Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Just recently I received an email from a person who I have been following recently regarding online marketing. What was most interesting is that this person was speaking about a book that she had just written based upon the premise that one should do what they love for a living.

What fascinated me most is that in the 1970s and being in my early 30s I found myself drawn to the new younger generation that was then beginning to speak about “doing your own thing”. The goal was to put aside following a more traditional life style and job or career path in favor of choosing a direction that was more exciting and fulfilling. This was the time of communes and dropping out.

I found the notion of doing your own thing to be highly appealing but moving into a commune did not interest me at all. However the inspiration of this led me to then leave my chosen profession of architecture in favor of going off to graduate school to study art and photography which I had grown to love, not knowing where this would lead me.

Now as I look back on this it was a rather daring thing to do at the time. I had spent 5 years on procuring a Bachelor of architecture degree and several years getting my architects license and working in architectural offices. I was well on this professional path and I had a wife and two young children to support. But with the encouragement of my wife I applied for and was accepted to graduate school in photography at the University of New Mexico to develop my personal vision of photography and work towards getting a Masters of Fine Art degree.

Three years later I graduated with my degree and the next question was what to do now to earn a living. I started a search for teaching positions in photography which seemed to be the most logical direction for my new art career. Much to my pleasure and surprise I received an invitation to interview at Cornell University and subsequently was offered a teaching position where I taught for almost 30 years in the Art Department.

So have I been doing what I love all these years? Absolutely. I have been able to pursue my love of photography over the years and become involved in its transition from the darkroom to the digital arena which is proving to be an extremely exciting ongoing experience. Moreover I have supported myself and my family through the teaching of photography and have enjoyed every minute of it and have had many interesting and exciting students some of whom have gone on to develop their own careers in the field of art and photography.

And as a photographer I have been able to spend time traveling and picture making in the US at such inspiring places like Point Lobos on the California coast and White Sands in New Mexico and more recently in the Finger lakes of upstate New York. Additionally I have been to Europe many times and photographed in Paris and Rome, two of the most exciting cities in the world.

As I look back I am really impressed by how well things have worked out for me over the years. And I did find a very satisfying way of earning a living although it was not necessarily the professional artist path that I had hoped for and expected. Maybe that is just another way of saying yes, one should seek after doing what you love for a living, but that you should also be open other possibilities for earning a living that  come along.

Perhaps the title of this post should be "LOVE WHAT YOU DO FOR A LIVING" rather than "do what you love for a living". There are many ways to earn a living and many of them we can love doing for our livelihood. In the art world the problem is that sometimes artists get stuck in their thinking that if they can't make a living from their livelihood as an artist they can't be happy and that is just not the case. Whatever you do for earning a living can make you happy, no matter what it might be.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


When you reach a point as an artist where you want to sell your work, generate income, there are really only TWO ROADS to follow.

THE FIRST ROAD is to find a REP, someone who will handle all the presentation and marketing of your work. But first you have to find a rep who is willing to do this, someone who has high regard for your work and who thinks they can sell it. Also you will want someone with a track record who you trust to be able to sell your art. And finally you will want to find someone who you can trust to handle your sales and make sure you get your money.

Of course you will have to pay for this service so this impacts the amount of money you can earn from sale of your art. Moreover it may even mean you have to raise your prices as often times an artist rep may charge a commission of anywhere from 25-50%. But the value of this for the artist is that the rep knows more about where and how to present your work so you can turn oven most if not all the work of marketing and selling to someone else so that you can just spend your time in the studio making art. Obviously this also provides an artist more hours for creating art although it is at the expense of income from their art.

It also goes without saying it is imperative to carefully choose who you employ as your rep. Sometimes one can get recommendations from other artists who have had success with a certain rep, that is if other artists are willing to reveal who they use to rep their art. Some artists don't want to tell who does this for them as they worry if they tell and their artist friend is accepted for representation it will reduce their own sales.

Obviously top reps want artists whose art work will sell well and will carefully choose their artists. They will look at the record of an artist's past sales before they take on a new client. They will also look at the record of past shows of an artist knowing that they can use a prominent show record as evidence of the importance of their artists as well as justifying the prices of art works during sales of artworks. Finally reps may require an exclusive arrangement with an artist so that the artist is not listing artworks elsewhere with other reps or galleries or in other venues that create a competition for sales.

