Stop me if this sounds familiar:
You graduated a year (or two or five years) ago with high honours and the greatest hopes for your bourgeoning career in the arts.
Maybe you were going to be a brilliant poet, or painter, or sculptor, or DJ, or performance artist or writer – but whatever it was – you were going to be living a creative, independent lifestyle, making your voice and unique perspective on life, the universe and everything known to the community at large.
The fact that you had to take a shitty customer service or tele-surveying job is just what new artists have to do before the world sits up and takes note of your brilliance.
Am I ringing any bells?
You still make art and you’re still involved in the creative communities that mean so much to you – but it’s not exactly paying the bills.
Worse – you’re still working your shitty service job because at the end of the day, bills need to be paid and food put on your table.
You may get the occasional gig, and that vernissage you put on last year was just lovely, I promise – but it’s not enough. It’s not what you’d planned for yourself, and it’s not how you see the rest of your life shaping up.
What’s a creative type to do?
Why You’re Not Making a Living as an Artist
Before we get into how you can turn some of your art into cold, hard cash, let’s look at why so many artists fail to make it happen – and it’s not some kind of high-minded refusal to sell out. That’s just what you tell your parents.
It’s simply that most artists, writers, designers and musicians are great at what they do – really spectacular! But they know shit-all about business. Starting one, running one, growing one – no one went over any of that stuff in college because of the beautiful but false myth that talent will rise to the top and be recognized.
It won’t. Being amazing at what you do isn’t enough. Not nearly.
It doesn’t matter how epic your short stories are, how sublime your oil paintings, how incendiary your beats – if no one knows what you’re doing – no one cares.
Making art isn’t enough to make a living through art – you need to dive into business and get your hands dirty, meet the right people, find the right market and charge the right price.
It’s hard, mostly thankless work, the potential for failure is high, and screwing up will feel like a decisive kick in the groin.
In short – creating a business is very much like creating art.
You take a set of tools that are more or less common across the board, and manipulate them to reflect your vision.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
What is a business, really?
Quite simply, you can have a business if you have something to sell, a person to sell it to and a way to collect payment.
That’s it. That’s all.
I’ve got a little exercise for you:
- Get a blank sheet of paper, and draw a line down the center of it. On one side write: “Things I can do.” On the other side write: “Who cares?”
- Fill in the “Things I can do” side with all of the skills, relating to your craft, that you poses. This can mean anything from the ability to draw a recognizable portrait, to play an instrument, to wedge clay, to speak eloquently, to dress with style, to mix colors, to keep a workplace clean to recognize obscure musical references. Go as far afield as you can and list every single thing that contributes to you being able to conceive of and produce art.
- Fill in the “Who Cares” side with every type of person who might possible be able to use (and be willing to pay for) that skill. If you can’t think of anyone who might care about knowing someone who has a particular skill – cross out that skill.
- Cross out the ones that make you sad to look at and think about.
- Re-copy the rest into a fresh list. It might look like this:
- Write eloquently – People who need about pages.
- Edit and Proofread – Students and bloggers.
- Play an instrument – College guys wanting to impress their girlfriends.
Do you see where this is going?
Do you sketch beautiful pictures? What a wonderful mother’s day gift someone could give!
Do you play music and like people? So many folks want to learn how!
Do you have a gift for witty prose? How many best men are aching to get out of writing a speech themselves?
You don’t have to be doing it the traditional way to be making money from your talent – you just need something that will act as a bridge while you’re getting out there.
Hammering all of this out is one thing, of course – getting someone to pay attention – and then pay you money, is another.
But it’s not really all that hard.
Craigslist and Kijiji are amazing starting places, a well-placed flyer can work wonders, and even a professional looking website can be knocked together without too much effort,
And dollars to donuts you’re already on Facebook and Twitter.
Stop pussy-footing around and TRY. The worst that will happen is you’ll be out a few hours and know that you’ve eliminated a possibility from your list.
Figure out what you can do. Figure out who might care. Make the offer.
This has been a very, very brief run-down of how to start an artistic side project – turning it into a real business is another kettle of fish.
But if I know anything, I know this: it’s possible. There are as many ways to bring joy and inspiration and insight to the world as there are artists and there is always someone who wants to know what you have to say – they just might not be aware of it yet.
If this interests you at all – if this is getting the motors in your head going a little bit – I’d like to point you at a few resources that I’m a real believer in:
Be a Freelance Blogger – Make money by freelancing. Do it today.
The BootStrapper Guild – Micro-business building and growing
The Art of NonConformity – Creating an interesting life – and financing it.
Firepole Marketing – Get more real people to pay you more money, more often.
Fine Art Tips – Blog, business and social media tips especially for fine artists.
None of these are affiliate links- just honest recommendations for blogs and companies doing work I think you can get a lot of value out of (Full Disclosure – Firepole Marketing is my day job).
And of course – I would be remiss if I gave you this tip of the iceberg without offering more.
If you’re looking at this process and saying to yourself “it will never work for me!” Get in touch! Leave a comment, send me an email – reach out and let’s talk about it!
It’s not a matter of IF you can make a living doing what you love – it’s just a matter of when and how.
(If you like this, and would like to see more about starting businesses, side projects and making money from artsy-skills – please leave a comment to that effect!)
Megan Dougherty (@Megan_Rae_D)is serious about wanting to talk about your ideas – she really is interested!