Make Art Make Money Make Time

A few months ago I finished one of the three best books I've ever read on the work life and business of being an artist, Make Art Make Money: Lessons from Jim Henson on Fueling Your Creative Career by Elizabeth Hyde Stevens. My other two favorites are Eric Maisel's Making Your Creative Mark: 9 Keys to Achieving Your Artistic Goals, a way to strategize the professional necessities of being a successful artist by looking inward and being honest about the challenges and Alyson B. Stanfield's I'd Rather Be in the Studio, a nuts and bolts guide to navigating the practical requirements of bios, artist statements, working with galleries, etc.  Each of these books fills a special need and has helped me be focused, but Make Art Make Money is one of the few books I've ever been a little sad to have finshed the way I'm sad when a fun event is over.

Steven's's book revolves around the exceptionally successful career of Jim Henson and explores the lessons all artists can learn from how Henson approached both creativity and business.  It is at once permission giving and enlightening.  What could spawning Kermit the Frog and a multimillion dollar puppetry business have to do with one of a kind metalsmithing, teaching, and a one woman small business?  You'd be surprised.  

The book is a very big picture look at Henson's decision making and determination in which the author does an exceptional job of relating those lessons to individuals like me.  How Henson handled copyright, balanced his creative process with cutting edge yet hippy business practices, tremendously evolved a centuries old art form to fit a new medium, and continually pitched his art are all key strategies for anyone who makes, writes, composes, or choreographs anything.  

In my life as an artist I had failed to recognize one hugely important lesson until reading the book.  In the soul sucking junior high and high school I went to, I learned that anything I wanted to learn and anything I wanted to do could only come as a reward aftert all the things I was supposed to do.  At the age of 12 I had 4-1/2 hours of busy work homework every night after 7 hours  and 15 minutes of being in a place I hated with only the occasional respite of an intelligent teacher and an interesting class.  

Eastern repousse bound, one of a kind, long stitch book 
Copper, hand lettered and mixed media over printed 
photo montages of original collages
5-3/8" long x 3-3/8" wide x 1-5/8" high
© 2011, V. Lansford $6200.
Featured in Lark Book's 500 Handmade Books, vol 2,
 juried by Julie Chen

I have long had a difficulty moving from the management side of work to the making side of of the studio before 3:30 in the afternoon. In the days before my son was born and in the days after he was born and I worked late into the night while he slept, it didn't matter so much, but with my ability to work in fine detail increasingly dependent on sunlight, this time divide is dreadful. I never associatd until reading Make Art Make Money that 3:30 was the time I got out of school and felt at least marginally more in control of my own time and life.

In short I learned in school to treat creativity as a reward instead of a way of being.  Bad lesson for someone who earns her living as an artist. (Talk about school not preparing kids for real life!) Doing the work that excites me when it excites me and not when I finally get a chance to squeeze it into the rest of my work is my ongoing goal.  


Since finishing the book, I've made it a habit at least 3 days a week to bypass the email inbox and the mammoth to-do list and head straight to my drawing table or bench as soon as I get into the studio. Some days, often the best days, this happens while I'm still in my pajamas. My overwhelming sense of responsibility and the 46 hats I wear as a small business owner are ever present. For my sanity (and the sanity of those nearby), making things comes first at work, knowing that I always come through on time on all the "have to's" of entrepreneurship the same way a Border Collie will always catch a frisby.



John said...

Always enjoy your thoughts, V, and can never resist to comment.
Your compulsive/obsessive side pushes you to be so slavishly organized and while your school days may have drilled it into you, my guess is it was already innate. Rituals are hard to change.
On the Henson side, while it is encouraging to find the ability to sell and market and monetize (I hate that word!) some of us just don't like to do it and it has little or nothing to do with whether we are capable of it. It's a side issue. That makes the money side of it (while essential) like eating up that creamed spinach. Good for you and all but I'd rather feed it to the dog.

Anonymous said...

I think I need to read this book. It can be difficult to make the time to draw, design or get your head into the real creative stuff when there are the administrative and other tasks related to being self employed. One of the hardest part of being self employed when your studio or shop is the same place where you live is to be more structured with your time and not let yourself get too strung out trying to do too many things in a day just trying to "run" the business. Part of that is doing just what it sounds like you are doing by being more diligent about stepping away from the computer/emails, turning the phones off and taking the time to focus on the creativity, which in turn will result in the generation of more creative work :) Will definitely get this book :)

victoria said...

John, I'm with you on the spinache. It wasn't so much about how Henson sold work as how his philosophy in business enabled him to make money. One of the key things he insisted on was keeping the copyright on characters even in his early work on commercials. He was later able to develop those characters into classic muppets. If he'd agreed on a different contract, he'd never have had those opportunities.

Debra, you nailed it on getting things done to run the business. That part feels like a 50 hour a week job! I'd love to hear your thoughts after you read the book.