1. Devote yourself to a studio practice.
A few nice pieces that your mom and best friends approve of aren't going to cut it. You must have an insatiable level of curiosity and a deep desire to share your voice with the world, which inspire you to get in the studio and make stuff.
While I don’t believe that an artist needs an art degree to succeed, I do know that art school gives artists a leg up on creating the habit of being in the studio. If no one instilled this in you, it’s something you need to figure out.
Like anyone who is self-employed, no one is going to tell you when to get up, when to go into the studio, when to take a break, when to stop for the day, or when to take a vacation. These are things you must learn to do for yourself.
The great thing about being self-employed is that you are free to organize your schedule so that it works for you. The downside is that some people aren’t very good at setting goals and boundaries. If this is you, don’t use it as an excuse. Consider it a challenge to change your ways.
2. Start pulling together a mailing list.
As I say in I’d Rather Be in the Studio! …
Your mailing list (a.k.a. “contact list”) is your most important asset.
No one knows the same people you do. The people you know—regardless of whether or not they are part of the art cognoscenti—will help you succeed. And no one can succeed on his or her own.
In the simplest terms, a mailing list contains names and contact information of people you know or might like to know. For artists, a mailing list usually begins with friends and family, and then expands to buyers and potential buyers. You use your mailing list to stay in touch with all of these people–to keep them informed of your goings-on.
In a nutshell, your mailing list—something unique to you and your career—is the primary tool you use to share your art with the world. As you may know, I think sharing in a sincere way is much easier and much more effective than trying to sell.
These days, the artist’s mailing list contains both brick-and-mortar addresses along with email addresses and phone numbers. For these reasons, it might better be called a contact list. You need all three types of information in order to keep your name in front of people and to conduct critical follow-up.
The longer you wait to begin or to update your mailing list, the more work you make for yourself. You don’t want to have something to tell everyone and then have to carve out time to input names into your computer.
A mailing list is something every artist can do regardless of experience because you already know people.
[ See Grow Your List ]
And you're about to meet more because of the next step.
3. Connect with other artists.
Many artists do not have sideline cheerleaders in the form of friends or family. Some people just don’t get us! If you’re in this predicament, you must seek or establish your own cheering squad.
[ I invite you to find support, accountability, and business strategies in the Art Biz Connection. ]
Without some kind of support system, you will find yourself beaten down and constantly on the defensive. Sometimes you can obtain such support by getting involved in existing artist organizations. If you aren’t familiar with one in your area, contact your local or state arts council, which you can find in the resources of the National Assembly of State Art Agencies.
Being around other artists builds your confidence and sustains you emotionally. In addition, you will hear about opportunities you never knew existed if you hadn’t been part of a group. You’ll hear about them before they are ever published!
You will also be eligible to apply for grants, awards, and exhibitions sponsored by the organization; be introduced to new art products and materials; and receive business advice in many areas (software, accounting, taxes, copyright, and more).
Most importantly, with the right organization, you’ll make contacts that lead to the next step on your career path, many of which will become your friends for life.
Look for the Right Artist Organization
Before you join an organization, make sure it’s a good fit for you. Don’t join just for the sake of joining, which can end up being a waste of time and money. Attend meetings as a guest and consider where you might fit in.
Before you join an organization, you should conduct research. (A complete checklist of questions to ask is in the book, page 163-64.)
You aren’t joining just to be a member. You are joining to become involved. If you’re uncomfortable in an organization, you won’t reap the benefits of your membership. If you can’t find the right fit in an existing organization, bring together a group of artists who meet regularly for the purpose of supporting each other.
The more you’re connected with other artists, the more opportunities you’ll discover.
4. Develop a habit of writing about your art.
You will need words to share your art with others.
Ever heard of anything anywhere being sold without words? You need words to talk with interested buyers, other artists, curators, and arts writers. You need words to fill up a website or blog.
You need words to add to your images on social media or to speak in a video or artist talk. And you need words to write your artist statement, press releases, grants, and newsletters.
You can't suddenly sit down at your computer or stare at a blank sheet of paper and expect to come up with a brilliant artist statement, bio, press release, or cover letter. You have to work at it.
I can't think of a better way to begin the process than to start a journal. No one has to see your journal writing, so you can unload whatever is on your mind. It's a tool you use along the way to help you connect with bigger and better audiences. The equation goes something like this.
More writing = more words = more opportunities to connect with fans
Make up rules for your journaling as you go along. Or skip the rules and just enjoy your time with the pen and paper.
Do you need to create discipline? Set aside 15-20 minutes in the morning or evening to write.
Do you have ideas leaking from your pores? Keep a journal with you at all times to capture the ideas before they disappear. Or use a voice recorder to catch your thoughts.
When you journal, you're not trying to craft the perfect sentence. You're writing just to get the words out of your head and onto the paper. You're writing to capture the thoughts and to create a pool of words you can fish from when you need them. And you WILL need them.
You can’t promote your art without words, so you might as well start now. Writing might also make you a better artist because you’re exploring art at a deeper level.
Your devoted studio practice (#1) will result in plenty of ideas for your journaling.
As you are connecting with new people (#3), you will be more confident in sharing your art because you have taken the time to explore its deeper meaning.
This post was first published on August 12, 2009 and has been updated with original comments intact.