This is a guest post by Marcy Criner who has been selling her horse art for $500+ a pop. That’s a lot of money to pony up!
Here’s Marcy and her horse Aspen:
Marcy started painting pictures of horses and wanted to see if she could take that skill from a side hobby to a legitimate business (you can see examples on her website HorsesOfUs.com).
It’s cool that Marcy has opened up for us what’s worked, and what HASN’T worked as she’s started to sell her horse paintings for more and more money. Let’s find out!
MARCY CRINER STARTS TALKING HERE:
Have you ever wanted to prove that a common refrain like, ‘starving artist’ is just wrong? Well I knew that I wanted to paint pictures of horses and sell them but I had several issues that went beyond the money part.
First, I wasn’t an artist. I had no formal education in art nor was I doing anything artistic. Yes…I know that seems like a big hurdle. Plus, I have seen tons of meh and decent art out there and I wasn’t interested adding to those piles.
So the first problem was what if I sucked. This was not only a possibility but likely. I saw a video with Ira Glass that hit home the message of grit and that the only way to bridge the gap between ability and ambition is to not only do the work but do lots of it. The thought of creating tons of crap made me cringe. I knew that I wanted to be an artist but how long could I disappoint myself and not give up?
I researched the best online courses that would get me going. It was humbling. I took courses. I read books and practiced. Even though I made stuff that sucked, I was able to identity what I needed to work on and what was wrong. I knew when the colors were off or there was no contrast. I got good at figuring out what I needed to focus on. I used reference photos that I took of my horses. This is my horse Flutter. He looks so much better than this in real life. This is one of the pieces that made me cry:
I decided to see it through no matter what. I sat down everyday and worked on it. Rain or shine, early or late, I showed up. My ass was in the chair with an egg timer ticking away for a set amount of time. I had to block my internet and turn off my phone. In the grit stage, my mind was looking for a distraction to allow me to run from my mediocre attempts.
Three months went by and I decided to reach out to horse lovers that followed my horse related blog called Phatmare. Here’s a screenshot of the a message I sent to my email subscribers from Phatmare:
You’re receiving this email because you subscribed to the website Phatmare.com. I’m Marcy, the founder of Phatmare.
I’ve decided to leave Phatmare and follow my heart of creating horse inspired art. Horses of Us is a project that I started because I just couldn’t get enough of the stories behind the horses.
Now I’m taking it up a notch. I want to include YOU and your special horse in the project.
If you would like to be part of Horses of Us send me a message. All I would need from you are good pics of your horse and a willingness to be interviewed by me for 10 minutes.
Check out the horses I’ve done so far see: https://horsesofus.com
Lots of love,
Candice replied right away. She was thrilled and sent me tons of photos of her horse. I knew that it was important to know the story about her horse and I set up a time to interview her.
During the interview she asked me how much the painting would be and I off handedly said $500. I thought there was no way I would get that but it just flew out of my mouth. As soon as she saw the painting, she messaged me that she was buying it. She lived 2 hours from me and I decided to drive the painting to her. I got to meet her and her horse and we really hit it off.
Here’s the painting of her horse, Shark:
Here’s Candice and Shark with the painting:
The next day I woke up to 5 email referrals from Candice of horse owners wanting paintings!
I was surprised and freaked out. I felt that I still wasn’t that good enough but a part of me said keep going. Even though it would have been easier to keep practicing on my own and not reaching out to other people, I felt that I had to be selling and sharing my work. It seemed safer to keep working in isolation until I felt that I was at my best but that would be an achilles’ heel way for me to play small. I wanted to be in the arena and making things that people loved.
Here’s an example of a reference pic of my horse Flutter with the final portrait:
I sold those first 5 and then asked for referrals of 2 horse lovers from each person. I posted the art and the horse stories to go with it. I decided to reach out in a horse related Facebook group. Here’s a screenshot of a message I sent to a horse owner in a Lipizzan horse group:
Take a look at http://horsesofus.com That will give you an idea of what I do.
Pretty much all you would need to do is give me a few good pics of Rhett (close-up clear shots are best) then I will create the portrait.
Afterwords I do a 10 minute or so interview with you and put the art with a quote from you on the Horses of Us site.
Thanks so much! I can’t to see the pics! Marcy
Here’s the portrait of her horse, Rhett:
After I got going it helped to share pics of the artwork in my house and sometimes the people I contacted knew the horses I had already painted:
More FB messages to people in the FB groups:
I think of it as Art With a Voice Behind lt. Real People. Real Horses. Speak. I’ve already painted quite a few Lipizzans.
