Whether you studied ceramics in college, attended community classes, are self taught, or learned via an apprenticeship/from a mentor, it’s likely that business and marketing skills were not part of the process.
Art school didn’t prepare me for starting a business, but that wasn’t really the professors’ focus. We did learn how to write an artist statement; present our portfolio to a gallery; apply to exhibitions, jobs, and residencies; and write a press release to send to the media. We also learned how to estimate costs of setting up a studio, and were asked to consider what we would truly need to make our work after we finished school. That’s about all we could fit into a four-year program that was focused on learning techniques and the creative and critical analysis skills needed to find our own voices with our chosen media. I would have needed to add a minor in business, or to find an apprenticeship or internship with a working artist to acquire the additional skills. Those require extra time. Looking back on it now, that would have been time well spent.
At some point, we all have to figure out where the accumulating work we’re motivated to make ultimately belongs (beyond the homes of our friends and family), how to finance our studio habits, and for some, if working in the studio can be the main source of income. While I never planned to be a self-supporting artist, I found out first hand (and pretty quickly) that a scattershot approach with work in a few consignment galleries, selling word of mouth, and exposure through a few juried shows each year wasn’t the path to a reliable income.
Lots of people struggle with this same problem, wanting to work as an artist entrepreneur, or to have a steady second income from studio work, but not knowing how to run a business. Fortunately, these days there are various options (both paid and free) at the community level, online, and in your own network of colleagues where you can gain these skills.
We present several approaches in this issue. Some involve team work, including working with an arts incubator or a group of artists locally or online to form a business plan or collective; forming partnerships to tackle larger projects (like renovating an old jail, see page 80); and working with government and community groups to fund renovations to a studio and gallery that is a neighborhood anchor. Individual approaches include engaging new audiences using a mobile art display, investing the time to create a unique trailer that doubles as a quick-setup display booth at art fairs, and starting with and sticking to the basics in the studio to keep overhead low.
We hope that you can learn from and adapt aspects of different methodologies to suit your own location, situation, personality, and business goals.