Is Your Art Good Enough to Sell?

In last week’s blog post, I covered 3 reasons you should want to sell your art, but that post left an important question unanswered. What if you want to sell, but aren’t sure if your art is even good enough?

If you’ve ever thought you’re not good enough to be selling your artwork, you are in good company. Every artist in the history of art has felt that same way. But any artist you’ve ever heard of had to get past that thought. It’s time for you to do the same.

But before we go any further, let’s admit one simple fact – not every artist is ready right now. So how do you know if you are or if you aren’t?  Fortunately that’s simple, if you can answer yes to all of the questions below, you are ready.

  1. Have you been drawing regularly for a year or more?
  2. Do you draw at least once a week?
  3. Do you have more than 10 friends or followers on any of your art related social media accounts?
  4. Are you working to get better with each drawing you make?

If you answered yes to these questions then you are good enough right now, regardless of how much progress you still want to make.

I know, I know, you still don’t feel good enough, but let me tell you something few working professionals will admit. No one feels like they’re good enough. Ever. I know I don’t, and I sell a lot of drawings.

The problem with waiting until you feel good enough to sell your art is that feeling good enough is a moving target. The feeling never lasts. As artists we are constantly improving. Each drawing we do gives us just a little more experience and we get just a little better each time, but no matter how good we get, there’s always more room to improve. The truth is you never feel good enough because all you see is what you still need to improve on.

If every drawing is imperfect and each drawing is a little better than the last, at what point do you reach the end of improving? The answer is never. So if you wait until you feel like you’re good enough, when will you start selling your work? Well… Never. You will never be good enough to satisfy yourself. Fortunately, you’re not the one who is going to be buying your work.

It’s important to realize that sales are not based on how good you think your drawings are. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that sales are not even based on how good your audience thinks your drawings are. I’m sure there are lots of people who see your work and appreciate it. They may even love it. But that doesn’t automatically mean that they will buy it. But just because people aren’t buying your work doesn’t mean your work is not good enough to sell. If you are getting validation in the form of likes, comments, and followers, you are good enough to be selling your work. But to get sales you actually have to make sales. Just making art is not enough.

Nothing Sells Itself

A few years ago an artist approached me to help him sell his work. He was by all accounts a competent artist with years of study and hard work under his belt. His drawings and paintings were good… really good, but he hadn’t sold more than a few works. He had a unique style and a large body of work, he had validation in the form of likes and comments, what he didn’t have was sales.

It didn’t take long to figure out what the problem was. His work was good enough to sell but he wasn’t doing anything to sell it. Oh sure, he was posting it up regularly and asking people if they might be interested in buying it if it were for sale. But he wasn’t doing anything to make a sale. When I pointed this out to him he got a sort of disgusted look on his face. He told me that good art sells itself and that an artist’s job was to make art, not sales. He believed that if he made good work people would buy it just because it was good. He believed that good art sells itself. He believed wrong.

I want to make this next part abundantly clear.

Nothing sells itself no matter how good it is. Not iPhones, not luxury cars, not books or movies or clothes, and certainly not art. How many advertisements have you seen for cars in your life? Plenty. Everybody needs a car. It’s one of those items that most people have, and many people have more than one. With that much demand it should be easy to sell a car. It’s not. Just ask your local car salesman.

One might think that if you make a product that everyone needs then sales would be automatic, right? Wrong. Sales are never automatic and car companies know this. Car companies spend billions of dollars each year to convince you that you need a car and that the car you need is the car they make. They carefully match each car they make to a specific type of audience and then make big promises with their advertisements that if you buy this car you’ll have this many friends, or the prettiest girl or boy in town. Or if you’re a little older they show you how having their car will let you travel down the road in comfort and style, and attract the admiration and envy of your coworkers and neighbors. They do their best to convince you that you need their car. The fact is, most people’s lives are easier if they have a car but because there are so many car manufacturers out there, car companies still have to convince you to buy their car. They know that no matter how good their car is, it’s not going to sell itself.

am-i-good-enoughLet’s turn our attention to a company whose products actually do seem to sell themselves. Let’s take a look at Apple. One thing we can say for sure is that Apple products sell. Like gangbusters. Every time they launch a new product, people line up outside the door ready to trade their hard earned cash for the next new thing. Clearly Apple products are good enough to sell, but are they good enough to sell themselves?

Love ’em or hate ’em, Apple products have changed our very lives. They are innovative and well-designed and more often than not revolutionize whatever product category they are in. The iPhone changed the mobile phone industry forever and almost overnight decimated the landline phone. Before the iPhone everyone had a landline. Now? I don’t know anyone under 50 who still has a landline, and even if they do, they have a mobile phone as well.

