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How to be Productive When Art-Making Is Slow

A wall painted teal and hot pink | Bryan Garces / Unsplash
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See how our public spaces are changing in the pandemic and how artists are part of that conversation on "Southland Sessions" E10: Civic Imagination. Watch now.
E10: Civic Imagination - Media Manager

Many artists find work has dried up due to COVID-19, especially those whose work typically revolves around live performance, film or TV production, or in-person events. But it doesn’t mean you have to stop working entirely. We asked several artists and people who work with artists for their best tips on things to do when work is slow.

Build a Website

Build yourself a professional website where you can quickly introduce prospective collaborators and clients to your work. You can make a free website with little to no coding skills on platforms like Wix, Wordpress and Squarespace. It doesn’t have to be flashy or complicated, and it’s often better if it’s not.

“Most brands do not care if you have a fancy website, but love to see a super simple one with your bio, location (this is more important than you think), and some past examples,” said Kimmy McAtee Bell, who hires and works with artists as co-founder and art producer for Creative Drinking Agency, a full-service creative consultancy.

Take New Photos

No matter what medium you work within, you’ll need an image to represent you. Numerous professions — not theater arts — ask you for a headshot, whether it’s to accompany your byline in a publication or to announce you as a speaker or performer at a virtual or in-person event. If you produce visual art, you need photos to represent what you make. If you don’t have photos or if your photos are all old, you can use your phone to take new ones while you’re stuck at home. They may not be studio quality, but they’ll probably be perfectly usable. For headshots, you can use a tripod/stand or ask someone in your household for help. You can even edit your pics with a variety of free or cheap apps. For press images, remember to take a few high-res, horizontal color photos and don’t edit them to include text overtop.

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Refine Your Social Media Presence

Clean up and build your social media presence. If you’re trying to present yourself as an artist or performer on Instagram, you could use this time to remove old photos back and refresh your page with images of your work. You can also do the same thing with your other public profiles, archiving what doesn’t reflect who you are now and adding what does.

McAtee Bell said she always encourages visual artists to create an art-based Instagram.

“Go through the archives, post work you are proud of, repost old work in your stories, make highlight reels, and use the platform as a robust website. It’s usually our first look,” she said.

She also emphasizes making yourself searchable by including your name and contact info and suggests checking messages in your “others” folder regularly to see if anyone’s reached out to hire you.

“I can’t tell you how many times I really liked an artist but wasn’t able to hire them because they were named ‘frappachinodesign42’ on social with no way of figuring out how to contact them,” she said.

Get Organized

Consider using this time to organize your work and workspace. Label and file your photos (if you’re a photographer) or photos of you if you’re a performer. Clear your computer of old documents you don’t need anymore. If you use props, costumes, or art supplies, you can get rid of or repair old or broken items and neatly organize the rest.

Take a Class

Karlie Blair coding | Courtesy of Karlie Blair
Karlie Blair coding | Courtesy of Karlie Blair

Now’s a great time to learn something new that compliments your current skill set or dives even deeper into your craft.

Immersive performer/actress Karlie Blair started learning to code after she heard Codeacademy was offering free pro memberships to anyone unemployed due to the pandemic.

“Coding, in general, piqued my interest because I can use it to further my artistic career by creating a website or virtual shows, and it could also make me a better candidate in my search for a regular work-from-home job that could provide some income until the pandemic subsides and the entertainment industry opens back up,” she said.

Blair recommends trying out various free courses to make sure you like them before making an investment and to find a learning style that works for you.

McAtee Bell says that for visual artists, being able to work digitally or in animation is often a major plus when hiring.

“There are so many free classes and tutorials to take. Even knowing how to set up files for an animator to take over can be what gets you the job over another artist,” she said.

Create an Archive

If you’re a writer who works with online outlets, you know how quickly you can lose that work if a website shuts down and doesn’t stay up. To avoid using things like the Wayback Machine after the fact, save your stories now and prepare them in a digital archive you control.

You can also do this if you’re a photographer or performer by creating an archive of photos, videos, reviews, playbills, writings, and more.

Manage Your Finances

Do all the boring tax/finance stuff you hate cramming in around tax time. Create a budget. Organize your receipts and write-offs if you’re an independent contractor or freelancer, which many artists are. Consider an app like Wave if you need help organizing and tracking invoices. And if you are a freelancer, remember to file with the city of Los Angeles, which you must do every year to avoid paying a larger tax.

Build an Online Store

Artist/actor Breon Bliss has expanded his Red Bubble store since the onset of the pandemic. Bliss was looking for a way to make residual income from his art instead of relying on time-consuming commissions. Even though a site like Red Bubble takes a chunk of the profits, it handles the chores he hates, like making prints, packing, and shipping. (He tries to avoid the post office these days, too.)   "I'm only making about $50 a month right now and spending time promoting every week, but my hope is that eventually I'll reach a tipping point and have a consistent soft income," he said. 

Bliss suggests searching online to find the store that works for you, noting that Etsy may work better for crafts, while Red Bubble is great for graphic prints.

Artist/actor Breon Bliss artwork of two cats in costume | Courtesy of Breon Bliss
Artist/actor Breon Bliss artwork of two cats in costume | Courtesy of Breon Bliss

Create an Online Offering

Many artists have pivoted to offering virtual workshops or performances. You might consider writing a play for Zoom, conducting online dance or art workshops, or creating a podcast. You can even monetize this work by selling tickets or offering content to Patreon subscribers.

Immersive theater company E3W Productions had to shut down its latest show, Where the Others Are, after only a few show dates due to the pandemic. So, they filmed Where the Others Are and released it for sale online, and have since turned their Halloween show, In Another Room, into a podcast on horror network The Violet Hour.

"We'd always wanted to explore the world of podcasts with our work, but never really felt it was the right time until we were forced to shut down our physical shows indefinitely," E3W's Aaron Keeling said. "It was a really scary and exciting opportunity to try to tell the stories we wanted to tell in this new medium, and it's proven to be an extremely rewarding endeavor. We were able to record pretty much every actor remotely, and we've discovered new ways to explore our love of immersive environments and intimacy with characters using only audio. It's not the way we expected to spook our audience this year, but adapting to this unique time has led us to new creative growth that we're very excited about!"

Top Image: A wall painted teal and hot pink | Bryan Garces / Unsplash

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