Being a Full-Time Artist: So Far, So Good.
Dear fellow artists, you might be interested in what's coming now, as I receive many questions about this almost daily and am happy to share my experiences with you.
Right now I'm in Doha for a half-day layover on my way to Cape Town. Plenty of time to reflect on the past 8 months since I packed up my life in South Africa and left to pursue my art adventure full-time.
What a ride it's been!
I feel like the ten-year-old me that just rode down the hill backwards on roller skates. It's scary, since you don't see what's coming. Your legs get all shaky and you know you just gotta stay strong, because you can't stop now even if you wanted to. And once you actually made it down in one piece you're exhausted, but super thrilled and happy.
Some people think that being an artist means to spend your time painting pictures every day and someone will at some point find you to buy your work. Well, it's not quite like that. You can see in my feed that I haven't had time to touch my paintbrushes for months - and can't wait to do so!
Being a full-time artist means that you have to run a business. And for someone like me, who has no background or formal education in business skills, this was the scariest part and still feels sort of shaky, well, just like going downhill backwards on roller skates. :D
But so far, here's what I've learned in the last year of doing art full time:
As in any business, having a product, is only one part. In my case it takes me around 150-200 hours to create one painting. I'm able to complete one painting per month if I lock myself in a room and paint every day.
But the real work starts when you have to go out there and try sell your product. I call it the real work, because it's the part that I don't enjoy as much as creating, but it is very crucial.
Apart from production you need to focus on marketing, which takes up a ton of time. Keeping up your social media to reach an audience of potential buyers and give the world an idea of who you are as an artist. I still wish I could post more often, but I don't have long layovers every week. :-)
You also need to build and keep up a website that makes it easy for people to view your art portfolio and contact you. Mine is still far from perfect, but at least contains the most important features like a gallery, contact tool and about page.
You need to respond to daily inquiries from all channels (email, website and social media inboxes), not only to send price lists out to interested buyers, but also to interact with your audience and get to know them better, which brings you to the next task:
Research and networking. Search for galleries that you think your work fits in. Talk to the owners in person. Be persistent and don't get unmotivated after countless rejections in a row. Keep going. Research pricing for your art. Speak to art dealers, collectors and other artists. Build a network. Listen to what everyone tells you, but don't trust anyone too quickly. Cancelled agreements, broken promises, paying for services you'll never receive... All part of the process to learn and get better.
I ran into different traps and learned my lessons the hard way. And I'm sure I'll run into many more, because I always believe everyone is nice. Well, not everyone is nice. People are in the art business not to help you, but to earn a living. When someone offers you help, 9 out of 10 times they do so to gain from it. I've been walked all over a bunch of times, but I've also been fortunate to have found a few of those kind-hearted 10s who helped me push further.
And once you're accepted at a gallery or art show don't even think the craziness stops... Nerve wrecking international art shipping operations, transportation, set up, take down, storage, legal matters and so much more!
Above all is the constant existential pressure of having zero income but a lot of expenses for an uncertain amount of time before you possibly sell anything and constantly having the question on your mind if what you're doing is ever going to carry any fruits at all. I mean, don't a lot of artists die before they even become known? And it's not only yourself who thinks that. It's also your friends and family who - until you actually sell something - are not convinced that this is a sustainable career choice. Doubt really is a devil.
Oh and have I mentioned the fear of being judged? Well, imagine you poured out your heart in a daily diary you wrote and then put it in an art show for thousands of people to read. A little uncomfortable? Welcome to the world of selling art!
So that's a little glimpse of the daily tasks of being a full-time artist.
I had no experience or formal education in running an art business, but no school could've taught me the crash course lessons I've learned so far and will continue to learn throughout this journey.
I couldn't be more grateful!
I'm happy to come home for a few months with all this brand new knowledge, projects lined up, and exciting times ahead. Cape Town, see you in a bit... :-)