The iPhone 1 wasn’t the first mobile phone and arguably it wasn’t even the best mobile phone available when it was launched. Apple knew they still had more work to do when they launched the iPhone 1. If you need proof of that just take a look at the iPhone 6. If you compare the iPhone 6 to the iPhone 1, it’s easy to see that with their first product, they went to market with the best thing they had at the time. Sure it was good, but was it perfect? Not by a long shot. Even though it wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be, it was an overnight success. But the iPhone wasn’t the first product Apple launched. The success of the iPhone was built on the success of the iPod, and the iPod was launched on a foundation built by their computer sales, and their computer sales were built on this – the very first Apple product sold.

image2 (1)

I’m not kidding or making this up. If you don’t believe me, just google “Apple 1 computer”.

The first product that Apple went to market with was called the Apple 1 and was introduced in March 1976. It was released for sale in July of that same year for just over $650. It came standard with 4kB of RAM and……. nothing else. No keyboard, no monitor, not even a casing!  The owner of the unit pictured above had to build his own case!  And you know what? They sold out of them! Do you think that Apple product was the best it could be? Do you think it sold itself? I don’t.

Jump ahead 30 years and Apple’s products have obviously improved. But do they sell themselves? The answer is no. Apple still has to market their products to sell them. Truth be told, the reason for Apple’s success is they are really good at marketing. They had to be good at marketing to sell the first computer they made and they have to be good at it now to sell the next device they make. Apple’s marketing strategies are almost as inventive as their products. They carefully plan each product launch and generate massive excitement with accidental leaks and misinformation. Think about it for a moment. With each new launch people are eagerly awaiting Apple’s new device and they don’t even know what it is! Apple keeps it a secret! How the hell do you become the largest publicly traded company in the world by releasing a product that no one even knows for sure what it is? You market your ass off because that product certainly isn’t going to sell itself.

So looking at Apple we can learn two very important things.

  1.  Sell what you’re making right now. Do not wait until it’s as good as it can be or good enough to satisfy you. You are not the customer.
  2. Every product has to be marketed. No product no matter how good it is sells itself.

If Apple had waited until they invented the iPhone to start selling their products, the world would be a very different place and Apple would not be the company they are today. They released what they had and improved as they went. Apple knows there is no such thing as good enough, there is only good for now and better next time.

So don’t wait until you think you’re good enough to start selling your work. You’re never going to think you’re good enough. Start selling the work that you make now, it’s good enough for now and now is all we’ve got.

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  1. Well said. Enjoying the blogs 🙂

  2. A fantastic article!

  3. Food for thought, great blog man! keep em coming! 🙂

  4. Love your blogs, your advice really hits the mark, thankyou!

  5. I really enjoyed this article, it gave me the confidence to actually go out and sell my art

  6. Great read. Must get onto selling what I have now. Thanks for the push in the right direction. Look out for me on my Facebook page Jae Linen Craft

  7. Nice, but let’s take off the focus on Apple for a moment. Lemons and oranges: sell a car or Iphone is a thing, sell a piece of paper or a .png file is another. There’s a quality process behind them, measured and tested by a large team of engeeners.

    “Start selling your work now” sounds easy to say, but hard to make. I know and agree with your point: there is no reason to wait the ‘perfection state’ to sell something. But I don’t think your guide questions really says the truth about the moment to sell.

    1 – Have you been drawing regularly for a year or more?
    This doesn’t mean even a semi-professional quality, only means a routine of drawing. A student for example, takes “a year or more” to became a pro artist.

    2 – Do you draw at least once a week?
    Same again. Only means that you have a routine of drawing and is a motivated person (what is essencial if you want to became a pro some day).

    3 – Do you have more than 10 friends or followers on any of your art related social media accounts?
    Friends really doesn’t count. They will like some stuffs just to motivate you. Parents and relatives too. Know this: nobody likes everything you make. If someone likes every art you post on Facebook, is not real. IF you atracts at least 30 totally strange persons on your Facebook page and they like your stuffs, that’s a real sign.

