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My Mission Statement - A short essay - The art of Thornwolf — LiveJournal
My Mission Statement - A short essay
With recent talks of the "undervaluing of artists" and markets, I felt the need to share with you all a short essay I wrote in response to a question about my goals as an artist and as a student. It will be interesting to come back to this and see if I've accomplished my goals, but so far it's going pretty swimmingly. For those of you who don't know, I've recently started working for myself in the realm of marketing communications where I offer design and writing services to businesses give them finished presentations, white papers and other business related literature that is visually appealing. This is just the way I personally have applied myself, and I'm still very wet behind the ears and hope to learn more about my field through my studies in school and life experiences.

Please take from this essay the basic message I'm putting forth and feel free to apply it to yourself and your own artistic goals.

If you feel you might be one of the group of undervalued artists I speak of, consider asking yourself the following questions:

-What do I want to do with my art? (hobby or career?)
-How can I make my art work for me?
-Who could use my style of art?
-Am I underselling myself?
-Who is my target audience?
-How can I reach them to sell them my services?
-What do I need to learn in order to expand my usefulness?

Though many advances have been made in the art world, creative careers continue receive little respect in the eyes of the general public. The phrase “starving artist” is often used to describe those who choose the path of the artist, but this stereotype does not have to be a reality if students are taught how to find the right niche for their artwork and succeed in their field. Artists are needed in more ways than simply painting pretty pictures to decorate homes and galleries, but this fact is often neglected by the general public, and even more unfortunately, artists themselves. As everything used by modern society has at one point been shipped by truck, so has it been designed by an artist of some kind. From architecture, to packaging design, to advertisements, creative minds are needed in ways that are often overlooked or taken for granted.

The most important thing anyone can take from an art education is not simply how to hone one’s skills, but to also learn how to find the right application for their talent to gain success. It is for this reason I have chosen the dual concentration of graphic design and marketing as my major at California State University San Bernardino. I feel that a well-rounded education, especially one that focuses on not just the creative side of art, but the business side as well, will help me become a self-reliant individual and a good example of how art education can be applied in the modern world.

A challenge most artists face is not becoming better at their craft, but helping their audience acknowledge the value of their talent. Often, artists spend more time improving their skills than finding ways to sell their creative time. This, of course, perpetuates the “starving artist” stereotype, and often leads to artists devaluing their creative work by taking whatever price a client will throw at them. This, in turn, damages the prices for artists world wide, and continues the trend of clients feeling that it is acceptable to pay a little for a lot. I feel that it is important to not just be a great artist, but to be a great businessperson as well, allowing the artist to reap the full benefit of an art education. Learning all of the best techniques in the world will not guarantee a job, but learning how to market one’s self opens up opportunities that most people will never have: the ability to be one’s own boss.

My passion is illustration, but I am often asked, “Can you do layout?” The majority of the non-artistic public assumes that when someone calls themselves an “artist”, they can automatically do all things art related, and if they’re good at painting they’re also good at graphic design. Instead of pigeonholing myself into the illustration field where I am most comfortable, I’ve decided to pursue a path in graphic design, a subject I know little about, giving myself a well rounded education that will ensure that when faced with such questions I can confidently answer, “Yes, I can.” I’m seeing more and more how the need to learn multiple fields is incredibly valuable. Though a degree is important, in the art world, it’s what you can bring to the table visually that matters most of all, but if all I can bring are my typical pet portraits and fantasy artwork, there is little market for this, and I will find myself desperately struggling for gallery space or hoping people find my artwork beautiful enough to hang in their home. This, to me, does not seem like a stable career choice.

There is so much talent in the world that is wasted because the talented individuals are not good at marketing themselves and getting their work seen by the right people. I do not want to be one of these artists by any means. I’ve always prided myself in being someone who tries to think outside of my own world of beautiful images and tries to understand my audience’s needs versus their wants. I enjoy finding a purpose for my art, rather than simple aesthetic pleasure.

