• Tom Shepherd

Artist advice - Part 2

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.



Don’t be afraid to charge for your work!!


Don’t work for free!!


Even if you hear the words ‘it will be good for your profile’


This comes back to acting like a professional, but please do read on as may not be quite as black and white as above for everyone.



This is situation and expectation dependent but the point is make sure it’s a conscious decision to work for free and not blindly going with someone who is trying to rip you off….


I say "even if you hear the words"... ‘it will be good for your profile’ because I’ve heard it used so many times, to myself, and especially to young and starting out artists...and every time it has been simply to get an artist to work for free, and that’s the only reason!!! So be wary!!…..


Of course there will have been many incidents where it may benefit your career, at the very start.


If you can afford to work for free to get a couple jobs/commissions under your belt because you have no financial pressure great, but I would say don’t make a habit of it...remember also that by working for free you are potentially undervaluing other artist and their work, at least in the eyes of your client or buyer.


If you do a poster or album cover for your mates band yes...it sounds like a really fun job and you can justify it….and yes it might get your name about a bit!!


If you’re serious about this (full time or part-time) you will quite quickly stop working for free, as you start to get a feel for what your time and energy is worth to you personally.


As I said above, make sure it’s a conscious and thought out decision, not just you getting swept up in someone else's bullsh*t. Someone who is trying to get something for nothing!


Decide what your time is worth and you will find it easier to confidently say how much a painting, project or commission will cost.


Don’t apologise for your prices. If it means you working for free or too little (for no good reason!!) then be brave and turn it down!


Free your time up for more positive and productive business relationships.




You will make mistakes in every area of your business!


These are NOT failures.


These are NOT setbacks...

...quite the opposite.


It’s all part of learning what works and what doesn’t. For you. On your path.


Be creative with how you run your business and how you market yourself, it can be really fun!!


Creativity is ultimately problem solving and coming up with ideas, then having the courage to executing them.


As a self employed artist you make all the decisions about everything. Whilst very scary this is also incredibly liberating, and very fun.


Outside of the painting itself there is nothing more rewarding than coming up with an idea, whether marketing scheme, new painting series, organising your own exhibition, workshop or course, whatever…


From idea to organising and executing then reaping the rewards, is really fun and immensely satisfying.


They won’t always go as planned or as well as you’d like but that’s part of the fun too.


Observe, analyse and take forward what you’ve learnt.




Don’t sit around waiting for inspiration to strike!!


Instead of needing to feel inspired to start painting….start painting to get inspired!!


This is a really big one for me!


I think everyone suffers from some sort of ‘resistance’ to creating, whatever their field (painting, dance, music etc etc).


Something various artist talk about in the podcast Creative Push (check it out)


I’m going to be fairly blunt now, and some people might not like hearing this... but this is as much talking about myself as it is advising others on what may work for them:


Saying 'I’m not in the mood' or 'I’m not inspired' is basically just an EXCUSE!!


It might be a romantic, interesting, i’m a tortured and introverted artist with a creative block thing to say, but it’s still basically just an excuse for not just getting on with it!!...and I don’t really buy it (in myself or anyone else)….


...but for whatever reason it’s a very real thing...maybe fear of failure, fear of not achieving what you want, feeling insecure about your own work, lack of confidence or believing you are a perfectionist (really just an insecurity)…


..but the reason doesn’t really matter! Lets just jump straight over that and get to a solution...


Of course there are times when there is a genuine block, a dry spell, struggling to know what to do. Or you want to go in a new direction and need to go and see some other work, go to a museum, watch a video, go for walk etc etc Try something totally different, take a break from working for a period of time….


BUT on a day to day basis I still think it is just an excuse. The best way I have found to get through it is so simple...

...turn up and starting painting!


The simple act of painting actually becomes the inspiration. More often than not, half an hour in or so to a warm up or a full painting, the inspiration appears and I’m into it...and that’s it!!


Yeah it doesn’t always go as planned or give a finished painting, but that’s the same when I’m in the flow anyway.


I found this worked for me as I teach at least twice weekly and always demonstrate, and often do evening demonstrations at least once a week, in front of a large group of people, generally in the evening, and many times I convince myself I couldn’t be less ‘in the mood’...but because Im booked in and people are depending on me to deliver I have to turn up and get on with it….


I must have done this multiple hundreds of times over the last 5 years...and there are very few times when I didn’t get into and feel inspired as I went. In fact some of my major breakthroughs and new directions have come out of having to just get on with it and do it in a limited time...no space for procrastinating, indecision and faffing about;)


So if I look at the evidence logically this tells me that the inspiration is always there, it’s just sometimes I'm just lazy about tapping into it.


The best solution: discipline to just get on with some painting.


I even know that if it’s really not going ‘right’ some of my major breakthroughs have come out of pure frustration. Something that wouldn’t happen unless I had actually just got on with some painting….so bottom line, whatever the situation...GET ON WITH IT!! (I'm sure you've got the idea by now!)


Do I always take my own advice...nope...cos sometimes I’m lazy...but I am a lot better than I used to be!!! :)

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Based in Warwickshire, UK

Works globally

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