Last week on Saturday, April 23rd, White Rabbit Galleries was visited by five distinguished guests who have made art their business. The Art as a Business panel was arranged to spotlight local artists in both the visual and performing arts and provide them an opportunity to share their stories. Each panelist agreed to come talk about their journey to becoming an artist and offer advice to new artists.
The artists are (from left to right, pictured):
Leandra is co-owner and artist at Leandra Drumm Designs with a degree in graphic design (BFA, Kent State University). Leandra has been creating artwork her whole life and specializes in pewter and etched glass. Visit Leandra at Don Drumm Studios at 437 Crouse Street, Akron, OH 44311 or at https://www.dondrummstudios.com/collections/leandra-drumm.
Dan is a trained medical illustrator (BFA in medical illustration, Cleveland Institute of Art), sketch card artist (on over 150 licensed properties), and a comic book artist (published by Dark Horse, AC Comics, Caliber Comics, and more). He creates the weekly RubberDucks Tales comic for the Akron RubberDucks. View Dan’s work at https://www.dangormanart.com and follow him @GDanArtist on Twitter & Instagram.
Holly is an actor and co-producing director of Magical Theatre Company, Northeast Ohio’s only professional resident and touring theater for young audiences. Holly and her husband Dennis are preparing for the premiere of Winnie the Pooh, running May 6th through the 15th. Get tickets at https://www.magicaltheatre.org/public-perfomances.
Jack is a glassblowing artist and owner of Akron Glass Works and Architectural Greenery, Inc. find out more about Akron Glass Works at https://www.akronglassworks.com/ or visit their retail space and gallery in person at 421 Spicer Street, Akron, OH 44311. Akron Glass Works also offers glass blowing workshops.
Shawn is a dark art artist & co-owner of Any Means Necessary LLC. Previously, he worked on the Cyanide & Happiness web series. Shawn has a medical background and is an advocate for mental health, a subject that features prominently in his work.. Follow @ShawnCoss and purchase clothing from https://www.anymeansnecessary.com and Zumiez.
A recurring theme among the panelists was that none of them had arrived in their career immediately out of school. Dan attended art school and received a degree in medical illustration, but later pursued his dream to make comics after a couple years of the professional grind as a medical illustrator. Leandra had enrolled in an engineering program, but realized it wasn't a good fit and turned toward the art pieces she had been creating in her free time during school. Holly always yearned to be an actor and found her niche as she toured the country participating in different productions. Eventually, traveling convinced her that children’s theater could be done as well as any professional theater leading her to her specialty. Shawn worked as a nurse until his apparel company grew to a size that could support him full-time, and Jack transitioned from working with plants to glassblowing after witnessing a team of glass masters at work. These stories echo my own experience and the experiences of many artists I’ve talked to. It is not common for our trajectories to carry us exactly where we would expect. The journey may take you to unexpected places.
The best question asked of each panelist was what advice they would give to new artists. Jack’s advice was concise: “Embrace the suck”. All artists face a steady stream of setbacks and criticism, but it is the successful artist that can accept that and not let it defeat them. There are similar challenges in any line of work where you are in business for yourself. I imagine this advice rings particularly true for Jack who is involved in two physically demanding fields of glass and horticulture.
Shawn reflected on the impact of social media on up-and-coming artists. It is a double-edged sword. He credits much of the success and reach of his brand to the power of the Internet - but at the same time it is tempting to measure your value and the worth of your work by the reaction it might get on social media. Especially when that reaction is easily quantified in shares, likes, and comments. Social media can make it very clear who has noticed you. His advice to avoid this trap is “f*** the noise.”
One of Holly’s greatest challenges as a touring actor, before managing the Magical Theatre, was finding gigs that she and her husband Dennis could take part in. Sometimes she compromised, taking roles working off or backstage because it meant she got to tour with Dennis. Other actors told her she was being stubborn, but in retrospect it gave her opportunities she never would have considered previously, and working so many different aspects of theater gave her a wide skill set necessary for running the Magical Theatre. Holly’s advice is to be versatile because it makes you more valuable and allows you to find your niche.
Leandra shared a story of how she made art pieces as a side project throughout college. In the early days she often did work at a discount and undervalued her time. She realized later that this was a mistake and encouraged artists to recognize the value of their skill and not to take part in projects simply for the exposure. If you want art to be your main source of income, it must be priced at a point that can sustain you.
All art fields are highly competitive. Even if you are not competing directly against artists you know by name, in any given medium there will be many artists you will need to stand out against. Dan’s advice is about how to stand out among your peers; embrace what makes you unique as a person, even if what makes you unique is the worst thing about you. This advice tied back to art and its relationship to mental health, a subject that had come up several times during the discussion. Art as a form of therapy was mentioned multiple times by the panelists. Shawn’s work in particular is often inspired by mental health.
The discussion was enlightening with a wide range of speakers who work in different fields and run their own businesses, freelance, or work for commission. The panelists had an attentive audience for well over an hour and one of the attendees I talked to had come all the way from Pennsylvania. I am looking forward to the next time White Rabbit Galleries can put together a similar opportunity, and I encourage artists and art lovers alike to attend.