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June 2009
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I want to be an Artist Part 2

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I Want to Be an Artist, Part II

Last time we talked about the emotional tolls that being an artist brings about. It is a challenging job because the creation process in and of itself is so innately personal. Successes and failures are too often taken to heart, and not viewed in a detached or business like fashion. Please visit this article to see how you might best prepare yourself for the emotional journey of becoming an artist.

Then continue reading to prep yourself for the physical demands.

As you develop your business plan (because your studio is a business, and like any business, deserves the serious consideration that writing a business plan involves) you will need to build a monthly operating budget. This budget will be a starting point for determining the amount of income you should be generating monthly in order to meet your most basic of needs.

I will not discuss the art materials or supplies that you will need, as each artist has their own style and preferences which dictate working spaces and materials. You are best equipped to identify these on your own and allocate a monthly allowance that will keep the critical things in stock and well functioning.

Below I have listed some of the most basic business needs. Depending on your operations, you may need to add some categories or eliminate others. You can print this list out and highlight those items that you will need – then make a notation in the margins as to their estimated expenses, whether it is a one time purchase or a monthly cost. This way you will be able to easily calculate what your monthly income must be in order to cover your costs.

Computer – there’s a number of considerations here – desktop vs laptop, windows vs mac. Visit an electronics store with knowledgable staff and don’t feel guilty about using their time. That is why they are there. Purchasing a computer, and getting the right one the first time around, is one of the most critical factors. Also be certain to invest in a backup device – data corruptions and hardware failures do happen, even to machines still under warranty. How much will it impact your business to lose or have to recapture all your data?

Printer – determine your printing needs and carefully research your options. Lesser expensive printers have all-in-one cartridges, which means if you print out 50 flyers that are predominantly red, only the red ink in those pricey cartridges will be depleted, but you’ll have to replace the whole cartridge. Top of the line printers will print to custom/larger formats with archival inks, but if you are only printing invoices it isn’t worth the expense.

Scanner/Copier/Fax – this is an indispensible tool. Scanned paintings are better color and value balanced than photographed ones and need fewer digital tweaks. A key factor when collecting images to publish on the internet or use in other marketing materials.

Digital Camera – another indispensible tool. Not only will you use this to document your work, but you can also photograph reference materials, events you participate in and create other visuals. Make certain the camera you choose has the features you need (a point and shoot without manual override will not work for photographing artwork) and is easy for you to handle and use.

Digital Videocamera – this is not necessarily a must-have unless you plan on creating tutorials or podcasts. Choose a model that will interface with your computer system and video editing software.

Internet Access – high speed vs dial up. High speed will cost more, but it also will save you hours in file transfers, email processing, and website publishing just over the period of one month. Weigh your cost considerations carefully.

Phone Line – cell phone plans have become more affordable and are a nice way to establish a phone number that you can take with you should your business outgrow it’s first few physical locations quickly. Any long term plan costs would easily outweigh the expense of running land lines and activation/transfer/shutoff fees.

Other software packages you may need –

Office management (word processing, spreadsheet, slideshow/presentation software). There are free shareware packages vs costly mainstream licenses. You sacrifice functionality and support when choosing a shareware package, so make certain you fully understand what you are downloading/installing and that the software meets your needs.

Photo manipulation software. Adobe seems to be the most popular supplier of digital manipulation software with good reason – their products are reliable, robust, and regularly updated. They are costly and the learning curve can be intimidating for those not computer savvy. Many free tutorials are online and many local libraries or continuing education programs offer classes on Photoshop and other Adobe packages.

Accounting Software – you need to establish ledger practices at the start of your business, which will make tax time much easier. You should be able to run reports based on expenses and income (including projections). You also need to be able to create invoices that look professional. By the way, it also would not hurt to identify an accountant, one who is familiar with studio/art tax laws. Ask local artists who they use, and allow yourself time to interview and choose an accountant well before tax season.

