Marketing Your Art the Right Way

Selling Art, Not Selling Out

Charlie Gilkey on Mindsets, Business for Creatives, and the Power of Art – Cracking Creativity Episode 42

Charlie Gilkey is is the creator of Productive Flourishing and the host of the Creative Giants podcast. He describes himself as the result of mashing up an entrepreneur, Army officer, and philosopher. In this episode, Charlie talks about mindsets, business, and the power of art.

Here are three things you can learn from Charlie:

Drop the Artist Label

Many artists have painted themselves into a corner by calling themselves an artist. They are afraid of the fraud police that tell them they’re not good enough to be an artist. There’s a story they tell themselves about what it mean to be an artist.

While it can be empowering to call yourself an artist. That label also carries a lot of weight. If you feel the heaviness of the artist title, Charlie suggest dropping it. He advocates “focus on the craft” rather than “evaluation of the craft.

The challenge of the artist label is, “It’s an invitation for people to evaluate your work.” It can be hard to been seen this way, even though that is one of the reasons we create art.

“We want to be seen, but we’re scared to be seen.” Often times the thought of being an artist can be unhelpful. When you feel that weight, like Atlas holding the world on his shoulders, drop the label and just create.

The Myth of Perfection

As artists, we have this vision of what our work will look like when it’s complete. We spend hours on end trying to achieve that vision. Often times, it can prevent us from actually releasing our work.

It is in these moments that you must move on. Charlie thinks that what you’ve created is “more beautiful than that perfect image that you have in your head.” That piece of art can change and inspire lives, but it can’t do that if they never see it.

Perfection is unattainable. If we waited for perfection every time we create a piece of art, we would have nothing to show for it. Don’t use the excuse of unfinished work for not selling or showing your paintings to others.

There’s a sacredness in allowing someone to buy a piece that you’ve poured your soul into. Be willing to let go of your art, even it doesn’t meet your standards of perfection.

The Art of Pricing

Artists often have trouble determining the right price for their work. According to Charlie, they are making it much harder than it needs to be.

Far too often, we become too attached to our art. We think the amount we sell our work for determines our worth, but that simply is not true. Art is worth what someone is willing to pay for it.

Charlie suggests looking at the art market and using it to choose your price. Go to an art fair, and see the range of prices people are willing to pay, then just pick a number. Don’t try to analyze it to death. These prices work because others are already willing to pay them.

Art is hard to quantify because it’s so subjective. People buy your art based on the way it makes them feel. If you can get your art in front of people who want to buy it, they will pay you what you are worth. Just make sure you find people who are willing to pay you in kind.


  • about Charlie
  • army officer, philosopher and entrepreneur
    • didn’t know about blogging until 2005
    • using blogs to teach
    • was a teacher, philosophy instructor, and military leader
    • started reading the greats to figure out what he was doing wrong
    • started reading books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People & Getting Things Done
      • they didn’t work for him
      • didn’t show how to do things from creative perspective and they didn’t show a goal oriented bias towards action
      • Getting Things Done didn’t show how to work on big goals
      • started writing on Productive Flourishing
      • kept writing and people started liking it
      • knew academic path was not for him
      • saw Productive Flourishing as a better fit for what he wanted to do
      • moved to Oregon and resigned post  as a commissioned officer

“My challenge was at the time, that on the one hand, I had this really great skill set about moving equipment and troops and getting missions done, yet I was struggling to complete my academic papers, and it was really like, what’s going on with that? I could move battalions but I can’t finish a 5,000 word essay that I know how to write… what’s going on?”

  • creating a business
    • fell into business accidentally
    • knew you could make money from blogging but didn’t intend to become business strategy coach
    • helped people figure out how to work on their projects
    • people started asking “When can we meet next?” and “Can you coach me?”
    • eventually it turned into paid offers, products, speaking, events, etc.

“Business is all about projects that you got to get to market and so people would have ideas and not know how to do anything with them or… they wouldn’t know how to convert their idea into a project, so they talked to me about it.”

  • end result vs. the process
    • doing things the “wrong” way but still working
    • Sun Tzu’s Art of War
      • conventional vs. unconventional approach
      • conventional approach being defeatable, and knowing when to use the unconventional approach
    • Simple Rev
      • things start to change when you become a business
      • you have to think about earning revenue
      • cycles of helping people (getting paid to help people) vs. being a hobby

“I would look at the way people were doing things and I was more driven by how am I going to serve people with this, how am I going to do this in a way that really fires me up?”

  • being a problem solver
    • grew up poor
    • changing circumstances for your benefit
    • sitting at the Delta Sky Club
      • sun beaming down on them
      • re-arranged the room so chairs were not facing the sun
    • huge advocate of daily creativity

“When you grow up poor you learn resourcefulness so that you don’t remain poor or you learn other things… I learned resourcefulness.”

“Just because whatever the situation I was handed was a certain way, didn’t mean it needed to stay that way.”

“I think we are all inherently creative. We are all inherently problem solvers, it’s just that some people use that skill and cultivate it more than others.”

