Sarafina Fiber Art

Sarafina Fiber Art

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

What is a Successful Artist?: $$ and Cornerstones to Success

After graduating from a pricey private college, I professed to my Mom that I wanted to pursue art.  I am positive that this was not music to her ears, nor gave her the feeling of security and well being for her daughter.  She is a very practical and careful (smart) person and, among other things,  said something to the effect of, "Not many people make it as an artist." Now, I am not saying that her words became a life long challenge of wills, however, I would not mind proving her wrong and being the exception.
Commissioned Room Screen from 2006 - pre needle felting

 First of all, we should define "making it" or success as an artist.  This will mean different things to different people.  Does it mean supporting your family?  Making at least minimum wage?  Or just feeling good that someone wants to buy something you made?  I can't speak for you, but for me it means making a decent income to the work I put in.  (And eventually, yes, I would like for my husband, Dave, to be able to quit his job and do something he loves too - maybe after the boys are out of college. )  

As usual, my Mom is right.   Not many artists make it.  Maybe it's because artists face mountainous challenges.  I will list a few:

being taken seriously
high gallery fees
the whims of our creative spirits
right brained strengths
left brain weeknesses
health insurance
fluctuations in the economy/luxury items
creating something people want
building a reputation to raise prices
finding outlets/buyers
managing careers as a business on top of being a good artist

Some of these things are concrete, some vary from person to person.  Let's punch out a few and focus on some.  No, I do not work for free or for exposure.  Galleries serve a purpose, are integral to the arts, and need to make money too, but in my opinion 50% is too much (even so I keep my prices consistent no matter where I sell - an important part of your business strategy).  We tend to jump from one creative inspiration to another, makes it kind of hard to build on our momentum.  We are not always the best at keeping records and dealing with numbers.  We usually live without the security of health insurance unless we are covered by a partner.  We create a luxury item and when the economy tanks, the artists dwindle.

That leaves us with the last four items on the list.   Points that we have to take seriously and at which we must work very hard.    These are the corner stones on which your success is built.  You can create all day upside down and all around, but if you don't make something people want, build your prices and reputation, SELL, and manage your business, you will not make money.

Creativity is the fuel of our work.  We would not feel fulfilled if we could not make our visions come to be.  I have a graveyard of unsuccessful paintings and unfinished wool sculptures.  Not every single effort will yield the Mona Lisa, and we have to experiment and follow the muse, but we should do our best to find the balance between our inspiration and a product that will create income.  What are you most driven to do?  What are you better at making then others?  For my current business, at this very moment, this looks like teaching, Supply Packs, and a growing supply of fibers for needle felting.  When I started Sarafina Fiber Art I was busy making needle felted rabbits, foxes, and critters of all types.  Once you have figured out where your niches lies you begin to build...

I can't tell you how many of these bunnies I have made.

Building your reputation and raising your prices is a multi fold origami of tasks and focus which includes branding, promoting, visual "look" of your business, social networking, website, and creating demand.  With Talbot's help, I created this logo for Sarafina Fiber Art.  I use the green speckled background (made with watercolors on Kitty Wallace Museum grade pastel paper) on my website, my business card, my social networking, my logo, and behind most of the pictures I take of my products.  It is a visual sign to buyers that I am unified, organized, serious, and professional (not always the case, but hey, I try).  Just one example of a step you can take to give solidarity to your business, create recognition, and begin to build demand.

Selling your work might seem like the obvious goal, but it goes hand in hand with all the other cornerstones.  Not only do you have to make the product and create the demand, you have to get the product out to the buyers.  For me, this is an etsy shop and teaching workshops.  For many artists and crafts people it is traveling to shows or selling galleries.  No matter what it is, you have to make it happen and often.  People can't buy it if they can't find it.

I started cutting back on outdoor shows because I didn't feel I was hitting the right target
 Finally, artists must manage their business.  That means book keeping and number crunching, but it also means moving forward and making brain decisions not always heart decisions.  It would be nice if we could follow our whims, sell all of our heart felt creations no matter how crappy, and get what we think we deserve for them.  But making money is it's own craft.  One we have to hone.  It can be very creative!  You actually HAVE to be creative to make your artistic soul into a business.

When it's all said and done, I have yet to report on my taxes an annual income that I feel is sufficient.  But the goal to do so keeps me driven.  I feel successful in the sense that I am indeed making some money, providing a product that people like, providing work to others, and seeing my business grow.   I am also in love with my job and enjoy every minute of it - not something many can say - and that is priceless.