making art my business

hi everyone. now that mardi gras has come and gone, it’s time to get back to the business of making art, and working on the actual business of my art.

to that end, i just finished a free online class from jessica serran who is an artist and coach who does various online courses throughout the year. i took another of her free offerings last summer called “5 days to jaw dropping art” and i felt it was pretty helpful and i made a piece of art that i still love. so when this one popped up in my feeds, i decided to sign up. i can use all the help i can get! and, well, i love free!

this one was called “artists on the rise: a 5-day deep dive to discover what it takes to create your epic art career.” (yes, her class titles are a bit wordy.) the class actually goes for about 3 weeks if you include the pre-class exercises and the post-class sales pitches for the paid course. like most of these online art courses, it centers around a facebook group where everyone who signs up can interact with jessica (the coach), the artist support team (artists who have taken the class already and help manage the facebook group), and each other. each day of the challenge you post your responses there as a sort of accountability, but also cuz there’s a prize giveaway at the end as motivation if you complete everything. sadly, i did not win any of the prizes. lol

but a lot of what jessica teaches is really great, especially if you are someone who has struggled to figure out how to turn your love of art and art making into a business that can support you. not everyone has this goal, and i only half the time think i do, which is probably why i haven’t ever really achieved it. i’ve never fully committed. i came the closest when i was a crafter and in the new orleans craft mafia, in those years post katrina when all that insurance money was flowing and folks were really wanting to support each other and rep new orleans as it rebuilt. i had become burnt out on my music journalism and DJ career even before katrina, so focusing on making things was both fun and therapeutic in that high-stress time. though i made a good deal of money during that time selling my wares, most of it was eaten up by “commuting” back and forth between louisville, ky and new orleans for three years, and a few years after i moved back home to new orleans, my personal life fell apart and i had to kind of abandon my creative stuff in favor of trying to build my pet business into something that could sustain me. (my ex-partner had been supporting me; i had no “real” job at the time.) the pet biz obviously worked out, for which i’m grateful; but now all these years later as time keeps on a ticking and i grow older, i feel like i’m running out of time to find out if i really could be an artist full time. (i’m also feeling very burnt out on the pet biz and my body is less able to keep up with the physical rigors of the job, which i fear will only get worse as i age.)

sometimes i feel so certain that it’s the dream i’ve had all my life, since college, when i first fell in love with painting and printmaking and photography. and sometimes i honestly feel like i would be happier if i didn’t have this urge, this compulsion, to create things and try to express myself AND SELL THESE THINGS. that maybe i should just keep my art to myself, for my personal self growth, and not complicate things by trying to sell stuff. i mean that’s kind of what i did for the past decade or so anyways; when i started the pet biz, i went several years without creating a damned thing, just working all the time and building my pet biz up and enjoying having a steady income. and then slowly over time, the urge to create kept nagging at me, so i started to make stuff again. and then cuz i can’t stop myself, i started posting online about what i was making. and people were encouraging and said they liked it and offered money, and boom, suddenly i’m back in the game of making stuff and selling it. but it’s been sporadic, and as a business, my art biz hasn’t made a profit in a really long time.

so for the past few years as i’ve ramped up my art practice again to be something more consistent, i’ve felt like i wanted to try to make the art biz turn a profit. and then i get caught up again in the dream of it being my life, my sole job, which is appealing since i’m so so burnt out on the pet biz now at the 14 year mark. but trying to make a living doing nothing but art is not easy. many people fail at it. and many successful artists still have their day jobs to pay the bills. cuz being “successful” as an artist doesn’t always translate to consistent sales.

all of this led me to be interested in jessica’s free class. on the first of the five days, she challenges you to come up with what your throughline is with your art – regardless of medium or discipline or subject. why do you do this and what is it that comes through in everything you make? figuring out what that is can then help you when writing an artist bio/statement and so the challenge is basically to do that, write a future-you artist statement. this exercise was really hard for me and i still feel like i need to go back and really figure that one out.

the second day was all about money, examining our relationship with money in our past and what we want it to be in our future. the exercise was to set some future-you money goals and then reverse-engineer how to do it, i.e. i wanna make x amount of money a year selling my art, so how many pieces of art do i need to sell at x amount to achieve that? and she pushes us to realize selling fewer larger pieces is easier than selling a ton of smaller pieces or prints, and that we are most likely undercharging for what we make. that we need to let go of the starving artist mentality and replace it with the well-resourced artist, making good money for our creations. that one just felt like fantasizing, frankly – i still see no real way for that to happen anytime soon. like maybe after 10 years of being super successful, but not now. because my friends and supporters are used to my prices being accessible/low, and i feel that bumping them up a lot would alienate a lot of the folks who’ve been with me for a long time on this journey. but i do also see that i can’t make a business plan out of selling $50 original paintings. so i’m going to try to be better about charging rates for my original work that are more fair to me, while not being outrageous either.

