Why Mentorship Is The Key to Staying on Track.Read More
In a city like Nashville that is completely riddled with creatives, it’s really hard to stand out. It can be really discouraging, and although it’s not nearly as populated or cutthroat as New York or L.A. for example, it sometimes feels overwhelming. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve gone to the Wedgewood Houston and Downtown Art Crawl, The Porter Flea Market, 615 Day, Jessi Zazu’s Undefeated Art Show, and the Farmer’s Market Night Market and needless to say, there is a TON of real talent in this city. (Images feature some of my favorite vendors at the Porter Flea Market and beautiful art by Jessi Zazu.) One thing that has stuck with me over the past few months though, was something a fellow art major from Sewanee said to me. We were discussing some of the challenges that come with being an artist, trying to support yourself, and how to stay motivated and he talked about how hard it is to evoke real emotion with art and how powerful it is when you see something that does. That is every kind of artists’ mission.
Whenever I get side tracked and want to create something more commercial or scroll through Pinterest or see what’s top selling at various local markets or art galleries and tell myself “I should be doing something like that” or “I wish I’d thought of that” I remind myself of that main artist’s mission. If the purpose of what I am doing is to make real connections with people through my art, then it has to be totally original and truly important to me. A creative’s goal should never be to try what other people are doing since that seems to be working for them. And if we are talking about it in business terms, there isn’t a demand or market for creative work that already exists. You’ve got to play to your own strengths, not try to copy someone else’s. It’s easier said than done when our newsfeed and communities are completely saturated with successful examples of creative things people are doing- you definitely don’t have to search for it anymore, it’s almost too easy to find. BUT that’s not a bad thing at all. This just goes to show us that there is a never ending amount of opportunity. I’ve already talked about creating your own opportunities, though, and want to talk about how to stand out.
So again, everything I do goes back to that sole mission as an artist of forming connections with people and evoking real emotion through art and the one thing that I want most, which is to be a full time artist. The biggest strength any creative person has though is his or her originality and unique message. It’s the number one way to stand out. It's how all other successful creatives got their success. From there I ask myself “ok what else am I really good at that can help me achieve my goal?” I’m somewhat strong in terms of marketing, web design, and productivity; I love a good social media campaign, a clean website and making those to-do lists. Other strengths that are incredibly important are organization, business sense, salesmanship, and financial responsibility. Some of these are strengths of mine and typing some of those words makes me feel physically sick with anxiety and fear. Anything that I don’t feel incredibly confident that I can manage on my own, I outsource. I think it’s really important to be thoroughly realistic about your weaknesses when starting a business. There are some things I just can’t learn how to do no matter how much I research. For example, I’ve mentioned this, but my dad created my budget for me based on my art income and how much is allotted for supplies, needs to be set aside for taxes, and how much I can actually pay myself. He also got me set up on quickbooks and gain a better understanding of what my monthly income must be. It goes without saying and is very obvious that you gotta have your ducks in a row financially with any business endeavors, so if you are like me and don’t consider yourself a financial wizard, go find one! They really exist! There are a lot of puzzle pieces that need to come together when starting your own creative business and trying to make it a success. I’ve only listed a few, but really the most important thing you can do is create something that is totally original to you and then be honest with yourself about your strengths and ask for help when you need it. When I first started out, and if I am being honest, this is still very much the case, I couldn’t afford to actually pay to outsource things so I asked friends, family members, fellow artists for advice and help in exchange for coffee or artwork or sandwiches from Clawson’s, which I would gladly take over money any day. So to close out (and I am really sorry if this sounds preachy or condescending or just plain obvious, my intention is only to share some things I am learning) keep it original and meaningful to you, spend more time working on your strengths than your weaknesses, and always be honest when you need help.
So this blog is a week late because I was in a wedding and then had to play catchup with commissions and work all week, and this is a great example of me being a hypocrite and not sticking to my deadlines. I also haven’t posted new art in a while, because I have been working on commissions, which brings me to my main point: selling out is really ok, all the cool kids are doing it to pay bills. Whether you are a musician playing cover songs at weddings on the weekends to support your songwriting career, or an artist painting peoples’ dogs or favorite quotes, or an aspiring filmmaker filming graduation ceremonies and high school football games, if you are practicing your craft in some way and getting paid, then why is that in any way bad? People who judge you for it are liars because everyone has to pay the bills somehow, unless you’re a trust fund kid in which case ~slow clap~. Example, I paint a lot of watercolors of homes for people, they make great gifts and honestly keep my art business afloat. Are houses my area of focus or part of my artist statement? No, but I love painting! If I am still producing the work that contributes to my vision as an artist and also practice fundamentals of painting, by painting watercolors of houses, and getting paid to do it, I consider that a win-win.
I say yes to absolutely every art commission (or project) and graphic design job that comes my way and I hope that’s a no brainer for most other people trying to make it as a creative entrepreneur, and I have to remind myself to be completely open minded about every job and give each commission 1150%. At my old job my attention to detail was often criticized. Call it selective hearing or putting what I wanted to do over what I have to do first or just being scatterbrained, I fully admit it’s my weakness, and although I've learned how to work on it, the one thing I am able to devote all of my attention to for any amount of time is my art. I never rush through projects; when I am painting, I don’t do things like, oh.. I don’t know, put a giant typo on a direct mailer that got sent out to 1000 Nashvillians. I want that dedication to be evident in every single thing that I paint or produce.
Being open minded also ties into creating your own opportunities. When I started this year with the goal in mind to have one art show per month, I had to readjust. I changed that goal to “I will work towards one major art related goal each month”. I apply to galleries and calls for artists pretty regularly and I usually don’t get what I hope for out of it. I am in the stage in my independent career where I am pretty much just blindly throwing tons of darts with both hands and seeing what sticks. I am constantly reaching out to people in my career field for advice, following them on social media, and looking for inspiration everywhere. BUT there is a really big difference between seeking inspiration, and flat out copying what someone successful did. Originality is everything. Here’s an example. I love Heather Day; her artwork and social media presence and brand is just gold. I read her blog about getting sponsors and was really inspired by it. I am in no way there yet, but it got me thinking- if I can’t get sponsors, working with other local, female entrepreneurs could be really cool- tying in other brands and supporting local businesses and collaborating. So, I came up with this idea to incorporate other brands into what I am doing- I won’t divulge all the details yet, because I want it to be a surprise (in two weeks, stay tuned!), but after weeks of applying to existing opportunities and not getting what I wanted out of it, I decided to create my own. This is really how I have showcased my art. I wasn’t having much luck reaching out to galleries one month, so I reached out to a local brewery with bare walls. I want more social media followers and email subscribers, so I reached out to some local businesses I really like to see if they want to co-promote. I guess my point in all of this is, don’t get discouraged if you find that you’re not getting what you wanted out of all your efforts and hard work. It just means it’s time to think creatively. I usually break down what I want to the most basic root of it- I change “I want my art in that gallery” to “I want people interested in the Nashville art scene to see my art” to “I just want to share my art and have it on display somewhere”. Breaking a goal down to the core of what it is I actually want to accomplish allows me to come up with a million different ways in which to achieve that goal. I find it’s really helpful to write all of those different ideas down on paper and then using those ideas as your to-do list for the day.
I have also been pretty amazed by what I can accomplish when I just really want to do something, versus when I have to. Again, kind of a no brainer. This goes back to the days of summer reading. I love reading, I would be reading all summer anyways, but there’s something about when it was being assigned to me that made it become a hated chore. Same goes for this, when I am working towards a goal that I really want, I am able to think so much more creatively and be so much more open minded about opportunities. This may just be that I am really stubborn millennial, hence the whole goal to be my own boss, but all of this works for me and maybe it will work for you too!
