There a number of important things that need to be figured out before making a business official with a license and bank account. The license and the bank account are the easy part of the process.
Below are a number of key important factors they don’t tell you.
- School Isn’t Everything – Beyond a degree, school helps with narrowing down a topic of interest, decisions on various art mediums and in helping learn about how you work best (please see previous post). However, school only goes so far in teaching you how to be an artist. For example, most schools that I have encountered only focus on the creative process and not the business side of it. Having a business sense and understanding how to sell your work is just as important as making the work. If no one knows you exist as a full-time artist you will end in failure. If possible, I really do recommend artists to take business classes. My point is, graduating with a diploma doesn’t necessarily make you equipped to be an artist. Also, many emerging artists/recent graduates have a difficult time finding work right away. I used to naively believe that once I graduated, people would be knocking my door down to hire me. It just simply doesn’t work that way. How the academic world works is very different from how the art (or even the general) world functions. My best advice is to learn about business and how it works. Also, it’s important to advertise yourself by networking with other artists and institutions. Be part of the art scope in your area and then branch out from there.
- The Point of Interest – This is a hard one and it may change many times until you figure out what resonates with you to your inner core. To make art that sells (beyond the respectable pleasant landscapes) there needs to be point. Most people who enjoy art and have the intent to put down thousands of dollars, want to buy something that’s more than just pretty. They are looking for an emotional response and want to know a story. People want to know about the artist, their life, and what their thoughts were behind their creation. Buyers want to feel some sort of connection to the artist they just invested in by purchasing their piece. An artist has endless options regarding their concept. Personally, besides having a meaning, I believe an artist has a certain degree of responsibility for what they put out into the world. I know many artists that create meaningful work, but it is all very personal and negative. This type of art rarely ever sells. For example, why would someone buy a painting about the artist’s sister suffering and dying of cancer? The answer? No one. Why? Because no one wants to be reminded of a sad situation and have it hanging in their own home. Most artists go through a time of personal creative catharsis, and it’s important early on in the creative process because it helps define who they are and it gives them a better sense of identity. When the time comes to having a business, it’s time to throw the catharsis art away like 3 day old leftovers. It just won’t sell. As an artist with a business, your art is a product and a certain level of customer satisfaction is required to make money. This doesn’t mean you have to throw all of your ideas out, just modify them into something visually appealing. Early on, I used to make dark negative art that reflected my own struggles of facing my own demons. It helped me and it sure did affect viewers. Most people would get uncomfortable, quiet and walk away with a look of concern. I realized that I had power. I can affect how people feel with what I make. I had to take responsibility for that. I didn’t want to make people feel uncomfortable and weird. I wanted to visually help others and make them feel good in the presence of my work. In a nutshell, every artist has the visual power to create good or bad sensations. Most buyers want to feel good when in front of a piece they bought for thousands of dollars. It’s important to ask yourself these questions and get feedback from others: What and why do I make art? How does my art make others feel? Are others interested in my art? Would people buy it?
- Be Honest with Yourself – In continuation with the previous point above, being honest with oneself can be a cold splash of reality. Just because you think your work is amazing, doesn’t mean the majority of people you encounter feel the same. It’s a balance of being true to yourself and believing in your concept and being open to others reactions. It’s important to accept criticism and be open to changing certain aspects of your artwork if the majority of people don’t respond positively to it. Businesses come up with new products all the time, and they aren’t always successful, which eventually ends with those items being discontinued. Similarly, it’s important to know what types of art are successful and which are not. Unfortunately, this isn’t completely decided by the artist but by the buyers themselves and the political market.
- Steady Consistency – An artist in the professional sense is a brand. It’s good to have a logo and a certain trait that makes you unique. Also, it’s important to keep a certain amount of consistency within your own general expression and work. For example, think of Andy Warhol. He had a certain style, the puffy white hair and pale complexion. Warhol did experiment with different mediums from drawing to film, but he was mainly known as a Pop Artist and sold his prints. He was titled as a Screenprinter and as a Pop Artist. That was his brand. An artist today has to consider their style of art making and also their medium of choice and plan to stay with it. One of the biggest fails for emerging artists is being too scattered, and as a result, produce all different types of art and use all various types of art mediums. If an artist is too random, it’s too difficult to categorize them, and a buyer won’t invest in them by purchasing an artwork. You don’t want a confused interested buyer to ever say, “Last week I thought you said you were a painter and now this week you’re a ceramicist?” Most art buyers want to purchase a work that will increase in value later. It takes a lot of time, production and consistency to build up a reputation as a person who does a particular type of work. It’s important to do this to build a name from an emerging to an established artist. Your work will become more desirable and increase in value.
