The Story of a Full-time Artist | Tips for Artists

May 03, 2024
The Story of a Full-time Artist | Tips for Artists

I can’t quite believe that I have been a full-time artist for seven years now! Let me fill you in on my story and how I’ve made my art business a success.

 

Honestly, it seems like yesterday when I opened my present from my darling daughter on Christmas morning 2015 to find a colouring book and WH Smith pencils, those pencils had enough magic to completely change my life. Being a full-time artist allowed me to make a living, to pay my mortgage, to continue to be creative which I loved, and from six months in, a way to be able to cope as a single mum!

Being a mum and having a full-time job back then plus horses I was busy. I could have said I didn’t have time, but I prioritised how those pencils were making me feel and I made time to use them. I would work all day, do the horses, sort the children out and then I would sit with my pencils and draw for hours into the small hours of the morning.

I decided around October 2016 to become a full-time artist. I did the work, made a business plan, set up a bank account, made an 18-month forecast, I had a vision in my head as to what my business would be like and most importantly I wholeheartedly believed in myself. I knew it was going to work, I had no doubts, and I started to put everything into action. Of course, some things did go wrong, but I always had self-belief.

 

I don’t think I’ve ever worked as hard as I have since going full-time in 2017. My business, at first, was based on my commission work, drawing people’s animals in coloured pencils. From very early on I started a mailing list, and about a year into my business all my commissions were booked from a waitlist, which is one of the most successful things I have done in my business. That and regular price increases. 

Creating a waitlist increases demand, it also allows you to properly plan your time, as you aren’t constantly waiting for bookings to come in, and you can book your year's work in over a couple of days. The key to long-term success is to have a solid marketing strategy, one that you can change if you need to, but allows you to know what you’re working towards.

 

When I first started full-time, I pretty much drew all the time, shared to social media a few times a week and wrote the odd newsletter. Looking back now at the luxury of 10 hours a day of drawing, I realise a couple of things. One, it's not sustainable to draw for that long every day (as I get older my body doesn’t like being still for long periods), and two actually how blessed I was that I could spend that amount of time honing my skills. They do say it takes 1000 hours to master a skill, well I put those hours in for sure!

 

Very soon the marketing and customer service side of my business did take over. My day became one of two halves. During the day I would be working on my marketing plan, social media and customer service, usually around 4 hours a day, then I would start my drawing, usually early evening and work into the night. This routine has stuck with me and today I still work this way.

My commission business has thrived, my prices have gone from £40 in 2016 to £1200 for a 10x12” with full books until 2026. This is due to me really understanding the need to raise my prices in small amounts, but on a regular basis, and understanding marketing and being agile enough to change and try new things when the market on the whole changes. 

One of the traps it's easy to fall into is selling your portraits for a low price and trying to pack as many as you can in, but it’s just not conducive to a happy artist. It’s not sustainable and it’s incredibly hard work. What is conducive to a happy artist is creating things that make you a living, will pay your mortgage and will help add to your pension. And that means you have to really look at your pricing so you can do fewer pieces for more money. If you want to hear more about valuing your artwork, raising your pricing and more, you can listen to my podcast episode here.

 

Becoming a full-time artist takes hard work, it takes some knocks to your confidence, and, if you let it, it can take your confidence completely. This is where your self-development really comes in. Development has always been high on my agenda, developing my drawing skills and also myself. I think when it comes to running a business and wanting to grow it you not only need to do the work to understand marketing and business in general you also have to do the work on yourself. Honestly, I think the work I’ve done on myself is the biggest catalyst for my art business’ success. I’ve always had self-belief, but the plans I had, and the vision I had created were pretty scary, if my self-belief had wavered then I wouldn’t have done as well as I have. 

There isn’t really a solid formula for success in business, although you could say that Vision + Belief + Action = Success as a top level and I do believe that. I had a vision, I believed I could, I took action immediately and I have been successful and continue to be successful. 

You’ve heard me say before there’s nothing really special about me. I’m 50-something, a single mum, overweight, have achy joints and I love chocolate. I’m similar to so so many other people. What have I got that has allowed me to create something that has enabled me to completely change my life around? I can only put it down to my self-belief, my love of learning and development and my inherent need to ask for help.

 

I started teaching alongside my commission work in 2018, it’s something I had always planned on doing as it was something I had done before but in the leadership and coaching space. I enjoy being around people and I love sharing my knowledge. My Patreon launched in February 2019, I had set a goal of £200 a month from it. Setting goals is so important for business success! I had, unbeknownst to me, created a successful strategy before I launched. I had started to teach in my social media posts, giving tips, helping people, and became known as someone who would share and help. I started talking about my up-and-coming Patreon about 9 months before it launched. Just talking about it, what I was going to do and what I was going to be drawing.

The day I launched I couldn’t believe the amount of people joining! My coaching tier sold out in minutes, and the hopeful £200 a month turned into £2000 as I took on over 100 people in one day and that amount kept growing until, at the height of my Patreon before I started my own platform, I had nearly 2,000 students and was earning nearly £20k a month! 

I want to share these figures with you because they are so achievable. Although it’s not just about putting images up on social media, it’s all the other work you do in the background. It’s the help you give for free, it’s the keeping yourself happy, it’s building new goals, it’s understanding trends in the marketing industry, it’s about trying new things, it’s about being agile and changing things if things don’t work out, it’s about staying positive and not getting down when things don’t work - because sometimes things don’t work - and that’s OK. It’s about surrounding yourself with people who are doing what you want to do, doing it well and setting a great positive example for others. 

As my business has grown so has my team, I know my limitations, and my vision and goals are big. There is no way I could reach them on my own, and I want to stay motivated by doing the things I enjoy and my business has continued to grow! From just starting out in 2016 with my drawing, to now having a business with a team and a turnover of over 1M, I’m incredibly proud of myself! It’s been really hard work, but it’s been amazing learning new things, meeting new people, and becoming part of an incredible circle of entrepreneurs who are so genuine and willing to share. 

 

My goals are to do what I love and do the best and that is to teach, to try to go live as much as I can, and to help as many people as possible become creative using coloured pencils because I truly want others to feel the changes that can happen when you bring creativity back into your life. I have some huge goals for the next few years, I have the vision, I have the belief and the action is happening as we speak. Remember Vision + Belief + Action = Success!

Ignite by Bonny Snowdon

...is the ultimate membership for those wanting to improve their Coloured Pencil Skills, increase their confidence and realise their dreams!

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