So You Wanna Be An Artist Series #01 – Your Headquarters

So you wanna be an artist?  So do I!  I want to make awesome art and show it in all the cool galleries all over the world.  I want to show my work to the masses and have them shower me with praise, money, and doughnuts.  hehe.  Years ago I had no idea where to start.  I knew that I liked painting and wanted to explore that.  So I got together some cheap brushes and some paints and started painting in my kitchen.  Right at the kitchen table.  I didn’t really know what I was doing but I felt like that was my studio space.  Then it dawned on me…I wanna make a real studio space and really give this a shot.  I want to make art that people would see in galleries.  And hopefully, BUY one day.  Along the road to galleries I have learned quite a few things, some of them the hard way.  And I would like to share them with you in a new Mini Series on the Zen of Hustle Blog called ‘So You Wanna Be An Artist’.  In this series, we will talk about all the things you need to do to make art and get it ready to approach galleries.  For many, this will be neat stuff to learn and for others, a good brush up on some skills you might have forgotten.  But don’t worry, this series isn’t the only thing I will be posting on here.  We will look at all the advanced ins and outs of art journeys too.  So let’s jump in.

jcoffy web

Me in my current studio at Arc Gallery and Studios.

Your World Headquarters – In planning your art world takeover, you need a space.  A space to make art.  Lots of art.  You also need it to be useful for some of the art biz stuff like promoting your work or communicating with your adoring fans and galleries.  Even if you don’t have much of that right now one thing is clear…YOU need a space.

As you read before I started out at my kitchen table.  I have seen so many unique artist setups over the years.  One artist was painting in a large bedroom closet.  Some folks take over their garages for art studios.  I have seen people use a small dimly lit corner or their living room, bedrooms, and yes, I have even heard of one artist working in their large well lit bathroom.  You can, of course, spend a ton of money on a studio space and make it legit.  But if you are just starting your art business I don’t recommend that.  It is an expense and sometimes it can be quite pricey.  Either way, find a place and call it your own.  Sidenote: This may be tricky with kids and pets so find a place that you can really make your own.

Now that you have claimed a space, you’re gonna need to set it up.  Here are some things to consider.

  1. Workspace – A table of some sort, maybe an easel if you are used to them.  You need a place to actually DO the work.
  2. Supplies – Get all your stuff together.  Organize it so it’s easy to get to.  The last thing you wanna be doing is searching through boxes in your bedroom or garage in the middle of a painting.  I do not recommend buying art bins at the fancy art store as they are overpriced and usually you can recycle bottles or get the same containers at the dollar store.  Save your money for the actual supplies.
  3. Light – Shed some light on things.  Maybe you can be near a window for natural light or you can add a couple of lamps to the table to really get a good amount of light.  Art lamps come in all shapes, sizes, and price ranges.  But I’m not opposed to nine dollar clip-on lights from Ikea. Do whatever works for you.
  4. Ventilation – You got fans?  You will.  Especially if you are working with toxic materials like oil paints and thinners and such.  You need some fans.  If you are close to a window see if that window can be opened from time to time.  Get some air moving through your space.  Also, this is just good for your sanity.  I don’t work with toxic materials in my space but it gets dang hot in there on warm days and a fan is crucial.
  5. Storage – After you have made your fifth masterpiece you will start to really understand the need for storage.  You need to find a place to keep your work.  If it’s next to your table and you are painter, trust me on this, you will get paint on the finished pieces if you do not store them properly.  Finding a closet or a space to store your work can be challenging.  What you are looking for is a dry, clean, cool, and pest free place to store your work.  Keep it safe.
  6. Computer –  Not everyone but most people have a computer nowadays  This device can be super helpful in communicating with galleries, collectors, coffee shops, local art friends, and even Aunt Jeana who buys paintings from time to time.  Plus, eventually, we are going to track art and sales with this thing.  So get ready.
  7. Other Stuff – Make your space a great space to create.  Maybe a rug that really ties the room together. Or a music player that plays all your favorite Kenny Rogers tunes. Some people like house plants, skulls, toys, and whatever else may inspire them to be in the space and work.  Hopefully you are gonna be spending a good amount of time in your studio, so make it nice.  I have always wanted a big fat comfy chair in mine and luckily, my studio mate has a couch that we take naps on from time to time.
  8. YOU – Last but not least…YOU belong in your studio.  You may have to battle for time in your space.  I have an 8-year-old and recently have been dealing with lots of health issues so studio time is harder to come by.  One thing that helps is knowing when you like to work.  I like working in the daylight so that’s when I do my best work, while the sun is shining through my studio’s skylight.  I also NEVER work on art before 10;30 am.  It’s just a thing I know about myself.  So pay attention when you LIKE working best.  When I was younger I would stay up all night painting.  Now that rarely happens even if there is a huge deadline.  So figure out when you WANT to be there and fight for that time.

