Producing art for a living. Is it less enjoyable than hobby painting?

I have been asked on a number of occasions if I still get enjoyment from my art since I turned professional. Has the pressure of deadlines and the need to secure an income taken away the ‘gloss’ of what had previously been a most fulfilling and enjoyable pastime?

Well, the answer to those two questions are;

“Yes I do” and “no it hasn’t” respectively.

I still derive a huge amount of satisfaction from the painting/drawing process and I don’t expect that will ever change, whether a piece of art is being produced ‘to order’, or for myself.                                                                                                                                                Now however I also have the added potential encouragement of feedback from clients, whether they be private or commercial. I find a sense of accomplishment in meeting deadlines (especially the really tight ones!) and of course there is probably no greater confidence booster than if someone is prepared to part with some of their hard-earned cash to purchase the results of your efforts.

There is no doubt that transforming your ‘hobby’ into a ‘job’ requires a dramatic change in mind-set. The development of self-discipline is an absolute necessity, if you are to achieve the required level of output. Gone are the days when you could choose with impunity whether or not spend some time on the current creation.It ideally requires a daily ’9 to 5′ approach and often within a 7 day working week, but there major benefits to be accrued from even this demanding schedule.                                                                                              For most artists their hope and expectation with each new piece of art is that this will be better than every other that they have created. The ‘creative’ gene almost demands improvement from us and this is where the increased hours of hard graft can begin to reap rewards.

There is an old saying “Practice makes perfect”. Well, it may not necessarily make “perfect”, but it does create “progress”. There is no substitute for practice and when my painting sessions began to be measured in days, rather than brief hours, the potential for improvement and the resulting enjoyment for me quickly become evident.

Some friends warned me that I might lose this ‘enjoyment’ factor on turning professional and perhaps for some people that would indeed be the case, but thankfully for me it could not be further from the truth. It is now six years since I ‘took the plunge’ and I am enjoying every minute of it.


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To publish, or not to publish? Getting over the initial hurdle.

In the extended period since my last post I have been extremely busy producing artwork and text for my first book ‘An A-Z of Bird Portraits in Acrylic’, which  is being published by Search Press.

This is a new area of artistic endeavour for me. In the past I have produced illustrations for other peoples publications, but now I have to ‘author’ the whole book.

The first thing to say is that I am thoroughly enjoying the whole process and this week I spent a couple of days working in the publisher’s studio for a photo shoot. This gave me a fascinating insight into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that is involved in book production.

However, for a professional artist who needs to continue to create new work/income, the huge amount of time involved on their first book is obviously going to dramatically impinge on immediate income-generating areas.

The decision for the artist when an opportunity to publish presents itself, is ‘Can I cope with a period of reduced income?’ in order to build a platform of long-term exposure. It definitely requires a long term view. There is of course no guarantee that even if the time is committed to a book, that it will sell and redress the income balance, but my view is, until we try, we will never know!

So, from my own perspective, since I decided that I would accept the offer to ‘write’ the book, I have committed totally to the project and am doing my utmost to try to ensure the book has the best possible chance of being a success.

Once this initial hurdle has been successfully overcome, then annual royalty payments will hopefully be forthcoming and then this can help to make future publishing an easier decision to make.

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New website

Following on from my previous post last week, regarding the importance of the time  we spend as artists promoting our work, it is with pleasure (and relief) I can announce the launch of my new website.

Those of you who have come to this post via the website have already seen the results of the hard work put in by the company who have designed and built it for me. For those of you who have reached my Blog via another route can view the current version at

My previous website was one that I designed and built myself, using Microsoft’s Frontpage software. Over time it it went through several major overhauls as I endeavoured to create a more professional looking and effective site, but even though I researched the complexities of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and made numerous adjustments to my ‘baby’ it never truly lived up to it’s potential.

I had thought on many occasions about having a new site created professionally, but was slightly concerned about relinquishing the control and the freedom to make changes. managing a site myself meant that within 15 minutes of completing a new painting it could be uploaded for the whole world to see. Well, that’s the theory, but of course if the site was not achieving reasonable rankings on the search engines, then the ‘whole world’ would not even be aware that this new artwork even existed. Most people, when searching for sites related to a particular subject/genre are not likely to look through more than the first few pages of search results, so if your ‘pride & joy’ is languishing down the list on page 15 or 20, then it is unlikely ever to have the opportunity to divulge it’s secrets.

