Sally King Benedict
the instagram artist
Some folks are right-brained—creative and emotional. Some folks are left-brained—analytical and methodical. Sally King Benedict has both of those personalities.
“It’s unusual that I have [traits] from both sides,” she says. “I’m artistic, I’m a mess, but the business part of this interests me too.” Her penchant for entrepreneurship makes her different from most other artists. She prefers to handle her own sales rather than making middlemen out of art galleries. “I prefer the interaction.”
Sally’s interest in art was cultivated from an early age. “Even in kindergarten, I was doing after-school art,” she says. “My mom and dad really nurtured that instinct.” She reminisces on her mother bringing her along to gallery openings as a kid and how mature it made her feel. “It really broadened my horizons and opened my mind to that world.” A string of solid art teachers also helped her along, from elementary school through college. “I still keep in contact with all of them,” she said.
Sally spent her college years in Charleston, never expecting to make art a career. “I did know that I wanted art to be the backbone of whatever path I followed,” she said. “I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I could always do art for my own therapy.”
Her senior year, friends and mentors encouraged her to have an art show. The invitations Sally created for her show caught a stranger’s eye, and she ended up selling her first piece to someone she’d never met—a 48” by 60” city scene, the biggest piece she had ever created at that time. “I felt so lucky and amazed that anybody would share in this,” she said, “because art is such a personal thing.”
After that first show, Sally decided to give full-time art a go. She began painting her breezy, colorful pieces in her home while working at a frame gallery to learn new skills—and extra income. “I wanted to learn framing and pick up some other skills.”
At that time, Charleston was affordable. “You could put your pennies together and rent a space,” Sally said. “It was good timing for me. I also had so many creative women friends just a bit older than me who were starting their own creative ventures out of Charleston. It wasn’t the mecca that it is now, so it was serendipitous that we got to do it all together.”
One of those friends helped design Sally’s first website. Sally began planning more art shows. “I wanted to be in control. When I had my work in galleries, I made sure those people knew that I was in the picture, that they would not take over my business.” It’s still that way. “I’ll give a gallery a couple of pieces for a show, but 80 percent of my sales, I do myself.”
She maintains gallery relationships, though, because she understands that buying art is sometimes just as much about the process as it is about the piece itself. “Some people simply want to go to a dealer and have that classic experience, so I still support brick and mortar."
These days, the bulk of her business is selling to strangers. “It’s shocking to me,” she said. “People will buy straight from my website without seeing the canvas at all.” A big portion of those sales comes from her Instagram followers, which helps her sell more art than she ever could with a website alone. But she still considers the app a double-edged sword. “It sucks you in, and you can waste all your time scrolling through,” she said. “But I really do like having it. It’s free, and I can share my art and keep my personal life separate. The app’s visual power just makes too much sense for creative entrepreneurs to ignore it.”
It’s no surprise that she’s garnered a following on Instagram. Fans call her work is striking, bright, and impactful. You can find everything from faces to landscapes in her signature, brush-stroked style. She doesn’t plan. She doesn’t organize. She doesn’t have a sketchbook. “I’m an intuitive painter. It’s organic and natural,” she said. “I create a problem, then I solve a problem, and the end result is something that I hope makes people happy.” That’s how she likes to live with art—happily. But when she’s painting, she tries to keep her inspirations at arm’s length. “I don’t try to surround myself with things that I love; I want to keep that stuff subconscious. It’s hard to be original and come up with a new idea if I’m already looking at things I love! I’d rather read a book and not be visually overloaded.”
Sally started chasing the artist’s dream when she graduated in 2007, and eleven years later, she’s still doing what she loves and is prospering. When it comes to her art (and social media), she says, “You just do what you want to do and don’t worry about what other people think.”
Words by Ashley Locke