(This feature was published in Homegrown.ph last November 4, 2013)
The myth of the starving artist is not farfetched, as plenty of artists are driven by mere passion for their craft. Although this is essential, people cannot live on passion alone.
As a full-time freelance writer, I consider myself an artist. But I was determined to debunk the myth and stick to my craft while earning a living.
Yes, Virginia, it is possible to sustain a living as an artist.
I confess that it took a while before I was able to find stability in this field, as I had to familiarize myself with the business side of it as well. Here are some tips on how not to be a starving artist.
Professionalize your brand
According to Pia Mendoza, a painter, “It is important to treat your brand as a professional business instead of just creating art or seeking art projects on a whim. The term ‘starving artist’ only becomes a reality for some artists because they refuse to think out of the box. As a creative person, one has to be fueled by his or her passion for life 24/7.”
Pia is married to Alfred Mendoza, a professional photographer, and they have collaborated on a business called Team Mendoza. “Alfred and I have decided to merge our passion for the arts into one brand to make a solid statement that we are committed to our craft. We want to use our talents to give jobs to other people, and to express our creativity. It’s really about striking a balance,” Pia shares. They provide artwork and photography services to clients from various industries.
In general, artists who have strengthened their name or brand have a better chance of collaborating with others and gaining more followers.
Learn to diversify
Unlike regular employees, creative freelancers do not necessarily have a fixed income source. Since the money doesn’t come in every 15th or 30th of the month, you will have to find a way to get a regular source of income.
For Steph Palallos, a visual artist, she does a number of different things to earn a living. “I teach/tutor Spanish to kids (I have at least one class every day), and I teach art to kids and adults. As a graphic designer, I design logos, brochures and books. As an illustrator, I draw for magazines, annual reports and project proposals. As a painter and sculptor, I make watercolor paintings for exhibitions and get commissioned to make paintings and sculptures. I also sell my MEOW shirts (cat-themed tees) online.”
Steph went to art school in 2003, and since then, she has been a practicing painter, sculptor, graphic designer and illustrator. “I think I would have a bigger fixed income if I were employed in a traditional set-up, but as a freelancer, there would be times when I would have the opportunity to earn double or triple the amount of a monthly salary.”
Artists should identify their set of skills so they can better maximize their money-making opportunities.
Know your value
The tricky thing about being an artist is selling yourself and your work. Before you do so, you have to establish some sort of rate card where you can include a list of services, descriptions and respective prices. It would be best to ask fellow artists about it so you can come up with competitive rates.
Once you have standardized everything, it is easier to start “selling” your services. I have created a rate card for myself, which I could refer to whenever I get inquiries about my writing services.
Make it work
It is always best to live within your means, especially if you are an artist who doesn’t know how much money you will make in a month. Consider the adage, “Save for a rainy day.”
“I divide the money I earn from my art into this: 10% goes to my savings and 10% to my emergency fund and the rest goes back into my art or business—I replenish my art supplies, I buy a new external drive, etc.,” Steph reveals. “To ensure financial security, I have to follow my budget and make sure that I put in the right amount in the right place each month.”
Pia of Team Mendoza, meanwhile, says, “We save and we try to invest wisely. We believe that discipline plays an important role in managing one’s finances. Learn to differentiate between needs and wants. Balance is key.”