So, what was required was a solution that allowed for a professionally designed and optimised site, with subsequent user-friendly access to allow me to control the ongoing management. With my new site I can add and remove artwork in moments (just as before), I can alter layouts, colours and just about any aspect of the site that I need to, but I still have the back-up team of ‘techies’ that I can call on if I have problems. The best of both worlds.

It is undoubtedly a ‘work in progress’ and will continue to develop over time, but I am happy that from this point onward I will be the one responsible for that development.

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It’s a trade-off.

As an artist, the time you spend working in the studio is the foundation of your business/career. Of course it is, because if you don’t produce anything, you have nothing to sell, so developing the discipline to devote all your hours to creating your art would seem to be of paramount importance. However , the production of saleable art does not necessarily result (on it’s own) in the required ‘sales’.

Do potential buyers even know we exist? If not, how do we address that difficulty?

Simply put, we need to involve ourselves in ‘marketing’, or ‘networking’. Meeting people, advertising what we do, promoting our work. The more people who know about us and our work, then the greater the chance of us finding those potential buyers.

Here lies the ‘rub’. This ‘networking’ takes time (however you go about it) and this means a reduction in productive studio hours. So, how do we balance these two potentially conflicting requirements?

The simple answer (although one that is probably beyond the financial reach of most artists) would be to employ a PA to deal with the administrative duties, or perhaps prevail upon a willing spouse, other family member, or friend. However, if those options are not available, then it is important that we do not just ‘forget’ about the need to attend to these  vital jobs.

During my recent week as Artist in Residence at Nature in Art I spent some time talking to a lady and her daughter about working as an artist. The daughter is currently studying for her Art A level and is keen to pursue art as a career, but she has reservations about the business aspects of being an artist. I had to admit that to a degree I could relate to how she felt, but over time I have come to realise the importance of supporting your creative endeavours with the necessary admin. These seemingly mundane tasks are exactly that, vital support, without which our work will be seen by fewer people.

So, it seems that we should trade some studio time for the business side of ‘art’, if the hours that we do spend in our creative space is to be fruitful in more ways than one.

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What is a ‘self-taught’ artist?

One question that arises frequently during conversations with people about my work is, “Did you go to art college?”                                                                                                          When I answer that I did not they usually respond with the rhetorical question, “oh, so your self-taught then?”                                                                                                               Well, that is indeed how I categorise myself in my biography, basically because it is difficult to know otherwise how to best to describe my art education, but “self-taught” is definitely an over simplification.

There undoubtedly has been (and continues to be) a huge amount of experimentation, or ‘trial & error’ involved in the process of learning, but self-taught suggests that I am the only one contributing to any artistic progress that I make, and that could not be further from the truth.

Over the years I have amassed an extensive library (which I peruse regularly) of books and videos/DVDs which have examples of other artists’ finished work, as well as step-by-step demonstrations of techniques. I have sat and watched many artists working on their paintings and have talked with them at great length about all things ‘art’. I take every opportunity to view original work at exhibitions and to visit websites which display a variety of art from many genres.

It has to be said that a lot of what I see, or hear, during these activities may not be relevant to my own artistic style and development, but there are sometimes small pieces (gems) of information or techniques that I do feel have potential, so I make a note of them and try them out at the next available opportunity. Then, if they work for me, over time they will be refined and become part of my developing style.

So, although I never attended art college, or was fortunate enough to have an artistic mentor who could devote time to teaching me directly, I have actually had a large number of tutors (both direct and indirect) who have aided my development as an artist in small individual stages. Each of these facets of knowledge gained has of course required me to put in the work required to practice the techniques, but without all this extra help the question still arises:

Would I have made as much progress if I was only “Self-taught”?


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Artistic expectations for the new year.

