Melanie Brummer is an entrepreneur, an author, a trainer, an artist and a manufacturer of custom textiles for the fashion industry, who lives in South Africa. She’s taught in Skill Centers, Fashion Colleges and Craft Schools and many more venues.
She is an expert in dye and print techniques. She’s been working in this industry for more than 20 years. Her fabrics have appeared on catwalks in South Africa, New York, and Milan.
It is my honor to have Melanie here on the blog with us today, to talk about art and entrepreneurship.
We’ll be talking about how to overcome societal perceptions and how to use multiple revenue streams.
Let’s get to it.
CN: Melanie, let’s get started by answering this universal question that faces makers. Is it possible for makers, creatives, and artists to make a living solely from what they create?
MB: My optimistic heart cries out “YES!” and my hard experience says “It depends.” In my heart, I believe it to be true but the years have been tough.
Creatives hold infinite potential. And infinite potential can certainly create a living for a maker. The challenge is understanding where best to focus that potential on getting results, and not dissipating it too widely so that there is no progress.
CN: So what I hear you saying here is that not all forms of creative works will be commercially viable. Our job as creators is to find which of our offerings we can profitably market.
Mel, I believe this is a sentiment shared by many artist/entrepreneurs. You’ve got to keep iterating till you find what sells/ or resonates with people.
MB: Yes, even if we can figure out how best to focus our creative energy, social perception is also very real.
I had a casual chat with a reporter at an event a few years back. He suggested to me that creatives should work for love and be satisfied with that.
He’s suspicious of any creative who appears to be making any kind of money as somehow “dodgy”.
We dug deeper into the root of the perception and when I cornered him under the cold light of logic, he had no better answer for me – his argument fizzled out.
CN: Wow, that’s so interesting but not an uncommon perception. Unfortunately, many creatives have bought into some version of that and have come to the conclusion that money is bad for or kills creative skills. Which is totally false.
MB: I feel that if artists are truly going to embody the reality of making a living from their art, we’re going to have to band together to shift social perceptions.
We teach people how to treat us. Every time we cave in to the social pressure that says “You will deliver your best creative work for “exposure””, we perpetuate our own hell.
CN: You’re absolutely right, Mel. You do get a lot of opportunities where you’re expected to deliver for “exposure”. And since the market is so crowded we jump at these opportunities.
MB: Artists tend to be emotionally sensitive types. It is easy to shame us into silence.
The bully in the group will go straight for that so they can personally benefit from more free stuff. It’s systemic pack dynamics at work, and we soft creatives are often afraid to offend.
Already painted as “black sheep” by society, heaven help us if we attract any negative attention for speaking out about our needs.
CN: So what do you see as the solution to our social perception problem?
MB: If we want to change social perceptions and have a fighting chance of earning a living from our art, it is IMPERATIVE that we all climb in and start teaching others.
Social perceptions will shift when the single small voice becomes a clamorous throng. If we all speak up together, it cannot be ignored.
We live in an age where social perceptions shift like the waves of the ocean. We have the most powerful tools that have ever been available to move information.
Now is the time to speak up for the group.
CN: That’s well said. And it reinforces the need for creatives to join a group or professional organization. A single voice is not as effective as a group’s voice.
Great! Let’s talk about how bold artists who learn to overcome societal perceptions and decide to monetize their work could do so. What’s your take on using multiple income streams to earn a living as an artist/maker?
MB: Multiple revenue streams are a great way for small businesses to survive in tight times. It is possible to respond to short-term opportunities as they arise.
By all means, you should diversify if you have a small business so that you do not rely on one revenue stream for survival.
And make it a short list of things you do really well and that are related to each other in some way so that the narrative makes sense to your audience.
They should also be things that you enjoy doing because if you plan to make lots of money, you should expect to be producing volumes.
CN: What are some ways you’ve implemented this strategy in your own business?
MB: I have tried MANY ideas in my business and every one of them was my “next big thing” when I decided to pursue them.
All of them proved to be a prototype of a product that needs to be in my core business in some way or another.
Few of them currently look the way I imagined them when I launched the first prototype. The ones that remain in the product mix are ones that have successfully brought me revenue again and again and again.
Try your ideas, and then follow the money trail.
If any single idea sucks up too many resources and time without a financial return, abandon it or put it on the back burner until later, and make the cash that you need now to get you to your next step.
This is brilliant advice and a good place to pause for now. We’ll return in the second part of the interview to talk to Melanie Brummer about more business issues like why you need to care for yourself, how to “sculpt” the life you want and the challenges the artist/entrepreneur (artrepreneur) faces.
To learn more about Melanie’s services, visit here.
Interview Quotes & Takeaways
- Creatives hold infinite potential which can certainly create a living for a maker.
- We teach people how to treat us. Every time we cave in to the social pressure that says “You will deliver your best creative work for “exposure””, we perpetuate our own hell.
- Make your multiple income streams a short list of things you do really well and that are related to each other in some way so that the narrative makes sense to your audience
- Try your ideas, and then follow the money trail.
What are your thoughts on this interview? Does anything jump out at you? What one thing in the interview spoke to you?
You may also be interested in the other parts of this series.
1: Making the Decision to Monetize Your Creative Work
2: The Truth About Art and Creative Passion
3. The Secret to Maintaining Your Creative Focus
4. Seven Practical Ways for Textile Artists to Make Money
5. Art & Entrepreneurship – Interview with Melanie Brummer (1)
6. Art & Entrepreneurship – Interview with Melanie Brummer (2)
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