THE INSPIRATION PLACE PODCAST
Hey there. This is Miriam Schulman and you’re listening to episode number 80 of the Inspiration Place podcast. Today’s episode is sponsored by the Artist Incubator. If you’re wondering how to skyrocket your success as a professional artist step-by-step, and if you’re ready to start investing in your art career, you’re in the right place. I’ve done it and I can show you how to do it too using the Passion to Profit framework. To learn more, go to schulmanart.com/biz.. That’s B-I-Z.
It’s the Inspiration Place podcast with artist Miriam Schulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place podcast. An art world insider podcast for artists by an artist where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art. And now your host, Miriam Schulman.
Well, hello. This is your host, Artist Miriam Schulman, and you’re listening to episode number 80 of the Inspiration Place Podcast. I am so thrilled that you’re here. Now as you might guess, I spent a lot of time talking to artists both inside my Artist Incubator, which is my small group coaching program for artists who want to make a living with their art, as well as art students inside the Inspired Insiders’ Club, which is mostly for those who just want to become a better artist. Of course, I talked to a lot of artists who have taken advantage of my free Passion to Profit strategy calls.
Now, what I thought would be super interesting today is to share how I got started, which you might feel like you’ve heard before, but what I’m talking about is not generally speaking how I got started, but very specifically. So today I’m going to share with you stories of the first time I took money for my art, which was when I was still a student in college. And just to remind you, those of you who haven’t listened to all my podcasts, I have not been working as a professional artist since that time. I was in corporate before I declared myself a full time professional artist. But before we get into these stories, I wanted to tell you about my free Passion to Profit strategy calls, because I know there are a lot of people who are interested, but they’re afraid to apply, or they’re worried about what exactly happens on this call.
So if that’s you, let me explain to you how these calls work. They’re basically a five-part call, and it’s not really a sales call, you get a lot of value from it. Here’s what happens. First, I pretend to wave around a magic wand. Usually it’s whatever magic marker happens to be lying on my desk. I actually say bibbidi-bobbidi-boo for real. And then I ask you to imagine what your art fantasy looks like. So if I could wave a magic wand and all your dreams came true, what would you be doing? Would you be painting every day? Would you have a studio, a gallery? Where would you be living? Are you painting on the beach, the mountains, a city loft? And of course, since it’s mostly a business call, how much money would you be making? All those things. You talk and I listen.
Next, you share with me what your art world really looks like. So how many art sales do you have? Do you have to supplement your art sales have another job? And then we talk about the struggles. So what’s holding you back from where you are now to where you want to go? And we all have struggles. So you’re not alone. It’s not to shame you. You share, I listen, and we talked about what’s keeping you in the gap from your present reality, to soaring to your wildest dreams. So in these calls, I do a lot of listening. But in part four, I share with you the steps that you need to take from where you are now to where you want to go. So basically, we talk about what your roadmap needs to be. And then part five of the call, based on what we’ve talked about, if it makes sense to both of us, and I’ll ask you first before I go into it, I’ll share with you the ways that I can help you get to where you want to go. That’s it. No hard sales pitch. If you’re right for the program, and you still want to hear about it, then I’ll tell you.
So if you want me to take a look at your art business and help you map out the steps that you need to take, all you have to do is apply. Go to schulmanart.com/biz., that’s schulmanart.com/biz.. And if for whatever reason based on your answers, I see you’re not going to get value from the call, then that’s when I’ll send you a personalized email with the steps that I think would better support where you’re at. Just so you know, my criteria for selecting whether or not you’ll receive a call from me, or whether or not you’ll get value from the call with me, has little to do with the quality of your art, because that’s completely subjective. What I’m basing it on is I’m reading what you say about it. I’m looking to see if you’re ready to receive my advice.
Although, I do accept calls from artists who are step one in your art business. And of course, I talked to plenty of people in step two and three, just so you know. If I feel that you’re actually at a step zero because of your mindset, because you’re not even ready to call yourself an artist or you’re not ready to commit to it fully, that’s when I most likely will send you an email instead. So it’s never about me judging you and your artwork. Honestly, this podcast is going to be all about my step zero. So if that’s you, listen up. And if you’re further along, whether you’re at step 1, 2, 5, or 10, I don’t know how many steps there are, but you’re curious about my journey, then this episode is for you as well. And by the way, if you’re wondering what the catch is with these strategy calls, I call them the Passion to Profit Strategy Calls, there really isn’t one.