It’s that time again, the beginning of a new year.                                                                         Will it be a successful one for my artistic career? What opportunities will it bring? What new contacts will I make, or new clients will I meet?

The answers to all those questions is, nobody knows. As happened to me early in December, I may be contacted by someone who I have met previously who is now interested in purchasing some of my work or in commissioning me to produce a painting or drawing for them. Or an existing client may get in touch to discuss another purchase. Of course these opportunities are a valuable part of a successful art business and they should be treated as such, but they must also be supported by vigorous efforts to continue the progress already achieved in increasing the public awareness of the work that we (artists) produce.

Although this is sometimes an aspect that doesn’t sit well with those of an artistic bent, probably the most important word in the previous paragraph is ‘business’. Of course, the ability to produce images or forms that appeal and excite potential buyers and viewers is the fundamental requirement. However, that alone will not necessarily result in creating financial security. If only a few friends and family know that you are an artist, you will be hard pressed to sell more than a limited number pieces of your work. By a process of osmosis you may acquire additional clients gradually, but even they will probably have limited resources, or wall/shelf space and so their numbers will need to supplemented by a continuous stream of new collectors/purchasers.

So this begs the question, how do we find these new, interested people?                               By treating what we do as a ‘business’!

These days (alongside the traditional promotional methods of leaflets, business cards etc.) we have a wealth of publicity opportunities provided by the internet, that were not available to artists only a few years ago. Websites (both personal and group/society/business sites), social networking media (twitter, facebook, linkedin etc), which give people across the world the chance to view our finished work, find out what we are currently working on, see where we are going to be exhibiting/teaching or just to get in contact more easily.

Maintaining a presence on the world-wide web and keeping in contact with your potential buying public requires time and effort. Regular reports and updates from you are essential and prompt responses to any queries/comments that you receive must be viewed as crucial to building your artistic credibility. This of course is time that cannot be used to paint/draw or sculpt, but if it is used productively and in an organised way then the benefits can be huge and the small loss of studio time will be more than made up for by the increased exposure for the work that you do create.

2011 was the year when I finally dragged myself, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. The journey from Luddite to embryonic web user and social networker was not always an easy one, but I have already experienced a dramatic increase in interest, sales and commission requests from people who might otherwise not have known I even existed.

So, you can sit back and wait for things to happen (as I have been guilty of doing in the past), or you can change from being reactive, to adopting a proactive approach and getting yourself ‘out there’ for people to see you.

My number one new year’s resolution is to continue what I started in 2011 and my expectations are high.

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An antidote to the artist’s solitary studio existence.

For many artists, working hours are spent in productive isolation, shut away in a studio, while they attempt to turn amorphous ideas into something more tangible and hopefully succeed in creating images that please both themselves, and subsequent viewers/clients.

These periods can of course be interspersed with reference-gathering excursions, but for wildlife artists this often also means sitting quietly, away from disturbance, waiting for opportunities to view and sketch/photograph their quarry.

Now undoubtedly there are some artists for whom this entirely fulfills their needs. However, for others (myself included), there remains a ‘need’ to actively seek out contact with people (other than their immediate family or partners) in order to receive feedback on their latest artwork.

So with this end result in mind, I have spent the last two weeks working in very public settings, demonstrating my painting and drawing techniques and talking at length with many visitors.

The first week was my annual  residency at Nature in Art . During this time I met a good number of people who have an interest in art and really enjoyed the opportunity to find out what they thought of the work that I had on display. The studio is a quiet and peaceful place and the whole ambiance at the museum is calming and inspirational.

In complete contrast last week I moved to the almost overwhelming environment of the Art Materials Live show at the NEC. From Thursday I sat on my stand and worked on an acrylic painting, amidst the crowds (10,000-15,000 visitors/day), which I can only liken to painting in the middle of the M25 in the rush hour. However, the chance for feedback (both positive and negative) was immense and the whole experience has left me looking forward to next year and the chance to arrange more of these opportunities.

A number of the contacts I made over the last two weeks have already been in touch, giving me fresh ideas and motivation for future work. So now, back home in the studio, I can settle more readily into what I know is going to be another extended period of solitary work on commissions and other commitments.

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