    4 – Are you working to get better with each drawing you make?
    Again I think that’s a false positive. A ‘noob’ does this on his first time drawing, until he gives up. A pro keeps doing this until his death. But only this isolated fact guarantees nothing about quality if you are looking to the wrong place. You NEED other professionals more experient on your line of art to evaluate your work, otherwise you can run on circles trying to improve something the market doesn’t care about. Or you can even achieve the point of thinking “Oh, finally I THINK my anatomy is good now!”, but you can still do “invisible mistakes” by your view, and someone not emotionally related with you will say: “your female anatomy is ok, but have you ever tried to draw an aged woman?” “And what about animal anatomy?”. Even being perfectionists, we protect ourselves from the truth that we are not kings of the universe.

    The fact is you need to start at some point, good or bad, but you have to be more realistic about quality, otherwise you will be trying sell garbage and being refused, then giving up or having illusions like “they doesn’t understand my art”, “my work is too deep to this capitalistic market” to justify your lack of quality and professionalism.

    • Hi Kaz, great comments, thank you very much. Super happy to have you here if for no other reason than to keep me on my toes.

      Rather than take it point by point, I think I’ll attempt to address the over all theme.

      Regardless of an artist’s skill level, if they meet the criteria I lay out above, they will have progressed past the point of someone who is just starting out. This fact alone gives them an audience they can seek out and nurture and sell to. As for friends and family not being “real”, I disagree as these are often our strongest brand advocates and the ones most likely to share our images.

      As for needing professionals to evaluate your work in order to improve, I call shenanigans 🙂 I will agree that the fastest way to improve is to surround yourself with people who are more skilled than you, but in my experience, professional critique more often than not serves the ideas of the critiquer and not the critiqued.

      Let’s take anatomy for example. I studied anatomy by dissecting the human cadaver and drawing what I found. I actually ended up providing anatomical illustrations for the second edition of the class workbook. I know my anatomy. However, in my recent work I have chosen to deliberately distort the figure to subjugate the laws of nature to the demands of composition and beauty. A “professional” may critique my work based solely on their ideas of what anatomy should look like, ignoring completely the overall aim of the work.

      Take a looks at Ingres female figures which twist and contort against all laws of nature at the artist’s whim. Or let’s take a look at the Mannerist movement as whole. Or for that matter the insane figures that grace the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. If we were to dissect Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the basis of “correct” anatomy, we would do that work a great disservice.

      Finally, this article is about sales and let’s be honest, sales and quality, especially in art, are often not synonymous.

      While I do agree with you that an artist should always strive to improve, should always seek perfection, I disagree with the idea that only art of a “professional” quality will generate sales.

      The point of the article is to encourage artists to take the leap and get their work out there for sale. The point of the rest of this site is to help them acquire the skills to make a lasting professional career.

      Again, I truly appreciate your comment and the obvious knowledge you posses and would love to hear your thoughts on this reply.

  8. Hey, Christopher –
    The whole series of posts is extremely good.
    This one really hit home. I’ve been putting off selling my art online for one reason or another.
    It’s time to set aside those reasons and get busy selling what I have right now!
    After taking stock, I realize that I already have an inventory that is sellable… and selling my art will only make it easier to continue, and add to that inventory.
    Thank you for all the help you’ve given so far. I am excited to kerp going, and see where this leads.

    • Dude, love all your comments on these posts. Would love to see your work! Please feel free to include a link to your Instagram here, or better yet, post up some images so everyone can see. Super excited by the comments you’ve left. Can’t wait to see your work 🙂

  9. Love your blogs, your advice really hits the mark, thankyou!

  10. So glad you took a extra copy of that paper to the teacher that put you down when in class, I hope it sunk into his head that he was wrong and I am so glad that you proved him wrong

  11. Great post. I always found my best example for nothing selling itself is that we still have commercials for toilet paper. I mean, really, is anyone NOT buying toilet paper? But there’re entire teams of people out there whose entire job is telling you the best material to buy for your bum.

  12. This is an old post but I still want to express how much I’m loving your blog. It’s super awesome and I’m so glad I found it. I hope you continue writing it.

    And about this post, I have a two questions:
    1. What if I haven’t practiced regularly for the last year (I was drawing and painting for many years, I even studied Art professionally, but then I stopped for another bunch of years and I only started again about 6 months ago)
    2. I don’t even have 10 followers in some social accounts but I’m being commissioned in others.
    Would someone in my situation be ready to start selling?
    I know that I need to, but am I qualified?

    • Hi Cristina, thank you for the kind comment! I’m of the opinion that nearly anybody at any level can find at least a limited audience to begin selling their work to. Based on what you’ve said above, I would imagine that you are clearly qualified, being that you’re getting at least some commissions. If you’d like, I’d be happy to take a look at the work you’re doing and give you a more complete assessment 🙂

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