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On Being a Full-Time Artist

I get a lof of questions from people about being a full-time artist.  

Yes, it's awesome.

No, I don't spend all day painting and playing.

Yes, I do still have to do lots and lots of stuff that I don't want to do.  

No, I can't think of another job I'd rather have.

I'm super grateful for this lucky life that allows me to do what I love.  But something I have to remember every day is that while I'm an artist, I'm also a business.  There's a lot that goes into running a business.  Some of it fun, some it boring, but all of it important.  

Today I thought I'd share a list of a few of the things that are true for my life as a full-time artist.

Hi, my name is Julie and I'm a workaholic.

Anybody who is self-employed will tell you that they work more, not less, than when they worked for someone else.  That said, I like working, even when I hate the tasks, because I love that sense of forward motion -- that I'm getting stuff done.  Let's face it, it takes a great deal of discipline to work for yourself.  The idea of lying on the couch, watching TV, and eating bon-bons is spectacularly tempting.  So to avoid that temptation I tend to fling myself a bit too far in the other direction and work all day long.

The upside of being a workaholic is that I'm quite prolific.  The downside is a real lack of a personal life.  Something I'm working on right now is finding the right balance.  It's an ongoing struggle for me.  So thank goodness that...

I have a great team.

I've gotten a number of e-mails and comments from folks who talk about "the Balzer Designs team."  This has always made me giggle because I imagine a group of middle-aged men with clipboards, wearing polo shirts with the Balzer Designs logo embroidered on them.  Sadly, the Balzer Designs team happens to be a team of one: 

Although, I will admit that my Mom answers some most all of the Stencil 101 requests.  So maybe a team of two:

And if I'm really honest I also have a network of great industry friends who chat with me on Skype, Twitter, over e-mail, and in-person.    

Okay, so maybe it's a team of ten or twelve?

I spend most days by myself.  In a city of 8 million people, I'm just an anonymous girl sitting high up in a shoebox in the sky.  Having people I can call, whom I can talk to, who get "it" -- that's so essential to alleviating stress and making me feel less alone.  I suppose if I get really successful I may actually hire a team of people to take some tasks off of the table.  But for now, I simply appreciate the fact that I have a team of emotional supporters -- people who are generous with their time, advice, and good sense.

I spend more time on the computer than anywhere else.

That picture above is pretty much how I spend a major portion of each day.  Here are just a few of the things that I do for my business on the computer:

  1. I design my own products from top-to-bottom.  What does that mean?  I have learned enough Illustrator and Photoshop that I can take my hand drawn sketches and vague ideas and do all of the actual graphic design work on the computer myself.  I spend hours in Illustrator fiddling with each vector point to make sure the stencil or stamp designs are just how I imagined they would be.  I am proud to be able to send manufacturers files that I know are clean and well designed and that they have to do little to no work on when they get them.
  2. I maintain my blog and website.  I have learned enough html and Photoshop that I am my own webmaster.  I used Dreamweaver to build my website and I try to update it at least every three months.  I use Typepad for the blog and I post blog posts at least five days a week.  Each post needs to be written and edited.  Photos need to be taken, edited, watermarked, and resized for the web.  Links need to be inserted.  I also try to fine tune the look and functionality of the sidebars every few months.
  3. I write tutorials.  Projects need to be photographed (photos taken, edited, watermarked, and resized for the web), and instructions written and double-checked.
  4. I film YouTube and Vimeo tutorials and videos that need to be uploaded to my computer, edited, and then published online.
  5. I write magazine articles that need to be written, edited, re-written.  If there's artwork involved then each piece of art needs to have supply information, and often written directions are required as well.
  6. I answer questions via e-mail, Facebook comments, tweets, instagram comments, YouTube comments, and blog comments.  And I try to do it in a reasonable amount of time (forty-eight hours or less) though I will admit that e-mail tends to get away from me.  Right now my inbox has 425 unread e-mails.  Sigh.
  7. I keep track of my art.  I have a database.  It's important to keep it updated in real-time or you run into problems later.  For every piece of art I create I fill out a page in the database with basic information about the piece (supplies, techinques, size, etc.) along with a photograph.  I try to keep track of things when they go out for publication and as to where they are physically located, but I've gotten lazy about it lately....
  8. I try to keep track of what's happening in the industry, so I read blogs and follow Twitter links.  This is very often a rabbit hole, so I make an effort to limit how much of this I do each day.
  9. I maintain my social media presence by tweeting, facebooking, instagramming, and pinning.  I try to post to each social media outlet at least once a day.
  10. I create invoices, process payments, and keep track of expenses.  I'll be the first to admit that this is one of my most hated tasks.  So I tend to save it all up and do a month or more of it at once in one big hateful day of Quickbooks and Excel.
  11. I teach online classes.  Classes need to be photographed, videoed, uploaded, pdfs created, supply lists created, and of course, the class needs to be advertised.  Payments need to be collected and students sent login information.  Once the class is running, questions from students need to be answered, work in the student gallery praised, and always there is troubleshooting.  Technical problems abound in online classes, most of which are easily solved, but it still takes time.
  12. I type up supply lists for in-person classes.  I also create promos (written and visual) for the classes, along with a written curriculum "cheat sheet" for myself.

I think it's very easy to get sucked into the computer.  There's always a long to-do list of computer tasks that must be completed.  It's definitely something that I struggle with.  That said...

I enforce an "Art Every Day" policy.

There is a real danger of getting lost in the business and forgetting about the art.  Some people are able to maintain a discipline about exercising every day.  I maintain the discipline of arting every day.  It can be a small project like a tag or big project like a 30x30 canvas, but I never want to lose the joy of creating to the daily grind of the business.

When I ran a theatre company I had a single very important rule: every member of the company had to participate in the annual ten-minute play festival.  Why?  Because I believed that by working on a production each company member would be reminded of why they loved the theatre.  It was so easy to lose the love of playwriting or directing when all you did was support the business of the theatre.  And sure enough, it worked!  Each year at least one member of the company would tell me that participating in the festival had revived his or her spirits!

Keeping this story in mind, I am sure to create art every single day.  

For every hour of art I make, I probably spend 3-4 on other tasks.  It's not a ratio that I'm happy with, but it's what makes my business go.  So, I'm going to live with it for now.

I hope that was a helpful peek into my life as a full-time artist.  Thanks for stopping by!