If you are diving headfirst into your work, then some part of your life gets put on the back burner. In my case, it's my social life (and, ya know, making tons of money). No surprise there for anyone who knows me. Case in point, it's an absolutely gorgeous Saturday in Nashville and I am sitting outside my condo with my dog typing this, but here's the thing: I am doing exactly what I want to be doing at this moment. A really quick life question I have for you before I start talking about why deadlines are EXTREMELY important for any person trying to be their own boss is this: What makes you happiest? What do you do everyday? Realistically, how can these two lists become one? That right there is what I think success is. Just having those 2 lists be the exact same thing. What does this have to do with making deadlines? Well, top of my list is creating and sharing what I create. It's what I believe my "purpose" to be, it's my dream, it's what I wake up and go to sleep thinking about. Therefore, to make this dream become my everyday reality, I need to prioritize, I need to be able to support myself with it, and I need to fully commit to it. If you are in the same boat here's something really valuable I have learned and I hope it's helpful to anyone who's on the same path right now and feeling overwhelmed.
To stay productive, it's important to have something extremely specific to work towards. Not "make more money this month" or "paint more" or "work on my website this week", but goals like "compile a new collection of at least 4 pieces by May 15th and be prepared to give an artist talk" or "apply to 7 group art shows by 5 pm tomorrow" or "upload my latest collection to my website by Friday". The more specific and set you can be with the date AND time, the better, or else you just won't adhere to these deadlines at all. Daily To-Do lists are really helpful with this (I love making hand-written lists every morning) as are calendar reminders and Google calendar, if you want to structure and plan out your whole day. It will keep you on track especially if you are like me and get ADD working from home when there are a million household chores staring at you in the face, your dog is pawing at you, and Netflix exists. In the words of Christene Barberich, Editor in Chief of Refinery29 “I don’t think you can truly know what you’re made of until you are in charge of your days. How you use that time, and the work you pursue, teaches you so much about who you are and what you can become”. I make at least 5 big deadlines per month and countless, small daily tasks to meet those deadlines. I put in a lot of hours, at least double my previous full-time job hours, but if you are doing what you love it's not work and there is no better way to spend your time.
This is a pretty simple concept and I take no credit in it. Our teachers and bosses have been scaring us with deadlines since the beginning of time. When your paycheck or grade or reputation was on the line, it was pretty easy to have the work done, and it shouldn't be any different when you are beginning your life as an entrepreneur, because guess what, those things are still on the line, just in a different way. Respect yourself and the tasks you’ve set for yourself just as you would for your employer. If the day is ending and I still haven’t met my deadline, I work overtime and say no to a lot of things that come up because getting this work done was my priority. Being your own dream employee is just as important as being your own boss.
The final point that I have about making your own deadlines is this: don’t be too attached to the results of your efforts, only worry about the process. Once you’ve met your deadline, say goodbye to that project and start on the next one. If your deadline involved applying to a showcase, sharing your work, gaining experience, or practicing your craft and you gave it your all and finished what you needed to get done on time, then you succeeded. Serious productivity always results in something positive. You create what failure is in your head by telling yourself what results you expect to come from your hard work. For example, I hope reading this wasn't a huge waste of your time, but my goal for this blog is just to share my experience and what I am learning as I become my own boss, and have it posted by Monday, May 15th at 11:00 a.m., so even if you hated reading it, and I am so sorry if you did, I achieved what I set out to achieve. It sounds really cheesy, but once I stopped asking myself “what if this doesn’t work?” I became more productive than I have ever been.
These few points have all really helped me especially during weeks when I didn’t have many commissions or freelance work and felt a little directionless. I would panic about not making enough money that week or wonder if all of my efforts were wasted and felt really overwhelmed. All I needed to do was fill my days with small, realistic, achievable goals and that stress just went away. It’s definitely hard going out on your own, but I have to always remind myself “this was my choice (which I realize is a luxury) this is what I love and what makes me happiest, feeling scared and worrying is silly and I don't have time for it today anyways I've got too much to do”.
Becoming Self EmployedRead More