The Art of Business, The Business of Art, Part 2

There’s a reason “starving artist” became a clichéd phrase. I read a murder mystery once where one of the (many) deaths was an up-and-coming artist. The motive: Kill the artist, destroy 80%-90% of his work, and own the rest, which will naturally skyrocket in value. How can you be an artist, stay alive, and and live a reasonably comfortable, stable, life?

Obviously, some people make it work. There is the work-many-jobs option. And there are the lucky/talented/hard-working ones who “make it.” But it seems a bit like kids who are stellar high school athletes and believe they can make it in the pro leagues, not quite recognizing the statistical improbabilities. We just see the ones who make it, we don’t see the thousands who don’t. (Apparently, this is also similar to drug dealers–the difference between the low-level neighborhood street corner pushers who aspire to be the head kingpin. They’re never going to make it, but the allure of the perceived lifestyle is too attractive. I want to say Malcolm Gladwell, or someone like that, wrote something about this.)

Anyway. Entering the world of e-commerce and POD sites (e.g., TeePublic, RedBubble) or those for small businesses (e.g., Etsy), it is abundantly clear that they are flush with really talented people. It’s also clear that people who started early and became well-established have a huuuuuge leg up on everyone else. (I’m looking at you, shops with 10,000+ purchases.) I’m trying anyway, but what do you do? Again, per my “I want an Intern” post, I’m not all that interested in the self-promotion activities that seem to be required. At first, I (naively) thought it would just be a matter of posting to Instagram–hey, that I can handle. Oh, foolish, foolish, past self.

Putting on my MBA hat, I figure it basically comes down to solving one or both of two issues. 1) Per above, finding the right way to reach the people who would like what I make. 2) Figuring out who I can most easily reach (preferably that others are not) and make what they like. The latter would be called “selling out” by some. Or “practical” by others. I imagine in some artistic circles “commercial” is a dirty word. I’m not so highbrow. But, that also isn’t what I love about art, because it’s not expressing me and my vision.

Recently, I was working “on spec” on some graphic designs for some corporate swag. It’s a great opportunity, and perhaps one path to pursue over the long-term as something a little stable. But oh, it did not satisfy my creative needs. And as someone pointed out (intentionally ungrammatically), “thems that pays the bills gets to decide.” But it was a little bit painful to have to execute on someone else’s choices when I thought something else would be better. I think there has to be a high ratio of time spent on truly creative art versus “commercial” art to make up for it.

So. Where does that leave me? Us? Pretty much where I was at the start of this post. I’m still trying different things to see what might work in this overly saturated market. Trying to find out if my actual interests might overlap with a hidden empty niche. Trying to figure out how to reach what is apparently my demographic, according to Instagram—hey ladies, roughly ages 25-40!. And continuing my art class, to make things, and just keep going…

While I’m doing this, if you’d like to help me out and like what you see on my website or Instagram (@frommytwohands), please share it with your friends and family (or strangers, for that matter). You could consider the pieces of mine that you see examples–I’m truly very happy to make custom pieces, especially of my alphabet collection given the personal nature of initials and then design preferences.

Oh and follows, I could really use some of those if you are so inclined, particularly on IG…. thank you!

The Art of Business, the Business of Art, Part 1

The featured image of this post has nothing to do with the subject. I just decided to start using pieces I’d already created, since a) I like them, and b) as should be obvious by now, I’m working on the whole self-promotion issue, and I have no idea what you’ll click on.

I can’t say that I’m very fond of the intersection of art and business in practice. Previously, and in theory, I expected it to be interesting and a fun new challenge to figure out. That is partially true. There are new challenges to figure out, and some of them are interesting–not good or bad, just interesting. But I wouldn’t call it “fun.” I suppose this is another example of how anything can become “work,” in the most pejorative sense of the word, even if it starts out as a hobby.

In my “manifesto” on the “About” page, I advocated for exploring and making what you love, and not worrying about a niche. I still believe that, but only insofar as you’re doing it for fun, and not for money. Because, unfortunately, if you’re trying to build a business, at some point you’re also building a brand–however small (we’re not talking Coke and Pepsi here). You have to be known for something, even if only among a very small audience. When people look at your shop–online or bricks and mortar–it should make sense to them, be cohesive in some way. They’re more likely to remember you, to think of you when they need X. To think of you as a professional or as of higher quality in making X.

Which brings me to my second point. You can’t be good at everything. If this is for fun, it’s totally fine to dabble. I love dabbling. How will you know if you like something unless you give it a try? But unless you are amazingly gifted–and maybe not even then–it takes practice and the investment of time and effort to become an expert a master of something. Enough of one that people think, “I have to have that.” This is where the old saying, “jack of all trades, master of none,” becomes relevant.

There simply is not enough time in the day to become a master in as many things as you might dabble in, AND establish a business. The studio where I take my art class has a number of quotes posted in it. There’s one that goes something like, “The difference between the student and the master is that the master has failed more times than the student has tried.” I love that. But think about what that means for your investment of self. It also reminds me of hearing somewhere that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything–it might have been in the context of learning a musical instrument.

As for the business side of things, well, I refer you back to my “I want an intern,” post. That only skims the surface of marketing and social media. It doesn’t even get into the really fun things like bookkeeping, customer service, and so forth.

More to come in Part 2.

I want an intern

I now see the value in interns. By value, I mean someone who will do everything I don’t want to do. Unpaid, of course. I understand social media is how you reach people these days, but honestly, it takes so much time and effort and how to do it effectively is an entirely different question. Naturally, there have been dozens of people who have offered to grow my social media influence/reach exponentially–for a “nominal” fee.

There’s also the grunt-y technological tasks. Every website you upload an image to has different requirements/preferences, in terms of aspect ratio, resolution, and whether the background needs to be transparent. Then you have to decide on (hash)tags, and for retail storefronts, make sure the image fits properly on the right products. Of course, different product categories require different aspect ratios, so you have to upload different files. For social media sites like Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, etc., I also have to decide if I’m watermarking images to deter theft. So, at the end of the day, I usually end up with about 8-10 files for the same design image. I’ve probably spent as much time putting it online as I have creating it, and I don’t like that ratio.

I just want to make art. Why is that too much to ask?

Hence, the desire for an intern. Also, I’m pretty sure I’m not the most social media savvy person, and I need someone about 20 years younger to help with that. If nothing else, to keep up with all the most popular hashtags on Instagram.