I have officially been a professional West Coast Abstract Artist for 1 year. By treating my art like a small business, I have seen growth that many professional artists have told me they didn't see until about 10 years in.
I have had a successful first year in that I held 5 art shows and made my first-year revenue goal by selling 15 pieces of original art plus 1 commission. I have my first comprehensive marketing plan in place for this year. 2018 will introduce a few different revenue streams into my business model including art product pop-up sales and the involvement of Patrons into my process (which I’m so excited to introduce you to soon!)...
...And I can almost hear the crickets and see the blank stares as I talk about this stuff...the boring side of the art biz that no one asks me about. The questions I get most often are “where do you find inspiration?”, “how long does it take you to paint that?”, and my favorite, “you make a living from this?”. Seeing as the creation of art is really how I spend only 30-50% of my day, I thought I'd let you all in on what it is like to make AND sell art for a living.
I initially went to college for art. I entered Boston University School of Fine Arts in 1994 with dreams of learning to weld and design large scale sculptures. I graduated from BU in 1999 with a business degree. Huh?
Yup. I did what a lot of kids end up doing which is changing my major half way through college to something that was 100% different from what I started in. When I made that switch, I thought my life as an artist was done. Over the next 20 years, I worked in various professional positions from hotel management, advertising executive, to junior broker at a financial firm...and I never felt that any of those roles fit me at all.
It wasn’t until I was in my mid-thirties that I embraced art again. When I did, I finally felt comfortable in my own skin and I thought, “Right! This is what I have always loved! I should do this for a living!” But there was a caveat…after a few hours in the studio, I found that I was over working my paintings and felt that I was “forcing” creativity. Creating is exhausting work. I still had a day job so it wasn’t a big deal at first, but the thought began crossing my mind…can I really do this full time? But then, something pretty cool happened.
Welcome to my office where I spend at least half my time. That reminder on my window encourages me to bring it, 150%, every day.
Artists are also small business owners...whether we want to be or not.
As a professional artist I am, by default, also a small business owner. It seems this is not a role that a lot of people with artistic brains are comfortable in. But for me, it has been a stimulating challenge that excites and motivates me. It also means that I get to switch back and forth from making art to marketing art and tending to my business, which turns out to fit me perfectly.
In high school, I lived in the art room and art was one of the few classes that I got top grades in. The other classes that were my favorites? Math and any science that involved math. In college, I loved my accounting and finance classes. There is just something about numbers and organization that my OCD brain has always been attracted to. But art and math sure seemed a strange combo…
As it turns out, I am perfectly suited to being an art business owner or “artrepreneur” as I like to say. I love to create art. I also love creating spreadsheets that track my finances, marketing schedules and social media engagement. I find immense pleasure in creating revenue plans and taking online courses about marketing in the age of social media (which, BTW, is VERY different than the marketing classes I took 20 years ago).
All on my own, I have built a website, created a social media presence and grown a mailing list that I send correspondence to multiple times a month. I have started and continued to write this blog (a pleasure that still surprises me). I now know how to write press releases and engage with media outlets. I send out surveys to better identify my ideal client and this year, I’m creating a few different ways for those clients to buy my art and be part of my art community at various price levels.
And when I’ve spent 4-6 hours in my office doing all of the above, I move to the studio and make art for the remainder of the day.
Some people’s eye glaze over when I start talking about this stuff. Some people are fascinated. And some still think that artists cannot make a living without gallery representation and a presence at one of the huge art fairs like Miami’s Art Basil.
I simply want to make my art and simultaneously make a living. I do not need to hang in MOMA. I do not expect to see my work on the auction block at Sotheby’s and I don’t really care if academic types think my art is below their standards because I sell it online. If MOMA comes a-calling, I will gladly answer the phone, but that is not how I measure my success.
I want to make art. I want to live my life by my own standards. I want to make my own rules and be independent in my decision making. AND I want to make money while doing it.
I think that I’m REALLY lucky. I like both the creative and the analytical parts of my business. I also love to surf and strive to build a life where I can jump in our van and enjoy the ocean often…like for weeks at a time often...all the while working on the road.
Some may think that I’m unrealistic, but I don’t think so. I think I have the ability to create my ideal life. To do what I love despite the opinions of other people which, by the way, I hardly listen to anymore.
Is it easy? Hells no! But it’s me, all me and nothing but me. I am responsible for my own destiny. I have found a way to blend together what used to seem as totally unconnected interests. And I truly believe that it is something that all of us have the ability to do, if we so wish.
So, for all you lovely people who like to write music AND balance your check book, who love to create recipes AND alphabetize your canned goods, who design and sew your own clothes AND make spreadsheets of your textile inventory… YOU are the natural Artrepreneurs of the world!
Yeah…you’re also probably pretty weird and never really “fit in”, but that’s OK, if fact its great! Embrace your eclectic nature! Find ways to use ALL your talents together. For you are the masters of your own universe and the creative do-ers who innovate AND motivate to get the shit done! So, go on with your weird self and create the world that you want to live in.
And for Pete’s sake, don’t listen when people tell you that it’s not possible or you’re doing it wrong. When people use the words “unreasonable”, “unrealistic” or say that “great artists don’t make money” (yes…someone actually said that to me…) just walk away. I am going into 2018 choosing to believe in myself and my mission. I’m doing this my way. Yeah.
The painting at top is Deep Dive, 24x24, Acrylic, Paper & Crayon on Canvas
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