The Big Picture
During a Saturday morning workshop for artists at Art on 30th, owner Kate Ashton points out that, “The No. 1 reason artists who want to make a living at it fail is they stop.” She uses her own experience as a painter to encourage others to commit to their work and their marketing efforts.
After years as a wedding planner, Samantha now paints abstract back-drops for brides and grooms and wants to know how to leverage her talent for passive revenue streams such as licensing. Joe has been making money as an artist for six years, but not enough to make a living at it. Rob realizes that he needs to be more efficient at marketing himself as an artist. Anita would like supplemental income to help her transition into retirement. Rebecca wonders how to get noticed in the internet’s vast ocean. Prabudh recently opened his own studio, but wants to “take it to the next level.” All of them were among 14 artists spending a Saturday morning listening to Art on 30th gallery owner Kate Ashton, who offers group workshops and one-on-one mentorships for artists. “Every artist has a fantasy: ‘I am going to be discovered in my garage and everything in my life will change,’” Kate begins. Then she lays out a harsh reality: “If you made more than $1,000 [in art sales] last year, you are in the top 10 percent of artists in the country. Kate was a full-time painter before she owned the University Heights art center, which com-prises a ground-floor gallery and second-floor artist studios. “In five years, I was making a living at it,” she says. “That showed me this is possible. I have several studio artists up-stairs who come in every day. They work just like it’s a job, and they’re doing well. There are days when you spend three hours returning phone calls and emails.”
Kate intimately understands a dilemma facing artists, who typically thrive on isolation. “When I am in my right brain,” she says, referring to the hemisphere attributed to creativity versus logic, “I don’t care if I am efficient. I am being creative. But if you want to be a professional and make a living as an artist, you have to say, ‘I am going to give 50 percent of my time to [self-]promotion.’” Although galleries want to see a body of work, she points out, an individual need not have amassed one to start marketing himself or herself. “On Facebook, you don’t have to have a body of work,” Kate says. “All you have to have is a body of friends. You begin to let everyone you know see you as an artist. Even shy people can post on Facebook. “Eighty percent of my posts have to do with my art,” she continues. “Twenty percent is my just being friendly: ‘Look at the new boots I got on eBay. Here’s my cat.’” She recommends that artists create a second — business — Facebook account for selling their work. While she considers an on-line presence important, Kate urges artists to get involved in the local arts community by taking classes, attending gallery openings and entering their work in group exhibitions. “Eighty-five percent of your opportunities come from whom you know. You hear about art shows, opportunities, who’s selling and buying. And it’s important to know that you’re not out there alone,” she says. Indeed, even Kate has company when it comes to helping artists hone their business skills. Less than a mile south on 30th Street, The Studio Door gallery similarly incorporates individual studio spaces and offers coaching to other artists.
Owner Patric Stillman, also a painter, draws a coterie of about 15 to Saturday-morning Art to Market workshops at his North Park operation. Specific topics include how to write a bio and artist statement, how to present yourself and your work to a gallery, and how to maximize having a booth at an artwalk. The series also has included “creating a 12-month action plan.”
“Artists feel like ‘I really need that, but it’s not very appealing to engage in a professional development class compared to life drawing or another crea-tive class,” says Patric, whom Professional Artist magazine named 2015 Mentor of the Year. In addition to individual workshops, he offers a weekly-basis Incubator Lab, which he starts with a one-hour talk. “I basically lecture on a specific topic. It could be how to utilize social media to brand yourself as an artist or how to take photographs of your work,” he says. “That leaves two hours for the artists to work on that theme or to use my help to accomplish whatever they feel is important to their career at the moment. I have artists working on their websites or preparing portfolios so they can approach galleries. They may come in with a grant or exhibition they want to get involved with, and I help them craft their message. So they’re not alone in what they’re working on. “Typically, I offer the oppor-tunity for an artist to initially just do a drop-in to get a better idea of what is going on and see if they have a good rapport with me,” he continues. “Once they decide to participate, they have to commit to coming in for the month. “Part of my concept for The Studio Door is to create unity by bringing together emerging and professional, local and national artists, so the boundaries get blurred,” Patric explains. “It’s an opportunity for people to learn from others’ experiences.”