One of the artists I was introduced to back in November, when I was interviewing for artist’s insights into how to make creativity your day job was Canadian abstract artist Matt LeBlanc.
At the time, Matt was extremely busy preparing for a show, but we kept in touch, and when I read on his blog that he had recently quit his job to focus on art full-time, I caught up with him again, and he took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions:
You recently retired from your corporate job to work on your art full-time, after working hard for 5 years building your brand. How are you finding life as a full-time artist?
Matt: Simply amazing! For the first time in my life, I don’t feel like I need to rush things. I’ve actually been telling my clients and fans that I’m now retired. For me, my art business is not work. It’s too much fun to be considered work. It’s such an amazing feeling. I get up in the morning to work for myself and I’m actually a great boss!
Some artists might be put off by the thought of working 80-hour weeks to get where you are today. Would you say that’s a necessary amount of work to put in before you can make a living as an artist?
Matt: Certainly not. However, you do have to put in the time. Nothing is giving to oneself without any efforts. Most successful entrepreneurs are workhorses. The first three to five years are the worst but if you really love what you do and you’re highly motivated, those hours don’t matter. I really think that putting in the time and effort was what shaped up my career. I didn’t get where I am today by sitting on the couch all night watching TV.
I’m a strong believer that you have to create your own opportunities. Who else will? I have a vision board with all my goals and ambitions and I constantly think about how I will achieve them. Simple as that.
On your website, you are described as a ‘highly skilled self-promoter’. I think that’s something a lot of artists struggle with. What creative strategies have you used to promote your artwork?
Matt: To me it all comes down to 3 simple things:
1. Branding – First thing you have to do is create a brand for yourself. A brand is essentially a sum of all the activities, messages and elements projected by a person (or company) that defines who they are and what they do. It’s essentially the image that comes to mind when they hear your name.
This is really important and most artists don’t bother. Everything is all over the place. There’s not even consistency from website to website when they list their work.
2. Plan your sales – It’s also crucial to develop a good mix of revenue streams. I’ve seen too many times artists put all their eggs in one basket and get burnt when that revenue stream is cut out by unexpected situations. Make sure you develop a plan for how you are going to bring in sales from various resources.
3. Put in the work – Enough said !
How important has the Internet been in building your brand? How would you advise artists to harness the power of the web to promote their artwork?
Matt: I’m still shocked by the amount of artists who don’t have a permanent website or even by the ones who have one but they shouldn’t because it looks so bad. EVERYONE is on the Internet now. People will Google you so you better try to control what they see. I don’t have the best site but I always get emails from people telling me it’s very professional, clean and really easy to use. That’s what you want.
In terms of selling online, I always advise artists to choose which route they want to take for their career. I strongly believe that it’s very difficult to sell both online and in galleries. The online world is just too competitive to accept the same pricing that you need to sell your art in galleries. Some artists still do it but it’s hard to be very successful in the two worlds. If you want to take the gallery route, you should still have a very professional website because potential buyers will most likely research you before buying your work.
Your branding and your paintings have a very distinctive and recognizable style. How important is it for artists to develop their own signature style?
Matt: I think this is something that takes care of itself. The more we paint, the more we fall in love with a particular style. I always aim at pushing the boundaries and trying new styles but those are considered experiments and are purely done for fun. I like to have fun!
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring artist who wants to make a living from their creativity?
Matt: People will tell you it’s not possible but they are full of it. I sold thousands of paintings all over the world and was able to gather a following of over 20,000 people in less than five years. I sell paintings almost every day from the comfort of my own home. Life is awesome!
Go get your dream … it’s possible! (Tweet This)
Note from Dan: I hope this has inspired you and made you realise that with a bit of hard work it really is possible to make a career out of your art. It’s certainly given me a few things to think about.
If you have any questions for Matt (or me), leave a comment below, and we’ll try our best to answer them.