First of all, I get some of my best ideas talking to my podcast listeners during these conversations. And many of the people who join me in the call do go on to join my program, so it’s always a win. So now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s get on with the show. During one of my Inspired Insider monthly meetings, I was asked about the first time I asked for money for art. So the students name was Chris, of course, I’m not going to share her full name but Chris is such a common name. Chris wanted to know, how did I get started?
What is the process? I really don’t know. I volunteer for things free, but then I kind of get tired of it. I didn’t want to give things away, takes a lot of time to create. A couple people have asked to buy things and I’m like, now what do I do?
Just so you know, I get asked this question a lot. I recognize it’s really a fear-based question. Because here’s the thing, to get started, all you have to do is really just ask people to pay you for your art. That’s really it. There really isn’t anything else to it. It’s not more complicated than that and people trying to make it more complicated. So what people are really asking me is to explain what to do exactly so they know what baby steps to take so they won’t fail along the way. But it just doesn’t work that way. No matter how good the strategy is I give, you’re not going to be willing to take it until you are ready to fail along the way.
Nobody gets from 0 to 10 in anything. Anything. Whether it’s art, business or something else, nobody gets there without falling. Think about the Olympians, and they still fall in the Olympics. Everybody falls, everybody fails along the way. You have to be willing to fail your way to success. That’s why I always bring up that analogy of a baby learning how to walk. The baby can’t ask his mother, hey, mom, how do I walk? Because I don’t really want to fall. The baby wants to walk and they will do it, and they will fail, and they will fall, and they will be willing to happily fall down along the way. Now I know that’s not the answer you were looking for.
I know my students really want me to wave a magic wand and make their art fantasies come true. And tell them exactly what prices to ask and what to do. I can take a pretty good educated guess about it because I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I might be right and I might be wrong. Art is so subjective. There are so many factors from where the venue you’re selling it at, what the subject is of your art, how its presented, who the customer is, the affluence of the particular market you’re selling, all of these things come together. Really though, the value of the art a lot of that comes down very individual to the artists. How much confidence that he or she has to be willing to ask for what it’s worth and see the value. See the value in their art and see the value in themselves.
So what I’m sharing with you today, really, I’m trying to turn the clock back to where I was when I was still zero, my step zero. I want to turn the clock back to when I took those first baby steps. So let me set the stage. When I went off to college back in 1986, I was on financial aid. Not a full scholarship as my mother did have some money set aside for me and my sister from my dad’s life insurance policy. My father passed away when I was five, and her second marriage hadn’t worked out. So I was from a single parent household. I chose this college for truly the shallowest of reasons. My father had gone there and it was an Ivy League school. I saw this as my best chance to get into the most prestigious school possible.
I wrote this truly violin playing a heartbreaking email to … Not email. They didn’t have email then. Essay, heartbreaking essay for the admissions application about how the school was my legacy and how I didn’t know my father and all these things were true. But I mostly did it because I knew this was my best chance to get in. So that was why I went there. And I went there as an engineering major. I was not an art student. I was not in art school. And my tuition was covered, thanks to the endowment of the school and my mom’s savings. But part of my financial aid package was, not only did I have student loans, which of course I had to pay back when I graduated, but I also had to work. I did work-study.
Now I think work study is a fantastic program. Basically the way it works, I’m assuming they still have it, but the way it worked was that it was up to me to find a job, usually on campus that qualified for work study. And then the financial aid office would grant the money to the employer to pay me. Now recently, I actually heard my mom telling the story, and of course, she got it all wrong. She said, you had to work in the cafeteria, but your sister Amy always had interesting jobs. And that’s my mom, always trying to stir up drama. And my sister did have interesting jobs. But for the record, I never worked in the cafeteria. The luckiest kids, at least I thought the luckiest kids, got jobs in the libraries and they were able to do their homework at the same time.
