Character is the quality that makes you who you are, but that doesn’t mean it’s set in stone. You can work on forming your character, making your strengths stronger. Being talented is a great gift, but also just a seed if you don’t nurture it. If you can learn to see your talent and your creativity as just a starting point, it will help you look for paths that will take you further. Your goals can only be reached through developing your character traits; it will require persistence as well as having a strategy.

Being a creative entrepreneur is a two-way street: you will need to send things out into the world, and also be prepared for what the world throws back at you. So, communication is a skill you need to practise. Not everyone is outgoing naturally, but you can learn how to better communicate with your audience and clients. As for what the world throws at you, it’s all about perspective. Critical feedback can be a great learning tool; if you can condition yourself to handle it the right way, it will help strengthen your character as well as your art.

If you choose an artistic profession, chances are you’re pretty creative (or a gifted craftsman). But, do you also think of ways to apply that creativity beyond your work, into the running of your artistic business? Creativity is key to entrepreneurship, too. It can for example be used to find novel ways to reach a target audience, solve time and budget constraints.

How can you use your creativity to make a living as an artist? By using the same technique that you (knowingly or unknowingly) use to make art.

Start off with a nice and narrow question, for example:
How can I make money with my art?

“To keep creative, the most important thing is the desire to always learn and not settle for what you already know.”
Francisco Alcántara
Architect, Spain

“Hard work beats talent if talent doesn’t work hard.”
—Tim Notke, high school basketball coach, USA

Talent is highly overrated. If you stop and think about it, it’s absolutely clear that the most talented people in the world are not necessarily the most successful ones. And more importantly, the most successful ones aren’t the most talented.

If you’ve ever heard a live performance by Madonna, or another megastar, you know it’s not all about having the best voice. The same goes for most jobs. We don’t live in a meritocracy. At least, not the way you think. You need a lot more than talent to succeed. For starters, you’ll need talent, perseverance and strategy. This chapter elaborates on this holy trinity.

Let’s start with talent, ‘cause that part is short and sweet. You were born with certain talents. But that raw talent is just the seed; it won’t grow unless you nurture it. You’ve got to develop your talent for it to be worth anything. So, get to work.

This brings us to perseverance. Perseverance is all about putting in the work. No matter what you’re trying to learn, trial and error is a necessary part of the process. Whether you’re learning to walk, play an instrument, or design a website, the ability to persevere through failure is a must. It’s better in all these instances to realise that you’re in the process of learning, and not get so caught up with the current result. The same is true for starting a business. Most entrepreneurs that we now think of as successful talk about the many failures on their path to getting there. As the American inventor Thomas Edison put it: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” So get out there and sweat! Perseverance is key to success.

The third part of the holy trinity of success is strategy. Simply put: how do I go about things? If your goal is to become wildly popular with your work, how do you put your talents and hard work into action to achieve that goal? There are all kinds of strategic decisions to be made in production, for example by choosing materials that are inexpensive or luxurious, as well as in sales and marketing, such as in setting your price point and deciding how and where to promote your work.

If you want to make a living with your art, you’ll need to have talent, the grit to persevere through hard times, and a good strategy to carry it out.

“Nothing happens overnight. It’s not
one moment of glory, it’s a gradual process.
Every step of the way is important.”
Melissa Henderson
Visual Artist, Sweden
“You are the best expert of your own story.”
Milla Edén
Yoga Instructor and former Choreographer, Finland

An outgoing personality can absolutely come in handy when you want to get your career moving, but not all of us are comfortable being the life of the party. For some, talking about yourself and your work is downright unpleasant. Well, there are other ways to get noticed, but sooner or later, you’ll have to be able to express yourself verbally. Start by challenging yourself to talk about your work and practise your pitch. It’s all about confidence, and if you don’t have it you can build it.

First, realise you have something to say. No matter what kind of creative work you’re doing, whether visual art, music or otherwise, there is meaning and personality in your work that deserves to be heard. Also, nobody knows your story better than you, so start believing in the power of telling your own perspective.

Next, start tailoring your talk to your audience. Depending on who you are talking to, you might want to change your tone and style, so imagine you are presenting your work to people of different profiles and how you’d need to adjust your message for each of them. For example, start with people you are comfortable with, like your neighbour, your fellow students, your friends. Then, move on to people you don’t know, or who intimidate you. The key is to be able to explain the core of your story in a way that is suitable for the person(s) listening. Why is it relevant for them? How do you engage them in your story?

From here, you’ll be able to work on your delivery. Make a video recording of yourself speaking to see how it comes across to other people. Pay attention, for example, to how often you say “um”, how you use your hands and what your body language is saying.

Then, practise till you’re comfortable. Public speaking is often ranked as people’s number one fear, so just remember that being afraid is a perfectly normal reaction. A little nervousness will turn into adrenaline and keep you sharp, so embrace it. Your body is trying to help you. But to avoid turning into a nervous wreck, the best thing to do is to practise, practise, practise, ask for feedback and practise some more. This will help you to get truly comfortable, so that you can let go, let your personality shine through and even crack a joke when it’s needed. In the end you will be ready to look your audience in the eye and come across as the expert you are.

You can also be heard (and seen) without talking directly to a person, for example on your website and on social media. Make sure you have a presence that reflects the meaning and personality of your work.

You have something to say, so don’t mumble (literally nor figuratively). Speak up about your work and yourself.

“Find the one thing
that you are better
at than anybody
Kathrine Windfeld
Pianist and Composer, Denmark

Other rappers diss me. Say my rhymes are sissy. Why? Why? Why? What? Why exactly? What? Why? Be more constructive with your feedback, please, why?

—Flight of the Conchords, Comedy Duo, New Zealand

It can be quite daunting to invite criticism, but the ability to handle criticism well is a sign of an evolved human being. If you harness criticism as a tool to make you stronger and better at what you do, you will invite it. Wholeheartedly.

Growing up, most of us learn through encouragement and lessons from our parents and teachers. Hearing only encouragement may help you build confidence but will not necessarily stimulate you to develop yourself and your work, nor will accepting all the lessons from your parent or teacher at face value. It’s important to learn to invite feedback and embrace criticism, and to hear it with your own critical ear, rather than take it all in as truth. When it comes to criticism, the one giving it is not necessarily right (or wrong). It is simply a unique new view on your work from a perspective that you yourself can never obtain.

To better invite criticism, first, accept that you do not know everything and that it is impossible to do everything perfectly. Insight on your work from others might very well be helpful.

Second, accept that you are responsible for your own work. No matter what anyone else might say, you have the final decision and responsibility for which feedback you allow to influence your work. Accepting feedback doesn’t make your work less ‘yours’.

Third, understand that feedback is not about you, but about your work. Observe the feedback neutrally, take notes, and later you can determine which points to adopt and which to reject. Don’t justify or explain; rather, use the opportunity to make sure you understand what someone means. Ask to clarify, not to defend.

One day, if you’re lucky, a professional critic will review your work—and it may not be good. This is something that you cannot control when you put your work into the public eye, and their words might hit you extra hard when you realise that this criticism will have further reaching implications. This is when it’s important to remember that being reviewed is positive in itself. The critic has invested time and energy in your art, and has then published their findings about your work, increasing its visibility and also causing it to be discussed in relation to other works. You don’t have to agree with any of it; treat it as an opportunity to better understand the world into which your art fits.

“If you need to make money out of your art you have to consider what other people think.”
Tobias Granbacka
Pianist, Finland