5 things I learned in my first year as a full time Artist
It's a business
Now I know to some people this is going to sound obvious. But you'd be surprised how many people are shocked to learn how much business goes into what seems like a primarily creative job. 'You're an Artist, so don't you just sit at home and draw all day?' or words to that effect are what I've heard so many times now. When I first started out, I read that being an Artist is 60% business and 40% actually creating art. This is mostly true if I'm lucky, but sometimes the business can even seep into the 70% range depending on what I have going on that month.
When you become a full time Artist, you essentially start running a business. Not only are you an Artist, but you also become a Marketing Manager, Accountant, Retailer, Product Photographer, Web Designer, Administrator, branding and packaging creator and Manager among others. This can seem daunting if you have no prior experience, but as long as you're willing to learn, these jobs become easier and more natural in no time.
I learned to create boundaries
Most of the first year I was a full time Artist, I was living alone in a studio flat. My bed was literally next to my work desk, so I would get up in the morning and walk two feet to start work. Sometimes I would work on my bed. This made it difficult to create boundaries between my work and my personal life. The two had melded together and it was difficult to truly wind down from work. Now I live in a flat that has an office where I spend the day working somewhere between 0800-1730, and as soon as I leave in the evening, I can tell myself that the work day is over. I understand that this may not be easy for someone who lives in essentially one room. But make sure to set yourself clear work hours (you could even set an alarm,) to distinguish between the two. Maybe give yourself something to do after work is finished so that you don't run over like cooking yourself dinner, going for a walk or working on another hobby.
Art used to be my creative outlet that I spent most of my free time working on. But now that it's my job, a little of the passion has ebbed away. I'm still passionate about it, but it's a kind of business-like passion now. So because of this, I make sure that I have another creative outlet to pursue when I'm not at work (mine is sewing, photography and various craft projects I give myself) and this also helps to distinguish between work and my personal life.
Being an Artist can also be a very isolating job. I've always been someone who is very comfortable being alone, but after the third day of being alone in my little studio flat, even I got cabin fever. I'd recommend getting outside at some point in the day and try to socialise when you can outside of your work hours.
I learned that not all risks pay off
When I started this career path, most of my friends and family seemed to have exceptionally high expectations. They seemed to think that having a little bit of talent would automatically transcend into success. They didn't seem to understand that starting a business is a hard investment that takes a lot of work and can take potentially years before it starts paying you back ( and that's if it does!)
Now again, it's definitely important to take risks in business. You're not going to get anywhere just playing it safe. And like I said before, you'll start to learn through these risks what routes are best for you. But I think the important point I need to make is don't expect your risk to pay off. I remember preparing for what I thought was going to be my first BIG convention. I worked myself well into the late evening everyday that week. I was very stressed and burning out, but I kept telling myself that it was defiantly going to pay off. Needless to say, I barely even made my money back on the event, and I remember walking back to the hotel crying exhausted, burnt out tears. It's important to prepare your stock for the best case scenario, but my advice would be not to set your expectations too high. This is especially true if you're going into unknown territory. Having exceedingly high expectations all the time is only going to lead to disappointment.
I learned when to hold back and say no
When I first started out, I thought I had to try everything, take every opportunity and say yes to everything. I was under the assumption that I had to do everything I could to make money and I didn't have the option to say no. Now this is going to be something that's hard to teach someone who is just starting out, as each Artist is individual and they won't truly know what's right or wrong for them until they try it. As they say, you learn from your mistakes.
I used to think I had to say yes to every single commission request otherwise I was turning down rent money. But after accepting so many commissions that were so difficult for me to do because they weren't really my area of expertise and then undercharging for them because I was so ashamed of their quality. I realised that it was time to start narrowing the bandwidth of commissions that I accepted, as I was essentially wasting time on commissions that weren't contributing to my practise and my business, and not really getting the money for hours spent.
I was also going to trade at every possible market, event and apply for every gallery and competition. It's best to think of the demographic that will attend these events and galleries, and the other type of work that will be shown/sold, and decide if it will suit you. Again, having the experience and insight to pick and choose what you know will be best is something you learn over time. Which leads me onto my next point..
It's important to get out there and interact face to face
Now this can be important for different reasons. I started trading at markets and events, and it helped network with potential customers as people love buying from and learning about the artist face to face. You can also learn so much from the like minded people you trade with. With this though, for every 50 nice comments you get, you always get at least one 'off' one. But this also teaches you to grow a thick skin, as not everyone is going to like your work. Sure, that doesn't justify being nasty, but I've found that some people always feel the need to let you know when they don't like it non-constructively, and you just have to let it wash over you.
Another super important thing I learned trading was being able to clearly identify my target market. As soon as I discovered this, my business shot forward in progression. I was going to lots of local craft markets where most sellers were selling farm and countryside related goods, and the people attending were mostly people of the older demographic. I noticed that the people who bought my work the most were normally younger, slightly more alternative people. And this is what gave me the idea to try Conventions and I haven't looked back since!