When I was in my full-time, marketing agency job I was considering making the leap. I proceeded to reach out others I admired that had ‘walked the walk’ for advice. One person who had a particularly great impact was another artist entrepreneur, Jennifer.
Jennifer Gough, is a multidisciplinary and contemporary abstract artist located in Kitchener, Waterloo. She has built a successful career in the art industry as an entrepreneur, artist, radio host, and most recently has been doing some acting! Her list of impressive achievements has come with many years of hard work and dedication.
Here is some of the advice I received from Jen, that helped me move forward on my creative entrepreneurship journey a little while ago, that I think would be useful to many creatives out there:
Quit Your Job:
As we settled into some comfy chairs in her gallery with red wine in hand, I asked her how to channel more creative energy. The first piece of advice she gave with a smile on her face, “well, I’d say first things first… is quit your job!” My jaw dropped and we both laughed. She went on to explain, obviously not everyone has the luxury to just up and quit their job- but if you are a creator and you are also working a job that is quite mentally taxing, it can drain a lot of your energy and leave no room for creating. For her, she was working full-time in a sales position in retail which was a high-stress and busy job. When she made the decision to pursue a career as an artist, she knew a big change had to happen to clear up a lot of that energy. So she quit her job and took up two part-time jobs (truck driving and a job at a local gallery). Both of which allowed her to pay the bills, and freed up a lot of her mental fatigue, to dedicate much more time toward creating, experimenting and networking in the art community. She said, if you do this, be sure that you can provide for yourself, cut as many unnecessary expenses as you can and push forward. She said, “it’s important not to be destitute, but to make enough to live and get by—otherwise the stress will affect your well-being and kill your creativity.”
Work On More Than One Piece:
Work, productivity, creativity and finding flow are some of the most difficult things to tap into when you experience mental or physical exhaustion, stress, creative blocks, etc. When I asked her how to overcome these sorts of things, she said something that was simple, yet extremely helpful. “When you get blocked on a piece, whatever it is and for whatever reason—do not beat yourself up trying to force it, trying to finish it. Just put that piece aside and start something new. Do not be afraid to work on multiple pieces at a time and if you get blocked again and again, keep cycling through these pieces.” By the time you finally finish for example those 3-5 pieces you were working on… the other benefit is now you have a series of paintings that might go really well together as a set. You can give them away, put them up on your wall, sell them or show them in a gallery. Whatever you choose- just don’t let a block on one piece prevent you from creating and moving forward.
Here is something that has been on my mind. The difficulty with putting a price tag on such personal work. Also having that confidence to put the work out there and not be discouraged by those who it may not connect with. Jen agreed, she said, “whenever you are creating something, you are putting all of yourself into it. Yes, art is subjective, but it is also extremely personal. Along with that comes fears and insecurities that you may not run into if you were, for example selling insurance policies or lawn mowers. With creative work, we have the tendency to attach our own identity to it in some shape or form, and that can be challenging, just in the act of sharing it. When attaching our brand or a price tag to making things that are so personal to us, the key thing you need is thick skin and confidence.”
She continued, “With that in mind, I would advise that you go into the world telling people that you are an artist (even if you have doubts, even if you are unemployed and are new at it, even if you feel you don’t know what you are doing some days).
Wear that identity proudly as armour. You are going to get all sorts of feedback, but what you need to know is that the art you create with love in your heart is the most important thing. Someone in the world is going to love it. And it is none of your business what people think, really. Your job, is to create things you love and to let them into the world as their own beings when you are done. Be confident, do what you believe in and that will radiate through you and your art. By doing this over and over, you will get to a state where feedback will not render you shattered, should someone not like a piece or have some unkind words to say. You are a warrior. Do not let others make you feel shame about yourself or your art. You are typically your worse critic as well. SO give yourself a break, be confident and enjoy every experience your creations bring you!”
YES. YES. I thought. We beat ourselves up far too often and need to be brave and step out into the world. Put good energy into the world, and it will come back.
Connect with The Community:
Another big part of stepping out and pursuing your dreams of creating? Connecting with your community. Jen remarked, “especially when starting out, it is important to have a support group, but also an honest dialogue with people about your work.
Networking is also the key to growing your business. Network, network, network. That means both in person and digitally. You cannot level up by doing everything behind a screen or tucked away from the world. Mingle, get your foot in the door and connect with your community. They will lift you and support you during this time, just as they did me.
Something else you may consider is doing a number of unpaid pieces or engagements in the early stages of your career. This helps you to gain exposure, connect with the right people and practice your craft.”
Take A Step Back, Breathe and Gain Perspective:
This is something everyone can relate to. Getting stuck, and feeling stressed. This was Jen’s advice to me, “When you get frustrated, stuck or stressed out- remember why you started. Why you do the things you do? Always remind yourself of this whether it is a picture, quote, letter, etc. because it will give you immense perspective. If you are working on a piece, and get stuck… I suggest looking at it from all angles, turn it, flip it, switch it. Look at it from as many perspectives you can to figure out what it is missing. Keep trying things like this and you will discover your process and what works for you. This is important and gruelling work, but that is because it matters. Keep the passion alive, by taking a breathe and a step back when you need it. Be kind to yourself, take a walk, have a drink, meet with friends or family. Step away and usually when you give yourself permission to do so… the perspective you need most will come to you.”
I had an incredible time meeting with Jen and picking her brain. She has worked so hard to get to where she is now and I am inspired by the way she continues to push herself and the creative envelope. Thank you Jen from myself and on behalf of all the creatives out there who I know will gain something from her advice.