the third day was a challenge to reach out to previous buyers of our work and ask them why they bought it, what do they like about it, what does it do for them? i reached out to a few people; one replied. another friend volunteered when they saw my post on IG. we were supposed to have three but i never got any more responses so i just had the two. but they were both great. and honestly, i already know the answer to those questions for most people who buy my work, because they tell me all the time. my work brings them joy, makes them smile/happy, and the works that have words/messages on them serve as reminders to themselves or affirmations. no one said this but i’d venture to say some things i’ve created also help give buyers a sense of community or self-expression. these are all wonderful things to know that my work does for people – it’s really all i’ve ever hoped to do with what i make. make a connection, spread some joy and happiness or offer a message or an affirmation, channeling the light of the universe. it’s simple and kinda hokey but it’s true. (these things are basically my throughline in all the work i’ve done since my 20s.) but the point of this exercise is that these things that my art does for others, it’s worth something, has a value, that i should be charging for accordingly.

the fourth day we took an inventory of all the unsold artwork in our studios, gave them new prices (the higher, you-are-worth-it numbers), and totaled it up. mine came to about $8K which was low compared to most in the class but i didn’t get through all the paper pieces i made in the FYJ class and in the past year or two. (and i probably didn’t adjust the prices high enough.) and then the second part of the challenge is to list 33 ways you can start selling all that work TODAY. things that would take less than 10 minutes to do. i thought it would be hard to come up with 33 but once i got going it was pretty easy, as most of it was listing things in various places online. but the first was listing it all on etsy and then the others would be listing the etsy shop in a million places. there were other things, like starting a mailing list and posting online to get signups, which you may have seen me do last week. (there’s also a signup form on this page to the right.) now nothing guarantees if i list everything for sale that it will sell, but the concept is that action/movement invites the universe to support you, and you certainly aren’t going to sell any of it as it just sits in your studio gathering dust. so i am going to spend the listing fees to list as much as i can in the coming weeks as i have time. listing fees are for 4 months on etsy and i figure that should be enough time to see if it’s worth giving etsy another shot. (i do eventually want to have an ecommerce store on my own website but that will take much longer to figure out; etsy was the easy and fast option.)

on the last day of the 5 day class, the “inspired action” we were to take was to do 3 things from the list we came up with the day before, and then to note how it felt and what, if any, response there was. for me, i did make a signup form/link to my future art newsletter and posted it out to facebook, instagram and twitter… and the response was that a few people signed up. (now a week later, about 20 of my actual friends signed up but a bunch of random strangers and possibly bots did too so now i have more than 100 on my email list, which was my goal to have before i write an actual newsletter. i want to get a few things listed on etsy before i write the newsletter though, so that’s the homework for this weekend.) so that action felt good to do and great to get a response to.

the second action i wanted to take was to list 3 things on etsy, which i have started to do but since i have neglected my etsy shop for so long i realized it is outdated, so requires me going in and overhauling my profile and settings. also etsy is a lot more glitchy than it used to be so it’s certainly taken me more time than 10 minutes to get even one thing listed. but i will keep at it this weekend.

and the third thing was to check in with a few folks who’d expressed interest in some paintings i’d posted on instagram a while back, which i haven’t yet done but i will do so this weekend.

all of these are/were good exercises to do, and i will keep going over them as i move on. i took notes throughout the class on my ipad so i printed them out and pasted them into my studio journal so i’d have an easy reference to look back at.

i actually thought long and hard about whether to try to find a way to pay for jessica’s coaching program. the total amount ($11k for 12 months) is overwhelming and even the monthly payments of $1k/month felt ridiculous for me, as that’s more than i pay in rent each month. and as i am right now, i barely make ends meet paying my bills. i could charge one or two months on credit cards in hopes that working her program and buckling down could net me the money to cover it, but once i got a look at what her workbooks look like, the pace of work contained in the course month by month, i just realized i’m not ready to commit to something like that, especially considering my day job and all that i already have planned for the next several months. and i’m just not there yet with my current art work, like i am still just in the playing-with-paint phase of all this abstract stuff and i like being here, i don’t want to be rushed because i have to figure out how to sell it.

i’m sure what she does is great for people who are ready for it, who want a coach and a step-by-step program to advance their careers. it’s like a bootcamp for artists. or i guess in entrepreneurial terms, it’s an accelerator program. but i’m just not there yet and i have to trust my instincts. i’m not sure i’ll ever get to a place of wanting a program like that, but i’ll stay on her mailing list and keep it on the back burner and see where i am in a year. i’m grateful for the kick in the ass that the free 5 day challenge gave me and feel like that will keep me busy for a while as i continue to paint.