- Hours of Production – This is so important! Having a job as a full-time artist, it’s crucial to know your production rate. Everyone works differently, and being aware of how long it takes you to complete certain size pieces will help you determine hourly wages and time frames. Your job as a creative is to produce as much work as possible per hour or per day. The more work you have, the better the chance at selling it faster. The faster you produce, the better the chances it will sell, as a result increase the amount of money you will make. There are applications on cell phones where you can track your work hours by clocking in just like a normal job. I highly recommend this when starting out. Then there is no guessing on how many hours you work each day. Also, once you get busy, knowing how much you can complete, will help you determine later the number of pieces you can finish in a set time frame before a deadline.
- Material Costs – This is also key. Know how much your materials are for each piece. Keep all receipts and a log. Do your best to budget and try to get all of your materials before you start the work. I am always ordering materials at least one piece ahead of whatever my current project is. This eliminates waiting for things to come in when you actually need them. Once I had to wait almost a month for a glass order to arrive. There weren’t any other pieces to work on, and I wasted so much time because I was not prepared. You don’t want to waste time waiting because you ran out of something or for the arrival on an order!
- Figure Out How to Price Yourself – This is a tough one and it’s a two-fold process. The best advice I have is to first find out what your average cost of materials are. In order to do this, make a couple of pieces that are the exact same size. Using all of your kept receipts, find out the average cost for that size. Then add up all of your work hours for one piece, and multiply that by the hourly wage you wish to receive. Lastly, subtract that total from your material costs. ((Hours worked on 1 piece x hourly wage) – average material cost) = price of artwork for that general size. Keep in mind most galleries double your asking price so don’t forget to double it! Once you have those numbers figured out, then you have to determine whether your price is reasonable. Most galleries break down the cost of a piece per square inch. What I have learned, the average price per square inch ranges between 2.00 – 8.00 dollars. If your new, you’re going to be on the lower range of that value. Find out the surface area of your art (by multiplying length x width) and divide by retail price for your per square inch value. It’s important to compare their pricing per square inch with your own method of pricing mentioned above. If your price is too high, then your hourly wage needs to be lowered. Your hourly wage may fluctuate, some pieces take more time and some materials may cost more. The issue is, the galleries method of using price per square inch doesn’t change. The same size artwork can’t be considerably more than another. It doesn’t matter to them that it took you longer to complete it or if a particular medium cost a little more. In some cases, you may make $30.00 dollars an hour or $12.00 an hour. It all depends on your time management and choice of materials.
- Toughen Up – The sensitive artist stereotype exists for a reason. I used to get so upset after receiving a rejection letter for a show or when someone disliked my work. Most if not all creatives are insecure and take it personally when someone responds negatively to whatever it is they have manifested. However, rejection is part of the process, and most will have plenty of that before getting any positive feedback. It’s important not to quit and to continue forward with what you do. It’s impossible to please and be liked by everybody. Some people are going to dislike you and your work no matter how hard you try. The key is to not be resentful or take it personally. Everyone is entitled to their opinion just as you are to yours. In all honestly, you just need the right people to be interested in what you do, and more importantly, YOU need to like what you do. If you’re not satisfied or happy with your work, then it’s hard to convince others to be too. To move forward and be successful, you need to be honest with yourself and toughen up through times of rejection so that it doesn’t eat away at you and affect your creativity.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help – As an independent-minded person, it’s difficult for me to accept that I can’t do everything. I get anxiety when I have to ask for help or can’t complete a task by myself. Being successful with a business means relying on others because it impossible to do everything by yourself. There just aren’t enough hours in the day. There are at least two hats in a small art business, the actually physical creation/production part and then the emails/marketing/website/gallery part. It’s practically impossible to do both simultaneously. However, you can ask a friend or family member to help out, get a student volunteer or hire someone part-time and pay them under the books.
Alright. Let’s get to work!!!