The Business of Being an Artist

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When you are a little kid and dream of being an artist one day, you think of how fun it will be getting to create whatever you would like to create. You innocently dream of the ability to design whatever innovative thought pops into your head, and getting paid to do it.

But then you grow up, go to college, and get your dream bubble burst.

Or at least…I did.

I know not everyone’s story is the same, but for most of us who weren’t born as a prodigy Leonardo we have to work our asses off for any scrap of payment or at the very least recognition of our work. I’m speaking about the artists who are up-and-comers, and don’t a have a leg to stand on in regards to reputation.

When you don’t have a large fanbase to go off of what do you do? How do you acquire business? How do you discriminate on jobs to take & not take. There are a lot of different answers, and everyone has different paths to reach their goals. But here are just a few tidbits of information I can pass off to whoever may need a little help on the business side of being an artist.

1.) Business Cards

Get them. Whatever you do, whether it’s paint, sculpt, compose, draw, whatever, if no one knows how to contact you then you’re not getting any commissions for work. You could be this fantastic seamstress, creating masterwork fabrics and designs, but if you bump into someone at the bank talking about needing a blanket for their grandson, and you don’t have your business card? You’re out of luck my friend.

2.) Web Presence

I’m sure a lot of you have guessed that this would be on the list. You need a presence on the internet. Nowadays sooooo many people are mainly doing business through the web. It’s a fantastic resource, and all it takes is setting up a website, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, or whatever. Most of these sites are FREE! And all it takes is a minute or two to set up, and you’ll see the comments and re-tweets start rolling in as you gain more of a following. The more followers you have, the more eyes on your work. The more eyes on your work, means the more likely you are to get $$$ in your pocket.

3.) Know Your Audience

I didn’t learn this until I started working in Sales as an Event Coordinator, but this one is important! In order to market yourself to the right clients you need to figure out who are the people that are most likely to buy your stuff. Do you illustrate kid’s books? Then you need to make sure your brand is geared towards things kids like, and kid-oriented styles. Do you like to make hand-made DIY knick-knacks? Then perhaps Etsy is the place for you. Basically, find your artistic identity, and do some research into who is the type of person to buy what you are trying to sell. Make your work look like the most appealing option for them!

4.) Any Opportunity is a Business Opportunity

This is….a debatable topic. I have had many people come up to me, and ask that I draw something for their project for free with the promise of good exposure. It’s a gamble on the artist’s part since that is precious time and energy that you are putting in to possibly walk away with nothing. Before you accept an offer like that you need to ask yourself a few questions.

– Does this person have a good reputation/following?

– Is the project something that I would greatly enjoy working on for free?

– Is this person trustworthy? (are they just looking to use you)

– Will I use this project in my portfolio/demo reel to gain future business?

I have heard many artists say that they have done deals like this, and it has been extremely beneficial to getting their career started. However, I have personally found that people asking for stuff for free are not looking for mutual benefits. They are just being cheap. But you can use your own discretion on this one.

5.) How Much to Charge?

I have struggled with this particular category more than most artists I think. When you get out of school, and become a ‘professional artist’ you need to decide what to charge people who are paying for your work. You could go off of the industry standard, but when you are fresh out of the gate you need to lower your prices because…you’re not well known yet. It’s silly, but no one is going to pay an arm and a leg from some no-name artist even if the work is really good. It’s just typically not done.

So figure out how many hours it took you to create. What were the expenses of the materials you used for the piece? (paints are expensive!) And somewhere in there calculate what you think a reasonable price would be. For example, minimum wage in Illinois, where I live, is $8.25 an hour. Okay, now let’s say you have gone to college or apprentice somewhere but haven’t built up a following yet. Do you up the hourly cost then? That’s up to you. But the point is to think about it first instead of arbitrarily throwing around numbers because that’s how you either lose clients from your exorbitant prices or you end up not making any money because you’re advertising yourself too cheaply.

6.) Budgeting Your Time & Making Sales

As artists we often fall down the hole of, “OMG THIS PIECE OF ART IS MY BABY & IT MUST GROW &  THRIVE TO BECOME A PERFECT SPECIMEN.”

Aaaand then 2 years later it’s still not done. Being an artist allows you to be creative. But to live, and afford food you must also have a bit of businessman/woman in you as well. Manage your time wisely. Keep a calendar. Set alerts. Hold yourself accountable if you have a deadline. Instead of going to the movies and playing games you need to sacrifice some things in order to be the kick-ass artist that you would like to be. And regarding the other part of this bullet point, “MAKE SALES”. How do you make sales? You generate a product. So keep yourself on task, send in your finished piece, and collect that sweet, sweet dough.

7.) Communication & Packaging

Have you ever bought something online, and it came in a squished, duct taped package with a tear down the side? If you have, I’m sure you were VERY hesitant to purchase anything from the same place again.  So, while the art itself is very important because it’s like…the main thing. It’s what you’ve poured your heart, and soul into. It’s not everything. Take care in how you present your work, because it’s an extension of yourself.

Also! Good communication with your clients is KEY! People nowadays want fast, reliable customer service. If they had a bad experience then you need to make that RIGHT. Because you’re not some big corporation who can afford to lose a potential customer. These tips are for up-and-comers, and one bad review on your page could potentially ruin you.

Honestly…I could go on, and on. I’ve got more points to add but for the sake of keeping this relatively digestible I will end it here. If anyone has any other points that they found helpful feel free to comment down below. Disagree with anything I said? Also comment down below! I encourage different viewpoints.

Hope some of this helped you guys!





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