“Can you please bring more cups? We keep selling out.” That’s what the owner of the antique shop said to me not too long ago.
She was talking about a pottery goblet that I made which I called “The Carpenter’s Cup.” It was rustic looking, with a Christian cross on it and a little saying attached. People seemed to like them. They were flying off the shelves.
The funny thing is that six months earlier I had never touched clay in my life nor had I ever done pottery. I took an adult college pottery class, bought some used equipment on Craigslist and just decided to “make something.” I’m not saying this to toot my own horn—I have absolutely no artistic or creative talent—I say this to point out that while “becoming an artist” might be hard, simply making something that people like is very much within anyone’s reach.
I think it’s common for homesteaders to want to create an independent income. We dream of selling eggs or chickens, fruit or jam. Surely there is a way to make the homestead “self-sufficient” financially. That’s the dream.
I make my primary homestead income from dog training, but I supplement it by making art. Making art is incredibly fulfilling, but it can also be frustrating. What is art? What makes someone an “artist?” And how do you go about “becoming” one?
Have you ever read the book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? If you haven’t, it’s a great book. I would like to add “All I Really Needed to Know to Make Art I learned on Youtube.” You could, too!
The Day I Accidentally Went to Art School
The cup thing actually happened about two and a half years ago. Three years ago, I had an idea to make a pottery goblet but had no skill, equipment, or experience. So I bought a kiln on Craiglist for $200 and a pottery kick-wheel for $75. I played with clay for a week and decided I needed to take a class. I took the class, fixated on my goal, worked at it 10-15 hours per week and, voilà! Six months later I had the hottest selling item at the antique store.
I thought that would be it. But for some reason, I kept going to art classes for two and a half more years. They were fun. However, they did not teach me how to make sellable art. Art classes (in my opinion) teach people how to make “student art.” Student art looks like a student did it. What Youtube taught me is how to make SELLABLE art.
The best analogy I can think of is this: you don’t have to graduate from the Culinary Institute in order to follow a cake recipe. The same is true of art. You don’t have to get a Master of Arts degree in order to paint something that people want to buy. That’s what I learned from three years of art school.
You don’t have to go to art school in order to make money selling art!
The Secret to Art
The secret to art is to simply spend 100 hours doing the same thing. That’s it! 100 hours may seem like a lot, but if you spend 10 hours a week for 10 weeks painting the SAME THING or throwing the SAME CUP or carving the SAME FIGURE then, in 10 weeks, you will have the skill required to make sellable art.
Most people try to build art skill from the ground up. That’s the way it’s taught. Drawing in pencil then charcoal then colored pencil then ink then… then… then… It takes years to “learn art.” What if you skipped all that and decided what you wanted to make or paint FIRST? What if you just spent 10 hours a week for 10 weeks practicing doing that ONE THING?
The answer is that you would get really good at it. Would you be “an artist?” Who cares? Forget about labels. None of that stuff matters. First, make just one thing really well—or at least well enough that other people like it. Then sell it! Make it over and over again. Sell it over and over again. Make slight variations, et cetera.
“But, I’m Not Creative.”
My sister-in-law asked me to paint a cow for her. She sent me a picture of a print that anyone could buy at Hobby Lobby for $29, but she wanted me to paint one for her in acrylic. I said, “Sure” at 9 AM. By lunchtime, it was mostly done. The next day I posted a picture of it on Facebook and a stranger offered to buy it.
Here are the facts: I’m not that good a painter. It wasn’t that hard to paint. You could buy a print that looked almost exactly like it for $29. None of that mattered. I painted a second picture and sold it for $135. I have no doubt I could paint more of them and sell them at the antique shop in town.
Nothing about this experience required creativity. The fact is that people like certain things. You see them all the time getting shared on Facebook. You see the same things selling over an over again at Hobby Lobby. Here’s an idea… DO THAT! Pick one. Paint it or make it, carve it or sculpt it. Then sell it. People’s tastes are pretty simple.
If I spent 100 hours just painting cows I would become the best cow painter in a five-county area. I would make a reputation as “the guy who paints amazing cows.” No one would care if I couldn’t paint a bird or draw a portrait. It wouldn’t matter if I was “an artist” or was “creative” or had any “talent.”
Talent Not Required
Some artists like to create some aura of creativity or talent around their art like it’s magic. That’s a mirage. The simple fact is that a painting is just paint stuck on a canvas with a brush. If you do it in any sort of organized way with 100 hours of practice it will look like something… like “art.”
People’s taste today for inexpensive art (around $100) isn’t that sophisticated. They buy what they “like.” If you paint the same picture of pears 10 times then it will be a great picture by the tenth time. It’s nature, not talent.
