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"I used to have a band," he told me.
He'd played lead guitar and sang. It was the 80's and he worked hard, toured the country, and started to gain a small following. But he never broke through.
When he turned 30, he got a chance to play one of the biggest music festivals in Britain. His brother ran the festival and had secured a spot for him. But it was too late, he'd already made a deal.
"It's ridiculous," he told himself, "to keep following this dream into your thirties. The music business is too hard. If it hasn't happened now, it's never going to happen." So he decided to go out with a bang, making the festival his last gig. He'd never play on stage again.
It's been almost 30 years now. He's found success in the business world instead, though his heart hasn't been in it. He recently went to see his brother, whom he hadn't visited since the show. He first met up with some old friends who asked him why he'd quit? Why did he quit playing music just when he'd broken through? "What do you mean?" he asked.
They told him, "The show you played at the festival, it got rave reviews."
He asked his brother if this was true and his brother pulled out a tattered old music magazine, opening it up to a two-page spread announcing the singer that stole the show, the one to watch, the singer who was the best thing to come out of the festival.
Why didn't you tell me?" he asked his brother.
"I was jealous."
Never, ever, let go of your dreams. They belong to you for a reason.
His name was Henrik. He’d been an artist in Hungary until he faced the stark reality that there were no opportunities there. London has the biggest art market in Europe so, like many of us, Henrik came here. And this is where his journey begins, selling small paintings on a cold, gray London sidewalk.
For now, he sleeps on a couch in a friend’s squat that has neither heat nor water. He left his wife in Hungary but hopes to bring her to London soon. “I had to come here, I had to try,” Henrik explained. “Some times you just have to take the jump and follow your dream.”
His delicately beautiful paintings are priced at £10.
“Does this really work for you?” I asked, pointing to his makeshift gallery set-up.
“Some weeks I sell nothing, and I get scared and think it was all a mistake. But other weeks I get a commission to paint a mural and I sell some work and I might make £500. So I keep going.”
I spoke with Henrik about his plan. This wasn’t some lazy kid, trying to make a quick buck by avoiding work. Henrik was a thoughtful, accomplished, and dedicated artist with a burning ambition.
Recently he was offered an opportunity working for a large commercial firm. He could make art and be well compensated. Be able to afford a flat and bring his wife over. But he would have to paint subjects that he wasn’t interested in. He’d have to use a medium that held no charm for him, in a style that was totally unlike the one he’d spent years developing. “I have sacrificed so much,” Henrik told me.
Should he take this opportunity?
I know how Henrik eventually answered that question. But how would you? How much would you be willing to sacrifice for your work?
Launch. The very word made me queasy.
What was a launch anyway? And why does everyone have one but me?
“But didn’t you already launch?” ask well-meaning friends. Did I?
Fate intervened, as she does, and just as I was grappling with the very concept of launches, the launch guru himself, Jeff Walker, released his book titled… wait for it… “Launch.” I earmarked every page.
Newly inspired, I decided to create a series of videos addressing the challenges faced by all artists. To tell the truth, it wasn’t that difficult. Where ever I go, life puts artists in my path and the one question I always ask them is “What are your biggest challenges?”
So when I filmed the videos, I didn’t have to work to think up material. I simply repeated conversations I’d already had – conversations with artists about time management, about branding, self-confidence, overcoming fears, and about marketing.
Soon, I’ll be launching The Working Artist and I’ll start by sharing these free artist training videos. Be sure you are signed up for my mailing list because I think you’ll like them.
According to the dictionary, LAUNCH means: To set or thrust into motion. But to me, to LAUNCH means starting to fly! Thank you for flying with me!
p.s. This behind-the-scenes photo is from one of the video shoots. That's right, I was barefoot. I'm actually barefoot in all the videos. You can dress me up, but I'll always be a bohemian at heart.
It’s not about whether you succeed or fail as an artist. It’s about the kind of person you become as you do the work. Does it make you feel more authentic? Are you coming from a place of integrity? Do you share generously? Are you grateful? And most importantly, are you actually making art, good art?
As you move closer to your goal, you will suffer setbacks and challenges. It is what it is. And during those dark moments, ask yourself, “What do I believe in?” Because you can’t do your best work when you come from a place of fear.
