In speaking with a number of artists who have built financially successful careers, I have observed that many of them have stabilized and strengthened their art business by creating a line of work that sells quickly and consistently. This line of work may or may not be in the artist’s main artistic focus, but, for whatever reason, this work seems to resonate with a wide range of buyers.
Sometimes this bread and butter work is smaller in size and sells at a lower price point. Sometimes there is something particularly bold or unusual about the work that captures the attention and imagination of potential buyers. I know several artists whose bread and butter artwork was born in experimentation; artwork that was created out of curiosity ends up becoming a big part of the artists’ regular income. Often the bread and butter work sells as quickly as the artist can produce it.
The popularity of “daily painter” sites points to the growing prevalence and appeal of this type of work.
While these creations may or may not be of the same caliber as an artist’s regular work, there is real business value in having a line of work that generates more predictable cash flow. While it is always nice to have large sales of significant artwork, having smaller, frequent sales can help smooth over slower sales periods.
Finding Bread and Butter
So how do you discover your bread and butter? In looking at artists who are generating bread and butter sales, I’ve noticed that they do the following:
- Experiment. Many artists discovered their bread and butter by creating something new – by doing something outside of their normal comfort zone.
- Create something bold. Artwork that displays a bold use of color or strong textures – something that catches the eye – often sells quickly.
- Create something quickly. Often, work that is created quickly will capture some frenetic energy that speaks to a lot of people.
- Work in series. Many artists generate terrific sales by having a large series (sometimes hundreds of pieces) of similarly designed pieces.
The Risks of Bread and Butter Sales
I already know that some of my readers will bristle a bit at the idea of creating work purely from a commercial motivation. There are very real and very valid arguments against creating this kind of easily saleable, broadly appealing artwork. Some artists see this kind of work as breaking with their artistic integrity. Others worry they will devalue their main body of work or dilute their artistic brand. I’m concerned that sometimes the quick sale can sate a buyer’s urge to purchase and prevent them from buying a more significant work.
While these are all valid concerns, for artists who depend on art sales, these kind of sales can be the difference between making a living as an artist or not. Many artists have to support themselves with outside employment, and I would argue that given the choice between waiting tables or creating more commercial artwork, creating the quickly saleable artwork will do more to advance the artist’s career.
What Is Your Bread and Butter?
Have you created artwork that generates consistent and reliable sales? What’s different about that artwork from your normal work? How did you discover your bread and butter? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.