A is for ART, B is for...

A is for ART, B is for...

The stereotypical idea of an artist's life is a romantic one: struck by sudden inspiration at all hours, living a bohemian life in poverty, unappreciated until after death. Or for the lucky few: being celebrated, hitting the jackpot for the weird art that goes over the heads of ordinary folk...

The reality is that working as an artist is running a business. That, embarrassing b-word!... Fresh out of art school I would have thought it was sordid to suggest such a thing. I certainly never had any instruction from five years in three Art Schools that has been useful in my career. You can have oodles of talent and passion, but if the books don’t balance it’s simply not viable.

As a child of the 80s and 90s, the concept of “business” was hostile. Back-stabbing, ripping off the naive, Gordon Gekko, smart suits, and later, “Sir Alan” pointing his stubby finger at you for not being cut-throat enough. This is not me. It actually makes me feel sick just thinking about it! 

Luckily there is another way and I think it’s actually pretty radical. I only realised that I could create a business with different ethics, whilst reaching out for help, doing an amazing course with coach Amanda Heath. Even admitting that I needed (and still need) help, breaks out of my old understanding of “business” mentality, where you admit no weakness and everyone is competition.

I don’t want my children to live in a toxic dog-eat-dog world, where only money is valued and structures are based around patriarchy. So I began thinking about the alternative world I would like to see, and with Amanda holding my hand and many other independent business owners for inspiration, I am trying to be part of creating a new way of functioning for the future. Here’s what it looks like:

REST: We are all cyclical beings, affected by the seasons, the stages of our lives and as women, tied to the moon’s cycles through menstruation. It is ridiculous to expect us to perform in the same way each day. There are periods of intense activity that can only really be fruitful if we also have periods of rest. I can attest to the fact that burnout quickly follows relentless productivity. And usually the product is not the best work, or joyful to create either.

This is such a fundamental paradigm shift, especially for women who have had to out-perform male colleagues whilst also doing the lion’s share of the domestic and family work but it is THE key to changing the future. Modelling for our children that being idle is not being lazy. Rest and stillness has enormous value.

This is something I struggle with daily. That little voice inside my head loves cracking the whip and telling me to do MORE! FASTER! I hope with daily practice, this change becomes easier. For now, I have put some rules in place for myself:

I have all school holidays off. Only fulfilling orders, no work at all. (I don’t count sketching on holiday- after all it's still my hobby!) The result is that I can enjoy family time guilt-free and can’t wait to get back into the studio for focused, uninterrupted work.

Social media. I, like many, am addicted to scrolling. I heard the shocking statistic that we scroll 9 metres a day! So I schedule my social media posts- (which actually takes ages, but I at least it doesn’t seep into every day). I also check my feed only briefly a couple of times a day and not at all in holidays, which probably means I’m missing loads but I keep reminding myself that it’s not real life! This is something I am trying to get stricter with myself about. I get easily distracted and lured in. Work in progress!

I accept that my progress as a business will be slower than my inner sergeant major would like. This means I may not be able to generate the kind of income I would like right now, but I hope that with time, the momentum will grow and I will get there. The benefits of getting their slowly are that I can check my alignment. The space around work time helps me consider which opportunities and projects are taking me towards my goals. Short painting sessions help me check the quality of what I’m producing with fresh eyes. I prefer to take on other short-term work to pay the bills, rather than compromise any of my values as an art business to make a fast buck.

Traditional business models are based around power and wealth being shared among an elite few. But in reality there is room for each of us to thrive. Rather than viewing fellow artists as competitors, we can support each other, investing into a community that sustains us. This extends to all aspects of running a business. Who I choose to buy my supplies from, where I get my work printed and framed. With every choice I try to support other independent business, locally if possible and to opt for quality and low carbon footprint over price.

Infinite growth. This is an absurd idea that I have never understood. As a resident of a finite planet, and being just one person with many other commitments and responsibilities I am only aiming for what I can manage and what I need. I also don’t want to wait until I achieve a certain income to put my money where my heart is, which is why I donate a small percentage of profits to charities that do work I think is essential (Countryside Restoration Trust and Action For Conservation). In reality that looks like a tiny trickle of money right now, but I’m hoping that in time my donations will make more of an impact.

Finally, being genuine. I am passionate about what I do and what you see is what you get. I try to create excellent quality work, fair prices and to explain clearly what motivates me so you can share the journey and process. This had lead to so much loveliness, from book recommendations, invitations from fellow artists to exhibit with them, commissions passed on from other creatives, the loan of amazing bones, skulls, feathers and introductions to experts who can add another dimension to my thinking. I can’t really imagine having any other agenda. There is such gold to be had when your outlook is about more than making money. 

Running a business is still hard and operating in this way is a constant practice and learning experience, but I’m lucky that there are so many people showing me the way. I’m getting better at asking for help and sticking to my boundaries. And I hope that I am part of a bigger movement, helping create conscious, socially responsible businesses and opening up an exciting world of possibilities that benefits everyone. 
Thanks so much for joining me on my journey.

Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.