On Becoming a Working Artist

09/23/14

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Yep, sometimes I feel like a bit of a maniac, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In 2001, I took my first painting class. I was 31 years old, and looking for something to fill my time outside of my job at an education non-profit. I was slightly nervous. I hadn’t taken an art class since I was a kid. I didn’t even take art in high school or college. I was creative, yes, and I sewed and made crafts at home. But an artist? No way. Would I enjoy it? Would I be any good? I had no idea.

That painting class changed my life. Not in a big explosive way. And not overnight. But it set me on a trajectory that led to what I do today. Fifteen years later, I am a working artist. At first it was a hobby — a hobby that gained momentum and grew exponentially as I grew artistically and as I began to share my work on the Internet, which was relatively new at the time. Then several years later, in 2007, I left my job and began my self-employed life.

Along the way, there was no guidebook for me. I was self taught, and I’d never gone to art school. I was intimidated by the art world and had no clue about the worlds of illustration or licensing. Even selling my work on a platform like Etsy (also new back then) felt overwhelming. But over the course of time, I asked a lot of questions to whoever would listen and I read as much as I could. I tried new things. I kept a blog. As awkward as it felt, I began to spread the word about what I was making through all the ways that were available to me — in hopes that people would buy it, or want to hire me for an illustration job, or ask me to be in a gallery show.

And for a few years, all that effort felt frustrating. Stuff happened (the sales, the illustration jobs, the shows), but it came slowly. My income didn’t add up to as much as I wanted or needed. But the art-making part was so fulfilling to me (in a way I had never experienced) that I kept at it, with the hope that some day I would hit a tipping point and begin to make a regular, full time income as an artist. I was determined.

And then at the end of 2010, I hit my tipping point. And for the last four years I have been in a place of opportunity — sometimes so great that it is as overwhelming as the frustration I felt when I was first starting out. In the course of a few years, I went from starving (not literally, of course) to thriving.

On that path, I learned many things about what worked and what didn’t. I began to write them down. And in 2012 I began to work with Chronicle Books to write Art Inc: The Essential Guide for Building Your Career as an Artist, which came out this past August. In this book I wrote about all the stuff that I did that led to a steady income, steady work, and an abundance of opportunity so that I could share that information with other artists who are just starting out. I also interviewed almost 20 people — successful artists, agents and gallery owners — on their perspectives about what it takes.

This September 30 – October 1, I am teaching a two day intensive online class through CreativeLive called Become a Working Artist. The class is based on Art Inc, but goes deeper, and will cover things like goal setting and action planning, the nuts and bolts of selling your work, demystifying the worlds of illustration, licensing and fine art, promoting your work successfully and managing work flow. My goal is to give people who are interested in making a living as an artist practical information that will help jumpstart or enhance their process. Whether you are interested in making a full or part time living, this class will give you concrete information to help you on your path. If you watch the class live, it’s free. Or you can watch it later (and take your time with the content) for $79. You can RSVP for the free class (or purchase it now) here.

I hope to see you there.

Have a happy Tuesday!

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