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Is it better to strive for success as a self-representing artist or try to get your feet wet in the gallery world?
That is such a common question these days among artists. I truly believe that most artists will come to a cross road where they will have to decide on which route to take as it’s extremely hard to be successful in both worlds.
About six years ago, before starting my art career, I made sure to research the art market and ask myself that very same hard question. It was very apparent to me back then that the self-representing route was my true calling. After selling over 2,500 works worldwide and amassing a fan base of more then 25,000 fans in less than 6 years, I can definitely say that it was the best decision of my life. The past six years weren’t easy but I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
I’m often asked why my work is not in galleries. For me it was really about being able to do my own things. I have nothing against galleries. I’m just a true entrepreneur at heart. I want to create my own strategies and my own marketing campaigns. I want to create my own destiny. I like to be my own boss.
I get almost daily emails from other artists asking for tips and strategies on how to be a successful self-representing artist. Before I get into a list of my top strategies to achieve success, you have to really ask yourself if your personality is right. Be really honest with yourself. Could you walk in a room full of business people and start at least four conversations? Can you sell yourself in 3-4 sentences by saying more then “I’m just an artist”? To be a self-representing artist, you have to be a rocking entrepreneur.
In order to succeed, you have to sacrifice who you are today for who you want to become tomorrow.
This sounds so easy but it’s not. It’s like loosing weight. You have to sacrifice who you are today (your eating habits & exercise) for what you want to become tomorrow (the best shape of your life). Same thing applies in business. Are you willing to make huge sacrifices so you can be successful? Most artists will say yes but don’t really truly mean it. SACRIFICE is the key word. You have to want it really bad not just kind of bad.
Over the years, I made huge sacrifices. I had two jobs for five years putting in 70-80 hours a week. I needed to bring my business to a point where I could leave my day job and have no financial stress. That was a big sacrifice but I made it. I’m not saying that everyone should do this way but it was surely the right way for me.
Be an entrepreneur at all cost
In order to be successful, as a self-representing artist, you need to spend as much time “on the business” as you do at creating. This might be hard for a lot of artists but that’s what will make you successful. You can have the best art in the world but if you don’t have a strategy to sell it, then it will remain in your basement. Again, you need to have the entrepreneur attitude. If you don’t, you have to seriously think about getting an art agent or focus at getting into galleries that will sell for you. I’m constantly thinking about where I can take my business and how will I get there.
Be creative outside the canvas
If you want to focus on only one thing, this is probably it. As artists, we are all creative. However, artists that can be creative outside their canvas will have the most success. What I mean by that is stop trying to do like the others and start thinking about how you can do it better. What creative things can you do to get notice and get people to start recognizing you?
I’ve built my career on thinking outside the canvas. A good example is my show FUSION. Instead of having your typical wine & cheese art showing three years ago, I’ve created an evening of art & entertainment that is now becoming one of the most popular show of my region. The show sells out consistently at 500 tickets and is a great example that we can achieve the impossible as artists.
Stop focusing on the now and focus on the future. We get so consumed in our daily lives that we forget the future. We work on today without thinking about tomorrow. The problem is when tomorrow comes and there’s no work, that’s when you start panicking. I make sure to schedule at least an hour per week to plan my next month and my upcoming year. Always work towards your goal and how to achieve them. Positive reinforcement on your goals will get you there. It sounds silly but visualize yourself where you want to be and you will eventually get there. It’s that simple.
Diversify your efforts
One of my key strategies over the years was to make sure to build multiple revenue streams. If one fails, I have many others to fall on to get me revenue. I see too many artists just focusing on one stream. I also see too many artists that are all over the place. Make sure you test a revenue stream and that it’s working for you before committing to it for the long term. Start with your website and build other streams.
Remember to give back
There’s nothing better in life to have the ability to give back to your community. Helping others is such a great feeling. I always believed that was given a talent and I would be naïve to think that it was only for me. I constantly use my talent to help others. I estimate that I’ve raised well over $75,000 to various charities over the years. I’ve also recently created my own foundation called Mado’s Gift in the memory of my sister. This is the best thing I’ve probably done in my career. I get to teach art to kids and we raise a lot of money for sick kids. They brought me so much love and joy and I hope to grow this charity more then I was able to grow my business. My sister would be proud.
Guest artist/author Matt LeBlanc has used the techniques and skills he honed over 10 years in advertising agencies to become one of the most well-known, successful, and appreciated artists in Atlantic Canada in just six years.
Thank you to my good friend, Matt for another killer post! It has been an honor watching Matt’s successes. I value Matt not only as a colleague, but as a good friend! This man is an inspiration to us all. ~Lori