10 Things I Have Learned About Being A Working Artist
Four years ago today I quit my full-time job as a television production accountant.
From where most people sat, it looked like a crazy freaking idea. As these jobs go, I had it made. Making way more money than I deserved for not much work. Easy street.
But for many reasons (which I will talk about some other time) I left. And now, four years later, here we are!
Here are 10 things I have learned since that day back in 2014
1. Teachers, experts and other gurus don’t know everything. Each business is its own individual entity. In fact, I will go so far as to say it has it's own soul. Not to mention who we are as individual people! Oh the money I could have saved if I had trusted my intuition when it came to business advice. Swallowing other people's medicine can make you sick. You know you and your business...take what fits, leave the rest.
2. Hire experts whenever you can. I do my own bookkeeping because I did this in my previous life. But I have an accountant to do my taxes. Figure out where you need help; its the rare person who does everything on their own.
3. That said...the skills I have learned since starting this journey! Website building, marketing, photoshop, shipping...the list goes on and on. I spend about half my time creating and the other half running a business. This percentage shifts during different seasons but it's a rare and happy day that I spend all of my working time at the easel. I have made friends with this situation; my left-brain actually enjoys the business tasks and I do my best to approach them in a spirit of friendly cooperation (except for you Alabama small business tax reporting, I am giving you the #sideeye).
4. Yes, it is a good idea to make friends with Google and YouTube; it is an easy way to find the answer to just about any "how to" question you might have. However, everyone has an opinion (go look up 'how to varnish an acrylic painting' as an example) and many creative and/or technical questions can be answered by experimenting with “what if I tried this?” Art mistakes generally won't hurt anything and can often lead to many happy accidents and creative discoveries. (This obviously does not apply if you are messing about with flammable materials, dangerous chemicals etc!)
5. Inexpensive lighting kits (found mine on Amazon here) can make all the difference until you can afford to hire someone to shoot photos of your art. (omg…I dream of this day). Professional camera equipment is expensive; if you don't have the money right now, good lighting and a cell phone camera can produce great results for website and online photos.
6. Social media followings are tricky business. This could be an entire series of posts, but feeling at the whim of algorithms, analytics and trends can play games with your head (at least it does mine). Finding a balance of what matters to me (authenticity and creating art that is good medicine) with branding, marketing and an online presence...it is an ongoing endeavor and no one has all of the answers. Also, I know you know this, but here is a gentle reminder: try not to compare your insides to the shiny outsides you see on social media, it's not good for your heart. I learned a lot about this while working in the film business: no one is ONLY as they seem in the public eye. The complexities of the human heart and the ups and downs of our lives are more than can be revealed in a lovely Instagram photo.
7. A good soak in Murphy’s oil soap can clean most dried paint (or mediums) off of your brushes. I don’t use expensive brushes, I am too hard on them, but I have saved many a favorite from the trash with this trick.
8. Websites are living creatures. Same with artists statements. They are never going to be “perfect” or permanently "finished"...alas. If you want your work to be seen, put it out there and know that it will evolve as you evolve: as a businessperson, as an artist and a human being.
9. Knowing something about your intention, point of view and creative inspirations are not just helpful for your artwork. They can guide everything from your bookkeeping to marketing and how you handle your social media accounts. These deepen and expand over time, but discovering the core hopes and dreams for my artwork and business was a key component towards developing a little peace of mind when making decisions about what to do next. They can also carry you through the days when you wonder what the hell you were thinking when you started this little endeavor.
10. It will probably take longer than you think. This goes for everything from learning how to set up your video camera, to the first time you have to package and ship a large painting. Give yourself more time than you think you need and be kind to yourself when you are doing something new. This never really ends...what was once new for me (like writing and formatting a blog post) is now relatively easy. Right now I am learning how to edit video...and back to the beginning I go!
This also applies to business success. Some artists catch fire right away and make a lot of money (or however you define success). But I believe there are no guarantees about timing in this business (and I refer you once again back to #1). I don't endorse everything he writes but this blog post by Steven Pressfield is an honest look at one artist's journey.
Bonus Point: I will tweak a line from the Marines here: this might be the hardest job you will ever love. Going from making art for the fun of it to becoming a full-time working artist has been a journey full of more ups and downs than I ever could have imagined when I left that office. I am equal parts grateful, exhausted, creatively inspired and endlessly surprised by what appears around every corner.
If you like what you read here and want to hear more about my artwork, life as a working artist, as well as upcoming events and classes you can sign up here!