Imagine if you could chat with an artist who’s practiced his craft for over 40 years. One who’s worked hard to master the business of art and achieved great success. What questions would you ask him to help your own career? What tips could he give you on galleries, the art market, and giving yourself every advantage?

Well, we spoke with acclaimed painter and Artwork Archive artist Lawrence W. Lee about just that. This skilled professional has indeed worked for over 40 years and has sold millions of dollars worth of art in the process. He knows the business of art like painters know their brushes or ceramicists knows their clay. He shared with us five smart art career tips that are critical for success.

“If you’re going to be a successful artist, you’ve got to be smart, attentive, productive, consistent, reliable, and thoroughly professional.” -Lawrence W. Lee

1. Don’t Wait for Inspiration to Strike

As a professional artist, I haven’t been able to afford to wait for inspiration. In the most prosaic sense, my inspiration has been that I have bills to pay. I understood early on that if I was going to be an artist I had to approach art as a business, rather than wait for inspiration. I have found the best solution is simply to go into the studio and start to work whether I feel inspired or not. Typically, the very act of drawing or dipping a brush into paint is sufficient to get me started and inspiration almost inevitably follows.

Autumn Dream by Lawrence Lee.

2. Create What Your Market Wants

Art is a commodity and sales are market driven–that is, if you’re outside of the wholly unnatural art cities like New York, Los Angeles, Brussels and the like. If you don’t live in one of those cities or have easy access to one of those markets, you’re going to be dealing with regional markets that have their own distinct flavor and requirements. Mine is the American Southwest. I quickly recognized if I was going to make a living there, I would need to be sensitive to the tastes of the people that would likely be purchasing my work.

I had to find out what people in my market area wanted and were buying to put in their homes and offices. You have to do good research–it’s very easy now. Part of doing research is not only searching on Google, it’s keeping your eyes open. When you go to the dentist, ask yourself what she has on the wall. Also, keep in mind a local gallery typically won’t have items on the walls that it doesn’t think will sell. You can choose to just create what you want and convince people that they want it too. However, creating art for your market is much easier.

3. Pay Close Attention to What Sells and What Doesn’t

I’m currently working with UGallery to sell some of my works online. I recently spoke to one of the co-founders and discussed how best to analyze the buyer data UGallery collects, so I can have the best information to understand my market and provide for its needs. I need to know what sizes are selling, what colors are selling best, whether they are figures or landscapes, realistic or abstract, etc. I need to know everything I can because I want to maximize the opportunity to find a market that’s perfect for me online. This is what you have to do.

Thatcher Spur by Lawrence Lee.

4. Do Your Due Diligence on Potential Galleries

I suggest making a list of five to ten galleries you want to show in. Then do a walking tour to see what they have on their walls. If galleries have nice carpet and lighting then it means they’re making money from paintings to pay for it. When I was looking at galleries, I would always look at the floor, and see if there were dead moths on the window sills, or dust. I would take note of the staff’s demeanor and if I was greeted. I would also note if they indicated they were available to help and disappeared, or if they hovered over me and made me feel uncomfortable. I went from gallery to gallery like a buyer, and then would assess what I’d learned.

My paintings would have to fit into the collection of work the gallery had. My work had to be similar, but different and had to be priced somewhere near the middle. I didn’t want my work to be the cheapest or the most expensive. If your work is good, but similar to an expensive piece, a buyer can get two of yours or one of the more expensive paintings. I considered all of these things. After I’d narrowed it down to around three galleries, I would pick the absolute best one, the one beyond my reach, and the one I would be proudest showing in. Then I would go there with my portfolio. I had a script and hand movements memorized, and would always do my homework. I was never refused.

5. Keep Up with The Times

It’s important to keep up with the times and make them work in your favor. For many years, I’ve known what the color of the year is going to be. Designers decide two years early and tell cloth makers and paint makers. The Pantone color of 2015 is marsala. It’s important to pay attention to what people are using to decorate their homes. Give yourself every advantage you can, since not many people can make a living creating art. Stay up-to-date on the best ways to use social media and video streaming. These tools give you the opportunity to market yourself and your work, but you must be smart about it. I know an artist that does ten paintings a year that are exceptional examples of technical prowess and he can’t make a living. He hasn’t figured out how to make people clamor for them, and he doesn’t do enough of them to convince most galleries that he’s worth investing in. It’s about being smart and giving yourself a goal and every advantage.

You can learn how Lawrence W. Lee has sold $20,000+ worth of art via Artwork Archive here.

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