Professional art practices: What you should already have pt. 2
Too often we take for granted that young artists know exactly what is expected of them professionally. And unfortunately, somewhere along the journey through our arts education, a huge chunk of that critical information gets withheld for whatever reason. So in an attempt to make the transition from art student to art professional easier, I wrote an article last week that covered three of the seven items every creative practitioner should already have should have in their starter kit (a curriculum vitae, biography and artist statement). This week I will be presenting the final four items, which are less about art theory and more about art business.
Letters of recommendation
Every single human being on the face of this planet will, at some point, be required to produce letters of recommendation for their prospective field of work. Contrary to popular belief, creative individuals are not exempt from this. For the young artist fresh out of art school, it would make sense to ask a lecturer or director to assist you. However, for those persons who have not passed through any art institution you can ask curators, established artists, writers, critics or any notable person operating within the creative field.
The key to getting a positive response is developing and maintaining a friendly relationship with as many art professionals as you possibly can. I’m not telling you to constantly bombard them with unnecessary or inappropriate chitchat. There are ways to stay in touch and update them about your progress without being a nuisance. In the same way, it’s not smart to approach someone you haven’t spoken with since 2001 without first establishing a friendly conversation. Take into consideration that you cannot approach someone at the ninety-ninth hour and expect that person to take you seriously. Have respect for that person’s time and schedule by giving them adequate notice (at least two weeks).
It is equally important to provide that person with the necessary information to complete the letter of recommendation: the name and address of the company/organization you are applying to; the purpose of the letter (grant, scholarship, job etc.); a brief description of the duties that would be expected to perform; a copy of your biography, artist statement and CV; and a few images of your artwork. These are all necessary for that person to make a convincing case that you are the right candidate for the opportunity/post. Finally, after you would’ve received your letter of recommendation, don’t forget to say thank you!
Photographs of your work
This subheading should actually read: “Photographs of your work that aren’t terribly dark, blurred or have a nasty glare somewhere in the middle from the lens flash.” This is perhaps the most underrated selling point of any young artist’s work that I have noticed here in Guyana. As a creative practitioner it is important that you always have good quality, high-resolution images of your work in your portfolio, preferably done by a professional photographer. The last thing you want is for your viewer to have to “imagine” pixels that aren’t there. However, if you’re now starting out and can’t afford to pay someone to do it then I’m going to share some tips to make it less obvious that you took the photographs yourself.
The first important factor is your light source. If your home is unusually dark during the day then shooting indoor should be out of the question, unless you understand how to bounce artificial light sources. You should always try to photograph your work outdoor making full use of nature’s very own light source. If, at this point, you’re thinking about laying your canvas down in your backyard in the glaring sun, then stop. As much as possible always try to photograph your work in an upright position and away from direct sunlight. Ideally, you should shoot your work on an overcast or cloudy day. Look for a spot that does not have anything hanging overhead that can cast unwanted shadows. In the case of artworks behind glass, they should be photographed before being framed to prevent reflections obscuring the artwork.
When shooting any sculptural work your background needs to be even more considered. Opt for a plain, solid black, white or even grey backdrop (all dependent on the colour of the actual sculpture) to place behind your artwork. Remember that the focus should be your work and not the pile of old car parts screaming, “Look at me!” in the background. If you’re using a fabric backdrop then it should be taut and tacked in place while you shoot. You don’t want any distracting folds or creases. Although technology has allowed for software like Adobe Photoshop to fix virtually any problem, why would you want to give yourself the extra work? Get it right in the frame.
You will then need a DSLR camera (digital single-lens reflex) and a tripod (or any flat surface that is high and sturdy enough such as a table or stool). Notice there was no mention of a cellphone or “point and shoot” camera and that’s because they are terrible at capturing images that are true to the original artwork. You can try to use these cameras but they will require way too much editing and will most likely result in a grainy, over-saturated image. Do yourself a favour and invest in the proper equipment that will carry you through your creative career. In the mean time, if you know someone with a DSLR and they’re willing to let you have their child for a few hours, by all means “knock a borrow.” Ensure the flash is off and everything is lined up perfectly then start shooting!
Somewhere buried deep in a previous article I mentioned the importance of presenting the right image with your business card. Simple things like having the wrong font or colour scheme could result in people using your card to clean the dirt from under their fingernails. And since this is the last thing you would want to happen, you should think of your business card as more than just a way to get your name out there. Your card should be a masterpiece, reflecting the sensibilities of your studio work. By now I think we can retire the Comic Sans font, all the photographs of palettes, palette knives, brushes, and worse, the clipart images. Let us, in 2016, declare a moratorium on the aforementioned items. They are lazy, unimaginative and you deserve better than that.
Instead, take a moment to really consider the type of work you produce. Think about all of the elements in your work, whether they are recurring motifs, a specific medium or technique, and spend some time sketching possible ideas. If you’re unfamiliar with graphic designing or digital editing software then I have bad news, you’re already far behind! Align yourself with the right individuals who can help you navigate the software and try to practice something new every day. But if you don’t have access to that type of help then you should consider paying a professional.
If you would like to use a detailed shot of one of your pieces on the front of your business card, then I would advise against putting text over the image. Doing this will make your contact information difficult to read and ultimately diminish the beauty of the shot. Instead, place all of your details neatly on the back of the card (all aligned left, center or right). Remember, the same design principles that inform your studio work could also be applied to your business card. So make it memorable for all the right reasons!
Now that we’ve established the importance of having a business card, I am here to tell you that having one is everything and nothing, all at the same time. Before you call me crazy, take a moment to really think about it. Literally anyone can hand you a business card claiming to be someone they’re probably not or claiming a skill they know nothing about. We live in a world where some people will find an insane amount of legitimacy in a 2 by 3-inch piece of printed card. While this is true, you can also be sure that everyone else will be looking at you sideway until you can give them a reason not to. What better way to dispel doubts than directing them to your very own website?
In yet another article I wrote a few weeks ago I mentioned the importance of having a good web presence (an appropriately named email address, Facebook page, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn and Twitter). These are all great resources to have and you should definitely sign up if you haven’t already. However, there is much more value in having your own website. What’s the difference, you ask? Well having your own website gives you complete control of its appearance and sales, just to list a few. Again, if you’re not tech savvy then you will definitely be in over your head at this point. In addition to having a website (domain) name, you will need to buy that name from a web hosting provider if it’s available and then download a website software (e.g. WordPress) to actually start building the website from one of their templates.
But fear not, there are free alternatives out there for persons who aren’t in a position to commit financially. WordPress, Squarespace, Weebly and Wix are all examples of website builders that are available free of cost. The only catch is that instead of your website being johnpublic.com it would be johnpublic.wordpress.com and everyone will know that you haven’t taken the step to pay and register your domain name. If you’re now starting up then this shouldn’t be a deal breaker. However, you should consider working towards owning your domain name since art professionals tend to take you more seriously if you do. Unfortunately I can’t go into web building details since I’m about six paragraphs over my word limit already. But Google is everyone’s friend. There are endless articles and videos that could provide additional information and answer any questions you might have. Go forth and conquer!
Dominique Hunter is an independent visual artist who recently graduated from the Barbados Community College with a Bachelor of Fine Art (First Class Honours).
This article was first published in the Pepperpot magazine of the Sunday Chronicle newspaper on February 7, 2016. Click on the link to be redirected to their website: