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How to Make it as an Artist: Part 10

One of the big challenges of being an artist is living your existence on speculation.  You create works of art because you have the passion and desire to do so and for some of us, can't imagine doing anything else.  The problem is that even when you do the work, unlike virtually every other job on the planet, you don't neccessarily get paid for it!  You create work in whatever craft you do in hopes that someone likes it enough to buy it from you.  But that doesn't always happen.  I still have a big piece that I painted about 4 years ago that took over 300hrs of my time and still no bites. It literally consumed me for 3 months of my time and I still haven't sold it.  When it does sell it will be amazing and seem like total bonus cash... but until then I am still working on a defecit. Reproductions of it have helped me to recoup some revenue for my time, but nowhere near the effort I put into the original.

Getting used to this is something you need to accept as an artist.  The longer you are in the game the more of an educated guess you can make before dive head first into  massive piece or project.  At the beggining I found I was just doing whatever came to mind in any size I found fit.  Luckily for me it worked out in most situations and almost all of my pieces sold relatively quickly.  But over the years through trial and error I began to find a bit of a balance that made more sense.  You need to know what your market is before you decide to do a piece which is financially greater than it. Let's say you are selling pieces for $500 and people like that size, can afford that size and keep buying that size.  It's always good to test the waters to see if you can get people to bite on larger ones, but just jumping in creating something 5-10 times as expensive as any of your other pieces could mean you are going to be sitting on it for a while until you manage to crack into a higher market.  This doesn't mean that you should not follow your passion and create pieces that fullfill your artistic desires, but there are a few things to consider.

One of the obvious ones is can you afford to invest that amount of time into a piece and not have it sell?  You don't want to dig a whole for yourself that will take you a long time to get out of.  You need to be somewhat smart about time management in order to be able to stay in the game for the long haul.  One of the ways you can go about doing this is by doing smaller versions or test pieces of what you want to do on the large scale.  Maybe it's a big painting, or a photo project or even wooden derigibles.  By doing smaller versions of the piece before or during your involvement on the big one you are able to not only test the waters with the public opinion on the piece and figure out if it is something that people may like, but you can fine tune your colours, lighting and composition before you just dive into a big one.  I always find that by playing with all the subtlties of colours and brush strokes on the small scale I am able to wrap my head around how to do this effectivly on the larger scale.  Sometimes just doing a colour gradation on the sky can take me 20 hrs of careful colour work.  It's way easier to make mistakes on a small scale and resolve the issue than it is to deal with it on the massive scale.  The other great thing about the small scale pieces is that you can sell them during the process of the big one to cover your rent and keep food on the table.

Another one is seasonal strategy.  If your art is your business then once you figure out to work smarter and not harder then you will be happier and have more time to dedicate to your passion. Seasonal targeting with your work is a pretty important thing.  If you ignore it and just do what you want at random then you might find yourself scrambling to make an opportunity at the last second.  WE all know when Christmas is and all of the other holidays, but you should also consider when the market season is, certain craft fairs as well as slow times in the art market.  Think about how long it takes to build up stock for key events like pre Christmas markets and craft fairs.  You want to have lots of stock in all sorts of price points to optimize those opportunities.  Don't get caught working on a massive project during the lead up to these events when you know there is a lot of prep to go into it.  Also, try to not just do a massive piece for a month or so when it would be wiser to do a number of smaller pieces or stocking stuffer ideas that are more likely to sell at the events.  $5 is better than no dollars so get your price point spread figured out well in advance of the event and I garauntee that you will do much better in sales than if you just do everything at a higher price point!  There are several times throughout the year that art sales are generally low. Post Christmas holidays is one of the best examples.  Everyone has spent all of their money over the holidays so you can expect to not make much during that period... this is a perfect time to work on a large project or piece with minimal stress or deadlines looming over you.  This January I am planning on finishing all the illustrations and paintings for the kids book that my best friend Feet Banks and I are doing. 

Inspite of all of the potential draw backs of doing a massive piece the benefits can be huge.  If you really take the time to make something incredible it can be the flagship of your artistic career. When you create a piece out of absolute passion for your craft it will really shine above all the others.  And a large scale can really make an impact at a show.  Even if people don't buy it, the initial impact of a large and impressive piece can do way more for you in the long term than simply selling it right away.  The buzz that gets created by a show stopper can have a very positive spinon your career.  the first big piece that I ever did is what put me on the map as an artist and actually convinced me to quite my job as a waiter and BE an artist.  Every few years I take the time to create a piece that is above and beyond all the others I have created and that piece is the one I use for any press I may get and it is first and foremost on my website.  I would definitely reccommend going above and beyond on at least one piece to use for this purpose.  It will not only be representative of your true talents, but also give you a landmark in your style and skill that you can use as a refference to maintain a cohesion between all of your pieces.  I have found that everytime I undertake a massive piece my style improves along with my skills.  If you don't push your limits of technique and patience from time to time you will probably find your art becomes a little stagnent and you don't quite get the same joy out of creating that you did when it was all new and a bit challenging to create. 

The true magic behind creativity it to think greater than what already exists.  That desire and that drive to improve and evolve is the fuel to your artistic fire... so stoke it up and try something new!

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