Build Your Confidence to Your Delightful Advantage

Ambition will where talent will not – Barney Davey

The above is a phrase I coined a few years ago. What I’m saying is talent alone will only take you so far. It’s a sometimes bitter pill to swallow. But, it’s true that blind ambition will drive success to the point where talent is not the critical factor. We all know there are plenty of talented artists, musicians, writers and other creative types who never seem to get their due. Lack of ambition is one problem. Self-limiting beliefs are another.

Success Is a Very Personal Decision

Perceptions of success by others screw up a lot of otherwise happy careers. By that, I mean, if you are working to fulfill dreams that are not yours, you have a problem. Success looks different for everyone. If you enjoy making art and are happy with occasional sales because you can’t deal with the business side, that’s okay. If you are making $200,000 per year because you are an art-making marketing machine who loves what you’re doing, that’s perfectly fine, too.  Just always remember. You decide. All others are opinions that you choose to value or not.

The Social Media Unreality Sham

Stop measuring your success against that of others. Social media is a mental minefield. When you see the fabulous looking lives of others, it’s easy to get down on yourself because you can’t compete. Stop comparing. It’s an unnecessary way to make yourself feel bad, especially when you are reacting to a carefully cultivated view of another person’s life. The reality is in the day-to-day grind of life; things are likely not as hunky-dory as the poster makes it appear on social media.

Chunk Down Ambitious Goals into Daily Tasks

Figure out what is essential and valuable to you. Evaluate to know if your goals are realistic on a stretch. If they are, then set up systems to break them down to daily activities and start keeping score of tiny wins. Celebrate your tiny wins. Pretty soon, you’ll begin to see a pattern of real success based on your goals, not what others think you should be doing or accomplishing. That’s how you stay content while plowing ahead.

Art Career Success Frustrations Are Common

While I have often noted that ambition is an enormous element in art career success, I realize many ambitious artists struggle. They are putting in the time. They are talented. They have a distinct body of work. Unfortunately, despite these positive attributes, they remain behind in career achievements in comparison to artists similar to them.

How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy
How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy



How Does This Happen?

There are many reasons why some otherwise talented artists do not get their due.

  • Their geographical location is a potential problem.
  • They or a family member may have physical or psychological issues.
  • They may be impoverished.
  • They are thinking small and running bad scripts that empower self-limiting beliefs and crush art career success.

Although I have great sympathy for artists dealing with the first three conditions listed above, fixing them is not the focus of this post. I also will say I am neither a self-help expert, nor do I have any specialized training or education that qualifies me to help with running bad scripts and removing self-limiting beliefs. What I do have is the power of observation, years of art marketing experience, and a desire to share the advantages of running your life and career with a grounded abundance attitude.

From my experience, I can tell you that you do have control of the thoughts that run those bad scripts. I also realize it is a significant undertaking to reverse deeply embedded emotions that may have trauma or life experience fueling them. The first step is the realization there is an alternative. The second is working on making the change. The next is to chip away even when the demons of the past are doing their best to keep you in check and hold you back from moving on with your life. Any kind of support to help you is worth pursuing.

What Makes Big Hitters Different?

When you look at the career paths of top artists who have made it regarding income, for example, they make $100,000 or more annually; you will find they have had quantum leaps in their income along the way. There is no escaping making quantum leaps if you want high achieving art career success – steady small incremental increases in sales and prices will fail you.

For instance, let’s say your current annual income is $25,000. To get to a $100,000 yearly income, you have to compound a 10% growth for around 15 years. That’s a long, long time. And, in 15 years, $100k will not be what it is today.

How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy
How to Find Art Collectors: A Trout Fishing Analogy



If incremental growth is acceptable to you, then you have painted yourself into a picture of self-limiting beliefs.

If you think raising prices 10% a year is too much, you are running a bad art career success script. Sure, even big hitters have years when their progress may not be quantum, and a 10% pop is okay. However, without quantum leaps along the way, they would be stuck in an income range that is an art career success killer.

Stick Your Courage & Grow.

It takes brains and courage to get higher prices. If your highest rate for your work is $2,000, ask why. Can you make an artwork twice as large and twice the masterpiece of any previous work? I think most of you can, but if you don’t, it’s probably due to a self-limiting belief script running full-time in your head. Realizing the only price police are the ones in your head is a fantastic way to let go of a bad script.

How to Increase Your Price Ranges.

Granted, you cannot just markup your work 50% overnight and hope that it will sell. You have to put some substance on your pricing and add a plausible rationale, too.

