How to run a business as an artist

I have looked for this information for a long while. I had a hard time understanding how all and any of this works as it doesn’t seem to come naturally to me at all. But there it is, freshly picked up from game developer Alexis Kennedy’s GDC talk on growing an indie studio on Youtube. A very simple formula how to know whether you are running a business or not:

  1. You know how much money it costs you to make what you are making.
  2. You know how much you will make from it.
  3. You know when it will be done.

Of course there is a lot more to it to run a successful business, but a lot of things seem to fit beautifully into these three questions.

I can imagine why artists notoriously have a hard time with this. When our skills aren’t fully developed yet, we have a hard time finishing a project or even just a piece at all. And even if we stick to it, we often can’t tell you when it’s done or how the quality will be. But then the art market isn’t exactly stable and predictable either. Sometimes you have a surprise success, sometimes you are surprisingly out of fashion and not in demand and it’s not entirely your own fault. Sometimes trends shift spontaneously and harshly. Sometimes you have no idea where from and when your next gig will be coming in. I’ve heard more established artists can predict an at least stable looking monthly income, so for us newbies it’s about working up to that point first.

That’s one of the pitfalls of art. You will have a long period upfront where you have to build your skills until you even are in a position to conduct business. Getting to a stage where you can confidently say how long it takes you to draw one of your typical illustrations or whatever your product is, is a huge win. And you have to be able to actually execute that no matter how you feel each day or what else comes your way. How long it takes to get there depends on the person. If it takes years, that is okay, that is just the nature of doing art.

You can have luck on the path and skip some things, but you can’t skip it all. You can also have success in art without bothering with the business side of it ever, too, but I think it would be better to at least roughly know what’s going on. You cannot rely on future luck alone.

And then you also have to establish ways on how you make money from your art. Yes, there are ample opportunities for artists, but not all of them are open to everyone and sadly there are always less open positions than artists eager to apply for the spot. If you’re doing your own thing, you’re competing with a lot of other works, too, both from living and dead colleagues.

And then you have to build it up to a state where the money is coming regularly enough and in amounts high enough to sustain yourself.

And during all of this your art may not cost you your physical or mental health or be so expensive to make that your chances of recouping the costs are too low, even if you sell.

But this for once is a clear marching path from start to finish. How exactly you get there is an individual process. Different artists value different things, have different things to offer to the world and just plainly have different life experiences that shape them and what they decide to make of it.

By these metrics I’m still a beginner and there is no shame to that. But at least I know where things are going for me now and roughly what to work on to get there. Maybe I’ll write a plan of action out loud in one of the upcoming blog posts, keep us updated on it and see what worked and what didn’t, having these business goals in mind.

Where are you going?

See you next blog post!

New arc for this blog

This is a special blog entry.
When you see bigger bumps or gaps on my blog, that can mean one of two things. Either I’m in a creative crisis and barely functional (this is absolutely normal for creatives, it’s a natural ebb and flood cycle), or working on something so big and captivating that it absolutely derailed me from writing. Sometimes both overlap.

I’m doing well lately. I’m keeping my head down and focussing on getting my day to day work done, almost unaffected by whatever else happens. I had an insight or two while drawing and in the breaks between, so today I will touch on the very foundations of this blog again.

I started this blog to document my art journey towards “making it”, leaving records behind of how exactly I did it, what worked, what didn’t work, and what pitfalls to avoid to save yourselves some time.
I have changed since starting the blog. I think when I started I was convinced most pros had some or the same secret they weren’t telling us, even when they were pretending to tell us their full success story of how they “made it”. There was always this very real gap between them, their ranks, and me and my fellow aspiring artist colleagues who still hadn’t yet joined those ranks. We could do whatever we wanted, follow all the steps, at the end of the day we wouldn’t get in. Now with more experience under my belt I’m seeing things differently.

“Making it” turns out to be a surprisingly personal thing. I set my goals, I decide what I’m doing to get there and – of course – I have to actually do these things. And whatever I share with you here on this blog is not and never was universal advice that would work for anyone for every “making it” goal. There is no universal “making it” advice, unless it is so vague that is loses it’s substance again. So the pros did not have one secret. It is more likely that most couldn’t tell you what “their” secret actually was if not a combination of hard work, luck and connections. And the ratio of these things is different for everyone again as are their personal unique circumstances.

So if I want to do you the best service I can I must focus on the personal in my personal journey for the future instead of looking out for the universal. Although I will confidently state I’m a painfully average person anytime, I recognize that the circumstances of my journey are unique – as are yours. We are all beautiful unique remixes of the spark that gives humanity art if this makes sense.

What follows is really hard to write for me, but it is necessary. You must know who is writing this blog, you must know how this person is looking at the world and what the “making it” goals are, so that you can assess how to interpret what I say and what you can use. I am an unworldly dreamer that seeks comfort. That is not a criticism, that is a type. But what keeps me going is that at the same time I’m a hard worker that doesn’t accept giving up or whatever else is identified as defeat. It actually makes perfect sense. That’s two worlds colliding in the same person all the time, creating a lot of creative energy from that friction. Whatever I am, I am not bored, I am always on the lookout to do things to make the pain stop. This can either be a powerful feedback spiral to relentlessly following the dream and working hard to make it come true – or it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as eating for short-term comfort, literally to feel better. And just to reiterate, I am not the only person who is like this, this is a type, although from what I understand one that is rarer in the spotlight or expressing themselves as this.

Dreamers have to be careful with their goals. If it’s too unworldly, it might never come true, because it can’t be done. But what if you can still get it done? Then we end up with innovation which pushes what people thought was possible and is good for everyone.

I might have mentioned it before, but my dream is to tell a couple of stories. I have a list with exact names and summaries. And guess what, SPREY is one of them. I must realize them either as comics or as videogames(most likely RPG-ish) to keep things in a scope a single creator can manage. This dream never changed at it’s core. I love the craft(s) more than anything, so with some things I literally can’t be motivated with money. That is the dreamer’s curse and privilege. But I still must exist in this world, so money is still a thing. I have humbly and without much fanfare started to learn how to code. Whatever my creative ambitions are, I must live with certain realities. I embrace art commissions and freelance work though, of course, but I try to be as responsible as possible just in case there is another long drought that can happen at the beginning of any career. There’s zero drama in this, no bitterness. Others have done this before me.

Rereading this I can’t even tell you what is so special about my stories. I have never asked myself this question. It just is. I came into the world with it. Let’s uncover the qualities of my works together on the journey as I’m learning more about myself and my creations. I realized that I have to change. It is my nature to seek comfort, but I have to be an inverse version of myself if I want to succeed. Everyone struggles with something after all. And I will admit, I’m already curious how I will do it.

See you next blogpost!