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An Artist's Life, Part 3: What Does an Artist Do All Day?

22 FEBRUARY 2018

photo of open boxes of colorful pastels

What Does An Artist Really Do All Day?

me at my solo show in Richmond

How much work does it take to get to this point?

Sometimes I hear someone make an off-hand remark that reminds me of how the majority of people regard the work of an artist.  At times I'm taken aback at comments like, "I guess you have a lot of time for gardening now that you don't work."

When I point out that I do work, I just work at home now, I'll get the obligatory, "Oh, yeah - " followed by the unspoken "but... (it's not real work)". Of course, they have no real idea what an artist's life is like, and I can't blame them, because I was surprised, myself, at what being a full-time artist entails.

The Fun and the Tedious

Most people think being an artist would be fun, and it's true that some of it is. The art-making part is fun, or at least, fulfilling, for most of us. Which is a good thing, because many of the other tasks that go along with being a working artist are not. 

If you don't passionately love making art, I can't really think of another reason to do it. The other parts of the job are things that wouldn't occur to anyone except us, and could be seen - at least by whiney ol' me - as tedious, repetitive, and often frustrating.

In a post on my old blog I listed out some these tasks. But since then, I've learned a considerable amount, as I tried to actually do all this stuff. So I thought I'd share with you my new list, along with a few new insights I've gained along the way.

photo of me selling work at art exhibit

Me at Art After Hours exhibit in Ft. Thomas, KY

The List

So, here's my newly modified list of tasks regularly done by artists who try to make a living - or at least part of one - from their work. I've condensed some of them into categories, when I didn't want to go into the sub-tasks or confuse the reader.

Keep in mind that this is my own personal list, and that tasks will vary from artist to artist. Also, this list is far from comprehensive, because if it was, this would be the longest blog post in history. But I think it will give you a good overview of the types of things we have to do to keep our businesses going - in other words, what an artist does all day.

Like cleaning the house, doing laundry, or cooking meals, almost all of it is ongoing; you don't just do it once and cross it off your list. It's like once you're finished doing it, it's time to do it again. I'm sure you're familiar.

photo of laptop computer with graphic "how to make money blogging"

“A blog is good for two things only. Building trust and getting people off your blog and on to your sales page. The blog should never be thought of as a way to make money.”


What Does an Artist Do All Day?

1. Building and maintaining a website.  I decided to get serious about selling online, so after doing considerable research (I did all my homework, I studied hard), I thought I was ready. I spent all summer - okay, I won't lie - all the way up until the holidays - constructing a new site, complete with this blog and a shop.

This was way more work than I thought it would be, and frequently frustrating, because I had to learn most of it as I was doing it. People are always asking me if my website is done yet. The answer is, yes - and no. While the basic site has been built, there is always more to do, some of which will be listed below. My Advice: Unless you have web design experience, hire someone to do it for you if you can afford it. If you have to do it yourself, I DO NOT recommend that you use Wordpress. I would suggest you use one of the more user-friendly template-based platforms such as Wix or Weebly. I wish I had.

Also, if you want the basics of selling art art online presented in a clear and consise way, Cory Huff's How to Sell Your Art Online is packed full of essential information. 2. Write blog posts. I try to do this at least once a week, but I'm not really sure if it's a wise use of the considerable chunks of time it takes up. As you can see if you look at the image and quote above, which purposely do NOT go together, there is a very wide discrepancy where this is concerned. There are any number of articles out there that claim to hold the secrets to making a fortune with your blog, and just as many saying it's like spitting into the wind.

I blog because I want to connect with people, and I work very hard to compile information that's worth sharing. If I can save someone the trouble of researching SEO when I've already done it, I'm happy to do that. If they find their way from my blog to my shop, that's a bonus. 3. Integrate a print-on-demand service into my ecommerce store. This was a complete fail. I was unable to find one that offered the products I wanted along with the ability to integrate with Woocommerce. There seem to be a few that are made to work with Shopify, but Woocommerce, not so much. I ended up using ArtPal, so I just linked my site to my print-on-demand gallery, at least for now. Here is a good basic article about print-on-demand by Cory Huff of The Abundant Artist; you can also download a helpful POD service comparison chart. (By the way, I am not affiliated with, nor do I receive any money from Cory Huff or The Abundant Artist. But I think I should, don't you?)

