More advice than you probably wanted to know….

16 Jul

… “Unprotected sex with multiple partners” by Against Me

I was talking the other day with a close friend of mine who is a painter and is wanting to get her work out in the public eye and to a point where she can rely on it a bit to support her because her “day job” is killing her soul (day jobs can do that, ya know). I was giving her all the tips that I knew, and she told me that I really should share what I knew with “the world”. Art school (or most college programs) teach you what you need to know for your “trade”, but don’t prepare you at all for how to make it happen once you graduate. You give your university shit-tons of money and time, and then upon graduation you’re tossed out into the “real world” with no knowledge of what to do with all that expensive information- and end up working that shitty coffee-shop or retail job for the next 10 years. It’s really frustrating.

So here’s my knowledge. All of it (or all that I can think of right now). It may pertain to you… it may not. But this is what I’ve learned from years of trial-and-error trying to survive as an artist. I’m still learning, and still have a long way to go- but it’s what I’ve picked up so far. Some of it might be a little harsh…. but if any of it hurts anyone’s feelings, then choose another business to go after.

1. If you have aspirations of becoming rich and famous from your art- get over that NOW. If you want to be rich and/or famous- this is not the business to do it in. Realistically, you will probably live your life barely able to make ends meet, and fame usually comes after you die. The competition out there is extreme to the highest extent. So if fame and fortune is what you’re wanting- find another profession. But if all you can imagine doing for your life is making art- no matter what the cost- then continue to read on. Life in the arts (ANY type of arts) is difficult- so be prepared to fight, and be really realistic about it. This is a fickle business, and mean, and expensive, and 100% unnecessary (people NEED food, shelter, clothing, and water- they don’t NEED art). Always be aware of that, and ALWAYS be thankful if you’re able to sell your work at all (especially in our declining economy).

2. See what you do as a product. Yes, you are an artist… and what you make is deep and meaningful and profound and earth-shattering and bla bla bla…. BUT you are trying to do the same thing that Toyota and Wal-mart and Starbucks and Microsoft and The Gap are trying to do- sell products that aren’t entirely necessary to the public in order to make a profit, and be able to continue to make and sell products. YES- your art is a product!! Let go of the idea that it isn’t. The moment you put a price tag on a piece of work, or an album, or whatever- it becomes a product. It may be a really expensive earth-shattering emotional product- but it is no different than anything you’d find in a store. If you don’t like the idea of your art being a product, then give it away for free and keep your day-job that you hate.

3. Since your art is a product, that means that you are a business- so act like it. This is the really really important stuff. And this is where all the shit that your parents preached to you that made you roll your eyes comes into play.

First: Get good credit. Seriously. If you have bad credit, clean it up now. Make paying off debts be a top priority, and getting bad credit marks taken off your credit report (if anyone is interested in how to do this- just respond in a comment and I’ll explain how… it’s really easy). If you’ve refused to get a credit card because you’re boycotting the system or whatever- get over it and get a card. Having no credit is just as bad as having terrible credit. Get a card with a really low balance, and use it every once in a while for small things- then IMMEDIATELY pay it off in full, every time. If you do this enough, they will raise your limit more and more, and your credit score goes up. Why is this important? Let’s say that you someday want to start a small art-related business (like I have with my clothing company), or you need a small loan for art related stuff, or you need the money for travel to gallery openings or whatever…. banks rely solely on your personal credit history in order to issue loans. Trust me on this one, because I learned it all the hard way!!!

Second: Since you’re a business- you can set yourself up as such. This is the fun part. Being a business, you can get an EIN (Employee Identification Number)/ Tax ID Number from the federal government, and purchase items wholesale (art supplies, wholesale clothing for screenprinting/alteration with your art, etc etc etc). This ID number is free, and can be obtained online at (just do a search on the website for “EIN Number” and it will bring up the form to fill out and submit online). This Tax ID number also states that you are a business, and are able to deduct business expenses- travel, art supplies, internet bills if you have a website or sell your art online, your cell phone bill if that is the phone you use to conduct business, etc. Anything you use for business, you can deduct- but ONLY the stuff for business (not personal purchases). BUT this means that you have to do business taxes… and they have to be done correctly or the IRS will get angry. So make sure during tax season that you keep ALL receipts from what you want to deduct and get a good tax person to do your taxes every year (it may cost a bit, but it is worth it in the long run in case you’re ever audited or whatever).