  • applying creativity to any situation you are in
    • dropping the artist label for a more specific term
      • painters paint, but the artist label is subjective

“So many people who have creative skills get that fear of the fraud police calling them an artist because they’re not featured somewhere, they’re not as good as another person… there’s all this story around what it means to be an artist that I think is fundamentally unhelpful and so sometimes, the best thing you can do is drop that artist label.”

“If it’s useful to focus on the craft that you do rather than the evaluation of that craft, which is sometimes where we get confused with artists, then just focus on the craft.”

  • the reason being an artist has so much weight
    • academic culture has defined what art is
    • writing vs. Shakespeare and painting vs. Monet
    • people think being an artist means you’re broke

“Part of the challenge of being an artist is, it’s an invitation to be seen when you use that word. It’s an invitation for people to evaluate your work and a lot of times as a creative person it’s hard to be seen in that way, even though that’s fundamentally one of our core needs, especially for some types of creatives, or it’s just a drive to be seen and appreciated and to see that this thing that you’ve made is beauty.”

“We want to  be seen, but we’re scared to be seen.”

“There’s those weird images that we have of what it means to be an artist and what it means to be creative that are fundamentally unhelpful.”

  • art as a process and resistance to selling
    • notice when appeal to process is is used as a way to avoid finishing your work and selling it

“I sometimes think this whole art as a process thing can be a huge way of hiding. It’s an excuse to hide.”

“I see people use ‘it’s about the process’ as a way to avoid finishing their work and a way to avoid shipping that work to a marketplace.”

  • changing your mindset about the process and finishing your work
    • don’t hide your work in the closet waiting for it to be perfect
    • your art is better suited giving enjoyment  than it is sitting around
    • change that art makes people feel is better than the beauty of a perfect piece in our minds
    • you will never be done with a piece, you’re just finished working on it
    • it’s okay to have art that’s just for you, but you have to claim it
    • if the art is for you, put a not for sale sticker on it
    • sacredness of exchanging something you put your soul in for something someone else put their soul in
    • there are a lot of places people can put their money
    • your work is competing for all sorts of things

“Recognize that what actually shows up in the world is more beautiful than that perfect image that you have in your head.”

“That piece of art that you’re creating, it can’t change and inspire people if they don’t see it.”

“If you start out of the gate and you know that that art is just for you, claim that, and you don’t have to do anything with it, but don’t confuse creating art for somebody else… with your art just being solely for you, and I think that’s where people get tripped up.”

“If you are approaching selling as some type of necessary evil…  then you miss the beauty of the gift of economics.”

“For someone to find your art, and fall in love with it, and want to buy it from you, man that’s a thing of beauty… embrace that.”

  • being selfish about your work
    • it’s okay to reserve work for yourself
    • it’s not okay to keep all your art for yourself
  • getting proper value for what your work is worth
    • Cory Huff – The Abundant Artist
    • there’s no fixed value on art
    • value coming with fame
    • the value of your work vs. your own worth
    • a painting is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it
    • artists don’t spend enough time considering their time when pricing their work
    • you have to charge enough to cover your costs
    • you aren’t being selfish by charging, you are ensuring that you can continue to create more
    • art as a hobby is okay, but if you want to be a professional, you have to look at the numbers

“It’s really hard for artists to get to that point of what your worth because inevitably, that depends upon what somebody else is willing to pay.”

“It’s important to set apart one’s personal worth from the worth of their art… Your value as a person is different from the value of your art.”

“Pricing is just a signal for what someone is willing to pay. It has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of that thing, it’s just the signal for what someone is to pay in exchange, and it is fluid. There’s a lot of freedom there.”

“I think it’s really important to be more detached about this whole value price thing.”

“As a professional artist, you really have to think about how you’re going to make a sustainable go of this.

  • advice for pricing your art
    • use market based pricing
    • go to an art fair and look at the range, then pick a number
    • people are already paying market prices for art, so you know people will buy it
    • most artists are undercharging, so take that into consideration
    • see what other people are willing to pay for art
    • it’s easy to quantify businesses and returns, but it’s not as easy to quantify price for art
    • people will pay based on how it makes them feel
    • focusing on your own projects vs. making for other people
    • Charlies finds opportunities in the marketplace and shows people how to turn what he sees into action

“When it comes to pricing we make it way harder than it needs to be, especially in art.”

“You have to look at what’s going on in the marketplace and have to see that someone’s willingness to pay for that art is not a statement of your ‘artistic level’, it’s their willingness to pay for this piece  that really moved them in some type of way.”

“It’s the nexus of where are you trying to take this business, what are you particular strengths, and what does the market want, and when those are in alignment, you get a certain set opportunities. Once you have those opportunities, you can line them up with what are you trying, what’s not working which creates their problems and challenges and then it’s just… lining up those opportunities in ways that help them overcome those challenges and also leverage their strengths. That’s really what it’s about.”

  • process for helping people see better
    • SWOT Analysis & PEST Analysis – tools for helping create better strategist
    • the best way to become a better analyst is to analyze many cases
    • looks at how change happens
    • takes a lot of reading and training

“Strategy is really about the art of seeing.”

