4 Things I wish I knew before becoming a professional artistOctober 21, 2020
When I started my first corporate job at 17, a 60-year-old man with a dry English wit showed me the ropes. He didn’t show me how to do my job (touch typing, and girl Friday activities weren’t his strong suit). Instead, he showed me how things really worked. The sort of inside scoop most people had to learn the hard way after banging their head against their desk for 20 years.
A prime example was what he referred to as, the “Curing Process”. Process: take a file of importance from the top of the pile, put it on the bottom of the pile, do nothing for 12 months. What happened within 12 months? Nothing. With the passing of time, the original problem just cured, it disappeared, and the file was never seen again. Zero effort expenditure required.
Initially I thought this constant file shuffling and inaction was irresponsible, but I watched on as time after time this wise old man’s Curing Process proved successful. I learnt not to get het up about perceived problems that are actually non-events, and that flapping your hands around and acting busy and important doesn’t mean you’re doing anything worthwhile.
It definitely had an air of Seinfeld’s George Costanza and the ‘Penske file’ about it.
It turns out I also probably spent too much time in the beginning of my art career being busy but not achieving what I really needed to. I want to help other artists who want to go professional and sell their artwork avoid some of these mistakes. It’s no outlandish “Curing Process”, just some things I wish someone told me before I decided to become a full-time professional artist.
DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB
Yes, don’t give up Curing your Penske files just yet.
Unless you have the financial circumstances to pursue an art career full time, I suggest you continue to create art and establish your art business while you are gainfully employed.
While art doesn’t always have expensive overheads, it usually takes considerable time to see steady sales and to get your name out there.
BUILD YOUR PORTFOLIO TODAY
Building your portfolio is a perfect example of something to do while still at your day job.
I had several completed drawings when I started selling my work online, but a broader portfolio of work would have given buyers a better understanding of my body of work and my abilities.
The biggest regret was that I didn’t produce a lot more pieces before I started my website. Given my realistic drawings take considerable time to complete, when I did sell something, my products stocks started to look bare.
I’d suggest creating more pieces that you think you need before you put together your online portfolio. This is particularly important if you have your sights set on working with galleries.
Creating more work is also a good way for you as the artist to work out your interests and style. It also means you are getting more practice at your craft, hopefully resulting in more authentic work.
Unlike me, you probably love being online and already have all this social media stuff sorted. If so, can I borrow you for a day! Here is what I’ve learned, although I must admit, I still struggle with social media.
Claim your name
If your name is ‘John Smith’ you’re probably out of luck, but I suggest claiming your name on social media sites even if you are not yet ready to post your work. If you think you will have your own website at some point and you have the money, you can also buy your Domain name before someone else takes it.
And don’t worry, you don’t need to come up with some cheesy alias, your own name will do (most of the cheesy stuff is already taken anyway).
Websites & social media
A tip about creating a website. Unless you can build your own, most website platforms come with a cost. If you are not comfortable with paying the hefty price tag just yet, start by selling your work via free social media platforms and via contacts in your local area.
The only thing I will say is that social media platforms are technically not YOUR site. Not only do the algorithms constantly change, they could also be gone tomorrow leaving you high and dry. Working towards having your own website is a worthwhile aim.
Secondary steps once you are more established is to branch out to third-party sellers. For example, I sell on Bluethumb and Art Lovers Australia, however, you need a decent sized portfolio of your work before you can start on those platforms. Some you may need to apply to as well so you may need to work for a bit to either improve your style or techniques to a point where it is something that is popular with buyers.
Whilst most third-party sellers will take a portion of your sales, what you are getting is their wide network of buyers which you would not be able to source on your own.
STOP THINKING AND JUST DO
Do you find yourself thinking:
- “I’d love to start selling my work, but I don’t think it’s good enough”
- “I don’t have the time”
- “I don’t have an arts degree”
- “I create (insert thing) and it seems everyone else is already creating the same stuff”
“Art is anything you can get away with” - Andy Warhol
Not good enough? Don’t always compare yourself to others. Artists are all on their own journey. Is their work better than you or just different? Some artists have been doing it longer than you. Some artists look back at their original work and cringe. There is a market for every type of art. Compare your current work with your last piece and work on improving with each new creation.
Finding time is difficult. Just chip away at it bit by bit. I used to draw in my lunch break just to get something done. It also made a refreshing break from curing the Penske files.
You don’t need an arts degree to create art. Unless you are planning to be an art teacher, curator or enter a professional world where your employer requires one, you rarely need an arts degree. P.S. I’m self-taught and don’t have an arts degree.
Everyone’s creating the same stuff. Initially I thought everyone was creating the same sort of work that I was producing. I quickly realised that due to my profession, my social media accounts are just full of other artists work, giving me a biased view. If I ask a friend whether they see lots of drawings that look like mine, most of them would say I’m the only artist they know. It’s likely only you see the same kind of work as you because that’s who you follow.
My top tips for artists going professional:
- Don’t quit your day job
- Build your portfolio today
- Get online
- Stop thinking and just do
Of course, there are more tips, but I might save these for a future post.
Are you an artist? What are the things you wish you knew before becoming an artist? Do you have a tip or two to share? Let’s collaborate! Drop me an email. I’d love to share some of your tips so others can learn from you.
Previous posts you may be interested in:
- Dear diary
- How to be a professional artist - the day I became a selfie star
- Acid belongs in margaritas not art supplies
- My Tamagotchi needs feeding