How to stop fooling yourself as an artist and sell some art.

As an artist, you put a ton of effort into your work. If you’re a painter, you might be in a vacuum (our cozy little vacuum because we like it there). Eventually, though, we have to emerge into daylight and put our art out there. Is your art selling or not? 

I’ve been an entrepreneur for 20 years prior to being an artist. I and my husband ran a company that made it through the worse economic downturn since the Great Depression. Made it through and thrived. On top of that, I’ve consumed a huge amount of data, my peeps. Eventually, the best ideas rise to the top. Here are a couple…

oil painting of a hand with a black background
‘Hand Me a Brick’

I’ve been working on my project Extraordinary People – Construction for several weeks now  (see my first oil painting above). I was talking about it with my husband, and JP says, ‘But who’s going to buy your art?’ Frankly, it pissed me off. Wasn’t he listening? Didn’t he get it?

I was doing my job, and he had to toss in something as practical as ‘Who’s buying this?’

I have hopes. I hope people will ‘get it’. I hope it will resonate, but do I KNOW? No.

I had planned on creating a group of work 10-15 pieces, perhaps, and then putting it out there for the world to see. (Ok, the world after Instagram). LOL.

Thing is, do I want to dedicate the next several months to this 1 project only to find that it DOESN’T hit people between the eyeballs?

That’s what art has to do, after all. Art must hit us on the gut level, or it doesn’t sell. It might be abstract art where the form and color are amazing, so someone grabs it. It might be realism in oils which is where I’m at. Whatever it is – it must hit us emotionally.

Visual arts are like music.

rock musician playing electric guitar
Photo by Hector Bermudez on Unsplash

We like it because we have an emotional reaction to it. It brings back memories. It makes us think of certain people or times in our lives. It makes us excited because it’s just so ‘HUGE and PINK’. It makes us feel secure or powerful or attractive.

When I listen to ‘Sandman’ by Metallica, it’s like that. The guitar riff plugs in, and I can feel it in my chest, *pounding*.

So, if I’m going to keep working on this project, and I don’t want to spend the next 6 months working on it only to find that it doesn’t even make a ripple, what do I do?

I have to put it out there now.

FIRING BULLETS THEN CANNONBALLS

I have to get the art that I’ve already done out there as soon as humanely possible, to see what people think. To see if it sells.

If it doesn’t, I will have saved myself a TON of time and effort, and I can take that time and put it to a different project. Because I’ve got a lot of things that I’m passionate about.

This concept is not mine. Bullets then cannonballs is from Jim Collins a highly respected business author who wrote the book Good to Great.

The idea is that if we have a limited amount of gunpowder (life, effort, energy, or money), and there’s a ship coming (success, perhaps?), we could load all of our gunpowder into the cannon and give it a go — only to probably miss. Gunpowder gone.

OR

We could load up a rifle with a bullet. Sight it in, and shoot. Adjust. Shoot again. Adjust. Shoot again, until finally we hear ‘Ping!’ as we hit the mark. THEN, we can load the cannonball.

I was talking to an artist the other day who let an art show dictate her entire summer. She worked her butt off! She was told the show would be ‘amazing’ that ‘thousands of people would be there to buy her art’. Then they told her what they wanted her to paint.

When she got to the show, it was a flop. Hundreds of people, maybe. She barely sold anything.

depressed woman
Photo by Kyle Broad on Unsplash

It wasn’t just that she spent the entire summer painting what other people told her to paint. It wasn’t just that she wasn’t paid for any of her efforts. It was also that she could have spent that time on something that DID pay. She’s not rich. She’s got everyday worries like the rest of us, and probably fantastic ideas, too, but she let someone else take the reins for a bit, and now … now she’s got a lot of art that didn’t sell.

Some of this comes with experience. I get it. I’m not going to know everything ahead of time. I’m not going to be ‘mistake free’. (but, that’s why we fire bullets, first, right?)

