You Can’t Just Be an Artist
You can’t just be an artist. The idea of being a professional artist has long been romanticized. The image of the lone artist tucked away in the basement painting day in and day out couldn’t be farther from the truth…as far as successful artists go anyway. Why not?
Well, being a successful artist requires that you wear a number of different hats. Marketer, manager, accountant, shipping clerk, and these days…social media guru. Every single one of those jobs requires time. That’s time away from the easel, drawing board, computer, etc. Each one of those things is absolutely essential to your art business.
Think about it.
You can hide away in your studio space painting hundreds of masterpieces, but that’s all you do. If all you do is paint, how are you going to show people (potential buyers and collectors) these masterpieces you’re creating? If all you’re doing is painting, who’s going to put images of your work out there to attract a following? Who’s going to pack up and ship the occasional piece you do manage to sell? Who will price your work and market it for you?
Sure, you can hire someone to do all of that for you, I suppose. But most artists I know don’t just have extra money lying around…especially if all they’re doing is painting and not handling any of the other stuff. No marketing, no sales, right? No sales, no money to hire anyone.
Look, I get it…this is the part that feels yucky and sleazy. Artists by nature hate sales. Ask some and they’ll tell you it feels a bit like prostitution. Unfortunately, that mentality is what leads to the “starving artist” stereotype. It’s yucky, but it’s necessary if you want to succeed.
So what’s an artist to do? Are you supposed to do everything yourself? In most cases, and especially back in the day…yes. You do all the things because it’s your business. That’s part of being an entrepreneur just starting off. These days technology offers some avenues that can take some of the pressure off.
Let’s start with an easy one…social media.
You don’t necessarily have to be on social media 24/7 yourself. I’m sure you have friends or siblings, nieces or nephews. Make them an admin on your page. Kids these days somehow manage to gain thousands of followers overnight. Finish a piece, take a picture with your phone and send it to them. Have them do the upload, caption, hashtags, etc. Take progress pics, pics of you at work, studio pics, pics of new supplies, etc. Followers love that stuff.
The only thing you would have to do is answer comments of private messages. You never know, with the right hashtags and number of followers, you might have some brands contacting you to do reviews for them, which generally means they’re sending you sets of supplies and new products in exchange for the review and exposure.
Another avenue is Patreon. It’s not really social media, but I mention it here because it’s only ever really successful for you if you already have a substantial social media, in particular, YouTube following. This is a nifty site where you gather patrons as followers. In other words, these are people who pay you to create art. In exchange, you give them things depending on how big a patron they are (they can sign up for different tiers). You can give them things like access to how-to videos, prints of your work, downloadable stuff, etc.
Hire a manager…or not?
Pricing your artwork really is up to you. You could hire a manager, but why would you want to give up a rather high percentage of every piece you manage to sell to your manager? Do it yourself and you keep it all. It’s not really that difficult. Take an hour or two and research other artists who are producing similar work and check out their prices. In my own case, I found six artists who also produced graphite animal portraits and took the average price for each drawing size and bingo! I had my own set of prices. Every once in awhile I check to make sure I’m still in the ballpark and that my rates remain competitive.
There are a number of gallery sites, like FineArtAmerica, that allow you the option to post your work for free. They will even handle the print on demand part, offer a number of canvases (posters, t-shirts, tote bags, cell phone cases, etc.), and also the shipping and handling. Sounds great, right? Takes all the worry off of your hands. Well, not so fast there, partner! Yes, all of that is great, but you’re back at the marketing part.
If no one knows you’ve got your stuff there, how will they buy it? You still have to do the marketing to get people over there. This can be done through social media, but it has to be consistent advertising. Not every day or you’ll lose followers who see excessive ad posts as spammy, but maybe a certain day of the week. If you have a YouTube channel, podcast, blog, etc., you can also advertise there.
Do your research with these companies. Check out the reviews in regard to print quality, shipping time, returns, etc. Yes, they’re the ones doing the work but it’s your name on the print, right? Also, find out if they’ll allow you to offer sale prices. And pay attention to whether or not they do the same. Yes, some companies will have holiday sales and that means your work goes on sale too whether you like that idea or not. So, make sure to do your homework first.
As far as accounting goes, I hope you’d be on top of this one yourself. It is your money after all, right? Do you buy supplies, sell artwork, and hope and pray it all balances out at the end of the month? Or do you keep a sharp eye on your budget? It costs money just to exist. Rent, groceries, utility bills, etc. But then you tack on art supplies…canvases, paper, paints, pens, markers, pencils, or whatever else you use. And let’s face it, a lot of art supplies aren’t cheap!
One way to lose customers fast is if word gets around that you’re using substandard art supplies that fade, fall apart, or crumble with age. And if you think you can get someone else to handle this for you, keep in mind the number of people who were ripped off when their “accountant” started embezzling money. I’m not saying all of them do, but you take that chance by not handling it yourself. And if you’re just getting started, you probably don’t have enough cash to hire one anyway. Learn how to budget yourself. It’s an invaluable lesson.
In a previous post, So You Want to Be and Artist?, I basically said, “if you want to be an artist then just be one!” Start with whatever you have, even if it’s just a Bic pen. Being an artist is about creating. But as you can see, there’s more to being a successful artist than just hiding out away from the world creating painting after painting. Most artists I know do the majority of all the other things themselves.
It might take some doing initially, but once you get a system down, it should run pretty smoothly and only require tweaking occasionally. In most cases, they schedule a day of the week to handle certain tasks. You might come up with something similar. However you choose to do it is up to you. Hopefully it won’t be too yucky once you’ve got your system worked out. It’s necessary in order to be successful. A means to an end. Just do it. It’s worth it.