Evaluating my artist year

I spend many of my days working on discrete activities. Carve this layer, print the next color, build a frame… Like most things in life, I find it difficult to assess on any given day whether I am going in the right direction or not. I am always struck at the similarities between being an artist and gambling. On a few golden days, an acceptance arrives in my email, or a new collector takes a linocut home. But the vast majority of days the activities go on without reward or comment.

Summertide Brings the Derecho and its cousin Breath of Hermes were my most challenging linocuts of the year. They were perhaps my favorites as well.

Evaluation is a way of getting an overall picture of how I am doing. For the curious, here are the things I will be evaluating this year…

What you track you value

I have spent the last two years as a member of Alyson Stanfield‘s Inner Circle, a group of artists that receives valuable guidance from Alyson and shares with and supports one another. Alyson’s advice is to track things over time to truly be able to evaluate and improve your art business. Throughout the year, I track the following data on an Excel spreadsheet:

• Income (sales, prizes, stipends, grants)
• Expenses (materials for printing and framing, advertising, art festivals, continuing education, travel)
From these two categories, I can evaluate 1) my cash flow throughout the year — which is very sporadic and 2) if the events I participated in are worth the cost and effort.

Important edit 12/12/16:

What type of work did I make? How many?

What types of work did I sell?
• Regular sized linocuts (framed and unframed)
• Large sized linocuts (framed and unframed)
• Smaller linocuts

Tracking how I made contact

Marketing art is much more involved than I ever would have imagined. I try to keep tabs monthly on the following:

• # of Facebook likes on my business page
• # of Instagram followers
• # of people on my MailChimp (email) list
• # of people on my postal mailing list (for postcards, etc)

• How many blog posts did I write?
• How many newsletters did I send?
• How many solo emails did I send to my MailChimp subscribers?
• How many postcards did I send?

Digital correspondence is fast, but real mail on paper is very satisfying.

Where did I go and what did I show?

Now that I have several years of art marketing behind me, I’m going to be considering the types of events I participated in where my artwork was shown. This will include:

• Solo shows
• Juried shows
• Art Festivals
• Other exhibits

I used to believe that shear numbers of eyeballs on my work was the goal. Some activities are expensive — festivals have travel costs and booth fees, juried shows have mileage/time costs or require shipping. Which of these activities seemed worth the effort, and which ones should I skip in the future? (Admittedly this is a hard thing to discern. You never know where you might be “discovered” by someone crucial to your success. Refer back to my comparison of the artistic life to gambling.)

Creating (and moving) my temporary gallery space was the focus on much of my summer.

What did I give and what did I receive?

Here I am thinking about community involvement. In my local community, many of the art activities are run completely by artists. Time volunteered can be time away from the studio, but it also might mean new skills learned and new connections made.

I spent over 200 hours volunteering as the program coordinator for the Bloomington Open Studios Tour. This did not include the time spent transforming my living room into a gallery.

Asking the larger questions

Numbers give me quantifiable data to make some conclusions about my year. However, numbers alone can’t tell the whole story. They must be placed in the context of what actually happened in my life this year. Here are some of the larger questions I will tackle:

What were the important occurrences in the year? These can be joyful ones and difficult ones, anything that took time away from the studio. Considering this:

• What went well this year? List all of the successes
• What artwork was I most pleased with and which pieces did I feel fell short?
• What did not go well this year? List possible reasons
• What things were left undone? Consider why, and if they need to be done at all.
• What things would I like to make a priority in the upcoming year?

Making art during the ups and downs of life can be challenging. I relied on the nature’s beauty to inspire and motivate me.

A question of balance

Balance may be an overused goal, but for my physical and mental health it is critical. I will ask myself:

• How did I divide my life between creative, business, personal, relational, physical, and spiritual pursuits? Was this division satisfactory?
• What changes did I make that made my life more balanced?
• What changes do I want to make in the upcoming year?

The task of actually doing the work

I love lists, and there is something about just making a list that is satisfying. The hard part comes when you must do the things on your list. I participate in a twice-monthly video chat with artists who are current or former members of Alyson Stanfield’s mentoring group. I volunteered to lead our discussion on the 13th of this month and talk about my yearly evaluation. So I have a hard deadline.

This will get me ready for making my plan for 2017.  2016 was quite a year, and I am so looking forward to planning for January and beyond…







2 thoughts on “Evaluating my artist year

  1. Andrew Stone

    I do something similar most (some?) years. But I usually reflect more on the artistic output–what did I create and how I feel about the works I did or didn’t do. I’m a thousand years behind you from a marketing perspective. I think you’d be well served to take a look at the photo of your open studio walls or fair exhibit setup that you posted as you should be justly proud of your artistic accomplishments. You are doing interesting and important work that also happens to be quite beautiful visually–no small feat and your environmental works are about to become even more important as the political climate shifts even more towards resource extraction and climate science denial. I look forward to reading some of the answers to the questions you ask on your blog.

    1. Elizabeth Busey Post author

      Thanks for the encouragement Andrew! I will post some of my musings on subsequent blogs. I definitely think that both qualitative and quantitative perspectives are useful when thinking about things. Looking forward to reading some of your musings as well.


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