MAKE A MESS

Here’s the other side — don’t let fear dictate it for you. She is out there working it!

We have to embrace the mistakes.

If I’m too afraid to make mistakes, I’ll never take a chance on myself.

If I can’t make a mess, then I won’t go anywhere.

If I’m firing bullets, though, I can work on something for a month or so, then FIRE THAT BULLET! Put it out there and see if you’re close to your target. Find some way to get feedback that’s more than just your Uncle Joe and best friend Sue.

Entrepreneurship is about making mistakes. It’s about working your butt off. It’s about working harder, lasting longer, and getting more work done than the next guy. It’s not about sticking our heads in the sand or telling ourselves that we’re artists, not business people. If it’s not a business, is it a hobby?

I think she learned a valuable lesson from this. I learned, too. Wow, it’s cool to have a big company get excited about your art. It’s cool to have others join the parade with you. BUT – we must keep hold of the reins. We have to know if the idea is viable or not.

What’s in it for them? Are they pumping you up for their own benefit because they want to make a sale or have a bigger show? Are they just excited, so you’re both jumping up and down? In the end, YOU are the business person. YOU are the artist. Wouldn’t you rather fall down on your own efforts than to fall down because someone else was throwing ideas around?

Read a ton. Listen to other business owners. Learn as much as you can.

But at the end of the day, it’s YOUR deal.

Fire some bullets first, so you can adjust your aim.

Be brave! Go out there and make a mess. Not screwing up? You’re not trying hard enough. It’s that simple.


If you’re a successful artist, I would love to know how you found your market. What was the ‘Aha’ moment when you realized your niche? Comment here or jump on my Contact Me page to drop a note to my desk.

 

 

Imagination

‘Imagination’ 8×10 oil on stretched canvas.

I named this one ‘Imagination’ because of how excited I used to get when I saw big merry-go-rounds. I would search and search for the best and most beautiful horse to ride — bonus if they went up and down!

There are things that still spark that excitement for me. Yes, and merry-go-rounds.

Big Bear

‘Big Bear’, larger than 10×12, oil on wood. This painting is actually on a piece of furniture for my parents. It is a measure of ‘try, try again’ because I had to sand the first painting down and start over.

Persistence is key! Whenever I find that I have a new obstacle in my artistic journey, I have to slow down and push to get past it. This was one of those projects, but when I did get it right, it was SO fun.

Old Man, what are you thinking?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Old Man ($80) — I wonder what you are thinking. He’s thinking, “Wow! $80 for a framed art piece like that!” (Yep, I asked.) This piece is approx 11×14 and the black frame really sets it off.

This drawing on toned paper is the one that everyone remarks about. Tomorrow at the end of the day, I will be hanging it at the Eau Claire County Courthouse on the 3rd floor. Go check it out (AFTER 01/21/2020) and see if it would be a great addition to your collection!

Shipping Additional.

No Bull

20-002 No Bull thumbnail


I love this painting just because of the light — who wouldn’t fall in love with ‘No Bull’? I’m tempted to do this again just to play with it, but we’ll see — I have plenty of things that I’m painting lately.

This is a 5×7 oil painting on linen panel.

Fighting a little burnout today. All work and no play means that I took a nap, too. Whenever I lose motivation, I always think ‘nap’. 😉

I’m planning to enter this beautiful little piece in Arts West. No idea if they will accept, of course — and every year they choose a different artist to curate the event, so how can you plan for that? Create art, take great photos and hope for the best.

Rooster

20-001 Rooster thumbnail


This rooster I had to paint just because he is so colorful. The orange, purple, red, and creamy yellow — I was hooked!

This oil painting is on a linen panel that is 5×7. It needs to be framed to hang on the wall.

I’m entering this oil painting in the local Floral Art Show, so here’s hoping that it’s selected. I’m very curious to see what a floral designer might do. The purpose of this show is to pair art with a floral designer who interprets the work in florals — so fun!

