A new course I’m teaching this semester is Advanced Computer Studio. Upperclassmen Fine Art, Photo, and Interior Design majors learn marketing skills, determine professional development goals, and brand themselves by creating a personal logo, business card, résumé, and portfolio website. These students will be ready for their post-graduate debut. But in the meantime, a lot of information is being thrown their way!
Since so many majors and post-graduate goals are represented in this one class, I thought it would be beneficial to invite a range of professional guests into the classroom to give direct advice to them.
Our first guests: Morgan Welch & Sarah Qarqish, the collaborative team behind The HannaBerry Workshop in Jackson, MS. Not only do they work together– they are engaged! They are makers of fine art and furniture. Visit their website HERE to check out their work and skills.
A little education background about them: They both graduated with their BFA a couple years ago from Mississippi State University. Morgan’s focus was sculpture. Sarah’s focus was graphic design and drawing. After graduation, Morgan worked with another sculptor, and Sarah worked at a graphic design firm. After some time in those jobs, they decided to pursue their dream of opening a business together. Last year they made The HannaBerry Workshop a reality, dabbling in fine art, graphic design, furniture, sculpture, architecture, cabinetry, interiors, signage, and more. They are up to the challenge of diving into anything with their combined talent.
Their business name came from their middle names, which are also their mother’s maiden names. Sarah= Hanna; Morgan= Berry. Those names work well together, and add a special touch to their branding.
They have even attracted the likes of art galleries, and are currently showing in the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art in Biloxi, MS. Read about it HERE. They also worked to receive a grant to pursue a public installation opportunity for the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson, MS. Read about it HERE. Anyone may participate in submitting their hand- or digital-collaged images that represent their happiness, and will be included in the structure. Such a cool idea!
As young professionals with their own thriving art business, they sparked the interest of my students to be prepared with great questions.
Everyone took notes, including myself. I thought I would share some of their words of wisdom:
Branding: You want to be taken seriously, so be careful not to choose a name that is too cutesy. Designing your brand should take time, and takes a lot of thought! You have an array of items to think about:
- Audience. Choose a specific age range and type of person to target.
- How to represent yourself. What are you and your business about?
- Colors. Colors have psychological impressions. Choose what makes sense for you and the vibe you want to communicate.
- Straight-forward & eye-catching. Do not confuse your audience about what you do, and make it interesting so they do not pass you by.
- Make your logo work at different scales. Does it look correct scaled down to a business card size? Billboard size?
Getting into the “real world”: You will quickly realize after graduation that the workplace is about making money, and can really hamper on your dream and encourage you not to follow it. Don’t become overwhelmed with that. If you’re not feeling fulfilled, something must change.
In thinking about your future career: How do you want to spend your day? Do you want to go to an 8:00–5:00 job? Or wake up later in the morning and work through the rest of your day until you’ve had enough? Consider the lifestyle you have or want. Factor that into your career options.
Starting your own business: It may be best to work for a firm when you’re fresh out of school to get some of your projects on the map, and some experience under your belt. Then when you’re ready to make the leap, open your own business. Keep in mind it takes a lot of work, and the market is saturated with small businesses. Not everyone succeeds.
If you can find someone to partner with that you get along well with and does a quality job in art and design, it helps professionally and personally. Both of you have to give the business your all, or the partnership will fall apart quickly. Be sure this person is someone you can be honest with and fight for your opinions without fearing you’ll hurt each others feelings, because you’re both working toward the same goal.
Use your skills to make money. It may be filler work at times, but it’s freedom to make your own schedule, make money, be your own boss, and make time to do the personal art that you’re passionate about.
Use a contract for EVERY client, no matter who they are– your brother, cousin, a stranger, or Mother Teresa. You want to be fair, but also protect yourself. Contracts let you lay the groundwork so clients will not take advantage of you. Be clear of your hours of operation, and the limitations you will work.
Form relationships with other craftsmen who do fantastic work. If you’re in need of a collaboration, you’ll know who to call. (And they can call you for help, too!)
If you’re clueless about the business world, take time to research what you need to know– how to do taxes, finding a banker and CPA, etc. Find people who have great business skills to ask for their advice. People are around who are willing to help.
Charging: Do your research online to find the average rate of items similar to your work. You may have to charge a little less than your competitors to start getting work, but that season shouldn’t have to last long if you are good at your job. People will know quality when they see it, and will trust you with their ideas and needs. Also consider, do you want to pursue many projects on a cheaper price scale, or pursue higher-end quality large projects that will pay more?
Do not forget to factor in everything you’ve done to make the project happen, and add it to your total. This includes traveling expenses, ordering materials, and hiring other craftsmen needed to accomplish something in addition to what you’re doing. Also be smart about the cost of supplies. Supplies tend to be substantially cheaper in Mississippi cities vs. larger cities such as Nashville and Atlanta.
If you charge by the hour, be honest about the hours you are actually working. If you’re taking a lunch break, do not include that time in your total.
Put yourself you there: People want to believe in art and design. But you must believe in yourself first! Confidence is attractive!
Don’t be afraid to promote yourself! Send an email out to everyone you know, potential clients, bloggers and professionals who you admire with information about you and images of your work.
There are people out there that genuinely want to help promote you. Talking with people may get you an article in a newspaper or magazine, or an interview on the radio. Get involved with your community to meet new people. People love seeing young professionals who have a fire in them, and they want to be a part of that!
Practice “elevator speeches” for those moments you meet a stranger at a party or work event, and gives you 30 seconds or 1 minute to explain what you do. Make it engaging for the other person to hear so they will want to continue the conversation.
Grant writing: This is a great way to receive money to accomplish something bigger than you. Maybe it’s a particular project, or you need expensive supplies to kick off your business. Apply for many different grants from different organizations. This money will serve as your payment to pay the bills and afford what you need until you make money from it. As artists and designers, you have to remember that you will not make money off of your work overnight.
Final words: If you have a goal, set your mind to it and you can succeed. If you’re unhappy about what you’re doing for a living, it’s up to you to make a change. Only you are responsible for your life choices. Be brave. Step out from the norm. Be happy.