The Artist Survival Kit Part Two


The Artist Survival Kit Part Two

artist survival kit, art tips, practical art tips, art projects, artist advice,
The Artist Survival Kit - Part 2

This week, we open up the artist's survival kit once again and explore more of the questions you might have around some of the skills you need to survive and thrive as an artist. Surprisingly the skills required are not just about how well you create the work. Being an artist isn’t just about being able to paint, and many of the answers and skills you need are not the sorts of things that get routinely covered in an art class.


What makes great art?

What makes great art? Four words, sure, it should be an easy one to answer but it is a question that has been debated throughout art history and one so big that you might as well ask about the meaning of life instead. Who even decides what art is good or great or simply bad or meh? During the times when artists ask themselves this question, many will turn to the internet for answers. Don’t waste your time, instead, ask the person you are creating the art for or at least have an idea of who that person is and go from there.

In part one of the Artists Survival Kit we took a stroll through a handful of the questions that I have been asked just over the past five years, but wait, there were more.  It’s not like I even have all of the answers, mostly the answers to art questions other than has anyone got any clue about how I fix this, can only be answered by asking yourself the question. This is why I said last week that the one question to ask of yourself is, who are you creating your art for.

That one question is the key piece of this jigsaw we call the art world, it is the central piece that every other piece has to slot into. Some people seem to be able to complete the puzzle with maybe ten pieces, others might need a thousand pieces. So this week, let’s see if we can at least provide a few more of the pieces you might be missing.

What we will cover this week!

  1. Working for Exposure
  2. Taking on commissions
  3. Handling Self-Rejection
  4. How to Feed The Inner Critic
  5. Identity

Once again, each of these sections will only cover the minutest experiences that I have had over the past thirty-something years of creating art and from only a handful of the questions that either I or the art world more broadly gets asked, you have probably been asked these things too as an artist. Not every answer will be the right answer for every artist because I have absolutely no idea who you are creating your art for, but at some point in your career, you will certainly encounter some of these, let’s call them character-building-challenges.

Just like last week, there is no order of importance, handling self-rejection, for example, is the third thing we will cover but I distinctly remember having to deal with it on day one of my art career.

I am planning to create a checklist for the artist survival kit with each of these posts summarised in a printable format because if there is one thing about the art world that I know for certain, it is that we never do have quite enough time! If you missed part one of this series you can read it right here

So again, this is really a prompt, a nudge, a gentle signposting, and also a reminder that sometimes the answers are things that you might already know! As always, I will be showcasing some of my previous works which you can also find right here!

pool party, landscape art, wildlife art, fun art, flamingo art, fine art america,
Pool Party by Mark Taylor - One of my best selling works!


Working for Great Exposure…

Exposure of any kind is the Holy Grail for artists. Without eyes on the work that we produce there is little to no chance of it ever selling. The problem here is that there are a lot of people of the non-artist world who have picked up on our kryptonite and a lot of those people continue to use it against us.

It’s not like we can don a cape and turn into some superhero type of character. When people ask for free stuff it usually happens out of the blue and after a long conversation about how great your work is. I guess if they explained that there is no budget upfront then the conversation wouldn’t be needed, but from time to time these conversations are expected, they come with territory and to a point, I guess we should be pleased that someone wants to own one of our works so badly they will resort to anything to get it. Except when they have already asked 357 other artists to create their next project for free and have received the answer they didn’t want to hear.

Surprisingly it isn’t the people who simply can’t afford what you have that generally ask, they genuinely don’t in my experience. Over the years I have been asked to provide free stuff to large corporate organisations who provide free fruit and wholesome snacks to their employees and have bean bags for staff who need to chill. They probably spend what I earn in a month on coffee mocha for visitors so why do they think that an artist will be honoured to work for free?

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times when doing free stuff will eventually pay the bills, but it is rarer than an egg, laying a chicken that it happens, at best it can be a slow-burning candle.  There are also various new terms that are used in the year 2020 to describe free work, work experience, unpaid internship, a willing volunteer, oh, and sucker. As a working artist, you will be asked I would think at least once, maybe a hundred times throughout your career to provide a work for free.

As I said, there are times when it kind of makes sense, there are charities that you might want to support and if you get invited to the big event, it can be an opportunity for networking. The issue here is that the artist can’t be an introvert at this point and to take advantage of the situation it would mean turning up to the event and it would require you to network.   

Haven’t been asked to do free stuff? Don’t worry, your turn will come. There is a great twitter account that you probably need to follow to fully understand the extent of the free ask, the account is @forexposure_txt and they highlight cases where clients have asked an artist or designer to complete a project for the grand old price of free.

