Selling Out VS Finding Your Identity

by Owen Garratt | The Art of Being an Artist

A s I’ve had some success as an artist, I get comments about this all the time (some earnest, some snide)

There are far too many artists who have the notion that, on some level, art and commerce are mutually exclusive…that art and money go together like oil and water.

Firstly, understand that the great majority of this sort of talk is nothing more than sour grapes.

When a creative type suddenly enjoys a level of success, the ones who can’t connect with an audience salve themselves by saying the successful artist must’ve ‘sold out’, and by implication, those who haven’t sold out (or sold anything) are somehow truer and more unsullied by crass commercialism.

Manikin carrying coins on back

Bullpucky.  It’s perfectly legitimate to develop one’s gifts and aptitudes to further your existence and to connect with other people…it’s what those gifts are for!

That doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as selling out.  Selling out is trying to blatantly ride the coattails of other artists who’ve found success.

Some may disagree, but I contend that:

  • The writers who crank out teenage wizard books after Harry Potter hit are selling out.
  • The painters who jump on decorative fads are selling out (wolves, southwestern art when you live in Maine, etc)
  • The artist who suddenly switches to a ‘popular’ media are selling out (care to guess how many artists have suddenly switched to pencil because of my success, because they think it’s The New Thing?)
  • Switching to follow other successful artists ‘thing’ – Kincaid’s light thingy, Redlin’s campfire stuff, Doolittle’s hidden stuff, etc.

You have to understand that the world needs to experience something from YOU.

Copying others stylistically may not be illegal in a copyrighting sense, but it broadcasts to the world that all you have to say is ‘me too’.

There’s more to you than that, isn’t there?

If you’re searching for a thing and haven’t found it yet, don’t despair…I have a secret for you.

Everybody learns by copying others. We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

“Wait!! You just said that copying was selling out!!

Which is it: admirable or loathsome?”

Both. It depends on context.

Here’s the thing. Since there’s very little pure creativity in the world, and creativity is really just solving problems, the answer lies in SYNTHESIS.


A little of this and a little of that…that’s the key.

Go on your own search – your own quest – go and find out what moves you. Stop pandering and thinking you have to sell pencil drawings of golf courses just because I do.

Paul McCartney combined Little Richard with baroque stuff from grandma’s house to give us The Beatles. Both had been done before, but he and John rolled up their sleeves and brought their own magic.

Keeping with the musical theme, my style of drumming is an amalgam of Stewart Copeland’s (The Police) phrasing and textures, Neil Peart’s (Rush) knack of building fills around a theme as the song progresses, Rob Bachman’s (BTO) awesome dynamics and hi-hat (drummers will be surprised a this…Copeland’s known as the hi-hat guy) and Doug Clifford’s (CCR) solid groove.

All of that music is pretty different – not one of these bands would be confused with each other, and that’s the point.

I love the pencil work put out by Mike Sibley, Paul Calle, and J.D. Hillberry, and I’ve learned from each of them, but it’s folly to try and copy them. I’ve had to find what I’m about, and so do you.

The vital point is to bring in a select group of influences – don’t get stuck on/fall in love with any on “mentor”; you need to add some more ingredients.

It’s that amalgam of ingredients seasoned with your own perspectives, talents, and aptitudes that create one’s Voice.

If you’re not there yet, then begin your search, like, right now, and begin mixing things around to see what you come up with.

And if I may, might I suggest that you check out The Fast Start Art Marketing Primer?

 Check out the Fast Start Art Marketing Primer!

“Just a note to say thanks to Owen for his courses. It has already changed my whole concept of marketing my work and makes me actually feel in control of my future. Thanks Owen!”

Tony Alderman
Durham, NC

“I’ve gotten great value out of this course. It really speaks to the artist in a no B.S. way that clears the mental clutter, and gets you to pay attention to what you really need to get the ball rolling.”

Fay Wyles
San Clemente, CA

“It was light-hearted, it had charm and humour and kept me engaged the whole time!  I loved it!”

Suzi Campbell
Melbourne, Australia

“The first or second lesson got my money back in multiples already. So brilliant…you shook me!”

Marta Spendowska
Domino, OK

“Owen’s course literally saved me from a slippery path that I would probably have never recovered from.”

Gregg Arnold
Kingman, AZ


  1. Eric Lin

    Hi Owen, in many of your course you talk about positioning and identity. As an artist who just started his career. How do I convince other that my works are worth investing when I have no list of “medal” or “award” or “celebrity project” that wow the customers? I also, like you, not believing in throat-cutting price to induce sells. What suggestion do you have for someone like me? who is new and young and trying to compete with bunch of older artists who might not necessary have impressive works, but sure have a flashy resume. Thanks!

    • Owen Garratt

      Hey Eric!

      The important thing is don’t wait! Don’t let a “thin resume” keep you from stepping up to the plate…!

      If your identity and positioning are dialed in, the lack of a flashy resume is no big deal. If you know yourself artistically and you know who your audience is and your art speaks to them – THAT’S your marketplace authority.

      When I got into the gas and oil rig drawing business, I was barely 30 years old, and there were lots of well established artists higher up the totem pole who had education and talent and all of that. But I focused on the clients and creating art that both satisfied me artistically and spoke to them psychologically, and I leap-frogged my sales over much more established artists.

      As the snippy ones like to point out, I’m hardly a household name, but I’m as close as one could expect to be to a non-art crowd who work in the gas and oil businesses. When I began getting the celebrity work, everything got easier in terms of broader appeal, but I wouldn’t trade any of that for my pre-existing positioning to my oil rig peeps.

      Don’t worry about competing with the Old Dogs – focus on the clients…because THEY’RE the ones who pay you! 🙂

      • Eric Lin

        Thank you so much Owen, this is very encouraging! I got into a juried art show this month, and I’m now preparing everything I can for it, hope it’ll turn our well! 🙂


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