How to Know When Your Artwork is Good Enough to Sell

Published Jan. 12th 2007


Usually a beginning artist’s first few paintings are pretty bad; sometimes even horrible. But after several paintings, new artists often wonder whether their art could sell.

For those of you who are wondering this right now, I’m going to share some methods that I use to determine whether I put a painting up for sale or not.

Ask questions of friends and family

If you’re curious about what people think of your art, take it to your friends and family first. Ask specific questions about one painting in particular rather than broad questions about your art in general. You’ll get more helpful feedback that way.

Responses like, “Oh, it’s nice,” or, “I like it, but I don’t know why,” make me want to tear my hair out, but it’s not necessarily the other person’s fault. As artists we ought to be able to help our friends understand enough about art to give us their opinion.

Your main job is to present your friends and family members with questions they can easily answer. And remember – even if you don’t agree with what they say, you shouldn’t contradict them right after you’ve requested their feedback. If you do, they’ll probably never want to help you again.

Asking these next seven questions should help you understand a bit more of what others see, or don’t see, in your work:

1. What emotions do you feel when you look at the painting?
(Give multiple choice answers if necessary.)

2. What does this painting remind you of? What do the colors remind you of? The shapes?

3. Would you put this painting up on your wall?
(Note: close relatives may lie to spare your feelings – let them know you won’t be offended if they answer “no.”)

4. Which parts of the painting do you like best?

5. What grabs your attention first, or most, in the painting?

6. Which area of the painting do you like the least?

7. Do any parts of the painting seem not to fit with the rest of it?

Most of these can be answered easily even if your art is just average. And, if their responses line up with what you would say to those same questions, then it might be time to think about selling your work. At least you know that you’ve successfully communicated through your work.

On the other hand, if they‘re getting something from the painting that you aren’t putting in, take another look and think about revising your own opinion of what you’ve made. Most people have a good sense of what looks right or wrong even if they aren’t artists, so don’t automatically brush them off. Ask more questions to determine what you need to change in order to make your original intent clear.

And, if for all your effort you just can’t get a straight response; well, perhaps that’s an answer in itself and your art needs a little more work. Take what they do say to heart and keep at it.

Get critiques from other artists

I can’t stress enough the importance of finding knowledgeable artists who are willing to help you refine your ideas and skills. Whenever possible, have them give a full critique of your work. Let them know that you’re interested in selling your art, and ask point blank what you need to change to do so.

They’ll be able to give you tips on composition, color, subject matter, emotional quality, etc, etc. All of the technical aspects of your art that your family and friends couldn’t tell you, they can. Take their advice to heart – they were in your shoes once, and they know what it took to get where they are.

More than advice, other artists might also have suggestions for pricing your art. Don’t be surprised if they seem hesitant to give you a specific number; but if they do mention a set price, it probably means they believe your art is good enough to sell.

Ask tough questions of yourself

No matter what others say, it’s important for us to not have to rely on others for validation. Due to the nature of art, however, this can be a difficult area for artists to be confident in.

You should ask yourself the following questions after finishing a painting to help track how you’ve improved, and see whether you‘ve done your best with each individual piece of art.

1. Did I feel in control of the entire painting process?

2. Can I see any flaws or mistakes I’ve made in my painting?

3. Do I have the ability to correct those flaws?

And most importantly. . .

4. Did I, in fact, go back and fix those flaws??

I want my art to be as good as it can be. Sometimes shoddy artwork will sell, but it’s obviously better to improve a piece than hope it sells despite its flaws. Unfortunately many artists either look at their art, see something wrong, and don’t want to fix it; or just don’t look hard enough to find the mistakes in the first place.

A few other questions you might want to ask yourself:

5. Did I accomplish what I set out to do?

6. Can I explain to people what my painting is about, and why I painted it?

It’s only fair to have an explanation of your work ready when a potential buyer has a question about your methods or reasons behind your art. I think most artists intuitively know and understand why they paint, but not all of us can immediately put it into words.

Be ready to tell your story. It’s part of who you are as an artist, and a big part of what your art will mean to those who buy it.

If you follow these suggestions you should be able to get better feedback from your family and friends, great advice other artists, and hopefully a clearer understanding for yourself of how passionate you are about your art.

Ultimately, the only way to know if your art is good enough to sell, is to try to sell it. Personally, I’m satisfied when I can find the right answer to all of my questions in this article. Meeting a buyer and actually receiving payment for my work is just a bonus.

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