In this post, I’m pondering the nuances of art as a business vs. art as a hobby and exploring the idea of de-busifying for more creative freedom…
My hubby is a retail business owner, so I often turn to him for business advice. On one occasion, he asked me a number of questions about costs and profit margins, which I answered as best I could. After a moment of thought, he said, you know what Mr. Wonderful (ala Shark Tank) would say? He’d say you have a hobby, not a business.” He said it with much love and it has lingered in my thoughts ever since.
In May of this year, I launched my @Home offering. Everyone who has come to a workshop has raved and I’ve loved every student in every class – love sharing my home, breaking bread with like minded souls and lighting creative fires. It’s a project that’s dear to my heart and something I know people will love, but it’s up to me to really make the effort to open my home to the wider public – word of mouth is never going to be enough to fill the seats.
I’ve been dabbling in the art show circuit. Shows are fun and a great way to meet other artists and be a part of the local indie artist community. For me, as a one woman operation, shows require tons of time, effort and social networking for returns that can be hit or miss. That’s no fault of show organizers or even my product – you just seem to hit times when people are less likely to open their pocketbooks (or even stop to look).
I was approached this year about wholesaling and had tons of support from mentors, friends and customers. I quickly learned that my production time and costs are too high for wholesaling to ever make sense. I would have to drastically lower my materials costs, cut my production time and even consider finding hands to help with larger orders.
I’ve also been given the opportunity to take some of my classes on the road to art retreats. That experience has been amazing and life-changing and an enormous amount of work. The whole things speeds by in a blur and I need a week afterwards to recover. Getting into the larger venues requires the work of getting known – building experience that counts, gaining a following, getting published.
Finally, there are ever-looming shadows of “ownership” and “value” that seem to plague me…
- Am I passionate enough to commit my time, money and energy for small returns? Or do I go all in and shoot higher??
- I’ve changed course a number of times since One January Day was born in 2012 – from art journaling and mixed media, to book binding, to print making, to marbling. It’s been an organic evolution, but have I really landed on a passionate pursuit?
- Most industry experts suggest keeping your product line small and cohesive. And, once you’ve established your business, you have to stick with that single cohesive product line or start over. Do I really want to land on a single thing?
- Can I (should I) teach and charge money for the things I’m learning on my path? If I cobble something together from Pinterest, classes taken, trial and error – can I reasonably charge to teach it? How much of what I’m learning really belongs to me – how much is really mine to sell?
When I started down the path of art as a business, my primary goal was to “spend my time making stuff” and, if some extra money came in, that would be a bonus. I’ve lost sight of that. It’s morphed into more of a sales & marketing position… setting prices that cover my costs, while keeping prices low enough to make sales, then cutting corners to lower my costs (and prices), spending an inordinate amount of time and money marketing to convince potential customers to invest in my products and, finally, the actual production of said products.
At the end of the day, the “making stuff” has become secondary to all that busy-ness and I have to ask myself what I really want – a hobby or a job?
I’ve been intrigued lately by a few artists who are giving what they know basically for free, sometimes with the option to ‘pay what you can’ or ‘what you think it’s worth.’ It seems to give the artist latitude to pursue whatever they want without the pressure of “running a business.” It gives the artist space to make and share and it creates a valuable resource and community for learning, discussion and shared knowledge/ideas.
I’m really just pondering options right now and would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas around business vs. hobby – comment below or email me directly via the contact form at the bottom of the page.