I hate to admit it, but my absolutely favorite work-study job I had was not one of the art jobs that I’ll be talking about in a moment. But it was actually the few semesters I worked checking IDs at the college weight room. You can imagine how fun that was for a 20-year-old boy obsessed college girl. Similarly, fun job I had was when I worked in the student center at the information desk. Fun fact, I also got to see the cutest boys in that job because many of them liked to eat in that crunchy granola cafe that was part of the college students center. And one of them was Andy Shue who ended up with a role on Melrose Place. I don’t know if any of you remember that show. He was so cute. And back then, my girlfriends and I treated him like a celebrity.
He wasn’t even on the show yet. Just so you know. He didn’t have the show till way after we graduated, but he was so cute. One of my friends knew his exact eating schedule. So she would grab me to sit with her so she could stare at him. She called him 4% because of his low body fat. Yeah, he was super cute. Anyway, back to the topic. As part of the student center job, I also got to decorate the bulletin board that advertised all of the events. In addition, not part of the pay job, I also was a member of the student government, the student organization that came up with the student events. So my job as part of that group was publicity. So I made posters that advertise these events, and I would hand-letter much to them and even add illustrations.
By the way, just want to let you know that next week, my guest on the show is Mye De Leon. She is a professional hand-lettering expert who’s gotten corporate commissions for hand-lettering jobs. And we’re talking about getting paid between, like anywhere from 5 to 10,000, sometimes more. So if you want to learn how you can get started making money with hand-lettering, make sure you tune in next week. We’re also co-hosting a masterclass called How To Make Money With Hand-Lettering. It’s going to be on March 25th. So Mark your calendar to save the date. I think it’s a little too early to sign up now. But we’re definitely going to be sharing that info soon. So look for it. And to make sure you don’t miss this episode on lettering, subscribe to the podcast.
Now, just you know, this is not the same thing as subscribing to my email. You subscribe directly to whatever app it is on your phone, and subscribing to the podcast is free and it’s easy. And the app is free too, by the way. So if you usually wait until I tell you there’s a new podcast, either because you’ve seen it on Instagram or you get my email or you get any other kind of notification. You can actually have your phone deliver the episode to you as soon as it’s available, so you’ll never have to miss one.
All you have to do is go to your smartphone and enter schulmanart.com/iTunes. If you have an iPhone, Apple Podcasts will open up that app. If you have an Android, I’m told that Google Play actually opens. So don’t worry if you don’t have an iPhone, it should still work. Once you have the podcast app open, and by the way, I’m also on Spotify, just hit the purple subscribe button to subscribe. I believe it’s follow on Spotify. I forget what it is on Google Play and you’ll be all set. All right. Now back to 20-year-old me.
So while I was working for the student center, I learned that they have a budget for paying artists to create artwork. And the artists they paid were commercial artists, professional commercial artists, not students. So I decided I wanted a piece of that. Now, I was making some of these posters anyway, so I might as well get paid for it. So it was up to me to be proactive and to speak up and tell them that I was work-study eligible, because if I wasn’t, I couldn’t get paid for it. I think at a certain point, by the way, I don’t think I was allowed to be both volunteer, essentially, on the student governing board as well as getting paid for publicity. But that was okay by me.
Now, if you’re wondering how much I got paid and how that worked, I’m 51. So 30 years ago, who really remembers. Even if I did remember exactly how much I got paid, it was the 80s, so the numbers aren’t even going to make sense anymore. But basically, I was getting paid at the same rate that I was getting paid for any of my other jobs. I think it was hourly. It was enough for me. I had a little spending money and I must have been charging less than the graphic artist that the college usually turned to. Because I was also asked to design a shirt for the engineering school. I was kind of, sort of an engineering major. Well, actually, I never completed that degree. I took so many art history classes that senior year, I did have to change my major at art history, modified with engineering science, but I was part of that world and a lot of people knew me there.
Yeah, I did not go to art school, and I wasn’t even an art major at my college. Here’s the point. Early on, I learned that art, illustration, lettering, all those things, these are things that people are willing to pay for, which doesn’t mean I always knew when and how to ask for money, or found what the upper limit was on how much I could ask. If you’ve been listening to my podcast, you know that’s something you always need to keep testing, testing higher prices, raise your prices, see if people are willing to pay for it. Then you know. When I was a senior, I actually put on an art show in the new engineering building. But I was so naive at the time, I didn’t put prices on anything. In fact, it didn’t even occur to me. Isn’t that funny?
