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Starting / Business startup

Up and away: Alexia Sinclair

Photographic and digital artist Alexia Sinclair tells Jodie McLeod about the multilayered business of being a professional artist.

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There’s an art to “making it” as a fine artist in Australia, or anywhere, for that matter. It’s not as straightforward as creating works and selling or exhibiting them; rather, earning a living from one’s art is like running any small business, with budgets and sales targets, marketing strategies and customer relations.

Digital and photographic artist Alexia Sinclair has been a professional artist for over 12 years. Based in Sydney, her work has been exhibited in some of Sydney’s most prominent galleries, including the Australian Centre for Photography and the Art Gallery of NSW, and she has also produced artwork on major marketing campaigns for clients including Harper’s Bazaar and Canon Australia. Alexia’s two most prized art series, The Royal Dozen and The Regal Twelve, explore the identities of historic kings and queens through a mix of photography and digital illustration.

As well as creating fine art and commercial artwork, Alexia also speaks at conferences and events, runs workshops for artists, takes care of art sales, manages her own website, and a whole lot more. It’s all part of running her business of being an artist.

FLYING SOLO: Do you see being a professional fine artist as running a business?

ALEXIA SINCLAIR: The reality of being successful as an artist is that you’re a small business owner with a “real job” and real deadlines, bills and rent.

"There will be heartache and rollercoaster rides, but if you persevere with thick skin and an open mind, you’ve got a pretty wild ride ahead. "

Making art is actually a small part of being a professional artist. Being professional about my career is as important as making successful art.

FS: At what point in your career did you realise that making a living as a fine artist was going to be possible?

AS: I sold my first piece when I was fourteen and exhibited in my first group show when I was fifteen. I started consistently selling work around twelve years ago but there’s never been a time when I have made a living from selling fine art prints alone.

I’m not sure that this will ever be my only income. I can’t think of an artist who doesn’t have a second string of revenue. Fine artists almost always do other things with their time rather than only making personal work. They lecture, write books, shoot campaigns and run workshops.

I make a living from various sources including fine art sales, commercial campaigns, editorial commissions and guest lectures.

FS: What had to happen for you to get to this point?

AS: Obviously you need to produce work that’s the finest example of what you can do as an artist. But if no one sees this work, it’s as though it never existed. There are many important aspects to running your business and exposure is a very important part of selling your art.

FS: What is the most challenging thing about making a living as an artist?

AS: As a freelance artist, I don’t have a regular income/wage and it’s difficult to predict when I’ll make an art sale or win a commercial campaign. It’s important to always run my business cautiously because one great financial win often has to fund the next project and my business expenses.

FS: Some of your artworks are limited editions, in that you cap the number that can be reprinted and sold. Why have you taken this approach?

AS: Limiting the number of saleable artworks is a typical approach for a fine artist. I sell editions of ten prints of an artwork in one size before my artwork is no longer available for sale. Collectors know that when they’re purchasing my work, only ten people in the world can own this work [which increases its value in their eyes].

Editions can define the type of artist you’re presenting yourself as. Some photographers sell editions over 1000 and this is seen as a commercial approach.

FS: You’ve created a “coffee table app” for iPad to display your work. Tell us more about this.

                      © Alexia Sinclair “Marie Antoinette” 2005.

AS: People have been requesting that I produce a coffee-table book for a long time. The problem is, they’re really expensive to produce beautifully and there’s no profit at all.

So I decided to take the opposite approach to my limited edition prints and produce a book that is very inexpensive for my consumers.

I’m a digital artist and I love exploring new digital frontiers. My partner, James, is a software engineer, and we [came up with the idea of a] coffee-table book iPad app. Although apps are generally expensive to produce, we had the advantage of producing the whole app in-house by utilising our combined skills.

The app, titled “Homage”, has features that aren’t feasible in a conventional book. It took us four months to produce and is available through iTunes.

FS: How did you learn the business side of being an artist – or who did you learn from? 

AS: Unfortunately, the process of running a small business is not covered in fine art courses. The best thing to do is to look at successful businesses and model your business on a variety of successful approaches. Of course, there’s been a lot of trial and error over the years with my business. Most importantly, as the industry changes, I need to keep learning and evolving.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business startup section.

FS: What aspects of your business do you outsource, and why do you outsource these roles?

AS: I used to have a commercial agent but I didn’t find it lightened my workload very much and cost me a lot in commission and fees. My partner is my commercial producer these days because he’s excellent in this role. He’s unemotional about the creative side of a job and this is essential for negotiating budgets.

I outsource my printing and framing, but that’s about it. I don’t have a PA, I do my own PR and art sales come directly to me through my website.

On the art front, I’m a one-man band.

FS: Have you ever felt you’ve gone against what you intrinsically want to do – in terms of creating artwork – at any point for the sake of your business?

AS: No.

FS: Who makes up your audience/supporters/customers/fan base?

A: The people who are interested in my work are about as varied as the people who make up the world. I get feedback from people who are fans of my work because it inspires them with their own creative pursuits, or they’re in awe of my process, or they want to learn from me, or they’re simply lovers of beautiful things.

FS: How did you build your audience and how do you nurture them now?

AS: People often share the things they love or the things that inspire them, and word of mouth can be a powerful tool. I make sure my work is everywhere it can be to attract new interest and keep people interested. I make sure my website is always up to date and I’m always generous with my audience.

FS: To what extent, if at all, do your supporters influence what you do?

AS: None. It’s important that I make art for myself to keep my style and vision uniquely my own.

FS: How has social media helped you and your business? How do you get the most out of it?

AS: I use Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Flickr, and LinkedIn. I have a different approach to each and my audience is usually different on each one, too. Mostly, they’re a great place for me to let people know I’ve got new content on my website, an article out, or a show or talk on somewhere. I think that if you share concise and inspiring content on social media sites, your audience will do the rest for you.

FS: How does blogging help your business? What are you trying to achieve with your blog?

AS: Blogging definitely helps my business because it drives the traffic higher on my website. When people discover me or revisit me, this can generate new opportunities for my business.

FS: What advice would you give to fine artists who are currently or are hoping to make a living from their art?

AS: When I began my journey, I couldn’t have imagined how difficult it is to sustain a career in the arts. I naively thought that producing great art would suffice and result in the fruits of my labour. But the reality is that I have to be comfortable tackling much more than making art, simply because the art world is not simple and it’s not fair. The art world is tough, sales and jobs are few and far between and you’ve just got to roll your sleeves up and get on with it. The reason it’s so tough is because so many people want the privilege of producing art and so few people pay for the privilege of seeing art. So my advice is that there will be heartache and rollercoaster rides, but if you persevere with thick skin and an open mind, you’ve got a pretty wild ride ahead.

FS: When do you find time to be creative and generate new ideas?

AS: It’s very difficult to find time to be solely creative. I spend a lot of my time answering questions for interviews, answering emails, pitching for jobs and doing talks. I savour my creative moments. My ideas don’t have an “off” button.

FS: What’s the best thing about being a soloist?
AS: Having the opportunity to produce the work I’d really like to produce. Of course, this takes a lot of money, and often you have to do a lot of work that you really don’t want to do in order to get to do the work you want to do. 

For more on Alexia and her work, visit www.alexiasinclair.com

Are you earning a living from your art? What challenges do you face in running this kind of business, and how do you overcome them?

Jodie McLeod

is a freelance copywriter, editor and journalist, and former Editor of Flying Solo. If you're after an intelligent crafter of catchy copy who has loads of experience with words, ads and ideas, get in touch.

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