Your ideal setup? Maybe.

This should get you started on your home base.  These items are the same basic needs in all studios.  Most artists, from the dad in his kitchen making paintings to the fancy museum artist, need these things.  In the rest of this series we are going to talk about:

  • Finishing Your Work
  • Wires and Hanging Hardware
  • Pricing Your Work
  • Getting Work Photographed
  • Archiving Your Work
  • Scouting Galleries And Venues
  • Approaching Curators and Galleries
  • Deadlines and Delivery

All of these items are internal.  Meaning that all of them have to do with YOU and your studio space.  As we move through these things you will see how that relates to dealing with galleries.  You can think of the rest of the series as a Standards and Practices of your art biz.  And here we go, one foot on the path.  Until next time.


Road To Gallery Representation

(presented by Joshua Coffy and Claire Frost) for ArtSpan

Monday September 24th, from 6:30-8pm @ SOMArts Cultural Center

This workshop is free to all ArtSpan Members and sliding scale donation for Non-Members.  Come learn about how to get your work ready for galleries, how to approach galleries, and how to successfully navigate that part of the art world.  It’s time to learn to show your work.  Join me at this workshop as many of the things on this blog are in the presentation.  Facebook event here.



Express Yourself (Talking About Your Art)

How do you talk about your art?  Do you love each and every piece of your work?  Have you ever said that this piece isn’t your best piece?  Is that a good idea?

woman standing infront of a wall mount painting

Photo by Bara Cross on

One of the challenges of being an artist is speaking well of your craft.  At times, we can be unsure of a certain piece or have doubts about it and that can lead to talking about that piece in a negative light.  I have met with several artists in their studios and at openings that do this.  EVEN when you compliment their work they seem to want to bash it, as a form of honesty.  But this self-deprecation can be incredibly detrimental to the sale.  After all…if the artist dislikes their own piece how do they expect anyone  else to like it?  Patrons want to buy work from artists that LOVE their work.  So let’s dig into this a little deeper.  Here is a recent conversation I had with an artist…at their opening.

Joshy: “Hey, congratulations on the show everything looks terrific”

Artist: “Thank you.  Thanks for coming out.  How are you?

Joshy: “I’m doing great.  Wow.  This bird piece is my favorite one in the show.  Just spectacular.”

Artist: “oh that one.  yeah well, it was a really tough one to do…I made a lot of mistakes on the feathers.  I’m sure you know how it is.  But I think it came out ok.”


At that point, I wouldn’t have even looked for mistakes in the feathers.  And, if I had seen something, who is to say that wasn’t a stylized choice made by the artist?.  Internally as artists we know all the mistakes with our work. But get this…WE are the only ones that usually see them as mistakes.  The viewing public sees these things as artistic expressions.  So you don’t have to give a disclaimer to all of the problems you have with your work.  When someone sees your work for the first time and they make a connection with it.  LET IT BE.   They like it for their own reasons.  You certainly don’t have to undercut their expectations and connection by saying you didn’t like it.

Age Of Wonder

Age of Wonder (Line Drawing Piece)

One year at open studios I had meticulously put up several paintings in my studio.  And just for fun I put up a panel on my easel with just the background and a line drawing on it.  I figured it would show my process.  Literally, it was a colorful panel with a bear line drawing on it (Left)….in white charcoal pencil.  After an hour or so into day one, a woman came to see my work.  She loved it all and looked at the piece on my easel.  Before I could say ‘Oh that’s a piece I just started and its a bad line drawing…etc.’ She looked at me and said, “I will take it!”  I hadn’t even considered selling this unfinished work, it was literally just a sketch.  But she loved it and HAD to have it.  So I told her I needed a day to varnish it and then I could deliver it.  She paid for it in full and walked out.  I was shocked.

You never really know what people see.  And it really isn’t your job to GUIDE them.  Your job is just to make the art.  If you don’t like something, guess what – You get to paint something similar on the next 500 paintings.

Now before we get too far off track…Let’s go back to talking about your work.  It is imperative that you speak well of your work especially if you want it to sell.  Patrons and supporters want to support someone they believe in.  And if you believe in your art…they will too.  Now, how do you do that?  Where do you start?  Try appreciating all the things that this painting taught you.  Maybe you struggled with it during the drawing part.  Well, that is a good lesson that drawing takes practice.  Maybe the colors never were quite right for you….again color and composition are a skill that takes years to get a handle on.  If you look at each painting as a learning experience you will have better things to say to people.  When you speak about your work from a place of appreciation it is far more positive than the deprecating negativity bits.

