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Five Mistakes Artists Make When Starting Their Career

I have made a lot of mistakes when starting my art career. I’d say that I’m still in the process of really starting my art career! Or, at least, getting it to where I want it to be. Because I’ve been trying to really start my career, I’ve been doing a lot of research about how to do it and have found out there are some mistakes that are pretty common to make when starting an art business! So I wanted to share a list of five common mistakes that artists make when starting their career that I’ve made too. 

Mistake #1: Selling Themselves Short

One of the biggest mistakes that artists make in their career is selling themselves short. I still see artists (especially in the anime and comics community, but it happens elsewhere too) who are selling their art for literal pennies. Some of these artists are hobbyists who aren’t looking to make a living and I think they still shouldn’t be selling their work for so low, but many of these artists are trying to make creativity their career and are making the equivalent of $2 an hour in some cases because they’re selling themselves short! Your skills and your time have worth, and you must take this into account when doing your pricing. MessyEverAfter has a great post about how to price your art, complete with ranges for everyone from the art dabbler to the seasoned artist.

Mistake #2: Not Tracking Finances

I get it, looking at the numbers isn’t fun for most artists. I’m the stereotypical type of artist who hates numbers. I’m still completely intimidated by looking at the money side of things. But the truth is that you MUST look at the money aspect when trying to start a business. And the earlier you start the easier it will be to keep up with. If you’re trying to make a living from your art, you need to know where your expenses are and how much profit you’re actually making so that you know if what you’re doing is working or not! You can find Studio Expense and Income spreadsheet templates online, or if you want something a bit more detailed, I use Wave Accounting to track my income from various sources and my expenses. It’s pretty easy to use and I can see where my money is going and where it’s coming from. I like Wave because I can set up my bank account with it and it will automatically import my transactions, so some of the bookkeeping is done automatically for me, and I just go in and add cash sales, PayPal sales, and double-check the bookkeeping monthly to make sure everything is accurate.

Mistake #3: Not Taking Deposits for Commissions

One of the biggest mistakes that new career artists make is not taking a deposit on commissions. I’ve seen so many artists get burned on doing custom work! If you are going to take commissions, you MUST get a deposit before starting work. I know that seems uncomfortable for some artists! They think about what would happen if they can’t complete the work or if the commission turns out poorly. Deposits are crucial though, for several reasons. First, they weed out the customers who aren’t serious about commissioning you and may otherwise waste your time. Some customers are excited by the thought of commissioning an artist, but they never follow through on the money exchange. Requiring a deposit also ensures that you don’t waste your time and materials on a piece that you’re not going to get reimbursed for. Remember, your time is valuable! If a customer is serious about getting a commission from you, they should be willing to give a deposit.  It pays you for the time you’re going to spend on their art. I require a 50% deposit that is not refundable before I even put pencil to paper and begin a sketch. This ensures that my materials are paid for in case the customer vanishes on me once the piece is done. 

Take a look at my commissions page for an idea of my prices and policies!

Mistake #4: Trying to Sell “What’s Popular”

Another big mistake artists make when starting their career is trying to figure out what’s popular. They then draw that in an attempt to cash in on that subject. I see this in both the “fine art” community and the anime and comics community. In the community of pop-culture convention artists that I’m part of, posts abound that ask “what shows are popular right now?” One of my favorite art YouTubers, Rafi Was Here Studios, talks often about how he was told to paint “beach scenes” when he began because he’s based in Florida and beach scenes are popular there. Now, I’m not saying to never, ever draw or paint what’s popular. However, you should create things that you are passionate about instead! If I create art of snakes because snakes are popular, but I’m not passionate about snakes, then it’s probably going to show in the art and in my interactions with customers about the piece. Your passion for the subject will come across in the finished piece! 

I actually made this mistake back when I was still heavily in the anime art community. I drew a lot of “chibi” characters, some from shows that were popular at the time but that I hadn’t seen. Fans of those shows at my convention tables trying to talk excitedly about the characters and show to me. But I had to admit, sheepishly, that I’d never watched the show and had no idea who the characters were. It was pretty embarrassing and not something I’ll be doing again!

