Updated: Aug 1, 2021
Well, my fellow artist-friends, if you're asking yourself this question, then you've already won half the battle. You know you need to be more business-minded. You're just not sure how to go about it.
This is a question I have wrestled with a lot in my adult life. Ideally, I'd like to hole myself up somewhere in the woods (with indoor plumbing. I love showers.), in a place where it is always late spring and smells like fresh earth and the start of new life, and just create. Constantly.
If you're asking yourself right now if I'm secretly a hobbit at heart, the answer is yes. And, it isn't a secret.
Anyway, the main issue with this is that creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. Art is created as a response to the artist's environment and experiences. And, in turn, art then creates (we hope, anyway) a response in its viewer.
"Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum. Art is created as a response to the artist's environment and experiences. And, in turn, the art then creates a response in its viewer. "
The way to keep your work fresh is to explore new environments and have new experiences. AND, the way to get your work in front of viewers to elicit a response, is to be social and get your work out there. That's where business sense comes in.
I've been extremely fortunate in landing a career by day and having the opportunity to work with wonderful mentors and marketers that have helped me to develop some necessary business skills. However, because not everyone has had the same experiences that I have, I'll share with you where I've focused the majority of my time and energy over the last few years to get where I am today.
1. Focus on developing your technical skills
I started with the basics. I've always loved to draw and create, but when I graduated from college in 2010, I went through a really long dry spell. I drew every once in a while, but mostly I was just trying to navigate early adult life and figure out what kind of life I wanted to carve out for myself. I was going through some tough transitions. And, in hindsight, I think I can attribute some mild depression to the fact that I wasn't creating as much as I needed to be.
In late 2015, early 2016, I watched Jake Parker's video "Design 100 Somethings" on YoutTube.
And I made the commitment to drawing a 100 badass babes. Well, I didn't succeed in drawing 100 badass babes, but I did succeed in drawing every day. Drawing every day meant that my drawing skills got much better very quickly. And, it changed my outlook on life quite a bit.
If I could spend an hour and a half drawing every day, what else was I capable of?
2. Work toward developing a recognizable style
Something that naturally happened as I drew every day and experimented with different mediums was that I gradually developed a style that was distinctly me. I'd always enjoyed oil painting, but I discovered that I didn't really like the laborious clean up involved. So, I went the extreme opposite and tried digital art. I figured out that I missed the tactile experience of mixing paint and the feel of the brush against the canvas. Digital art just wasn't for me. So, I picked up watercolor for the first time since high school. This is what I created.
Is it perfect? No. But it got me really excited to get back into watercolors. After this, I became obsessed. I went back through my sketchbook and watercolored all of my favorite sketches from that year. Then, I bought a sketchbook specifically for watercolor paints and filled it in less than a year in 2017. Then I bought another and filled that one, too.
While I filled them, I became aware of common themes and colors and techniques I liked to use and I began to build on them, run with them. My style started to emerge and evolved into this.
3. Identify your target audience
At the same time I was doing all of this, I was asking myself, "Who would enjoy my work?" People with similar interests as myself obviously. Probably nerdy, artistic, intelligent queer ladies who belong to the LGBT community and who love to game and read and LARP and cosplay.
4. Figure out where your target audience likes to hang out
So, I started a Facebook page and an Instagram gallery for my work. I began sharing some of my sketches and inked work. At the same time, I researched hashtags and followed other artists, LARPers, cosplayers, gamers, and people who seemed to be similar minded. I began growing my network and creating relationships.
5. Build your brand
Growing my network meant starting to look more professional. I refreshed my existing DeviantArt account and created a Behance profile. I recognized a need for a website. I opted for a free Wix site initially. My design was BAD. Very bad. It took being involved with several website projects during my daytime work and working closely with a designer to start to see and understand what makes a website design successful.
I hired this ultra talented designer to create a professional logo for me.
I purchased a domain and overhauled my website, twice. It will probably be overhauled again at some point. But for now, I'm pretty happy with it.
I worked through creating a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy for my site. Because, if no one can find it, no one is going to come to it! SEO deserves a blog post all on its own. For now, here's some basic SEO information for beginners from marketer Neil Patel.
7. Start a blog
A big part of SEO revolves around the creation of relevant, high-quality, and easily consumable content. I committed to writing a blog a week about my work, my processes, and tips and tricks for beginner artists. I've seen my website traffic triple in the span of six months since I've started blogging.
Dust off your keyboard and start honing those writing skills, young artists! Make the commitment and stick to it.
8. Keep reaching out
Outside of this stuff, I've really begun to step out of my comfort zone in 2018 and 2019. I started my webcomic, TUJEC. Submitted my work to a lesbian-focused publication. Entered my work into a juried art show. (Acceptance remains to be seen. ) And, have continued to search for other venues and outlets in which to showcase my work.
This includes the opening of an online store on Etsy. Right now, I have 8 x 10 prints available of select works. Check it out.
It's scary and hard to take risks. However, without risk and even potential failure, there's no opportunity for reward. So, get yourself out there and see where your creativity and connections take you.
As always, I'm available to answer any art-related questions on Instagram @msrmcgaughey.