THE SECOND ROAD is marketing your own art work. An artist can take on all the tasks of seeking out sales venues as well as develop a strategy for marketing their works in different venues. The obvious benefit is that an artist will receive and retain most if not all the sale income of their works.

But for an artist the first obstacle is overcoming their own reluctance. Many artists readily admit they do not know anything about how to market their works or make sales. It all seems like a big foggy mystery as well as something very unappealing to be involved with. They are committed to being in the studio and don't want to give up precious time from their art creation and production.

So an artist will have to first find peace with giving up studio hours and second find a willingness to learn about how to market their work. A starting point is to be aware that marketing is not rocket science, it can be learned. There are many artists who have taken on their own marketing and in fact begin to embrace and enjoy it as a exciting part of being an artist. On the other hand those who never develop a liking for it will most likely never do well at it. The bottom line here is that in the end it is your choice to like or not like it. You are not disposed at birth on way or the other, you either choose to like

Often when hearing that marketing will take 50% of their time or more they balk and say that is too much. And then they may settle for spending fewer hours doing marketing and reluctantly accept getting less income from sales. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017


Most artists start out their career in art with a dream. They have a vision of spending each day in their studio making art and then selling their works to provide themselves with a good income and life style. I mean, after all, there are plenty of examples of successful artists who have made a breakthrough, have become well known and get six figure incomes. If they can do it why not you.

However most of the time what they discover rather quickly is that this is a tough road to follow as no one begins their art career fully accomplished and mature in style, able to sell their works easily and consistently to support themselves. An art career is like a roller coaster going up and down, sometimes feast and then other times famine.

Now many people talk about "the starving artist" but that is more dramatic than actual. Artists don't starve. Sure sometimes they are a bit short on money for food and short on having enough to pay the rent or have the means to buy art materials. But most artists are also practical and find incomes to get themselves buy. In New York City over the years many artists have traditionally waited tables to make a living, and still do. Or sometimes artists take on graphic design jobs or find other temporary employment to help get by in lean times. But really, artists don't go without food, not in the same way that pockets of poor people in rural areas actually have periods of nothing to eat.

But artists already suspected this would be the case so they have branched out to find other jobs to earn a living while they toil evenings and weekends to produce work and develop a voice and style. And they also enter art shows, participate in art fair, take workshops to help expand their skills, attend art conferences to meet other artists, and travel unusual places to get inspiration and sometimes materials for their work.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


Can one make a living from their artworks? You could answer this both YES and NO. But if you answer YES then there are a number of things to do for this to happen.

First you have to believe you can earn your living as an artist. Sometimes this is not easy to do. Most likely you will look around for other artists to see if any are doing it successfully. You may simply need them to convince yourself it is possible. And then if other artists appear successful you may want to ask them how they did it. What are the actions or tricks for success as an artist.

Now I don't mean just knowing of artists who are making sales, as most dedicated artists who really try can and do sell some works. But it is sporadic. What I am referring to are artists who have successfully established an art business (refrain from cringing at the use of this term). Not only are they productive artists, but they know how to put their work out there to be seen, put it in venues that promote sales, and know how to negotiate a sale successfully. And these artists are able to do this continuously, not just now and then.

The result is that these artists make enough income to not only be able to pay incoming bills but have enough surplus for all living expenses and even some extra. But it should be understood that this is not like having a regular 40 hour a week job that provides a regular paycheck of the same amount coming in. With art sales the income varies month to month. But as long as artists are selling, more in some months, over the long run it can all balance out.

The bottom line however is that it is still up to you. Artist coaches are springing up everywhere these days who can advise you on some possible paths to follow, help you establish a plan of action, give you useful ideas, but in the end it still comes back to you to actually do it.

So why are some artists better at making a consistent living than others? Why do some just seem to have the knack for it? Here are some possible reasons why and considerations to ponder.

1. THE ARTWORK. Let's be honest, on one hand some art is just stronger and better conceived and popular with the general public and will be better received than other art and hence more salable. Now don't get me wrong, as artists we all have to start somewhere and we are not born innately knowing how to make outstanding and salable art, we have to develop our skills and ideas and visual language over time with a lot of effort. Some artists have spent a lot of time getting educated about art and learning their craft and developing a style and point of view that shows quite clearly when their work is compared with the work of other artists. And most times they then get a stronger and more positive response from a viewing public.

