There’s this magic trick that I’ve grown to love over the years that always leaves everyone perplexed. To perform this trick, all you have to do is wait for someone to ask you what you do for a living, and then say “I’m a full time artist”.
Their left eyebrow will rise, their jaw will lower and their inquisitive gaze will look at you in disbelief. Then they’ll begin to question your magic trick. How did you pull it off? Where are the strings? Do you have something up your sleeve?
If you’re an aspiring artist fearing making a living as an artist may be a magic trick after all, read on. Let’s answer the million dollar question: Is being an artist such a risky career?
No, you don’t need to attend Hogwarts to become a professional artist, nor do you need to sell your soul, or do a vow of poverty and misery.
Being an artist is one of the many career options you have but it comes with a lot more baggage than some of the alternatives. Let’s have a real talk about what the "expectations vs reality" is like when it comes to making a living from your art.
Is being an artist such a risky career?
✦ EXPECTATION: A DAY JOB IS MORE STABLE THAN BEING AN ARTIST
Whenever someone tries to convince you that becoming an artist is not the way to go, they generally bring up the ‘stability’ factor that comes with a day job.
A day job guarantees a steady paycheck every week or month. You check into your workplace, do your thing, and at the end of the month you’ll get your paycheck in the mail. Rinse and repeat ‘til the end of your days.
Is it, though?
✦ REALITY: YOU CAN GET FIRED AT ANY MOMENT
The harsh reality is that a day job isn’t a lifetime deal where as long as you show up you’ll get to keep your job for eons to come.
You can get fired from your day job at any given time. Even if you’re good at what you do!
You could get fired for a thousand reasons:
A day job is stable until it isn’t. Unless you have a lifetime position** your job is in someone else’s hands and they can choose to let you go whenever it fits their needs. Oftentimes, with little to no severance paycheck.
When you take this into account, is being an artist such a risky career in comparison?
**(e.g. In Spain there are certain jobs that you have to pass countless, difficult exams for but if you do, you have a lifetime position in the job and firing you is going to be almost impossible).
✦ EXPECTATION: YOU’LL GET HEAPS OF CLIENTS WITHOUT EFFORT
Probably the most dangerous expectation of all. If you believe this, chances are your career as an artist will be short-lived.
Some artists think that as long as they put up a commission page, offer prints on online platforms like Society6 or make the bare minimum effort to tell them world they’re open for business, that clients will rush in wanting some art.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. In most cases, only a handful of people will even hear about your store or your commissions. So sales will be scarce.
But, before you start dusting off your resume ready to hit the streets, let’s do a reality check.
✦ REALITY: YOU NEED SYSTEMS TO REACH OUT TO + ATTRACT CLIENTS CONSISTENTLY
“If I build it they will come” only works if you build a giant chocolate fountain and you give people free access to it.
If you’re doing anything else, you’ll need some good ol’ marketing and outreach to get clients. But, don’t take action one time, build a repeatable process.
And when you have a process, build a system to attract clients, appeal to them and close the sale on autopilot.
Only when you do this, you’ll be able to enjoy a consistent stream of clients coming your way and making your new career as an artist more stable than a day job. And a lot more fulfilling.
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✦ EXPECTATION: I’LL BE A STARVING ARTIST 'CAUSE PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO PAY FOR ART
Do you know that moment when you’re minding your business and a potential client reaches out asking you if you can draw XYZ for them?
You get excited. “A client, yay!” - you think to yourself as you eagerly respond to their inquiry with a quote and an estimated time of completion for the piece they asked for.
Only to be told they want it free and if you refuse, to be called a greedy artist and that they have a friend whose brother’s roommate’s second cousin can do it better and for free, and that you’ll never make it as an artist with that attitude.
Collective eye-roll, please.
✦ REALITY: NO INCOME CEILING, FULL CONTROL + A FULFILLING CAREER
I saved this one for last because it’s the most pleasurable of all. Becoming an artist has many perks so let’s go over them!
Unlike a day job where your salary is fixed (save for bonuses), your income as an artist isn’t limited by anything. You can make zero or you can make millions. It largely depends on your efforts and how good your systems are for attracting clients.
If you have high dreams and high hopes, being an artist can help you achieve them. Your earnings won’t be capped at a certain level making you wonder “What now?”. Do you want to earn more? Raise your prices. Or work less without a pay cut? Raise your prices.
If you thought “Yeah, right, if I raise my prices, my clients will leave and find others who can do it for cheaper”.
Listen up. Another perk of being an artist is that you can choose who you work with and your prices will reflect this.
If you sell your art for dirt cheap, you’ll attract clients who want to pay dirt cheap.
To attract clients who value artists and their work, your art and your prices need to match the quality of client you want to attract.
When a client is disrespectful, wants to lowball you or gives you a bad vibe, you can choose not to work with them. You can choose to attract and work with dream clients only.
The first two combine to grant you full control over your career. For better or for worse, you own everything.
Every win and success, you own it. Every failure and mishap, you own it.
So, forget about blaming your boss, or your workmates, or the lack of clients. Everything is your responsibility now.
Do you want...
✦ More clients? You can set systems to bring them to your page and make sales.
✦ To earn more? You call the shots when raising your prices to make more money from each sale.
✦ To work less so that you can be with your family/out and about/playing games? Change your schedule, raise your prices to make more money working less time, offer things for sale you can create once and sell infinite times.
You control absolutely everything and nobody else has your job in their hands. You do.
Do you still think being an artist is a risky career?
Becoming an artist may feel scary and unpredictable, but when you realize and embrace the fact that you’re in control, it becomes exciting instead.
You control how many clients you reach, who you work with, how much you want to charge for your services and products, and how successful you want to be.
Over to you! Do you have any of these expectations or myths about becoming an artist? Do you still believe that’s how making a living from your art is going to go for you?