One of my favourite things about working as an artist is explaining to children that I draw pictures for a living. The look in their eyes as they can’t quite believe that someone could grow up to draw pictures all day, and that hang on-they have that skill set already!! Recently, I had a lovely moment explaining my day job to my friends six year old daughter (though she would probably be un-amused if I didn’t say that she is ALMOST SEVEN). She was stunned that drawing could be like, well, an actual job. So after feeling pretty pleased with myself (I’m not gunna lie, impressing an almost-seven-year-old made me feel pretty cool), I started thinking about what my life as an artist is like in reality. And yeh ok there is a lot of drawing involved, but my god is there so much more to it than that!
What my job title should really be, is this:
Artist come Administrator, come Accountant, come Book Keeper, come Customer Service Operative, Business Representative, Receptionist, Sales Representative, Financial Investor, PR Manager, Social Media Marketer, Driver, Builder, and Website Designer, not to mention Self-Assessing Therapist for those days when the to-do-list is endless and I can’t grasp basic tasks such remembering how to work out percentages on a calculator or if I take sugar in my coffee. And trust me, there is A LOT of coffee.
Juggling all these tasks can be a real challenge; and I am perhaps more prepared for meeting multiple deadlines and performing multidisciplinary tasks than the average person, thanks to my academic background. Both under-grad and post-grad studies really taught me skills in self-reliance and organisation, not to mention the ability to blag it in subjects I haven’t got a clue about. All of which have been crucial in setting myself up as a small business (wahay!). That being said, most of the time I am floating somewhere between the composed yet slightly impromptu 9am stress sweats “look at me, I am so organised, I have a list” and the manic “it’ll be fine, everything is fine, it’s all FIIIIIIINE” flap of 9:30pm beer o’clock writing lists for the next day.
If I could have had someone tell me the real crux of being a self employed artist, I’m pretty sure they would have said “go on a business course, get an accountant, get a website designer, and apply for a start up loan”. Or at the very least “You’re crazy! Don’t do it!”
Well naturally, as an MSc grad without the bank of mum and dad, I have accrued a rather appalling credit rating de to my academic loans. So there’s applying for a business loan out the question, as is getting an accountant (ironic) or a web designer, or paying for the most basic of things such as advertisement. So I have had to learn all these things on my own, as I have gone along. I’ve learnt a lot about SEO, online marketing, social media strategies, and how to reach my target audience, as well as product photography (I did actually give in and pay for professional photographs of my original artworks but it paid off within a week as I made my first independent sale). Then there was learning website design to create my own online shop so I could make my artwork more affordable by selling directly from me, the artist. It took me two weeks of solid 8 hour days learning how to set up my website by watching hundreds of hours of you-tube tutorials, tearing my hair out, and general trial and error. I’m still not 100% happy with it but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Then I have to promote all this hard work, to attract buyers, gallery owners, and art critics. Thankfully I quite enjoy social media because I like interacting with people from all over the world- the internet really has made our potential to reach new people limitless. Yet it takes time to not only build an audience, but to keep up to date with all the different platforms from facebook and instagram to twitter and snapchat and pinterest. I actually draw the line at snapchat-I mean, what is it really? I’ve done free online courses for social media, etsy, and starting a mailing list. I’ve put in hours of time photographing, editing, uploading, and listing my products onto various sites to work out which selling platforms work best; and I’ve run competitions and done giveaways. I regularly do craft fairs and art shows, and have so far realised that a good or bad day can simply fall down to the type of weather, or the time of the month. I submit my work to competitions, to art galleries, to magazines, I send countless emails and make endless phone calls, to the point where I wish I had an agent to do all this for me…because all the while I’m being all the other things, I really just want to be making art.
And then there are the “me days”. The days where I lock myself away in my half built studio, working from a plethora of extension cables surrounded by brickwork and half finished paintwork (paintwork that I will finish “after work”). I lock myself away and I create. No internet, no social media or emails, no phone calls, no nothing. No stress. I put on my music, and I draw, and I burn, and I let the hours wash over me. I spend hours upon hours working from photographs of animals, re-familiarising myself with their anatomy, their behaviour, their soul. And that, is why I do all the other stuff. For “me days”. For art.