4. Organize my photos on the computer so I can find what I want when I want it.  I'm trying. Really. But when? It's not as high in the priority hierarchy as other things, so it tends to get little attention. However, I often waste time searching for a photo I want to use for a blog post. This aggravates me. 5. Re-size and re-name images for my website. The size I used for my old blog will not work for Woocommerce, and I learned that I was not labeling my images correctly for Search Engine Optimization. This took a LOT of time. 6. Learn correct Search Engine Optimization practices and implement them. This was a steep learning curve for me, and can be pretty complex, but I'm making progress. It's something a lot of people ignore, as I did in the past. But it's actually something you need to consider every time you write a blog post, add a new product to your store, or upload images. All I can say is, thank goodness for Yoast, a free SEO plugin designed for Wordpress. It's not the whole picture, but it's a great start. Online Media Masters' article, SEO for Artists by Tom Dupuis, is the best comprehensive SEO guide specifically geared toward artists I have read. The worst part of SEO, for me, is keyword research. Figuring out what focus keyword to use for each page takes a lot of time, as there are so many variables involved. I won't go into that now, but if you need suggestions, just let me know.

graphic of search engine optimization

7. Marketing.  Another dirty word for a lot of artists, but if you want to actually sell your work, it seems to be a necessary evil. I knew nothing about it, since I had always sold mostly in galleries. I had never studied it in school, and frankly, I had no interest in it.  Oh well; too bad for me. Art Marketing That Doesn't Suck by Christopher Kerry of Copic Marker Tutorials is a good place to start. He also has articles that go further into the many components of marketing, such as: sales funnels, finding your niche/ ideal customer, advertising, social media marketing, building an email list, and print-on-demand. There are lots more, but for now I'll leave it at that.

graphic of digital marketing

8. Photograph my work, and

9. edit the images with photoshop. I do both of these myself, to save money, though getting it done professionally would be better. I photograph outside, in open shade, so weather is a limiting factor. Now that I'm doing print-on-demand, it's more important than ever to have clear, high-resolution images in the largest size possible. 10. Post new work on facebook, pinterest, twitter, and instagram to let people know about my blog post, which I've posted to let people know that I've posted it for sale on my website, and on ArtPal for print-on-demand.

art on wall at exhibition

Exhibit at Audubon Museum in Henderson, KY

11. Look for exhibits to apply for, and apply for them. Keep in mind, first of all, that you usually have to pay a fee to enter these shows. I try to aim mostly for the online exhibits, or the ones within driving distance, because shipping work to an exhibit and back again is prohibitively expensive. Unfortunately, art doesn't seem to sell that well at juried shows, making it a losing proposition in most cases. I also apply for solo shows, but these opportunities seem to be few and far between.

mess on my studio floor

12. Somehow figure out how to keep all my collage materials organized, and put stuff where it goes - ha! I actually have been working on this lately, and many things, like my feathers and plant materials, have been put safely into drawers. But I tend to frequently aquire new stuff, and of course, whenever I'm working on a piece of art, a big mess just seems to come out of nowhere...

13. Send out newsletters and announcements. I now have a mailchimp account, and my goal is to send out at least one general newsletter per month, and/or announcements concerning any exhibits or publications.

collages on my dining room table waiting to be framed

14. Framing artwork.  Having it done by a framer is incredibly expensive, so this is just not an option. I order my frames in sections, order the mats and plexiglass, and cut my own backing board and the mat board I mount the pieces on, and put it all together myself.  What I hate about it is that inevitably, when you think you're done, you have to take the whole thing apart because there's a piece of fuzz or a dog hair in it. It's maddening!

photo outside of Promenade Gallery in Berea, KY

The Promenade Gallery, where I sold work for about 25 years, now a restaurant.

15. Look for new sales venues, i.e. galleries. I had been selling work through the same gallery in Berea, KY, for many years. A couple of years ago, the owner sold it in favor of having a regular job with health insurance. I couldn't blame her. But even though I still have work in the Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen Gallery, I need to look for new galleries in other areas. Am I too busy to do this, or too chicken? (I think that's a rhetorical question!)

16. Find and implement a good inventory program. This keeps getting pushed to the back burner, but I'll have to do it eventually. Right now, my inventory is hand-written, in a binder - just one step above being chisled into a rock! 17. And much, much more... There are too many more tasks to mention, from little things like buying art supplies to spraying or varnishing the work to protect it. But there is one more major thing I forgot, and it's... 18. Oh, yeah - making art! And I'm not joking, I really did almost leave that out! There's lots more I could mention, but I think you get the idea. It probably seems like I'm whining and/or exaggerating, but I'm really not. I know how very lucky I am to be able to do what I love, and I never take that for granted for a single day.

My point is, to be honest, I just can't figure out how to keep all of these balls in the air. Is it just me who feels overwhelmed? Am I inept or inadequate, or is there some solution that I'm overlooking? I'd really appreciate your thoughts and insights. How do you keep up? Please share in the comments section below, or on my facebook page. Thanks! p.s Just a quick note to let you know that if you have questions about any of the topics above, I've done a lot of research, and would be glad to help you in any way that I can.


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