Tips for Aspiring Artists

My ideas on how to make it

I’m regularly asked for advice from artists on how to progress, and perhaps make the leap into being able to be a full time artist. I’m not quite sure I’m the best one to ask in some ways as I’ve not had a typical journey to where I am, nor am anywhere near the end of it… but in case its useful, this is how I look at things. Not how to create – that’s your bag, and I’m not prepared to divulge specifics anyway… but from a more operational prospective, figured out myself from my time in private industry working in brand and sales, and translated into what I do now…. the bits they don’t teach you in art classes.

This IS a business. Never loose sight of that. If you believe that as an artist you should create whatever/whenever you want to create, and that the quality of your work will open doors alone, you can stop reading now. PR and brand are king. Honestly, I believe that’s more important to succeed than your work unfortunately. Whether as an artist you try to manage that yourself, or trust in an agency or gallery to do that is your call… but If you follow me online at all I think you can tell which I prefer. To be in charge of my own destiny. Sure that makes it a fine tightrope to walk so as not to upset gallery partners who would traditionally drive that, but if done in the right way, in the age of social media I think it’s the way the everyone can win. I spend about the same time at the laptop as I do in the studio…. But I can’t paint all 18 hours I’m awake hey! If not known about already… read about Hirst and Warhol with regards to building their brand. Absolute geniuses, even if I personally don’t agree with how some things were done.

With PR its one step at a time… use each small win to move you to the next level. Local success to try to get into a local gallery. That gallery success to get to a bigger gallery etc. Focus on ‘perception’ and make sure you shout about any industry or celebrity endorsements… use any wins in that regard to try to move up to bigger wins in the same way… then it can easily snowball as long as the work stands up to it. I tell you now… if you’re at an event and there are two completely unconnected celebrities in the room who don’t know each other…. I guarantee that they’ll gravitate to each other and take photos together, and spread around social media. Maintenance of the brand. It’s rare to change your PR world in a day… and unhealthy to do that anyway. Just make sure to feed it all back in to fuel bigger things. Gradual progression is much more sustainable… which is what you want to be able to make a steady income. By the way, with celebrities… to be taken seriously, don’t be a fan boy, no matter how much they’re your hero.

At the same time as being in control of your own destiny and believe in what you’re doing, don’t dig your heels in. Be prepared to even work for free if the PR opportunity is big enough. To work successfully with anybody, including galleries, you have to be flexible. Galleries only work with artists they like and are easy to work with…. there are many many others behind you banging on their door. It’s the bigger picture and long term aims which are important, not short term sales. At the same time don’t sell yourself cheap…. I didn’t say it was easy to balance! Never just walk into a gallery and shove artwork under their noses either… they hate that. And definitely not at an art fair, they’re not interested – they’re trying to sell. Build a relationship first… softly softly.

Never ‘try to sell’ your work online. Sell yourself, just put ‘stuff out there’, and sales inquiries will come. Besides being the wrong message offering items for sale… it’ll make working with galleries very difficult. No gallery is going to work with an artist who would cut them out. Never sell anything on eBay unless its for a specific reason, i.e. a charity auction. Even then its a dangerous game. Prices for art won’t go high at all on eBay unless you pimp the life out of it on social media. And then of course all your followers can see what price ‘you didn’t achieve’. But it can work; I auctioned a piece with McLaren for the Japanese Tsunami fund a few years ago, the F1 world got involved on twitter.. and reached 10,000 page views for the auction.

Network your ass off… but again, don’t push for anything. Just meet people and talk about what you do when asked. If intrigued they will ask more, if they want to help they will offer. Don’t actually ask for introductions…. And you are much more likely to be voluntarily promoted. Focus on who you want to see your work, and fundamentally who you envisage buying your work… then think how you could get to them… again, subtly. It’s a long term game. Where do they spend their time, both online and in the real world, what events are prestigious around your subject matter and fan base… how could you add to those events, be it displays, demonstrations, donations… and how can you get in contact with the organisers of one years event to maybe be involved the next year? With examples of what/where you’ve done similar in the past ideally. Be true to yourself and market to people like yourself online is my tip. Its easily spotted if you’re trying to create/talk about subject matter or involve yourself in events which aren’t ‘you’.

