Marketing Mondays: How is Your Pie Sliced?

I purchased a specially vented air conditioner for my studio last year from Grainger, the machine and equipment company. I’m now on their mailing list. The way they address the envelope makes me laugh every time I get one: “Joanne Mattera, Facility Maintenance Manager.”

Yes, that’s me. Joanne the Janitor. I’m also the CEO, the head of PR, the administrative assistant, the secretary, the director of the accounting department, and the entire staff of both the mail room and the packing and shipping department. It's quite a pie; I might as well be a baker, too.

I’m telling you this for a reason.

Last Monday I was the visiting artist at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa. I was invited by the painter Steven Alexander, a professor in the art department. My slide talk—to undergraduates, MFA candidates,
The pie chart: Guess how much of my time
is actually spent painting
and faculty—was a career overview intertwined with practical career advice for the students. Steven had introduced me as a working studio artist, and during the presentation, as I showed my work and discussed career issues, I talked about my transition from 9-to-5 employment (when artmaking was squeezed into evenings, weekends, vacations and "sick days") to full-time studio artist. .
This audience was with me, so I went on for a whole hour. When the lights went up, the questions came out. Great questions, too: specifics about finding a gallery, understanding the gallery hierarchy, pricing work, studio issues, and balancing the art practice with income-producing jobs.
Toward the end of the Q&A period, a professor sitting at the back asked: "What percentage of your day now is actual painting time, as opposed to when you were working a full-time job?"
Here’s the shocking answer: About the same. I’d guess about 30 percent, or the amount depicted by the three saturated wedges of red, aqua and olive in the pie chart above.
The rest of it is taken up with all the non-painting tasks required to get the work out into the world and to keep track of it once it's out there. Of course the math doesn’t usually work out so neatly. When I’m preparing for a show, I might spend almost 100 percent of my work time in the studio for weeks or months, and when the show is delivered, 100 percent of the following weeks crashing, then cleaning up and catching up. But that professor’s question is a sobering reminder that in the phrase “working studio artist,” working is the operative word. When I left nine-to-five, I traded 80 hours a week (40 with with steady income, health insurance and vacation time) for 80 hours with an unpredictable income and no bennies.
I wouldn’t want to go back to the way it used to be. I've been a painter for long enough now that when I go into the studio to paint, I paint. (That 30 percent goes deep. ) And all the non-painting work is in service to my career, not an employer's business. Having a fully immersed art life means that, in addition to the administrative work and facility maintenance managing, I'm also making studio visits and seeing art, writing and thinking about art. I actually like the way the pie is sliced. (Well, except for that dreaded desk work.)
Now let me take the role of the professor: What percentage of your time is spent actually making art? Or to recast in a more visual way: How is your pie sliced? And are you happy with the portions?


Donna Dodson said...

Great topic! Can you put in what each colored section of the pie represents? I've always managed to work in my studio during the day and hold down part time jobs in the evenings and at night but the longer I've been working as an artist, the more time I've devoted to the administrative side of my career. I thought it was a task or set of tasks that would go away but devoting time to applications, documenting my work, blogging, networking, etc... is as essential as studio time which means it's a 7 day work week and has been for many years. There are still areas that I am tweaking and one is to find out more accurately how long each piece takes and how much time I spend on each task.

LXV said...

Joanne, I had nearly the same experience as you, albeit without the health insurance. I freelanced 40-80 hours a week as a graphic designer for more than 30 years and when all that came to an end, I owned my house free & clear, a not-insignificant factor in the stability of my studio practice. Like you, I craved time off actually to work in my studio which I did whenever I could. I managed to show a bit including a solo show in New York, but my career had no real trajectory because my time was so fragmented.

That said, now that I have returned to starving artist mode at the age of nearly 60, I paint about 50% of the time and the rest goes into documentation, planning, record-keeping, correspondence, janitorial tasks, roof repair and going out to see other people's art. I have gallery representation, but no sales since the crash.

