Tuesday, February 16, 2010

the business end

I've been writing about making pottery a business, and I hope all of my intelligent readers know that these points can be applied to making any art a business. Today I'm going to write about something that will probably make 99% of you squirm in your seat a little bit, send a flash of guilt through your brain, and then leave you feeling a little bit inadequate. I'm referring to running the business end of things, and I feel confident in saying that most artists want to concentrate on making art, not running a business.

I have had many struggles over the years in making the business a priority, and one that I could manage without wanting to start screaming and crying. I've fucked things up pretty bad in the past, and I finally had to give up and call in Mommy to clean up my books and make my invoicing system work. I have learned a lot from my experience over the years, and here are a few points to keep in mind:

1) It is never too late to learn how to make your business run. You may have put yourself in a corner where you have no idea how much money you are really making, if you are overspending for supplies, or what your production costs are. You may feel that keeping your head in the sand has worked for you for many years and there is no reason to change at this late date. There is reason, and the reason is that no matter how successful you are right now, you could be even more successful if you had a handle on your numbers. Why? Because the deeper understanding you have about your business, the more you understand how to make your money work more efficiently for you. And running a good business means just that: efficient use of your limited resources.

2) Never fall for the "I'm an artist, not a businessperson" line. Being an artist means being curious, and also multi-talented. If you want to support yourself as an artist, then you must be curious about how to do that. Turning the business part into a headache is self-defeating; instead, try to look at it as a question that you are trying to answer through learning and research. The question is, "How do I make enough money to support myself?" Answer it by learning Quickbooks, balancing your checkbook, tracking your expenditures and sales, and paying attention to your bank balance. Now that I do these things regularly, I've actually convinced myself that it is fun.

3) It is never too early to learn how to make your business run. I think a lot of artists are so overwhelmed and excited when they first start working for themselves that the idea of slowing down and figuring out the numbers just seems like a big drag. The longer you put it off, the bigger drag it will be as the guilt and procrastination accumulates. Even if you are only selling a few things a month, taking the time to log it all in, run the numbers, and see where it's all washing out sets you up with some good early habits that will pay off, and gets you comfortable with numbers, especially as they get bigger and bigger.

4) Taking yourself seriously as a business is a call to the Universe to take you seriously too. Yes, I live in California, so I have to bring the Universe into the discussion. Not only will the Universe take you more seriously and send you more customers-- no snickering-- your customers will sense your confidence in your art and your business and feel more sure in purchasing from you. Most people love seeing artists make it, and they love supporting that success. Running a solid business makes your success shine for everyone to see.

5) Ask for help. I am not a born businessperson, and likely you are not either. But there are a bunch of people out there who are, and they are dying to help you. Talk to your banker, take a business class, ask a friend to teach you quickbooks, hire a bookkeeper, read art-based business blogs for tips and support. You are not alone, or hopeless. No matter what your business problem may be, someone out there can help you figure it out.

Also, remember this: Nothing and nobody is perfect. I don't run a perfect business, and I still have a lot to learn. We all need to take steps to be better business people, and we will all have our failures while we take those steps. Don't stop because it's not perfect.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

making ceramics your j-o-b

I promised to write more about each of the five points I made about making pottery a business. I'm going to write today about #3- Realize that when you make pottery for a living, you are sacrificing a part of yourself for money. Because of the nature of my job-- making pottery--A lot of people think I spend all day just having fun. That is the fantasy of a working artist's life, and sometimes I like to make fun of that idea. I do have a "dream job," and the reason why I chose this path in life is because I really hate imposed routine, which is what a regular job working for somebody else usually entails. I like showing up at the studio when it suits my routine. I like to take long lunches with friends on a regular basis. I like being the only one to tell me what to do. I like to take 4 weeks off at a time. I spent the first part of my life being tortured by public school, and I couldn't wait to get out and live a life according to the way I wanted to live it.

Despite the perks, taking an art that I am good at and using it as a means to make a living means sacrifice. Part of that sacrifice means that I do not go into my studio on my days off and make pottery for fun. I've tried that, and all it does is burn me out and crowd my studio with more pottery I have to sell, or with pottery I can't sell because it is too expensive or doesn't fit with my current collection and therefore only interests a few people. It is very important to understand that when you make ceramics-- or any other art-- your regular day job, you are going to lose a segment of your passion for that art. That doesn't mean you are no longer passionate about your art, it just means that you are married to it. Being married means that you no longer get weak-kneed every time you see your beloved. It means a deep love that requires attention and persistence to keep the interest alive.

When I was first really starting to make maybe a half-time living, I remember chatting with Nancy Adams and Ross Spangler, both nationally recognized and established ceramic artists. I was gushing about how I liked to get up at 6 in the morning and work before going to my job and then heading straight back to the studio when I got home. Both Nancy and Ross said, "Aaaah, remember when we cared that much? The good old days!" I thought they were being condescending and crusty old buggers. But now I understand that it's not that you lose the passion or motivation to make work, but it still is a job. A job you may have to do even when the inspiration is not there.

And that's the rub right there. It's taken me 10 years to figure out that putting all of my creativity into one thing-- pottery-- has drained me. Pouring all of my creative juice into pottery has made me a less creative person, because cognitively my brain thinks that all creative ideas need to go to clay. Yes, I'm a brain researcher and I figured that out all by myself. Now, I'm working on fixing that: less time in the studio, more time pursuing my other artistic dreams. I'm taking a memoir writing class with an author and expect to be working regularly on my writing. I'm going to take a paper cut class, I looooooove paper cut. I want to teach workshops to help people figure out how to run with Etsy. While my head is being turned by other hot creative pursuits, pottery is popping up with new ideas, making itself more attractive to keep me interested and coming back.

So this is the bottom line advice: know what you are sacrificing when your hobby becomes your job. To establish yourself takes years of dedicated pursuit and a certain self-imposed insanity. Hedge your internal stability by making time for the other things that fire up your juices, whatever that is. Your relationship with your art is a long-term commitment, so don't going ruining it by spending every single second with it.