Believe in yourself. And if you don’t, then do what it takes to get there. Don’t wait for someone else to believe in you first. You have to show them. This is your work. Let nothing and no one stop you.
Do you wonder if you are good enough? All artists do. It’s part of the job.
The trick isn’t in pretending that your fears aren’t real, it is in working through them. Working, there’s that word again.
Artists aren’t born with self-confidence. Some of us can fake it better than others, but I assure you, everyone has the same fears and self-doubts. Confidence is born from work, from developing your craft until you know it’s good, from developing your ideas and your voice until you can sing your song out LOUD! It comes from doing the work.
And the work begins with asking yourself questions. The root for the word question is quest. The artist’s journey begins by looking inward.
What do you want to do when you grow up?
Do you think we ever stop asking ourselves this question? I think a better way to think about it is by asking who we are, and letting that determine what you do. Read this article to find out more. See More
Is your life’s journey a true expression of yourself?
What would happen if you let your creativity make life decisions instead of your brain? Would your world fall apart? Or would it finally make sense? Read this article to learn about following your bliss. See More
It’s never too late to be who you are.
It took me half a lifetime to own my creativity. Read how I left everything behind to follow a dream. See More
Yeah, but can I make a living as an artist?
Yes! You can! And I can teach you how. Read more about how artists should handle marketing and audience development. See More
I travelled the world, only to find myself back where I began 7 years ago.
It’s been 7 years since that day someone made the offhand remark, "Don’t you wish you could sell it all and move to the south of France?"
My ears perked up. I love the south of France! But half an hour later found me thinking that was a stupid idea. It would never happen.
I started thumbing through American Art Collector magazine as I remembered an American artist I had once met in the south of France. He lived in a village I had visited. Lucky guy. How was he able to do it?
I turned the page of the magazine. I may not remember names but I always remember images. Right there, right in front of me, was an article about his work. The artist’s name was Dan Adel.
Now some might smirk, say that was just a coincidence. Those are the folks who do not believe in magic. But I do believe in magic.
So I quit my job, sold up my stuff and off I went. Once in France, Dan Adel and his gorgeous wife Veronique became my friends. And I became lucky too.
It’s been 7 years since that small French village first took me in, teaching me to find strength in solitude.
I have a thing about 7 years. I believe that it constitutes a cycle. The fact that I am about to launch The Working Artist, a work that is very much the culmination of the lessons I’ve learned these past 7 years, made this summer’s visit to France even more significant.
I’ve come full circle back to this place, this place that always holds the answers to my questions. What will it teach me this time, I wondered?
As I walked through the countryside and into the village, I passed a café and someone called my name, “Crista!”
It was Dan Adel. Wouldn’t you know it?
Dan was having lunch with a shaman who happened to be passing through. The shaman listened as Dan and I caught up on one another’s lives. He nodded quietly as Dan and I went into one of our long, long conversations about art. The afternoon sun moved across the sky and settled into dusk.
I love those kinds of exchanges: art, philosophy, spirit, and meaning. Sometimes I think I was drawn to the arts just because of the conversations.
As I stood up to say my good-byes after that very pleasant and unexpected afternoon, the shaman grabbed my arm and whispered, “You’ve learned how to be strong. Now it’s time to open yourself to the world, be receptive, vulnerable. Even when it hurts. If you look for it, the universe always gives you what you need.”
I nodded, a little unsure what he meant.
A few days later found me back in England, I was walking in the countryside with Companion when I not-very gracefully fell into a large bush of nettles.
I screamed in agony, my arm covered in stinging red welts. Companion pulled the leaves of a nearby weed and began rubbing them to make a paste, which he applied to my burns. The pain floated away.
He explained, “The dock leaf takes away the nettle’s sting. It’s easy to find because dock plants grow right next to nettle. Nature puts the remedy next to the injury. If we look for it, the world always gives us what we need.”
And suddenly, I understood.
But just because you are an artist, doesn’t mean that you know how to sell your work. In fact most artists really struggle with sales and marketing and face consistent disappointment.
When I meet artists, one of the first questions I ask is “How do you sell your art?”
I am often surprised by the ingenuity of the answers. But the truth is, the most common response is a sad face followed by the response, “I don’t sell my art.”
This is a problem.