My work, because of the continuity & intense application of effort , has matured. I still get excited to the point of not sleeping at night when new ideas begin to percolate, but I have become well-acquainted with the day-to-day grind when projects get stuck. My long experience as a wage slave taught me a valuable lesson in that I realize, from inception to completion, every project has rough patches and sometimes you pull it out of the fire only at the last minute and blindly at that. The point being, you just have to keep at it—every day.

I tend to anxiety and do not deal well with strangers, not am I a schmoozer or party-goer, so my "career" is probably not what it could be in terms of publicity and promotion, but I would rather make more work, while I still can, than go out and hustle it.

I spent decades keeping a time sheet for other people's projects and for a couple of years, I tried to track my own studio time, thinking it would help me to organize that time better. What I have found is that it is better for me just to work and let the priorities announce themselves in their own inimitable way. "Taxes" comes to mind. Some of the systems for bookkeeping and correspondence that I learned over the years have informed my studio management, but I try not to be governed by them.

And, a postscript: never underestimate the amount of time it takes to write a website.

Anonymous said...

Even if your art-making time is just a sliver of the pie, if it feeds your soul, it's worth a whole pie that doesn't......

Rico said...

Great post!

Joanne Mattera said...

Anonymous makes an interestng point, which I'd like to discuss for a moment. S/he says, Even if your art-making time is just a sliver of the pie, if it feeds your soul,it's worth a whole pie that doesn't . . ."

My point--and perhaps I should have made it better--is that I'm feeding not just my soul but putting food on the table. I'm paying my bills, supporting myself from my art. Art school in the years before this millennium never addressed the need for artists to think about what happens beyond the studio--that it's not enough to make the work but to find a way to get it out into the world.

I think if I had understood early on that making the art is just a small piece of the pie, I would have made peace earlier with the idea of those different slices.

Daniel Sroka said...

My art-making slice is actually quite small, with the bulk of my time going to either marketing my work, or running my business (which is directly related to my art). But this works for me. Even though I only spend a small amount of time making art, it's intense, more like espresso instead of drip coffee. When I have spent more time on my art, it quickly overwhelms me and burns me out. My challenge is to embrace this pattern as being valid for me -- to ignore the moments of self-doubt when I fear I'm not making enough art.

Joanne Mattera said...

Art as espresso. Love that!

Stephanie Sachs said...

Try not to count my hours and keep it organic but I would not be surprised if 1/3 of the time is in the studio. I question whether more time in the studio would be more productive.
At college I absorbed the idea that the social aspects of being an artist are to be resented and avoided. Once I got over that it was surprising that they were enjoyable.
When you do not look at the other 2/3rds as tasks they become part of a great lifestyle.
But like you Joanne, I still have not learned the beauty in bookwork and taxes.

nemastoma said...

My late husband, the painter Eugene Martin, always put his art first, come what may. When he was young, in the 1960’, he would take a job that didn’t take much mental effort, such as being a janitor. Something that wouldn’t bog his mind so as to remain fresh to create his art. In the late 60’s, in Washington DC, he decided to become an full-time artist. Until we got married in 1988, he had friends who saw how sincere he was with his art and who would let him crash or stay in their place for long periods of time. What he gave his friends in return for the rent and help was lots of good and wise advice, a good ear, works of art. I wish most artists nowadays have friends and people who believe in their art like the friends Eugene had.

Of course, the upshot is that, by concentrating on only one slice of the pie, he was able to remain a very prolific artist throughout his career. But because he always created outside of any type of art networking, he thus has remained relatively unknown as an artist.

I guess it's very rare for an artist to have it all and to be able to make the slice for creating larger and larger relative to the other more mundane aspects of being an artist. Ironically, it seems that the more opportunities exist online to help out with promoting one’s art, the more pressure and distraction there is today to keep up with it all, and the less time an artist actually has to focus on his/her art. An artist today doesn’t have the luxury Eugene had of feeling “successful” as an artist by fearlessly making it his mission in life to create day in and day out and to accept any consequence, good or bad. Today, fear reigns.

Supria Karmakar said...

