Advice for Artists Pursuing Art Full-Time: A Discussion with Tracey Penrod, Acrylic and Mixed Media Artist, Downtown Goldsboro

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

Audio Inspiration

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

Are You Ready? Are You Coming? by Tracey Penrod

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

We hope this story inspired you. If so, please take a moment to leave a comment below. If you would like to connect with Tracey Penrod, visit her website, Facebook, Instagram, or studio.

Tracey Penrod: Acrylic and Mixed Media Artist, Downtown Goldsboro

Artist Profile by Rebecca Whitman

In the thriving arts district of Downtown Goldsboro, NC, there is an artist who sees the world in layers of light, color, and geometric shapes and translates her visions into masterpieces of paint and mixed media. This is the story of who she is, what inspires her, and how she became a full-time visual artist.

For Tracey Penrod, the question was never when did she see herself as an artist; the question was when did she not.

Growing up, creativity was nurtured by her mother (a teacher) and grandmother (a quilter). Tracey remembers enjoying dime store coloring books with watercolor brushes and embedded paint in the pages. Those early watercolor experiences became a lasting influence on her creative voice; many have said her work reflects a watercolor effect without the application of watercolor.

She laughs at the memory of “Patch the Pony”: an early poster figuring out how to make mixed media work using glued food on a horse. Tracey still sits in wonder under the memory of her grandmother’s quilt frame. She remembers the square, rectangle, and circle shapes raising a canopy of filtered light over where she played as a child. These shapes left such a deep impression that they are a feature replicated in many of her works today.

Creativity wasn’t the only thing that Tracey learned growing up in rural North Carolina; she also learned the value of order and cleanliness. Her mother set a standard of excellence for her home that was hard to live up to at the time but, in the long run, prepared Tracey for successful work habits as an artist.

“I was the sloppy teenager leaving messes in my room and stuffing stuff under my bed to clean up when I was told to….Now I can see how disorganization hindered my art and how taking the time to organize makes me able to see my supplies and work quickly in the studio now.”

Tracey Penrod

Take a peek inside her studio…

Such an inspiring childhood would seem like a fertile soil for translation into art as a business, but it didn’t work that way. Like so many artist stories, Tracey didn’t know what opportunities were available to her as an artist in business when she graduated high school. That lack of information and vision caused her to pursue career paths in college that were close to her calling but not actually in them. She started pursuing being an art teacher then switched to Commercial Art and Advertising Design.

Then the doubts settled in–the same doubts we have all heard at some point or another in our artistic careers–the doubts that say: What am I doing? There’s no money in this! Nobody in my small corner of the world is going to pay me to do this! I need to just go find a real job and let this just be some hobby thing for me.

Those doubts made Tracey feel like it was a waste of time to pursue a career in art, so she gave up on creativity and chose what seemed logical at the time: a career in teaching. In 1999, she graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in Middle Grades Education: Social Studies and English Language Arts. From 2000 to 2021, Tracey devoted herself to her teaching career and spoke life into the hearts of many young people.

Teaching children was both rewarding and challenging for the artist heart of Tracey. While she loved being able to make a difference, the effort took all her energy and left little to give back to herself for her own creative work. Nevertheless, Tracey began to see the need to purposefully pursue her art while she was still in her teaching career. From 2012 to her teaching retirement in 2021, she allowed her teaching career to be her bridge job transitioning her to a full-time artist career.

During those bridge years, Tracey took advantage of opportunities to elevate her level of mastery in her craft and grow in her business acumen. She challenged herself to create professional quality work, learn how to frame with exhibition-level standards, enter local art shows, and get her work seen by a larger audience. She attended workshops and artistic events both locally and abroad including Gathering of Artisans in western North Carolina. She learned new techniques and how to apply professional finishes like cold wax to her work. She continues to gather inspiration from other artists on podcasts and Instagram.

You never stop learning; however, the time spent on mastery of one’s craft can’t be undervalued. It took Tracey over 20 years to step into her calling as a Christian artist, but her customers would tell you that the time spent in mastery was not wasted. What she can offer clients now sets Tracey apart from hobbyists and drives clients to her that are expressly wanting professional work. In fact, ownership of a Tracey Penrod original is considered a privilege for most of us. While those 20 years in the desert of another career felt a lot like striving to be an artist, they led to where Tracey is in business today.

For more about her business and the advice she would give other artists today including her top 4 Spotify Podcasts recommendations, don’t miss our companion article on Friday at The Bohemian Princess Journal. If you have been a client or colleague of Tracey Penrod, please take a moment to comment below and share how her art and work partnership has been a blessing to you. If you would like to connect with Tracey Penrod, visit her website, Facebook, Instagram, or studio.