I am going to break down the question of how to sell your art by using the 5 W’s – you’ll remember these basic rules for sharing information from grade school: Who, What, Where, When, and Why and How.
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Who should you sell your art to? Most artists don’t give this question nearly as much consideration as they should, which is a shame because the answer to this question is key to success.
Who is your ideal audience? If your answer is “everybody,” then I urge you to try again, to go deeper. Have you had sales in the past? Take a long look at who has bought your work, what are their common denominators?
Does your work appeal to a group of people with a common interest, like those concerned with environmental issues, for example, or spiritual imagery, or cats, or whatever your subject matter is? What is your ideal client interested in and how can you use your work to intersect with them?
Are they seasoned art buyers, serious collectors focusing on those with a proven museum exhibition record? Or do they buy impulsively, much more drawn to pictures that speak to them on an emotional level? Each of these buyers will be found at very different venues.
Maybe your ideal customer isn’t a private collector at all? Perhaps your work is better suited for public art projects? Or corporate collections? Or maybe your work is very graphic and can capture the elusive online buyers? Try drawing a fully fleshed outline of one or two of your ideal clients. Who are they? What do they do? How much do they earn? Where do they work? Spend their spare-time? What do they read and watch? Imagine their decision-making process when they actually do buy a piece of art.
If you are asked to participate in an art fair or to join a gallery’s stable, take a moment before you agree. Ask yourself - Is this really a good opportunity for you? Will your ideal client be there? If not, you could be wasting your time and money.
Don’t say yes to things you are invited to participate in, no matter how prestigious, unless it makes sense for your work and your ideal client.
By targeting exactly who your ideal client is, you will be able to hone your marketing specifically for them.
Too many artists think you can sell your art by casting the net wide and seeing what it catches. This is a tremendous waste of time and energy and often leads to disillusionment with the art world.
What is that you make?
Can you speak about your work? Is your artist’s statement compelling and readable? Or does it read like it was written by someone who hates writing artist’s statements – brief and confusing with excessive homage to your feelings?
Or worse, is it shrouded in art-speak? Thick academic words with the term “post -” repeated several times before the word “modern?”
A strong artist’s statement, whether it’s written on a wall label or simply the way you talk about your work, is the best way I know how to sell your art.
Be ready to talk about your work, and share your passion for it when you do. Tell a story, take them on a journey. You don’t have to explain every brush-stroke; you just have to help viewers find their way into the work.
Understand that not everyone can be inside your head. And more often than you would imagine, people are intimidated by art, they fear looking stupid and won’t dare ask questions. Educating people about your work, making them feel comfortable to engage in a conversation with you, will go a long way toward building a clientele. Just don’t over do it; there is a fine line between being an entertaining artist and being a flat out bore. Do not cross this line.
And you don’t have to speak purely about the work, tell your story as well. Let people know where the work is coming from and how you make it. Let them in on where you want to go next. But again, don’t over-share. Keep it brief but compelling.
Leave room for them to ask questions. You want to engage them, not deliver a monologue.
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Nearly every artist I work with tells me that she wants to be included in major museum collections. Or that he thinks his work would do well in a blue-chip New York gallery. Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
I am not saying this isn’t possible – au contraire! But it is important to understand that that it often takes years of very hard work to achieve these goals, and more importantly, that these goals may not necessarily be right for you.
Museums have a very specific agenda, as do the name-brand galleries. Is your work ready? Is it speaking to the same audience as the institutions you are chasing? Is this really the best career path for you?
A lot of artists have been struggling for so long, have bucked so many odds, worked to overcome the nay-sayers, that they feel they have something to prove. I won’t succeed until my work has the stamp of approval of a name brand – it’s got to be represented by the best gallery in town, I’ve got to have a retrospective at a major museum. Only then will I have succeeded.
This is not the best way to chart your course. Forget about proving anything to anybody. By being an artist who makes the work, you are living the most authentic version of yourself. That is all you need to prove.
I bring you back to your target audience. Are the galleries you are lusting after really showing work like yours? Is their clientele really right for you? Or are you seeking outside validation?
There is nothing wrong with getting your work into good galleries. Conversely, there is nothing wrong with skipping galleries altogether and finding other ways to sell your art. Be creative!
