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In Between the Sales: Building an Empire!

Updated: Feb 23, 2023

Gone are the days when an “artist” was a person who just creates art. There was a time where someone could make a living doing only that.

The perception of the "artist life" has changed over time. For so long, it looked like this:

Living in near poverty, rebelling against society, staring at the canvas in torment, waiting for inspiration, pouring their entire soul onto the canvas like they just gave birth. Okay, maybe that's a little bit extreme, but it's typically how the general population has viewed an artist for decades. Living in a constant state of suffering and existential crisis. OR, on the flip side, once you "make it", you're rich and living in high society.

It's not so black and white. Being an artist who's trying to run a successful business, like myself, means being their own business manager, marketing department, web designer, social media guru, book keeper, accountant, agent... you name it... while also often working a full time (or part time) job. It’s extremely difficult to make a living by just creating and selling art.

There are many different roads to take to make a living as an artist today, and I wanted to share some of my goals with you and give you a look at what I do "in between the sales". I have many goals, and they all stem from running my own multi-faceted art business, and eventually, art studio and gallery space. I guess I'm a bit old fashioned in that way.

Many artists today want to take the road of the "social media influencer" where they struggle with the dilemma: making art they want to create vs making "content" that will get them views, because views = money, not art. If they lose their views, they could lose their sponsorship deal(s) and ad revenue, and for an influencer, that could be their primary income. It's not their art that is earning them money, it's their "content", and getting paid to promote other people's products and services.

I'm more of a brick and mortar type business with a growing online presence. I sell tangible items and products. I use social media, but as a tool to direct traffic to my own website and gift shop, a platform that I pay for and control 100%. When I look at my business website and the products and services I'm offering, I'm proud of it. I don't get that feeling when I look at a collection of posts and videos, and I don't have to make a 30 second promo for some other company every time I share something.

Okay, let's get into how I'm building my empire! It might come as a surprise to you, but I spend very little time actually creating artwork.

Here is the current foundation of my business (now, and to come):

  • Create and sell Original Artwork.

  • Increased focus on Pet Portraits and Commissions.

  • Run a successful Online Gift Shop selling custom merchandise featuring my original artwork, as well as my own line of horror themed apparel.

  • Provide custom framing services for my artwork.

  • Continue developing The Art Nebula Project, an annual live art competition, with the intent on becoming a televised series with viewer interaction via online voting.

  • Host recurring Paint Parties, and eventually classes and workshops.

  • Start a small graphic design service (party invitations, website design, stationary for small business start ups, poster design, promotional materials and flyers, etc).

  • Design/build/run my very own art gallery and art space... one day! This is the end goal. With this brings many more possibilities! The sky's the limit!

Perhaps when I achieve all this, I will be making a full time wage and can give up the traditional 9-5 job. Ha ha ha!

Until then, it’s a daily grind to make it happen, one step at a time. Rome wasn't built in a day. I am starting small, but it still takes up all my time. As you can see, in between the occasional art sale or commission, I have loads of work on my plate!

“Working on my website”

This is my primary focus most days. It's my main HQ, so to speak. My goal is to funnel all my traffic to my site, my store, my blog, and my mailing list. Everything I do is rooted back here. Social media is just a marketing tool I use to draw in that traffic.

Over the years, my website has undergone many changes. Now that I’m living and working in Muskoka, with a new focus and attention on my business, I finally sat down and redesigned my entire site giving it a more cohesive, clean, professional look. I can now focus on promoting my business without worrying about how bad my site looks!

Every week requires some time maintaining the site, like updating my home page with relevant information about exhibits or featured artwork, updating new or sold artwork, or anything else that’s ongoing in my art career. This also means regularly writing blog posts, like this one. It can also mean creating new graphics, designs, social share buttons, etc, as the year goes on or as I add new services, pages, or updates to my site or business.

Another part of working on my website is simply just researching and experimenting with the plethora of features and options and settings I have included in my hosting plan, so I can become familiar with all the tools and features that I can one day utilize when my business expands, or things I can utilize now, to help my business expand!

Building my Online Gift Shop

This one is something that takes up a lot of time in the beginning, but in the long run, will become a relatively hands-off stream of passive income.