  • creatives as powerful strategic thinkers
    • collecting, connecting, and sharing the dots
    • see what’s unique about a situation and see how it relates to another situation
    • creatives can be successful if they get their mindset right
    • getting inspiration from what you see, and tweaking it to fit your needs
    • nothing is 100% original
    • creative exploration for yourself is fantastic but you also need to consider your customer’s needs
    • be aware about the art you’re creating and see how it fits other people’s needs
    • if you want to serve others, have humility but also be willing to include what other people like

“I can’t think of an art innovation that was 100% original… that’s where a lot of artists can get in trouble because we focus so much on originality and understand that some people want really really original and new ways of looking at things because they don’t want art like everyone else, and there’s a wide swath of buyers who like a picture of a border collie.”

  • fitting a market and fitting the market
    • make sure your art is available to those who want to buy it
    • long tail – there’s a desire that you can fit for any niche
    • blogging and honing your work for yourself
    • craft and result don’t have to be the same thing

“Find that place in the art itself where there’s a smile in the mind for you because you saw something in there.”

  • 1,000 True Fans by Kevin Kelly
    • it only takes 1,000 dedicated fans to make a living
    • you make a sale one person at a time – it doesn’t matter whether it’s every 6 seconds or every 6 days

“No matter what you do, you make a sale one person at a time.”

“You create the customer. You create a relationship of value with people one person at a time. So as long as you take that approach to it… What am I creating today? How am I connecting with people today? What am I doing today to create that relationship with someone today. If you did that every day… over the course of 3-5 years, you have that thousand true fans that then you can do all sorts of things with, and you don’t get those fans… and customers with the stuff you don’t finish.”

  • not waiting on your art to be perfect
    • done and imperfect is better than not done at all

“We all think we have some time in the future to share our work… but life is incredibly short. Life can end in an instant. And not just your life and an artist, someone who goes too soon or goes in a tragic way who may have benefited from your art.”

“Art transforms people. It changes people. It heals people. We have a world that’s filled with frustration and heartache, and art helps, and it’s our job as artists to get out there in the street and get our medicine to the people who need it, not for those people depressed on the couch who are stricken with grief, who are bedridden, to find ways to find us.”

  • common problems for people who are trying to run a business
    • Field of Dreams – if you make something cool, people will find it
      • it’s your job to go out and find people
    • not delegating and letting people help you
    • not having the ability to go into the marketplace without comparing yourself and becoming discouraged
  • three things to do when starting business
    • take assessment of himself and what he can offer, then find people who want what he has to offer
      • fill a need
    • start a website – prerequisite
      • easy to share you work
    • relentlessly converse with people and let them know how much he cares
      • converse more and care more works as a strategy
    • look at the type of art you are good at, what people are buying, and you get it where people can see it
    • show your passion and how much you care
    • the path to building a business is fairly simple, it’s laid out, but people like to take their own path
      • when it works, it works big, when it doesn’t it’s long and hard
    • align what you do well with the people who want it
    • people are buying a piece of you
    • Would you buy from someone you despise? & Would you buy from someone you like?
    • Patreon as a way to reach your fans

“People buy… because they know, like, and trust you. They know, like, and trust you.  If you’re not out there talking to folks, they can’t know you. If you don’t care about them, they probably don’t like and trust you either.”

“There are people who will buy your art because they love your art and they want to support you.”

  • Charlie’s plan for the future
    • finishing book – Start Finishing (will be a few years)
      • wants to help people create on large scale
    • events for thought leaders
    • if he had a billion dollars, he would do the same thing, just at a larger scale
    • why he doesn’t like the idea of retiring
  • morning routine
    • meditates 15-30 minutes
    • sets out intentions and starts working on them
    • switches to speaking/coaching/etc.
    • meditation for clarity and presence of mind
      • being able to return to groundedness
      • live life with an open heart
      • ability to remain calm, focused, and present
      • KC Carter – This Epic Life
  • books, tools, resources

“I think if we focus more on how every day and showing up and getting one step closer, we can find that inherent motivation that comes from progress, and we can find that inherent confidence that comes from every day getting closer by manifesting your creativity and making a difference in the world.”

“What did I do with this day that I was given?… and am I happy with it?”

“Creativity at it’s very broadest is human energy to deliver delights or solve problems.”

  • being more creative
    • paradoxical times
    • endless ways to make a living for ourselves and cost of living is higher, so you have to do more
    • unlimited information is available to us

“Use what they have man. We all have the capability to deliver delights to people and we all have the ability to look at our surroundings and say, hey, in what way can I make this space more beneficial, useful, beautiful, harmonious, relaxing for me, and I think that’s one of those things that some animals have it as well. But what really makes humans unique is that we see the world and see how the world could be and we mind that gap and change the world that is to the way the world could be. And how do you do be more creative? Use it. Do that. Find those moments every day, every hour to use this incredible gift that we have of time, of each other, and especially in soul of human faculties.”

“We need to level up our courage and compassion to match the creative capabilities that are right in front of us.” | Twitter

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