Database Software – you will need something in which to create a mailing list and contact information for your clients, a list that includes postal addresses and other pertinent contact information as well as other personal data (like the type of paintings they have inquired about, their spouses/childrens names, or other info you can use to instigate meaningful conversations with them months down the road)

Contact Management Software – this program piggybacks onto your email account and tracks electronic correspondence. It provides accountability and supplemental information you will find useful in developing relationships with your clients and potential customers. It is costly, but will pay for itself the first time you are able to close a sale because of the history it has captured.

Email Software – not necessarily an expense for the software, but definitely one for the email itself. Also consider purchasing an email address with your domain name (for example, my email is the same as my domain name/website,, with the TurtledoveDesigns being the name of my studio and website). This allows you to establish a professional web presence and gives you flexibility to change internet providers without having to go through the hassel of notifying customers of email address changes.

Web Design Software – you can spend $25 for a template driven package or upwards of hundreds of dollars for something more robust. Honestly assess what you are capable of doing, and take the time to talk to other artists about how they’ve built their own sites. You can also hire a web designer to build your site, but if you choose this route keep in mind that you will be paying that designer to add/make modifications as well. Websites are not static, and ideally should be updated several times a month in order to draw traffic. Using a web designer may get you a killer site, but you’ll also end up paying for it. (There also are site-design services that come with Domain Hosts, so investigate thoroughly before purchasing anything in case you might already have a tool that will work.)

Domain Name – not so much a physical purchase, but a necessary one. There are many domain name service providers, so ask around and see which one has the right price and features. Customer support is a big factor here – unless you are computer savvy, you will really appreciate a knowledgable voice when trying to navigate your way through ftping files, installing Google Analytics and other html code in the right place, and other concerns. There are sites that specialize in working with artists, and these groups may have packages that are a better fit for your needs than some lesser expensive ones.

Physical work space – will you be working from home or renting a space? In either case, outline your utility expenses. If you are working from home in a dedicated studio space (ie not also used for household purposes) you can calculate the square footage of the studio and divide it by the overall home square footage. This is the percentage of your household utility bills that will become a studio expense.

Shipping Supplies – determine your means of shipping artwork well ahead of nailing a sale on that piece of sculpture. Open an account with your shipper of choice and have their materials on hand so that you can speak knowledgably about the cost/options with your customer.

Furniture needs – will you need an easel? A taboret to store your materials? Flat file storage? Make a list of the pieces of furniture you would like and prioritize them. Find workarounds for those items you cannot get right away. This will help you decide which pieces to purchase and when to purchase them.

Storage needs – do you have adequate storage available? If not, choose a climate controlled storage facility with appropriate access for your business.

Local fees – familiarize yourself with local ordinances and state laws – do you need to file a DBA or any other paperwork to establish your business? Will there be bank fees on a business account? What about Chamber of Commerce or other organizations’ membership dues?

Now that you’ve identified your costs using the above list, spend some time thinking about your particular frame of business. I’m certain there are areas I’ve neglected to mention – add these categories in and assign costs to them. Next create a spreadsheet and calculate what your startup expenses are, as well as your monthly fees. You can easily see exactly what your income must be in order to keep your studio out of the red.

I said “keep your studio out of the red.” We have no time for starving artists around here, only smart and profitable ones. In the beginning, it is possible you will need to work another job to help finance your venture. That’s entirely ok – as a matter of fact, that’s far better than starting to make art without a business plan. Starting to run any business without a plan isn’t how you start a profitable business.

And knowing how much money you will need to make your monthly budget (I’m including your cost of living budget along with your projected studio one when I say “monthly budget”) will allow you the security of choosing a second job, should you need one, that perfectly fits your situation.

Pricing your work will be the topic of the next article – because the next step is establishing a solid framework for pricing your artwork that will place it solidly in the market and allow you to stay afloat.

Kimberly Santini

Kimberly Santini is the creator of Painting a Dog a Day (, a daily pet portrait project ongoing since 2006. One of the original founders of the Canine Art Guild (, she is currently its Director. Kimberly is represented by galleries in Michigan and Alabama and exhibits her paintings internationally. She also has written and published several volumes outlining her daily painting journey. You may see more of her artwork at

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