There are approximately 2.1 million artists in the United States alone. Art can encompass many different careers, including actors, fine artists, art directors, writers, designers, photographers and musicians.
No matter what your artistic field of expertise may be, learning to navigate the art world takes time, and you’ve likely made your fair share of mistakes. That’s okay! Don’t let your mistakes discourage you. Mistakes can help you learn what to avoid in the future and how to be more successful with your craft.
Here are six common mistakes all artists make:
Artists jokingly reference procrastination. Perhaps putting off tasks until the last minute is a struggle for everyone, or maybe it truly is something creative people struggle with in particular, but procrastinating creates a lot of unnecessary stress in an artist’s life.
When you limit yourself to the last few hours before a project is due, you won’t produce your best work. There is no time built in to brainstorm the project or to take a step back from it and see what needs added or taken away to make it better.
Most seasoned artists have learned over time that procrastinating on projects leads to missed deadlines and unhappy clients. To avoid this, break down each stage of a project into manageable sections. Start early and work on the project a little at a time until it’s completed. Allow at least 24 hours for the project to sit without you working on it. Then, go back to it with a fresh perspective and see if you are happy with the finished result.
2. Failing to Realize You Are Running a Biz
About half of artists are self-employed, which means they are essentially running their own business. If you want to make a living as an artist, then you have to figure out the basics of running a business — even a one-man or one-woman show. Some of the skills you need to acquire include:
- Cash flow management. When income is sporadic — it almost always is for freelancers — manage how you’ll have cash when you aren’t working.
- Customer service skills. If clients aren’t happy, they won’t hire you again.
- Saving for taxes. Setting aside enough money to pay quarterly taxes. You also will be charged self-employment tax, so be prepared to pay that.
- Learn to deal with difficult clients. Respond appropriately so you keep tricky clients happy. A renowned Dale Carnegie Course can teach you how to converse effectively even with difficult people.
3. Leaving a Mess behind When Your Work Is Complete
Artists also have a bit of a reputation for being messy. Have you ever met an artist with a neat working area? There seems to be something about creativity that lends itself to messiness. However, with a bit of effort, you can overcome this aspect of your personality and improve it so you can find the materials you need to do your project and stay on top of paperwork.
For example, when you finish a painting or wall mural, what do you do with the leftover paint? Does it just sit in your studio and take up space, even though it may have gone bad or will never be used again? Be sure to get rid of your old paint to help clean up your space.
However, old paint is considered hazardous household waste, and you should never pour it down a drain when you’re ready to dispose of it. Consider recycling your paint at the appropriate facilities or donating it instead.
4. Negotiating Prices
If you’re just getting started as an artist, you may have landed your first commissioned piece and have no idea what to charge for it. There are several schools of thought on what is a fair rate to charge.
One way you can figure out what you need to make so you aren’t the proverbial “starving artist” is to come up with a livable hourly wage. If you are running your own business, then you need to add a percentage to that number to cover the cost of advertising, taxes and other expenses incurred with being in business for yourself.
Another option is to look at what other artists in your area are charging for similar pieces or to calculate the rate you ultimately want to make per hour. Of course, if you are inexperienced, you may want to charge less for your first few pieces to build your portfolio. However, you still deserve to get paid for your work.
One mistake a lot of new artists make is drastically undercharging. Once you divide the pay rate by the number of hours worked, it can quickly become unprofitable. You should at least aim for minimum wage, even as a beginner. As you gain experience, you can up what you are charging and give yourself a raise based on your experience as an artist.
5. Presenting Your Work Poorly
One mistake a lot of beginners make is not taking the time to present the finished product in the best light. For example, if you are commissioned to complete a beautiful stained glass piece, you should make sure all the panels are clean and free of finger prints.
Take the time at the end of the project to figure out how to make the art look its absolute best. It should be free of dirt and smudges, and, if applicable, it should be wrapped up for protection so it doesn’t get damaged in transporting it to its final location.
6. Not Knowing Your Own Style
You can’t please everyone. Your art will be perfect for some people and not so for others. Your target market is the people who love your work. So, if you create an artisan product like handmade journals, then your target market is likely at a writers’ conference and not the plumbers’ conference. On the other hand, if you create art made out of copper pipes, then your target market might be the plumbers’ conference.
Don’t change your style to suit other people. More than likely, the person won’t be pleased with the finished product, and you’ll be miserable because you won’t be doing your best work in a medium you love.
All artists make mistakes, but if you can learn from those mistakes, you can continue to grow as an artist. Over time, you should start to earn more money as you make smart decisions for your business and your skill set.