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How To Sell Art Online & Make Money: A Case Study with Horse Art


Selling Art Online

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 and aspen the horse

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!


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:

Horse Portrait

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.


This crazy little egg timer keeps me going!

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:

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:

horse shark painting


Here's Candice and Shark with the painting:

owner and horse 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:

Horse paintings

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:

Hi Karen,

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


I just emailed you photos marcy!....l have been on the site looking at your beautiful art and their stories!...

Thanks so much Karen! I'll check my email. I appreciate you checking out the site too. I'll get back with you early next week.

You are welcome...this is so exciting!...!

Here’s the portrait of her horse, Rhett:

porse painting rhett by marcy

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:

Hi Diana, I loved your pic of Lipizzan rearing! (What's his name?) Wow..talk about airs above the ground. I thought you would be interested in my Horses of Us project. I started creating portraits of horses, interviewing the owners, and posting the most compelling part of the story on the Horses of Us website: http://horsesofus.com.

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.


Hi! I've been loving each piece of art you post. Very inspiring. Yes, let me check out your site and get back to you? Showing a horse to sell right now and then I'll have time.  Thanks for reaching out!

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:

art horse show booth

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 can't wait to read the blog! I saw the pic yesterday, but just read your full text above this morning. Still processing!

My honest first impression was "oh" - because in my mind I see him as the sexy 6 year old he is now - not the gangly 2 year old in the painting. But then I let go of that "assumption" and looked again, and again, and again.. .and each time I have had a moment to look, I fall deeper and deeper in love. I am a "pink girl" through and through - so I love this undertone (or overtone?) to the blue. I am also a huge fan of cobalt blue. Really I love all the colors I find as I look closer and closer.. .And his eye. You capture it perfectly - the worry lines he often has above and yet at the same time the "wise soul" look. This morning I read your full FB message above - and my heart sung. SO DEEP and moving!! I love the "spiritual" aspect and that the underside of his neck glows as if lit by a Source outside our view. Wow.

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 glad we got to talk! I sent the message below to your email but I wasn't sure you would get it as for some reason my emails have been bouncing. Have a wonderful weekend!

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:

horse art marcy portrait

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:

horse business 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:


-Use it as inspiration for your own art-

-Keep it in your files and reference anytime-

-Easily send to friends/family who may learn from it-


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!

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Guest Tanzeel zahra


Interesting and impressive. It is also wonderful to see how the life unfolds. You (Marcy) knew what you wanted and your achievements have followed the exact pattern of your desire.

I have been a freelance writer for like 4 years now. I was just out of high school when I thought of earning money. The only skill I had was fiction writing. ( My cupboard was full of small novels and stories.) The problem was that nobody will pay especially if I wrote in my local language. That was in the beginning of 2012.

I researched the market and realized that English fiction writing pays well, but I had no idea how to pitch editors when my English was not good enough. I decided to change that and took 2 English learning and writing courses to equip myself with the necessary skills. Then I went to story sharing sites such has hubspot. Wikinut and medium. Sadly, no money came because I was writing fiction and these websites share a percentage of AdSense revenue. End of 2012.

Then I thought to start an online business and launched two health related websites. I did a few affiliate marketing courses and thought of it as a good way to get started. Again, I never earned anything beyond the $5 AdSense earnings in the first month. I was disappointed, traffic was not there and I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't have any money to try Facebook ads or another marketing course.

After struggling for another 3 months, I went to freelancer.com and applied to my first nonfiction writing job ever. I was paid $1 for the first article. I worked with a bunch of people who paid me $2-$3 per blog and I was making around $300 each month.

I knew I was working a lot. Anyone who is a writer, knows how difficult it can be to create 2000 words each day. After 1.5 months, I was tired. I was in school and I could hardly sleep for more than 4 hours each night. I thought it was time to quit, but on the same day, I was contacted by a company to write product descriptions. They were a domain registration company and they were paying me $330 for a job that will only take 1 day.

First, I thought it was scam. Then I told the recruiter, "I am not a copywriter". They told me that it is an easy job, but I can say no if I want. That was the response I was dreaming to get for years. I took the plunge and that was my official entry into the freelance writing world. Fast forward to now, I earn close to $1k each month. I have private writing clients and I am active on forums and freelance websites. I know the earnings are not much compared to what copywriters charge regularly. However, considering the fact, I am still not a trained copywriter, I believe I am doing good.

