What I Learned in My First 2 Years of Starting an Art Business

During college, my first job was a henna tattoo artist at Universal Studios. It was a very fun and rewarding job. We got paid commission, which taught me to hustle if I wanted a decent paycheck. I was essentially drawing on people during my shifts and getting paid for it. I loved what I did. I also fell in love with the art of henna. I left that job a few years later to pursue something in my career field of web design, but part of it has stayed with me ever since.

About 2 years ago, I got an idea to make supplemental income by opening up a henna studio and selling henna-inspired art on the side. I didn’t have enough courage to start the henna tattoo side of things, but I decided to start off making art to see where it goes.

My first sketches were bad. I had a lot to learn but that didn’t stop me from creating. I’ve dabbled in a few art classes in college and I’m naturally a creative person, so this was right up my alley, whether the art was good or not. I decided to pick up a few new techniques, such as watercolor and keep pumping out the ideas that popped in my head.

Over the next few months, I had a good amount of watercolor pieces done, but was stuck. I had to figure out how I’m going to sell them. I set up a social media e-store, which was connected to Instagram. I didn’t get any sales right away, but was able to at least show off my inventory in a quick online store format. However, the website I chose to do that with had dissolved. So, I was left wondering how to keep going.

My first piece of art

I decided to keep posting on Instagram and Facebook, so that my art is out there and people are seeing it. I temporarily had pieces on my own website, but nothing was happening. That’s when I decided to set up a shop on Etsy. Etsy is a great platform for creators and exposes your items to a huge audience – over 45.7 million buyers are on the website as of 2019. As a website designer, I usually prefer to tell people to start their own website versus starting an Etsy shop because you do not have to pay fees and with enough promotion, it usually does well. However, since I was just starting out, I needed more eyes on my artwork before people trust my website enough to buy from it.

I kept creating things, such as originals and prints. I also started making clocks out of vinyl records and painting designs on them. I slowly built up my art inventory and listed them on Etsy as I went along. It was slow growth but I kept believing in what I was doing. I studied Etsy and got advice from other sellers on how to grow. I opened my store on January of 2020 and didn’t make my first sale until June of 2020. It took me over a year of social media presence and failed efforts combined with 6 months of Etsy ownership to finally get my first sale. I have yet to make another sale (as of October 2020) but have gifted an artwork to my niece, which I consider a personal win.

I am only at the beginning of my art business journey, but here are some things I’ve learned so far:

  • Create. Create. Create. – Shoppers can be picky so it helps to have a variety of pieces for people to choose from. It’s like fishing. The more lines you have out there (or art pieces available), the more likely you are to get a bite (or a sale). Also, an added bonus is that as more time goes on, your skills will be tuned up with every new piece you put out.
  • Use a Variety of Platforms – There are so many social media platforms out there and it’s important to use as many as you can. Use the ones that make sense for you. Even if you do not get sales or high engagement on a specific platform, it is a way to show people that you are alive and thriving. By using different platforms, you will reach a larger audience just by brand recognition. Casting a wider net will always help in the long term when to comes to selling creative products.
  • Brand Yourself Well – Know your audience and keep your branding focused around things they would like or familiar with. Work on your own branding and try to reflect a professional image across everything you do. Get custom business cards, make custom social media graphics and make sure your image not only looks damn good, but also reflects what you do.
  • Get Social – I am still working on this one because it seems my social reach has slowed down lately, but I am still posting. Post often to connect with your audience and post things such as questions, videos, and personal tidbits to build as many relationships as you can. The better the relationship with your audience, the more likely they are to trust you and buy from you.
  • Keep Going – Keep learning about ways to fine tune your methods (both the business side and the art side of things), even if nothing exciting is happening. Do not let a slow period dull your enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Even if are not seeing results right away, just know that something could always be brewing right under the surface. Be patient and keep working. Keep putting yourself and your products out there. It’s just a matter of time until something new and exciting happens to your business.

Those are just a few things that I’ve learned in my first years of my art business. I have a very long way to go, but I am very eager to keep growing and keep learning along the way.

Every accomplishment starts with the decision to try.

— Gail Devers

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