Creating a Small Business on the side
Artists today often survive off of small businesses or products they make. That means you can be a career artist with a major gallery and biennial aspirations and still have a series of works that sell all the time. Examples of that could be something for a design store. One artist I know has a career of making installations in museums and galleries. At one point early in her career, she was experimenting with cast iron, since she is a sculptor. At first she made fruit and then she made sculptural bookends for her shelves. Other people liked them and wanted to buy them. Since she felt they were not really where she wanted to go with her art, she made a choice to sell them at local high-end design stores in her own city and then in other cities. She had children at about that time, and the pressure to meet the needs of her children and spend time in the studio increased. She resolved this by selling her bookends and having a foundry cast them from her designs on a regular basis. This made it easier for her to provide for her family while not worrying about selling her installations at a quick pace. It was also not as stressful as most jobs.
Another example would be artists that make popular prints and sell them to interior designers on a regular basis. Some artists who get good at selling prints or designs on the side even begin a business of doing it for other artists, growing the supplemental income and still having plenty of studio time. An artist I know, Jen Durbin, graduated from college and had a problem that many artists have: she wanted to live in a city—Brooklyn—and she wanted a big studio to build large sculptures in. She also wanted time to work in her studio.
Her solution was to find a commercial building in Brooklyn and rent it by subletting it to other artists for studios so that the rent was paid. Of course it wasn’t that easy. First she had to find a building that was not being used. She found an old building that was built in 1896 and had a huge vaulted ceiling and was more or less falling apart. The roof didn’t leak, but she knew it would take work to fix it up to rent to other artists. She rented it and began to work on it, and in the first week she put an ad on Craigslist saying the large main space could be rented for commercial photography shoots. She had the thought that photographers and filmmakers might like it. The next thing that happened was that she got a client willing to pay a large sum for renting the space by the day for a commercial. Then more came who wanted to shoot a music video there. She told them she would fix up the space soon and paint it. They all said not to paint it or improve the interior, because that was what was attractive—it looked old and industrial.
Now she had money to make studios in parts of the building, which she rented out to artists. Then she made a nice website to market it to filmmakers and photographers by the day. Soon she began to rent some props and add to the cost of daily rental. She had found herself in a nice situation—she used the large space whenever it wasn’t rented, she also had another smaller studio, and was making an income that was paying for it all and more. The last time I talked to her she was thinking of doing it with another building and also had a child and the beginning of a flourishing art career.
Business people say if you want to start a business that will work, there is one formula to make it easy: look at another business that is successful and duplicate it in your part of the world. You could easily consider duplicating her business model in another city where there are artists and it would have a very good chance of working. If you want to see her website and how it is all set up now that she has learned a lot, search for www.the1896.com and see what she has done.
Are there more ways to make money? There sure are. I talk with successful artists all the time and I ask them how they do what they do. Many of these interviews are on the website www.artworldinterviews.com. Those interviews are all from my Yale University radio program where I interview artists as well as curators, critics, museum directors, and more. I am fascinated by how creative people build their careers and how they thrive. Unlike any other profession, there seems to be an unlimited amount of ways to survive and thrive as an artist. Either make one up on your own, design a product, or look at a model you like that works, and duplicate it.
Another example of a method that you could use are subscription plans for your work. An artist that I mentioned earlier, Jorge Pardo, who is a well-respected artist in a major New York gallery, created a subscription plan for some of his sculptures.