My friend James Clarke was an aspiring photographer. When he was let go as the photographic editor of a national newspaper, he finally got his big chance to strike out on his own. He was going to make a living from selling his art, photography.
But this was just as the recession hit. Galleries wouldn’t even look at his portfolio because they were too busy closing their doors. There were no freelance jobs available. The landscape of possibilities looked bleak.
So James thought outside the box.
James has diabetes. He contacted Diabetes UK, the British foundation, and offered to create a series of portraits of others with diabetes, putting forward a healthy and vibrant face on the disease. The organization was thrilled with the idea and gave him the commission.
That body of work has now toured England as a large exhibition, has been turned into a book, and received a ton of press. This opened up all kinds of other doors for James as well and he is now a working artist.
Where will your work find its audience?
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Always be ready to sell your art. Have a business card on you at all times, make sure your website address is on it. (Yes, you need a website.)
Have your work documented with all of your professional materials ready to go at a moment’s notice. Opportunity does not wait for you to get your act together.
As a professional artist, you never know when you might meet someone who could open a door for you. Prepare for your success.
Because when could be now.
Believe it or not, the why is the most important question.
This goes back to your artist’s statement and being able to talk about your work. When you answer the question why, you engage your audience by telling a story.
Why do you make the work that you do? Why are you an artist? If you couldn’t make art, what else would you do? Why should we care? Try to go deeper than “My work is an expression of my feelings.”
Why are you an artist?
I believe that making art is more than what you do, it is a part of who you are. So what does it say about you?
What makes your work different? Out of all the millions of artists out there, why should we look at your work? Why should we buy it?
Really think about the answers to these questions, write your answers down and use your responses to craft your statement, prepare for portfolio presentations, and develop your marketing materials.
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The art world is small and it is a business. You build a reputation by behaving like a professional.
Have your materials polished and edited, create a marketing plan and stick to it, follow submission guidelines to the letter, support the communities and organizations you want support from, be generous to other artists, keep your ego in check, and demand technical excellence from all that you do.
It is important that you continue your education throughout your career. Not only to expand your artistic skills, but also for professional development.
It is always a good idea to review your marketing materials with fresh eyes, to learn the most recent changes in social media, the marketplace, and to challenge yourself to set career goals and learn new ways of attaining them.
There are hundreds of Professional Practices programs out there. My own program, The Working Artist, is an online course that teaches artists like you how to professionally package, market and sell your art in a way that feels authentic and not slimy.
And my colleagues number in the hundreds, so you have a huge choice of Professional Practice workshops. The challenge lies in finding a teacher who speaks to your interests, to your work, and who presents the information in a way that you can relate to and understand. Do your research, sign up for a few mailing lists, listen to what each teacher has to say and who speaks to you.
By thinking through the 5W’s (and an H!), by being true to yourself and investing the time in marketing your work, you will draw buyers to you, increase your reputation, and create the career of your dreams.
And that’s how you sell your art.
I was 17 years old and had never met a blind man before. Every day, he sat at the counter of the diner where I poured coffee.
The first time we met, he pulled out paper and colored pencils and started to draw. “But you can't see!” I blurted out. He just smiled.
Blinded by disease when he was 8 years old, he said that he'd always been an artist. He didn't stop just because he had lost his sight.
I’d watch him draw for hours, his face strained inches above the paper. He could still see colors and light. He drew with an 8 year old's perspective, with the ground hugging the bottom of the page, but his skies, his skies were glorious fields of color.
He signed each finished work carefully, slowly writing out the letters of his name, “Andrew David Smith.”
I had never met an artist before, and was nervous when I asked him how much it would cost to buy one of his pieces? "I don't make these to sell," he smiled. Then he handed me the drawing he had just finished. I framed it proudly, the first piece in my collection. I have it still.
It wasn't about the art for him, he said. It was about being who he was, and not letting anything take that away.
One day he came into the diner with another man. They sat in a faraway booth but the fragments I caught of their conversation captivated me. They were speaking of things I felt in my soul, things I’ve never been able to find words for. I kept their coffee cups full as I strained to listen.
When they started to leave, I grabbed Andy's arm, “Please,” I whispered, “Tell me what you were saying to that man?” And this was how I found my first teacher.