YouTube is Your Master Class
Find a YouTube video of a painting that you would spend money to buy. Now just follow the video 10 times in a row. If you like it, others will as well. This can be painting, drawing, ink, fabric, carving, stenciling, basketweaving, making picture frames, or anything else.
People enjoy looking at unique things on YouTube because they wish they could have it or do it. Popular videos equal popular things that you might make and sell.
Four Secrets to Selling Your Own Art
My four secrets to selling your own art the Homestead Way are simple.
The First Secret to Selling Your Own Art: Make art that people want to buy. It doesn’t have to be “fine art.” Rustic equals rough. But it does have to be popular themes in popular colors that catch people’s interest. The cups that I sold out of were pottery goblets with a Christian cross on them. I live in East Texas where people love to buy stuff with crosses on it.
If you’re not sure, just look on Facebook at what people are sharing. Go to Hobby Lobby and see what items are selling. They have lots of stuff at Hobby Lobby that doesn’t sell. Look for things that are almost sold out. That’s what people like.
I know an artist who just paints dog portraits. She makes them very colorful, like something you might see on a YouTube video. People love their dogs!
The Second Secret to Selling Your Own Art: Price it affordably. I sold the goblets for $15 each. At that price, people were easily buying 3-4 at a time to give as Christmas gifts. I could have charged $40, but then it would have been a hard decision to buy. Why not make it easy?
Other “artists” want hundreds of dollars for a painting. I’ll take $60, $80, $120… whatever I can get. I choose subjects that I can paint in less than a day. I’m not a “fine artist” so I don’t try to be. I paint quick subjects that create easy interest and sell them for a “no-brainer” price.
The Third Secret to Selling Your Own Art: Get it out there. I tried to get a booth at the antique mall. They didn’t have any available. So I talked to the owner into renting me just a bookcase. For $30 per month, I could put things on a few shelves. That’s how I sold my cups.
I have a P.O. type mailbox at a local mail place called “Mail and More.” I asked the owner if I could put some of my stuff in there and split the profits. He said, “Sure!”
I’m not particularly social. Most people are way better at networking than I am. The key is nothing more than to start talking to people. Show your work and ask for help.
Of course, you can also get online with your work. I have even seen people buying art from the back of an SUV on the side of the road.
The Fourth Secret to Selling Your Own Art: Develop a reputation for doing a certain thing. Whether it’s calligraphy invitations or lace, painting dogs or colorful cows, drawing newborn babies or landscapes… develop a “thing” that you do.
Since the goal is to just do one (or two) things really well, this works in your favor. Homestead artists don’t have to do everything. Maybe you make model canoes out of popsicle sticks. It doesn’t matter. If you do the same thing for a while, you will develop a reputation and a following.
Art Can Be Hard or Easy
If you pursue the idea of the lone artist, genius, inspired by heaven to create visions never before seen on Earth with the skill of Da Vinci and the creativity of Picasso then art is going to be hard. Because that idea of an artist is a myth. I’m not saying Picasso wasn’t a great artist, but he did the same thing over and over again, most of the time. He developed a style from a single idea then he repeated it.
If you say, “I can paint a cow that looks cool” even though it already exists and you just followed some instructions on YouTube, then you do it over and over again for 10 weeks, then art is really easy. Leonardo Da Vinci spent his early years painting the same “tourist” paintings of the Madonna that were cranked out by every other studio in Italy.
Simple, decorative art is part of the tradition of artists since Greek times. Studios in ancient Greece cranked out water pots for home use with Apollo or Achilles painted on the side of them. Why? Because that’s what sold!
If you forget the myth of the artist genius and embrace the idea that painting (or making) one thing really well that people like is “art”, then art is pretty easy and relaxing.
Become an Artist on the Homestead
The first time I grew a garden it was a bit of a mess. When I got my first goats I didn’t really know what I was doing. When I first pressure-canned meat some of the jars exploded. That’s homesteading!
The garden wasn’t free and it took some time to learn. The goats cost money both for the goats and for their housing, but in the end, it was worth it. I spent more money on my All American pressure canner than it costs to buy watercolor art supplies. I think we embrace the homesteading lifestyle because we want to make our own way. We don’t mind spending hours of time and a little money pursuing a different lifestyle than most others.
Many homesteaders don’t realize that art is no different. To return to my initial idea, if you spend 10 hours per week for 10 weeks developing ONE idea in art then I can almost guarantee that you’ll get good enough at it to sell your creations. Yes, I went to art school for three years. What that experience taught me is that I already had access to everything I needed to know. All art school did was force me to practice 10 hours a week. The rest I learned from books and YouTube videos.
Anyone can become an artist on the homestead. Guaranteed!