The 5 Business Models For Artists

Having an accurate view of how your business makes money will make it easier for you to focus your business and marketing time and get the most out of it. Below we’ve listed the 5 main business models for working artists, along with some of the business and marketing tasks that will be required.

  • Traditional galleries. Artists working with traditional galleries will spend their time cultivating and maintaining relationships with current and prospective gallery owners (networking & sending/responding to emails), preparing their art for shipping and installation.
  • Selling original works directly to collectors, including outdoor arts and craft fairs, online marketplaces like Etsy, and selling on your website. Artists who sell their work directly to collector will need to spend much more of their time on active marketing than artists working with a traditional gallery, who will do the bulk of the marketing themselves. That may look like creating Facebook ads, buying magazine ads or visiting dentists offices (or wherever your ideal client is) in person. 
  • Selling prints, including through print-on-demand marketplaces like Zazzle. Artists who sell their prints often spend several hours per week marketing through social media, especially Pinterest and Instagram.
  • Offering commissions, public works or installations. One word: networking! Plus a lot of public art applications and calls for art. 
  • Art licensing. The art licensing world is very different from other ways of selling your art. And artists who pursue licensing will need to spend many hours researching licensing companies. One way to do this is to “go shopping”! Find products with art like yours, track down their manufacturers, and start calling and emailing!

Staying Productive

For an artist deeply in love with their craft, it can be hard to pull themselves away from their work in order to do all the business stuff that feels infinitely less appealing. But it must be done if you want to continue creating art profitably. So how do the pros stay productive and on-task? Here are a few of our recommendations:

Productivity Apps

In order to make sure that you don’t waste your time minute by minute on social media or other time-sucking distractions, you can try an app like Rescue Time that tracks your online habits to help you be more productive. You can block distracting websites for chunks of time. Or set up alerts to let you know when you’ve spent too much time on a distraction. Another good app for productivity is ColdTurkeyBlocker.

Time Blocking

Productivity looks like different things for different people. But when dozens or hundreds of successful entrepreneurs all swear by the same method, you may want to take notice. Start Finishing, by Charlie Gilkey, is a book that outlines how entrepreneurs and small business owners can revolutionize their business by approaching their work schedule and planning in an unconventional way.

At the core of the philosophy is the practice of time-blocking. It’s a fancy way of saying setting aside chunks of time for specific tasks according to how much time the tasks require. During those time blocks, you don’t do anything else until you’ve completed your task. There’s some productivity science behind the time limits. Even the most committed creative will begin to run out of creative steam after a maximum of 6 hours, usually much closer to 4. 


Don’t be afraid of the A word! An accountability group can make a massive difference in how well you stay on track throughout the weeks and months. Sometimes called a mastermind group, specialised highly-focused groups of individuals at a similar place in their businesses can provide helpful motivation, perspective, and weekly or monthly accountability. Don’t try to do it alone!

In Conclusion

The key to better success in your business is mindset. If you’re approaching your creative work as nothing more than a hobby, that’s fine! Hobbies are great. But don’t expect to make much money. If you are willing to adopt the mindset that your art is your business, and to put in the time accordingly to grow the business, you can be successful.

The 50/50 rule reveals how essential it is that you focus generous time on running and marketing your art business and not just on creating art. Identify which business model is the best fit for your art. And begin setting aside half of your time for the marketing and business strategy that best fits your model. Making use of proven productivity techniques and joining a group of professionals in a similar phase of their career for support and accountability can make a significant impact on your ability to succeed in the long term.

If you have questions for Sharayah about marketing and selling your art, comment below!

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