Breck Smith on Living as an Artist: The 80-20 Rule
Welcome to the inaugural issue of this blog, Breck Smith on Living as an Artist! The main authors of this blog are Breck and his wife, Stephania, who helps him with the business end of his work – and occasionally the creative side as well. We want to cover a variety of topics on the art life, including how much time you actually get to spend on creative work vs. on business aspects of art, balancing your art life and a day job, the pros and cons of working with family, “family lineages” in one’s art, different schools of art, being an art teacher, buying art, and more. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any topics you would like us to address, and please feel free to comment below.
So for today, let’s start with the first topic, how much time do you usually actually get to spend on your creative work as an artist? According to Breck, he (and many of his students) started out with the happy belief that his art life would be spent mostly at the easel or with a sketchbook in hand. Not so, he says. Breck now teaches his students the “80-20 Rule” – you usually spend about 80% of your time on business components of your art career and only 20% actually producing creative work. What things make up that 80% of time? Ordering art supplies and keeping records of them for tax purposes, for one. In fact, recording all money transactions is necessary for tax purposes. Cleaning your studio so that it is in shape enough for you to be able to work in it is a second odious chore that takes time. Keeping up with competitions and grants, applying to them, taking and preparing images of your work for your website and for submission to competitions, grants, and galleries, time spent finding and working with a gallery (including transporting work to and from the gallery) – part of the 80%. Keeping an inventory of your work (where it has been submitted [competitions, galleries, individual buyers], the results of those submissions [accepted or rejected? Showing in what location? Won any prizes? Purchased or under consideration or purchase? By whom?], and basic information about the work [medium, size, title, location, whether or not it has been framed already, and cost]) -- part of the 80%. In addition to an inventory of your work, you will also want to keep some sort of record (database or spreadsheet) of potential buyers, sellers, and competitions. Here you’ll want to list what work has gone to whom, when, what the results of that “contact” were, and sales, prize, or return (date of return and where it went – i.e., back to storage, sent to a new competition, sent to a new gallery, or
sent to a new buyer. You’ll also want to be sure to have snail mail, email, and phone number contact information on everyone in your list. This contact list can be the basis for sales announcements, show announcements, and other – limited!! – mailings for e-commerce purposes. You DO NOT WANT to overload recipients or they will unsubscribe from your list and/or ignore the content of your messages. Thus, it is critical to maintain this list. Part of the 80%.
What will you be saying to potential clients? How will you be reaching them? You could do it through mass mailings, but unless it is face-to-face interaction, most likely it will be via your social media, website, and a blog or text on your website. This is more time not spent on creative work. Website maintenance – uploading images and information about them (again, medium, size, title, location, whether or not it has been framed already, and cost) requires time. Coming up with social media and blog ideas takes time. Writing, editing, and uploading a regular social media and blogs take time. Most social media and blogs these days include some type of imagery – images, videos, animation, or GIFs. Preparing and processing these takes time. If you choose to place text directly on a website page, that takes time. Furthermore, the process of search engine optimization (SEO) requires that you have new, relevant material on your website, rotating on a regular basis. (SEO enables your art website to be found more easily on search engines like Google.) SEO requires further behind the scenes work (like adding tags to pages and images) which is also laborious and time-consuming. As Breck’s new-to-the-process web maintenance person, I can attest to this!
Another time consumer is keeping up with the field and researching juried competitions
(where are they? Who is the juror for juried shows?), grants (what are eligibility criteria, deadlines, etc.?), galleries (what kind of work do they carry? Does it look like your work might be a fit for them?), and what is going on in your field of art (painting, textiles, sculpture, etc.). Subscribing to the appropriate journals (Art Forum, etc.), newsletters, and blogs – and actually reading them – takes time, but is generally more fun and rewarding (at least Breck thinks so). This is also a way to gather names and contact information for potential networking. And networking takes up a LOT of time. Going to other artist’s shows and studios, participating in arts organizations, being active on art and artists' social media sites, and meeting and talking to gallery owners -- this is a necessary part of any art business and makes up a chunk of the 80%.
However, alongside all of this business-y work is the fun stuff – going into your studio and making your oil or acrylic paintings, going out and doing your public art sculptures, weaving beautiful textiles. The time when your creative juices flow – you get ideas for new work, new things to try in your work. Breck has been working recently with acrylic paint markers because it enables him to do continuous lines. He also tried out doing collage with acrylic painted sections of paper. It turns out he didn’t like that last one. The 20% you live for. Aaahhhhh. Makes the life of an artist worth it.