Marcy, your story is truly interested in a way that you turned a not so marketable skill into a revenue stream. Thanks for sharing.

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Guest Stefan Richter


The key takeaway here seems to be: 'follow your passion'.

Nobody could easily copy what Marcy is doing because they would most likely lack the passion she clearly has for horses. The business side is one thing, you can learn it. The painting itself - well some can learn it, others probably couldn't. But having a passion for something is key, be it copywriting, horses and horse art, software, a service business, it doesn't matter.

This story is a great example of having a dream and pursuing it relentlessly. Marcy, you deserve every success that comes your way.

When I was younger I was painting a lot of graffiti pieces and I still remember the first time someone asked to pay me to do a wall for them. Wait a minute: pay me? To do something I'd be doing anyway? Something I enjoy?

That's when the penny dropped. I realised that (given the chance) I would never ever do another job that I did not 100% love. Many more graffiti jobs followed from that.

I did not become a professional graffiti artist in the end but discovered a passion for building software, or should I say for making something that lots of people see and use, get value from.

The job satisfaction comes from creating something out of nothing - I bet both Marcy and Neville both know that feeling when they start with a blank sheet or canvas and walk away with something that people pay money for. The creative process combined with delighting people with your work is hard to beat.

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Guest Brenden King


She made a SPUR of the moment decision to blaze a new trail. No HORSING around from her, made sure to stay focused. Now she is CHARGING 1,200 dollars and people are willing to PONY UP the cash! Chasing her dreams have led her to be more STABLE....

In all reality, the biggest obstacle is fear, people willing to work hard and overcome the fear of failure can accomplish anything. Great story and thanks for sharing!

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Guest Kristian Kabuay


Great story! Here's mine...

I make calligraphy art based on a nearly extinct writing system from the Philippines. I’ve known how to write it since I was in college in the Philippines but it was more of a novelty. I used to practice write girls names on napkins at bars. It wasn’t until I moved back to the US, I realized the value of it. At the time, I was living in Tracy (cow city) California with a shit job at a call-center getting yelled at for 9 hours a day by rich people because their thousand dollar ottoman was 30 mins late. Missing the Philippines, I got a tattoo of my last name in the ancient script. The tattoo artist encouraged me to do my art again and promote it. So I took a picture of my arm and posted it on Friendster hoping to spark conversations about it. I also tried MySpace but there wasn’t much engagement either so I started my own website about Filipino Tattoos just to post my pict. I started to get comments and emails about it and people asking me to translate their names. I would write it on paper with a marker, take a pict and email it. Pretty soon, I would get 3-5 requests a week and it was started to be too much. As an experiment, I put up a PayPal link for $5 and holy shit, it worked! There’s actual economic value in this thing! I raised my prices slowly and experimented with different packages along with some shirts on CafePress. While I liked that people were interested in the writing as tattoo art, I wanted a deeper conversation about it around the culture and its value in the modern context. I started a separate site specifically around the cultural, academic and social impacts.

One day, this dude hits me up that makes pendants using the script and invites me to do an event with him. 10 years later, we still do events together and he’s one of my closest friends. Through meeting people and saying yes, I’ve become a subject matter expert on the prePhilippine writing systems. This lead to art shows, lectures at universities and museums all over the world. I’ve self-published 3 books and currently working on building an online school and filming a documentary.

What worked:

- Autoresponder emails. When I do a product launch, I use autoresponders to have the conversation with my customer leading to the launch date. I still have people responding to old autoresponders :)

- A/B testing designs with triple conversions before going to print - I created different versions of products and posted them on social media and on my mailing list. The links (conversion 1) lead to a page (unBounce) where if they went to click the buy button (conversion 2), it leads to a sorry sold out page that had a form where they could enter their email when the product was available to purchase (conversion 3). I measured the clicks on the link, the buy button and email opt-in. If they did all 3, they were more likely to buy.

- Actually talking to people face-to-face and asking for referrals.

- Kickstarter was a game changer. I found that about 25-40% of all my pledges were outside my network. Since launching 6 campaigns resulting in over 8K, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. 

- Writing a book. No matter how crappy give you credit more than anything

- The AIDA formula that I 1st heard from Nev! I got featured in magazines, product collaborations, TV, etc


What didn’t work: 

- Asking my friends if they would buy a shirt design - They all said yes but when it was time to buy, most didn’t.

