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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."
It was on September 13th, when she was just 13 years old, that Orelle was struck by a car as she crossed 13th Street. Unlucky number 13.
Orelle spent the remainder of her short life in pain, finally finding peace when she took her last breath exactly 13 months later on October 13th, 1932.
It was my Grandmother who kept the memory of her sister alive all these years. She once confessed to me that she wasn’t afraid of her own death because she knew that she would see Orelle again. See her without the pain that the unlucky number 13 had wrought.
Several years ago I asked my Grandmother - what was Orelle like? She smiled, “A bit like you. She was a dreamer, very artistic and she was always writing poetry and plays.”
A bit like me. No one in the history of my family had ever been described as being a bit like me. I wrote poems and plays and dreamed my way through life. I had always wanted to be a writer but never dared pursue it. It was when my Grandmother told me of Orelle’s wish to write that I finally owned my own.
I will never have the opportunity to hear the sound of Orelle's voice. But I feel the power of it course through my veins each time I put pen to paper.
Today, as I write this, it is June 13th, and would have been Orelle’s 96th birthday. My gift to her is to share her story with you. Thank you Orelle, for inspiring me to live the life you could not. The life of an artist.
Mickey was born the moment that his father died. His dad was rushing to the hospital to greet his firstborn son when he was hit by a train and killed instantly.
A few years later, Mickey's misfortune continued when his mom married a Bad Man. Family lore has it that the Bad Man beat little Mickey so brutally that all the sense was knocked out of him. Mickey would always remain a boy, even after he was grown.
He was my father's cousin. This boy/man lived with his invalid mother in the forest near my grandparent's Minnesota lake house. An idiot, they called him, but not unkindly. To me he was a cross between a giant and Snow White's sweet dwarf, Bashful.
Each summer Mickey would teach me the trails of the forest, pointing out the birds, trees and wild animals he called his friends. He taught me how to put a squiggly worm on a hook and to cast a fishing rod. He never spoke to me, only gestured and smiled, both of us equally shy of one another.
One summer, Mickey shared a secret. We followed the trail that led from my grandparent's dock toward his mother's house. In a clearing, I saw a small sign with the word "Mickeyville" scrawled upon it. A pretty little town lovingly built of wood in miniature. Mickey, it would seem, was a deeply talented woodworker. His eyes shined with pride as I walked through Mickeyville. It was all there, brightly painted houses, a school, a tidy church with its tall steeple. And there was the hospital, right next to the railroad tracks. Just as in Mickey's life, there were no people in Mickeyville.
I wouldn't return to the lake house for another 20 years. They were all gone by then: my beloved grandparents, Mickey and his invalid mother. I picked up a rusty fishing pole from the edge of the dock and cast the empty hook into the water just to remember how it felt. There was a hard tug and I reeled in a huge Northern pike - off the dock with an empty hook! The ghosts of my people were having their way with me.
Leaving the spirits of the water, my eye caught the trail into the forest. Soon I found myself standing in the ruins of Mickeyville. Countless winters had battered the buildings, most crushed by the weight of snow and neglect. The tall steeple of the church stood alone. I reached through its wide front doors, past the rows of tiny pews, across the altar and removed the small wooden crucifix fastened to the back wall.
Today, the crucifix from the Mickeyville Church sits on my own altar where it remains my favorite piece of art.
I was having was one of those days and life was bringing changes that tinted my spirits blue. I turned to the TV, hoping to escape my melancholy mood.
Mary Poppins. I never watch kids’ films, but it was the only thing on, so I settled in with a sigh.
I had forgotten about Mary Poppins and how much I’d loved her. I was surprised to find I knew every song and remembered every word. I had forgotten that when I was a little girl, I wanted to be Mary Poppins.
I imagined that when I grew up I’d create a life where I would sing with birds and dance with trees. I’d have adventures and live my dreams.
“Real life’s not like that,” they all warned gravely, concerned for the future of this curious little girl. But I was intent.
Every time I saw a shooting star, I'd wish for those magical powers. I poured a small fortune into wishing wells. And I spent so many years bent over in search of four-leaf clovers that I still suffer from back pain.
But as I watched Mary Poppins again after so many years, I became enchanted. And a miracle did transpire. I remembered who I was. I remembered that little girl who wanted to create a beautiful life, full of adventures and magic and delight.
And I realized that in a strange way, I am Mary Poppins. I have created that life. And that I don't have to feel blue when life brings change, I just need to take it with some sugar.
In many ways, Mary Poppins was like an artist, leaving everywhere she went more beautiful for her having been there. She never wasted a minute wishing things could be different, but focused on the magic of each moment. Mary Poppins reminded me that how I respond to change is a choice that I make. And that life is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, if I will only believe.
Wind’s in the east, mist coming in. Like something is brewing, about to begin...
I brought no Italian to Rome.
At the Brazilian Embassy, I tell the guard that I am to see the great artist Vik Muniz. The guard speaks no English. My best mime only warrants a raised eyebrow.
In desperation, I plead, "Parlez francais?" though I do not. A call is placed and I gather that I have been mistaken for a french journalist of great repute. "French" because everyone now speaks to me in french, though my only reply is my customary Gallic shrug. "Journalist of repute" because I was granted the sole private interview with the artist so they assume I must be somebody.
The red carpet is rolled out as a diplomat whisks me upstairs to Vik. Introductions are made, in french, to Vik as he looks at me, baffled, and exclaims. "It's you!" We embrace as I explain how I chased him to Rome, wanting an interview for my Working Artist project, and how I carefully connived to arrange this meeting.
They give us an ornate room to talk in private. Vik helps me set up my film equipment and, as I struggle, he patiently teaches me how to use my tripod. Oh God, I repeat to myself nervously. The Brazillian Ambassador drops in to say hello. Oh God. A white-gloved man in uniform silently serves us espresso. I am shaking with caffeinated nerves.
But he was the same Vik Muniz he has always been, generous, brilliant, hilarious, insightful, and gorgeous. And in the end, I got an amazing interview.