A Few Minutes with Adam Clague
The Seventh in an Artist Daily Exclusive Series:
The Realities of Fine Art as a Career
What did you find most surprising about being a professional painter?
How far ahead I have to plan my calendar to keep up the necessary momentum. If I wait until my last scheduled event to plan more, I lose serious speed. I recommend scheduling workshops, competitions, events, and yes, even painting time at least six months in advance. This way, if one endeavor fails to bring profit, you still have other prospects on the horizon.
What did you find most difficult about starting a professional career?
Getting the momentum started in the first place! In the beginning, I felt like I was shouting, but no one was hearing. I simply wasn’t connecting with my target audience. One powerful way to reach audiences is through social media. Posting helpful, interesting content three times a day on your Facebook page will eventually cause a noticeable increase in activity and viewers. I also recommend attending big art events as much as possible (show openings, etc.), to start friendships with gallery directors, collectors and other artists. Even in this day and age, face-to-face networking is vital. At first, gaining momentum can be difficult, but once you get the ball rolling, it gets easier.
Do you recommend having another source of income while launching a professional career?
A part-time job may be necessary, as new businesses often make little or no profit in their formative years. However, if you can afford it, consider avoiding a full-time job so you can have more time for painting. This will require your art to carry part of the burden of your required income, which will help you “test the waters” before diving into art full-time.
Do you believe gallery representation is still the best way to go?
Galleries are great, as long as they are excited to show your work and have a good collector base. However, gaining gallery representation does not automatically bring “I’ve made it” status. Certainly, seek representation by a few good galleries, but I suggest you also consider entering competitions and teaching workshops. These can be great sources of income. I’ve found it’s wise to rely on more than one revenue stream, in case one dries up for a time.
What are the hidden pressures of fine art that most of us are not aware of?
A fine artist’s income comes in spurts, sometimes with “dry” spells in between. This can be a bit scary. Since I started my journey as a full-time artist, my faith has often been tested. However, God has always been faithful to provide more than my wife and I need.
How prepared were you for the business side of fine art–record keeping, gallery contacts etc.?
I was ill-prepared. I’ve learned the business side as I’ve gone along–and I am still learning!
What do you wish you had known about the art business before you started?
I kept hoping for that “big break” that would catapult me to success. However, big breaks are extremely rare in the fine art business. Most professional artists gain success very gradually, with a long series of “little breaks.” Learning this truth has helped me view my less-profitable ventures in the proper light–as just par for the course!
How much of your time is devoted to the business of art?
Probably about half.
How would you describe your normal work day?
I always start my day with prayer and Bible reading. Being a self-employed artist can be challenging, and I’ve come to realize I can’t do it on my own. Then, I usually like to get all of my business items out of the way, so I can focus on painting without other responsibilities looming over me. However, I sometimes like to start the day with painting. I do this for variety and to take advantage of more daylight hours. Once I’ve put in around eight hours in the day, I stop working. Sometimes I’m tempted to work longer, but I try to discipline myself to keep my work time limited. This helps me devote time to the other important things in life like faith, family, and yes, even a bit of recreation!
With all the other obligations of a professional, do you have enough time to paint?
I never feel like I have enough time to paint, but I’d probably still feel that way even if my work day consisted of nothing else! I have to be very protective of my painting time, as other duties–marketing, communication, framing, shipping, etc.–can sometimes take up too much time if I’m not careful.
What is the best advise you could offer an aspiring fine artist?
Don’t give up! I’ve seen aspiring artists get discouraged much too easily or even quit altogether when their expectations are not met. Pace yourself and realize you are in it for the long haul, through thick or thin. Don’t expect a windfall from any single venture. Successes are few and gradual, amidst many unprofitable endeavors. I say this not to discourage, but rather to give a realistic view of a professional artist’s life. Dream your future big, but live your present prudently. The desire and ability to share beauty with others is a gift and a calling worth pursuing. Please stick with it!
Adam Clague received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Pensacola Christian College under the mentorship of Brian Jekel. It was during his studies that Adam met his wife and fellow painter, Andrea Orr Clague. The couple now lives near Kansas City, Missouri and enjoys pursuing art together. Adam’s work has received national honors, and the artist enjoys sharing what he has learned through teaching regular workshops. Adam’s goal is to create art that edifies his viewers and directs them upward. He strives to share the beauty he sees with others and seeks to glorify the Lord through his work and life. For more information, visit Adam’s website.