In my major, I hope to become the best of both worlds. Someone who is good at art, but can also cut out the middleman and sell my art as well. By doing this, I will not have to rely on an agent or assistants to bring me business, as I will be able to seek it out myself. As it stands, I teach myself illustration because it comes naturally to me. I learn through imitation and from my peers. Graphic design is something I grew up around, but don’t yet understand it, which is why I’m going to school to learn this valuable skill. I come from a marketing family, but I’ve never formally learned marketing from a purely artistic standpoint, and I feel that’s an entirely different subject that needs its own dedication. With my dual major, I feel I will have a good grasp of how to be my own business, and upon graduation I have confidence that I will not find myself struggling with the “what now?” question most art school graduates have when it comes to finding work in the real world.

Ideally, I would like to become a “one stop shop” for all things creative. In my current line of work of marketing communications (writing press releases, white papers, case studies, and other corporate literature), the need for a completely finished product is a hot commodity. Few companies know exactly what they need or how to go about accomplishing it when it comes to marketing tools. Often times, when they find that they need literature written, they hire a writer but the work is not formatted. This in turn leads them to have to find an artist to make it visually appealing. This disperses the money between at least two people, but if I combine my writing skills with graphic design, I can deliver a fully finished piece and get paid for the work of two people. With my marketing knowledge, I can also provide an insight from a business standpoint in my writing that would otherwise need to be explained by yet another person in the chain, giving me another opportunity to keep the work and payment heading solely towards my direction. Also, with the added bonus of being an illustrator, I can market myself as someone who can not only write and format, but add interesting graphics to a piece as well, making for a very visually appealing finished product. By learning several fields, I will add value to myself as an artist.

Being an artist who knows not just how to draw, but how to make my art work for me is essential to my plan for my life. I will use my time in school to find out the best way to be my own businessperson so I can be a self reliant individual. It is through this that I hope to prove that just because one chooses to be an artist, it doesn’t mean that they have to sacrifice financial success to pursue their dream.

-L. Nicole Dornsife 2008

Current Mood: thoughtful thoughtful

19 comments or Leave a comment
chlorophyta From: chlorophyta Date: September 4th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Line breaks and/or intents? Wall-of-text is hard to read. D=
chlorophyta From: chlorophyta Date: September 4th, 2008 10:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
featherlady_jt From: featherlady_jt Date: September 4th, 2008 11:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ditto to this. Please. :(
thornwolf From: thornwolf Date: September 4th, 2008 11:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
sorry about that. I thought the format would transfer over from Word. My bad :D
thornwolf From: thornwolf Date: September 4th, 2008 11:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Stupid Microsoft Word formatting didn't transfer. I fix I fix!
featherlady_jt From: featherlady_jt Date: September 4th, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well written. The need for a degree, though, depends upon the field you wish to enter. Most definitely if it is graphic art as you mention. But if it's fine art, for shows, exhibitions, galleries, and direct online sales - it's neither needed nor even looked at.

DO get all the business and marketing training that you can. That is applicable no matter what field you venture into. DO read the multitudes of blogs and art biz journals that are in ready (and free!) supply on the internet. I highly recommend Alyson Stanfield, http://www.artbizcoach.com and also Robert Genn's "The Painter's Keys". Art Print Issues is also written brilliantly for the artist seeking business knowledge. Jack White's books on http://www.senkarik.com are some of the greatest wealth of info on "making it" that you'll ever find.

I do not have a degree in art, I am self-taught, and I am doing quite well with art full-time. It is the solid business knowledge and an eye for opportunity that will help you the most.

Oh, yes - Rie Munoz used to do illustration. She kept her illustrative style and moved it into fine art, where she easily earns six figures. I wouldn't consider illustration as a pigeon hole. ;)

Drop by my journal now and then - I do tend to make posts fairly often under the tag "art business".