Work hard. Every waking hour more or less. It’s never easy. Talent alone won’t suffice.

Don’t just copy what other artists are doing. Obviously with work… but also marketing. Openly, I have a couple of guys who try to emulate what I’m doing/who I work with, and as soon as they see me working with someone new they try to get in contact too. All that does is make themselves look ridiculous and at the same time potentially water down what I’m doing.

Just my view, but I don’t see the benefit of online artist groups, nor networking with other artists to be honest. Partly because of the aforementioned reason…. But how will that help you reach buyers for your work? Depends what you’re looking for from it of course… if you want friends and a hobby, or earn a living. If you want to be a successful artist, you need to treat it like a business in many ways. Not creatively… but for sure with how you approach brand and marketing. But either way – ensure to check ‘is this working’ at every step. In my view, I can best contribute and ‘put back into art…’ when I have reached where I want to be, not when flat out pushing to get there.

Positivity wins. Its infectious, especially in a creative world. You need to trust people and say yes more often than not, to be offered opportunities, and to give them a fighting chance to work. Sure, not everything will actually work. But for sure if you don’t try… nothing can. Stand out from the crowd in every way you can… whatever you do that’s different, magnify it. Specialise, be known for what you do… but I think also don’t put all your eggs in one basket. That’s not the healthiest if you want to earn a living. A couple of avenues maybe along the same vein.

If you’re trying to engage with people in the real world not just artisans and curators…. Please please please ditch the self written 3rd person artist profiles, they just sound pretentious. Never mind some of the bullshit often surrounds art, words like ‘transcend’ and lengthy blurb, all it does is alienate people. If you need a detailed description around what a piece is getting at, hasn’t it failed? Always re-read anything with ‘listeners perspective’ to avoid coming across as an arse.

Register your business and yourself for a self assessment tax return, do it properly. Remember to keep receipts for everything to offset against profit, including use of home as a studio maybe and business car mileage. A local accountant is a good idea…. It’ll cost a few hundred £ to have them process your return each year. I tried doing it all myself one year and lost about 2 weeks. Have a think about efficiency in running your business – I will always buy paint online for example (its cheaper anyway..) and will buy research material on eBay rather than go to a library… before you know it, half a day is gone otherwise. Plan your diary in the same regard with an eye on efficiency. For instance I need to be in London regularly which is 2 hours and a tank of fuel away… so I’ll always have in mind less critical meets that are flexible, to peg around when I absolutely have to be in town and make the most of the day – and overall least time away from the studio as possible.

A web page is vital to refer to, especially in emails… and fairly easy these days to manage yourself – mine is all a wordpress template I bought for a few $, then enlisted a local web developer to customise it a little – and everything else I do myself in just a few minutes a day.

Always have professional looking business cards to hand, even out socialising on a Saturday night, you never know who you’ll meet and when. Spend money on them not these 200 for £5 or whatever you see advertised. Try to ‘choose’ a name and a website that is easy to remember and unique. Google ‘Paul Oz’ and see what happens… and I havent spent a penny on increasing web ranking. Don’t worry about search terms like ‘landscape’ or ‘portrait artist’… no-one will ever search for artists like that, apart from other artists – its ALL about who YOU are. Its all a game, like all other marketing led businesses. Accept that and play it, and its a whole load of fun. You don’t exactly have to ‘fake it to make it…’ but you get my point I’m sure.

That’ll do for a start… but let me know what YOUR ideas are too! I can include here and quote you. I’ll try to update this continually as time goes on – I hope this helps and good luck! Although there is very little luck actually involved…

Paul