- I thought diversifying my products to trends would sell - they didn’t because it wasn’t unique.

- Creating an app but not having a dedicated team to work on updates when Apple and Android update.

- Fancy pinky up art shows. Just a bunch of posers trying to impress their friends. Even if they buy your art, it will just be hung on a wall in their mansion with no context. I’d rather sell it cheap or give it away to folks that understand it and will use it to start a conversation

Links: Kabuay.com & Baybayin.com

Salamat (Thank you)

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Guest Neil Sutton


First of all, Marcy, I love your paintings. They're amazing!

The way you focus on the horses' face and eyes must really capture the spirit of these mighty animals for the owner. (Any chance you'd paint German Shepherds? We just had to put our best friend down, and we're trying to find a way to capture his spirit. I know I wouldn't do him justice with my limited painting skills... )

Anyway, I really appreciate you sharing your successful approach to art sales. A year or two ago, I started looking into selling prints of my own pen-and-ink drawings online. I found several resources at the time that gave a lot of good advice, but your breakdown (especially the screenshots of your customer conversations) is incredibly helpful and encouraging.

I'd set aside my own ideas of selling art to focus on my freelance copywriting business. But now, thanks to your inspiring story, I've got the bug again and think I might start back up on my own trek.

What held me back was that I only had one really nice composition of Notre Dame in Paris to start with. I had some ideas of starting a series of other iconic churches but never got it rolling. And different pricing structures for one-off custom pieces versus creating a series of prints.

Your story has given me some more ideas on how to get that moving forward again.

So, thanks again for sharing your story.

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Guest Joe Mama, ATX


Please read the book "So Good They Can't Ignore You" by Cal Newport.

The take away here is not "follow your passion".

Marcy was successful because she developed a skill and a profitable product and used relationship based selling to great affect.

There are a hundred unskilled artists who have an unremarkable product using a poor sales technique for every Marcy.

Joe Mama told you so!

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Guest Nathan


As I read, 3 things jumped out to me.

1 - Consistent, hard work (grit) is where it all starts

2 - Reaching out one-on-one was key. Just setting up a website or even paying for advertising wouldn't have resulted in the sales and feedback.

3 - The market has money. People who have horses almost always have disposable income, otherwise they wouldn't have horses. Point being, if a white mouse enthusiast painted mice, I'm not sure other mice lovers would necessarily have hundreds of dollars available to buy the art work (even if they loved the painting).

Love it :-)

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Guest Inder


Thank you, Marcy for that great article.

Your brand is very powerful - a wonderful mix of talent and personality.

The core talent I am referring to is your ability to brutally evaluate what is and is not working for you. It is very easy to continue doing something because you think it is working but Marcy you have provided a great example of challenging facts with reality. For example, she thought she should do art shows because that's what other artists were doing, however when the results did not come, she did not continue to flog a dead horse. The takeaway from this is to pivot and focus on the things that are working.

When it comes to your personality, I can see why clients would open up their wallets. You are very passionate about what you do and that shines through. The way you connect with your clients and their horses is nothing less than spiritual. I applaud your efforts and I have no doubt your future projects will be equally amazing.

Thank you for sharing!!!

Inder Tofu, with love.

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Guest PJ Pires


MATE you always have the best posts and the most fun humor in kopy world.
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Guest Marcy


Hey Tanzeel,

Right on! You tried different things and kept going. Congrats on the $1k a month. Making the first $1k is the hardest in my book. You don't have to be a trained copywriter to earn more. Keep learning and improving. That alone will help you market yourself and raise your rates.

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Guest Marcy


Boom Stefan! What a perfect life lesson! Just knowing from a young age that YES! you can get paid for doing what you love builds courage in NOT developing a high pain tolerance for doing what you hate.

For years, I had a high paying job that I was good at but hated. It was no way to live. Now, my compass is like yours. I love delighting people with things that I create. I feel like my purpose is to encourage more people to move from being consumers to a producers.

It's kinda like...paint, build software, write, sing, make knives, shape a bonsai, sew your own clothes...just do something and share it with the world. Do it enough and money can follow.

