My first year as a full-time artist — the part where I say yes to everything
About a year ago, I wrote an article on Linkedin called “Why most ads suck”. It was a summary of my professional experiences in advertising, and a conclusion of why I quit. Most of all I quit because I wanted to work creatively every day and be my own boss. Leaving the secure territory of being an employee was scary, but here’s what I have figured out so far:
- Most people don’t even know what they want to do with their life. Often they function but they’re not happy.
I was at a point of my life where I didn’t want to settle for this. I asked myself: If you died next month, what would you regret not having done?
I figured, I’d like my work to have an emotional impact on people. I’d like to make them feel connected to themselves for a moment while confronted with my view of the world. Moreover, I’d like to be remembered long after I am gone. Ideally by many people, but at least by family members coming after me. They should get an idea about who I was by looking at my life’s work. My artworks will represent me and my life’s passion forever.
So I knew what I wanted to do, but not yet how it could be done exactly. I started with little things. I sketched, and I read up on art history and painting techniques every day. I researched art schools and reviews. Also, I began saying yes to everything related to my life goal. Especially to tasks that scared me. I forced myself out of my comfort zone.
For example, I my first exhibition happened in a book store. It took me two weeks to work up enough courage to ask the shop owner, but after seeing my portfolio he quickly agreed. It was a win win situation, he got more customers and I was able to get used to people seeing my work outside of my safe space. Next, I applied online to call for artists in my city (taking on the challenge of a 4 hours time slot till deadline). I got invited and accepted! This was my first group show, at Improper Walls. It was surreal!
Around this time I noticed that networking doesn’t have to be a dreadful task. In fact, in the best case scenario, it’s room for the exchange of ideas and a way to get free feedback for improving. It can be super inspirational and mind-opening, if you’re at the right event. I guess my insight is:
- If you don’t feel like talking to anyone, you’re at the wrong event. Maybe even in the wrong business. No wonder you feel like on a bad date.
Another form of networking I like is word of mouth. It works because it evaluates your work at the same time. People will talk about what you do if they can relate to it, or to you, for that matter. This is especially true on social media. I personally started sharing my story almost half a year in advance before quitting my day job. Doing so actually lead to the following experiences:
The founder of The Creativity Gym saw my artwork at Improper Walls. He started following me on Instagram and recognized me a few weeks later at one of the Creative Prism Events. We got along well, and I was invited to give my first interview and first public speech as an artist in front of 100+ people at Angewandte Innovation Lab.
A little later, Der graue Flamingo, a site that only features Austrian artists, sent a request on Instagram to feature me. I approved. Der graue Flamingo turned out to be one of the two partners at Junge Kunst. Together they organize monthly art exhibitions of young artists in Vienna. This lead to my second group exhibition. This time, I had an entire floor to myself! From October to December 2018 my work was shown at Kunstraum Damani in Zollergasse.
That was the most amazing experience. Especially because we continue working together. Now as a trio of artist manager, artist and curator for promoting young Austrian art beyond Austria’s borders by organizing art exhibitions outside of regular galleries & renting artworks for specific purposes.
- This leads me to my final insight for this article: keep learning and do it on the go. Being self-employed is a constant race with time, energetic and financial resources, and a challenge in personal growth. All at once, all the time, every day. However, you’re also the one pulling all strings!
When I started going to cafés to sketch, I got lucky at Café Nachbarin. The owner addressed me and asked if I felt like using a larger canvas for my work, referring to their window display. I had never worked on a window before, nor in front of an audience. So I accepted, and thanks to this experience, I realized how much I love working live in front of an audience. Now I do Graphic Recordings where I illustrate visual summaries of conferences on all kinds of topics, which helps me finance my art.
Now that you know how magical it can be when you keep saying yes to everything, I leave you with a bummer at the end. The turning point for me came somewhere near the end of the year. I had received an invitation to participate in Beijing art fair and have a group exhibition in Barcelona. This was organized by a gallery based in Barcelona. Things couldn’t get better, I thought, and I planned a trip to the gallery to sign the contract (I recommend this to every artist, go in person or send someone who represents you!)
Things were all set for me, I just wanted to meet them in person. This is where it started to be disappointing. I entered and I wasn’t greeted. I looked at the current exhibition and there was no concept. In fact, the images where hung randomly and not straight. I had scheduled a meeting with them, and they couldn’t provide coffee or water. There was no printer to print the contract. They couldn’t tell me how long it would be before my artworks would come back from Beijing in case they wouldn’t sell. In short — you get the idea — it was an overall bad customer journey and I was forced to say no for the first time in almost a year.
My current exhibition is the UK. It’s an artist collaboration project with Stefan Draschan, and the exhibition “Miniscule” is still ongoing until May 18th, 2019.
For more information please visit kingasgrapes.com
Thank you for reading this. I plan on doing a series of articles on my first year as a full-time artist. Please leave a comment, I’m happy to read your feedback. Also, feel free to share my content, if you like it.
KINGAS GRAPES is Kinga Jakabffy’s (*1988) artist name. She is an autodidact artist born in Austria to Hungarian immigrant parents. Her figurative art paintings and illustrations deal with the process of identity creation in social relationships starting from a point of cultural rootlessness. In collaboration with Stefan Draschan and TBWA she won the award Staatspreis 2018 for the project “People matching artworks” for Belvedere Museum. Kingas Grapes studied and worked in Sevilla (Spain) and Montreal (Canada) and now lives and works in Vienna (Austria).