Creating stuff, whether it is photographs, films, paintings, sculpture, music, a blog, or any other art form is an addicting experience. Professional artists, are very lucky people because they get paid to do what they love, at least on the surface it seems. For those that are considering making their hobby a career, I say go for it, but be well aware of the challenge you are about to face. It's worth the effort, but you will undoubtedly be heartbroken several times along the way just due to the nature of business. You will have to take a beating on your journey, but if you stick it out, you can grow a following, and ultimately make a living on any level you can imagine.
While artistic style is a talent which some have, the fact is the more you are able to focus on your creations, the better you get at it. Just like anything else 10,000 hours of hard work makes you an expert at "your style". However, unlike many hobby's or careers, time off is actually incredibly important to the creative process. The more travel and experiences you have, the more you can reflect that into your work.
There is great satisfaction in the creative process. The ability to start something from scratch, and see it through to completion, is both daunting, and exhilarating. Satisfaction comes from conquering the challenge. If you are the kind of individual who is able to see things through, I want to give you a personal standing ovation because it is never easy. It's very easy to start an art project, but deciding when your done, and whether it meets your creative, and quality standards, isn't.
There is nothing wrong with making art just a hobby.
Some professionals have egos that would have you think that unless you are a pro, your work is insignificant. Nothing can be further from the truth. Having a real job rather than being in the business of art is a great idea if you prefer not to have to learn the art of business the hard way. Even better, you can work in the industry you love among professionals, and spend your free time creating for the sake of creativity. You can still share, build a following of your work if you wish, and take pride in the craftsmanship of your creations. In fact, it may be the best thing for you if it soothes your soul, and bears no outside pressures.
Personal Experience & Going Pro...
Survival as an artist can be a tricky one. There is a reason the phrase "starving artist" is so often used. Yes, marrying the creation of art and business is a challenge, but it can be done. I myself, have figured it out, sort of. I've managed to carve out a niche, which I feed a lot of attention to. However like Warhol for instance, I am a renaissance man. I am a photographer, filmmaker, painter, musician, writer, and entrepreneur pretty much in that order of ability. But, I enjoy them all immensely, and somehow I find myself owning a beautiful home, having an apartment in NYC, I travel frequently, and pretty much live an exciting life. I am the luckiest person I know. But, to get to this point, I had to learn a lot of things the hard way. Even tougher, to stay at this point, I have to continually come up with something new, create a market for it, and find a way to sell it, all while I also find time to continually work on it.
Find what you love to do, and you'll never do a day of work...
We have all heard a saying such as this... "In order to be successful you have to find something your passionate about, and your work will be a labor of love." There is much truth to that concept. However, if the love of your work life is an art, service, or both rather than a product for the masses, how does one grow a service, and craftsmanship style of business, when YOU are the creator of it all? Also, how can you financially succeed, or at least exist and feed a family, under such a circumstance? Let's take being a "photographer" as an example, even though there are many other professions that are similar in nature.
A Lone Artist...
Fact is, if you are an artist, and an entrepreneur, there is only so much you can accomplish on your own. In order to effectively grow your business, and have financial gains, you will inevitably have to hire people to support your efforts to be that, creative person, that everyone wants to hire.
However, finding that balance between being too small to succeed, and too large to stay true to your craftsmanship is a very big challenge. I know first hand, because I have struggled with this dream for 25 years now, and it never gets easier. I also have LOTS of friends and acquaintance’s trying to find this balance, and can see that this is a growing trend as well due to the unemployment rate, and financial situation of the world in general.
I want to be clear in this post that, even after all of these years, I love what I do so much that I would gladly do it for free. In fact I spend most of my "days off", if there is such a thing, creating images and videos just for the sake of creativity. I seek out charities, or people with ideas who have a special spark or concept that interests me, and I help them get their message across by creating films completely for free. I expect nothing in return, but of course hope that in some way, it does come back around. Often it does, and it becomes time well spent.
This is the life of an artist. We artists can't sit still, and once we have the zest for creating we want to be doing so all the time. So, here is the problem... How can you focus, and how can your clients expect you to focus, on being inventive and creative when your mind is dealing with accounting, billing, scheduling, meetings, working on current projects, putting a bow on it, and delivering it first class? Not to mention, the everyday time eating life challenges such as feeding the dog, getting kids off to school, fixing or cleaning the house, etc... Being a full time artist/entrepreneur is not for the lazy for sure. But, it's also not for the weak kneed because you will have to manage and pay people in order to serve your clients best, and that means you must charge appropriately in order to simply exist.
I can't believe what they charge!
Every artist, get's this call daily, and are often given a dose of phone etiquette unpleasantry. Why does this cost so much? You will unfortunately have to defend your art, even when you know it's worth every penny. Your clients will never fully understand why a simple "photograph, or painting, or film" costs what it does. For those that are NOT artists, allow me to shed some light on what you are NOT paying for... You aren't paying for photographic paper, canvas, or materials. These are the smallest fraction of the what goes into an artists ability to create.