Edited at 2008-09-04 11:39 pm (UTC)
neongryphon From: neongryphon Date: September 5th, 2008 12:22 am (UTC) (Link)
I've read your posts Denali and I find them really interesting.

I have to agree with the idea that a well-rounded education that includes business is going to be beneficial. But most career artists seem to omit it at the schooling level simply because it does not interest them. There is something to be said about the 'hobby artist,' who often has a greater drive to turn their little projects into bigger and bigger financial profits. I see impressive levels of success in many cottage industry artists, where as I think art graduates may be under the disillusion that a job will be delivered to them once they have that piece of paper saying they can draw.
featherlady_jt From: featherlady_jt Date: September 5th, 2008 12:30 am (UTC) (Link)
"I think art graduates may be under the disillusion that a job will be delivered to them once they have that piece of paper saying they can draw."

Exactly! A piece of paper is no guarantee of creative employment.

I've been very happily self-employed for three years now. I love the freedom that offers, and the ability to grow this business as much as I desire. "How successful do you want to be?" sums it up well, because the only real limits are on yourself. Instead of working towards an employer's ambitions and goals, I'm working toward my own.

Set your sights high. Just be sure to keep your goals S.M.A.R.T. - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Framed.
thornwolf From: thornwolf Date: September 5th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you :3

Your work is very wonderful, but youve also been one of the fortunate few who have been able to make your living off of fine art. I wish I could do that. I honestly don't think I could. I tried once upon a time but...meh. I went to Lee Kromschroeder's studio and he told me I wouldn't be able to do it (he had his points but it kinda sucked the drive out of me). I grew up with a creative family, we had our own advertising agency so I've seen how art can be applied to business. It doesn't hurt to have more than a few tricks up your sleeve. I can do illustration but I'd rather not rely on it wholly for my source of income. To hunt deer I need to go to where the deer are as they say. Fortunately your style and subject matter in what you paint is very appealing in your area of the Pacific Northwest. I have some bear art here I haven't been able to sell in my area. D:

And illustration is indeed incredibly lucrative, I just really am fearful of putting all of my eggs in one basket. This is also the reason I work in different styles. As I said, this is just how /I/ do it, not how everyone should do it :)
featherlady_jt From: featherlady_jt Date: September 5th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC) (Link)
"I honestly don't think I could."

I adamantly disagree. Persistence and patience are key. Nothing happens overnight. It takes three years consistantly showing at one particular show before you build a client base at that venue that is strong enough to show a decent profit margin. If you do it sooner than that, it's a rare occurance. It takes time and dedication to prove you're in it for the long haul. As Jack White says, "Fake it til you make it" - and that really is true. If you believe yourself a professional, you will become a professional. Attitude does a lot.

Just so you know, I did not start selling feathers in the Pacific Northwest. My very first art gallery? Temecula Art Gallery! I also sold in Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. I painted a lot of lizards, wolves, coyotes, quail, roadrunners, wild mustangs... I painted according to what the market was buying. And I sent northern wildlife art in abundance to venues in Alaska. It's not about your own location, it's identifying and targeting your niche, and creating art appropriate for specific locations. Even now, I sell more art outside the PNW than I do in. I've clients in Portugal, Brazil, Tasmania, mainland Australia, Ireland and the UK, NZ, Japan, Germany, as well as all across Canada and the US. A lot of my current artistic focus is on the Pacific Northwest, because that's where most of my galleries and shows are - but it's by no means where most of my customers are. People all over the world are buying my PNW paintings... they don't necessarily buy the wildlife that lives in their locale, I've come to learn that. bears were hot over the last couple of years, but they're waning. Wolves are making a comeback. Eagles, frogs and hummingbirds are perennial favorites - who knows what will be "in" next year? You just have to watch the market and see what's moving. Color plays a key part too.