Lately I’m trying to get more serious about my art. By serious I mean — let’s document it, do more, and put it up for sale. It’s just a matter of putting all of the many, many pieces in place. Maybe it will take me forever. 😉

Bless the Mess!

I can’t tell you how many times I walked into my jewelry studio and immediately felt defeated. Chaos! My studio was a mess, and I couldn’t stand to be there, but every time I tried to clean it, I got stuck.

studio01mod

How many times have I put off my art to wash the floors (or clean the bathroom). Somehow doing chores was so much more important.

It’s disgusting.

Perhaps other people have little invisible servants who make things tidy, but I don’t. I live in reality, baby!

Lately, though, I have changed up my priorities. Art and my creative endeavors are vital to my living my best life because it’s something that I cherish. Now that I’ve put art higher on my priority list, I have noticed a few things.

Yesterday, I and JP went up to Lower Long Lake, so our son could swim, catch crayfish, etc. I had nothing to do except read and draw. Unfortunately, I didn’t draw anything until we were ready to go…but fortunately, I reminded myself in the process how much I LOVE art. I love to draw, paint, make beautiful things. I sketched some quick coneflowers as we were loading up the truck.

3coneflowers2017

Second thing that I have learned is to embrace a messy studio.

Serendipity!

I get some of the most beautiful combinations when beads and things just cluster around each other in a haphazard way. This cannot be done in a clean studio!

Plus, it was just getting depressing — here I was attempting to keep the creativity alive, and yet when I walked into my studio, I was immediately confronted with the astronomical chore of cleaning it first!

I would look around, get depressed, lifelessly attempt to make something, and then leave because I wasn’t even happy to be there.

First of all, no. Second of all, no.

Art is God’s gift in my life. When I see art that is beautiful, it does something to me. It’s amazing! Well-designed spaces, paintings, colorful jewelry — LOVE it! Here I was killing the creativity because my studio was messy. I didn’t even have a chance. Once I became aware of that little voice in my head, though, it was over. The voice that said, ‘This studio is too messy to create in,’ or ‘You should clean this up before you start,’ or ‘How can you stand this?’ No, that voice was ruining everything.

I decided to forego the future studio where it looks like a magazine shot every day. Won’t happen. Sorry, ArtNet. At least for now, it will stay in it’s cluttered, magical state of wonder where I wonder where I put those beads from yesterday, but I discover a new color combination that is stunning.

Your creativity, however it happens, is a wonderful thing. With the risk of sounding weird, don’t kill it with your own brain! Don’t stab it with the laundry list or smother it with negative thoughts.

Get out there and ART!

Place-Making, Chippewa Valley Style

Eau Claire’s Confluence Project is changing the Chippewa Valley by making it a special destination of its own. Surrounding areas are responding in kind with their own projects. What does it mean if Eau Claire becomes an art mecca?

Phoenix Park has a gorgeous pavilion on the water in downtown Eau Claire. It has long been a center of activity for music and the farmers market. Now, the Confluence Project takes that amazingness and amps it up with a new outdoor space connected with the Phoenix Park area as well as 2 buildings that will have space for theatre, the arts, and retail (the possibilities are awesome).

The Confluence is a Major Development that will be working with the University of WI, Eau Claire as well as the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

We want more!

Even if you’ve been half-snoozing during the evening news, you know that Menomonie is building a pavilion for their own Farmer’s Market. The City of Chippewa Falls has also decided to invest in a large city park on the edge of downtown. Perched at the end of the bridge, it will give Chippewa Falls a huge helping of curb appeal.

There’s also a TON of hotels going up. The possibilities for the area are going up along with the multi-story buildings.

What’s next?

The Confluence has only just begun its build, so I expect to see more and more investment in Eau Claire and the surrounding area. There will be more business opportunities, and perhaps local wages will go up as well as the demand for skilled workers increases.