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Guest Marcy


Brenden, You crack me up! Yup...I was chomping at the bit to be in the money even though I was a dark horse. I started feeling my oats when got knee deep in clover. I had to control myself sometimes as I was still green and had to pony-up cash for courses. In the end, I never reined myself back and went all out.
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Guest PJ Pires


Beautiful story. You have a entrepreneur's heart. One day you will be hitting 10k/month.
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Guest Marcy


I love this Kristian! I also found that friends/family will always tell you that they will buy. It's kinda like nobody wants to tell you your baby is ugly kinda of thing. They want to appear supportive. I figure until I see $$, it's not real.

I think Kickstarter is a game changer for testing things out and making money with limited risk. 8k is awesome! Congrats.

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Guest Marcy


Hey Neil! My heart goes out to you. It's never easy to lose a best friend. I have done dog portraits before. Email me and we can talk. marcy@horsesofus.com

I really hope that you will go back to pen and ink drawings. Here's an idea that I have seen work: Find a church, historic site, park etc where there are lots of weddings. Do a drawing of that place and approach a local wedding photographer. See if you can offer high end prints or maybe the photographer can even do a composite with it in Photoshop. Lots of ways to do this. They can easily with include you drawing in their package or offer it with a cut to you.

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Guest Marcy


Joe Mama! Thanks for the comment. I saw Cal Newport's TED talk on not following your passion. Like anything it's about working your ass off to get good. I'm going to look for his book.

One of the issues I had in my head was that some of the FB groups I joined only had 250 people. I got conditioned to think I needed thousands of people since only a small percentage might buy BUT that was really wrong.

The small niche groups with die hards were the ones that all knew each other and referred even more people. In the end it's all about being giver and actually caring about the people that you are making things for.

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Guest Marcy


That #1 is the part that isn't sexy but holy cow it's the only thing that will take you forward. To be honest Nathan, I was kinda not loving #2 that you mentioned. I wanted to believe that I could just bang out a website and throw up some ads and voila the sales would roll in.

At first, I hated reaching out to people. I had to put post-its on my computer with Contact 7 people today in big old magic marker. Most of them would message me back which was surprising!

Oh yeah... horse people do have disposable incomes. Once I did a payment plan with a horse owner that had just paid $7k for a saddle but still wanted the the painting. I love the mouse enthusiast! LOL!

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Guest Marcy


Yes Inder, I do try not to flog any dead horses! LOL! That pivot thing is real and damn hard to do when you want to believe that it will work if you try harder.
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Guest Marcy


Nev is the best! I snorted when I saw the horse with the shades and gold chain!
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Guest Chris


Thank you Neville & Marcy for an educational and inspiring story.

Marcy, your passion shines through and your journey has been amazing. I have limited painting skills yet I enjoy what I do (when I can find time - love the egg timer idea..!), However, I can teach. So I decided to combine my love of art with my teaching. I run painting classes from a home studio catering to people who think they can’t paint, but would just like to give it a go. They choose an image from my catalogue and in just one 3 hour session, I help them to create their own masterpiece. The results are awesome and the positive vibe that permeates the room is infectious. So rather than sell my paintings, I sell my time... and it works. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m inspired and promise that I’ll be picking up my brushes today. www.paintandsip.com.au

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Guest Eric Frickey


I did not want to read this. It seemed like it would have nothing to do with me. But I trust you Neville, so I read on. The part about grit spoke to me on a personal level. That's been my weakest trait all my life. And I just learned from a woman how to be a man. Thanks for the inspiration!
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Guest Peter


This is great and inspiring. I recently started selling custom designed table lamps on Etsy. Up until now, it's a bit the story of the art expo: A lot of "that's nice" but no buyers.

Some things that I will remember from your story:

1) using a timer to make sure you're working on it every day (I should to that and add more options to the shop)

2) making it personal and featuring all of your customers on the site

3) using Facebook (seems a no-brainer in hindside, but I haven't tried it yet)

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Guest douglas churchill


Speaking of timers, where can that crazy egg timer be bought?
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Guest Barney Davey


Great story! Congrats on your well-deserved success, Marcy! For years, I've told my artists followers to find a niche and then find the people in the niche who are passionate about it. Get them on your list, be real, ask them to buy and you have a viable business. Your story exemplifies how to do it. Bravo!
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Guest Marcy


The thing I love about what you're doing is that it gets people in a creative headspace. The whole process of going from a blank canvas to something with texture and color is rad! Keep going Chris!
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