I didn't start off lucky. I made this what it is through hard work and perseverance. I started off selling feathers as a sideline hobby income 18 years ago. I only got completely serious about it seven years ago. And in those 7 years, it was only 3-1/2 years ago that I saw my art income equaling my paycheck. I knew I was at a ceiling in what I could do and what I could produce then, and I knew it was the long hours on the job preventing me from progressing further. So I quit - and I haven't looked back. Now I do remember a few years back before I made that move to self-employment, when you yourself insisted what I did was a craft and not a fine art, and then proceeded to compare it to painting on a toilet seat! *laughs* And I'll bet you don't remember that. ;)

I'm sorry to go off on a tangent here, but what I see is a load of talent in you and every possibility of you making a serious go of it, but you hold doubts and they hold you back. Truly, I'm going to be honest - the only thing holding you back, is you.
thornwolf From: thornwolf Date: September 5th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Goodness, I hope I didn't offend you with that. I honestly don't remember ever saying that. That really doesn't sound like something I'd say in a disparaging way, I love feather paintings, they're my favorite things you do. I do know that it's what they honestly teach us in school, I didn't mean any offense. It's like Melody Pena's dragon sculptures are considered "kitsch" by the definitions presented to me by my professors but I've seen the work she puts into it, its a fine art. Certainly one I could never do, and nothing I would equate to lawn gnomes.

And jeeze it really seems like I'm following you around location wise XD its so funny that you've lived and worked where I also have lived and worked but you've made a name for yourself. Gives me hope I guess.

And you're right, I think I've let myself kind of run aground, but I'm not even sure if I want to do fine art. I just want to do art for me and if that sells, the better. Fortunately what I like to do for myself is fantasy and wildlife art. I'm hoping to get some of the ideas I have down on paper again. If there's a market for it, great, but it will feel good to just draw honestly.

I'd just feel incredibly uncomfortable leaving my livelihood to something so subjective, but that's my own insecurities at work. I have never shown in a gallery so therefore if I had an experience to base it off of, I might feel differently. For now I do what I know, and what I know is the corporate world and commercial art.

I do believe you've inspired me to attempt an art experiment. I'd just like to build up a collection of pieces first. that in itself will take time.

featherlady_jt From: featherlady_jt Date: September 5th, 2008 04:53 am (UTC) (Link)
If you ever have any questions, PLEASE feel free to drop me a note. featherlady-at-comcast-dot-net. I've gotten to the point that locating and securing a new gallery has actually become as easy as second-nature, and I can definitely pass along info that might help you. Heck, if you build a strong body of work I could probably find you representation up here. :)

Do consider showing works in juried art shows first, before approaching galleries. Get a feel for the market through this means, and expose the public to your work. I've told many others, that believe it or not one of the best starting places is the fine arts division at the county fair. It's only a couple of dollars to enter, awards to be won (people's choice is the best, that TELLS you your stuff appeals to the public) and your work gets seen by literally thousands of people. It's a great start. Showing in local juried shows gives you a bit of a track record before you approach that first gallery.

As far as what style, subjects, etc - you've got the right idea in pursuing what speaks to you the most. Where your passion lies does show in the work that you do. Patrons sense that when viewing your work - it is honest - and that's the appeal. And the closing of the sale.
Good luck!
thornwolf From: thornwolf Date: September 5th, 2008 04:55 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! And will do. I need to add you back. I failed to do so after you deleted your journal that one time. *does so*
enveri From: enveri Date: September 5th, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is wonderful information and advice, and I can second that Denali posts interesting business tips, and she's just interesting to read. :D
chessapeaka From: chessapeaka Date: September 5th, 2008 04:34 am (UTC) (Link)
Getting a sense of the business side of art is an excellent idea, especially if you intend to make your way by yourself. It's pretty much vital, in fact. My mom is a successful artist, but y'know what? The main reason she's successful is because she met my dad, who handles the business side of things. Not to mention all the other folks and employees who make things possible. If you intend to bulldoze a path without dealing through other people (which certainly isn't for everyone!), you gotta know every side of things. Also, at this point in time, it's incredibly hard to break into the fine art market. It's even hard to break into, or for that matter, maintain (Windstone's having a hell of a time!) the commercial market! People don't have money for art anymore. They did ten or twenty years ago, but not now. Businesses, on the other hand, still do, and probably will continue to.
thornwolf From: thornwolf Date: September 5th, 2008 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Your mom is definitely someone I seriously admire, but in knowing you guys I also have been somewhat privy to the struggles of the small business when coupled with the creativity of the artist. It /is/ hard to keep your market in a fickle world of changing tastes.

