Maria Brophy

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Ten Costly Mistakes Artists Make

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Something happened recently that got me to thinking about why some artists are successful, and others are not.

We got a gig for Drew to paint standup paddleboards for our favorite Scotch company (don’t you love it when you are hired by someone you are a fan of?!)

Our proposal included professional photos of Drew painting, for our client’s social media use.

We had scheduled a time for the photographer to shoot in the studio.

He didn’t show up.  We called.  We texted.  Then we saw on his Instagram that he was photographing someone else.

This put us in a bind, as our client expected the work to be done by deadline.  Luckily, we found another photographer at the last minute.

As for the no-show photographer, though we had worked with him for years, we can’t hire him again.  We can’t afford to look bad to our clients if he ever pulls another no-show.

And this story reminds me of all of the things that artists do to sabotage their careers.

Here’s my list of TEN COSTLY MISTAKES ARTISTS MAKE TO SABOTAGE THEIR SUCCESS:

DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT:  You can’t get what you want, unless you know what it is!  Who is your ideal client or collector?  What makes you the happiest when you’re creating?  How much money do you want to make yearly, monthly and weekly?  What do you want to be known for in 10 years?

DON’T HAVE A BUSINESS MODEL:  If you don’t know what your business model is, you become subject to everyone else’s idea of how your business should be run.  Know what you want for your art and your future, know how you want your art to be seen, and make sure you are in complete control of your own art business and career.

DON’T MAKE A DECISION AS TO THEIR VALUE:  Some artists sell their work for cheap, so that it will sell. But they dream of marketing to higher value clients.  You have to choose between the two, you can’t do both.

Are you a high value provider, or are you the cheaper option?  Either is fine, but ensure that you are making a well thought-out decision and your business model is determined accordingly.

DON’T SHOW UP ON TIME (or at all):  All you have to do is pull a no-show once, and your reputation with that client or even in that town is shot.

DON’T MEET DEADLINES or make your client wait:   Just get it done!  Those who drag out the work, make their clients wait, and who miss deadlines, are not only irritating their clients, they are losing money.

If you take two times as long to finish your projects or paintings, you are getting paid half as much.   Your time is money.  Execute the projects, or lose money.

DON’T HAVE A WEBSITE:  If you’re not online, your business does not exist.   When I’m looking to buy something or hire someone, I research them online first; most people do this.

BEGIN COMMISSIONED WORK WITHOUT A DEPOSIT:  Starting work on a large project without money up front can cost you.  If a client abandons the project, you just lost a week of work, and a week of pay.  Always get a 30-50% deposit before starting any project.  Read here on How to Never get Ripped off Again.

SIGN BAD CONTRACTS:  One bad contract can cost you your career.  Watch out for Red Flags, pay attention to what you are agreeing to, and always ask for revisions so it’s favorable to you.

SIGN AWAY YOUR COPYRIGHTS:  For fine artists, and artists who have a distinctive style and want to be known for their work, keeping control of copyrights is crucial to their future.  Don’t sign your copyrights away to anyone (unless it’s your business model to do so).

UNWILLING TO INVEST IN THEIR OWN CAREER OR BUSINESS:  The least successful artists I know are not willing to invest money in training, consulting or business coaching.  Why is this?  It’s not because they are broke; they are broke, because they won’t invest in themselves.  Money is Commitment.

Now, I know that my readers are not guilty of any of the above, because you are all smart, innovative business owners.  But, you may know someone who is!

Artists, do you have anything to add to this list?  Please share in the comments!

Maria

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31 Comments Ten Costly Mistakes Artists Make

    1. Maria

      Gabriela, I love this! Yes, I agree, believe in your art and yourself, and everything will come together for you. I try to live with this concept in my heart at all times. I checked out your website; I love your work and your message. You are very inspiring!

      Reply
  1. Bala

    I once commissioned a painting by another artist – she asked for 6 weeks and refused to take a deposit. After 6 weeks she sent me something she already had and asked if I wanted it. Three more weeks later told me she couldn’t do it! Oh well, at least I didn’t lose money on it and she missed out on getting her works exposed to my clients.
    To your list I would add, get your pricing structure in place – I had a new artist quote me 3 times as an established award winning artist for many years would for the same size and similar work – because she had no idea what to charge for commissions.

    Reply
    1. Maria

      Bala, excellent addition to the list – yes – have your pricing figured out! This one is so important, I’m surprised I forgot about it!

      Reply
  2. lindsy

    Thank you so much for all the wonderful advice. I have a question in regards to copying other art or artist when painting a commissioned mural. Are there laws that would prohibit me from doing a direct copy from say a Disney character or copying a color page from an artist etc.? ..or someone else’s wall mural that i see on the internet?

    Reply
    1. Maria

      Lindsy, thanks for the question. You cannot paint someone else’s art or intellectual property (such as Disney Characters) and sell it. It would be considered infringement. If you want to copy the art of an artist or a character, you must get written permission from the copyright or trademark owner first.

      Reply
      1. Maria

        One other thought on this, Lindsy – often my husband will be asked to paint something for a client that is copyrighted by someone else. He will tell them he cannot, but, he will create the painting in his own style. For example, if they ask for a Little Mermaid theme, he will paint his own art, using the theme of a mermaid, but create his own characters not Disney characters.