In prior years, it was almost like we were advertising that ‘Hey, we’re close to the Twin Cities!’ as a reason to move here. *yawn* That just wasn’t cutting the mustard. We’re not close enough for that to be the reason to move here.

NOW, we are place-making.

Several years ago, I and my husband JP found ourselves travelling to historic downtown Hudson, WI. Several times over the course of a summer, we found ourselves walking the sidewalks, enjoying meals, drifting in and out of shops and talking. The downtown area was historically beautiful, walkable, open to the water for recreation, and full of lovely shops.

Finally, on one of the trips back to Eau Claire, I exclaimed ‘THIS is what we need in Eau Claire! Why, oh, why don’t we have something like this?’ As my husband loves to encourage me, he listened for the next 45 minutes as I went on about how this could and should happen.

It’s more than music,

(but we’ll take that, too.)

Music has been a draw for several years in Eau Claire. The Eaux Claires festival, Rock Fest, Country Fest, and Country Jam all bring crowds – not to mention all of our local talent.

Place-making is personal.

When public spaces have this level of draw, it’s personal. When you’re designing (when I’m designing), I think of everything dependent upon how you view the space. If you’re driving by, things are much different than if you’re walking. Likewise, if you’re looking down from an upper story.

Creating walkable spaces in a downtown makes it personal. That means stopping and considering everything not only from a car but even more importantly — from the sidewalk.

The advantage of my years of experience as a residential landscape designer is that I am well-versed with the personal interaction of landscape. Walk-through a beautiful space, and you will see what I mean. If you’ve been to a downtown that resonates with beauty and fun, it stays with you — think San Antonio’s Riverwalk.

If the downtown is to have that magnetic draw that is required for this level of amazingness, expect to see and feel something magical when you get out and walk around.

I am looking forward to all of what Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley will be offering in the coming years. We’re adding a revamped downtown as well as a huge infusion of the arts – my only question is ‘What’s next?’

 

 

How to Get a Step Ahead

Aside from working your butt off, cultivating your inner gladiator, and letting out a motivational roar every Monday, how can you get a step ahead of the competition?

Public speaking.

I’ve worked in many industries where competition is strong — engineering and the construction trades. Frankly, when they see me coming, they do their best to run me over. I’ve noticed. Don’t worry — I’m tough. It’s a fun and challenging dynamic.

One time, I went to a seminar in Menomonie regarding upcoming regulations for the landscaping industry. We were paired up with other attendees (IOW, other business owners and the competition). Our task? To design a landscape that would comply with new watershed regulations.

We had a few minutes to prepare, and the other 2 members of the team verbally tried their best to assert their own ideas. Then, it happened. We were asked to present our ideas.

Immediately, both men volunteered me to present.

They were nervous to present their ideas — even though it was really informal and not a big deal. In my brain, a bell rang. Why not develop the one area where other people scramble to get away from?

Consider — if you want to get ahead, instead of running with the pack, check to see what they’re running FROM.


Heidi Schreiner is a public speaker. She has spoken on topics such as leadership, culture, and marketing presentations for organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce, writers groups, and Toastmasters. Want to know  more? Contact me, and let’s chat!

Design Differentiates

I know of a guy who actually spent thousands on a bicycle. That concept to me is way out there, but, hey, he bikes a LOT. Thing is, the major decision for him of WHERE to purchase that bike (he bought locally – YAY!) came down to the company website. Simple as that.

He found a local bike seller, but didn’t like their website, so he moved on to option #2 (different local bike seller). How many times does this happen?

Every single day.

Design does this. Too, too many times as a designer, I found those who KNOW the value of design. They understand. Here it is in a nutshell – it’s there, whether you invest time and finances into it or not. It communicates to your clients what you are really like – whether you say anything or not.

If you are a photographer, hopefully your website is modern and beautiful, so that a visitor (potential client!) will know that you understand that visuals are important. THEN, they can relax and look at your photos which should communicate the same – that you understand visuals and how to put them together.