**Third** (and most important): If you don’t already have one, GET A GODDAMN WEBSITE!!!!! I cannot stress this enough. Really. The days of mailing in portfolios are dead. Galleries don’t want them, they’re bulky and expensive to put together, expensive to ship, and a pain in the ass all around. If your university is still teaching you that you need to know how to put together a portfolio, tell them to wake the fuck up and get out of 1982. Your website doesn’t have to be astounding and filled with all kinds of flash graphics and whatever… it’s just needs to be a clear and easy reference to your work. If you’re still in college, take a course in some sort of web design or graphics or something so you can do this yourself (I like to do everything myself because web people are sometimes hard to find, and can be expensive). If you don’t have the time/money/web knowledge to get a site up and running- use the free resources available on line. Set up a myspace/facebook/etc account for your art, or set up a portfolio on flickr or a blog or whatever. You just NEED to have a place to direct potential galleries, buyers, etc to your work so they can see it. If noone knows you’re out there, noone will buy your art. Period. There are also TONS of places where you can sell your work online without having to pay for an online storefront…, (though that has turned into a giant online garage sale and kindof devalues your stuff- but if you find that it works, then go for it!!), etc. If you do know a little about html or site building, you can build your own site from scratch from all different kinds of resources, and just insert paypal “Buy Now” buttons on items you put on the site. I built my website myself using a company called “Homestead” ( It’s about $15 a month, they host it (so it won’t ever crash), and you don’t even have to know any html or anything to build it. It’s really easy… but that’s just the one I used- there are tons out there to choose from. I CANNOT STRESS ENOUGH HOW IMPORTANT HAVING A WEBSITE IS!!! It is your link to the rest of the world. Seriously.

And once you get a website- “network”. I hate that word, but it’s the only one that really applies. Send your link to the contact person at galleries, magazines, and anyone else that you want to see your stuff. Trade links with other artists. Use it as much as you can. It’s the quickest, easiest and cheapest way to get your work seen and out there. If you’re a business, then advertise. This is how you do it.

Fourth: Take what you do seriously. Not in a “wow, I’m important!” kindof way… but in a professional way. If you opened a store, and only went into work 6 hours a week, and didn’t let anyone know you were open, and didn’t advertise, and didn’t keep financial records- then how the fuck would you be able to survive? Even if you work a “day job”- you have to treat your art like a 2nd job. I don’t care how tired you are when you get home from work. Or how much you just want to sit in front of the TV and turn your mind off. If you don’t care enough about your art to really go after it- then noone else will. Period. I’m not trying to sound preachy or “holier-than-thou” here- but when I started doing gallery shows, I was a single mom, in college, and working 2 (sometimes 3) part time jobs… and I still made time to get shows together and create work. And because I fought so hard for it, I can now spend my days in my pajamas painting and designing my silly clothing. That kind of work REALLY REALLY does pay off. So if can make my lazy ass do that, you can too. I promise.

4. Get really thick skin. Not everyone is going to like your work. You will get criticism. Sometimes it will be really mean. You will get shot down for gallery shows. This is natural. Expect it. DO NOT take it personally. It isn’t a personal attack on you. It’s hard, because you’re emotionally tied to your work- so rejection hits a little deeper than if you were selling blenders or life insurance. BUT like I said above, it is a long hard road to get somewhere with your art, and it’s a very fickle and petty business. So you have to REALLY believe in what you do, and be able to brush off negative reactions. It’s also important to try to learn from those reactions… when you get negative feedback, really listen and try to look at your work from an outsider’s point-of-view and see if it’s valid. If it is, great! Use it!! If not, fuck ’em and keep going.

