Dear Allyson,

I am a struggling artist in the Midwest.  I started going to art school in 2014, but realized half way through that neither the gallery circuit or advertising were games I wanted to play. Since the fall of 2014, I’ve work on a  graphic novel. It’s 385-pages and almost finished.  I’m extremely proud of it and consider a move forward for the medium, but have no idea how to share it other than uploading it online for free. I’m seriously considering giving it away but I am hesitant about that option.  It feels important to share this extensive work, but wish my hard work could support my basic needs. I’m also working full-time to keep afloat.

Can you help me consider another option for disseminating my graphic novel that might include an income? How did you and Alex get your start and make a living as artists?  How long did it take you before you were able to sustain yourself with your art?  Should I go back to school even if I don’t see it leading to where I want to go?  Have you had the experience of focusing so much on your art that your life feels thrown out of balance?  Have you ever felt like you had to keep yourself from creating your work to make a living?

Much thanks,

Benjamin

 

Dear Benjamin,

Thanks for those important questions.

Can you help me consider another option for disseminating my graphic novel that might include an income? 

Have you looked for a publisher of your graphic novel or gotten any professional feedback? Go to a place where beautiful graphic novels are sold. A big book store like Barnes & Noble has a section. Make a note of every publisher of works you like or collect. Make ten or twenty copies to give away. This money will come from the earnings that you receive from your full-time job. Send a copy to publishers of books you like. There are comic book companies (Dell, Marvel…) that are always looking for good new artists.

If you are skilled as an artist, keep looking for a job that is closer to what you’d like to be doing. This could mean working in a book store or a publishing house or somewhere you could learn something that might contribute to your art.

 

How did you and Alex get your start and make a living as artists?  How long did it take you before you were able to sustain yourself with your art?  

In his twenties, Alex cut mats in the framing department of the Harvard Coop and shelved books in a library. He painted fun houses and took a serious year painting billboards. Alex, who went to art school for three years, was an exhibit preparator and worked in the morgue where he had access to bodies donated for study by medical students. After work, he began painting the anatomical Sacred Mirrors. From there, he became a medical illustrator for twelve years.

In my twenties, I organized a conference called “Are You Ready to Market Your Work” and learned a ton. I organized a weekend art trip for members of a small museum. I worked in PR at a museum, a rental gallery, a museum gift shop. For five years, I organized speakers, workshops and an annual design show for the Art Directors Club. I stayed in art school and got a Master of Fine Arts degree from Tufts University in Boston.

While working at these jobs, we painted, had gallery shows and sold a good deal of art. Unless a creative person is an heir or the winner of the Power Ball Lotto, we all have to “ride more than one horse, while remembering that our REAL job is our creative life. Art is a sole proprietorship business, if you want to make a living from it.

 

Should I go back to school even if I don’t see it leading to where I want to go?  

Getting a degree from an art school offers three main things:

Cred: With a degree, others trust you and give you responsibility that may well be beyond your actual experience. Why? Because you have shown the ability to complete tasks and take on deadlines. An art school graduate has taken required classes with project results turned in on time and evaluated. School is competitive. Completing school work is an accomplishment, proof of follow through that is respected by society. A degree helps you get a job that is closer to your field.

Feedback: School offers peer review and critique, helpful in furthering your art. Emerging artists need that.

Resources: An art school or university offers placement counseling, a job board, information about competitions and ways to share your art with others. A school has equipment that you may not be able to afford or know how to use. Printing, scanning, special computer programs and other tools are available along with folks that can help you learn unfamiliar methods, equipment, software…

If you apply yourself and are capable of finishing school without going into crippling debt, a degree can indeed help you. That said, Alex took his last year as a self-styled independent study. He simply couldn’t afford to pay for what he wanted to do on his own. He left art school and studied art history on his own from books and magazines Together, we built and shared a loft and painted while I finished my Masters Degree, funded by my generous parents.

 

How long did it take you before you were able to sustain yourself with your art?  

Alex was a freelance medical illustrator until he was in his mid-forties. Somewhere in the middle of that time, we decided to have a child. I was able to stay home, help Alex and take care of Zena. Large commissions, teaching, exhibitions and art sales made it possible for Alex to give up illustrating for pharmaceutical advertisers. Zena started acting professionally at age seven and I was her guardian and guide through eight performances a week on Broadway, two hundred auditions a year, movies, tv and national commercials. Throughout, I continued to paint and sell my art in galleries. An artist may always have to ride more than one horse.

 

Have you had the experience of focusing so much on your art that your life feels thrown out of balance?  Have you ever felt like you had to keep yourself from creating your work to make a living?

Making art is delicious. We’d never give it up. We also love all the other things we do everyday — writing, working on our web presence, meetings with builders, product makers, media/tech professionals, program coordinators, entertaining potentially helpful friends, planning new workshops, teaching… Love what you do and you will not want to stop creating. Art will lose its appeal if it is drudgery. Like any other business, art is social. Get involved in your local art community.

We’d love to see an inspiring spread that we could include with this blog post. Give our audience a taste of your work and include a url where they can find more.

 

Love,

Allyson