Patron: Speaking of one of your challenging pieces – “I really like this crow piece you painted it’s so colorful”

You:  “Thank you,  I am so glad that you like it.  This piece taught me a lot of new things about colors.  And I am really happy to have learned about some new color combinations…”

Sounds way better than “yeah that one was a huge pain in my ass and I can’t believe you like it.” doesn’t it?

So try starting with an appreciation for each painting.  Another technique I use is Talking Practice.  I learned this from rock musicians.  Whenever big fancy rock bands come out with a new album it’s always “their best album yet”.  At least that’s what they say.  Why do they do this?  Do they always make the best albums…no.  They do it because they want you to check out their latest work.  Artists can do the same thing.  Each new thing you make may not be your best.  But no one really knows that, especially if you say that this is the best for where you are right now.  And maybe you did struggle with some pieces in this series which is actually part of the gig. After each piece is finished in my studio, I practice the things I am going to say at the opening about it.  And I connect a cool story to it and practice that before it leaves my studio.  Then I’m better prepared to talk about each piece to people at the opening in a positive upbeat manner instead of relying on self-deprecation.  Give this a try for yourself.  I would love to hear what kinds of things you say about your work in the comments below.

photo of woman painting in brown wooden easel

Photo by Burst on

Lastly, there is a weird paradox afoot with art making.  Over the years, I have found that the pieces I have made that I thought were absolute shit and weak for whatever reason, sold first.  That piece I hated was sometimes the one that sold first at open studios or gallery openings.  Someone would come in and be like “THAT is my favorite one of  yours!”  WHAT?!  Conversely, the pieces that I think are my absolute masterpieces are still in my inventory.  So it behooves you to speak well of all of your work.  It’s all part of you and your journey.  And you never really know what people will connect with….again your job is to make the art and present them all together so people can make up their minds.  Don’t stand in their way with negativity.  Thanks.  Until next time.



Edited by Harmony Anderson.  Written by Joshua Coffy.

The Tide Rises

I have been giving quite a bit of thought as to what the first post was going to be for the blog.  I really want to set the tone and lay out my philosophy for art business and the art world.  Sometimes,  I think I think ‘too big’.  Maybe it is best if we break the philosophy down into little bits that we can explore together.  And with that….we should start at the beginning.  Makes sense right?

clouds conifers fir trees forest

Photo by Pixabay on

 ‘A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats’

This is one of my favorite sayings.  And it definitely relates to my art journey, my art business, and my life.  At its core, it is about supporting those around you.  When you support others we all win.  Let’s look at that in the context of the art world.

I volunteer quite frequently in my local art community.  Here in San Francisco, my main point of volunteering is with ArtSpan, a local arts charity that supports artists through year-round resources as well as hosting the nation’s largest and longest running Open Studios program.  I have done a lot of amazing things with ArtSpan.  From painting giant murals to doing community outreach and youth art programs.  I love volunteering for them.

When you volunteer you meet lots of interesting people.  Artists, non-artists, collectors, etc.  And as you work alongside these folks you are automatically building your network.  If you leave a good impression on people in these interactions you never know how that is going to come back to you later.  So that’s one way the tide lifts.

Another way to support others is simply by going to their shows, celebrating other artist’s victories, and getting rid of the ‘art is a competition’ attitude.  Look….If someone is selling art you should be psyched.  That means ‘Team Artist’ is doing well.  That means somewhere out there someone is buying art!  They could be buying your work next time.  So lose the competitive attitude.  Jealousy and grudges leave a terrible impression on people.  And people will always remember the way you made them feel.  Be happy for those around you as they will return that favor when it’s time for you to sell art.  Support “Team Artist’.

When you support those around you, you build really strong bonds with people.  Your immediate community becomes stronger.  Your ability to access resources grows tenfold.  You start learning new and better ways to deal with huge challenges.  And, at times, when mighty obstacles arise you will have a network of people willing to help you overcome them.  That is the nature of ‘A rising tide lifts all boats.’  Treat people well and they will be willing to help you succeed as well.


“Desafiando la Marea”  – Oil on canvas, 48″x 24″ by Claudio Talavera-Ballon

Lastly, I am here to share what I know and to support YOU.  In this blog I want to talk about art biz stuff.  All things pricing, dealing with galleries, connecting with people, art archiving, etc.  I am sharing this stuff because I hope that it helps you.  Much of it I learned from people that I look up to….So it’s kind of like a tradition being passed down.  In supporting you I am sure I will relearn a few things.  But please feel free to ask all the questions you can along the way.

So for the remainder of this blog I will likely reference this phrase.  It is something that I strive to live by.  And it definitely is something that I have built ALL of my art philosophy on.  So if you haven’t heard it before….let it sink in a little.  How are YOU going to lift the tides a little?  What can you do to support those around you?  I would love to hear your comments and answers.  Until next time.



This post was written by Joshua Coffy and edited by Harmony Anderson.