Design is everywhere.

It’s all around us – in our homes and how the rooms are laid out. In our coffee cup. Our clothes. Even the glass jar that our salsa comes in.

When you’re a small business, you absolutely have to be different than every other business. If you are a commodity, you are giving your customers permission to shop only based on price. AAarrgh!

THAT is a losing game, peeps!

If you are doing what many businesses do and cutting pricing down to the bone or giving tons of discounts off your costing, you are sending the wrong message – that you are cheap, just like everyone else. That’s BAD!!

Instead – whether you are a window washer, electrician, or dog groomer – you must differentiate. Be different.

HOW do I do that, you say?

Design does that. If your branding is nailed down and well thought out, branding will communicate what nothing else can. If you have a killer logo, business card, and website, your customers will many times choose you over the guy whose branding is stuck in the 80’s or just icky (or branding that communicates the wrong message).

Also, think about other things you can do to be different. If you visit clients’ homes as a contractor, are all of your vehicles newer, so they don’t drip oil on their driveways? Do they have extra mirrors for safety? Do you have a 24 hour emergency service policy? It might seem simple, but each of these things can make you BETTER than your competition!

If you have any of the above policies or items – like safer vehicles – make sure that you plan how you will communicate this to your potential clients.

You KNOW that you are better than your competition, so how will you SAY that?

In case I didn’t communicate it clearly enough before – be different.

Design differentiates.

Leadership and Learning by doing

There’s only so much you can get from books. I’ve read 1000’s of books in my lifetime. Hundreds of them are about business and leadership.

I love books.

Books can get you to a lot of places. They’ve got loads of great information in them. There is a point, however, where you have to put the book down and get busy.

Getting up in front.

Recently, we had the Eau Claire kickoff for 1 Million Cups. I had the good fortune to be the emcee for the event. It was fun! 1 Million Cups gives business owners a chance to network over coffee (1 Million Cups of coffee, perhaps?). It’s also a way to learn from each other. Each week, business owners with a business that is less than 5 years old can present their idea and tell their story. At the end, the group audience asks questions and gives advice to help these entrepreneurs on their way. We all learn in the process.

Some of the folks on the organizational team are younger than I. I see in them the enthusiasm that it takes to be great at something, and when none of them shot their arm up to be the emcee, it got me thinking.

One of the ways to be successful (in my humble opinion) is to grow yourself as a leader. On-line, you could be a thought leader. Off-line, you could be presenting seminars about your area of expertise, speaking up at business meetings, or emceeing an event for young start-up businesses. It’s not easy, but that’s why you don’t see everyone doing it. If you want to make your mark in your industry, this is a great way to do that.

Start learning about leadership.

I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2013. In Toastmasters, you can grow your leadership qualities as much as you want. It takes work, of course, but there are people to help you and projects aplenty.

In my time at Toastmasters, I’ve gotten used to getting up in front of people. Then, I was elected into several leadership positions, and I … learned by figuring it out along the way. I asked questions and made mistakes. I connected with people and asked more questions.

Sometimes at work, it can be tough to take on new projects with confidence. This is especially true if you’ve not done it before. Don’t let that stop you.

More and more young people could be getting a step up on their careers by practicing getting in front of people on a regular basis.

This spring, I will be presenting ‘How to lead so they want to follow’ at the Spring Convention for the District 35 Toastmasters. The very first thing that I will be discussing is how to put yourself in leadership situations, so you can learn. Without that, you can’t get there from here.

Being a leader gets you noticed. Getting noticed is like free publicity. Free publicity is like cake. Everybody likes cake*.

*vague reference from Shrek because I’m like that.

Finding Your Design Process

One of the things that I love about super juicy knowledge is how it rings true for more than one thing. Case in point – art. The other day I was watching a YouTube video on art. I love to draw, but, frankly, I’m out of practice because I had hit a wall.

