Behind the Scenes: an Artist's Life
Hello lovely people!
This month I’ve decided to write a longer blog, discussing what goes on behind the scenes in this artist's life, to shed some light on the amount of hard work, which goes into sustaining a creative life. Credit must go to artist Sharon Louden, who created an amazing book documenting a myriad of different artists and how they sustain their artistic lives ("Living and Sustaining a Creative Life" published by Intellect Books). She has been a huge inspiration to me and I strongly suggest taking one of her classes through Creative Capital, it was so life affirming and educational to me.
If you would like a deeper knowledge of an artist's life, then tuck in with a cuppa or a coffee and lets get into my daily life.
Mornings, I wake up to my partner’s alarm clock at 6:30am. Yes, let’s get rid of the stereotype that all artists are up all night creating, only to sleep through the morning; the tortured night owl as it were. While some creatives love working through the night and I also used to, I found out in the last five years that I do way better on a good nights' sleep. Everybody has their own way of working, I’m just tired of the “lazy” artist trope, so yes: some of us are actually morning people ;)
Let's be moving on with a black tea in my face and logging into social media to check and see what’s going on in my feeds. I have cut down a lot and in fact I cut out two major SM outlets: Facebook & Tumblr, because I need my sanity. I’m on twitter mainly, and Instagram changes their algorithm so much, it is an uphill battle for an emerging artist like me, plus typing in a million hashtags to maybe get 40 likes is tiresome. If they would change their algorithm to benefit the underdogs it would be great, but I highly doubt it seeing as it’s owned by Facebook. And we all know how they roll. I'm really hoping something new comes out. I like Dribble and Ello is pretty cool. Ello also has a lot of artist contests and I think it's is a great place for people to find creative opportunities.
Anyway, I spend about an hour and half on twitter going through my lists. If you do not know about this function I highly suggest trying it. You can create your own curated list of people you enjoy following, without the annoying algorithm getting in the way. Then I am on Ello to check for new contests, look at art and enjoy the hate free space.
Daily, I am doing yoga or I go on the bike for an hour. I have gotten back into this recently, because it's just good for me. I have a lot of stress and exercise like yoga really helps prevent back problems while bringing me some peace of mind. Our world is a very loud place to live in and this brings me some well-needed silence.
Next, I am drawing or painting depending on what needs to get done. The time for this varies because each piece of art has its own idea of when it wants to be finished. Usually I take a break after two hours, stretch, see where the artwork's at and gauge whether I can go take care of administrative work or if it needs immediate finishing. Normally it needs a break too, so I take off and check on my personal website for emails, notifications, and maintenance etc. I also write monthly blogs (obviously) for my website, discussing my latest projects and art process. I usually start blogs in advance so I have them half ready. Notice how I said "I take a break" and then continued to do work :P
Ok, back to artwork for a few hours then break for lunch somewhere in there. With creating artwork, I mostly mean oil paintings, which take time and patience. Therefore, I have other paintings in process and varying stages of drying. Depending on how much paint there is, it takes about a week to dry if that’s the process I am currently going for. Oil paintings can be a series of thin layers or wet into wet painting. I do a mixture of both. Wet into wet, you have to be careful not to muddy your painting by mixing in a lot of varying colors. When the paint tells me it’s had enough I stop and move to a different section of the painting and when there are no more sections to work on, I stop work on that piece and if I’m not drained, I work on another one or do some illustration work.
Next, I run my own online shop, where I sell affordable illustrations, watercolors and small paintings. Recently I have also started making accessories like charms, pins and zipper pulls. This also takes work and knowledge of Photoshop, which I thankfully learned in university.
All of my drawings and watercolor paintings must be scanned into my computer, edited for the web shop and prints. When creating the charms, pins, accessories I have the help of my partner Jonas who sets up the files to the correct format because we outsource these from a lovely place in the UK called Zap! Creatives. Depending on the type of accessory the art needs to be formatted a certain way so they can do their job of creating what is essentially merch I can bring to art markets, fairs and now possibly horror conventions.
This process also goes for the stickers and business cards I make to hand out to promote myself. Which is usually at cost to me because stickers are usually free and so are the business cards. Both of which are outsourced from 2 different companies. MOO for the business cards and Sticker Mule for the stickers. Each takes about an hour to create and send in for proofs and then finalization. This is normally shortened if we have premade designs set up in Photoshop. If not, we have to create from scratch and that can take a good few hours to do.
A couple of weeks later the merch arrives by post, if our post isn’t crap that day. Berlin has a real problem with the local post system and sometimes you just don’t get mail. We’ve made complaints and it got better, but it’s a citywide problem. Which adds to my stress, since a lot of my business is online and through the mail. Shipping is a large part of any artist’s life and dealing with a crap system on a daily basis is a real chunk of my time.
After we get merch and inspect it for problems we calculate prices, take photos and then finally list it on my online shop. The online shop is now at Storenvy, which I like a lot better than Etsy or Bigcartel, because of the options and format. Plus you can throw money at them and they will promote your work for a clearly stated 10% of your final sale's price. No hidden fees is how it should be. Only problem I have is that there are a ton of us artists out there promoting and it’s a struggle to get through if you can’t afford to advertise or have proper marketing.