So I was charging for the commissions, essentially, that I was doing, the illustrations I was doing. I saw that as work but I hadn’t quite made the leap of, wait a minute, people actually want this art too. So I was a little bit surprised when I had the art show and a student asked me how much one of my drawings was. He told me like a friend wanted to buy it but clearly he wanted to buy. So he said he wants to buy it. At least that’s what he said. I had no idea. I made up some what I believe now is probably an outrageous price. I told him it was $500 and this was in 1990. This was an unframed pastel on paper, just so you know. He did not pay me $500 for it, maybe because he knew I wasn’t serious, and maybe he wasn’t serious either. And I didn’t give it away.
But here’s the thing. I never felt that I had the luxury to give my art away. There were actually times during my senior year, when my dining dollars went out. And in order to eat, I would go to faculty lectures just for the food and donuts. I mean, it was tight, things were tight. I needed the money. When I associated my art was working, I wasn’t going to give that away for free. Now, notice when that boy asked me about the art, I did come up with a price. I did not say, that you can have it if you want it. I don’t really want it or it’s not really for sale. I didn’t say that. I did come up with the price. I actually held on to that art for many years. In fact, I can’t remember if I ended up selling it or not during my eBay days when I was selling anything that wasn’t nailed down. But there is some art from college still in my mother’s basement.
There were definitely missteps along the way. Definitely times I fell, definitely times I failed. If you know my story, you know it would be many more years before I did commit myself to becoming a full time professional artist. But right now, what I want to do is share with you that art show. It’s a little bit of a long story, but you’re a really good listener, and I think it’s important that I share it with you. Before I get into it, I do want to warn you, it’s not exactly PG. It’s probably PG-13. The reason I’m saying this is because I don’t use any bad words, you know that. Sometimes my guests do and I don’t like to censor anybody. But just in case you’re in the car and you’re listening with the little ones, if that’s you, this might be an episode that you pause now and listen to later when you have a more private moment. The content is a little more mature than what I normally share on this podcast.
When I arrived as a naive 17-year-old freshman at Dartmouth, I saw a sign hanging up in the Student Center for life drawing. It was like an extracurricular life drawing class, and I had no idea what life drawing meant. Because in high school, I didn’t do any art classes and I just didn’t know. I thought it had something to do with still life. That’s why I was surprised when the bearded man climbed on the platform and dropped his robe. Yeah. Oh, no. I thought to myself, I can’t do this. I won’t look. I’m just going to draw his face, his beard. So I started drawing. And then I realized, oh no, this looks like my mother’s boyfriend. My mother’s boyfriend, Frank. Don’t think that, I thought to myself, he’s naked. I did not want to know what my mother’s boyfriend looked like naked. I’ve never seen one before.
Actually, that wasn’t completely true. There was another boyfriend, not Frank, another boyfriend my mother had when I was six years old. And he asked if I wanted to see it. Looking back, I think I must have wanted to because I looked. I stood there transfixed. It was at eye level and I looked. I think my mother knew what was happening but pretended not to know. Once my sister told me she touched it when we climbed into our mother’s bed one morning. So there I was in the college art studio for this extra curricular life drawing class I had signed up for. A hairy, naked man with permission to look. But this time I had the power, I had a choice. I could look or not look. The act of drawing him, though, felt intimate and almost dirty. As I stroked the page, rubbing the dark dust and shading the contours, looking but not looking, touching but not touching.
My mother knew. One time in the garage when George’s pants were down. She called out to ask what he was doing. I wish she had just come in to see for herself. But on this day, the bearded man on the page came to life. His face, his beard, his shoulder, and that’s where I ended the drawing. Because this time, this first day, I didn’t look. And that’s how I took back my power. Over the years in college, I did return to that art studio many times to draw. It was fairly cheap for the strop and drawing class, maybe was $10 every time you came, and there wasn’t always a male model. Sometimes it was a young woman. And I would wonder and worry about the woman with the blonde braid and the dirty feet. And I wondered if she had to leave her fatherless children at home to compose for us in that art studio. These were all stories I made up in my mind, by the way.