It felt like drawing took SO much effort without much improvement. Yes, I can draw what I see (mostly), but I wanted to become much better. How to improve?

Iterative drawing video to the rescue –>

https://youtu.be/k0ufz75UvHs

Basically this video talks about being a creative analytical person. Ouch! Right? Yes, that’s me. I am analytical, but I love everything art, design, and creative. Being artistic can be difficult for me.

Here’s where it gets interesting…

The video by Sycra talks about iterative drawing. Basically drawing something 20 times instead of once. Don’t worry about perfect, instead explore the possible. Draw something 20 times and afterwards, analyze how it went and if you like it.

Please understand that I wish I would have thought of it this way 10 years ago. It’s gaining muscle memory (and process habits) that will improve art much more quickly.

It reminds me of an experience…

Several years ago, I was called regarding landscape design for a residence for new construction. It sounded like it would be worth a look, so I scheduled an appointment with them at their home.

Driving along, the road was soon surrounded by trees. Hills rose and fell around me. Eventually, I made it to the residence only to be confronted with a driveway that was so rutted, it seemed almost impassible.

Once I had a look at the site, I was hopeful. Here, the house was perched on the side of a hill. Two levels opened up to the view. Even better, when I met the clients, they were fun, interesting, and open to ideas.

We discussed their hopes and dreams, spoke about their style, and got to know each other over a plywood table. (I was their first visitor in their unfinished dining room!)

As I was leaving, I was feeling that warm rush of ‘new design’. I was eager to start right away as my ideas were already beginning. Then, I heard someone call out, ‘Oh! No straight lines!’

FULL STOP

My style is architectural, geometric, modern, classic – it’s all about squares, rectangles, circles, and arcs – forms. LINES!

I didn’t want to freak out on the front step, so I mentally filed the comment to the side for later consideration.

Note: Sometimes clients feel as though lines are stuffy and no fun. As though wavy lines are natural and natural = good. The thing is, it’s just not that simple.

Ok, back to the story.

Back at the office, after the survey, I had drafted the existing landscape on the computer when it happened. I got stuck. I would draft something, hate it, erase it and start over. In the back of my mind I kept hearing, ‘No straight lines!’ It was like those mornings where you have too much coffee and just end up stressed instead of awake.

After several days of this, I was stressed out because now I was eating up all this time with nothing to show for it. How to break out of this awful cycle?

I figure it wouldn’t hurt me to just stop and really think about what was going on. When I did stop, I noticed something – I had been printing out little portions of the design, sketching on it, and then drafting it back into the drawing. THOSE parts were working fine.

Second, I figured I had to let loose and toss out this crazy ‘No straight lines’ thing. Gone! I had some large 24”x36” prints made up and gave myself permission to design whatever I wanted for that day.

Do you want to know what happened?

I designed the entire landscape in 2 hours.

What had frustrated me for days was suddenly beautiful. Yes, I still had to draft it back into the computer, but it was designed. Yes, there were a few straight lines, but here’s the kicker…

The owner never said beans about it. I was ready to defend my choices because they were solid – he didn’t care. He got a landscape with beautiful arcs and circles (and a few straight lines), and he and his wife loved it.

Lessons learned –

  1. Use iterative design to design or draw multiples of times. Give yourself permission to waste some paper. Analyze it AFTER you’ve played with it, not while you are designing.
  1. Figure out how YOU design best – even if it is on paper or directly into CAD via computer mouse – because I have heard of architects that MUST draft directly into the computer. There is no best way – there’s only YOUR best way.
  1. Finally, trust your gut. Stressing out kills creativity. You’re in this because you love design and when you’re in The Zone, it’s all good. Creativity must have that Zone where you play. Cultivating that is especially important if you’re analytical like moi.

I’ve plunged back into things full force — and I’ve drawn more in 3 days than I have in a long time. Final lesson for me — Do what you love, analyze, understand, repeat.