An Artist in Business, How-To

Creating your Art vs Creating your Business

Being self-employed is not easy. Being self-employed as an artist is even harder. But I think the joy of creating art, and the reward of knowing your art brought joy to others makes it worth whatever you go through.

And then there’s the little problem of paying the bills. Some lucky artists have a spouse who supports them while they stumble around selling a painting or two. But if you aren’t one of those lucky ones, you must keep creating your business as well as your art.

When I first decided to jump off the cliff and live by my brush alone, I lived in a tiny studio apartment. I had painted in oils previously, and done some sculpture, but I had no studio, no room for those activities. I decided to try watercolors, which are easy to do in a smaller space. I found that I liked that medium better than any other art I had tried before.

I started doing weekend art fairs, and made a respectable living traveling, painting watercolors and making prints of them. Until the economy took a nose dive and art fairs raised their booth fees and became not so profitable anymore.

So I re-created my art business. I still paint and sell my watercolors. However, since I always loved painting BIG, I started applying to paint murals. While waiting for my applications to be accepted, I paid the bills by selling a lot of stuff on craigslist – by that time I had bought a house and accumulated vast amounts of “stuff” I no longer needed and wanted.

I was hired to paint two small murals for a small city in Texas, and the fun began. Industrial acrylic paint is not watercolors, but I put in my time learning to control it, and the murals turned out beautifully (I have since painted 5 more murals in the same city). I now paint several murals a year, which pays quite a few bills.

Lately I have not found many mural opportunities in my area (although I just got one that I will be painting at the end of this month). But during the time I haven’t had mural commissions, I did something completely different. I started a music business. My brother and I began charging for our gigs. We’ve played music together for years (he on accordion, me on ukulele) but we never got paid. I just began asking for gigs and naming a price. We play 15-20 gigs a month, usually at facilities for the elderly, I can’t say we’re getting rich on it, but it does help pay the bills! And we’ve been playing music for so long that we can play just about every song anyone requests.

I have tried a few things in the art business that were not successful, and a few things that worked in the past but will not work in this day and age. I think my biggest flop was my own gallery – I had a partnership with another artist, who did not hold up her end of the bargain, and after a year, the lease was up and I just walked away. Many artists do successfully run their own galleries, but it’s not something I want to do. I made enough money to pay the bills of the gallery, but that was about it. You have to just let it go sometimes.

Keep creating!  And re-creating. If you want to do your art, and it’s something you love, you just have to keep creating – both the art and the business.

EC Sullivan

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