      2. lindsy

        Thank you Maria. That is what I figured. I’ve been an artist my entire life but just recently and very gradually will be growing my business. I have seen TOO MANY commissioned murals of Disney characters to count. It had me wondering how they were getting away with it. Thanks again.

  3. Lindy Gaskill

    I agree with Gabriela. Trust in the Universe. I find once I make a decision and know exactly what I want, then I can manifest it. The Universe does offer up the opportunities and if I am AWARE I move forward. It’s when I can’t decide what I want that things seem to dry up.

    Reply
  4. AV

    Excellent advice from Maria! Here’s my/the eleventh way creatives harm their art licensing business:

    ***Not “timely” registering their art with the US Copyright Office.***

    “Timely” means to (1) register your art as UNpublished (i.e., pretty much before you begin marketing/selling/licensing your art in any capacity); (2) before the infringement occurs; or (3) within three-months of first publication (i.e., selling/licensing or distributing/sharing your artwork with others).

    Though a painting, poem, song, photograph, and other creative works receive automatic copyright protection once created, I identify these un-registered works as having PASSIVE (weak!) copyright protection. On the other hand, a timely registered copyright provides the artist with maximum, ACTIVE copyright protection: (1) immediate standing (i.e., registration is required before an artist can file a copyright infringement suit); (2) the right to pursue statutory damages of $750 to $30,000 per work or up to $150,000 if the infringement is deemed willful; and (3) the potential recoupment of attorney fees and legal costs from the infringer.

    Another great benefit of registration: (4) if your art is being knocked-off and placed on household items, calendars, apparel, etc. by Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Canadian, and other international manufactures, the United States Customs and Border Protection can help stop those unlicensed products from entering the US, but ONLY if your artwork is registered!

    I’m not advocating that creatives sue infringers; rather, I want artists to be fully aware that a timely copyright registration can provide them with LEVERAGE, options, and benefits.

    If your art is infringed and you visit a copyright litigator (intellectual property attorney), the first thing s/he will ask you, “Is your art timely registered?” That’s what happened to me! At the end of the day, you’ll need active copyright protection on your side if you have to go up against parties who disrespect your creativity and use your art without a license.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Art Business Consultant – Maria Brophy | Melinda Fabian Illustrator

  6. Gil Bert

    First time here, got the link from a friend’s site (http://ifnotdance.com) first thing i read was “Ten Costly Mistakes Artists Make” this got my attention real quick… from mistakes we learn. Thank you for the information, really helpful… Much Appreciation.

    Reply
  7. Teresa Yarbrough

    Greeting Maria,
    I love what I’m seeing here and appreciate what you’ve built. I’m one of those artists who’ve never conducted the business of art successfully. The biggest reason for that is that I’ve always let other “things” take presidents and pull me away from what I needed to do. In any case, I’m too damn old for that at this point and I mean business! 🙂
    I’m looking forward to more of…this!
    Teresa

    Reply
  8. Darlene

    I believe self esteem can have a lot to do with pricing. Idealy it’s something that should be dealt with prior to selling your artwork but unfortunately thats not always the case. Some artists I’ve met have wavered their prices according to how much they sell each week. If the price is $100 one week and $50 the next and the same client sees it they will think there is no value to that artists paintings. If it’s needed remind yourself daily that your artwork is worth it and so are you!!

    Reply
  9. rebekahmaccow

    With all these pricing for online art store, I just paid for an online store with goddady. I want to take my art business to another level. I normally exhibit my work at galleries and make my profits that way. But, I have that galleries take so much and the monthly prices for online store is reasonable to me. Is it worth it to have an online art store? Given the managing of the store and shipping? Do you have materials on selling art online? the benefits/cons and pros about selling art online.

    Reply
  10. maricela bachelor

    My husband is a professional artist who has worked for a large professional mural company nearly 25 years that sent him around the world – mainly hotel art & high end residences, before the recession, and also for himself – always dependable, meets deadlines, etc. a very hard worker, intelligent, talented and meticulous artist. My questions revolves around licensing for himself & bonding and whether it is really necessary. He also now works for one of the largest restoration/fine art companies sending him around the country, while continuing to work for himself – much more rewarding. I think he could benefit from your expertise to eventually let him work more for just himself under just his name.

    Reply
  11. maricela bachelor

    My husband is a professional artist who has worked for a large professional mural company nearly 25 years that sent him around the world – mainly hotel art & high end residences, before the recession, and also for himself – always dependable, meets deadlines, etc. a very hard worker, intelligent, talented and meticulous artist. My questions revolves around licensing for himself & bonding and whether it is really necessary. He also now works for one of the largest restoration/fine art companies sending him around the country, while continuing to work for himself – much more rewarding. I think he could benefit from your expertise to eventually let him work more for just himself under just his name. http://www.joebachelor.net

    Reply
  12. Colleen Pheiffer

    Thank you so much for your very helpful article. I have loved painting and drawing all my life and never had the nerve to take it to the next level. It’s a big wide world out there and so competitive. I have created my own website now to showcase my work. I always think I’m not good enough and a lack of confidence is the biggest thing holding me back. Have you ever felt this way at any stage? Do you have some tips for us. Here goes…

    Reply

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