Recently someone asked me this: "what does your entrepreneurial journey mean to you? How long have you been an entrepreneur?” It made me smile. A few years ago I would have laughed out loud at the thought of considering myself an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are people with brilliant business ideas who end up rich, right? But although I still don’t consider myself as one, I can see where the question came from. After all, I am running a business, doing what I love.
Being an artist was never about being an entrepreneur, although I suppose I soon realised it meant running a business though, and I quite enjoyed that side of it. As a stay at home mum (with bad health) who gave up a chance of a career, I always wanted to earn my keep, to build something I could be proud of, to prove to the world, my husband and myself that I too could bring home the bacon. Of course I should have chosen a much easier niche. I could have earned my keep taking on a normal job somewhere. I always thought that as an art historian, perhaps the National Trust would have me. I suppose I might never know if they would have. But painting is something I can combine with raising children and having an unpredictable health. And of course I love painting and always have done.
We all know the myth of the 'starving artist'; the romantically inclined bohemian who lives off sex, drugs and rock & roll in order to make 'deep' and 'meaningful' art. That's all so 60s. Way before my time. So, not me; although I suppose we all have our crosses to bear and express those in our own work. I don't know how long I have been an artist for. There was never a day I decided to become one. After my children were born and I decided to be a stay-at-home parent, I spent more time painting than I did before. And I suppose it just continued to develop. But like most artists I have always enjoyed art and never really started or stopped making art. During some times in my life painting was more in the background (uni years) and at other times it became the second most important thing (after kids). I suppose I've started seeing it as a business 15 or so years ago.
Trying to sell my art, finding galleries, and getting commissions proved interesting, fun at times, but also challenging. Building websites, a mailing list and an online presence became a part-time hobby. Who would have thought I would enjoy the techie side of things? But I have always built my own website (registered my domain in 2002) and moved with the times from notepad html to basic what-you-see-is-what-you-get web builders to, now, WordPress. And I never stop playing around with new plugins or other software. Although I am not a developer or coder, I am, I suppose an 'enthusiastic user'. 😉
Earning an 'income' (a big enough sum to call it an 'income') as an artist proved hard, as most artists will tell you. It is a continuing struggle to balance out the commercial side and the artistic side. Do I paint what sells or do I paint my own vision? Where does the compromise lie? But even then it isn't easy. Art is difficult to sell and is like no other 'product'. Marketing and art often don't make happy bedfellows.
Over the years I learned about marketing and how to position yourself as an artist. I always tried to stay close to my own values. Some things I would not do. Working for 'exposure' only takes you so far. I admired many 'established' and skilled artists, only to find they are all in the same boat as I am. They too balance out the art market with their own vision; their need for income and their artistic integrity. Do these two things always have to be on opposite sides? I know they don't. But they fight each other all the time.
I've tried many side paths and detours to my main easel work: a greeting card and giclée print company, a focus on portrait commissions, local art clubs, a focus on gallery work and shows, chasing competitions, writing a blog, teaching workshops, and now I am into teaching online courses.
Some of these ventures were successful, others not so. I have always enjoyed the computer side of things so my latest venture into online courses nicely combines designing digital material, writing, video work, my own art and teaching. Being able to combine all these things into one product is ideal and so much fun.
But although I am having fun I must admit that the very mixed financial results and 'reach' are keeping me well and truly grounded, so to speak. Some adventures worked out well. Many adventures turned out to be an, ahem, 'solo adventure' after all. The world of art is full of rejection, as any artist will tell you. It makes you constantly ask yourself what you're doing it for.
Many failed ideas keep me from considering myself an entrepreneur. But I am my own business: an artist, writer, teacher, media company, and art historian (I like the term 'youpreneur' coined by Chris Ducker). I create art, videos, courses, articles, books. Maybe I am an artpreneur? or is it all just a big ego trip? The grateful words from clients, readers, and students tell me otherwise. Yet creating products that many love but few can buy remains a tricky business.