“Can I sell this?” can squash creativity

I used to start creating something, not even finish, and jump to “Can I sell this?” I think I was in this mindset because at the time my creative outlet was my custom invitation/announcement business. This type of thinking was stifling my creativity, and was getting annoying. It prevented me from following through on ideas.

I started drawing and painting and left the invitation business behind. Classes really helped get me going, but after a while I wanted to see what I would work on on my own. What would inspire me without class assignments? But I had trouble motivating myself, so I started this blog. There in my original notes for this blog was “spend 3 months creating then open an online shop.”

I had given myself permission to create whatever I felt like, and to worry about selling later, even if it was just for 3 months. Once I started working at it, projects led to other project ideas. Trying one technique led to the desire to learn and try other techniques. I fell in love with creating. The voice asking, “can I sell this?” got quieter and quieter.

But, I saw other artist selling on different sites, in different ways, and wondered, “what is the best way?” So after ten months, I wrote a post asking for input on “where to sell.” One comment closed the door on selling for me:

Robert McArthur wrote,
I know this doesn’t answer your question, but I do have a string set of thoughts on this that I would like to share with you. Unless you have a pressing financial need to sell your work, I feel it is best to not consider selling your work. Instead focus on your art. Do you need to sell? If so ignore this. Otherwise, the need to make your work marketable will, if even subconsciously, cause you to change what you do, thus preventing you from freely developing naturally.”

My reply was,
“I appreciate your comment! I have been thinking the same thing. As I think about selling, I’ve been playing around with creating things that are more marketable. Just as you say, it’s affecting what I create. I really enjoy playing and creating whatever comes to me. I love how the final piece can be so unexpected (to me). If I continue in this way, I risk taking some of the joy out of creating. And the pieces I really love I wouldn’t consider selling! Thank you for writing what I was thinking.”

Robert McArthur had put into words that “thing” that had previously ruined my creativity. I was having so much fun creating I didn’t want to ruin it. And spending my time filling orders didn’t sound fun either.

Currently my state of mind is that my business is print and web design. But, I draw and paint because I love it. It brings me joy. I create patterns because I think it is fun to turn illustrations into patterns, and I love seeing those patterns printed. (My patterns are available for sale, but that wasn’t the motivation in creating them.)

It is very freeing not thinking about selling or what other people are doing. Although those paintings are piling up. Never say never. 😉


13 thoughts on ““Can I sell this?” can squash creativity

  1. I used to sell my handmade jewelry so I understand where you are coming from Eileen. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom and I couldn’t agree more at this place in my life. I’m hoping that some day I will have developed my own art style where I will feel confident selling my art. Until then, I’m having so much fun creating art! Cheers to our creative journeys, my friend! 😊🎨👍🌟💕

  2. As I read the first part of your post, I was thinking of writing and encouraging you to put aside your feelings and desire to sell. Exactly what the advice you received in your letter! I notice that the more I focus on the anxiety and desire to sell or promote selling, my joy and peace goes downhill. I think that the more you allow your creativity, your true artistic self to come out in your paintings without the pressure of selling, you will create something that someone will want to buy. Than again, that is not the reason to get in that space anyway! I kept thinking that if I were to paint what people seem to like to buy I would sell more, but is that really being an artist? You create and paint for yourself first, expression and creativity is first very spiritual and is an outlet of really who you are. Can you put a price tag on that? I say let that go (you are on your way sounds like) and be creative! Bravo! I write all this as though I have it all figured out but I am still on that path and this is also reminder for myself as well. Blessings 🙂

    1. Margaret, Thanks so much for your comment! I think I arrived at that conclusion (probably early on) but I need to periodically remind myself – lol. I kept circling back to the idea of selling. I’m sure I’ll circle back again, but it feels freeing to let that idea go. Maybe the circle is getting larger so more time will pass before the question comes up again. 😄 Nice to hear from you!

  3. This is so relatable. I was stuck creating for quite some time because I felt I could only create things other might want. Now I try to create for myself again. Creativity is flowing again. Great posts!

    ~ Sofie

  4. Hi Eileen! I follow you on IG! Don’t always leave a comment but so inspired by what you do! I’m behind on reading my blogs but this post inspired me to leave a comment. You’re on the right track… Do what you love doing, creating just because…I’m just another voice out here, encouraging you to continue!🎨

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