One of my favorite mantras is BUSINESS = RELATIONSHIPS. My amount of followers isn’t huge and my bank account isn’t bursting from commission work yet, but most if not all of the money I’ve made from making art has come from relationships I’ve built over the years and within my local community in Baltimore, MD. Having tons of likes is great and who doesn’t want to be known by random humans all over the globe? As nice as that may be, it helps to start small and involve yourself locally: for me, I will always enjoy physical human interaction rather than anything online, so this is what’s worked for me over the years.
Define Your Brand
This is the center of everything: people have to know you’re a creator. As fun as it is to repost and share memes and other people’s art, you have to make the switch to making most of your posts about your own work. Naturally, that means that you have to be posting on a consistent basis and it may help to create non-art accounts so you can shitpost as much as you like when the day comes.
Your brand isn’t just going to be about the art you’re posting on social media.
How do you dress?
Do you have a website?
Folks need something to anchor you and essentially categorize you so that you stick in their mind for when they need something. This is a crucial thing to remember: If you want to make a living, you need to know what services you can fulfill for people.
Yea, it gets annoying if you’re into comics but people keep coming to you for tattoo designs, logos and flyers, but if you’re making a living creating, it’s worth weighing how you can match the needs of the demands while throwing in your own personal twist. That IS essentially what style is to some degree.
I will say from my own experiences that I have loosely been committed to building an art career for the past 7 years. My artistic growth hasn’t been astronomical, but many people have been watching me, even if they haven’t always engaged with my posts. As such, over the past 6 months, I was unexpectedly contacted by long-time friends locally and elsewhere in the US for commission work!
Make it known who you are and what you do. Sometimes I get contacted by people in Baltimore I don’t know because a friend told them that I’m an artist and I could possibly do a service for them. There are elements out of your control to some degree, but it works in your favor when you have a solid brand.
Take Inventory of Your Community
I don’t know how long Baltimore’s art scene has developing, but I decided to step in for some reason or another. May curiosity may have been piqued by the success of an art friend or two around these parts, so I decided to take a gander. Social media can definitely help with this: follow organizations, galleries, businesses and other creators that your local friends may be following and are involved with.
My close friend Novus Black/Greg was keeping up with The SAND Gallery, so I decided to follow them on Instagram to see what was up. It was the beginning of 2016, the gallery had recently opened and I was practicing sex illustrations since I was working on a sex-positive coloring book. Just my luck that they were looking for lust-related art work for February! I hit them up, got some prints made, framed them and then headed down to eventually meet my longtime partners and potential friends gallery creative director Kydd and the owner Milly. That has since led to me being represented by them and other opportunities.
Another member of The SAND Band, Maya/Camilla Tha Killa is apart of collective For Collard Girls and we vibed pretty well every time I stopped by. That relationship led to becoming their first guest on their podcast in February! Who knows what that may lead to as the months go by?
One reason or another, I found out about volunteer opportunities at Impact Hub Baltimore: it was a work-trade where I volunteer for 8 hours a week and get access to their highest membership that includes business mentorship, unlimited access to the space and pretty clutch event hosting options. As Impact Hub is a co-working space with that multiple businesses work out of, I get to talk and connect with the people who run their respective organizations on a weekly basis. What could this have led to?
Three major opportunities. For one, the wonderful community manager Christa connected me with Changing Media, a company centered around changing representation in advertising and media. I got two well-paying illustration jobs out of them and am in regular contact with one of the founders, who approached me the week before securing that I’m available for work.
My second opportunity is that I am able to display my BLK WMN’S ROAR poster at no charge in the space. Given how dynamic of an image it is, many members have asked about buying merchandise.
My third opportunity is with a recent organization that sells out of there. I talked to the founder and joked around with him for about a month or so and while we were talking, he mentioned that he had an idea or two for his business and he was looking for an illustrator. I hopped onto the opportunity immediately and told him what I do and gave him my website. We’re working on a t-shirt design together now.
Now this is clearly the long game approach to some degree, but at this point, I’ve embraced the notion that all of this is going to pay off exponentially as I embrace my business full-time and the weather improves, allowing my seasonal depression to lay off my brain power.
There’s much more I could throw out there, but I think this is enough to start with and digest. Be vigilant, constantly keep an eye out and get out of the damn house! In the long run, I do want to take my shot at success in Los Angeles, but until I get there, I want to make my mark in Baltimore so that shine carries me across the country and eventually around the world.