Globally, creative industries are increasingly gaining attention as drivers of economic growth, innovation, and job creation. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 report on The Future of Jobs and Skills in Africa listed the creative industries as one of the “trending” professions, which had an average growth rate of 7% between 2011 and 2016, just under Education at 8% and above Public Relations Specialists at 5%. Added to this, is the evident ‘African Art Boom’, resulting in a growing market buzzing with optimism around contemporary African art.

The world is leaning towards more creative careers compared to previous times. However, the process of getting started can become all too confusing! On the flip side, there is support available for emerging artists. Organizations such as Baz-Art host their annual SA Artist Programme, covering topics such as marketing, finance & admin and technical skills.

Below, industry experts, Alexandre Tilmans, co-founder of Baz-Art, Dennis Molewa, social media consultant, Mandy Soulsby-Bodart, trompe l’oeil/mural artist turned teacher and Dirk Durnez, Art@Africa gallery owner, highlight some tips on how to launch a successful art career.


Q: Why is it so important for artists to market themselves digitally these days?

Dennis: In these current times, being online is a good way to stay connected and cultivate new relationships. Investing in your digital marketing right now means investing in your network, which is an asset as an artist. Since you’re not only looking to stay relevant, you are also looking to connect with potential clients, other artists, the press and media or collaborations. It has never been more important to be online than it is right now.

Q: Any tips for artists to help cope with social media so that it doesn’t interfere with the creative process?

Dennis: When people start to think of social media in a more professional way, we need to consider time management on these platforms. Use time management apps to help track and measure your time online. I specifically enjoy using the ZenScreen app, which helps anyone manage their time online and prevent distractions. Once you master time management, you can spend more time networking at physical events or send out email marketing.

Q: How should artists market themselves to benefit from social media?

Dennis: It all depends on what kind of artist you are. If you are a graphic designer or visual artist you’ll benefit from online platforms such as Behance, one of the biggest international platforms used by visual artists. It’s like a professional LinkedIn for your portfolio.

Every category of artists has social media requirements and compatibilities. Digital artists can incorporate more video in how they showcase their work.

You’ll find that artists will use different aesthetics across curation, video via Instagram (IG) reels, IG stories and IG live. I’d encourage artists to explore video creation and still images capturing their work for social media. How much of your personality you’d like to incorporate in your brand is totally up to you. However, there is a huge benefit as an artist if you reveal much of your personality in your brand as you’ll see better results compared to people who hide behind their work.


Q: What’s the most efficient way for artists to manage their admin and finances?

Alex: Firstly, consider seeing yourself from a business owner perspective. Any business owner would want to understand the opportunities in a market and the costs related to their work. Starting with the cost, one shouldn’t forget, artwork doesn’t only include the canvases and paint, but also your time, and time is valuable. Estimate your time value when you compare yourself to another industry. For instance, a junior designer charges roughly R350 per hour (ph) and a senior designer roughly R800 ph. A senior architect can charge up to R2000 ph. When you consider these rates, you’ll be able to estimate your cost based on your experience and knowledge. You’re most likely going to need to transport your art around if it doesn’t get sold the first time, so be mindful of these unforeseen costs. Other costs include packaging, couriers, printing, phone and internet bills. Track your costs by creating a monthly spreadsheet listing your fixed costs (expenses that are constant regardless of the number of artworks you produce, such as internet, phone and transport), variable costs (expenses that change monthly such as paint brushes, couriers and web designer). Once you compare the overall costs with your selling price, you’ll be able to better understand whether you’re making a living, or surviving. And then assess the amount of years left in your development phase before you start feeling better accomplished.

Q: What are some of the necessary documents to run a business as an artist?

Alex: It’s as simple as having a bank account! However if you want to work with bigger clients you’ll most likely need a tax clearance certificate, BEE certificate and proof of banking details – be sure to check with your client which documents they need to register you or process payment. Another important consideration is deciding whether you’d like to be a one-person show and have all your documents ready or whether you’d like to work with an agent who already has all these documents sorted.

Q: How can an artist distinguish the value of their art?

Alex: Here again, look at it from a business perspective, make a comparison, study the market and understand differences. Consider these few factors as an example – the mediums used, experience of the artist and the association with your artwork. To get yourself started, visit exhibitions and galleries, spot artworks similar to yours and start studying at least 3 factors: mediums used, artists’ experience and trends.

Here are a few examples: On average, oil paintings attract more value than acrylic. As for wood and clay – on average, clay will be more expensive with bronze being the highest priced. These are rated differently in price due to their historical lasting value. Wood is more likely to rot away whereas bronze tends to last longer, if not forever.

An artist who studied art is often valued higher compared to a self-taught artist. Most people are under the perception that trained artists would acquire more techniques through their studies, therefore increasing their value.

Having a solo exhibition probably means you are climbing the ladder because you can drive sales on your own. And if you have a solo abroad, it adds further value as indicates local and international buyers interested in your artform. If a museum wants to exhibit your work then you’ve reached the top of your chain. You need to know your art and place your art in the right spaces. The association of your artwork increases the value of your art – so do a lot of research on galleries and make sure they resonate with your brand before exhibiting with them.

By following these three factors, you can create a benchmark to compare yourself to and set a vision and targets to achieve. Working towards your vision and aspiration will slowly help you climb the artist ladder in the art world – and help you make a living out of your art and passion if this is what you decide to do.


Q: Please comment on artwork composition and perspective – what are they?

Mandy: ‘Composition’ is how the artist arranges elements or images in the work to produce a particular effect. For example, a triangular composition may convey dignity and order, while a circular composition may convey energy and motion, but these are not necessarily ‘hard and fast’ rules. ‘Perspective’ is the way in which we, as bipedal human animals with two eyes on the front of our heads, see the world. Because our eyes will always attempt to focus on what is in front of us to perceive distance (so we don’t walk over a cliff, for example), parallel lines (like roads and railway lines) appear to converge on the horizon. In painting and drawing, we use linear perspective (converging lines) and atmospheric perspective (colour) to create the illusion that a flat surface has depth. An example is a half-open door painted on a flat wall with a view of a landscape ‘outside’ – that is, giving the illusion that the viewer could walk through the ‘open’ door and into the scene on the other side.

Q: Rendering and scaling your work – please provide an equipment checklist

Mandy: Scaling up entails drawing a grid over the original and a corresponding grid on the wall, and then copying the lines and shapes in each small square in the original in the bigger squares on the wall. However, stencils, templates, and transfer can also be used, or you could construct the work on the wall from scratch – the techniques and equipment will vary depending on the complexity of the design to be scaled. The constants on the checklist are pencils, a box of chalk, a ball of string or chalk line, masking tape, a tape measure and a level.

Q: Wanting to paint a mural – what should I know as an artist beforehand?

Mandy: Something that looks okay in your sketchbook may not work when it is five metres high and in a real, 3-D space – get your overall design up first, view it from various different angles, and be prepared to treat your drawing as a kick-off point and rework whatever needs to be fixed as you proceed.

Enrol now for the SA Artist Programme 2021 and choose your location.

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