Over the years they really have had some corkers and I think a few of the clients then moved on to me. Some of the asks have become iconic staples that have given us plenty of laughs, others a little more ironic than iconic. We are looking for a photographer to document poverty in the United States in a thoughtful way. No pay said one of them. Another said, ‘this is not a paid job but will build your resume with massive exposure if you are willing to work hard’, and I think that last one actually did come over to me at one point, maybe even more than twice.

I have a heap of experience in free work, especially from when I was a little more naïve to the nuances of the industry in the early days but essentially you do have to know what you are taking on, and that is if you take it on at all. Always, always, get everything in writing, and be very clear about any parameters and boundaries, even for charities.

You definitely need to get in writing what this so-called great exposure will be, and even if you do the work for free, try to at least get the costs of supplies covered. Free work still costs your time and most likely money, and art supplies sadly don’t buy themselves and neither does experience and training and the thousands of hours of practice you have had to put in.

Great exposure is generally another way of saying we will tell a couple of people about how we got you to do this work for free and we will do that for a week or until we get bored. This might sound cynical and certainly, there will be worthy causes or great opportunities for some artists in some situations, so nothing should necessarily be dismissed off the bat, but any exposure let alone great exposure is extremely rare. You have to be selective and learn that one word that no one likes to say, that word if you are wondering is, NO!  

garden party art, wildlife art, Mark Taylor, fine art america,
Garden Party by Mark Taylor


Taking on commissions…

I stopped working on commissions in 2018 with the intention to take a break from them for twelve-months but I still haven’t gone back to them at all. Commissions aren’t for everyone, for some they are a staple of what they do to earn a living, but even if you do take on commissions, you don’t have to take on every-one you are offered.

If you feel that the work wouldn’t be a good fit for you and your portfolio that’s enough reason in itself to avoid the gig, but there are plenty of other reasons why taking on a piece of work might not be the right choice, after all, if you do take the work on there is no doubt that you will pour your heart and soul into it until you have completed it. It is a little like every other question an artist will ask, and the answers are usually right there within you.

So always ask yourself some questions:

Will the work fit with you and your portfolio and style?

Is it within your skillset to accomplish?

Can you use the time more productively on other things?

Does the client fully understand the process?

Can the client provide a clear and understandable brief?

Is the client likely to pay me?

Is the client likely to haggle over the costs?

Are you undervaluing your work and expertise?

Is money a compromise to completing a work that you don’t really want to do?

Do you want to do this?

Will you resent completing this work for any reason?

Do you have the time?

The best question, is one that you need to once again ask of yourself and it is, are you really looking for any excuse not to do the work at all. If you are, then don’t go near it. Of course, you might need the money but that should never stop you from asking qualifying questions of the commissioner that will give you some assurance that the work will be paid for, and always, always, ask for a deposit, specify the number of non-paid revisions and get everything in writing. You might, however, want to set some tolerances that you will accept.

The rest is about maintaining good communications and keeping the client briefed on where you are. Set boundaries around contact times and make sure that the client is informed immediately if there are likely to be any delays. When commissions go bad, which might make a great TV show, it is usually down to a breakdown in communications or a mental breakdown brought on from that ‘one’ client.

Wild, wildlife art, Mark Taylor, Jungle art, Fine Art America,
Wild by Mark Taylor


Handling Self Rejection…

One of the biggest things I ever learned as an artist is that rejection is something that doesn’t just come from external people. As artists, we tend to be a driven and passionate bunch but the harshest rejection is often not from the professional critic or the disgruntled buyer but the one that we place on ourselves.

Art, as I said in my previous article is often just another word for difficult but it can be beautiful, fun, and yes at times, a challenge to just motivate yourself to get into the studio and paint. It can be an awesome career even when faced with some of the challenges that we routinely face on an almost daily basis, but it can also be pretty dang miserable one too if we allow our inner critic to take full control.

There is a juxtaposition that I think every artist needs to an extent, you definitely need to show vulnerability and you do this whenever you show your work to anyone who isn’t a close friend or a family member, we might even bare our hearts and souls through the work that we produce which makes us even more vulnerable, but you also have to have a thick skin and very broad shoulders at times which conflicts with the stereotype of who we often think we are supposed to be.

You can be anything you want, and as I said last time, even weird, kooky or bizarre, but most of all you really just need to be you if you want to keep that inner critic at bay.

