We all know it, fear it, and maybe even laugh at it: the tired stereotype of the starving artist—failing to make a living off his or her work, sacrificing financial security for the sake of the craft.
While making it as a professional artist is no small task, it certainly doesn’t mean you’re automatically doomed to such a bleak outcome. Just ask any successful artist.
So, that’s exactly who we asked. Artify sat down with award-winning Alice Dipao to break it down for us about her life as full time artist.
ALICE: Well, fine artists explore and develop their own personal style through their preferred specialism, whether that’s painting, sculpting, ceramics, printmaking, or digital and media arts.
They use of a variety of materials and styles to produce and sell their work, either through art dealers or galleries, or from commissions to produce a bespoke piece of work. Many specialise in a particular subject, or concentrate on landscapes, portraits, or abstract art.
A fine artist often holds other jobs, as it can be a challenge to rely solely on income from selling art while gaining experience and building a reputation in the art world. Many run community art classes, or work in the creative or education sectors to support their income.
Fine artists are usually self-employed, and either work from home or from a shared studio. They need to find creative ways to get their work noticed into the market and using social media to showcase their work.
Alice: Art is the product of a unique vision, and honing an artistic voice requires skill, practice and discipline. Most artists choose one specific medium to specialize in; drawing, painting, photography, woodworking, graphic design and ceramics are all examples of media one may explore. Through experimentation, each artists can assess which medium they find most enjoyable and expressive of their sensibilities.. I happen to like painting.
I make art primarily because I enjoy the process. It’s fun making things.
And I’m sure there is also that universal desire to connect with other people in some way, to tell them about myself or my experiences. What I really look for in a project is something that resonates with life as I see it, and speaks to our experiences as humans.
It sounds cliche, but it’s true: There is no such thing as luck. You just have to be prepared for opportunities when they come your way. I hated hearing that from my professor and mentor in college. I was just like, “Can he stop saying that?” Once I graduated and started facing resistance, I just kept creating. If I went to a gallery and they didn’t want it, I went to a coffee shop… The opportunities came and I was ready for them. Now they keep coming and I make sure that I stay ready for them.
One thing I hear again and again from arts professionals is that artists are often painfully disorganized, bless their hearts. Check your basics: be on time to meetings, deliver work when agreed. Past that, keep your art documents updated and accessible (resume, bio, statement, etc.). That way, when it’s time to apply for a show/grant/residency, there’s no mental hurdle to overcome.
There are so many features of the art world that might depress and overwhelm you, so you need to develop an unshakable core. Most artists suffer considerably from financial stress and most also experience a lot of rejection. You must not be afraid to fail or embarrass yourself in your work. If you’re afraid to try something new, how will you develop your own voice?
As a professional artist, I haven’t been able to afford to wait for inspiration. In the most prosaic sense, my inspiration has been that I have bills to pay. I understood early on that if I was going to be an artist I had to approach art as a business, rather than wait for inspiration. I have found the best solution is simply to go into the studio and start to work whether I feel inspired or not. Typically, the very act of drawing or dipping a brush into paint is sufficient to get me started and inspiration almost inevitably follows.
I split the week up in terms of 70/30. The 70 percent is the actual making of the work and the 30 percent is the getting of supplies, communicating with galleries, updating Artwork Archive—the “backend of the artwork” stuff. It’s important to me because I know a lot of artists that say they aren’t doing that well, but they think they can get away with one or five percent of the backend work.
Your contact list is really important. I’ve gathered the contact information of people from all my past walks of life. I regularly send out emails to my list with a new painting. It reminds people you’re there and shows the growth you’re making. I have sold many paintings through my emails.
Label your entries precisely and consistently. Before you frame your art, have it photographed or scanned (No iPhone images). Color correct and crop your images (There is no excuse for not doing this. There are free programs on the web that you can use). Do not show backgrounds, floors, or easel stands. Display a consistent body of artwork, which shows you are serious about your art.
It’s important to have a system in place. When I finish a work, I take photos, put the piece information into Artwork Archive, put the new piece on my website, and publicize it in my newsletter and social media. I know each step I have to do after painting, which makes the business side a lot smoother. If you don’t do that, it sucks the creativity out of you because you’re constantly thinking about it.
The number one thing you should focus on is producing the best art that you can produce. Trick number two: invest in marketing. Potential clients have to see it before they can buy it. Trick number three: Treat your business like a business. I show up every day to do something related to my business. Getting into galleries, getting accepted to shows, getting invited to invitationals—these things come after you do the first three tricks.
People told me that being a painter was not a real job. Today, I proved them wrong. I don’t regret it. I get up every day to do a real job which I like. The passion is what’s most important. Without any pretension, I knew what to expect on the difficult path of a professional painter. No matter what we are told, advice or warnings, we have no choice but to follow our calling.