Disclaimer: This article is written in conversation with the artist. It is not meant to be a representation of her voice but, rather, of what the author learned from her.
In the thriving arts district of Downtown Goldsboro, NC, acrylic and mixed media artist, Tracey Penrod, is making a name for herself and living out her calling as a full-time artist. If you missed it, here is a link to her story. Today, we share insights into the business side of being an artist full-time and some of the advise and life lessons that got Tracey to where she is today.
Shared Space vs. Studio Space at The Arts Council of Wayne County
When Tracey began to take herself seriously as an artist, she entered a transitional period of working out of her home using her dining room table and part of her kitchen as her studio. None of that space was dedicated to the art exclusively. If she needed the space for dinner or guests coming over, she would have to move all of her art and set it up again later. Constantly moving her work made her lose time doing the work because she struggled to find supplies disorganized by the move. She also struggled to get back into the head space to create the work.
When Tracey moved to a dedicated studio space at The Arts Council of Wayne County, everything changed. Not only did she have everything where she wanted it and didn’t have to move it anymore, but she had a community of other artists to influence her work. The ability to walk out next door and ask another artist for a quick opinion on something was an invaluable resource for her.
The Arts Council of Wayne County is the hub of artistic expression in downtown Goldsboro, and the arts bring in so many other things to the community in business. People familiar with (what the artists and Arts Council has to offer) will come here for it. There is a visibility here that can’t be found somewhere else or out on your own.Tracey Penrod
Part of Tracey’s unique process is that she creates with music. Many of her pieces have playlists created for them, used to inspire them, and often sold with the piece.
In addition to custom playlists, Tracey considers herself addicted to podcasts and Instagram accounts. She follows artists she likes and those who influence the techniques she uses. Many of the visual artists are contemporary and abstract painters influencing her landscapes.
Of the 1,000+ Instagrams that she follows, she recommends the following Top 3 for inspiration:
Of all the podcasts on the subject of art, Tracey recommends the following Top 4 on Spotify:
The Business of Art
In consideration of the keys to being a successful art business not just a hobbyist, Tracey suggested the following four points to consider.
1. Figure Out Your Branding and Identity
Though it is tempting to think you have to be everything to everyone when you are in business, specialization is actually preferred. People want to know what makes you special, what makes you unique. To clarify your brand identity, Tracey recommends that you spend some time connecting with what you feel makes you unique, where it came from, and why your story is what it is.
An artist can duplicate any other artist, but that is not the same thing as your identity. You have to know yourself and how you want to put yourself out there. Ask yourself: What is my eye drawn to and how am I supposed to relate it?
The more you create, the more you know your voice.Tracey Penrod
2. Get Your Financials In Order
Before anyone else can take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously. Opening a business account with your bank can help you tell yourself you are legitimate.
Whether or not you have a lot of money to start your business, you do have to be a responsible steward of what you have. Make time to track your expenses and keep accurate records of your sales and expenses. You can invest in money management tools later, but even just a Google Spreadsheet is better than nothing at all when tax season comes.
3. Establish A Designated Place and Time To Create
One of the biggest things that turned me into a business was establishing a regular studio space and schedule outside of the home.Tracey Penrod
If you are not ready to afford a space outside of your home, what can you do to make a dedicated space for your work–a place away from distractions–with what you have? Jane Austen created some of her best work including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility at a tiny round table by a window in her family home. It doesn’t have to be elaborate to be successful.
4. Make Room For Self Care
When you are doing something you love, it is something you want to do seven days a week, but you have to pay attention to your other needs like family, home, doctor appointments, etc.
If you are still in transition, however, your art can be your therapy. When she was not able to work full-time as an artist, Tracey noticed that creating art was therapeutic self care for the stress she experienced teaching. Looking back on it, she wished she had started creating sooner in her teaching career so that her teaching would have been easier.
It is important that you are intentional about filling your well of creativity. Tracey enjoys experiencing new restaurants, museums, destinations, and art with the people she loves. She also enjoys reading good books and attending art events with other Christian artists.
Take care of yourself first, and then everything else. Don’t make yourself the sacrifice.Tracey Penrod
Final Thoughts from Tracey to Artists Starting Out
Don’t believe the lies!
Put yourself out there.
Make yourself available. Seen.
Stretch beyond your comfort zone.
Pursue a career in something that brings you joy not something that drains your spirit.
Let your work be a place that inspires curiosity in others. In my work, I take things like books pages, and I repurpose them into something that causes people to give a second thought to objects they otherwise ignore. They wonder about the stories behind my work, and they ask questions that lead into conversations about God.
There is nothing overtly religious about my art, but it is still enabling those moments to happen.Tracey Penrod