Which brings me to my PR manager friend, whom I have the pleasure of working with now. After long internal battles with myself about work- and stress management, I came to the conclusion that I needed outside help, if I was to manage a small business, which is what every artist is essentially doing. We market, we advertise, we promote, we create and then sleep somewhere in there sometimes. I was exhausted from the constant strain and hired a good friend who’s experienced with this and can now lighten my load. I am a frugal person and I’ve been saving for the past decade so I have some funds for this. But a lot of artists don’t have this and manage all this crazy shit on their own. My new PR is a fan of my work too, which really helps. You need to be able to work with someone who wants to promote your work because they love it not just because they are being paid for it. This is extremely important.
Example: I’ve worked with galleries in the past who threw exhibitions, but didn’t promote worth a damn and expected artists to bring all the people. In short they were not there for the art they were there for the money. And when that's the formula, it rarely works out for anyone. You have to be in art for the love of it, this is what keeps you going even in dryer months. And you damn sure want a gallery or PR agent that loves your work.
Ok, where was I? Oh yes, lovely PR friend who now manages emails to potential conventions, markets and fairs to display my work at or informing sympathetic media outlets of my work. This being podcasts, blogs and horror news sites. She also handles advertising and sponsorship relationships for me. I recently was a sponsor of the London Horror Festival and I have her to thank for it. Without her I would and have in the past been doing ALL of this on my own PLUS creating the artwork.
Did I mention I created my own personal website in addition to setting up my online shop, too?
Yes, with the help of the super user-friendly WIX platform, I was and continue to be able to edit my website with ease (big smile and wink). Don’t get me wrong it requires work to maintain it and update regularly, but it’s way better than any wordpress mess I had before. If you have time for coding and the lot be my guest, but WIX seriously cut down on my time spent on building/maintaining the site and is pretty damn affordable.
Phew, I haven’t even gotten to exhibits or shows yet. That’s a beast in itself. Ok, a quick description of what normally happens is: you are invited or you find a gallery/event/convention that would like to show your work. Depending on whether or not they want something new, you have to create a piece or give them a finished one for the show. Either way, you need to ensure its safety via a frame and varnishing or finishing spray. If you want extra protection: a pane of glass in the frame. Art shows can be tricky. Sometimes there are live events and the performance artist is spitting fire or chucking fake blood around, so you might also want insurance for your work, which we now have for Jonas and myself, after a misfortune at my old atelier, where a party took place and they did mess up a painting in progress of mine. Now you want to promote yourself right? So here are the business cards you got printed, stickers for fun, booklets of your work if your feeling saucy and have the extra money. Next you have to transport the work to the art/event space, hopefully someone is there to help you or if they’re more professional and have paid someone to hang your work for you. Then you get to go to this event and do the networking, which is a lot of work in itself. Business relationships are tricky and must be handled with care like most art.
Wow, ok so this a lot right? I’m at 1,600 plus words and I’m not even done. After all the creative work is finished there is administrative work to do like paying rent, electricity, online services, health insurance, website services, advertising, art supplies, travel expenses for conventions, travel expenses for inner city travel because the BVG keeps raising their monthly train ticket prices (81 euros right now), which is cheaper than if you buy weekly so I do it, but ALL of this adds up. And to see how it adds up, I also have an accountant, because I simply do not have the time to learn about German tax law.
The time, the money, the stress of sustaining a creative life is a lot to manage at any level of an artist’s life. It's crazy that we do this mostly on our own with help from loving friends or colleagues because let’s face it: no one could do this on their own. We should not diminish the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes to sustain a basic creative life. But then you'll always get someone coming at you with: “Oh being an artist must be so nice. You get to do something that you love instead of a REAL job” Puhlease! Leave that comment by the trash bin and actually look beyond what's just thrown in your face by the latest trend algorithm on whatever social media you deign to be on, and try to have some empathy for artists. We bust our asses on a daily basis and most of the time make minimal income for doing the jobs of three or more people. But we keep doing it because it is what we love. For a lot of us it is the very heart of us and we would be lost without it. Art saves lives everyday, whether it be close to you or not. At some point in your life, art has made an impact on you. The beautiful building you work in, the park you take your family to, the car that takes you around, the print on your bedroom wall: these all started with a creative idea and were brought to life by someone wanting it to exist so much in the world.
Today, places like Instagram, Twitter and FB love to build on our society’s tendency towards a short attention span. My suggestion is to slow down, do some research on something that really made an impact on you and instead of just endlessly punishing your scrolling thumb, make an artist feel loved today. Whether it be a nice comment on their work, a purchase through a shop, a retweet or small interaction. Trust me: to most of us just knowing somewhere out there in this big world, someone gives a damn about us can be truly life saving.
Love to you at the end of this year of unbelievable things and I hope the new year brings us all some positive news.
Do you live a creative life? If so, what are your behind the scenes like? What is something in our world that inspires you? Would love to hear from you.
This blog is made possible by my lovely patrons over at Patreon, if you would like to sign up to support my work please visitin my patreon page for more info. Click me-> Jessica F Holt