Mistake #5: Using cheap materials

The final mistake that I see a lot of new artists making is cheaping out on their materials. I am absolutely not saying that you must go buy the most expensive materials to be a successful artist! I’m also not saying that expensive materials will make your art better. However, if you’re trying to get collectors to pay a premium price for your art, but you’re purchasing your materials from the Dollar Store, the art isn’t going to hold up. Try to buy the best materials you can if you’re doing traditional media (paint, colored pencil, pastel, etc). Try to get the best hardware and software you can afford if doing digital art. Not only will your art pieces last longer because of light-fastness and acid-free materials, but you’ll save time too! When I first started my horse drawings, I used a mid-range set of beginner colored pencils from the art store. They weren’t spectacular, but they weren’t the cheapest pencils ever. Then I was lucky enough to get a set of Prismacolor Colored Pencils and the amount of time I’ve saved is crazy! Because they have more pigment and better coverage than the cheaper pencils, I can create my pieces faster. So get the best materials that you can to start out with, then upgrade as your income grows. You’ll thank yourself later, and your collectors will appreciate the better materials too!

Which of these artist mistakes have you made? Or have you made some that aren’t on this list? Let me know in the comments below!

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A Typical Day In My Life – Life of An Independent Artist

As an independent artist and writer, I’m blessed at the moment to be able to set my own schedule. Because of that, I don’t really have a set schedule from day to day. However, I do have some typical activities that I do daily and I try to keep on as much of a schedule as I can, mainly because having my days planned out allows me to keep on track and also helps to curb a good bit of anxiety for me. I just like knowing what’s going to happen in my day!

A “typical day” in my life begins around 6-6:30 a.m. Lately I’ve been trying to get in the habit of getting up and going for a walk in our neighborhood if the weather is nice, or doing a workout video in the living room if it’s rainy or nasty outside. 

After a walk or workout, I have yogurt and a piece of fruit, then head out to run to the barn and feed the horses. Driving to the barn takes around 10-15 minutes, depending on traffic and whether I hit every light on red through town. 

Our horses usually spend the night outside in the dry paddock, unless the weather is really cold/wet/windy, in which case we bring them into the stalls for the night. If the horses are out, I bring them into their stalls to eat their morning grain. While they’re eating, I go out into the paddock and open the gates to the fields, check the water troughs, and clean up any manure in the run-in shed and paddock. 

Raven Supervising to make sure I put the right amount of feed in the nighttime buckets

Hopefully, by now I’ve checked out the weather forecast for the day and decided if the horses need blankets, rain sheets, fly sheets, or fly masks. If not, then I pull the weather up while I’m at the barn and look at the forecast. Horses get “dressed” appropriately for the weather and their coat conditions, and out they go to eat in the field until dinner time. After the ponies are out, I do any cleaning up in the barn that needs done, reset feed, then lock up and head back home. 

What I do when I get back home depends greatly on the day. If I have a blog post that needs to be written, then I try to do that as soon as I get back home and get it posted as early as I can. Ideally, I have blog posts written a few days beforehand, but that doesn’t always work out! It’s been especially hard to get things drafted ahead of time with the pandemic going on, but I’m starting to get back into the groove this month. This is also the time I spend answering emails, updating accounting, and packing up any online store orders I may have that need to go out. 

I eat lunch around 11 a.m. Yes, I know that’s pretty early for a lot of people, but I also get up at 6 so I tend to be hungry by 11 and feeling ready to put some fuel in my body to tackle the afternoon.

Glory enjoying grass in the field with a GreenGuard grazing muzzle on

On a typical day, I’ll spend the afternoon doing art or whatever other work needs to be done, like editing a YouTube video, writing social media posts, etc. I most like to spend my time creating more art, of course, but sometimes other tasks need to be done! On Mondays and Thursdays, however, I have dogs that I regularly walk so I leave after lunch to take care of them. This is also the time when I try to do any errand-running that needs done, as well, since I’ll be out of the house and up in the next city north of where we currently live. 

I’m usually back at home by 2:30-3 on Monday and Thursday, depending on how much I needed to do while I was out. If I get back early, then I do some more art or administrative tasks for a bit. Most days my best friend will feed the horses their dinner when she gets off work, unless we’re riding after dinner, in which case we’re both there and do feeding together. 

I work until my husband and I get hungry for dinner. Then one of us cooks, we eat dinner, and the rest of the evening is usually spent sitting on the couch watching YouTube videos while he plays video games. Unless, of course, I’m out riding! I try to get to bed between 8-9 p.m., depending on how tired I am and when I get back from the barn if I’m out having pony time. 

Wow, I can’t believe how long that post got! It’s amazing that I never really thought much about my daily routine until I sat down to write this post. I don’t know if anyone found it interesting at all, but if you did then I’m glad! 

I’d say that out of my daily routine, the top three things I look forward to the most are seeing the horses/riding, working on art, and spending time with Byron in the evening after dinner. 

What do you look forward to the most in your daily or weekly routines? Let me know in the comments!