Monday, September 6, 2010

It's Not Easy Being an Artist

Being an artist is not an easy career. It was hard enough for the likes of those, like dear Vincent, who didn't have to contend with all the technologially savvy folks in the world today. And when you add the idea of online stores, along with craft shows perhaps and local marketing... well, being an artist becomes a lot more challenging, and yes, sometimes difficult. Let's think through what is involved in this particular profession.

1. The actual creativity side... Sure, this is what everyone thinks of when you tell them you are "an artist." People have a rose-colored vision of somebody who works in a pleasant, sun-lit space playing around with pretty colors and paints and metals and beads or any such medium, listening to music and always smiling. That creative aspect is the reason we become artists: the pull, the absolute desire to create; the need to express what is inside our soul, heart, and mind; the need for our hands to make something beautiful or maybe not so beautiful, depending on what the story is; the unexplainable draw to get out to the studio alone and let those feelings fly. It is the "fun" side of being an artist, but it is a definite need and it can also be quite frustrating at times.

2. The marketing side... Okay, so you've created your art. How do you price it? How do you sell it? Two tricky dilemmas that each artist must work out on his or her own terms. Pricing is not easy, especially when you are fairly new to the game. And after you've priced, now what to do with your art? You can sell locally, wholesale or on commission. But first you must get out there and beat the pavement looking for the shops or galleries where you work will fit in. You can join an artist community or organization... highly recommended... so that you can learn of opportunities and you can do joint shows. You can build a website to showcase your work, adding Buy It Now opportunities for viewers if you desire. You can join any number of online communities already set up to help you sell your art... Ebay, Artfire, Etsy, etc. Some artists also market their work through other online social media... Twitter, Facebook, or oh so many more. Just remember that for each way an artist chooses to market, there is much, much time involved.

3. The maintenance side... Once you have decided how to go about marketing and selling your work, there's the business aspect of keeping up with those retail stores who are selling your work or of maintaining your online shops, websites, blogs and social media. This is no small task. What does this involve? For retail stores and galleries, it means inventories and checking in every so often, either through phone calls or visits, changing out items seasonally or even more often than that. For blogs and social media, it means posting at regular intervals so that your work is out there and so that your followers will continue to see you in some form or fashion. Posts can be simple (a photograph or two of new work) or more time-consuming (detailed processes or collections). For online stores and shops, a little more is involved. Because people can't actually hold your art in their hand or view it up close and personally, you have to provide would-be buyers with a good look on their computer screen. This entails....
---- Photography... and it better be good. Your product will not sell if your photos are blurry, badly lit, congested with other objects. So you can spend hours, and I mean hours, taking the photos, cropping the photos, adjusting lighting and color, and then uploading the photos to your site.
---- Product description... a tricky and time-consuming aspect. You must create wording that will sell your product. How much do you say? Good question. People need to understand what your art is, why you created it, how it can and should become a part of their life or home. You have to say enough about it, but not too much, and you need to write it using language that is creative, like your art, but also clear and easy to read.
---- Titles... these are also important, and not just in paintings or collages but also for jewelry and other types of art. Titles get people's attention. They can be sweet, bold, unusual, earthy, shocking. And in online shops, they are also used, along with tags, in web searches to help people find your work.
---- Tags... words or phrases that describe your art, whether through color, design, style, materials, emotions, or any number of things. These are used in online searches and in website searches. Create tags well, and your work is found. And yes, this can be another time-consuming area.

4. The packaging side... Once you've sold something online, you must wrap it up for shipping out. You must have supplies on hand to do so: business cards, hang tags, bubble wrap, tissue paper, string, ribbons, gift boxes, shipping envelopes or boxes... it all depends on what you are selling. If I have sold a piece of jewelry, I take extra time to make the packaging quite attractive and even color-coordinated. And I take even more time to decorate the backside of the mailing envelope with my catchphrase "Make a Joyful Noise" complete with birds and music notes. Why? Because I think it's important to make the buyer feel special and to be glad that he or she purchased from me. It's fun to receive a pretty package in the mail and to open up layers of ribbons and tissue paper and organza bags to finally retrieve the piece that was purchased. I have received packages that are nothing special... protectively wrapped, of course, but nothing pretty, nothing fancy. And I have received packages, such as the one pictured here from Etsian GlazedOver, that are so lovingly wrapped with beautiful cards and fun ribbons or personalized in some way. Which do you think is more fun to open?

5. The shipping side... Now that your package has been wrapped in whatever way you choose, it must be shipped. For some, that means the shipping service will come to your home or studio and pick up your package for you. For others, like me, I must make the trek to the Post Office to ship out my package. This can be easy, or it can be difficult, oftentimes depending on the season of the year (gift-giving holidays... eegads!) and sometimes depending on the moods of the postal employees. But whichever, it adds an additional time and cost to the ordeal of selling online.

6. And then there's what I call research... An artist should keep up with what is going on in the world of art and the world of retail. Depending on what you create, you must keep in mind the seasons, the colors of the seasons, what other artists are doing, what is selling. You should acquaint yourself with those whose online shops do quite a bit of business. Follow blogs of artists whose work you admire. An artist can find inspiration in many ways, and seeing what is out there and what is new can sometimes inspire. But if you stumble about blindly, not keeping up with other artists and not finding support in a community, you may be doomed from the start.

