How the First Painting I Ever Sold Changed My Life
In the art world, you often hear that art should “speak” to people. What is your art saying? It can become an eye-rolling cliche, but I experienced first hand the power of this in a very real and visceral way when I sold my very first painting - and I never expected it.
Throughout my early life I sold work to friends and family, to whom I am grateful because they gave me the encouragement to keep creating. But it wasn’t until I opened a studio in Pacific City, Oregon in the summer of 2010 that I sold my first painting to a complete stranger. And it was an encounter I will never forget.
I was home for the summer after a year studying in Italy, and my family and I decided to open a studio gallery on the coast in Pacific City, Oregon. It was a small space, but my first ever storefront - it would display my artwork and my sister’s photography. I had no idea if I would sell any art, but we were all excited to try.
It was the first day, the Grand Opening. I don’t remember if there was much foot traffic at all that day, but I do remember sitting at my desk in an empty gallery and in walks a man with white hair. He took maybe one step inside, did a scan of the room, pointed and said, “I’ll take that one.”
I was a little shocked. “What? Oh! Ok, great!” - I hadn’t expected such a confident purchase at such short glance. It was surprising to me.
He was pointing to a framed acrylic painting. It was the image of a woman with a colorful umbrella staring out at an old oak tree under a stormy sky.
I was thrilled to have a sale on the first day and to someone I didn’t even know. Someone who had taken no more than a minute to decide to purchase.
As I packaged the artwork, we got to talking. He told me his name and the reason for making such a quick and confident decision about this painting. He had just lost his beautiful and amazing wife to cancer. The way he talked about her, I could tell they had the truest kind of love and admiration we all dream of finding some day. They loved visiting Pacific City together. She loved old oak trees, just like the one that I had painted. He intended to hang it as a memory of her. This painting - my little painting - had spoken to him in a way I never could have imagined. Talk about humbling! I had no idea when I painted it that it would mean that much to anyone. Right place, right time, right person. It was a divine encounter.
This encounter changed my life. It fundamentally changed my view on what art can do. It wasn’t about making a sale. It wasn’t about painting something pretty. This showed me that art can be a bridge between two unconnected people. Its power to have true meaning in the way it speaks to someone leaves me in awe. You never know how your art might touch someone’s life. And that thought changed my life, changed the way I paint. If you’re an artist and you feel you may give up or may not paint something because perhaps someone might not like it… Paint it. Who knows? Someone, someday, might need it.
And the man who bought the painting? We kept in touch over the years. He e-mailed me when he moved, he joined my family for dinner when he was in town, and his name always brings a smile to my face.
If he’s reading this now, I hope it brings a smile and a fond memory to his face as well.
Thank you, Steve.