Getting Business Savvy: A Guide for Artists

By Emilya Colliver

I’ve always stressed the importance of artists knowing the is and outs of running their own business. They may have one of the best jobs in the world, but there is still the need to put themselves out there and act professionally. A daunting task!

There are many different ways you can be involved in creative industries, but a very specific way you can make it financially sustainable.

I’ve put together a few tips and recommendations for any artists wanting to take their art to new places.

  Emilya Colliver at a speaking event for artists from the Georges River & Bayside Council area

Emilya Colliver at a speaking event for artists from the Georges River & Bayside Council area

This article is adapted from a speech I did at a Georges River & Bayside (GRaB) Arts and Culture Network talk in October 2017.

How Are Artists Commissioned?
Firstly, I want to explain how I even choose an artist for a commission. Once I receive a brief from a client I start thinking about what artists might fit. I pick artists for jobs in various ways. One of those ways is through our detailed database - with artists categorised by their mediums and styles or locations, to help us to find artists to a specific brief. But how do you get onto this list? We enter artists that we come across into the database so we can find them later, and we can come back to them if something comes up that will suit. If you’re not on the database or we don’t know you personally,  we’ll find you through researching on Google and instagram, or asking around. The easiest and quickest way to find artists is online.

Get Digital
For all you artists shifting uncomfortably in your seats at the idea of publishing an online portfolio for anyone to see, time to get over that! Just get in there and have a go - start an online portfolio, put up old work and anything you are creating as it is finished. It’s important to document your work as it is finished and to post high quality images of your work - more than one picture of the same work is great - an in-situ shot of the work in studio or hung on a wall is a great way to portray the art at its best.

Instagram is a great start, but it’s not enough. You also need a clear bio or information about yourself. One example of a real specific brief I have received recently was to find an Eora nation aboriginal female artist who specialises in traditional weaving. If you don't have this written down somewhere, how would I identify you as an option?

This is why it’s so important to have an online presence with clear specifications as to what you do and how you define or identify yourself.

Do a quick test - could you be found on Google if someone was looking for you?

  • Google yourself - what does someone need to Google in order to find you - does your name return your website? Can you find you through other keywords?
  • Have I invested in high quality photos of my work and myself and are they online - take an objective approach as if you were a stranger viewing your website - what impression would I get?
  • Is my CV and bio up to date? - what kind of questions might a stranger have about  me or my art? Are those questions answered in the copy on my site?
  • Am I using Instagram to it’s full potential - what are other artists in my space doing, are there any artists out there that you could collaborate with or learn from?

A great example of an artists’ digital presence is Sydney based artist Joi Murugavell (a.k.a Oodlies) has a really well developed website, with lots of options related to working with her demonstrated on the menu bar across the top. She has lots of high quality images of her and her work, detailed biographical and other information, links to an up to date Instagram showing what she’s working on, and a clear way to contact her. Have a look at her website here - oodlies.com

Think Commercially
What is your bread and butter in terms in earning an income from art? Be thinking constantly about how you can develop creative output that can be a steady stream of income (no matter how small). Although most artists would jump at the chance to do large, high profile commissions, those opportunities can be rare. But there are lots of other opportunities to make a living out of your creativity. That may come in the form of small ceramic items, or affordable prints, gift cards or design work. Two examples of artists that have diversified are Ellie Hannon and Gabby Malpas.

 A screenshot from Gabby Malpas’ website showing her shop.

A screenshot from Gabby Malpas’ website showing her shop.

Diversify your output and your skills, so you can be flexible with clients and meet a range of criteria and demands during projects. Think of skills as tools in your box that you can apply to a range of projects.  An online store is a great way to practice some new skills at a low cost while creating productive output.  A range of skills also provides great opportunities for collaboration.

What Else?
I’ll be following up with more tips for artists wanting to professionalise. In the meantime you can also email artsubmissions@artpharmacy.com.au if you want to find out more about getting onto Art Pharmacy as one of our artists.

MCA X VANDAL Gallery: Ask An Artist Anything

Written by Louisa Tiley

The latest MCA Young Ambassadors event was much more personal than regulars are used to. Hosted by Redfern’s new kid on the block, Vandal Gallery, it was an intimate gathering of artists and art lovers - all curious about the relationship between creatives and their work.

On the night Vandal’s current selection of vibrant artists - Ariella Friend, Joi Murugavell and Marnie Ross - played an active role in a private viewing of their exhibition Somewhere Between.

It was a unique evening which endeavoured to break down the often impermeable barrier between artist and audience. To achieve this the three exhibiting artists were part of a speed-dating style session during which attendees could “ask them anything” about their practice, creative process, mentality or career.

A bell was used to signal three minute intervals, when guests rotated to the next artist. However many of the more sneaky patrons ignored it to stay for 6, 9 or 12 minutes, in order to delve further into compelling discussions.

Marnie Ross was the first artist I spoke to. Seated beneath a selection of her bright, graphic paintings, we chatted candidly about how printmaking and design inform her abstract compositions. She is closely influenced by the detail and movement inherent in nature - something strongly evident in the wooden textures of Every Night.