I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent not just in setting up my store and learning the system and integrations with printing companies, but the time spent actually researching printing companies to use, testing them out, designing merch, ordering samples, adding all the merch to the shopping cart, creating all the automated emails, testing, testing, and more testing… Countless hours!

Most of the time now will be spent managing orders, customer service, creating new products to sell, updating the shop for the different seasons, and promoting it through social media. This is no longer a daily project! More like a weekly project.

Arts & Craft Markets - Art Gallery Exhibits

This is something I'm always casually researching. For me, since I do sell customized merchandise, I would have to plan what I’m bringing, then order and have printed all the items (or even design new ones as I make more art). This not only takes time, but has pretty high upfront costs with no guarantee I'll sell. I'm still experimenting with what works and what doesn't.

These events can take up quite a bit of time too, and in some cases, I might have to book time off work to attend. Because of this, these type of things can be quite risky. Luckily, I've had a positive response to the items I've created, and sales are consistent. For me, these are not just about selling my merchandise, but promoting my business and seeking new artwork commissions.

The same goes for art shows and exhibits. These may not take up that much of my time as I'm not always going to be at the gallery for the duration of the exhibit, but there is the time spent setting up, the opening reception, the tear down. If something sells, I may have to deliver the artwork.

And, of course, all the promoting of these functions. Which leads me to the next thing I spend a lot of my time one...

Social Media

This is something that can easily be overlooked as a big time drainer. We all spend so much time on social media each day already that it doesn’t really seem “time consuming” to be posting about your art instead. I mean, you’re already there right? How much time does it really take? A lot more than you'd think.

Most of my posts are just quick little posts, but creating reels, stories, engaging posts, these all take some time and thought. I can't do a 30 second reel of my latest work if I'm not photographing or filming the process along the way and planning ahead for that video. I could easily spend a total of an hour making one short reel. I do struggle with keeping up, and learning, and I could definitely benefit from spending more time on my social media marketing strategies.

Soon this will also include creating and sending out email campaigns to my mailing list subscribers each month or more.

Business Administration

When I’m not feeling particularly creative, I’m usually in the opposite frame of mind. I’m all serious and analytical… and what better mind frame to have when doing finances and budgeting? I do keep a close eye on my finances and integrate this with my personal budgeting system to make sure I’m not draining my finances into things that are not giving me a return on my investments. I’m still a very small business, so this isn’t that hard to do at the moment, but it can be a bit challenging as many of the things I’m doing are still in the experimental phase. For example, I’m testing out what types of physical products sell well in person and online. In order to do so, I need to spend time designing them and spend money on having them printed. If they don’t sell, I'm stuck with them and that is a loss of time and money. At least the time was spent learning that this particular item doesn’t sell, but I can’t recoup the money spent. There is no return policy for customized printed items, and sample products are not free.

This part of the job also includes stuff like reviewing my pricing, analyzing my website statistics and looking for areas of improvement to create a better experience for my visitors, creating spreadsheets to track stuff, organizing my computer files, etc.

Business Planning and Expanding

This is something I’m doing a lot of too. I’m always doing some type of research, finding new ways to expand my business and ways I can make money. I know how that sounds… but let’s be honest, that is the very purpose of a business; to offer a product or a service for a fee. People don’t start a business with the intention to LOSE money. It just so happens I’m trying to run a business doing things I love, and I don’t feel bad about finding more ways I can make money doing just that. My future is not working for other people, it’s working for myself, and to do that, I need to make a full time wage through my own various products and services, any way I can.

This can often be the most time consuming, but also something that’s just always running in the back of my mind, like an idea app that never stops.

As you can see, when I’m not painting and selling artwork, which is 99% of the time, I’m quite busy building an empire!

When people ask me why I get up so early, where do I begin? Pick anything from the list above and that’s very likely something I’m doing at 3am.

Because of this, EVERY SINGLE SALE, no matter how big or small, is very much appreciated! I recently received an order in my gift shop for 6 mugs… this sale made me just as happy as when I sold 2 paintings at my recent exhibit “Into The Wild”, hosted by Muskoka Arts & Crafts at the Chapel Gallery in Bracebridge, ON.

Each sale I make is proof that I’m on the right path, and all my work is coming together. Each small goal achieved is one more brick in the foundation of my art business empire! I can see my future... the hard part is getting there.

Thank you so much for reading!

Until next time,


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