I would love to have him featured as part of the Horses of Us project. Can I use that rearing pic as a reference and do a portrait of him for the project (If so do you have a bigger megapixel version of it?)
I usually interview the owners too (15 minutes) and share the artwork/story online.
Soon, I got covered in several horse related magazines but that never led to sales.
I thought that I should go to art shows and that was a complete failure. I went to several that were curated and had high entry costs. My logic was I have art and an art show would be a fantastic way to showcase my work and get sales. I was wrong! Lots of people commented on how much they loved the art but when it came to buying it didn’t really happen. I barely covered the cost of the shows.
Here’s a picture of my paintings at the art show:
I realized that the special sauce was not only the custom artwork of the person’s horse but the interview and my personal touch. I focused all of my effort on the Facebook groups. I got to know the admins of the groups and became part of the community. Spamming is a no-no in my book. I messaged people when they knew me from the group or knew someone I knew from the group.
This took time but led to relationship-based marketing. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to ask for testimonials beyond asking to use what they already said in messages to me. I tend to get messages like this from the horse’s owner:
I decided to offer a pendant of the artwork. I liked adding the pendant but I found that it took too much time and that I was better off raising my prices as I went along. I took personal checkswhile I set-up my online invoicing then I invoiced like this:
Here’s an example of my sales:
The most difficult part is keeping people coming in. I love getting referrals and that really helps but it is only one part of the business. The thing that I have embraced is reaching and asking for the sale. I figure that no one wakes up thinking, I need to have a painting of my horse but if someone shows them the beauty, power, and connection of their horse to them, they will get excited and work with me.
I make sure that every experience with me is all about the horse owner’s relationship with their horse. I ask lots of questions and share the process with the horse owner. Here’s an example of what kind of message I send the horse owner when the artwork is done:
I’m so excited to have Canada (and you+Katy) as part of the Horses of Us herd!
With Canada, I felt strongly pulled towards colors that I normally don’t use and to use a technique that I haven’t tried! He put me out of my comfort zone.
The butterfly represents transformation, endurance, hope, and letting go. The tattoo of wings shows his connection to his own powerful lifeforce. I love how strong, yet relaxed and how confident yet caring he looks. I loved giving his mane movement (again the idea of flight/wings) while adding a bit of control through keeping the mane slightly braided at the base. He is a horse that embodies fierce sensitivity and holds wisdom that is always ready to be tapped into.
You’re more than welcome to share the art out! It would be great if you could recommend Horses of Us to 2 horse-owning friends. You can just have them email me.
I’ll have the blog post out today. Thanks so much for supporting the Horses of Us project. It means a lot.
In horses and all good things,
Here’s the artwork that was with this message:
My biggest takeaways are:
Know your audience. Since I’ve been involved with horses my whole life, I know horse people inside and out. I love hearing their stories and connecting.
Warm them up and ask for the sale. Art is personal and I want my clients to love what they are buying. I participate in horse communities that makes it so much easier to reach out and ask! Plus I get referrals.
Start before you are perfect. You will lose momentum if you need to have everything figured out before you start. The most important thing is to share your work and get people interested in what you are doing. If you don’t nurture it and put it out there, no one will.
Keep going and change when you need to. I was really scared about raising my prices to $1,200 for a painting. It made sense but it scared me. I mean what if people thought it was too much!? I swallowed my fear and did it.
Right now I’m working on a new offering. It’s going to be a deck of horse cards. Each card will have a specific message from that particular horse. I feel that this is a good way to offer something at a lower price point and to have a good representation of my Horses of Us collection in a smaller but tangible form.
I have already got a demo deck and now I’m setting up a Kickstarter campaign. Another thing I learned from the art show experience is to make your down-side as risk free as you can. I don’t know that the cards are what people want so why print up a ton when I can test the market with Kickstarter.
Demo deck of messages from horses cards:
Please follow your artistic and creative dreams and know that you can make money! Banish the starving artist.
-Marcy Criner, HorsesOfUs.com
Save this How To Sell Art Guide:
P.S. Hey it’s Neville here again. I don’t want to saddle you with responsibility, but if you’d like, share your story about how to sell your own art? How have you done it, what worked, what DIDN’T work, let us all know!