5. (and this has nothing to do with business- it’s a personal pet peeve).. Remember where you come from. I can’t tell you how many artists I’ve worked with have gotten too “big for their britches”, acquire this inflated nasty ego because of a little bit of press attention, and turn into a gigantic pile of grossness. There is nothing more disgusting than the “pretentious artist attitude”. Remember what you do for a living- you make art. You’re not saving babies in Africa from AIDS. You’re not running into burning buildings saving families from death. You’re not curing cancer or helping with world peace. You’re making art. Art is important- but not important enough for you to get some “I’m SOOOO important” attitude and treat others like shit. Getting attention for your art doesn’t make you better than others… it makes you really fucking lucky for being able to get some attention when there are hundreds of thousands of other artists out there fighting just like you- so be humble. And thankful. Because there is ALWAYS someone out there better than you, and we are all fully replaceable. (I REALLY REALLY can’t fucking stand the bullshit “artist ego”… if you can’t tell).

And with this, try to participate in the “artists community”. A friend of mine who I adore and respect greatly, David Hochbaum, does things like put together free workshops to teach people how to make frames for their paintings, or has screenprinting parties and such. Help each other out. Don’t see other artists as “competition”- see them as your peers. The more you grow as an artist, the more you can share with others… and there is always something to be learned from other artists out there. Yes, you’re all fighting for the same thing- but there’s safety in numbers.

That is my lesson for today. I’m not AT ALL saying that this is the way to go for everyone- but this is just what I’ve learned from working in this business for years. It’s the stuff they don’t teach you in school (and I’ve lectured at my old college a couple times BECAUSE it’s the kind of stuff that they don’t have classes in, but it’s what you need to know). And I’m sharing it all because I wish that someone would have told me all this stuff when I started out, because it would have made things much easier. And I want to make things easier on other artists out there. No one should have to struggle if they don’t need to struggle… it’s just not fair. So take it or leave it. But hopefully this helps someone.

Back to work I go.


12 Responses to “More advice than you probably wanted to know….”

  1. freddie July 16, 2008 at 1:50 pm #

    Wow, you are one clever lady! I am trying to start up my own business at the moment its driving me crazy!Being 22 doesn’t help, estate agents just laugh at me when i request to view property, and my current employer told everyone i am just making all up. Its been soul destroying, but finally coming together! Any advice on how to get rid to that bad credit demon?

  2. Brandi July 16, 2008 at 2:12 pm #

    fine. no fame, or fortune…can I still have glory? πŸ˜€

  3. c.j. July 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm #

    That is awesome advice!!!

  4. Kristen Ferrell July 16, 2008 at 7:15 pm #

    Getting rid of bad marks on your credit history really isn’t difficult at all… it’s just a pain in the ass.
    Everyone is allowed to check their credit score and credit report for free and without penalty once a year (if your credit is check into too many times a year, it shows up as a negative mark on your credit score). There are 3 reliable companies that financial institutions and lenders work with to check your credit- and you can use them too. “Equifax”, “Experian”… and I can’t remember the name of the third. But whatever… I’ve used both of the one’s I mentioned, and they’re both good.

    What you do is go onto either of those company’s websites, and go through the tedious process of verifying your identity and getting your credit report. Once you get it, go to the section of the report that states negative marks. There should be an option to “contest” or “dispute” these marks. It will ask you for a reason why you are disputing the negative marks… so put down whatever reason you want. Submit it, and in 30 days or so you’ll get the results of the dispute.

    Here’s what’s important- it doesn’t really matter if the negative marks are deserved or not- just dispute them anyways. Years back, I was so fucking broke that I had to choose to pay for food for my kid or make payments to my credit card- so I opted to feed my kid. This went on for a really long time… they called me everyday… everyday I told them “Yup, I’m just as broke today as I was yesterday- but I’m looking forward to hearing from you tomorrow!”. So those late payments showed up on my credit report. With my dispute, I just stated “Almost filed for bankruptcy, but account is now paid off in full and in good standing” (which was all the truth). Those negative marks were taken off my credit score… even though they were deserved.

    You’re working with big business here. Bad marks are usually with late bill payments, fines, collection agency fees, etc. These are companies that already have your money, and don’t give a shit about your petty dispute. They are required to deal with your dispute in 30 days, or the negative mark is dropped. They usually don’t even RESPOND to the dispute- so it’s knocked off. BUT try to make sure that you are in good standing with these companies before you dispute….
    But even if you aren’t… fuck it. It doesn’t hurt to try, right? The worst they can do is say “no”.

