‘I want to be a professional artist. Where do I start?’
It’s a question that I come across frequently and I hear it from people at all levels of skill. I’m going to attempt to answer all your questions and help some of you navigate through the pitfalls of the career that will come up. In order to make this more of an exciting read, I’m going to show you how being an artist is very similar to being a drug dealer.
Step 1- Acquire some kind of art skill aka acquiring the product
How does this relate to drugs? your art is your product, like crack/cocaine. Much like crack/cocaine the quality of your product usually determines what kind of clients you will get. Crack, or for the more street smart audience, ‘Hard’ can be sold for cheap, produced in mass and regardless of quality it can be sold to someone cheap. Mind you, if it’s shit quality then it’ll take a damn long time to sell much like shitty crack. So prints, fan art and cheap reproductions of originals, that’s what I know as ‘crack’ in the art world.
It doesn’t take much training to learn how to cook crack and you can make a tonne of money selling crack-art but it takes a damn long time to do it.
Training allows you to take your raw-product, the cocaine, and refine it. A more refined and pure product can be sold for a higher price. These would be the big commissions, the $1000+ dollar paintings you see selling at shows, these are examples of cocaine pieces. Mind you, much like cocaine, finding buyers for large amounts can be difficult and it takes time to build a clientele thats willing to pay for your primo product.
So, for the art student fresh out and bursting with skills- you have pure Colombian cocaine right now. Refine your cocaine and then figure out how you can take that and turn it into really good crack to sell to the masses.
Step 2- Business Skills aka selling and pushing the product
Once you have your product you need to figure out how to sell it. You’re new on the block so nobody knows you even have product to sell. Unlike selling crack, you wont be shot for selling your art on the wrong block but you should be careful when you choose where to show off your product. Example, putting nudes on your Facebook page when you know it’s against community guidelines is kind of like selling in front of the police station… Know your audience, find someone who does the kind of stuff you like and start reaching out to their fans. Yeah, some people might not like the fact you do that but fuck em, if people like your stuff more than the other guy then that guy needs to try harder or find other people to push on. It’s dog eat dog out there and even the most skilled of us can end up starving when some kid selling crack shows up while all you have to offer is expensive cocaine. Some artists cry about undervaluing our work when skilled people sell for cheap but lets be real, we all gotta eat and if your prices are hurting others then tell them to feed/clothe/shelter/entertain you and see how they feel about your prices.
In order to succeed you need to think like a dealer, ‘where can I push this product to get the most repeat customers, where can I find or create new addicts?’
You dont want to have just customers, you want FUCKING ADDICTS LINING UP AT YOUR DOOR. You want them to not just want it, but NEED IT. Find a way to create a need.
Anything you can do to make the experience between you and your clients memorable and unique is a good thing. Like a crack dealer, you want your clients just begging you for another bump when you show up and light the fuck up smiling when you walk in the room.
Step 3- Finding a steady job aka finding a crew
Much like drug dealing, there is no steady job, just steady customers. Some days it can be dry and on other days you can’t get the phone to stop ringing. Be prepared to have periods where absolutely nothing is happening.
Working alone can make you lots of money but its also a shit load of work. Some people have the drive to do it and will hustle selling $20 prints all day to make a solid payment. Others, like myself, occasionally sell coke-art and get large payouts at once… Unfortunately, that only happens every now and then.
Finding a studio or patrons is the next logical step. This is like finding a gang to have your back when you’re out on streets. You work for the studio and produce and push product for them in exchange for the safety and security of the crew.
A good crew will work with you, help you promote your shit and hustle while pushing the whole crew brand. Much like many famous people who started out as drug-dealers (Insert long list of hip-hop artists) you can also put together you own group of dealers/artists and hold down a corner of your own.
Another advantage of having a studio or crew is that all you need is one heavy hitter in the crew and everyone benefits. Yes, everyone in the crew should be of similar level but there is always bound to be someone who really is up in the game compared to everyone else. This guy is the MVP, the Lebron James/Michael Jordan of the team. That doesn’t mean that everyone else can slack off but having an MVP on the team will help everyone get work because of the rep that comes with having been a part of a good team. Even if the crew falls apart, a good rep will make sure that everyone is able to move on well.
On a personal note, you are only as strong as your weakest link so if you do plan to start your own studio then make sure you train everyone to do everything at a basic level. If you have someone in the crew that’s just a little too weak, people are going to punk them and shit on your whole crew for letting a punk ride with you. Basically, make sure everyone can and will hold their own.
So with those three simple steps you should have the basic knowledge needed to become a professional artist. It literally does not get any simpler than this. You need to get some skills, sell your product to whoever will buy and repeat that process until you’re successful. If you’re lucky you get picked up by a studio/crew or you start your own. How long it takes to be successful all depends on your work ethic and how hard you’re willing to push your stuff. Art is everywhere, and that means that every single person you meet is a potential client. You just need to find out what they need and get them to buy it.
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