Let’s have some real creative career talk.
Is it ever too soon to start an art business? I am a cheerleader for other creators. I love seeing artists take the leap from hobby to professional creator, and I have a lot of blog posts on this website that caters to people at that stage. But, not everyone should jump into selling their art right away, or ever, honestly. It is possible to jump into an art career too fast. When I say that, I don’t mean there will be terrible consequences or anything, but you’re more than likely not going to meet your expectations.
I say this because I did this very thing in 2010. I jumped headfirst into making a business of my art and I smacked headfirst into failure. Maybe this isn’t you at all, but I know a lot of us struggle with similar situations and maybe you will find value in the lessons I have learned. Before you read on, I do want to say that even with hindsight, I wouldn’t change anything about what I did in 2010, because it was an incredible learning opportunity and I wouldn’t be who I am as an artist now without all that fumbling around–but, if you are more open to suggestions than I would have been, then this post is for you.
Why you need to perfect your craft, deal with your sh*t, and find your artistic vision before you jump into an art business:
Sometimes you can’t rush the process.
When I first started selling my art almost a decade ago, I did it all wrong. I didn’t have a clue how to be a professional artist, because I was busy being a college student and a miserable human. I thought an art business could save me from the real world. (Quick back story: I was severely depressed from past trauma and wasn’t ready to be an adult. It’s cool, though. I’m mostly over it.)
While chasing my dream of artistic escape, I tried multiple times to succeed with art and just kept failing to make it happen.
Why? So many reasons:
I had no idea who I was as an artist. I had no clear branding. My work was disconnected. My message was muddled and incoherent. I had no vision. I couldn’t depend on being in a good enough mood to get sh*t done. Also, I gave up on things too quickly when all I needed was to persist down that path. I was too desperate to succeed. (More on this last point below.)
The only things working in my favor were: 1. I loved art and 2. I had decent technical skills. But, skill and love were not enough to make art a business. It’s fair to say I simply wasn’t ready to be a professional artist, and I badly needed art therapy–and real therapy…I just needed ALL the therapy.
Creating art is about the process and not a destination.
Okay, desperation for success. I’ve talked to multiple artists over the last year who are impatient to get started making money with their creations. It’s the dream, right? Do the thing you love and be able to make a living. But why? Is it possible that instead of living the dream of making art, we are just desperately clinging to the hope that we can live a life that doesn’t make us miserable? Or that we desperately need a break, but can’t actually separate ourselves from our society’s capitalistic requirements and so we force our hobbies to turn a profit?
Is making a business what you are supposed to do with your art at this very moment? If you feel conflicted and antsy and are hoping success with art will save you from something, I urge you to dive deeper into your intentions. What is it that you really need right now?
Why do you create?
Your intention for creating matters. We use art for a variety of reasons, but they can all be condensed into three main categories.
- Art as a hobby/for funsies/passion
- Art as therapy/self discovery/escape/a means to make meaning
- Art as a profession/source of income
Any reason to create is a great reason and a lot of times these reasons overlap, but it’s important to understand your intentions and your needs before jumping into art as a profession. When you create art as a hobby, you are doing it purely for yourself. It’s something that is enjoyable and something that occupies your free time and fulfills you.
When you create art as therapy, you are using it as a sort of meditation. Your life may be stressful and art helps you release that stress. It helps you discover more about yourself and find a sense of peace. Art as therapy charges up your internal energy and helps you heal.
When you create art professionally, it becomes your life. It’s your source of stress, your misery, your happiness. It’s your burden and your gift. You push yourself to create even when you lack inspiration, you take care of all of the mundane tasks that you can avoid when using art as a hobby or therapy, and most importantly you understand what you are trying to say to your audience.
Energy In vs. Energy Out
Anytime you shift from therapy or hobby to art as a profession, you are changing the artistic process. Specifically, the energy input and output in the process changes.
When you create art as a hobby or as therapy, the positive energy that you get out of the process is usually higher than the energy you put in. This is why it’s so satisfying. I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m saying the process mostly charges you up rather than draining you.
When you create art as a profession, you have to put WAY more energy into the process. You still get positive energy back, but it’s going to feel like work at times. You may even feel completely drained on bad days.
When I was using art as therapy and tried to shift to starting a business, I didn’t have the energy to keep up with professional demands. The energy I was getting out of my art was used to heal me. When I diverted that energy to spreadsheets, taxes, customer interactions, marketing, and the goal of making money, I created an internal imbalance. I did this over and over again, creating constant frustration.
Get Your Sh*t Together Before Adding the Stress of an Art Business
Art can save us from ourselves, but if we try to force too much out of it too quickly, it can backfire. I ignored that I needed to heal my internal wounds and hoped finding success would make me feel better. I’m sure you’ve heard the stereotype that artists are tortured and depressed. Some believe that this is the source of their creativity, but I’m calling bullsh*t on that.
When I was at my darkest points, I was empty and couldn’t create anything. It’s when I find the light that I feel most creative. More importantly, when I found my light, I was able to sustain productivity and maintain the energy needed to consistently put energy into my business. This is why I say you need to figure your sh*t out. Be a healthy artist.
But, if you want to be a tortured artist, go for it. If you want to find internal peace and contentment–embrace art as therapy. Get lost in the process. Find yourself and put your pieces together. Put your money-making goals aside for a little while. Art doesn’t have to make you money to make you whole.
If You Already Have Your Sh*T Together, Then Find Your vision
Okay, so let’s say you are doing art as a hobby and you aren’t a dysfunctional human like I was. High five! That’s awesome! Before you consider making it a full-time thing, think about your brand.
I talk about branding a lot because you and your art are products to advertise and sell. Get used to that idea. As an artist, YOU are a product. Your story, your personality, and your Instagram are products. How are you going to package all of these products and deliver a clear and cohesive message to your audience?
Perfect your Craft
Alright, so you are a functional human. You have a clear idea of your branding and your artistic vision. Now you get to practice and refine your message and skill set.
I say that technical skill ultimately doesn’t matter when you are pursuing art as a career, BUT what does matter is consistency and style. Look at the weird a** faces Picasso painted. They are not technically accurate at all. A lot of people may scoff at the work and say things like “anyone could do this.” What makes work like this significant is that it’s intentional. It’s consistent and it’s building on a specific style.
Whatever you do, do it with intention. Do it consistently. Do it over and over again.
If you are like me back in 2010 and have a crap ton of disconnected pieces and styles, then keep pushing until you hone in on what it is you’re trying to say. (If your goal is to be an artist that creates the visions of others, then ignore that advice and keep working on your various skills and styles.)
In summary, before you jump into an art business think about these three things:
- Mental Health: Do you have your sh*t together? Are you hoping art will save you from something? You may just need to focus on the healing power of art. Maybe talk to a counselor. Find a cat to pet. If you aren’t happy now, finding success with art likely won’t fix that.
- Your Artistic Vision: Do you have a vision for your art? Is your branding cohesive and clear? Do you know what you are trying to say? Do you know who you are?
- Your Craft: Are you intentional and consistent in your craft? Do your skills need work?
You can dive into an art business head first before having anything of this figured out. I did it. I don’t regret it. It’s all part of my artistic journey. But, had I known back in 2010 that I was going to fail so many times because my head wasn’t in the right place I might have tried to enjoy the process more–but in all reality, I would have done things exactly the same because “don’t you dare tell me what I can and can’t do!” was kind of my mantra.
Though, I can confidently say that once I had worked on my internal issues and no longer needed art to heal me, I felt ready and energized to pursue are fully as a career.
Do you think you’re ready?
Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post.
P.S. You probably know by now that I am here to help artists with these posts. If you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.