20 Mistakes Artists Make, and How to Avoid Them
This article is intended to serve as a useful resource for art-makers transitioning from amateur to professional, or hobbyist to career artist. Gleaned from research and experience, this combination of art-specific and business-related tips will provide you with some food for thought on your foray into the world of art sales and recognition.
- Using Low-Quality Materials
Nothing says to the potential buyer, “I don’t believe in the value of my work,” like obviously thin paints or loose bristles from cheap brushes stuck in the painting. While inexpensive paints and brushes are a great option for practice and experimenting, they’re referred to as “beginner” for a reason. Not only is the lower quality of many cheap art supplies often visible on a finished piece, they are also not intended to last for centuries, or even decades.
If you hope your artwork will one day reach “collectable” status, give it a chance to get there. When you’re ready to create a painting (or artwork in any other media) for sale, splurge on high quality canvas stretched on solid wood frames, professional-grade paints, and well-made brushes.
- Not Knowing When to Stop
Everyone who creates something is guilty of this. When you step back from your nearly completed painting, you will inevitably notice that spot where the color isn’t quite right, that section with a bit of canvas showing through, that empty part of the tree that needs just one more tiny, abstract apple.
But if you let yourself get drawn into a painstaking examination of every artwork, you’ll never be finished. To an artist, no work is as done as it can be — there will always be something else you could have done to make it better, but you need to draw the line. Not only will this practice put off the start of another potential exhibition piece, but you’re bound to eventually over touch-up, and end up with an obvious mistake you can’t fix.
- Starting and Not Finishing
In the same vein as number two, a lot of creative types have the tendency to get revved up on a million ideas, but fail to ever finish one. It doesn’t matter how amazing, unique, or groundbreaking your thirty-one paintings have been, if they’re all piled in a corner half completed, the public will never get the chance to see and appreciate your creative genius.
Maybe you need a second piece on the go for when you get bogged down with the first, but set a limit for yourself and make sure you are finishing those one or two pieces because beginning a third. You’ll be glad you did when your “done” pile begins to outweigh your “almost done” pile.
- Not Creating a Digital Copy
Never let an artwork leave your home permanently without first having a professional digital reproduction made. Whether you go the photography route or opt for artwork scanning, you’ll be glad you sunk a bit of that paycheck into a good digital image.
You never know when you’ll want to offer prints of an old original, feature it on your website or portfolio, or be chosen for a retrospective in a magazine. If you have no visual record of your artwork, any of these possibilities becomes impossible. Taking a snapshot of your art hanging on a white wall, using your point-and-shoot vacation camera or your smartphone will not produce a high-quality, printable version of your artwork. Do your beautiful piece justice by getting a professional reproduction.
- Inconsistent Voice and Style
If you dabble in a variety of mediums, from photography, to acrylic paints, to collage — that’s great. But regardless of your materials, array of sizes, or variety of color palates, having a style that is instantly recognizable is a huge step toward “making it” as an artist.
If you are in a group show where six paintings of fifty are yours, guests — both existing supporters and first time viewers — should be able to pick out your pieces from the whole. Just like most visitors to an art gallery can identify the Van Gogh’s and the Picassos, you want people admiring your art to know it’s your art.
Whether you do this with prevalent geometric shapes, uniform, lavender-colored backgrounds, or a distinct way of painting clouds, something in your art should make even the least art-inclined viewer instantly recognize your work. In additional to pleasing potential buyers, having a consistent voice evident in your artwork will make galleries more likely to take notice. Think of the exhibits you’ve seen of a single artist’s work in a commercial gallery; most of them probably feature a cohesive theme that told you, without even viewing the cards, that all were created by the same hand.
- Ignoring Skill-Building
Professional dancers don’t just stop learning new steps once they’ve been paid to perform, and tennis players don’t stop working on harder serves just because they won a big match. Likewise, an artist shouldn’t stop their artistic education once they’ve sold a few paintings.
Read books on technique or learn about old movements or artists whose styles might influence your own. You might not sign up for classes, but surf the web for new tools of the trade, experiment with different materials, and try out techniques you couldn’t quite perfect a few months or years ago. Continuing with the same style might work for a few years, but most successful artists grow and expand their repertoire over time, so you should too.
- Not Framing For-Sale Artwork
Though it’s tempting to hang priced art without frames, saving you money and probably making transport easier, some professionals say the cons outweigh the pros. When you frame your displayed artwork, you add instant value to the piece, telling the viewer, “See, this is something that belongs in a frame.”
By presenting the artwork already in a frame, you also help the viewer to imagine the artwork on their wall. You’ve saved them a step, where before they had to conjure up a suitable border around the piece before begin envisioning it in different rooms of the house.
That said, however, it’s probably best to keep your selling frame simple. Outfitting your charcoal drawing in a gaudy, ornate frame — even if it’s exactly the style you’d display — could turn off potential buyers who might love the artwork, but would never hang the frame.
It’s even a good idea to offer any prints you plan to sell in plastic sleeves with window mats provided. Though it’s an extra cost, it’s one less step for the buyer when they get your work home (which means it’s more likely to be framed and displayed right away instead of sitting in the bag for a few weeks), and they’ll be more willing to pay an extra five or 10 dollars when they see they don’t have to buy a mat. So, unless your work is intended never to be framed, step it up a professional notch before you display it in the sale space.
- Poorly Hung Artwork
Even though the lighting and space isn’t your responsibility when you’re showing your artwork in public, you still want to make sure it’s up to par. The most beautiful painting in the world could be relegated to the unsellable pile if it’s hung in a small alcove, improperly lit and maybe a bit crooked.
Every piece in your show should be well-lit, well-labelled, straight, and at the proper height. A lack of any of these factors can unconsciously turn off a buyer who might have salivated over the piece under better circumstances. Don’t be afraid to discuss any concerns with the curator or host of the show. If they’re taking a commission, they should be happy to make adjustments that might encourage a sale.