On the other hand some art thematically and stylistically seems also to be more popular with the general public and hence easier to sell. I don't support picking subject matter because it is easy to sell as a goal, but it seems there is clear indications some subject matter or styles sell better than others. But one way or the other an artist has to make peace with pleasing the public taste or pleasing oneself.

2. MARKETING. A common refrain I hear a lot from artists is "I am not good at marketing, I would rather just stay in my studio and paint...". Of course they may not be good at marketing or like to do it but most likely it is because they have never spent time at it and actually know nothing about it. Of course an artist may be unsuccessful at marketing if they start with a negative attitude and avoid it.

But it seems quite obvious that successful artists are those who master how to present and market their work. Some spend as much as 50% or more of their time at marketing and I have even come across a few artists who spend as much as 90% of their time on it. They know how to present their works publicly, how to talk with viewers either in their studio or at a show about their work, and especially how to sell to an interested potential customer. If you can't do this then chances are good your success as an artist will be limited.

But the good news is that this is a skill and can be learned, if you try.

3. THE LONG HAUL. Some artists do not consider the long hall. A successful artist is one who has slowly built their career over a longer period of time. Some young artists early on have a really successful first or second show and think they are on the way to fame and fortune. Then things slow down, they have fewer shows, their gallery loses interest and drops them, people seem less interested in their work. Also they don't really have the sales they first had, bills are harder to pay and cause them to consider getting a 9-5 job, and maybe they marry and start a family with new demands for time and income.

Successful artists seem to hang in through all of this, continue to make art, keep working at getting their work out on display and in shows, continue to market and sell their works. They are in it for the long haul. So by the time they reach mid career they have a sustainable life style as an artist and can continue progressing, making better and more interesting art, building a career, getting better known, and selling work. This is not always easy to do but some artists not only master their art forms but also learn to master their life as artists.

4.  AN ADDITIONAL SOURCE OF INCOME. If an artist chooses to be an artist for the long haul then it probably means finding an additional source of income in addition to selling one's artworks. One cannot just spring into being totally self sustaining through art sales right at the beginning, unlike with other professions like architecture or engineering or law or medicine. Most times building an art business takes creating a body of work and seeking out sales over many years and during those times an artist may need another source of income.

So the goal of the emerging artist might be to find something else besides sales of work for income that sustains one,  and maybe is also something that one enjoys doing, all the while making art and getting it out there and building a following and increasing one's reputation and hopefully sales.

There are of course those occasional exceptions where some artist just seem to rise out of nowhere to achieve prominence and get a flood of sales but the norm for a majority of artists seems to be gradual small steps to build an art career over years, maybe even a lifetime. So the best strategy for an artist is when building a career and business to have other sources of income available and choose income producing activities that one likes and feels good about doing.

And additionally even if an artist starts to sell well and the income rolls in many if not most artists may hold on to alternative income sources because in the end an artist is unlikely to predict if or when or at what prices their art will sell. However on the other hand living expenses given a chosen life style are more regular and predictable. Lack of art sales over several months can create a money crisis whereas if an artist has alternate income they can survive the sales slowdown more easily.

5. A BROADER VISION. As I get older I now think more and more about what has been and is most important in my life as an artist. Certainly selling artwork to earn a living can be an important goal but then I don't think it should not be the primary goal for an artist. In the long run I believe all artists will want to look back at their artist career and value what they created more than what they sold. Earning a living is important on a day to day basis but in the long run artists will want to be remembered for what their creative accomplishments have been, what their legacy as artists will be. And if earning a living pulls them away from that then perhaps it is time to reevaluate and refocus on art creation over the selling of our artworks.

The bottom line is that being a creative artist demands a lot of time and energy and life balancing. First you have to really commit to it and believe it is possible to have any chance of success.You also have to create some plan or strategy for how to go about it, what steps to take to achieve it, which of course varies over time. And finally you have to be willing to dedicate yourself for doing it consistently and over the long run. This requires momentum which happens gradually over time, not overnight.

Those big names you see at prominent shows did not jump into it suddenly, they built it slowly over many years of shows and small steps, and keeping at it, both in terms of making art and marketing it. And in the end they will be remembered for the works they created, not what sale prices their works went for.

So what are your thoughts about making a living as an artist?