The creative arts, particularly writers and artists, are littered with those who have failed to reach their own expectations, potential, dreams and goals. We all want to excel in our chosen path, all want to achieve the aim of making a living from what we love to do.
The harsh truth is that the majority of us will fail. We’ll have our lofty ideas and will fall short after a few exhaustive years of trying everything we can think of to reach that breakthrough point. We’ll cheer at the successes of others and wish with all our hearts that we could emulate just a fraction of it for ourselves.
So, for the majority of us creative types not quite finding the success we dreamt of, what are our options?
- Give up chasing dreams that never come true.
- Continue pursuing our goals in the hope that elusive breakthrough will happen.
Take a leaf out of current business practice. The businesses that do the best do so because they have learnt to be flexible to changing demands and needs and because they DIVERSIFY!
Businesses that cannot change with the times and cannot diversify are left behind and simply die. There are enough high street shops biting the dust at the moment for precisely this reason. Look at farmers for instance, the most successful are those who also diversify into other avenues, be it artisan cheeses, deluxe ice creams or holiday lets etc.
So…if you’re running out of ideas, head butting into brick walls or are just exhausted by the endless hamster wheel that ends nowhere despite your best efforts and talents with your aims, goals and dreams still unfulfilled…how can you break the pattern and achieve some measure of success?
With that in mind, today I used my skillset to run my second silk painting workshop. Although I’ve only been silk painting for the last ten to fifteen years and would not consider myself an expert in the field, I have gained enough skills to share my knowledge with others and get them creating their own original silk painting artwork.
Thankfully the workshop went very well, despite my sweating bullets on a boiling hot day with a large window magnifying the heat and my nerves. 🙂 I really was not a pretty sight! But, regardless of my melting, the event was very successful with many people asking if I did workshops nearer to them (several people had travelled nearly an hour to get there!).
Now although I choose to offer these first workshops as free workshops rather than charging, they have been invaluable in paving the way for me to do paid events like this in the future and in building my reputation as not only a skilled artworker but also as a workshop artist.
Again…diversify or die – I am looking to the future to use my skills to enable me to continue making a living from my art and not be dependent solely on commission work. You gotta think ahead people!
So how do you start to diversify?
As a creative writer you might well start by delving into non-fiction for a while, trying your hand at bid writing, academic writing, writing reviews even if it’s about a brand of supermarket cheese, hell even writing manuals, obituaries, websites, educational aids, essays etc. See what is out there. There are ads for writing in every magazine and newspaper and vast amounts online. Think, how else can you use the talents you have? If your novels/stories/poetry are failing to garner any success or even attention, how else can you diversify and use those skills?
For artists/illustrators the same applies. Even if you are currently inundated with commissions, that may not always be the case and usually it isn’t reliable in the same way that those monthly bills are. So unless you want to live your life either spending lots of money on advertising which may or may not work or waiting for the phone to ring/website email to ping for your next client commission, you need to start thinking about how to diversify and use the talents you have.
This is particularly important if you are specialising in a niche art field. For me, I’m best known in art terms for my fantasy maps. But out of all the fiction titles, all the fantasy and epic fantasy novels published every year, how many will actually need a fantasy map? The number is surprisingly low and as there are other artists out there who also specialise in the same field, vying for the same commission, how can you carve out a slice of that action/success for yourself and ensure it’s enough to live off?
Last year was undoubtedly my best in terms of commissions, exposure, and yes, money. I took on two large commissions for HarperCollins for ‘The Court of Broken Knives’ by Anna Smith-Spark and ‘Godblind’ by Anna Stephens*. That was swiftly followed by other commissions including one for Penguin Random House for ‘The Mad Wolf’s Daughter’ by Diane Magras and a massive Artist-In-Residence commission for Oxford University for a brilliant new game ‘Mycelium’ created by writer genius Dan Holloway, producing all the artwork for it (50 hand painted images) etc.
*I’ve been sitting on some VERY exciting news on that front, but cannot share it until official announcements are made. 🙂 *
So how exactly do you pay the bills when you’re between commissions?
Use your skillset to create other artworks, think about exhibiting your work in nearby galleries even restaurants – ever been to a pub or café and seen artwork on the walls with prices on? That could be you! Contact local art centres who sell work from local artists. Of course there are ways to showcase your work online, on your website and in places like Etsy where you can sell it direct. I admit I’ve only very recently joined Etsy and am yet to set it up fully and sell any of my artwork on there…but I definitely intend to use this route to supplement my commission work.
Perhaps you too could use your talents to run a local event or workshop like my silk painting workshop? Could you charge customers a one off fee for attending such a workshop?
Diversification is the key not only to success but also to LONGEVITY! You want to be doing what you love and making a living from it for as long as you can.
Good luck everyone and embrace the change! Diversify or die!