Popular Room Decor: A Guide for Creators and Collectors on How to Know What to Paint and What to Buy


    This post is by, Tina Garrett, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Tina is an ARC Associate Living Master, she teaches workshops across the US and in Europe. She has a  workshops coming up in Italy. Tina published her first instructional oil painting video in January 2019 and held her first Solo Show, "Pieces of Me" at Bountiful Davis Art Center in Salt Lake City, Utah in March of 2019. Tina is a proud Missouri State Ambassador for the Portrait Society of America helping Missouri artists fully benefit from their PSoA membership. She is also proud to be a 2018 & 2019 Cecilia Beaux Forum Mentoring Program Mentor.



    I was recently given a link to an article that was supposed to help artists know what to paint based off of the presumptive data of what collectors buy. I’d like to think the person that wrote the article came from a place of truly trying to be helpful to both creators and collectors, but I found the information...absurd. According to the data, art creators are supposed to make work that is smaller rather than large, landscapes or abstracts — preferably ones that match popular room decor. This is the recipe for becoming a successful art seller.


    As a creator, I cannot think of a more soul killing reason to give of myself and make a work of art. If you are a regular reader of my blog, I hope you know by now where I’m coming from and why I am an artist. But just in case, I’ll break it down for ya: 


    I make art because I cannot imagine not making art in some form or another. I must. I always will. I will never ‘retire’. It is not what I do. It is who I am. There was a moment in my life, in 2011 when financially, as my career as a freelance children’s illustrator melted away with the age of apps and interactive dvd’s, that I believed I had to stop being an artist and become a dental hygienist. The kind of illustration I did was over, children put away scissors, glue and paper and picked up iPods, and I had a duty to my family to contribute financially again, and so I went to a school to investigate what it would take to make a career change. 


    In the elevator on the way down from having visited the room in the school where the student hygienists were cleaning the patients teeth, it hit me. In a single moment I realized if I took even one more step in that direction I would no longer be...myself. That’s not to say being a dental hygienist is a bad thing, it is to say that I, would cease to exist, and a new Tina, with a different purpose on earth would be here with you now.  


    To say that I was panicking is an understatement. It was more of a cataclysmic melt down. And thankfully, I had a circle of loved ones who were watching over me and willing to intervene and give me the support and even the permission I needed to take steps towards becoming the artist I am today. 


    So as I work with artists of all kinds, as a teacher and a mentor, I fully understand their desire and need, to be an artist and I try very hard to share with all of them the tools to help them be who they are and make the best work they are capable of creating. 


    How then, do artist know what to paint? If not small, trendy landscapes and abstracts to match popular room decor, then what? How is an artist to know what will sell? We are after all, not hobbyists. We are professional artists so by definition the end result of each creation is intended for collection, aka, for sale. 


    First, Be Honest: A very famous artist once berated me for painting dancers. After all, it is clear that looking at me I don’t even dance. Yes, that conversation actually happened. But I do dance! At the disco, and damn if I’m not great out on the sparkling nightclub tiles. And I love dancers. Not only for their beauty but for their discipline, their athleticism and for their commitment to beauty. Dancers understand the cost of making their art. They understand pain is part of the process and they go through it for the sake of the perfect dance. As a girl, I only wore dresses — and mostly those that twirled, and my childhood sketchbooks are filled with dancers, cowboys and small strange animals with interchangeable parts (but that’s another blog). 


    Whether it is cowboys or dancers, children or brides. The subjects I paint are the ones that ache in my belly. I dream about them. My heart pounds when I meet the person I know I must paint. I loose sight of anything else and become engrossed by every fraction of their being. I want nothing else. And that is how I know. I do feel that way about landscapes as well. I’ve hesitated to paint them because I feel my skills are not yet up to my taste. When I do paint landscapes I want folks to loose their breath when they see them. And I am studying with intent the greatest of the greats like Isaac Levitan. 


    So yes, be honest! What thrills you? Is it landscapes? Then paint them! Is it roses, or glass jars, or copper pots, by all means, go to town. Because if you paint what you want to paint, that burning desire, that energy you feel when you are preparing to make that painting, that is what is going to sustain you through the problem solving process. So sit. Be calm and listen to yourself. Banish any thoughts about what will sell or what your peers, family or teachers think you should paint. And here is why...


    It Is a Global Market: If losing my illustration career taught me anything it taught me that we are now living in a global market. Why would a company pay me $60 to $100 for an illustration when artists in developing countries can make the same simple little cartoon character for twenty five cents. It is a global market. And that’s not a bad thing. It is actually one of the main reasons why I can make a living as a fine artist now even easier than I might have been able to do right out of high school in the early 90’s. Think about it. Back then, the internet was very new. People were still using dial up...bing bong, bing bong. 


    An artist in the 90’s had to create art for sale through a trusted gallery with a large collector base who’s taste matched to that specific artist. Maybe several galleries in fact. Or they had to do art shows, with fees and risks, making tons of inventory, purchasing lots of equipment and traveling with all of it to unknown weather and unknown crowds. It can be a big gamble. It would be especially easier for an artist who lived in a place that people visited on vacation. That artist could make art that was of the local scenery or local flavor for vacationers to buy in remembrance of their awesome holiday. Where then would that have put an artist in the Midwest who likes to paint people? Just about nowhere. 


    Globalization and the creation of the online market means that today, I can paint what I dream of painting, what fulfills me creatively — and after I’ve made it, all I have to do is find the people somewhere in the world who love it too, my global market. As creators we cannot assume our market is only the minuscule number of people we actually personally know, or are able to see with our own eyes as we drive around our own towns. There are so many ways artists can reach out to the whole world and ask, “Hey, do you love my art?” A trusted gallery is still the best approach, but trust me, successful galleries are reaching out to the whole world and not relying on only local foot traffic. 


    What About Collectors: How does someone know what art to buy? And how do artists reach the collectors, the ones mostly buying trendy abstracts to match their couch? How would I get them to buy my paintings? I wouldn’t. 


    Those are not my people. Think of it this way: I could take three of five of my paintings and stand in the exits of our local amusement park, Worlds of Fun! and ask each patron as they leave the park if they would like to buy one of my paintings. I would sell zero. Why? Because they are not my market. However, if I took the same paintings and stood outside the exit of the symphony or an area theater production, a fine auto seller, I am more likely to find a buyer. 


    The collectors I am looking for know themselves very well. They have collected art most of their lives, they love the art they collect and rarely if ever do they sell it or buy art for its decorative value. They buy the work in a way that is similar to how I know what art to make, they must. They know when they see it and they must have it, live with it and devour it daily. For example: Once, a repeat collector mused to me about his collection. He explained that every evening he comes home from work, mixes a drink and sits in his living room surrounded by my paintings. He doesn’t own a television, he said. Instead, he spends the evening discovering new and amazing treasures in each of the brush strokes of my works. 


    These are my people. They don’t have to be wealthy, I have collectors who’ve purchased several $250 paintings. They only have to appreciate the work. People who collect my work love art and they love artists and they value the work and the artist beyond its monetary value. My market may be a small market, but I paint less than 20 works a year and so I don’t need to reach 100k people. I work very hard to make sure my kind of people know my work exists, because I know they will love my work forever. My work becomes part of their life. We become a part of each other. And that is a soul fulfilling purpose. 


    In this season of gratitude, I want to say thank you for reading my blog, for following my journey and especially to those who spend their hard-earned money to learn from me and to collect the works I give myself to, so thank you! There is no higher compliment. Happy Thanksgiving! 

    Images from a beloved collector's home. 






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