There are no short cuts in the art world, okay there may be a few tricks that we use to speed up drying times or add a little extra texture before the bottom layer is dry, but more widely, when it comes to the business of art, there is no path that contains little to no resistance. I am not even sure that art is supposed to be easy, and if it was I genuinely think there would be fewer artists. But there are things that we do that make it a little extreme at times, things that feed the inner critic!

gone fishing, art, seascape art, seagull art, fishing art, fine art america
Gone Fishing by Mark Taylor


How to feed the inner critic…

Sticking with the one thing you know. You have to occasionally and what I really mean by occasionally is, frequently, step out of your comfort zone. That’s how we develop and gain confidence and learn new skills or get that gig we so desperately want.

Set unrealistic deadlines for everything.

There is no getting around it, deadlines seem to be popular but unrealistic deadlines even more so. If you have three weeks of work to do then allow three weeks and another day or two to do it. Deadlines though can be useful and motivating at times so I really do get why they have become a thing, but you can’t set too many of them that all expire at the same time and definitely avoid setting deadlines that you absolutely know you will fail to meet.

Only create work that your nearest and dearest love.

That’s nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills. If I did that I would be forever painting Thomas Kinkade knock-offs and Mickey Mouse. Your nearest and dearest are probably not your best-paying clients in monetary terms, so you have to create what will pay the bills/art supplies/food, and everything else that you rely on your work to provide. Revisit last weeks survival guide and ask who are you creating your work for!

Undervalue your work and yourself.

If you undervalue what you do and who you are then clients will do that too. Been there, done it, worn the T-Shirt and everything else and no doubt will again. It is probably a little cliched but learning to love who you are and what you do isn’t just helpful in finding a date on tinder, you really do have to value the skills that you have and the work that you produce before anyone else will be able to value them too.

Base your success on a single lightbulb moment.

There will be about one in a million, I don’t exactly know, but let’s go with that number of artists who will indeed have a single lightbulb moment that carries them through an entire career in the arts. It can be a lottery with rapidly changing rules and new sets of numbers that you really didn’t know you could pick.

The rest of us will need more than one lightbulb moment and we might not get that many more of them, but that should never stop us from trying and most artists will stumble across one. Art is an action that artists perform, artworks are the product that the artist produces from the action of art, and to get to one lightbulb moment you really do have to perform that action and produce that product over and over again until it sticks. At times you may have to change the process, the production, the style, but you never have to change the goal. Repetition is everything,

Compare yourself to other artists.

Yes, this is the one that the inner critic loves to feed on the most. I think psychologists say that comparing yourself with others is really a tool for evaluating ourselves. That’s not a bad thing, I definitely want to be more like some of the people I really look up to, but too much comparison can lead to the three things that the inner critic more easily digests, envy, guilt, and regret. No matter what pinnacle you reach there will always be more to learn as an artist, even the people you most look up to will probably be doing the same thing. 

Comparison can lead to that brother of the inner critic who is named self-doubt, the sister called creative block, and the second-cousin named fail, and all of them will leave you feeling deflated. There is only one you, even twins are individual, and so, your art has to come from you. In the words of some motivational speaker, for the love of Kentucky Fried Chicken, just be you. Actually, I don’t think a motivational speaker ever mentioned KFC but you get the drift.

The only comparison to another artist that is useful to make is not to another artist at all. Just like many of the questions we have, the answer to this one comes from within you too, the comparison should be made from where you started out and where you are right now, where you were yesterday, and where you are today, and where you are today to where you are next year. This is how you get better at doing what you do. By all means, learn from other artists, thank them for helping you to find you, but just be you.

gorilla art, fun art, mark taylor, fine art america,
Rock Star by Mark Taylor


Identity…

As artists we tend to talk a lot about identity, who we are, what our work means, and I think for the most part we all kind of know who we individually are, the question is, do others? Do we even need an identity? Banksy seems to be doing okay despite not having much of one. Not too many people know who he really is, is he really a he, now that would be a plot twist, and is Banksy’s surname really Banks and he or she just added the ‘Y’?

Regardless, we know Banksy’s work and that work is associated very much with his identity or the mystery of his identity to the point that, that, is exactly why Banksy is well-known. His work resonates because we see a story and because he or she is perhaps the most famous artist that we will never really know, and that in itself is part of Banksy’s identity. 

He’s not the first artist to take on a veil of mystery, others have done so for a multitude of reasons and not just because they wanted to remain less visible or because people had difficulty in spelling the name, Marcus Yakovlevich Rothkowitz, abbreviated his name to Mark Rothko, not because it was difficult to spell but because of his concern around anti-Semitism when he became a citizen of the United States in 1938.

