Aloha fellow up ‘n coming artists:) Today’s video is especially for those who are interested in turning their love of artistic creation into a small business.
I’ve been navigating my own art biz for just a few years, but even in that short time I have learned so much that I wish I would have known starting out. If there’s one thing I think a lot of us have in common as newbies it’s that we tend to run around in a million directions at once not really knowing how best to focus our efforts and wind up wasting a lot of time.
I think a bit of bouncing around is totally necessary as each artist will find their own flow differently, but today I want to at least impart 5 little nuggets of advice to help navigate your own small art business.
So enjoy the video and then scroll down for notes
1. Don’t spread yourself too thin
When first starting out many artists are given the advice to ‘be everywhere’ online in order to share your artwork with as many people as possible (ex. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Deviant Art, Pinterest, YouTube, Tumblr, Etsy, Society 6, etc). Now it is true that building an audience is the most important thing you can do for your art biz, but it’s actually much more effective to find 2-3 platforms where you think your target audience is most likely to hang out, then put forth your best, most professional efforts there. The worst thing you can do is sign up for so many platforms that you are unable to keep things updated so when folks do find you your page is an unloved-archaic mess. What a tragedy!
2. Follow journeys of ‘Goal Artists’
We all have artists that we hope to emulate one day either by style, success, or both, and that’s a very healthy thing. It’s great to have idols! Especially in the crazy world of professional art where there really are no set rules or protocols for building a prosperous and fulfilling career it can be incredibly helpful to have people to pattern after.
My advice is to pick 2-3 of your favorite contemporary artists whose style and/or target audience matches your own and who have also achieved a high level of your ideal of success. Remember that success looks different to every artist so it is important that you get kind of specific with this ideal; it won’t do you any good to emulate an artist being granted huge sculptural instillation art contracts when you are trying to paint pet portraits for celebrities. (You can love any artists’ work without trying to replicate their careers :) )
Then simply research and follow each artist consistently. Find their website and check out their CVV or Exhibition/Awards roster to see potential venues to apply to or contests to enter. Sign up for their email list to hear about where/what they’re showing next. See if they teach workshops or college classes, or even jury for certain exhibits. Find them on social media and stay abreast of upcoming projects. How do they market themselves and their artwork? How do they get their audience excited about new artworks? What are specific ways that they engage with their audience?
Since basically everyone is all over the internet these days it is easier than ever to see how your idols are advancing but please, no matter what, do not ever make the mistake of comparing yourself to them. It can sound cliche, but it is very true that no two artistic journeys are ever the same. Gathering inspiration or references from favorite artists is fantastic, but you have no idea how exactly they got their start, how their socio-economic background influenced their educational opportunities, or how they may be connected either through location, schooling, or lineage. Circumstances are always different when peering from the outside in, so use your goal artists as just that, inspirational goals… not rigid one-size-fits-all rules.
3. Practice, expand and grow!
Now I know this one may sound obvious, but I honestly think this is one of the easiest ways that we can get lazy as artists. Once we are finished with official schooling it can be very easy to stick with our usual routine of style/materials/subjects/techniques and not keep branching out but it is really important to do so. We as artists need to be challenged regularly and we should always be striving for improvement, which comes with never ending practice.
Of course as we build an audience we want to stay true to the artwork that brought their adoration to us in the first place, but don’t forget that although we as humans like what we are already familiar with, we also need growth and change to keep our interest piqued. Trying out a new medium or a different subject within your same style is a great way to expand without alienating your audience. Or maybe use your artwork to collaborate with a clothing designer, children’s book writer, local event or good cause. The bonus is that by trying new things you will inevitably expose new people to your artwork along the way. Win win!
4. Be consistent
This is soooo much more important than I think a lot of young artists give credit. There are literally thousands of other artists all vying for your audience’s attention and if its been too many days/weeks/ or (dog-forbid) months since they’ve heard from you they are not even going to remember you when they move and need new art for their walls or when their sister’s birthday rolls around and they want a custom portrait created.
Consistency is also one of the best and cheapest ways to look professional. Literally just showing up on a predictable basis with quality work will put you head and shoulders above so many ‘amateurs'. Plus social media algorithms loooove consistency and we all know we need to be pleasing the mysterious algorithm entities as much as we possibly can!
5. Say yes
Often times in our lives we are presented with jobs, gigs, or opportunities that perhaps don’t specifically align with our end goals which we tend to say no to out of lack of interest or sub par compensation. Now I will never advocate for obvious time-wasting or being taken advantage of, but there is something to be said for getting out and doing as much art-related work as possible during the early stages of one’s career.
The thing is that so many random seeming opportunities morph and push us in unexpected directions and often turn into surprising and unique learning endeavors. Not to mention that as young artists we absolutely need to be exposed to as much of the business side of the fine art world as humanly possible (especially since art schools teach bupkis about the biz aspect of things). Also, working in any creative sector will garner more and more personal contacts who will in turn present you with more artistic opportunities. It can be a very exciting and lucrative cycle indeed!
My advice is to branch out into as many creative endeavors as you can handle reasonably and with quality. Never take on more than you can do well by giving only half efforts as your reputation will proceed you and could cost you excellent opportunities in the future. Just do your best and have an upbeat attitude and people will be thrilled to hire you again and again.