We're all aware of the myth of the starving artist surviving on pure genius and the occasional crust of bread. But in reality artists, designers and writers also need to do mundane things like pay the bills and eat. Artist, lecturer, curator and RCA graduate Rosalind Davis spoke at our recent event, Show Me the Money!, on how to make your practice financially sustainable. Here's the report on the event she filed for the brilliant website AIR – many thanks to AIR for allowing us to republish Rosalind's advice! And thank you to the hundred or so of you who came along and helped make the event so interesting and helpful.
Rosalind Davis speaking at Fuel's Show Me the Money event
At a recent talk 'Show Me the Money' at FuelRCA myself, Simona Dell'Agli (photo artist and Programme Coordinator for Artquest) and Stuart Croft (artist, fim-maker and RCA tutor) spoke about the various ways an artist can sustain their practice.
When artists graduate they will out of necessity learn many skills: to deal with their own promotion; be a marketing manager, researcher, people manager, project leader, law, finance and business expert, audience and collector development, diary manager, salesman and negotiator. This is in addition to having the stamina to survive rejection, funding and employment cuts.
A career as an artist is full of fantastic fulfilment and development but the lack of financial stability means relying on a variety of revenue streams to sustain your practice. As a portfolio career artist, money matters and I have successfully applied for funding aimed at artist led organisations for projects. This includes charitable, local authority, and crowd-funding.
Another main source of income is through the sale of artwork. I sell my work through galleries, art fairs, websites and art-dealers and even more often through the use of my own marketing, mailing list and open studio events. When one thinks of collectors, you perhaps think of an anonymous and distant Oligarch but that is not the case at all. They are people passionate about artwork and completely interested in your processes and progress.
Collectors also come from unexpected places; a previous employer, my secondary school teacher (who found me via my website!) an artist who once had a studio in the same building as me. One of the most surprising ways of selling an artwork was through my blog, which happened after I gave my business card to someone who then after reading about my work wanted to invest in my artwork. They are a dedicated and supportive group of collectors.
The main lesson here is investment in relationships and communication. Here are a few of my tips for selling work:
- Be realistic and be aware of the market
- Become confident about talking about your work because you are one of the best representatives and advocates of your work
- Be organised, be professional, be there: pricelists, business cards, presence
- Invite people to your show using professional e-bulletin templates. You can try the easy templates on Mailchimp and compile your mailing list into databases, e.g. lists for collectors, galleries, curators etc
- Think about creating different works for different markets, e.g. I offer a series of smaller and more affordable pieces called 'Start Your Collection'. For instance, it could be prints of a painting. This can be a valuable way to tap into different collector bases
- Finally, 'collectors'. I prefer to use the word 'supporters'. Nurture your collectors, meet them, talk to them, make them feel involved, give them special offers. Whatever you do, do not neglect them and forget to invite them to your exhibitions!