Above: my 2009 studio in South Carolina at The White Whale studios
Unless you are employed by a company like Disney, and clock in and out for your job titled “Artist,” the artist is a professional that is largely self-managed. You make your own hours, your own schedule, and have the flexibility that goes along with it–something very alluring and that most people dream of. However, along with this freedom comes a heavy responsibility, as any entrepreneur knows. Yes, you may be doing what you love, but you also have to figure out all the aspects of the business. As a visual artist, this includes not just creating the work, but finding ways to get it in front of other people. The different avenues of your workday may include:
Creation: brainstorming, sketching, spending time listening to music or podcasts while doodling ideas and plans. Making paintings, preparing canvases, the physical act of putting pen, pencil or paintbrush to the canvas.
Organization: Dating, signing, packing, filing, keeping your artworks organized.
Records: getting photographs taken of finished artworks, filing photographic records in your computer, keeping records of recent sales and collector information, planning upcoming show dates and keeping a record of sales made at recent shows and also expenses such as art supplies, transportation, framing, etc.
Planning Ahead: submitting your artwork to exhibition opportunities, writing grant proposals, planning out your year’s (or at least next few month’s) exhibition and work activities. This also includes creative goals such as “Complete a new body of work in 3 months” or “Have a solo show in 12 months”. You may not know exactly how to get there, but by setting an intention that you will, you’d be surprised how you’re able to figure it out! That’s because the brain is a problem-solving machine. It tackles problems and creatively finds ways to get to a goal when you give it something to work for! One idea is to write down a big goal for the year and put it somewhere you’ll see it often, like above your easel. That way when you see it every day, your mind will go into creative problem-solving mode subconsciously without you having to think about it.
Networking: I like to think of this as creative socialization. After a solo day in the studio it’s good to get out and about to different events–art related, and not. Sometimes the best connections come from meeting people in unrelated fields. Going to a cultural event is never wasted. Just always bring your business cards. This also includes your online presence in social media sites. When people comment on your work, respond! It’s a conversation just like it would be in real life, and the more you are engaged with others and interested in them, the more people will engage with you and believe you have something to offer, not just trying to get something from them.
Marketing/Branding: Although many artists believe themselves to be “pure”, “noncommercial,” and eschew anything to do with the term marketing, even that decision goes into their branding style. So I like to think of this not as marketing, but as authentically spreading your message. What is the essence of your work? Your lifestyle? Your vision? What inspires you? Envision the colors, scenes, themes and styles of work that you’re all about. Now when you make an art piece or post something to social media, make sure it’s consistent with your artistic vision. What issues are central to your work? Seek out organizations and other people who align themselves with those issues too. There is strength in numbers and none of us exist in a vaccuum. After all, art is meant to be seen.
Rest: Just as important as working, rest is important to prevent burnout or even injury. It’s crucial to step away from your painting or computer work every 2 hours at the very minimum. Take a 15 minute coffee break, walk around the block, or even take a short nap–this prevents hand related injuries and also keeps your mind fresh. When you come back, you’ll see the piece with new eyes and spot things you’d like to change you may not have seen before.
There are many more details to the life of an artist, but I think the best part is the creativity. The generation of ideas and their execution is what makes an artist by definition an artist. But we only get so much energy in a day, and the trick is to decipher what tasks, creative and otherwise, are important to do. As Lera Aurbach advises in her book Excess of Being, “Edit your actions. Edit your surroundings. Edit your thoughts. Cut, cut, cut.” It’s then we’ll be able to accomplish what is important to us and not get distracted by the 100 things pulling at our attention each day. It’s definitely possible if you focus. The cool thing is that we as artists get to be creative not only in our art, but in our career paths as an artists as well.