I primary support Gohitsu Shodo Studio, financially, by selling my calligraphy.
It’s my number one source of revenue; my two online courses closely follow second. However, I just recently stopped taking commissions and now sell my calligraphy strictly through my Online Shop. I only offer calligraphies with words that resonate with me. I actually find it extremely hard to sell those calligraphies. I would love to keep them all for myself, but that’s kind of a silly thing to do. Art is not to be tucked away in a basement collecting dust, but hung somewhere where people can appreciate and be inspired by it.
For this reason, at the end of my latest course Learn Shodo: Advanced Techniques, I encourage my students to start giving their calligraphies out as gifts. I once hit a plateau in my practice, and what got me out of it was when I decided to sell my calligraphy. That pushed me to practice harder and get better. My students may not be ready to sell their work yet, and that’s ok, but they can brush calligraphies give them as free gifts to start. It is extremely rewarding to know your calligraphy is appreciated in someone else’s hands.
Having said that, I don’t think you should give out your calligraphy for free all the time, specially not when your skills have improved and you’re brushing quality and meaningful pieces of art.
If you give away your calligraphy you are not only devaluing yourself, but you are devaluing the art of Shodo as a whole. There is no straight path to walk or a simple set of rules to follow when you’re ready to sell your work. Selling calligraphy, and any art for that matter, is a highly subjective thing. Everyone has their own path to find. Mine has certainly not been an easy straightforward one. I had to overcome many obstacles along the way, but I learned a lot in the meantime and that’s the important thing.
If you think you’re ready to sell your calligraphy, here are 5 things I would tell you to keep in mind:
1. Maintain a consistent practice. If all you do is brush commissions you will stop being an artist and become a merchant. There is nothing wrong with selling your art, but you must still practice for the sake of practice. The works worthy of money are created from the abilities attained through solitary practice.
2. Grow an audience. Who is going to buy your art? Are you expecting people to shell out money without knowing anything about you? Before you ever try to sell anything you need to show people your work and have them care about it. These days we have all the tools at our disposal to grow audiences. Use email, social media, put up a website, start a blog, etc. Learn how to use these tools and bring people to you.
3. Find your voice. My most sought out calligraphy is the Aikido calligraphy on a scroll. I can’t count how many of those I’ve done and sold. There are many calligraphers brushing Aikido scrolls. Why would anyone buy one from me instead of other calligraphers? Check out my website. Read about me. See my work and the answer to that question is clear. Finding my voice was extremely important for me because here I am: a male Puerto Rican chef and that sells Japanese Calligraphy. Why would anyone ever buy anything from me? The Japanese Calligraphy world is dominated by female Japanese artists with Shihan titles that have been practicing since the age of 6. I can’t compete with them. I have to set myself apart and find a unique voice.
4. Increase your price but never decrease. I can’t tell you how much to charge for your calligraphies. Your art is worth only as much as someone else is willing to pay for it. I would recommend to price low, and over time as you get better, increase your price. Never do the opposite as it will devalue your art. Also, never discount or do sales specials. How would anyone take you seriously if you list a calligraphy for $50 but you’re willing to take $25. If that’s the case, list it at $25 then.
5. Don’t brush for money. Shodo is the artistic manifestation of your mind; your true nature is reflected on each stroke. If you hold the brush with the intention to make money that’s exactly what you are going to imprint on that paper. Brush simply for the activity of brushing; to find the connection between yourself and the brush. Brush to express your true self; to have the realization that there is no you and there is no brush but that through the activity and the experience of brushing you are becoming one with your surroundings. After the work is done evaluate and decide whether you want to sale it or not. Always evaluate this after brushing, never before.
The decision to start selling your calligraphy is a great one. It can boost your practice to much higher levels but it can also destroy it if you get trapped with financial goals. Be careful when setting your goals and expectations for you don’t want the business to destroy the art.