The dream is free   

If you’re only taking photos for fun, this post is not for you. If you’re happy sharing your images to social media, this post is not for you. If photography is your creative release from the drudgery of day-to-day life, then this post is definitely not for you.

But…maybe your like me and you’re driven to take your work farther.

I’ve tried to keep my photographic dreams to a minimum for the last seven years. I dreamed big with my first major body of work, ultimately I crashed and burned and paid the price with a five-year sabbatical from all photography. I credit toys (and my kids) for bringing me back into the world of photography that I love.

Now that I have this new body of work I want to do something with it beyond posting to social media. I want to try to sell my work, not because I think its saleable, but because that is what I’ve always done. This is the business my husband and I have been engaged in for nearly 30 years ago – we create stuff and we sell it.

The Gallery Experience

So far my success rate has been rather uneven. In 2015 I was privileged to exhibit my work at the Bryan Ohno Gallery. The show looked great, but the sales were non-existent.  Since I wasn’t selling the work myself it was hard to understand the viewers reaction to the work. Not only did I not sell anything, I didn’t learn anything.

Fast forward to the fall of 2015 and we are back in the gallery for another group show. I didn’t want to repeat my earlier mistakes, although honestly, I didn’t really know what those might have been. For this show I created a completely different set of images. While the show was sparsely attended, the gallery owner was able to make a sale. This one sale, while wonderful, was more important because of the information gained.

After these two gallery shows I really felt I was done. I was done showing my work, and I was done trying to sell work. Famous last words…

Solving the Puzzle

Trying to sell photographs in a world that is oversaturated with images is a fool’s errand. I know this. Photographs, in and of them selves, have no value. There value is determined by so much beyond my control: reputation, education, contacts, timing, subject matter, etc… But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to solve this problem. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube that I enjoy turning over in my head.

A New Way Of Working

Last summer I took a workshop on combining photography with encaustic painting. This came about because of a random conversation with a fellow artist I haven’t seen since. I enjoyed the encaustic medium and I saw a lot of potential in the process. I immediately looked around for more learning opportunities. Fast forward to this year, I’ve taken more workshops, created more work, increased the scale and even traded a finished piece for a exceptionally cool bracelet made from LEGO tires.

If I haven’t been on social media much the last few months it’s not because I don’t love G+ and Instagram, it’s because I’ve been creating in my mad scientist lab of a workshop.

Take Two

I’m telling all of this to you as a response to Jennifer’s earlier post: On Measuring Success. I’ve been Jennifer and in many ways, I’m still Jennifer. I take photos for me. I judge my success by how much they please me. But I also like to share them and, for what its worth, I want to sell them. I’m way too pragmatic to create art for the sake of creating art. I need there to be a flow, a movement outward. If for no other reason so I don’t have a garage filled with unwanted art.

This past weekend I started from ground zero; I participated in the very first Galaxaar put on by a good friend of toy photography, Chris Pirillo. Galaxaar is a place for creative’s and toy collectors alike to gather and sell their items to the general public and to each other.  If you live in the United States, you probably have something similar in your city. The final results of my Sunday spent in beautiful Issaquah, WA were a decidedly mixed bag. I sold absolutely nothing, but I gathered a lot of information.

The Galaxaar show floor. Image courtesy of Chris Pirillo

There is absolutely no substitute to talking to a lot of people, preferably strangers, to get an idea if what you’re doing has potential.  Also talking to other vendors is invaluable. I learned there is a local vendor Facebook group I could join to get information on other shows in the area. It turns out there are many themed and / or geek oriented shows in my area!

Each conversation I had was an opportunity to see my work through someone else’s eyes. When you’re thinking about selling your work, this kind of information gathering is well worth the time and money expended. I met a lot of fabulous people, I have a better idea what the market for this work might eventually be and I received some suggestions I’m looking forward to implementing. I also bought the absolutely coolest toy for the San Francisco toy meet-up white elephant gift exchange.  Score!

The Next Step

I now have thirteen items on my to-do list that are a direct result from talking to people at Emerald City Comicon, Bricks Cascade and Galaxaar. Some of these are pushing along existing projects, some are keeping previous connections active, some could eventually lead to a sale. ALL of them require a lot of work.

I have a framed quotation next to my desk that I look at everyday. It says:

The dream is free, but the hustle is sold separately.

Right now, I see a lot of hustle in my future.

~ Shelly

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“If there ever was a time
Now would be the time to see your time here is limited.”
~ Cloud Cult


  1. Even though I fit into the first category (taking photos for fun), I still enjoyed reading this post. Your photos are amazing Shelly and the artwork looks wonderful too. Good luck! I’ll hope you’ll keep us updated on this process 🙂

    • Shelly Corbett

      Im glad my post wasn’t completely boring to those who need to take photos for fun. Thank you so much of all your support! Its always good to know your friends keep the faith. I will keep pursuing this goal, not for it to be a full time income, but to keep moving outwards. I will keep you informed if I make another leap forward (or backward). 🙂

  2. Shelly,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences! I always love going to shows and visiting with fellow vendors and potential customers. I am surprised that there were no sales. Maybe I have just been fortunate with my location at the Tuacahn Saturday Market – but I have had quite a few sales of prints. Granted they are rather inexpensive at only $25, and they are catered towards children’s bedrooms and such… I did sell to a rough looking biker dude covered in tattoos – he purchased my Stay puft marshmallow man in mini marshmallows shot. It’s going in his man cave.