So there is the profession of an artist in a nutshell. I know there is much I have left out and much other artists would add. But here you see it isn't easy; it is time-consuming, it can be costly in more ways that simply buying the materials needed for the creativity aspect, and it can be quite frustrating. Why, then, do some folks practically give away their art? More on that in the next post.


  1. Very thoughtful posting, Rebecca and good questions raised! Sigh! WIll look forward to the next installment!

  2. I can't understand it, either, Rebecca. It bogs me down at times...wish I had a better handle on it. I love the contact with my customers, and when I have THAT I'm extremely satisfied!

  3. thank you rebecca~ you've summed up so many important points very thoroughly! and yes, why is that? can't wait for part 2...

  4. Thank you for taking the time to write this. I loved reading it and it is right on.
    I will recommend it to a few newbie artists I know.

  5. Very insightful Rebs. I think one of the hardest parts is making things, never knowing if you will sell them.

  6. ... AND THEN...

    there is the entire SEO (search engine optimization) ORDEAL...
    The internal venue search engines as well as the Google search engines which operate differently and are not necessarily tuned into each other !!

    Doing the Adword research for those tags and then learning how to read Google Analytics or the urls statistics on your online product listings !!


    I swear selling online is a HUGE endevour with no guaranteed successes and even when arrived at may only be momentary. I wish it was -slightly-easier !

    All of this (running your own business) makes working at a supermarket look easy. Sometimes... that notion seems more attractive as the pay is guaranteed. Its no fun working 12 hrs a day without pay :(

    Best wishes & blessings to all of us !

  7. You did a great job summarizing it all. Definitely not an easy profession. . .

  8. Yes, yes, and YES! You've thought it out carefully Rebecca, and you've said it well indeed. And, of course, you've lived it all too. Thank you for expressing so clearly, and beautifully, what so many of us feel. I'm looking forward to your next installment!

  9. Wonderful post, Rebecca!! You said it all...

  10. So true, Rebecca. Certainly the world has always known that being an artist--a dedicated, full time professional artist--is not for the faint of heart. But now, with the way the marketplace is morphing into an altogether new animal, it is even less so. And the larger the marketplace becomes, the more one has to invest in creativity's support system (ie, marketing), and that's a challenge. It is good to discuss this topic in depth. I look forward to your next post (and thank you for that delicious nod to glazedOver!).

  11. Wonderful insight Rebecca! My biggest problem is I buy so much supplies, I'm in a hole right now, LOL! I hope to recoup the cost over the Holiday season.


  12. excellent post, rebecca!
    i just made my way over here after reading sherry's last post. we all have so much to organize and so many decisions to make. I think Sherry said it best when she said "Sometimes to make room for the things you love, you have to give up the things you like."
    we can't do it all and if we do try to do it all, it may all end up being mediocre and that just isn't worth it!
    it's fascinating to me that we are all in this prioritization mode.

    why do they give it away? because they can't sell it. they want to sell it, but they just can't. i think when artists get desperate, we see it in their prices. it takes confidence to ask for the true value of things.
    i recently walked away from selling my paintings because i had to admit to myself that i can't sell my art. i can sell paper. i have been trying to understand why i can sell one thing and not the other. here are some reasons why that might be:
    1. relevancy: what do people need/want right now in this time and this place? this is a special time and things are different now than ever before. we need to stay relevant.
    2. usefulness: people are more cautious about how they spend their money and their time because there just isn't enough of anything. usefulness is more important now than ever before.
    3. too personal: my art is perhaps more about me than others. to reach a wider audience, i would need to create something with more universal appeal. to sell art, i would need to separate from it enough to determine the true value.

    will try to check in for your next post. great topic!

    ps i love jill's extra touches with her packaging--so clever and thoughtful!

  13. Wow!! I feel as though I just read a crash coarse on my own Brain!!! Awesome Rebecca, and Kendra...and Jill....and ........

    You touched on the Big Points of being an Artist in today's "All about me, want it yesterday" world. It's A LOT OF WORK!! My husband is absolutely astounded at the amount of time that it takes me to sell my work compared to how much time it takes me to actually make it. If I looked at my life carefully from a distance, I would probably come to the same conclusion that "Brizel" did about working in a grocery store, or anywhere else. But then the River of Passion that is my art would go.....?

    And Kendra hit the nail on the Relevance head. And that, of course, changes too. What's Relevant today, won't necessarily be so in 6 months. It's kind of scary, being an Artist I think, with out some kind of faith/hope that it's all going to turn out OK. At least that's how it works for me.

    Thank you so much Rebecca, another Post of yours to print out and keep. Can't wait for the next installment....

  14. Fantastic post! You covered it so well! Whew! Just watched a program called "Cinderellas of Santa Fe" about artists with great educations trying to start an art career and having to work two or three jobs just to survive! It's really inspiring and depressing at the same time! Just like your post! Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences.

  15. Yes.
    And, It's not easy at all.
    Yet it's wonderful too.
    Great post.