Ariella Friend’s work provided an interesting point of contrast, as three dimensional pieces which challenge the boundaries between painting and sculpture. I loved hearing about her sustainable approach - particularly the way she reuses discarded items alongside new materials to reflect the complexities of consumerism. This was most clear in my favourite of her works, Composition in Metallics.

Joi Murugavell completed the collection. She was wearing one of her signature outfits - a blazer, pants and hat combo printed with her own artwork. I was immediately drawn to her bold, witty paintings, with works such as Bad Art Day and A Small Plot Change cleverly playing with cultural iconography.

It’s interesting to note that all three artists began their creative careers with design backgrounds. Because of this Vandal’s exhibition subtly confronted the stigma against graphic designers which often influences contemporary art critique.

This was just one of many refreshing aspects of the night. Having honest, open conversations with artists brought up insightful questions about the future of the industry and how young artists can carve their own unique paths to success.

V∆ND∆L Gallery: Talking ‘Aboriginal Contemporary’ Exhibition

Interview with Nichola Dare, conducted by Jennifer Hesketh

V∆ND∆L Gallery will soon be celebrating the opening night of ‘Desert Stars’, an exhibition of Indigenous art to be guest curated by Aboriginal Contemporary owner, Nichola Dare. ‘Desert Stars’ consists of works from talented Indigenous Australian artists who live in remote communities.

‘Desert Stars’ will showcase the work of some of our finest living contemporary artists to an urban Sydney audience.

Jennifer Hesketh AKA Art Pharmacy artist Quirky Bones talks to Nichola about bringing remote indigenous art to an urban audience, sourcing art and ethics.

You’ve curated a very diverse selection of artworks and artists for this exhibition. What themes bind them together?
Nichola Dare: Essentially, two things link all the work in ‘Desert Stars’. The first is provenance. All of the paintings are from art centres in extremely remote desert communities. Some of them, such as Martumili, in the very heart of the Western Desert, is one of the most remote communities in all of Australia, many hours by 4WD from the nearest town of any significance.

The other thing that binds all these works is their connection to ‘country’, which is a profound concept for all Aboriginal peoples. Some of the works tell stories of country tens of thousands of years old, others are depictions of country, the locations of tracks, hunting grounds and waterholes.

The link between people and country is so complete in fact that there is a contemporary painting by Tjungkara Ken from Amata in the APY Lands in this year’s Archibald Exhibition, which, as you know, is a portrait prize, that is actually a representation of the land but submitted as a self portrait because of her connection to her lands. All credit to the Archibald curators for not insisting all portraits need to show eyes and a nose!

A big part of sourcing your art is travelling to these remote communities. How has your relationships with these art centres, artists and communities changed over time?
I consider it an extraordinary privilege to be able to go into these communities, most of which are totally off-limits to the general public and even some art dealers. Even though I’ve travelled to these communities many times, the raw beauty of the landscapes and the warmth of the people still fills me with excitement and awe.

The communities themselves are understandably cautious of strangers so it has been a long process of slowly earning their trust, listening to their concerns and always doing the right thing by them. Once you are accepted the relationships are very strong and need to be, as individual art centre managers move on and the communities of artists are also fluid. The work I sell through Aboriginal Contemporary in Bronte is one of the main sources of income for many of these communities so I feel a real sense of responsibility towards them.  A big upside of building authentic relationships with communities, art centres and artists over many years is getting access to some of the very best work that those art centres produce. I’m very lucky.

More and more people today are concerned about ethical practices in Aboriginal art. What role does this play in the way you select work and curate exhibitions?
Some of the stories of unfair and unethical exploitation of artists make my blood boil. People are right to be concerned and wary but at the same time it’s important they aren’t scared away from the category or both themselves and the communities who rely on art sales miss out.

My responsibility as a gallery owner is to ensure my customers can be confident they are buying work with impeccable provenance and can be confident that the artists are treated fairly, respectfully and ethically. The simplest way to do this is to work directly with the community art centres, who always issue certificates of authentication for every piece. Art centres also provide opportunities, training and career development for practising Aboriginal artists and arts workers and act as agents between artists and galleries, museums and institutions. Most art centres will sell directly to the public but as they are often in very remote locations it’s often more efficient for them to work alongside reputable galleries in urban areas, who are better placed to sell and promote the artwork.

Why is it important to bring regional Indigenous art to an urban audience?
It is not only important to bring remote community art to Sydney it is essential, for both the artists and customers.  Having worked with remote communities for the last seven years I know that people will look at this exhibition and be amazed at what they are seeing, this is as exciting for me to see as it is to sell an artwork.  It is also important for people to understand how scarce some of these works are, for example the only other works available in Sydney at the moment by Mabel Juli are held in the public collections by the MCA and the Art Gallery of NSW. My belief is that every home should be filled with art, as it is good for the soul, and when Australia has one of the richest art cultures in the world it makes total sense for that art to be indigenous art.

RSVP to event here

Artist Talk - Vandal Gallery

Art Pharmacy has made the leap from virtual to physical. Starting from a pop up exhibition on Sydney's Oxford Street in 2012, Art Pharmacy has once more returned to an exhibition space in addition to it's highly successful online gallery. Taking over the gallery space of VANDAL, Art Pharmacy brings the best of contemporary art to Redfern’s leafy backstreets.

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