Advice from a Professional Artist on Making a Name for Yourself

Anyone who has thought of their art as a career (or any kind of freelancing) understands that there are some business aspects that have to be tactfully handled. Without covering your bases there’s a chance that clients could screw you over, royally. When you first get started doing pieces for family and friends, it’s still a good idea to put these steps into practice. Clients down the road will thank you for being so professional.

  1. Contracts

Legally, this is the number one thing you need. NEVER start a project, it doesn’t matter the size or the effort you’ll be putting into it, until you have a contract signed by your client and yourself. This ensures that no one (yes, that means you) will be backing out of the transaction. Art Pacts is a great place to start, they even have different contracts for different kinds of works. Just be sure to read over the agreement you’re getting yourself into.

With the first paid mural I did there was a few weeks where I thought I was never going to hear from my client ever again. Thankfully, and to my surprise, I got paid in full. They had been handling some legal issues outside of my mural and where tight on money. Sign a contract, get paid, take some possible stress off your plate.

2. Time Management & Planning

Be sure to understand how long it’s going to take you to do a project. Everything is going to take five times longer than expected. You’ll hit hiccups, road bumps, and you want to ensure these don’t piss off the client. Some client’s projects have timelines, and that’s something you can’t alter (usually).

Be sure to include mock ups for your client. Anything that is going to help them understand your vision for them, and vice versa, is going to keep everyone on good terms. Reference point 4.

3. Penny Pinch

You’ve got the red, blue, and yellow paint, but what about the primer and brushes? Take inventory and be organized, it’s going to save you money. Just because you used something for one project doesn’t mean it can’t be reused on another. The client is never going to know the difference, as long as the end result is what they expected.

4. Communicate

Yeah artists have their quirks, but clients need you to talk to them (and you need to hear what they have to say). Commission pieces aren’t developed solely by the artist. You have to understand that the client is using you as a tool to get what they want (in some cases, others you’ll have complete creative control- but you have to sell out a little first). Communicate quickly and timely, this will help you finish projects faster and get more in the door sooner.

5. Payment

Payment should be mentioned in the contract, first and foremost. I personally ask for a deposit from the client to help cover any expenses that I may encounter (i.e. supplies, travel, etcetera). This deposit can be as much or as little as you deem necessary. This deposit also keeps them from completely not paying you at the end of the project. Your payment is your livelihood, don’t let anyone screw you over.

6. Legalities

If you’re making over $600 from any client in a year then you’re legally bound to give them a W-9 form. It can be found here, just simply fill it out, hand it in to them, and keep a copy for yourself. Keep track of your reciepts. Oh, yeah, and don’t forget to save some of the money you make for paying taxes. W-9 forms don’t take out taxes right away, and instead you owe them at the end of the year. Just a heads up.

7. Resources

Use as many resources as possible. People, coupons, networking, all of these will play a huge role in your success. Put your name out there. You can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.

8. Just Do It

Once you start doing commission pieces more frequently, it’s easy to forget why you started in the first place. “OH YEAH, I love _______(insert verb here).” Do it for yourself, not just the client. For every commission piece I do I try to do a project for myself. It reminds me that no one has control over my true inner creativity, and that I am in fact creating just to create. Clients will see your personal creations and think highly of you, and your talent (if they don’t, do you really want them as a client?).

Don’t sell out too much. You have to walk a fine line before you can make a name for yourself. Hopefully these points help you plan your sell-out-for-fame. Selling out is a step to fame for some people, especially in the arts. Everyone learns from it, where your voice sits and how loud it is. Do it for you, for your love and passion for yourself, and you’ll never be lost.

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