In 2022 Matthew Crabbe and I opened The Titan Arcadia Gallery under the banner of Titan Arcadia. We have a vision that through the gallery, we will showcase, encourage, equip and inspire both current and aspiring artists. Part of fulfilling that vision is that we’ll be host seminars and workshops utilising both of our experiences and skills as well as those of other artists to help others in their journey.
Recently I had the pleasure of speaking at the first seminar, where I shared some (hopefully!) helpful tips for making a living as an artist. Thank you to everybody who attended whether online or in-person! It was a lovely evening and a great way to launch into these sessions. This blog is a summary of some of the main points I covered in that seminar…
Have a Business Mindset
The first of my helpful tips for making a living as an artist is to ask yourself if you see yourself as running a business. And if you don’t see your youself that way yet, start now!
Many artists struggle with the idea of being a business person. I definitely did! Society has almost offset art and business as if they can’t co-exist. ‘Business’ seems to be clinical and industrial and devoid of creativity and inspiration. Popular Culture can reinforce that with its depiction of artists in movies and TV. Where we’ve taken on that feeling, it can then feel like we cheapen what we do if we label it as a business. If you feel like that, you’re not alone.
The reality is, we ARE running businesses and to do it successfully enough to make a living from it, we need to embrace a business mindset. Businesses need creativity, and creatives need to apply good business sense to be successful. Don’t be afraid of embracing the mindset that you are a business owner.
Have a Plan
A quick scroll through Instagram and Etsy show lots of artists who are selling their work as a ‘side-hustle’. It takes time to be able to sell enough work to make a living as an artist, so it’s natural many of us start out this way. Again, I did! My training was actually in children’s illustration and my job was a tree surgeon when I first started to sculpt and sell my work!
With these humble beginnings, it’s easy as an artist to ‘fall into’ doing it as a profession. It’s often necessary but can come with the consequence that we kind of fall into running the business, doing what’s necessary to keep up and don’t have a clear vision or direction. Which leads nicely to my second tip: Have a plan.
Skecth out your business the way you would a piece of your art. Sit down and think about the key elements of vision, marketing, delivering your product, customers and managing money. And any other aspects you will need to incorporate that may be specific to your art. For example, when sculpting with chainsaws, health and safety is a key factor.
When I was first working as an artist, I was working through someone else. It suited me, but I knew I needed to go independent. It was terrifying though!
I’m not especially academic.
I’m not a natural at maths.
I had no idea of what went into running a business.
These were real concerns, especially the last one! So I took a course. And that’s my third helpful tip for making a living as an artist. Get some training.
I started by asking the local council, and it turned out they had a free course. It wasn’t everything I needed as it told me the ‘what’ of running a business, but not the ‘how’. However, it was a good starting point.
16 years on from that and there is a massive online skillshare community and selection of online courses. Business hubs have popped up in towns and cities. Charities and CICs exist that give people the skills they need to run their own company.
My advice is that if you’re thinking of making a living as an artist, search for courses in your area or online that will set you on the right foot.
You are Your Brand
There’s so much to be said about branding. For now, let’s leave it as you are your brand. Know who you are and what you do, and get help with branding if needed.
A helpful tip though is to use your name. As an artist you need your name to be synonymous with a certain style or product. You want people to recognise a piece as being yours and know who to commission if they want something similar. This means including your name.
Of course, it doesn’t eliminate having a fun or creative name. For example: Tree Carving by Simon O’Rourke.
My next tip is to get connected. Start going to local business networking events. Join the groups on Facebook. You don’t know who you may meet! There could be connections to commissions or connections to help that you need, for example, maybe a web designer or an accountancy firm. You may also find inspiration from someone who is doing what you’re doing andmaybe even mentoring! It can be intimidating at first (as a bloke with a chainsaw I definitely didn’t think I would fit in!) but the benefits are MASSIVE! Liz and I (my wife runs the business with me) have met so many lovely people and made some very helpful connections.
Remind Yourself of the Big Picture
One of the lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it’s very easy to get super focused on one area of business. I’ve had struggles with time management and priorities and sometimes focused too heavily on what I’m good at or enjoy versus what needed doing. None of this is good! And so, one of the helpful tips for making a living as an artist that I’ve learned, is to step back and look at the big picture.
Take stock periodically. Refine and revise what needs changing. When you can afford to, bring on help where you need it, whether that be about skill set limitations or about smart use of your time/skills. And don’t over-refine or be tempted to see every check-in as a catalyst for change. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
There was a LOT more that we talked about in the seminar, but for now, I’m going to leave the tips with this one: PERSEVERE!
Making a living as an artist isn’t easy. There will be times you want to give up. I’ve been there. But surround yourself with people who will encourage you at those times, give yourself grace to make mistakes, give yourself time and space to find your niche, and KEEP GOING! Slow and steady wins the race, and in time you can build yourself a thriving business as a creative.
If you found these tips helpful and would like to hear more, please follow my Simon O’Rourke Facebook page for updates on future events.
For commissions, please use the form at www.treecarving.co.uk/contact.