Design What You Love

Striking a balance between what you love to make and what sells can be the best of both worlds.


Glass sculpture at the Buyers Market trade show


Many artists and makers are highly tapped into a niche market, creating work that fills the wants and needs of their chosen target audience. They gravitate towards their bestsellers, and expand their collections out from those popular designs with an eye towards increasing sales volume. It might be said that they are making what inspires their customers.

Is this approach an example of “selling out?” Not really. Making business decisions that capitalize on sales growth and are based on gaining market share would be cheered in most industries. In your own creative business, you may be thrilled to have hot sellers, and love the idea of building on your success to enjoy a stronger, more lucrative income. There is a lot of satisfaction in knowing that you can support yourself through your creative efforts, and perhaps employ others as well. We definitely applaud that.

But what if you truly want to make what inspires you, rather than what you believe someone else will want to buy? Do you have to design for an audience?

You do not have to design your work for any particular audience. You may feel that what makes you happy is to follow your muse, explore and create what interests you. And, your art and handmade work is completely valid whether you sell it or not.

If you create only what inspires you, it is very possible that customers will love what you make. What is it about your handmade work that others respond to? Listen to feedback and understand why people purchase from you. What you are making could very well resonate with others, as well as satisfying your creative spirit. Rather than designing for the audience, you will be learning why your work has found an audience. Then, you can use what you’ve learned in your marketing plan, and in speaking about your work.

It is also possible that your audience isn’t really “getting” your work; and in that case, you may need to educate them about what you make, to draw them in and see the appeal and the value. This is a more difficult task. Or, you might be facing the challenge of finding an audience for your existing work, and you may choose to go in a new direction that you feel would be more successful in the marketplace.

The perfect balance for a handmade business is to love what you do, and have plenty of customers who wish to buy from you.


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  1. This is a great article and is very encouraging for artists! I know many artists including myself and my partners we spend a lot of time on making those “bread and butter” items that are small, affordable to a large number of people and help finance the larger things that we really love to create. Sometimes this just feels like production, not creativity but these little items bring in money but more important they give people who can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on an art piece the opportunity to have something from an artist they like. From the artists point of view these little things can help to perfect a technique or as you say discover an audience.

    • Well said, Janis. Yes, sometimes we do create those “bread and butter” items that pay the bills, which is an important part of what we do and can be affordable for customers to buy a piece of our talent and creativity.

      Many artists set aside special studio time to work on projects just for the love of making art. Or, to develop new directions and lines that will sell, and also reflect what they are inspired to do.

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