Now, for those who are contemplating making their art a career choice, allow me to share what you need to be charging for besides your time. Because, of course you would undoubtedly do this for free if it weren't for the following... You have to take into account that you have to hire people to support your dream. First and foremost, there aren't enough hours in the day for you to be a lone soldier. You can survive, but it's difficult to financially succeed without help.
The part they didn't tell you about, in that speech about "do what you love..."
In the long run, to have any success, you will need an accountant, an assistant, a secretary, and a sales person at minimum. They can even be all the same person until you are in demand, and then you will have to add employees at some point. These employees won't share the same passion for your work that you do. You will have to pay them a decent salary, and you'll need to provide health care of course as well. It's a very fine balance because they won't be able to earn their own salary unless you, and your sales person are freed up, and both are amazing at what you do. So, you will carry the weight of their salary, health care, and personal problems along the way. But, with luck you will be able to focus on churning out your work, and your sales person will be spot on, allowing you to get to the next level. Fingers crossed for you!
The Basic Necessities..
Basic camera equipment, and computers, are reasonably priced these days, but upgrades are a regular part of business. If your clients expect "the best", equipment is ridiculously priced, and computers to support your high end capture are also expensive. So, you have to choose where you fit into the market based on who you plan to cater to. But, again, clients never see this, or understand the difference between a lens that can capture in low light or NOT, but they will be the first to notice if your lenses and cameras turned out to be incapable of their high expectations. So, best to buy the expensive gear that can, which either puts you out of business, or out of the price point of most of the population. Your choice of course!
I almost forgot to mention there are a few other minor man made inventions you'll need to address such as; electricity, taxes, gasoline, a car, a place to live, and at least a little paycheck assuming there is anything left over after you made your monthly commitment.
So, you now know what it takes on the business side to succeed. This is is why personal art by a "professional / expert", has to cost what it does. The fact that you put 10,000 hours into business, and 10,000 hours into your product also means that you deserve to make a fair living. You deserve to own a home, a car, and to travel if you so wish. Otherwise you should have gotten a real career, and created your art as a hobby as discussed before.
You lucky dog you....
If the above sounds a little over the top stressful, it is meant to. Business, as it turns out, is an art form as well. You will have to put your 10,000 hours into it to be an expert. But, look on the bright side, combining your personal art with the art of doing business has the potential to be greatest joy your life. Like the quote at the top of this page by Oscar Wilde says... "Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known." If you can manage to marry creating what you love as a professional artist, and succeed in business at the same time, you are indeed a unique individual, and among the luckiest people in the world.
5 Tips for starting on your path of becoming a Professional Artist...
1. Focus primarily on the next step...
Don't think too much about the big picture, as it will feel impossible and overwhelming. Just keep moving forward one step at a time. Set small goals, accomplish them, and you will feel the momentum.
2. Be the work... Do the work...
A lot of people dream about creating art, but fail to go out and do it regularly. I even know many pros who wait around for paid assignments. I suggest creating for the sake of creativity whenever you have free time. With the exception of some clients who are brave enough to hire you because they believe in your talent, most will hire you for what you have already done. Go out and do things you dream of doing, then you'll have portfolio pieces to back it up leading you towards your next paid assignment.
3. Take reviews and comments with a grain of salt...
If you want to succeed you have to put it out there, and luckily the internet offers you limitless potential to spread the good word. However, people are mean, and the internet is full of trolls who would love nothing more than to terrorize your creative zest. You can't control what people think or say, so if you don't have thick skin don't read them. Keep putting putting your work out, and ignore the reviews. There are many great artists who have changed the world that have been met with unkind words about their creations.
4. Realize that people want to help you, at least until you succeed.
Find people who believe in you, and make them advocates of your work. Include them whenever you can, and hire them if you are able. People want to help struggling artists. On the contrary, the public often prefers to see successful artists fall for some unexplainable reason. You can compete on a higher level than you realize once you understand that being on the bottom has the ability to offer you unbridled momentum. You don't have to put on a fake perception of success, to get there.
5. Find a Mentor...
Ask questions... You can avoid a lot of pitfalls, save money, and get there faster with a mentor. While there are many egotistical artists, many of the successful artists I know take pride in helping others see and grow because they know how hard it is. Find, and join, an organization who caters to your given dreams and learn from those who have already walked the path. No two roads are the same, but there is often great wisdom within those with experience. If you are a photographer you might consider joining WPPI, and PPA, or going to the Photo-Plus conference for instance. There are also other great resources online like Skip Cohen University, along with online video education sites like Creative Live. These are a few places where many of the top talents gather and share their wisdom, and great places to start.
Are you an artist considering making the leap of faith towards a full time career? Or, an expert with advice or a great perspective? Share your personal experience with us...