Being an artist means spending time alone. A lot of time alone. When I left academia to become a full-time sculptor, I knew that creating would be a largely solitary endeavor. I was going to spend many hours by myself in my studio. Just me and the clay. But the solitariness goes beyond the aloneness of creating.
I am mostly alone with both the joy and the pain of my work. If I have a workplace success, such as a heartfelt thank-you from a customer, or a workplace challenge, such as a collapsed sculpture, I experience this alone. Sure there are friends with whom I can share the news, but not the experience.
I do share my studio with a veiled chameleon
named Grog, but he’s not the cheerleader type.
And then there is the issue of time. After sculpting for a couple of years I realized that one of the profound alone-nesses I had not anticipated is that I am alone in structuring my time. Being an artist means setting one’s own schedule. There is no official start time, lunch time, or end time. No organizational budget encourages me to take professional development days so I can attend workshops and conferences. No scheduled meetings allow check-ins and a chance to get a read on how things are going. No annual retreats provide an opportunity to re-group.
My time commitments are of my own choosing and any structures that give shape to the work day (and week, and year) are mostly of my own creation. Like anything else, this has advantages and disadvantages. The freedom and flexibility are priceless. But it is easy to get lost in the lack of structure and postpone important activities in favor of more pressing– or more pleasurable– endeavors. Sometimes the need to create not only the content of my work, but also the structure that supports it, exhausts me.
About four years ago, in an effort to offer myself a bit more direction, I came upon the idea of deciding on a theme that would guide my work for an entire year. (As with all brilliant ideas, nothing is truly original. While writing this blog I found others who advocate for yearly themes for both business growth and personal growth).
The theme my first year was “Inventory.” I had no idea how many sculptures I could create in a day, a week, a month, let alone a year. As a result, I lacked crucial information. I didn’t know how many venues (galleries, festivals, and such) I could prepare for and take part in. I didn’t know how I needed to price my art in order to make a living. I didn’t know how much time I could afford to spend doing less creative but still crucial tasks such as answering emails and posting on social media. So for a full year, I committed to spending as much time as I could in the studio building sculptures. Every day of the week. Week after week. Whenever I had “free” time, I sent myself to the studio to build. I made a best guess as to the selling price for every sculpture I created and I kept a tally of how much I made each day. Then I added these figures up every week, and eventually for the year. As a result, I came up with daily and weekly goals that suited my rhythms and that still guide my production schedule today.
Creating inventory was the focus
for my first yearly theme.
The next year I decided to focus on “Marketing.” Broad, I know but I was a newbie! I had begun to have success with online sales and knew I could do better. I understood that I would have to overcome my resistance to social media in order to thrive as an artist selling directly to my customers. I focused on my website, my Etsy store, and facebook but also explored twitter, pinterest, and linkedin. As a result, my work increasingly sold online– about 90% of my art currently ships out-of-state. I focused on a few other important marketing tasks as well, such as commissioning a logo and creating brochures. After a few months, I realized that my focus on marketing had caused a big drop in my inventory. And a drop in my enjoyment of being an artist. I still spend time every day on marketing, but the explicit year-long focus only lasted about eight months.
Last year my watchword was “Professionalism.” Art was not a hobby anymore. I began to see myself as a businessperson as much as an artist. I know for many artists these two identities seem opposed but a business orientation allows me to make a living as an artist. I learned about branding and I hired my first ever assistants. I worked on packaging and began watermarking my work. A good friend and I started a monthly business women’s group. I even began to watch business shows, listen to business podcasts, and read business blogs. I tried on the label “entrepreneur” and worked to make it fit.
This year my word is “Efficiency.” I have spent time re-organizing my office and studio space. I added shelving so I could spend less time searching for needed tools and shuffling sculptures around. One morning I realized that I was spending a lot of time each week setting up my photo shoot area. I stopped what I was doing to problem solve a more effective set up that could stay in place, make better use of the light, and enable me to photograph larger sculptures. I shopped for tools and equipment that help streamline my efforts, everything from online accounting software to a slab roller. I started setting up protocols for shipping, billing, customer communication, social media posting, and the like. I purchased a “year-at-a-glance” calendar to better anticipate upcoming events– target dates to send newsletters, deadlines for shows. And I keep a “15-minute” list. These are important tasks that can be accomplished quickly but often get neglected. Now, if I have a little chunk of time between commitments, instead of checking my facebook feed I might, for example, clean out my air purifier, update my mailing list, or add a pin to one of my pinterest pages.
And so I offer this idea of annual themes as one that may help others as well. It has helped me to structure my time and give direction to my artist’s path. It has not, however, made my journey less lonely. Maybe next year my theme will be “Community.” 🙂
Your writing and work are inspiring. I think your writing speaks to other artists and entrepreneurs. I like the idea of having a annual theme.
Fabulous article! While not an artist, I am a businesswoman and struggle with the same insights. What a well-written, helpful and insightful article.
Love the theme idea! Great article–very well written and entertaining. I think it can apply to anyone who’s a solo entrepreneur–not just artists. A theme could also be a bar to set as to whether to spend time on an business activity or not–if it doesn’t fit my theme, maybe I shouldn’t be doing it this year.