Book Club: The Artist's Way - Weeks 6 and 7
Studio Visit #4: Stencil Fail (and Resurrection)

The Business of Being a Working Artist

You know what they say: Do what you love and you'll never work a day in your life!

Quite often people sign up for coaching with me because they want to transition into becoming a working artist.  I then have to break the bad news to them: being a working artist turns out to be a lot less about making art and a lot more about running a business. So the thing you need to love is business and branding and marketing.  Otherwise, it will definitely feel like work.

Let's oversimplify the situation and break it down into a set of 10 skills I think you need to succeed as a working artist: 

Technical Art Skills: Having a thorough knowledge of, and experience with, your medium(s) of choice.

Higher Art Skills: Having the ability to create artwork that is (pick at least one, more is better): visually attractive, emotionally moving, intellectually stimulating, unique and compelling.

Self-Discipline: Devoting time and energy to creating artwork and managing the business side of things, even when faced with obstacles.  Showing up in the studio on a regular schedule.  Ability to meet deadlines.

Business Acumen: Understanding the ins and outs of selling artwork and building relationships with clients.  The ability to build a brand identity for yourself.  A deep love for data entry.  I swear, there is so much data entry!

Marketing Knowledge: Knowing how to effectively promote artwork, including taking advantage of digital platforms, networking, and utilizing strong advertising techniques.  This should include knowledge of what's currently happening in the art world.  What artists and art trends are hot? What are collectors looking for?  What exhibits are museums staging?

Photography, Videography and Editing Skills: Having the ability to take beautiful photos of your artwork and to edit those photos.  Having the ability to take videos of your work (both for social media and for collectors who want a closer look) and edit that video. 

Writing Skills: The ability to write about your work eloquently.  You will need to write artist statements, grant proposals, project statements, advertising copy, newsletters, social media posts, and more!

Financial Management: Developing strategies for income generation, budgeting, and making sure that art is sold for a fair price.  Having a rainy day plan for when you're hurt or sick or money simply isn't coming in.

Adaptability: Being open to change and willing to take risks in order to grow and stay ahead of the curve in the art industry.

Persistence: Continuing to submit artwork despite the rejections.  Continuing to pursue your interests and your business despite obstacles.  Hearing "no" over and over and yet still moving forward.  In my opinion, persistence is often fueled by passion.

For many of these skills you can hire someone.  You can hire someone to ghost write for you. You can hire a photographer.  You can hire an assistant to do your video editing or data entry.  You can hire a coach to keep you motivated.  But if you hire someone to do all of these things, you have to make A LOT of money to offset those costs.  And speaking of costs...there are so many hidden costs.

Let's say you sell five $200 paintings in a month.  Congratulations!!  You've made $1000. 

Except, you haven't.

Here are just a few of the expenses involved in selling those paintings, even if we completely ignore your time:

  • Cost of the painting materials.
  • Cost of the studio space/utilities.
  • Cost of the shipping materials.
  • Cost of shipping.
  • Cost of the service you use to send out your newsletter/host your website (feedblitz, mailchimp, squarespace).
  • Service fee for accepting credit cards and/or using the shopping cart.
  • Cost of business cards.
  • Cost of the service you use to create photo mock-ups of your artwork in situ (ex. Canvy, PlaceIt, Art Placer).
  • Cost of the service you use to keep track of your artwork (ex. Artwork Archive).
  • Cost of the service you use to schedule your social media/create your social media posts (ex. Tailwind, Canva, Photoshop).

I could go on.  From my own experience, my guess is that at least half of that $1000 is gone.  Potentially more.  In a bad month when you only have two sales, you're paying to have a business.

I hope you find this post helpful.  Whether you're hoping to become a working artist or simply want to understand why you make an artist so happy when you purchase their artwork, it's good to understand the basics of how the business of being an artist works.

Thanks for stopping by!