Making a Living with Your Art: Adjusting Your Expectations, Part 2

OK! On Monday we talked about what it might look like if you became one of the few, the rare, the lucky: a financially successful artist, able to support yourself and maybe a family by making what you make. There’s another way the success might happen, a more common way. Let’s look at it, too, shall we?


You make that first dragon and show it on Facebook, and people like it and want to buy one, and you make a couple more. You open an Etsy shop, and a magazine editor contacts you and wants to feature your dragons. Cool! You write up a how-to about the process, and when that issue comes out, a book editor asks you to do a book about dragon-making. A retreat coordinator asks you to submit a proposal for a couple workshops, so you spend a week writing those up, taking photos (and quick quick making another dragon to photograph because you’ve sold the ones you already made). You’ve got an idea for a completely different kind of dragon, and you really want to see if you could make it look like what you’ve got in your head, but there’s no time because you’ve got that book deadline, and your editor wants you to make a video, and in order to book the flight to get to the retreat to teach those workshops, you’ve got to make enough money to pay for the ticket, hoping you’ll have enough sign-ups to cover the cost, so you set up some local classes in a friend’s shop. You’ve scraped together enough money from the first dragon sales to have a booth at the vending part of the retreat, and now you need to figure out how to set up the booth to showcase the dragons and OMIGOD! You just realized you’ve got to MAKE some more dragons to sell because you don’t have any and what’s the point of paying for a booth if you don’t have anything to sell?


So you’re working on the book and putting together class handouts and making supply lists and creating inventory that’s going to have to be shipped to the retreat. You’re timing your instructions for the workshop to make sure there’s time to get everything covered, and you’re writing a timed-out script for the video for your editor. You don’t have the money to hire someone to help you, and they’re saying you need a website but you don’t have time to figure out how to make one and, again, can’t afford to hire someone, and. . . .


You’re successful beyond anything you could imagine: featured in a magazine, a book coming out, videos online, teaching gigs lined up for the next two years. You spend the first hour every morning answering email from people all over the world who want to know more about how you do what you do, people asking you to donate a dragon to their auction for homeless children or cancer awareness, people wanting you to contribute an article to their ‘zine. You have a presence on social media sites, and you have to keep those fresh.


And you’re exhausted. You have to get up every morning at 4 am, and you haven’t done anything in the studio in months except make dragons, the same dragon over and over and over. When you walk through the studio door, you’re not filled, as you once were, with the thrill of adventure and discovery and What if? You’re filled with the burden of replicating something that long ago became stale to you. Other people like the dragons, but what they really like is taking your workshops and watching your videos. You can’t sell the actual dragons for enough money to make a living, but if you hustle and do all the other things, you can patch together enough to pay off your car and have the furnace replaced, and so you get up every morning before the sun comes up and start your list for the day, answering emails and editing drafts of instructions.


Everyone else looks at you enviously, wishing they, too, were a successful artist. Why, then, do you never get to make art?


And on Friday, one more possible scenario.


Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.

001-005_Y0775.inddFor more about being a successful working artist, check out The Successful Artist’s Career Guide by Margaret Peot.





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