I know it's February already, but I didn't want to get through the year without doing a recap of 2019. Hopefully taking a look at what went well (and what didn't) will help you evaluate your own year in business, or at least give you an idea of the inner workings of a full-time art business if you're just starting out.
Let's get to it!
Lesson 1: Pushing yourself as hard as you can to be successful in multiple new directions seems like a good idea, until it isn't.
I'm going to get very real with you here. The early part of my 2019 was an incredibly transformative time. When I look back on it, I can see now how much I was pushing and expecting of myself in a short span of months.
I was just moving into my new studio, which was a huge new financial commitment for me. Not only that, I told myself that I could quickly make it work by releasing my first ever painting collection while also planning and hosting my first watercolor workshops in the space.
Did I do both? Yes. Were they both successful? Actually they were!
But I was so stressed out in advance of both of those new ventures, worrying about their success, because now paying for my new studio rent depended on it. I had never before created a full collection of paintings and marketed it as intensely as I did. And while I had taught a workshop in the past, I had never hosted one in my own space with the responsibility of everything that comes with running an event.
Above: Photo of my watercolor workshop by Sarah Becker Photography
To add a little more to that, I was obsessed with making my studio space fit my ideal and needed to fill a rather large studio (800 sq ft) with new furniture and supplies so it didn't look really bare during my workshops. PLUS, I was determined to get my studio featured on one of my favorite blogs, Design*Sponge, and so that idea of perfection kind of took over and stressed me out even more. (You can see the D*S article here ;).
Whew! Even writing this is making me exhausted. I learned an important lesson that I am absolutely taking into this year: every venture you take on does not need to be immediately successful, and they certainly don't have to happen all at once. It's actually quite nice, even fun, to take a little time to mindfully chip away at your goals. It feels so much better to understand that now, and I hope it feels better for you if you are discouraged in any way about your progress. I know it's easier said than done, but try to enjoy the process.
Lesson 2: Listening to the needs of your community will expand your impact in ways you may never have dreamed of!
I've always loved helping fellow artists, business owners, even my mom (hi mama!) get their art out into the world and actually earn its value, whether that's through making sales or at least sharing their work.
I've answered many questions on Instagram asking about my process and tools, shared watercolor classes on Skillshare, spoken with artists IRL, and love to encourage. When my mom had an art gallery in my early 20s, one of my favorite things to do was find lesser known artists in the city so we could sell their work for them.
It took me a while in my own journey to realize that not only could I share my watercolor methods, but I could also share how I was making a living through my art! Okay, I knew that it was possible to do this, but was I really confident enough, enough of an "expert", to share something like that?
I knew deep down I had the information to offer and I knew it was knowledge that artists right now absolutely needed. I finally took the leap and wrote and released my Art Licensing Guide last summer.
Above: Teaching a workshop in my studio / Photo by Sarah Becker Photography
The response honestly blew me away. Its success gave me a whole new sense of purpose and understanding that I have valuable insight to offer the community that can help us all succeed.
And just because I'm spending a little more time teaching, it doesn't mean I have to forget about my own artwork (a tricky balance I had been afraid of in the past). I'm now carving space to do both: teach more while also continuing my own art process with a newfound perspective.
My lesson learned here was a surprising one for me: Sometimes the directions we are most afraid of are the ones we need to pursue. And in my case, teaching can expand my impact, not only without taking my energy away from my personal creative journey, but actually fueling it!
Lesson 3: It's okay to cancel plans, adjust goals, and take time off in the face of a family, personal, any kind of crisis.
In October our family experienced a significant and sudden loss. We're still grieving and always will be, but as of last month I've been able to be more truly present in my work again.
I did take off time immediately to be with family but the reality is there were still things to get done, many of which only I could handle personally. The holiday season is a busy time; I had just hired my first part-time studio assistant and there were so many already planned launches of new products coming up. I powered through most of them, cutting back when I could, because I had to at least try to meet some of my income goals (or at least so I thought).
Finally in December I had a big painting release planned and decided to cancel it last minute. Looking back now, I should have taken even more time off. I would have been okay financially, but I think diving into work again helped me with the early grieving process. It made me realize how much solace I actually do find in my work - whether that's for better or for worse.
I have never experienced a loss like this before and with it happening just before the holiday season, I think because for many years I was so used to going at it full force that it was almost automatic and counter-intuitive for me to step away. Right now I want to say as my lesson learned, mostly to myself, that it's okay to take time off completely if you need to and are able to.
2019 was a difficult, exciting, transformative, and heartbreaking year. Going into this year, I feel more equipped for what awaits me than I ever have. I have a handful of projects planned for this year so far, but beyond that I also know that there are other plans the universe has for me. We'll see what's in store!