We often have a romantic idea of what it would be like to be an artist, but it is important to have a good grounding from which to turn that dream into a reality. In this article I want to shed light on what it’s like to work the job full time. To give an overview of aspects which may not be outwardly obvious including the day to day business activities necessary to create work and generate income.
Solitude vs exposure
If you enjoy bouncing ideas off of others and working in a team, then be ready; much of the creative process is done in isolation. However, this solitude will be flipped intermittently at art fairs and exhibitions where you will be expected to chat to large volumes of people.
Some people love to work without the distraction of others, whilst some require more interaction for a satisfying day’s work; it is your task to tailor a career that fit your needs.
Financial peaks and troughs
Generally, people choose this career for love not money, however if you are persistent and play the game well then money will follow. Don’t expect a steady pay cheque though, sales will come in waves. Going full-time means saving in the good times and being frugal and resilient in the quiet ones. You never know when your next sale is coming, so you must learn to live with and plan for this uncertainty.
A good artwork in the right context sells itself, but it is you who establishes that context, and it sure doesn’t hurt to be a good salesperson. Some people will be on the edge about buying your work, and it is up to you to persuade them to go for it. I have a lot to say about this subject, so I’ll save it for a separate blog!
Navigating the gallery scene can be daunting. It is possible to walk into a gallery, show them your work and be taken on, but for most artists some ground work is needed. It takes a considerable investment of time and money to develop an artist’s reputation, so if you already have the ball rolling galleries will be much more inclined to give you a chance. It is less risky and costly for them if you have a decent track record, plus they like to think that they discovered you, not the other way around.
You will need to grow an audience and be consistent in encouraging them to engage with your work. This will involve maintaining a social media presence, a mailing list, creating interesting content to share, collaborating with other artists and brands, weighing up the pros and cons of PR agencies, and the good old fashioned word of mouth, i.e. telling absolutely everyone that you are an artist and that your work would look awesome on their walls!
You are accountable only to yourself, which is a blessing and a curse. You don’t have to answer to anyone, but you also need to have the vision to see where you are taking your career. If things don’t go well there is no-one else to blame.
Yep, you have to record all your expenses, outgoings, make invoices, do a self-assessment tax return. It’s not easy to know if you are always doing the right thing here, so some research is needed.
In the age of easy to design websites, keeping an online presence is indispensable and will facilitate a broader audience seeing your work. Expect to spend time on your website uploading, tweaking, re-sizing files, optimising your SEO, etc.
Hopefully this article lifts the lid on some of the practicalities of life as an artist, so that those considering the career are aware of the necessary variables which make it possible. I write this article from my own experiences and as always I love a discussion, so if you think I’ve missed something or want to expand on your own experiences please leave a comment below!
Happy creating :)