Here is an example of a self-imposed, self-limiting pricing strategy. If you tell your buyers or potential galleries that your work sells in a range of $200 – $2,000, you are letting them know your maximum price. Most are likely to look for your medium priced work, or dicker with you to lower your top price.

What is stopping you from making a piece for your portfolio that priced at $4,000, $5,000, or double or triple your current top price? You, and only you. That is all. Start planning now to plan and execute a masterpiece that is worthy of double or more your previous highest price. It may take a while to sell it, but it does wonders for your pricing range, your buyer psychology, and for lifting your self-limiting beliefs.

Learn from the Smartest Retailers.

Now you can display or show pictures of an actual piece that you can recommend with confidence and pride that gives you a 100% or higher range than you had previously. It makes the higher-priced work you typically sell look like the safer middle ground purchase that is a bargain by comparison. You have now stepped out of your self-limiting belief and stopped mentally capping your work for your buyers and yourself.

Smart retailers will always show you the best, most high priced work to start. They know it drives their average selling price higher, which makes their staple items easier to sell. Moreover, I promise this will happen to you, too: By offering the expensive versions of their goods, those retailers know they will find some buyers who are willing to purchase them without blinking. You have buyers out there for your newly minted higher priced work, but you will never discover them until you put it up for sale.

Leverage Is a Key.

Finding leverage points to help you take quantum leaps will make for enormous differences in your art career success. The pricing strategy I have given you here is just one scenario. There are many other ways to leverage your art career. Just as you use your imagination to create things, you can decide what to do with your career and how to leverage it also by using your creativity and imagination.

The power of self-belief is one of the most significant driving factors behind tremendous success. So is creatively thinking and acting on ways to leverage your career and recognition for it. An outsized example is Wyland’s 100 Whaling Walls. He estimates a billion people have seen them.

I believe finding new, plausible ways to increase your price range is a key leverage point. Leverage points are all around you. They can be in your work, in your materials, in your marketing, in your publicity, in your promotion, in your branding, or networking.

You Can Learn to Believe in Yourself; You Can Do It!

The thing holding most artists back are bad scripts and limiting self-beliefs. Those scripts bind them tighter than any ropes ever could.

The first step is recognizing and accepting your self-limiting beliefs. The second is committing to work on ridding yourself of them. You can blame nature, nurture, or anything you want. You may be right that you got a raw deal. Life can be hard and unfair.

Nevertheless, it does not matter because you ultimately have the power of free will to lift yourself above your circumstances. People do it every day, so can you. I know you can do it. Now, you have to start to believe in you as I do.

Next Steps

Learn to observe your behavior. Figure out where your career is hitting the wall. It’s not all bad scripts holding you back, but often they are intertwined with other factors. Gaining self-awareness is key to understanding where the bottlenecks are in your art career success. Those pain points, bottlenecks, or whatever you call them also are leverage points when you fix them.

Don’t try to work on too many things at once. Tackle the most obvious, the most important, or the easiest, depending on what else is going on in your career and your life. Never underestimate the power of believing in yourself. It has performed miracles on art careers and can for yours as well.


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art career, Career Success, Leverage, Limiting Beliefs, Quantum Leap, Self Limiting, success

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  • Excellent post, Barney! So many artists that I know are positive that a tight price range for work is the way to go. I keep telling them that the wider the price range of work, the wider the potential audience for their work. Now I have a post to point them to that backs up what I have been saying for several years.

  • A big lightbulb has just gone off in my head and this will be my first goal of the new year. You are absolutely right with this post.

    • I feel exactly the same way. The whole article is so true. This will be my new years resolution. Thanx to Barney for his amazing insight and advice on the struggles of artists

  • Your articles are always thought-provoking and spot on and above all encourage positive action. Thanks.

  • Mr. Davey this post was very timely. I may reread it daily to press through the bottle neck. How fortunate to have your wisdom and to know I am not alone. Thank you,& to others that appreciate and are learning these provoking positive reinforcements.

  • I think the struggle for me in pricing is the tendency to believe if work is not selling you must be overpriced. Certainly you can find that advice on many art business sites where they say, if it’s selling fast raise the price, if not then you must be too high. I have work in Tubac, and it is not selling well there at current prices, so would raising my price range be helpful?

  • I needed this article. As the year comes to and end I can say the quality of my work has improved however, I am doubtful that my income has increased. This is another good eye opener from Barney and we all need these. I have made changes to my art career in 2013 and will add this to my business plan for 2014. Thank you!! Frances Velling, Seattle, Wa.