    Making your credit great now will only make things easier for you in the long run.

    And Brandi… glory is totally obtainable. fame is actually pretty easy too- as long as you don’t care what you’re famous for (I could make a quick list of 10 things you could do right now that would make front page news… but I don’t think you’d want to really do any of them… haha!!!). but fortune… fuck, if you ever figure that one out, fill me in. I’ve got bills coming outta my ass, and they’re all SCREAMING to be paid. πŸ˜‰

  5. Kristen Ferrell July 16, 2008 at 7:31 pm #

    OH SHIT!!! One more thing about credit card stuff that has nailed sooooo many of my friends that it’s maddening!!
    If you are in debt, or behind in payments- when the credit card companies call, they might talk to you about substantially lowering the amount that you owe, and paying it off in just one bulk sum.
    DO NOT DO THIS!!!! It seems like a really great deal- but it looks just as bad on your credit report as a bankruptcy mark. Seriously. It’s better just to keep paying it off little chunks at a time (try paying off the balance with the highest interest first) then to “make a deal with the devil”.

    Oh! And if they call your work to hound you (which they will sometimes do)- it’s illegal. They can call your home or personal cell phone…. BUT NOT YOUR WORK OR ANYWHERE BESIDES YOUR HOME OR ANY OTHER PERSONAL PHONE NUMBER THAT YOU HAVE GIVEN THEM.
    It’s illegal, and considered harassment. Warn them once that if they call any number other than the one you gave them when setting up the account, that you will contact your attorney. If they do it again- get the direct phone number of their office, go to an attorney, and start harassing THEM. And if you can, sue the holy fuck outta them, move to Boca and spend the rest of your days drunk on the beach… and pay for me to come too.

  6. Jett July 17, 2008 at 12:08 pm #

    I miss your ass. Man, you are *SO FUCKING AMAZING* I cannot even tell you. This is good shit, I even printed it. πŸ˜‰

  7. whitney July 17, 2008 at 12:44 pm #

    0o0o0oh, good shit! i will have to let james see this as well. πŸ™‚

  8. hayley g July 17, 2008 at 1:58 pm #

    you should write a book! not just about this, but about life in general! πŸ™‚

  9. ky July 17, 2008 at 9:06 pm #

    still preaching the word. thanks kristen. miss the days where i could swing by and get the biz advice from you, its all true. tell the boys hi. see you next month.

  10. Eleanore July 29, 2008 at 7:32 am #

    Finally! Great advice and well said!

  11. zanne August 8, 2008 at 5:12 am #

    wow that was fuckin great! haha! i’ve found all the credit card stuff out the hard way as well… i’ve gotten ahold of two books that i have found absolutely amazing i thought i’d metion , cause i think they’re brilliant, and they talk about everything you’;ve said, but they go into alot of detail..

    Art Marketing 101, by constance smith.
    Art office, by constance smith and sue viders.

    the second one is all forms basically (sounds like fun huh?) has everything from bookkeeping forms to marketing plans to customer client records and sales agreements, model releases, and show planners,etc.. i’ve only just been getting really serious about my painting and only just started producing things i’m feeling happy about trying to put out there, so i haven’t been able to use them much yet, but i have them ready and waiting hahahaha..

    anyway, i love love love reading your blogs and interviews,etc cause not only is your art totally wicked, but what you’ve been able to do with it is really inspiring! hats off to you lady!

  12. Kristen Ferrell August 8, 2008 at 11:57 am #

    thank you!!! πŸ™‚
    one thing i forgot to mention above… if you’re working with a gallery for the first time and they don’t have a contract- MAKE ONE OF YOUR OWN!!!! have it state in there that they have 30 days after the show comes down to pay you, what happens if a piece happens to get destroyed or stolen while it’s in their care, etc etc etc. i had one gallery take almost 7 months to pay me for items sold. and i had a piece stolen once from a gallery show (but this gallery was fantastic about it, and they paid for the piece AND my flight out to them for my next show with them because they felt so horrible about it). there are great gallery owners and there are sketchy gallery owners (just as it is in any business), and you’ve got to protect yourself.

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