I was hanging out with a group of artists at the AVA Gallery in Lebanon, New Hampshire, my hometown arts center where I had a few pieces on display in the Holiday Arts member show. There were young artists just starting out and older more established artists in the twilight of their careers. The younger artists were eager to learn from the seasoned artist about how to make it in the art world and how to make sales.
One of the respected well known artists in the group had this to say:
When you are ready, success will follow.
I thought this statement was rather profound. In any career, the freshly graduated are eager to seek success, but there really aren’t any shortcuts to the top when building a career. Ask any one hit wonder in the music world if they would rather have a chance to do it all over again. Perhaps have that hit single when they were ready to back it up with a full album or even a developed style. Maybe then they would still be putting out music instead of waiting on tables and picking the occasional royalty check when some gets a hankering for a “Best of the XXs” CD or a period movie soundtrack.
Any career is a series of small steps all leading towards a goal. Each step along the way one learns more about the business, their art and themselves. The short gamers fall out as its gets too tough and their passion is too weak. Along the way growth and maturity occurs as the artist develops their style and unique vision. They begin to find their own special way to put their mark on the medium of choice. Or they find out that being an artist was just something they thought they wanted instead of discovering that being an artist was something in their soul.
My own journey has been a series of steps in which I’ve found myself ready for the next step as my skills and creativity have developed. I got back into photograph after a long slumber as I focused my attention on job of stay at home Dad. Once the little guy reach the age of more independence I found myself rediscovering photography. There was a lot of learn as photography had transitioned from film to digital in my absence.
Luckily the learning curve with digital is so much faster with the instant feedback available. No longer did I have to wait to finish a roll and send it off to the lab to see the results a few week after pressing the shutter. Even in my days of carrying around a vintage 4×5 Graflex press camera and shooting Polaroid Type 55 Positive/Negative black and white film in which you could obtain a rather instant negative (after a process of chemical pod spreading and water bath clearing), the expense of the film, $50 for ten shots, was prohibitive for learning and improving rapidly.
I started out with an inexpensive camera quickly figured out that photography is an expensive endeavor. I sought out ways to earn money for better equipment. Discovering micro stock sites, I started submitting images to the agencies. Early on my rejection rate was probably around 99%. Undaunted I learned from the rejections. I started figuring out the technical requirements (microstock site have some of the highest technical standards in the industry) and learning the business so I could provide the type of images that were in demand.
You will find success when you are ready, Grasshopper. I started seeing more of my images accepted and some sales start to happen. I still did not have the quality needed to get into some of the market leading agencies that required a portfolio review to join. So for three years I concentrated improving my skills. Then when I thought I was ready, I re-approached the higher level agencies and was accepted. This required leaving exclusive status with the first agency so I took a six month financial hit when I became a free agent. But eventually I worked my portfolio with the new agency to achieve better results.
By this time I was starting to become tired of producing the same technically proficient images that everyone in the game was producing. I invested in professional equipment, learned studio lighting and started producing more creative, artistic work. I started selling prints on fine art sites.
When you are ready…When my technical and creative skills reached the point of artistry I started selling prints on a regular basis and began creating a deep portfolio of images. From this I was able to create a series around a particular theme and package it as a book for more exposure.
My book “the Quotable Westie” was both something to sell as well as a promotional vehicle and a way for people to be introduced to my artwork.
Learning the promotional and business side of being an artist and putting it into practice lead to my discovery by a gallery in Berkshires who requested I show my work at their photography show.
When you are ready…At this point I was ready to expand into a higher level of stock. I approached a small boutique, curated stock collection which specializes in the book cover market. Accepted by the owner, I started to develop a portfolio of book cover worthy images and sold a few book covers as well as editorial magazine images. With higher quality product and exhibiting along with higher quality artists, the financial rewards are also at a higher level.
Working with the book cover market allowed me to discovery new ways of introducing more story telling into my work. I started to develop a more cinematic approach to my work. I also improved my post processing skills to further enhance my imagery to create the images I see in my mind.
Now I have a multi-pronged but interconnected group of markets for my photography and artwork, always striving for the next level of quality. The next level of achievement along a long career path.
An art career is a staircase with several landings along the way to the top. The goal of reaching the next landing requires learning and skill development. There is no elevator to the top and no ways to skip a step along the way. You build your career one step at a time and you will know when you are ready for the next one.– Edward M. Fielding