So there I was, attempting to look interested at yet another boring marketing presentation. The head of department was droning through the introduction. My mind was on just about anything apart from the presentation.
What I didn’t know was that this one was going to change my life.
As the slides detailing the exciting restructure of the department ticked happily along, the realisation slowly dawned on me that I no longer had a job.
I’d just been made redundant.
I suppose that traditionally, this is where I should say that getting made redundant was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. That it was the final push that made me get out of my boring, repetitive, uncreative office jobs and finally follow my dream.
And in a way, it was. But life is never that clean cut, never that neat. Not by a long way.
Making the leap
Getting made redundant was one of the heaviest punches I’ve ever had to roll with. Because I’d done good work for this company, very good work. When they decided that, despite that, I still wasn’t valued and my input wasn’t required, it shook me to my core.
I think of that job in terms of an abusive relationship now. The thing is, these companies make you feel that you need them. They undermine your confidence as a matter of course, make you feel that you’re unable to strike on out on your own.
I don’t know why that should be, but every office job I’ve ever had was like that. It takes a huge leap of faith to go out on your own. Change is scary, of course. But I think that also, leaving your workplace and going out on your own is hard because one of our strongest human needs is belonging. Perhaps the very strongest, because we’ve evolved that need to help us survive.
So I was forcibly ejected from my group. It didn’t even feel much like a group I wanted to be a part of, but nevertheless it was my group. Although if you’d asked me, I would have told you that I was desperate to leave, it wasn’t until I was forced out and away from the warm fire that I started to seriously think that this might be the time.
So the first thing you need is the courage to make the leap, or, failing that, the circumstances that force you into it.
I didn’t even make the jump on my own. I was pushed. I may never have made the leap if circumstances hadn’t (at least partially) forced me into it.
I don’t have any pearls of wisdom that will help you find the courage to make your leap, except perhaps this: You never will feel ready. You may be more ready than you think right now. If you do decide to make the jump, you’ll need to accept a lot of uncertainty. But don’t spend forever waiting for the right time, because there is no right time. Just close to right is probably as close as you’ll ever get.
What do you have to give?
There are a lot of different ways you can make a living online, and many of them are relevant to an artist. But before you can get started with any one of them, I think you have to make a shift in your mindset.
Your initial idea may be simply that you’d love to be a full time artist, especially if you’re stuck in a boring office job.
And that’s fine. But if you’re going to succeed, you’re going to need to stop thinking about what you want and start thinking about what you have that other people want. No-one is going to pay you to be you.
I guess the dream for a lot of people is to be able to sell their work online. But there’s a very great difference between painting for yourself and painting for an audience. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to paint on a day when you really don’t feel like it. On that day, reality hits and it becomes work. If you can’t make it through that day and paint, you won’t make it at all and will be back in an office job before you know it.
Painting isn’t the only way to make a living as an artist, though. The online world is no different than the offline in that respect. Almost all professional artists that I know of paint and teach.
And in terms of making your living online as an artist, teaching is one of the most reliable ways you can do it. The reason is that you’re solving a problem for somebody, and that’s something that people are generally willing to pay for, if you can do it well and the problem is important enough to them.
So, when you’re thinking about living your dream and being independent, catch yourself. Start thinking instead about how you can help people. Because if you can find a way to do that, I think you’ll be much more likely to succeed.
How I actually make my living
So here it is, how I actually make my living at the moment:
- I auction paintings here on my site
- I have an online course that teaches artists how to use colour to model form
- I sell tutorial videos (I also give them away for free)
- I run a drawing practice membership program
Of those, by far the biggest contributor to my monthly income so far is my online course. If I take all of the teaching stuff and put it in one box, and put the painting in another one, the teaching box is much, much bigger than the painting box.
Personally, I’m fine with that because I love teaching. That’s why I’m putting so much emphasis on the mindset shift you’ll need to make if you want to make an independent living online as an artist. People are much more likely to pay you to teach them something useful than they are to buy your work.
That’s not to say that people won’t buy your work, they may. But if you limit yourself only to that, you’re probably giving yourself a more difficult task.
What you need
If you’re going to increase your chances of making it online, you need two main things:
A mindset that’s all about finding a way to help people – preferably in a way that’s different/better than other people do.
Even if you’re selling your work, looking at it from this perspective will help you make work that people actually want. I think we’re to used to thinking about our work as if it’s all about us. I’m not convinced.
I think it’s about what we can contribute, and that’s a much healthier perspective to take on it.
An audience. This is perhaps the hardest part – or at least, the part that takes the most time and effort.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve built up an audience for this blog over a long period of time. Still, the best thing you can do if you want to build an audience is to start with that mindset shift.
Fine, blog about your creative journey. But when you do, ask yourself constantly how what you’re doing is going to help someone, and you’re much more likely to succeed.
Although I already have an audience, I’m aware that if I want to stay in business I’m going to need to reach more people with what I have. So I’m planning some experiments shortly in audience building, which I’ll be reporting on in detail here. Because – yes – I think (and I hope) it will be helpful to people.
An historic opportunity
I truly believe that we’re living through a time in which the paradigms on which our cultures have hitherto been based are radically changing, a change being driven mostly by technology.
This change is creating great opportunities for artists to find new ways to support themselves. With little more than a $1000 laptop, an Internet connection and a reasonably well-functioning brain, you can certainly support yourself.
I try look at what I’m doing now as an experiment. This is uncharted territory, and you have to figure it out as you go.
Certainly it can feel daunting at times. But imagine a world in which a lot more artists are making their living independently online, contributing to a global artistic community instead of wasting their time, energy and creativity on soulless office jobs.
How much better a world would that be? I keep hearing that the future belongs to small business. It would be great to think that a lot of those small businesses could be artists, doing what they’re really there for instead of plodding through their days, hiding their light and just getting by.
And you know what? I think one of those artists could be you.
Best wishes and thanks for reading,
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