At the risk of sounding rather Yoda-ish, identity is much more than the detail on our driving licence, identity is complicated. Internally, I definitely think you do have to know, or at least have a very good idea about who you are in order to produce the work that you create, but often we don’t recognise that identity immediately. Having said that, I have known artists who have taken on an alter-ego just to get them in the mindset of producing the work that they produce, almost like an actor or actress playing a role. Some artists will no doubt keep their names and play a role too. Whoever you choose to be, your work is still yours, it is your truth, your heart, your soul, your art, but if you have yet to work out who you really and truly are, your work will only become better when you do begin to figure out who you are.  

Your experiences, emotions, reactions, where you were born, who raised you, who you like and dislike, who influences you, they’re all part of your identity and what makes you, you, and your art yours.

Those elements of identity become a part of your story but there is a little more to identity than even that. It is about the values you hold too, how you respond, react, and reflect, and I think to an extent, identity is also about style, not necessarily in just the style of art you create but the style that you personally bring to the table as you. I am a big believer in that when you know your story and who you are, the function of art becomes much easier and I also think that most artists will spend a lifetime working it out, I am pretty sure that like many others, I am only partway through that process.

Identity is also about your name and that’s where things become even more complicated. There are times when for whatever of the million and one reasons that legitimately exist, you have to or want to change your name. For some it will be because of relationships and marriage, for others, the reasons might be similar to the reasons that Rothko faced, and for a few, it might be that they want to keep their business away from their private life, or maybe even some might just want to take the opportunity to reinvent themselves. A name doesn’t change the person, although it might change a perception. I know artists who have done exactly this and found their careers went skyward at a rapid rate of knots.

But, because there is always a but, using an alternative name or pseudonym needs some careful thought. If you become famous and you are known as Banksy would you continue to be as famous when you start calling yourself Robin? Your name eventually becomes your brand and you will have to live with that for a while.

Changing names can help a career and in some cases harm a career. Celebrities tend to do it quite often but they also tend to retain their names to maintain that Hollywood continuity,  and name changes can lead to confusion especially if you already have a collector base.
Some artists prefer to remove their names altogether, sometimes this is to remove gender specificity, Prince changed his name to a symbol which had more to do with getting out of contractual commitments than anything else allegedly, and Joanne Rowling is known as J.K Rowling, which has essentially become a global brand and not just the name of a great author. Some artists remove their name because the art has to convey a very specific message that by using a name it would lose.

Again, the answers to whether or not you should change your name as an artist can only really be answered by you. I included this section because this is still one of the most asked questions from throughout my career in the arts and a dilemma that apparently it seems that a lot of artists face. The only advice I can give right about here is that if you do, you might want to work out the legalities of it too because billing and paperwork could become a nightmare.

sold art, abstract art, mark taylor, fine art america,
The title of this one is: SOLD! You can still buy it as a print!


Survive and thrive…

To coin a cliché, go and do something great. Art is many moving parts if nothing else and there will forever be answers to look for. I am only thirty-odd years in and don’t have nearly anywhere all of the answers, in fact, I have very few. There is always something that an artist has to learn, after all, the arts have a very long history and the world is changing way quicker than any one of us can keep up with.

I will be creating a few more of these articles to add to the artist survival kit over the coming months, and I already have the summaries written and ready to go for those who just don’t have the time. I hear you, I struggle with that too. My heart keeps telling me to create a podcast, what puts me off is that firstly I don’t have the face for TV and secondly, I don't have the voice for radio, but I will take my own advice and just be me. Thou shalt get a podcast at some point soon, I just need to work it out, and maybe buy a decent mic. That my friends is not an excuse but apparently, I need one with USB C.

So until next time, just keep on doing great things, be happy, be healthy and always be creative!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You might have heard of England because we are always in the news. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here: https://10-mark-taylor.pixels.com   

 Any art sold through Fine Art America and Pixels contributes to the ongoing costs of running and developing this website and making sure that I can bring you independent writing every time and without any need to sign up to anything! I really don't have the time to do much with your details! You can also view my portfolio website at https://beechhousemedia.com and frankly, that site really needs some traffic.

You can also follow me on Facebook at https://facebook.com/beechhousemedia where you will also, find regular free reference photos of interesting subjects and places I visit. You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at https://pinterest.com/beechhousemedia where I cannot guarantee that you won't find pins of Mason Jars.

If you would like to support the upkeep of this site or maybe just buy me a coffee, you can do so right here! If Yeti wish to sponsor a mic, get in touch and I will give you a shout out but apparently, it needs to be USB C.  

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