Its that kind of struggle I want to avoid though. I like to have something to fall back on, like if my illustration didn't pan out I'd always have "X" or "Y" to do until my illustration comes into favor again.

Some people have biology degrees to fall back on, I fear my grades in all other realms outside of art just aren't good enough for that XD
solid_squid From: solid_squid Date: September 5th, 2008 09:23 am (UTC) (Link)
On the side of flexibility, if you've studied graphic design then web design might be something worth taking a look at too. The design part really is the hardest thing about it, since html is usually pretty straight forward
solid_squid From: solid_squid Date: September 5th, 2008 09:25 am (UTC) (Link)
I just wanted to say, thanks a lot for posting this. I want to eventually move into doing art as a job, and it's really interesting and helpful to hear information on how others are dealing with that, and I'm sure there are many others who are in the same situation.
synnabar From: synnabar Date: September 10th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Great essay! Thanks for taking the time to share it. :D

My passion is illustration, but I am often asked, “Can you do layout?” The majority of the non-artistic public assumes that when someone calls themselves an “artist”, they can automatically do all things art related, and if they’re good at painting they’re also good at graphic design. Instead of pigeonholing myself into the illustration field where I am most comfortable, I’ve decided to pursue a path in graphic design...


I’m seeing more and more how the need to learn multiple fields is incredibly valuable. Though a degree is important, in the art world, it’s what you can bring to the table visually that matters most of all, but if all I can bring are my typical pet portraits and fantasy artwork, there is little market for this, and I will find myself desperately struggling for gallery space or hoping people find my artwork beautiful enough to hang in their home. This, to me, does not seem like a stable career choice.

Yes, a million times yes. As soon as people know you're an artist, you WILL be expected to do many different types of art-related things - at least, that's been my experience at any art job (full-time or freelance) that I've had. Maps, technical art, birthday cards, portraits, carton artwork, package design, advertisements, sell sheets, sketches, logos, instructions, and even just layouts of text - I've had to do them all. People who want to work in the commercial art/graphics/design fields and are reluctant to break out of their shell will not go far. That is, of course, very different from the fine arts, where you are expected to develop a distinct style.

As for your comment about pet portraits and fantasy art: YES. When people find out you can draw unicorns or their dog or whatever, invariably someone will say, "you should sell your work! You'll make a million!" Now that is very nice to hear, and encouragement is wonderful, but... yes, it's very hard to make a living as a full-time artist (though I'm glad some artists I know are doing it! Yay! :D). I wish they'd teach you this in art school: Unless you're very talented and/or have fantastic connections or are independently wealthy, be prepared for a long, hard struggle ahead if you want to be a full-time artist. For those of us who aren't fantastically talented etc., being flexible is key. Drawing many different things, learning different styles, knowing many different programs - all very important! Drawing the same things over and over and not improving and whining about my work not selling isn't going to get me anywhere. (Granted, most of the stuff I post online is fantasy/weird stuff, but that's my personal work - my professional work is all over the place in terms of style and subject matter, depending on the project or client)

I also like your point about marketing and business classes being helpful; my fine arts college wasn't very thorough in that regard, but my SUNY college included business, marketing, and technical speech courses as part of the Visual Communications major requirements. I think that was a great thing for many of us who would have thought those sort of classes to be boring and unnecessary.

Sorry to ramble! I really liked your essay - very thorough, and helpful, too. :)
19 comments or Leave a comment