I did a school visit today, talking to Shauna Kelly's high school art students about being a professional artist. That sentence would have been nonsensical just five years ago. I'm floored that I was asked to speak to young people about my journey and surprised that I actually had some things to say that might be useful.
I like to organize my thoughts by writing, so here are some themes and ideas that I shared yesterday. They were my speaking notes.
FIND YOUR ARTISTIC VOICE
Before you can effectively market your art, you have to figure out who you are, artistically. What is your voice? What are the subjects, mediums, methods, and styles that speak to you?
The ultimate goal is for someone to pick out your work with just a glance. When you see a Lucas Seaward to Sarah McKendry, there is no mistaking it.
FIND YOUR AUDIENCE
If making a living as an artist is a goal, you have to find a tribe of people willing to buy your work. If your work is too ethereal or way out there, it will be much harder to find folks willing to pay to have it in their spaces and places. That said, artists exploring brave new, and potentially unmarketable, worlds, are hugely important. Sadly, they have to rely on grants, patrons and sources of revenue that can be very hard to find.
EVERYTHING IS ADDITIVE
Every network, every phase of your life, every connection can be valuable in your pursuit of being a professional artist. The people who you meet along the way are conduits to other people, other networks and markets. Every job, trip, trial and tribulation is fodder for your creative journey. Everything is valuable in terms of shaping you as a creator.
There is such a tendency to get all up in your head and talk yourself out of just about anything. I've had incredible success spending most of my time in my heart and following where it leads me. As my friend Mike said the other day: "Just do." Move forward every day with action and creation. Don't think so much as do.
CHALLENGE AS OPPORTUNITY
The things that don't kill you will only make you stronger. Some projects and opportunities will seems daunting, but those are the ones you should jump into. They will push you to places you never thought possible.
ART IS STRUGGLE (AND LOTS OF WORK)
I keep a portrait of George W. Bush in my studio to remind me that art is struggle. He was a devil to paint; for the longest time he looked more like his dad. I worked on him for hours and hours until one final adjustment to the right side of his face allowed him to emerge from the canvas.
Malcolm Gladwell, in Outliers: The Story of Success, introduced the 10,000-Hour Rule: the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours.
As a full-time artist working from my studio in our backyard, I am painting and/or drawing 7 to 9 hours a day, seven days a week. There is a tremendous amount of effort and dedication to be successful. It doesn't just happen.
DON'T GET WEIGHED DOWN WITH INVENTORY
As artists we create work all the time. It is so easy to run out of room and finding yourself trying to figure out where to store the next painting. Unless you are building up a collection for an exhibition or project, find ways to keep the product moving. A painting of yours on someone else's wall is always better than being on your own.
All of us have made the mistake of getting excited about a particular work and spending far too much money to buy copious amount of prints, thinking that we'll get rich off the sales. Be careful about over investing in prints or other sale items. Find the buyers first, then make the investment. You'll save yourself a lot of debt.
FIND A PRICING FORMULA THAT WORKS (AND STICK TO IT)
How much should I charge? It's an age old question which doesn't have one right answer. You will need to try out a few things and see what works well with your audience. I price original works according to two things: canvas size and complexity. For canvas or fine art prints I use a formula based on the hard cost of getting the prints made plus a percentage markup. Time is money. In order to have a viable art business, you need to get paid for your time. If, after the dust settles on a time intensive project, and you find that you made $10 per hour, you've got a problem. That kind of wage is not sustainable for anyone.
ALL ARTISTS NEED TO MARKET
I am a little advantaged when it comes to the world of marketing and communication. I spent 20 years as a professional in the field and as such, this is the element of my professional art journey that comes the easiest to me. For many others, marketing is their Achilles heel. If you're serious about wanting to make a living from your art:
1) Create a Facebook page and find followers
2) Share you work on Instagram and hashtag the crap out of it
3) Use Twitter, LinkedIn, and any other platform that you can
4) Engage your audience - make them feel valued
When you get right down to it, being successful in art is a lot like being successful in anything else. It requires hard work, dedication, passion, intelligence, and a dash of luck.
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