But the pull to draw these people were enormous. In my mind, I made up stories for every one of them. And these made up narratives would of course, be intertwined with my own life stories. Did that older male model have enough to eat today? Was that young, black man actually a student? Perhaps this was his work study. And it wasn’t really sexual feelings I tended to explore during these drawing sessions. In fact, the story I made up for the young man, the young, black man who I thought might be on work study was that he was gay and in my mind, he surely was a theater major. But truth is, I never knew. You never talked to the models. They quietly robed and disrobed, took the breaks, always away from the artists, never talked to us.
By the time senior year rolled around, I had amassed quite a large art collection under my bed. No one saw these drawings. I would store them in between semesters, like over the summer in the dorm basement. However, it was senior year that I asked the handsome engineering student that I had a crush on if he wanted to come see my art, which of course was in my bedroom. And I offered to draw him. Let’s just say this was not a PG drawing nor was it a PG night. But the next day I learned he already had a girlfriend. One of those cute sorority girls who lived across the hall from me freshman year, who clearly had a lot more money and time and they probably could go do their little ski trips together.
Anyway, why am I sharing this? Well, this is actually when the idea to have an art show took hold. It started first as an idea in my mind that I would just hang up that one drawing of that boy in the engineering hall to humiliate him. To hang it up, to show them that I saw him naked. So his cute little girlfriend can see it. But I never did that. From that one vengeful idea, that vengeful fantasy, that grew and then evolved into a beautiful idea to have an art show. Now, I’ve mentioned this art show once in a prior episode, when I interviewed Gigi Rosenberg about getting art grants. See, putting on an art show, whether you’re paying for a juried fee to participate in a tented show hosted by somebody else, whether you’re hosting your own open studio, or you’re putting on a public art show like I wanted to do, there are expenses. And you remember, I’m on financial aid. I didn’t have extra money to finance this myself.
But with my work in the Student Center, I was savvy enough to know that I could get grants from not only the Student Center, but also from the fraternities and sororities who wanted to show that they were doing, this is “community service”. And so the sororities that wouldn’t have me as a member helped me pay for the reception. And the fraternities whose members never invited me to their formals, they paid for the publicity. They also paid for the flats so that I could hang up my artwork. They also paid for the matts that I cut myself using one of the workshops under the art studio in the Hopkins art workshop center. I just had to pay for the matting, which I got reimbursed for it with these grants.
None of the art was framed. I did not have the money for that. That would have driven my costs up enormously. I knew that. After all, it didn’t matter because I was basically modeling this art show, after the types of art shows I had seen done by the visual studies majors, the art majors. So their shows they simply tacked the art to these cork moveable walls. And these portable walls, by the way, during my reception in the opening, they were prominently displayed. But I would come in there sometimes in the morning and notice that they were pushed back into the dark corners of the hall probably when the dean got embarrassed or when there was somebody coming through. “You didn’t tell me these would be new drawings.” He chided me. “You didn’t ask.” I chuckled. So, yeah.
When that boy asked me how much I wanted for the drawing, $500. Wait, by the way, it wasn’t that drawing and it wasn’t that boy, but still. I put my blood sweat and tears into my art and I still do every single last one of them. I value my art because I value myself and I value the time I put into it. This episode was a heavy one. Thank you for listening today. To wrap up, I just wanted to remind you of a few things. First of all, you can apply for one of my free Passion to Profit strategy calls. If you want to profit from your passion, but you’re still struggling with the next step, whether that’s step one, two or three, I can help you.
Not only do I help my clients find the courage to declare themselves an artist and stop waiting for permission to have an art show or to ask money for the art. But I also teach them how to do this, how to make money with practical strategies that work. So to grab one of these Passion to Profit strategy calls, just go to schulmanart.com/biz. That’s schulmanart.com/biz. And of course, I’m linking to it in the show notes, schulmanart.com/80. Second of all, I just wanted to let you know one more time that next week I’m being joined by Mye De Leon. We’re talking about how to make money with hand-lettering. Make sure you tune into that so you won’t miss it. Subscribe to the podcast. So I’ll see you same time, same place next week. Make it a great one. Bye for now.
If you liked this episode, then you have to check out the Artist Incubator. It’s my small group program for emerging artists who want to make more money from their art. The program is by application only. To apply, go to schulmanart.com/biz. That’s biz as in B-I-Z. If you qualify for a free strategy session, you’ll get my eyes on your art business absolutely free, and we’ll discuss the steps you need to take to make 2020 your best year ever.
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