5 things I wish I knew before becoming a full time artist
Oh I'm sure you've read a million of these articles, about things to do or prepare or think about before throwing in your secure and safe job and going full time as an artist. They are plastered all over the internet - and trust me, I read them all too as I transitioned between grown-up job and artist. Some of them have good advice. But each article is determined by the values of that one writer/artist. It has nothing to do with your values or what you believe is important to you. For me, Security and Safety are my top priorities and to feel safe and secure, I need a certain amount of money in the bank. Another priority is Freedom. Again, to me, freedom is having the money in the bank to be able to take a week off when I need it, or to jump on an artist residency opportunity because I have the cash for the flights in the bank, or to take the afternoon off to watch my son run cross country.
The question is, what are your top three values?
What is required for you to keep those values in tact?
Safety and security, freedom and creative control are the priority values in my business. If you align with these values then the tips below might resonate...
1. You need to be consistent, especially when nothing else is. Income is far from consistent. Client work isn't consistent. Sales aren't consistent. Workshop bookings are all over the place. Even though none of this seems consistent, you need to be. You need to keep showing up to the studio, to keep creating work, to keep designing murals, to research new workshops to offer, to design new merchandise. Be consistent in your work and output. Work your usual 8am - 3pm everyday. Send out your newsletters. Keep showing up to creative workshops to learn. Consistently look for EOIs and Calls for Artists. Keep being consistent, because the work will come in. Don't let yourself get deflated.
2. Hide the scissors AKA set boundaries. I'm sure a lot of us start our full time artist career with a space in our home dedicated to work and painting. It's so easy to slip in and out of this space on the weekends. To just quickly splash some paint on a canvas. It's easy for our family to pop in and help themselves to all the scissors in the studio (leaving you with none). It makes it easy for the mother-in-law to pop over at anytime for a chat. It's difficult to define your workspace and time and relevance. People (including yourself) will push these boundaries. Define your work times - only enter your studio during these times. Communicate this time to your family so they respect your work times and boundaries. If you ignore these boundaries you will likely start to burn out. Set very clear boundaries and outline these to anyone who tries to climb over these boundaries.
3. Think outside the box of 'what an artist should do'
When I started working full time as an artist I thought I had to get a gallery to represent me. The research I had done suggested this. So off I went - looking for a gallery. I found one. Yes. They sold my works. But after a few months I felt like the gallery was 'my boss'. They were nice enough, but very critical of my work. They were trying to control my output and the final straw came when I received a large grant to paint murals overseas and was featured in Grand Designs. Instead of celebrating with me they left rude voice messages on my phone. I figured gallery representation was not for me. So I stepped back and thought about what would suit me better. Online gallery sales and web store sales have far outweighed the sales I was getting from the bricks and mortar gallery. My target market are online. Are you doing things that 'artists should do' but they don't feel right?
4. Shove your fingers in all the pies
Diversify. This is a small business technique. Yes. You love painting in the studio and selling those works online. We all love that. Unfortunately artwork sales are not consistent throughout the year. Figure out how you can fill the income/work gaps. I run school workshops consistently through the year but during December, January and February I have no school workshops. This is when I promote and sell workshops to the public to supplement the income. Artwork sales pick up leading up to Christmas, but they tend to be quiet coming into EOFY. So I sometimes promote EOFY sales or I push corporate murals as a tax deduction. After a few years working for yourself you'll start to see eps and flows. Step back and look at how you can offer another service or product to help fill the sales gaps. Make sure you diversify these offerings too. You never want 90% of your income coming from one client. If they go bust - so do you.
5. Ask for help
Running a business is so hard. My seven year old son was asking if he could start his own business yesterday. I'm all for it! But when I started to explain to him about running a business, balancing the books, marketing, accounting, customer service, booking, stocktake, ordering supplies, planning retreats and workshops and mural projects, filming, editing, uploading, cleaning, emails. So many emails. It's a lot. As I started to think 'gosh Sarah, you're a bloody superhero', I realised that I outsource a lot. I'm only half a super hero. I outsource cleaning, bookkeeping, accounting - because all of these things are yuck. I have a rad assistant who is as passionate about my business as I am who looks after marketing, sales, cleaning brushes, pursuing new ideas, cutting stencils, and proofing everything I do because I can't be trusted and is my cheerleader (thanks Crystal!) I have a number of artist assistants for big murals jobs, a frame maker, a wonderful courier, a video editor, and a paint shop full of wonderful humans who take my email orders and wa la - my paint is waiting for me! I have built up a number of wonderful people around me who support my business. I suggest you do the same.
When I moved back to Australia from China, I never thought that I would be able to work for myself. The cost of living was too high in Australia and I couldn't figure out how to generate enough work. With a lot of planning and consistent work - here I am. If I can do it, I promise you can too.
If you'd like some help in planning your 'big move', it might be worth purchasing the Creative Business Development Book and the accompanying Workshop to help you plan your big ideas. I use this workbook every year to propel my business forward.
Alternatively, I have a free online workshop called 'How to Full Time Artist' which is full of practical tips on taking the leap.