    You really never know what exactly will resonate with folks. I have found that having a ton of different prints to choose from works to an advantage.

    • Shelly Corbett

      Joseph! SO glad to hear that you are having success at the local market. I have faith that if I was at festival / market with a higher attendance I would have made a sale or two. One thing I did not do here was cover my low end. I will do that the next time I try this. I chose this show to not only support Chris, but it was cheap and only one day so I didn’t have a lot on the line and more importantly I needed to get more information before I really dropped money on stuff that ultimately wouldn’t sell. Im glad I did, now I know where to focus my energy and money. And you’r right, you never know what will resonate which makes this another tough nut to crack. But Im getting closer! Thanks for joining the conversation! 🙂

  3. Ann

    I found your blog very interesting Shelley. I too would like to take my art a step further. I have been doing Lego photography for not quite a year, so I’m still learning. I have days when I don’t do anything then a day when I have a very creative rush and end up with four or five pics. I’m moving to a house with a nice private backyard soon so I’m hoping to be able to become more productive. I still get a little intimidated trying to create images in the public eye as I have to do where I live now. A grandma playing with Lego??? How ridiculous!! (haha) So far I have been content to just create and share on FB and Instagram, but there is a growing need inside to go that step further and try to sell some of my art. I have this idea of creating a basic childrens’ book but have absolutely no clue as to how to go about it, apart from taking the photos, so any tips will be greatly appreciated. In the meantime I will watch your progress with great interest. I know Brett Wilson has had a show in Melbourne but as yet there has been nothing up north where I live. Maybe the markets are a way to go.

    • Shelly Corbett

      Ann, Im so glad you found the blog! Welcome! All I can say is that it is a process. Starting with taking photos, editing them into something that makes sense (a children’s book is a great framework) and then sharing your work. This can be through social media or some physical form. Since you’re just starting I think you will find opportunities come up through the the auto f creation. All you have to do is keep an open mind.

      Like you I also used to only photograph in my yard, now I like to get out and even in some very public places and take photos. I’ve never had anyone be anything but positive. In fact, the smiles I bring to peoples faces is priceless. Im not that much younger than you, so age is no excuse.

  4. For at least the past 6 months I’ve been looking how to go beyond just posting photos online on social media. However I’m probably taking a different road. I’ve never been good at selling stuff. I’ve always had a hard time putting a price on something and asking people for money. (It’s probably something I inherited from my father who’s talented in different forms of art, but has never looked to make any sort of money out of it.) I’ve got a few ideas of possible directions to try but have procrastinated a lot lately. Maybe this post could be the kick in the ass I need to work on that…

    • Shelly Corbett

      You leave a lot more questions than answers in your comment. I will be interested to hear about your ideas are when you’re ready to talk about them. Whatever you’re up to, I wish you all the best!

  5. brett_wilson

    You know I love this post!
    As I mentioned, selling toy photography is like gambling, we only really hear about the wins. Very rarely do we hear about the times that toy photographers ‘walk home from the racetrack with empty pockets’.
    This is such an open, honest and revealing post. Thank you for sharing it.
    With a full to-do list, I’d argue that this experience was a success. I know, for our exhibition, that sales are initially considered the measure of a successful venture, but connections, reactions, interactions are the real things to be gained. You got all those things, and a cool toy for San Francisco. Winner!

    • Shelly Corbett

      Thanks Brett for your support and encouragement to revel the “ugly” side of the sales equation. Yes, I agree, too may talk about the ‘successes’ without talking about the costs. There is always a flip side, at least in my experience.

      Im glad I kept my costs to a minimum, it made it easier to take this leap. I would never recommend anyone to create a full fledged, framed photo show with the expectations of selling and breaking even. I was so impressed by your decision to hang your photos the way you did. It was a brilliant move that made it possible to see some financial success. Its that type of thinking outside the box that anyone who is interested in this line of thinking needs to engage in.

      I wrote a long time ago that sincerity doesn’t guarantee success. Just because you want it and your work is good, doesn’t guarantee success. You have to hustle and be prepared for the bumps along the road.

      Of course, having friends cheering you on, helps – thanks!!

  6. I share the same dream of trying to sell prints. Learning and still am learning from mistakes. At some events, I just want to give up the whole idea of toy photography when no one seems to care and you wonder about the quality of your own work. Pretty depressing. After two years, I kind of have a feel what my local market want and also learn about pricing and bundling deals. Having a wife in marketing helps, cause I think most artist make bad business people. At least for me. I enjoy making art and if it sells even for a dollar, I am just happen to know that someone actually wants to pay for your art!

    • Sunny don’t give up! It takes time to learn your market, as I think you’re finding out. I like to think of it as a rubik cube, one I have to keep moving the cubes into I find the right combination. Keep the faith, Im sure you will find an audience! And your right, Im sure having a marketing genius for a wife helps. Its hard to be both creative and marketing guru! Best of luck in your quest and keep up us to date on your progress!

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