This week I talked to my 16-year-old niece about how to use her artistic talent. My husband, my sister and I all gave her our expert opinion on possible vocations that could utilize her talent. This included suggestions from informational interviewing, to actual job shadowing. Later, it dawned on me that perhaps she wanted to know what it’s like to be a working artist like me—since she did enjoy drawing. So, little miss niece, here’s how my job works.
My art practice is pretty straightforward and logical. I start by developing an idea that I want to communicate. I search the depths of my soul to determine the best way to express an idea visually. The end result must also be compelling visually as well. I look at photos of people and pull-out interesting shapes. Visual brainstorming usually takes the most thinking time which I like to do alone in my white-walled studio. This part of the process takes the longest and is the most nebulous. It’s about taking an idea and making it tangible, in story form, without words. The corporate world calls this ideation.
I shoot reference photos of models and then analyze the images. The ones I like are put together quasi-digitally and then production starts. Production (putting graphite on paper and rendering an image) requires the least brainpower but is the most laborious. After about 90% is done, there’s usually a redesign phase. Then it sits in the ‘test zone’ where I look at it out of the corner of my eye for a week while doing something else. If it passes that test, it’s finished. If not, there’s another redesign stage. That is how original wall art is made. When the drawing is finished, I document it. There’s only one of the original and the photo is the only other documentation I will have of it. — That’s it.
Here’s the rub though: I don’t always create art, when I’m in the studio. I must spend just as much time sharing it in order to keep my job. The undisclosed part most professional artists don’t talk about, is the time they spend away from the easel.
Being a professional artist means you earn your living off of sales from the art you create. Sounds pretty straightforward but oddly, there is a lot of controversy about this part of my job. I’m not one to listen to the naysayers though—I don’t create art for art’s sake. The way I see it is that the art I create must get a home. On paper, I create an echo of someone’s journey, and It’s my job to find that someone.
I believe the artwork becomes a statement, or piece of communication to help others understand the person who owns the artwork. Sometimes, the artwork provides conversation or simply beauty—It is my job to connect the artwork that I create to its owner. I sell directly to clients without gallery representation. Self-promotion is considerably harder by all ways imaginable and not for the faint of heart. Selling direct allows me to get to know who I’m selling to. Likewise, I’ve found most people really appreciate getting to know the creator of their artwork. Still, finding the artwork an owner is not easy—It’s pretty tough, actually.
Sharing the artwork publicly takes a considerable about of planning and time. I have a few strategies to do that, and an art mentor who weighs in when I have questions. Mostly, however, the work is seen online via social media, my website and gallery events.
70% of my art is sold in-person. Galleries and venues are instrumental to how I share my work, as they are often the conduit to my painting’s future owner. I spend valuable time finding the right place to have an event. I do a lot of the marketing materials for events. I also have events at my studio. This allows collectors and potential-artwork-owners to actually see everything that’s available all at once. It also shows people how I make my art. I’m an extravert. I get energized by being with the art community. (2019 Open Studio Events: April 13-14 and Dec. 7, see calendar for details).
I manage a business. It’s not sexy. However, unlike most working artists, I enjoy organization and bookkeeping. I like spreadsheets and data analysis. I look for patterns in Excel to understand how to market myself. I manage inventory, record sales and pay taxes each quarter. The corporate world calls this product management.
I go to art events frequently. This is the best part of my job. I love seeing art and I’m inspired. I take that back to the studio and experiment. The corporate world calls that R&D.
* The Copyright Act of 1976 (USC Title 17) protects artists and the things they draw with some exceptions. The rights to use the art always remain with the creator but that is not what is meant in this context.
If you’re a working artist, I’d love to hear your comments below. If you are not, and this was a surprise to you, I’d like to hear that too. Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments below.