How I started my art business and made £2040 in the first 30 days

Sema Martin | 1st August 2021

I haven’t always been a professional artist since from a young age I was told that art wasn’t a ‘real’ career… a total lie by the way!

My educational background actually consists of a Master’s in Aerospace Engineering and a Master’s in Space Studies. I also interned at NASA Ames Research Centre in California which was an incredible experience!!

But with all this success I felt quite unfulfilled and returned to my original passion…Art!

In 2016, I quit the engineering world and dived full-time into my art, making my entire income from pet portrait commissions.

I went from £0 to £2040 in just my first month as an artist and now I am going to show you exactly how I did it in the following case study.

To really help you understand how I did this I have to start a little further back.

Let’s go!

November 27th – Research

First I needed some equipment. I had been in the academic industry for so long I felt out of the loop in terms of what was the best pencil brand and paper to use. I wanted to sell my artwork. Normally I would doodle on whatever was handy but this was different. I knew I wanted to produce high-quality artwork from the start so it was time to do some research.

On a budget, I bought my first set of professional pencils! They were the Derwent drawing pencils set of 24 for £45.50. Really nice range of colours for drawing fur.

Derwent Drawing Pencils set of 24 in my dark little apartment.I then bought some actual quality paper, no notepad rubbish. I splashed out on Daler Rowney cartridge paper, A3 gummed pad a3 for £14.80. I figured if I bought a large size I could always cut it down to smaller sizes. No need to buy every size of paper right?

So in total, the start of my new venture cost me £60.30. Not bad right?

Then it was time to see what I could do. I can’t sell any art if I don’t have any art to sell, so let’s make some art!

The first drawing I did was a cat from Google Images. I had no intention to sell this artwork, it was for practice purposes only so no need to worry about copyright laws, etc. It was a fun experiment and I was really pleased with how it turned out for my first time. Now it was time to see what other people thought.

I posted it on my personal Facebook profile to get some much-needed feedback from friends a family. A great place to start!

The first cat drawing with the Derwent PencilsMy mother-in-law loved the picture so much. She said it reminded her of her old cat, so I gifted it to her which made her day.

Lightbulb moment!

I could draw other people’s cats! Great

People love their cats and who wouldn’t want a nice hand-drawn picture of them?

December 1st – First customer

I got my first PAID commission from a friend. Her cat had passed away and she loved the drawing of the ginger cat I drew last month. Her cat was also a ginger tabby and she asked if I could draw it for her.

Of course, I replied “Yes”, It was a wonderful opportunity to help my friend through a difficult time and give her something she needed to start the healing process.

I had no idea about pricing so I just charged her £50, it was how much my pencils cost so I might as well try and get that back.

Tigger the cat. First paid commission.Now I am much more precise about how I calculate the value of my commissions, factoring in the time taken as well as material cost and experience.

Use my Artwork pricing calculator tool to see what you should be charging for your artwork.

December 10th – Expanding my reach

If I was going to be serious about this as a business I needed a Facebook business page. I couldn’t do everything off my personal profile.

So I started by creating an Instagram and Facebook business page. I used my little signature as a logo and I was ready to go. I used them as a portfolio of my artwork and examples of what I could do.

My first posts were extremely basic. It’s so cringy to look back on them now. The pictures were dark, I didn’t really say much in the comment and didn’t really get much feedback either. But that’s fine. It was just the start.

My first post on my Facebook and Instagram page.Now I say and do a lot more to make my posts eye-catching and exacting to anyone who sees them.

Comparing the two you can see how much more interaction I get just from having a more structured approach.

Use this formula for your posts:

  1. A bright and interesting picture with lots going on. Use relevant props and interesting angles.
  2. Ask a question
  3. Tell the story behind the image and what your thoughts are about it.
  4. Call to action. Give them a reason to comment like asking their opinion.
  5. Link – Always give them other ways to contact you or find out more about you. You don’t know who or where they have seen this post.

December 23rd – Joined groups

I didn’t just want to rely on my friends and family liking pictures I had already drawn. I needed to think about how I was going to find strangers to ask me to their cats. So it was time to think about my target customer. Who was it that I wanted to commission me and where could I find them?

The most obvious place for me was Facebook. Everyone loves Facebook (at the time) and we all use it to talk about our passions and hobbies and join groups of people who share the same interests. So I started joining cat Facebook groups. Wonderful place to find people that love their cats.

So I joined around 20 new groups. A lot right? But I am very glad I did.

January 2nd – January 8th: Target Customer

I knew I wanted to specifically target only cat lovers. I only had cat examples and it was really important to me to create quality artworks for my customers.

This was such a good idea at the time because it really helped me build a name for myself as the cat artist and identify my target customer. The most important thing to remember in business is, don’t try to sell to everyone. Sell to people that already have an interest in what you are doing. From the start, I had one focus, cats. and I believe that’s what worked so well to get me started.

This is the post I shared to 20 Cat Facebook Groups:

As you can see it was pretty basic but because I shared it with such a wide and targeted audience I started getting inquires.

Remember at this point I have no website, everything is done through my Facebook page.

You have to reach as many people as you possibly can in order to start making sales. The more people you reach the more likely you are to make a sale.

January 9th – January 15th: Customer Communication

Speaking to customers was another learning curve. At the start, I definitely wasted too much time chatting and not enough time getting to the point. Confidence had something to do with it but I came up with a really good strategy of what I should say to each person that enquires.

Here is an example of one of my first customer conversations that lead to a sale and a long-lasting customer relationship.

What I did well here was to be friendly, give a clear price, and used emojis to put the customer at ease.

Using PayPal is the easiest way to take payments from customers because it is known, reliable and they feel secure using it. Keeping the customer happy and feeling at ease is the most important thing when discussing money and payments online.

They don’t know you and have never met you so you need to make them feel comfortable.

I have found that communicating with customers via messenger or email is definitely the easiest way to gain their trust and make a sale. Customers don’t like to be sent away to various website links unless they specifically ask for it. Even when they ask for examples I have them at the ready on my phone so I can easily send them a few whilst we chat.

I then followed up with a receipt and gave them an approximate date of when their piece would be started and finished. This gives me a deadline to work to and a date to look forward to.

January 16th – 22nd: Getting Organised

As I received more and more inquiries and sales I needed to get organized!

I created this spreadsheet to keep track of all my customers, what they paid for, and when.

You can get the upgraded version of this to fill in yourself when you buy the book ‘Art is my career – How to start an art business’.

I continued to share my completed artworks to groups as I did them and even testimonials. Another great business lesson.

Customers want to know what others thought about your services so sharing testimonials and customer reviews was such a great tactic for me to try and helped me gain more Yeses.

January 23rd – 31st

At my desk with my 7th paid commission!By actively sharing my work with a targeted audience of cat lovers, and speaking to them with confidence and understanding, I was able to make £2040 in one month.

There is no need to spend all your money on the best art materials or a fancy website. I started with just a tin of pencils and a social media presence. You can do this too!

The numbers:

I have now been a full-time artist for four years and built a successful international pet portrait business that provides for me and my family.

In 2020, my art business allowed me to take the leap and move to my dream location, the French Riviera, where many of the great artists like Claude Monet and Van Gogh once lived and painted. This move has been very special to me and even though it has had its challenges it has made me realize the potential of art and how it is possible to build a profitable business anywhere in the world.

I am now so adamant to show people that art is a real career and I have my heart set on helping other artists pursue their dreams!

Need more in-depth help with how to get started? Get the book ‘Art is my career – How to start an art business‘ which contains everything you need to know.

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