You know it is so funny and true, ..your post brought a smile to my face and a heartfelt sigh of connection...knowing that others feel and go through this same process.....

....I recently (two years ago now) gave up an executive director job where I was working crazy hours...driving at least 2.5 hours a day to get to work and delve into an artist career full-time...I spend just about the same amount, if not more time growing this new career...LOVE IT TO BITS....spend more time marketing, networking, etc..However, I feel the true joys of creating the art I do when I am in the studio...and it is ALL worth it...there is nothing better that pursuing the gifts that you were given to share with others and to live your passion daily. We are all better for it...I truly believe is a daily testament in my mind of living authentically...
Great post, thanks for sharing this post.

Amber George said...

Loved this post. It's about the same for me, about 1/3 of my time is spent actively painting and the rest is all of the other stuff, marketing, packaging work, making paint, etc. I cycle between painting every day for weeks on end and times where I don't paint much at all. I've begun to answer the question "how long does it take you to paint a painting?" a little differently because of it. I'm actually naming all of of those other business related tasks in my response because without all of that other work the paintings would not be seen outside of my studio.

kathy casey said...

I just found your blog through Twitter and Deborah Colter. Really loved your post on Reciprocity and also this current post. I was just musing about this exact thing the other day on my blog...although not as eloquently. (new to the whole thing). Glad to have found you and looking forward to reading your posts.

anne mcgovern said...

These Monday posts are such a gift for all artists, but especially emerging artists such as myself.

Tim McFarlane said...

My art-making slice is smaller than I'd like. Besides making and marketing my work, I have to devote a bunch of energy to balancing the 'day job', and home life.

If I were to be able to completely ditch the other job, I'd probably have a little more time to make work, but not too much. I'm looking forward to finding the right situation where i can work only for myself with my art-making.

Thank you for these 'Marketing Mondays' posts. Lots of food for thought... said...

Interesting (coincidence)

Since graduating from Marywood University with my MFA- where I focusing on encaustic and its abundant malleability, I have been in hard pursuit to market myself. However, this is becoming ever more increasingly difficult with economic woes; I will spare the details. Of course I would never expect to just dive completely right in and expect to be able to support myself solely on my art. One has to build connections and all; while looking for some, any type of employment, then balancing the whole mess. Of course this doesn’t leave much of the “pie” for making art, working small/intimate works helps to fill the void; but I have never been one to work large. Like pie, it is difficult to make.

Eva said...

This is a great post. I am asked often: How's your art going? ... As if the making of art is the sum-total of what being an artist is all about. And then you find it difficult to answer the question because even though you may have worked all day long, you didn't paint. But what the heck, I just have to say "The art is going fine, thanks!"

Sheree Rensel said...

My rainbow pie chart would be chopped all up with a few slices devoted to painting time. However, I know myself well. If I lived in a perfect world and had a magic fairy take care of all my other business in order to allow me to devote ALL my time to painting, I couldn't do that. For me it would be like giving blood every day for a year. I would become anemic before the year's end. I would collapse in a creative heap! In other words, I need time to gather information, live life, and replenish my energy in order to physically and mentally paint. I think we all need a few pie slices unrelated to painting time!

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks, Sheree for your giving-blood analogy. I think we can all agree that we don't want to paint 24/7.

Now, who's actually in favor of desk work? ;-)

Sheree Rensel said...

Your desk work question reminds me that we need to have balance in our lives. When I get on one of my computer job jags, the lower half of my body goes numb! This is when I know it is time to go paint! LOL LOL

sharonA said...

Joanne, I'm a little late to the conversation as it took me a while to respond, but thank you for bringing up such a vital part of being an artist (the way we divide our time)!

Julie Caves said...

Thanks for the great post Joanne!
I have heard the amount as low as 15% for "creative time", for people who spend a large proportion on fabrication in the dull sense of grunt work.
Non-artists, new artists and hobby artists are always surprised that art as a business has so much business in it. I think the biggest surprise is the idea that trading a day job for an art business you still have the same amount of time to create.

@Eva Glad the art is going fine! :-)