Looking back on five years of art business

I thought I’d talk a little about what’s gone into this past few years. It’s been a crazy ride and I have learnt so much along the way that I thought it might help other artists to put in in writing if they are going through similar journeys. 

If I had a dollar for every awkward look I received when the words ‘I want to be a full-time artist’ came out of my mouth, I would have had a wealthy start to my career. 

The truth is it was not an easy road, especially that first year. I did minimum two markets a week, only painted originals, under-charged, over-worked and stuffed up more times than I could count. 

Other than a bit of art at school and a couple of uni subjects on business I had no idea what I was doing. 

Never the less I persisted. 

It all started with a suitcase full of artwork walking 4 km at 5am to my local Port Douglas market at the time.

This was my set up that first day when I all but sold out and realised I wanted to keep painting. I mainly drew in watercolour pencil and was meticulous with self- deprecation. The money I made that first day went into buying my first marquee, the next a table, the next more supplies and the list goes on. 

First market stall at Port Douglas in Far North Queensland

Last year my amazing family spent a week of their school holidays helping to build this incredible stand. We’re currently in the process of making adjustments (stall number 6.4 or similar) and every time we set up it looks totally different but when I look back on how far it’s come I can’t help but smile. 

Handmade Canberra Market stall 2018 Christmas trade fair

Similarly, my art itself has developed so much. I clocked up over 400 hours of illustrating books this year alone (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are being released imminently, yay!). Every exhibition over the past 5 years was over 200 hours of preparation. And all of these hours, RSI in my shoulders and a slight coffee addiction to get through have helped so much to refine a style and muscle memory that has a life of its own. 

Alice in Wonderland watercolour Illustration by Stephanie Elizabeth Artwork

Finally it feels like this art business thing is going somewhere and becoming a little sustainable machine of it’s own. So if you are a budding artist and wanting to create a career for yourself here are my tips:

  1. Work on a style that is your own. Be inspired, be similar but being unique will set you apart. 
  2. Work your butt off! It is not an easy road but persistence is key.
  3. Don’t listen to those that don’t understand. You will be judged but muting those voices will make you stronger and see a clearer path.
  4. Surround yourself with other creatives. Go for coffee with other artists, send your fave artists an email asking questions. Creativity is strength in numbers and you’ll only get so far alone in your studio. 
  5. Find your customers. You will not be everyone’s cup of tea but your ideal tribe will lift you up and love what you do.

Steph x

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