Any advice for an artist?

Updated: Sep 10, 2021

I was asked by a young artist if I had any advice for them. I started typing a short answer but it quickly turned into quite a long list of points.


Some points are more geared towards people making a living from art, either full or part time. However most of them would be of some help to any artists, and hopefully if nothing else, interesting.



Simply think of marketing as sharing...


...and good marketing as sharing with the right people for your work.


Paint what you love, workout who would like what you've painted and go where they are!


Call them ideal buyers or clients, whatever...decide who they are and go find them!



There's more great info on ideal buyers at mariabrophy.com

 

Live by the brush, to start with at least


By this I mean take on all the jobs you get offered, commissions, projects...small big, whatever!!


Ok so this approach may not be for everyone, and it’s with in reason, especially if you know what direction you want to go in and can get focus and direction straight way.


I started out at the age of 22 with no art or business training and no experience what so ever going and getting work or selling paintings….


...this had pros and cons. With no clear direction at that point I said yes to almost all commissions, requests and projects and I worked out how to do it afterwards! It was mostly commission work, and mostly working on guitars with the odd canvas painting, plus a few painting sales.


I was learning on the hoof and was quite the baptism of fire. I made a lot of mistakes, often didn’t get paid a particularly good amount

A) because I head no idea where to start with pricing and

B) I was having to work out a lot of problems as I went so this took a lot of extra time.


Based on the above it probably doesn't sound like good advice...but here was the flip-side:


Firstly It got me earning straight away so I could immerse my self in the creative business world in fairly full one way. I was running a small gardening business at the same time but because I was earning from my art instantly I didn't need to work too many hours gardening.

Secondly I learnt a huge amount doing this.

It taught to get out there and hustle a bit, a very useful skill as an artist.

It taught me to work to deadlines and to work with people in the creative field, how to act professionally, how to talk to people about art and design, how to give people what they wanted etc etc…


It pushed me way out of my comfort zone and made me explore mediums, approaches and subjects I may not have ever done. It also provided me with at least a basic living back then and gave me a lot of confidence moving forward.


It also taught me the value of my own work and skill. I was excited to turn my hand to anything and it did me very well. Most importantly I learnt to deliver a project on time.


To the same point though, don’t be afraid to say no to work if you don't think you can get passionate about it and ‘into it’, at least for the duration of the project/commission. Nowadays I’m more selective about saying yes to work and will happily suggest that someones goes to another artist who is more accomplished at tackling that particular subject, or works in a style more suitable to what they are after. Partly I now charge a lot more for my work and I think there needs to be a certain level of authenticity when clients are paying more...for example I would struggle to get excited about painting a Formula One Car but have a friend who would be much more up for it!!


As usual it's about finding the balance between the above.


 

Act like a professional and you will be treated like one.


Value your skill and your time and others will too.


A simple and obvious one, but an important one.


I’ve certainly not always been like this.

For example organisation does not come naturally to me at all!! I’ve had to work at it (and still have the odd slip up)


  • You can still be you, but be professional about it.

  • Be organised, turn up on time, do what your say your going to do.

  • Try to avoid over promising and under delivering and instead go with under promising and over delivering.

  • Value your clients and your customers.

Don’t be afraid to confidently tell people what you do and give them a business card (I’m awful for remembering to always have business cards with me, but getting better!)


Get nice feeling and looking business cards. They don’t have to be fancy or expensive. Mine are matt finish, simple design (with my artwork on there!!!) and made with eco friendly card & ink, as that’s important to me.


  • I have pre-typed word documents for commission proposals, agreements and invoices etc as well as a ‘what to expect’ document so people know exactly where they stand when I have agreed a price on a project or commission, or if someone is paying for a painting in instalments.

  • Website and contact details at the bottom of emails.

  • Consistent use of a particular font across website, business cards, flyers, social media etc…

  • Have a diary and a year planner (might sound obvious) but it took someone else to tell me do this before I did!


Day book:

I also have a day book in which I write lists of things to be done. I then number prioritise the list, cross things off as they are done...not everyone agrees with lists but this really works for me. This way I can get the big jobs out of the way to free my mind to get on with painting, knowing that when I have the odd bit of time throughout the rest of the day I can cross off the lower priority jobs. Anything left at the end of the day gets rolled over to the next...simple


I also take large jobs and break them down into parts to tackle little bits at a time.

The pages at the back of more long term goals and jobs to be done. For example I have a website page with a list of things that need doing on the website, again prioritised.

I struggle with everything swimming around in my head, but written down I realise there’s not as many jobs as I thought and they don’t seem not as big.

The day book idea was passed on to me by my dad who has been a self employed architect my whole life...it’s probably been the simplest and single most useful tool for my organisation.


Mailing list:

Build a mailing list and keep it up to date. I use Mail Chimp. Any emails I pick up throughout the week go into the day book. They then get added to the email database at the end of each week. When they are added they get crossed off in the book.

All of the above and much more, whilst not the be all and end all, certainly present a professional front, which I think is important!


You will be treated more seriously and people will feel much more confident spending their hard earned money with you.


Overall it just feels better operating in this way. Some people will do this all naturally, others, like me, may have to work at it a little more (or a lot more!!)…


Most importantly being organised saves a lot of time which is then freed up to create!!!


Lastly….Have confidence in what you do!!


Make sure you value your skill and value your time.


If you don’t then no-one else will.!!


Work out how much your time is worth to you, and make sure you feel justified in charging that amount.


Don’t apologise for that being the price, whether its a commission project or just selling a single card...


...value yourself and others will too!!


 

Money & marketing are NOT dirty words!

They are necessary.


If you want to make a living from your art, or part time, talking about money and marketing is absolutely necessary.


It does NOT mean you are a sellout.


It means you’re passionate enough about your art to want to make money from it so you can do more of it more often!

Don’t listen to anyone that tries to bring you down for being an artist and talking about these things, you may well come across the odd person who does.


If it is you who has the problem with it, and I certainly did to start with...you basically just need to find away to get over it! Or if not then this whole process might not be for you! It's not easy to start with, but it gets much easier and actually becomes fun!


Putting your art and yourself in front of people and talking about it can feel scary and at times awkward and a bit ‘icky’ (a word that comes up a lot in reference to marketing your art).

Being forward with approaching people and telling people what you do can feel the same.

But trust me...the more you do it, the easier it gets and the more confident and comfortable you become.


The phrase ‘fake it until you feel’ seems relevant here?


If you can shift your mindset then marketing actually becomes fun and a creative pursuit in it’s own right.


As the previous posts you can do all these things but still be you, because you are your unique selling point and people loving meeting and chatting to the artist!!:)


There’s a great podcast interview with Cindy Hohman of the 'Art Marketing Project'

It’s an episode on a fantastic podcast from 'Your Creative Push. I highly recommend looking into both of these along with another fantastic art business advisor, Maria Brophy.