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Four Steps To Banish The Fear Of Selling Your Artwork

selling your work Sep 22, 2017
Let's be honest: it can be a scary thing selling your artwork. Even the most experienced artist can have a mini-panic attack at the thought of selling their work. I know many a seasoned artist who after years of selling their creations still have self-doubts when it comes to putting their work up for sale.

In another life, for almost a decade, I ran our family gallery at Waiwhetu and I owned Koha Gift stores in Queensgate Hutt City and North City Shopping Malls, Porirua. I have sold many an artwork on behalf of my whānau and other artists. So, while I'm not an artist, I know the signs of artist's fear and the thoughts that go through the mind of an artist when thinking about selling their work:

  1. My work isn't good enough to sell
  2. I'm too shy to sell my work
  3. I don't know how to price my work

Just the thought of selling their artwork makes most artists terrified. Like a possum in headlights they become suddenly paralysed - unable to decide on a price, unable to approach a store or gallery, not even able to set up a stand at the local market or show their work for sale on facebook.

I know artists who would sooner give their work to the friend who admired it than mention selling it to their friend for actual money. So the idea of selling artwork is put off for another year and in the too-hard-basket is where that thought stays. Meanwhile, once all the relatives and friends have received gifts of artwork, the pile of creations keeps building in the corner of the lounge and starts taking over the spare room - while the money to invest in new materials to make art, dwindles.

If you want to sell your work but your fear is stopping you, here are four steps to overcome your fear and start selling your 'stuff':

STEP #1:  Acknowledge the fear for what it is

It's natural to experience fear when faced with something that threatens us. Most likely you are worried about what people will think or say about what you have created or  you're worried they'll judge you for trying to sell your work.

This is unreasonable fear since it is based on an imagined set of circumstances. You have no proof that this will actually happen or that you will be harmed even if it does.

Do the following to overcome this unreasonable fear

  • Accept that there will be haters but they are the minority. Haters exist in the world - you know the kind: they troll facebook and write nasty comments because they haven't got anything better to do.  Do you really care what the haters think?

  • Remember the people backing you - your friends and whānau who love what you do, who want you to do what you do, and want more than anything for you to succeed.  Listen to their voices. Hear their words in your head.

  • Remember that even the most well-known, best-selling artist has fears but the difference is that they don't let that stop them. If they did they'd still be where you are today - stuck in fear and not selling work.

  • Realise that if you want to keep being an artist, craftsperson, artisan (or however you see yourself and what you do at the moment), you are eventually going to have to put your work out there for sale (or trade) to fund what you do. Even if it's a hobby, you need money to purchase canvas, clay, dye, wood, tools, etc to make what you make.

STEP #2 Get an objective view about your art work

It's easy to judge our own work. It can even be a little cowardly - it can be an easy way out to just settle with the thought that 'my work is not good enough'. The best way to get an objective view of your work is to ask others what they think of it, would they buy it and how much would they pay for it.

This will help you in two ways:

  1. you'll know whether your work is saleable and at what price
  2. you'll be affirmed that there are people who like what you make

The more people you show your work to and ask these questions of, the more reliable the results of your market research will be. At the very least, ask your friends and whānau for their honest feedback. Then summon the courage to approach a gallery or store and ask them what they think.

STEP #3 Know that it's OK to actually make money from your (ART) Work.

That's right. Other people make a living (money is the currency these days) from the work of their hands (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, bakers,  . . .)  minds (academics, lawyers, . . .) and hearts (red cross workers, social workers, counsellors . . .) Why shouldn't you?

You, like everyone else, needs to feed and house yourself and your whānau. Enough said.

But really . . . if you're thinking it's not kosher/tikanga/right to sell your work for actual money then think again: You have spent your time, skill and hard labour creating something that someone else is going to enjoy. Of course you can charge for it! and there will be someone who is grateful and willing to pay you to do so, if your work appeals to them. Believe me.

Don't let the voices of those who claim 'our tupuna never sold their work - they only did it for aroha' stop you. Our Maori ancestors were great traders and entrepreneurs who both sold and gave away stuff depending on what they thought would best advance them and their whānau or enhance relationships between people at the time.

Reciprocity is a vital cultural value. So, don't fall prey to that guilt-trip talk.

Artists have every right to make a living, if they can, from the work of their hands, mind and heart - just as much right as the next person. You can still give your work away for aroha. You get to decide.

STEP #4 Commit to do it anyway

Challenge yourself to sell just one thing, just once. Decide what it is you will sell and by what date you will sell it. Accept that challenge as a part of  your learning curve as an artist. It's usually the first time we do something new that is the most fear-filled time we ever do it. Each time after the that the fear gets less.

Feel the fear and do it anyway then do it again and again. Practise facing your fear and putting yourself out there. Each time you do this it will get easier.

So, the four things to do now to overcome your fear of selling your artwork:

  1. Know your fear is a normal reaction but that it is unreasonable.

  2. Get feedback from people about what they like about your artwork and whether they would buy it (and at what price)

  3. Decide what pieces you want to/need to sell and those you want to give away and know it's ok to make money from your work.

  4. Set a goal to put just one piece of your work up for sale.

What's the worst that can happen? You don't sell that piece. But in the process of trying you will have learned what you need to improve on. That's a win, right there!

If you have work to sell and you would like to try selling your work, you might be interested to give the Marketplace on the Māori Art Hub a go.

Set up by artists for artists, the hub acts as a kind of up-market trademe based on the idea of an artists collective. A nominal 5% transaction fee is deducted only when you sell a piece. There is no middle man.

The Marketplace on the Māori Art Hub is an online selling platform where you can give selling your artwork a go. Request an invite to become a seller by emailing [email protected]

Kia Ora, Lillian

PS: Please let me know in the comments below whether you found this article helpful.  

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