10 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Becoming an Artist

I love what I do. Being an artist is an incredibly humbling & rewarding career but it can also be disheartening at best, soul crushing at worst. So I’ve compiled a list of things I wish I’d known as a young artist starting out, things which might have shaped my path or made things a little easier along the way. It’s all from my perspective, things I’ve learned on my journey. Maybe these things are taught or explained in some schools but for me they have been hard learned lessons. I hope that my sharing I can make your path a little easier or at least clearer than mine.

Make Decisions Early:

What kind of artist do you want to be? Do you want to be represented by a top tier gallery? Or are you happy selling prints at your local market? Think hard about it, because if you change your mind after you've already started down one path you could have made things very difficult for yourself. Dealer galleries are very exclusive and will shy away from any artist who has made prints or consumables (cushions, coffee cups etc) because these things deter collectors who are their main market. If your goal is gallery representation then maybe going to a top tier art school is your best bet. It's a cutthroat industry and any advantage you can gain is a positive thing, top tier art schools have this advantage.

Pick a Style and Run With It:

I'm terrible at following my own advice here. I have about 4 'styles' on the go at any one time and as soon as I choose one to 'run with' I accidentally make a new work in one of the others. But a style is a commodity in the art world and having your own recognisable one is the first step to an art career. It needs to be your own and have certain elements which make it recognisably yours. 

Make or Don't Make Prints:

Prints are tricky as we talked about in the first point. If you've evaluated the risk and have decided to move forward with them tho, then here are a few things you should know.

First you need to decide if you're doing limited or open editions. Open editions are often signed but don't have to be. Limited means you sign and number every print for example 1/50, when you reach 50/50 you're done. You can't make any more prints of that artwork. Some artists do, which I think is incredibly bad etiquette. The person who purchased one of your prints expected there to be only 50 available and if you made more (even if they're open edition) you're still de-valuing the print that person paid good money for.

Pricing: Stand Up For What You're Worth:

This is HARD. Especially when you're starting out and all you want is for someone to buy your work even if it does loose you money in the making. The best advice I can give is look at what other artists in a similar niche are doing and set a price for one print or artwork. Stick to it, and price the rest from there. If it's a smaller work price it lower, larger work price it higher. It doesn't matter if one A3 artwork took 40 hours to produce and another took 10, an art buyer isn't going to understand why one costs 4x as much so keep them the same.

You can always increase your prices but coming down isn't ideal so make sure you're not being unrealistic.

The most important thing is value your work. If you don't value it how do you expect someone else to. Don't price something that took you 40 hours of blood sweat and tears at $100. It doesn't help you and it doesn't do any favours to the perception of the person buying it either. Think hard, look at the prices of other artists, make a call and stick to it. 

Most Artists Don't Make a Living From Art Alone:

I hate to break it to you but we don't. Some do. But I can tell you it's a serious struggle for most. Many of us work other jobs (this is mine Friendly Creative) or have supportive loving partners or other streams of income. I just want to make sure that we're all realistic here. The chances of making a living on art alone making are slim, and if you're one of the lucky few who've done it then I'm sure you've worked bloody hard to get there. Well done you.

Kill or Be Killed:

But wait, what? Can't we all just get along? 

I know artists who wont share which framer they use or where they get their prints made. I guess the theory is, that NZ is a small market if they tell me where they get their hook-ups then I might get them too... and steal their share of the art pie? Well Ima call bullshit on that. My theory is that if we all get along and grow a thriving art community, where everyone cares about each other and helps each other out then we all win. My guess is that it will create such an awesome scene that's we'll all sell more work too! 

So here's a list of businesses I use to do what I do. If you've got someone to add or a shoutout to make please leave a comment in the comments section.

Framing: Framing Online

Printing: Microfilm

Print Packaging: Conservation Supplies

Genuineness Counts: (yes genuineness is a word I checked)

I hope. In the age of social media it's hard to say, but I know that my favourite accounts to follow are not the ones who jump on every hashtag bandwagon, they're no the ones who follow you and then unfollow you a month later to keep their ratio right. They're the ones posting real artwork and really talking about it, and how it's hard sometimes. So let's put #grateful aside for a moment and just be real ok? Rant over.

Find Some Lovely Galleries:

My two number 1's are Kapa and The Poi Room and I've been lucky enough to develop a relationship with both of them which has lasted many years. 

Develop relationships, get to know your galleries and their clients, what they want from you and how you can improve. Ask questions. Please don't try to short galleries who work hard on your behalf by selling things cheaper on your website. Yes they are taking a cut, but galleries give you a voice where otherwise you wouldn't have one. They've taken a risk in showing your work and they think it's good enough to sit alongside their other artists. Don't discount that by undercutting them. If you are doing a one off sale, at least run it by them and get their thoughts. Your relationship with them likely means more to you in the long term than any short lived sale and if they have a problem with it then respect that.

On the flip side tho you have to feel supported by your galleries. It's a dirty trade secret that some stores are incredibly hard to get money out of. Don't put up with not being paid. Threaten debt collectors if you have to, you deserve to be paid for every artwork sold.

Be Careful Where You Spend Your Money:

You need a website. That's non negotiable, and the better it looks/works the better. You can make it yourself if you have the skills or if not, hunt out someone who does. 

My personal decision is always to spend the money and get the quality. My giclee prints are top quality but expensive to produce, I use expensive brushes and paints, but you don't have to. If you're planning on selling your prints for $20 at the markets (please don't, you're ruining prints for the rest of us) then this probably isn't an option.

You can waste a lot of money on gift fairs, magazine or social media ads, which are nearly impossible to quantify and yield mixed results. I'm not saying never advertise, I'm just saying be smart about it. Don't for example, throw out an instagram post, decide to promote it, and then discover the typo that you can't edit in the promoted post like I did this week. Facepalm. 

Good luck out there folks. It's a wild ride. But I wouldn't trade it for a desk job that's for sure.


Laura Shallcrass