We met every Tuesday night. He patiently answered all of my questions, the ones I’d pent up for years. “Truth is everywhere,” he taught me. “Open yourself up to everything, always seek beauty.” He described the universe as a magnificent vase that had smashed into tiny pieces. "And each of us clings to our small shard of glass and calls it a vase."
The way that he moved through the world was magical. When he decided to spend the summer in the mountains, he told me he wanted to buy a van. “But you’re blind,” I reminded him, "You can't drive." He laughed.
A few weeks later he won $10,000 in the lottery and bought that van. Then a friend mentioned he was looking for a ride to the mountains, and offered to drive them both there. That's how Andy rolled.
He knew things about people that couldn’t be seen. The energy that came from his hands was so strong that he could light candles without a match. And when he smiled, joy spilled from his face.
I would have many teachers over the years, and I would know thousands of artists. But when I think back on my friendship with Andrew David Smith, I am so grateful that the first artist I ever met was a blind man. Because the greatest lesson he taught me was that you don’t need eyes to see.
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This is a cracker of a story - and it's all true!
A Christmas Cracker tells the harrowing (and hilarious) tale of what ensued when I decided to channel my creativity away from art and into domesticity.
Here's the audio (and text!) from the live event at Phoenix's RPela Gallery in July 2014.
Playback issues on Safari (Mac)? See below *
"I am sharing a story of Christmas - though it’s only July - because this story will give all artists a chill. For when we muzzle our creativity, we start to focus on perfectionism and that trick never works.
Once upon a time, I was a newlywed. I had studied art, started to show my work, get published, but when I married a working artist, I decided to hang up my beret. Don’t judge me, women do this all the time.
I thought I should support him and his creativity. And that my work would be as a domestic artist – like Martha Stewart.
I wanted to pour every inch of my creative self into this new life. And nowhere would I have a chance to exhibit my newfound domestic flair more that Christmas. Ah Christmas! It had my name written all over it.
Our very first Christmas. I began by making individual handmade Christmas cards and posting them to all our friends and family.
I strung popcorn and cranberries for the tree until my fingers were bloody and raw..."
Read more here.
*If the sound does not play, click Safari in top menu bar, select Preferences then Advanced and uncheck/tick the Internet plug-ins box.
I hang my head in shame to admit that I’ve been busy with more important things than my own creativity. And this is what I teach other artists not to do!
Here’s the story: You may not know this but Companion and I have been collaborating on a musical. That’s right, as in play.
He’s been working on it and now it’s my turn. It’s a huge project and I couldn’t imagine finding the headspace to be inspired right now. I almost set it aside until Companion suggested that I take a week away and create the space.
I looked at the calendar and found one week that looked hopeful. I called a friend who lives in a gorgeous cottage in the English countryside asking if she knew anyone looking for a house-sitter, understanding that this was a shot in the dark.
But guess what? She and her husband were going away that very week and needed someone to stay in their home and look after the animals!
I took this as a very good sign indeed.
The house was lovely, surrounded by flowers and a garden stocked with fresh vegetables, a pond full of fish, cats to cuddle and a dog to play with. Who could ask for more?
I started each day writing non-stop until lunch. Then I’d take a 3.5 mile hike to the nearest town, Royal Tunbridge Wells. I lived in Tunbridge Wells when I first moved to England so it has a special place in my heart, and not just because this is where I first fell in love with cake.
Walking through the countryside brings out my inner 8-year old. I chased the dog across rolling green meadows, talked to trees in the forest, and played in the stream. I rested under huge oaks and blue skies as I took notes, capturing each idea as it came.
Once in town, my routine included trekking past all the regal Victorian villas to the High Street full of fabulous shops, where I’d treat myself to a cup of tea and a beautiful slice of cake before making the journey back.
When I returned to the cottage, I’d answer emails and address only the business that absolutely positively had to get done. Then dinner, a long soak in a hot bath, followed by an evening of musicals on TV for inspiration.
It was heaven! I’m the kind of girl who lives very close to my spirit because that’s where my best ideas come from. So although my self-imposed exile looked like a holiday, it’s actually the way I work best. Not only did I accomplish an incredible amount of work, I left that week feeling inspired and ready to put my creativity back into my daily schedule.
So to any artist who complains that they don't have time to devote to their own creative work, I say "Let them eat cake."