  • Hi Barney
    I am from Switzerland and I was just overdue my price calculation for my paintings because this year I was in NYC and the next year I will have a gallery contract in NYC near time square and on in Spain.
    So I have to increase my prices otherwise I will kill myself because of the enormous cost of transportation of the paintings. But let me say I was feeling confused first and then I looked at my paintings and I was
    thinking when I would have money, these paintings I would buy for the prices I have calculated because they are worth it. I also wonder that the abstract art has higher prices than the realistic work, and because
    I am a realistic painter I had really think positive to increase the prices. But I did it.
    Thanks a lot for your post it helped me to have peace in my heart about the prices!

  • Yes – your post is true unless the first three are in effect. One of my first selling lessons came from a “professional” artist friend who made a living with her art – “no one buys your art because you don’t appreciate it enough to ask a good price for it.” I was asking barely enough to pay for materials and maybe make a few bucks over. “put a one in front of all those numbers”, she said. I did that when we checked into the rather big art show. I sold them all and won two awards. Never had trouble selling my original art again until I moved to here where two of the first three apply.

  • Barney, your blogs are so motivational, thought provoking and easy to grasp. This one I printed out for future rereading, over and over again. I also shared it with the art community on Fine Art America. The best part about this blog is how you get a person to really think about “their” personal responsibility to their own art careers. Thank you for all you do to help artists and their careers.

  • Thanks Barney for the kick in the pants. To date, my biggest single sale is $450. This was for a 14″ x 21″ pastel painting, beautifully custom matted and framed with museum glass. I have three 24×36 pastelbords in my studio that I have been hesitant to touch. Today, because you have given me the courage, I will plan the first of three paintings for which I will ask $1500, and use those suckers up!

  • Wow! There are so many great comments here. I wish I had time to post a reply to each one. It is so gratifying to know my thoughts and suggestions are well received and motivational. It makes the time putting in to write posts like this one worthwhile. Thanks to all the readers, and especially those who have taken their time to comment here. It means a lo to me.

    • Yes, these are helpful.I haven’t received my confirmation email as yet, so hope they’ll resend it, lol!

        • I got the confirmation email right after I typed about waiting for it, lol. It was to confirm my email address. Google was being slow..

  • I think underestimating myself has been part of my problem. Also, the horrible location I live in, plus living a hand-to-mouth existence in this miserable part of Tennessee!

  • Great post, Barney! It is usually the case where the only limitation for success resides somewhere between the ears. Our thoughts and beliefs influence our actions and behaviors… which affect how others think about us or in this case our work. In a comment above, Lorraine mentioned “courage”. It think that an artist’s success is driven by courage, commitment, and vision. Looking forward and developing a clear vision of what you want your career to be in 2, 5, or 10 years and then making a commitment every day to get there. Courage will be the fuel that makes the vision a reality.

    As usual, you offer wonderful information and insights for artists to achieve career success. I think all artists should read your book “Guerrilla Marketing for Artists”.

    • Hi Stephen, Thanks for your own insightful comments and your encouragement for artists to read my book. Cheers, Barney

  • Frank Evans says:

    The media expressing their opinion about Frank Evans art, from Elyria,Ohio; “Markers? You’re kidding, right?! I’ve never seen anything like this before in 70 years”. (We all agree “we are our own salesperson”, but no one believes they are actually looking at artwork totally drawn with markers…..over fifty thousand people had walked away with unbelief). I don’t comprehend what I read but I put out a picture of genius..

  • I can see how all these points are valid, and am a classic example of an artist selling originals for somewhere around $100 apiece. It is my observation that I’d limit myself worse than I ever have before by pricing the small 12×9 inch watercolor/mixed media paintings I do–carrying my materials out into nature in many instances–in the thousands rather than, lately, $95 for a bird or wild botanical at the above-mentioned size. I see other local artists selling small art at this price range at art fairs. It would be hard for me to comment on the relative value of other local artists’ work compared with mine. But since the biggest market I sell in is south Minneapolis, which in some ways is like a big small-town, I’ve become convinced that too many people are up against stagnant incomes, high medical and other living expenses, etc. and that the only way I could expect to sell small work for even close to $1000 would be to sell in a major market like Tucson, Scottsdale, New York or other mega-income place compared with greater Minnesota. One step I could make later this year would be with a somewhat larger watercolor, maybe 12×16″ which is a surrealist natural history landscape–dealing with climate change. After finishing it this summer, I could offer that at something like $800, publicizing it widely as I’m learning to do, but I’d be doubting a quick sale and suspecting a need for lowering my price to what’s realistic based on past experience. I am open to suggestions fitting my situation as a resident of a somewhat lower-income region than the Southwest or East or West Coast.

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