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.

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