What is life like working as an independent artist?
For nearly two years now I have worked as an independent artist in Liverpool. It’s definitely been a bit scary at times knowing that I have to generate my own income and work schedule, but overall I love it. This is what I am truly passionate about, and in turn I create things which you will hopefully be passionate about.
I am my own boss - I decide which hours to work each day, and what to work on. I can manage my own time to suit my lifestyle, and I get to create beautiful things every day.
But it’s not all sweet and rosy…
To-Do Lists - aaarrghhh!
When you decide to give it a go at being an independent artist, you’re not just a painter/designer/sculptor etc. You’re also an accountant, a photographer, a sales person, a writer, a marketing guru etc. You have to learn how to be a technology professional - learn how to build a website, figure out basic HTML, find out what the hell CSS is, and other scary, scary stuff.
You have to self-motivate yourself…
Every. Single. Day.
That’s right - I rarely take a day off. A strange guilt takes over, and a little voice in my brain scolds me, reminding me that I could be pushing forward, learning and achieving more. Even when I do take days off, I’m mentally planning my next working day. Or posting on social media. Or applying to sell my work at a market. So yeah, no days off really!
But I wouldn’t have it any other way! I saw a meme a while ago which said:
“I choose to work 80 hours a week just to avoid working 40 hours a week”
And that’s so true!
Sure, there’s some days where I can’t be arsed getting out of bed because it’s so cosy and comfortable, and I’d rather just watch Netflix all day. But we all have those days. I never need to remind myself that all of the work that I put into my business will in the end benefit ME. And it’s that factor which motivates me each day to achieve more than yesterday.
Time Management & Research
I try to plan at least a week ahead - I forever have a to-do list on the go! I find it’s better for managing my time (but maybe not my creativity) if I set out a daily plan of the tasks that I need to achieve. It’s so easy to get sidelined and distracted, and to forget the bigger picture otherwise.
Life can be hard to balance though. As an artist, I always need to be honing and developing my skills. So whilst it is important to be making work to sell on my website and at events, it’s also equally as important to create just for myself. To grow my skillset and to improve what I produce. All of this takes time though, and when you’re self-employed, time is money my friend.
Another part of my business which takes careful planning and research is buying materials. I won’t work with poor quality materials. The resin that I use (ArtResin) is the best available on the market. My olive wood boards are sourced from a UK based company who specialise in creating beautiful and unique olive wood pieces.
But in order to find the best materials, I have to do A LOT of research, and test out different pieces. A recent nightmare for me has been trying to find a good quality paper to use for my greeting cards, as I’m quickly selling out of my current collection. I’ve probably spent well over £100 now on various papers….and I still haven’t found ‘The One’. But I’m trying to see my quest in a positive light - when I do find the best paper, I know I’ll be giving you a truly beautiful card made of the best quality materials.
The Business Side of Being an Independent Artist
I loved studying Fine Art at university, but what I find bizarre in hindsight is that you don’t actually get taught about how to BE an artist. Sure, you learn skills, you develop as an artist and learn about gallery exhibitions. But you don’t get taught about the day-t0-day life of working and earning a living as an artist.
I, like most creatives, lack business skills because I’ve never been taught them!
At A-Level in secondary school I studied Art, Music and English Literature. At university I studied Fine Art, followed by Art History and Curating. At no point along the way have I had extensive business advice from any of my tutors!
Just like none of us are taught at school how to do our taxes, apply for mortgages, arrange a pension, and all the other scary grown up stuff! We just have to learn it along the way and try our best!
If I could go back in time, I would have opted to do business studies during my A-Levels. But then, hindsight is a wonderful thing!
Instead now, I teach myself.
I used to always have Louis Theroux documentaries playing in the background whilst I worked in my studio (who doesn’t love a bit of Louis?!), but then I realised that my time would be more effectively spent with tutorial videos playing in the background.
So now, when I’m prepping my artisan boards or tidying my studio, I’ll be listening to successful creatives tell their business stories. Or learning how to edit the HTML on a website page. Or finding out how to create an advert on Google.
I’m on a constant learning journey to benefit myself and my business.
Working as an independent artist, I am so much more conscious of where I shop now. For Christmas 2017 I made a decision to ONLY buy gifts from independent makers. And it was absolutely the best choice I’ve ever made!
I found the most beautiful and unique gifts for my family and friends. My Dad got thick, hand knitted socks made by a woman who lives in Birmingham. I gave my Nan a gloriously fragrant hand cream, made by a girl from Athens, Greece. I gave my Mum some gorgeous earrings made by a girl from Sheffield. I might have also gotten myself a few little gifts along the way!
There was a story behind each gift that I gave, and it was so nice knowing that I was helping to keep each small business afloat.
It’s so quick and easy to buy gift box sets from the standard high street shops. But that’s such a generic and BORING way to buy gifts! Plus, they don’t give you that gooey, heart warming feeling that buying from an independent seller does.
When you buy from an independent artist their pieces are well made with love and care. And if you ever need a question answering, there’s an actual human being to speak to who truly cares about you and your purchase. There’s nothing more annoying than having an automated robot fail to answer your queries on a company’s website - we’ve all been there!
The Social Side
One of the main and most wonderful things about working as an independent artist is meeting such lovely people along the way. I try to attend as many events as I can, because I love meeting my customers! I get first hand feedback about my work, and I learn about your life too! I’ve heard so many lovely stories - one man told me that one of my paintings vividly reminded him of the sunset that he used to see when he worked on a ship in his younger years. Another asked me to paint a scene from his home town to give as a nostalgic gift to his Mother.
Working at different market events allows me to meet other independent sellers like myself. I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet, but we really are the nicest people you’ll ever meet. There’s so many kind gestures and acts of goodwill shown between traders at events. It’s always a lovely experience - even if the weather is dreadful!
A main social group that I’m part of is the Mersey Etsy Team. We meet up once or twice a month to discuss various ideas for our Etsy shops, tips and tricks, and just to generally catch up! It’s nice to share time with like-minded people who are in the same boat as me and share the same business goals. It’s easy to get side-tracked, disheartened or lonely working on your own, so it’s really nice to get together as a group each month.
Work For Your Dream
So, while I do feel lucky to be doing what I do, I also know that it’s not actually ‘luck’ that got me here. It’s countless hours of work and research. The never ending to-do lists. All of my mistakes and the lessons learned from them. The three thousand cups of tea that have helped along the way. And most importantly, you.
Without your support, I wouldn’t be able to do my dream job. The Facebook likes, visiting the artisan markets and events that I attend, buying from my website shop, giving feedback on my work. It’s all so valuable and important to me.
So I challenge you - the next time you fancy a coffee as you’re strolling through town, forget your regular Starbucks haunt, and instead visit an independent cafe. Looking for a gift for your Mum? Go check out Etsy! Want to spend the day strolling round and shopping for unique items? Find out where your nearest artisan market is!
I can’t emphasise enough how grateful those traders will be that you picked them over Debenhams, Costa and Liverpool One. For the record - I’m not slamming these companies! I’m just bigging up us little guys!