Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from illustrator Megan Eckman. Megan runs Studio MME, her illustration business, from her new home in San Jose, California. When she’s not inspiring people to be kids again, she enjoys reading, playing with antique cameras and having adventures. Today she offers some advice on setting yourself apart from the competition and being part of the 10% that make it work. Thanks, Megan, for this inspiring post! — Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump . . .
When I chose to pursue an art degree, the first thing my professors told me was that only 10% of art and design students go on to make a living from their work. Ten percent — that’s it!? Out of the thousands who earn degrees in theater, film, writing, music and art, only a handful make it their livelihood! The odds terrified me, but like all the students, I told myself (and my parents) that I would be part of that 10%. Two years out of college, I’m proud to say I succeeded!
Now, I won’t claim to be living large. Currently my studio is the dining area in my one-bedroom apartment, and a vintage bicycle is my means of transportation, but I’m fully supporting myself on my work. It’s been a huge learning process, since most creative degrees push you out the door with all the artsy skills in the world but not a business thought in your head. Over the last two years, I’ve relied on two very important things to become one of the 10%.
Would you like to hear them?
Professionalism and ambition.
I’m guessing that’s not what you expected. You probably thought I’d mention Twitter, a solo show in New York, a celebrity endorsement, a break on Broadway or becoming an outrageous artist who makes tapestries from cat hair. I’m sorry to disappoint you there. While all of those are helpful (sans the feline tapestry), they’re not what propel you to self-sufficiency.
Every art student leaves school with a solid portfolio and formidable skills. So why don’t they all succeed? Why isn’t our society full of writers, dancers and singers? Because only a few have the ambition to thrive in this capitalist society and the professionalism to look like a real artist, no matter how much they’re making (or not making).
When it comes to appearing professional, a common saying is, “Fake it till you make it.” While that’s true, your “faking it” should present your clients, customers and fans with the artist you want to be 10 years from now so that you can become that artist. Like a mirror taking its reflection from real life, your life will change to fit the face you show the world.
But what do I mean by professional, and how does this slightly older you present herself in a way that is compelling and awe-inspiring? How does she convince venues to carry her work? How does she turn her fans into collectors and clients? How does she garner 15,000 Twitter followers?
That older you, the professional one, more than likely has these things up her sleeve:
- A professional website at her own domain
- High-quality product photography
- Product descriptions that include the “WHY” behind her business (and no, her “WHY” is not to make money so she can feed her tapestry-producing cats)
- Business cards
- A CV or stellar press kit that she flaunts to the press
- A work email address that doesn’t end in gmail or hotmail
- The eagerness and ability to talk about her creative work as her only profession (that other gig at Starbucks or the accounting agency belongs to her twin sister)
- An executive-looking portrait
You might be wondering why this “appearance” of being a full-time artist shipping out tons of orders is necessary. Wouldn’t it be easier to be honest and say you still work as a secretary for your local law office and make jewelry on the side? Wouldn’t it be easier to save on a professional photo shoot and just use your iPhone for all your photographs? Yes, it would be easier, but the road to the 10% is anything but easy.
Galleries and craft fairs love to show work from someone who appears established, just as customers love buying from someone who appears to be selling a ton of their work. This professional appearance invokes trust. Think about it: Would you rather shop at an established website or one that looks like an 18-year-old made it during study hall? In addition to trust, a professional appearance builds your reputation. People love to buy things from artists who appear to be on the rise because buyers want to be part of the action, to be able to say they knew you before you were famous. Similar to high school, your fans want to be up on the cool-kid topics and part of the “in” crowd. So let them think you’re making a million dollars because someday, with their help, you will!
Professionalism helps your reputation grow, but that alone can’t get you into the 10%. You also need ambition. Ambition to come out of your bedroom each morning with marketing guns blazing! In all honesty, lack of ambition creates the 90% who keep wishing for a creative break. I know many former classmates who could turn the creative world on its head, but they don’t put themselves out there! Instead, they sit back and wait for that lucky break, that one email, that phone call from Steven Spielberg or the philharmonic orchestra. Why wait for those things when you can run out and meet them halfway?
If you want to make a living from your creative work, you must be prepared to contact every gallery in your tri-state area, every boutique within a 100-mile radius and every TV or news station in town. You must learn to love pitching blogs, magazines, publishers, galleries, coffee shops and fairs. You need to embrace marketing. You need to meet artists in your community to stay up-to-date on juried shows and contests.
This is hard to hear, I know. These aren’t easy tasks that you can do overnight between your day job and movie night. Instead, it’s a journey toward self-sufficiency, a bit of fame (or maybe lots of fame) and a lot of fun! It’s about presenting yourself as a thriving artist, interior designer, jeweler or musician and then plastering your work everywhere.
Whenever I talk to my mother, she tells me I’m the most ambitious person she knows. While that may be true for her, I know a whole slew of ladies (including you!) who are just as ambitious. We all have those big, beautiful dreams, and it’s only through giving it our all that we get there. So if you want to be part of the 10% who turn their creative degrees and yearnings into creative livelihoods, go out there with ambition, showing them the professional lady you want to be and thus will be.