Bon Anniversaire a Moi

I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary of working solely as a self-employed artist.

Friday June 1st, 2012 marked my last day of work for the Burnaby Art Gallery.  Those who read my blog regularly may remember that I quit because I had a busy summer and fall lined up, preparing for 3 shows, 2 talks, and 1 workshop.  Since the New Year I’ve been mulling over the various ideas I might try in my quest to avoid returning to a conventional job.  How can I make a living solely off of my creative skills?

Thankfully, in Canada there are artist run centers and galleries that pay artists fees for exhibiting their work.  Yay!!  Unfortunately, even if an artist exhibited in solo shows back to back for a year they’d still be making an annual wage well under the poverty line.  Artist fees are greatly appreciated, though they cannot be regarded as a consistent source of income.  Other means must be considered in order to financially survive.

One of the most common ways for Creatives to hawk their skills is to share their acquired knowledge in the form of teaching.  I began teaching before I graduated from ECU in ’96 and spent many a year as an instructor to preschool and primary school children.

It was an enjoyable means of getting by, but because it was important to me to continually have new projects and materials for returning students to explore it also encompassed a massive amount of unpaid effort.  An hour and a half class, for example, might take several hours to plan, gather materials, and complete a demo.  Instructing enough classes to be able to pay monthly expenses effectively meant pouring all my creative energy and studio time into teaching.

When I was teaching I wasn’t personally creating and I wasn’t putting any effort into the administration side of my practice.  I gave up teaching weekly classes years ago.  Although I do miss seeing what the students created, I’ve never regretted the decision to devote time and energy to my own studio practice.

Another possible means of generating an income is to develop a relationship with a commercial gallery.  This is a conventional scenario for a working artist, but these relationships seem less desirable these days.  Many artists are now bypassing traditional protocol and selling their work themselves: the straight sell – developing an online store and selling work directly to collectors and patrons.  The key to success in this scenario is site traffic.  While I’m learning to direct more readers to my blog, it will take much more site traffic than I currently generate to have a successful web store.

Yet another means of remuneration is the licensing of images.  I’m struggling a bit with this concept because I have issues with consumerism.  Hell, most of my work casts a critical eye on our rampant consumer culture.  By putting images of my work on consumer items am I not just adding to the problem?  Is it two-faced for me to criticize an overly consuming culture and then turn around and expect folks to buy my licensed wares?

Or am I using my principles as an excuse to avoid taking the next step?

Why not put my work in front of a larger audience?

As you can see, the struggle is mostly internal.  The blocks that keep me from taking action towards actively selling are created by me.

So, I suppose the thing to do is to work on eliminating the blocks one by one.

I’ve done preliminary research on sites like society6 and zazzle, where you can upload images and offer them on iPhone cases, t-shirts, art prints, and more.  I’ve also looked into having art cards printed at a local shop and researched the cost of a run of t-shirts at a recommended screenprinters.

I think it’s time I choose a few things to dip my fledgling capitalist toes into…make an investment and test the commercial waters.

[and this is where T.O.D. (Thoughts Of Despair) steps in]

But what if I invest and no one wants to buy the t-shirt?

What if I put my images out there and nobody responds?

Like everyone else I’m afraid of failing, but I won’t know what will happen until I put it out there.  No risk.  No reward.

Over the next month I’ll be choosing a few commercial avenues to follow.  Do you have a favourite online art shop you like to purchase from?  What type of products do you like to purchase?  T-shirts?  iPhone cases?  Your comments are appreciated.


6 Responses to “Bon Anniversaire a Moi”

  1. Jody,
    Looking forward to seeing you in a few weeks and hearing more about how the year in the studio went. I’m shifting my attention more and more back to being an aritst first too.

    I certainly can see your work on products, and see the conflict too. Monoprinting on upclycled products perhaps?

    • jody says:


      Happy to hear you are cultivating your artist self (I’ve enjoyed seeing your Year of the Snake series of drawings and the paintings of seed pods on your website). It’s taken me a long time to get “studio” to the top of my To Do list and I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to make it a habit.

      Love the idea of upcycling products, it totally fits with how I recycle and reuse in both my life and my studio practice – thank you so much, Christine, for the suggestion (I’m shaking my head at how I never thought of it myself, it seems so blatantly obvious now that you’ve said it).

      Looking forward to visiting with you at WDS3!

  2. Cecilia says:

    Love the t-shirt design!! My brain’s a bit blank on other ideas, but looking forward to hearing how everything goes…

  3. David Gowman says:

    T-shirts are fun. Print ’em, sell ’em, laugh your ass off when your friends are wearing them around and advertizing you for free.
    My advise is to keep doing what you’re doing. But that being said, I used to sell more art when I was doing private shows more regularly. Patrons exist, and they like to spend real money on real things.
    You make real things.

    • jody says:

      Yes, David, t-shirts ARE fun!
      As an avid wearer I think I’ll have to make a few shirts, if only for myself. I wear your LFM shirt at least once a week 🙂
      Thanks for the reminder about “real things”. I’ll never stop making real things – my preference has always been towards the real…but there is something alluring about economy doppelgangers, don’t you think?