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Cathrin Machin is one of the most successful sellers who uses creativehub’s drop shipping service. She decided after a successful but unfulfilling career in the video games industry to become a full-time artist which soon led to a self-sustaining career. However, what’s really important is that she didn’t set out to make that leap at the start. She set an achievable goal, which she surpassed, and then she set another step on that journey. It seems that each moment she surpassed her own expectations and this gave her the confidence to move on to the next step.
Anyone who’s worked in the tech industry, who has read The Lean Startup, will recognize this approach. However, with Cat, this felt like it was just the right way to do it.
Cat is one of the most knowledgeable artists we’ve ever spoken to about how to run your own art career. Enjoy the podcast and if you like this episode, please share it with your friends.
Listen to this episode with Cat wherever you get your podcasts:
Stuart: Welcome Cat, it’s nice of you to join us. I wanted to begin by asking you a question about why you love making work about space and what the journey’s been like doing that?
Cat: Firstly, I would say that space is the best. That’s why I’m so biassed. Look, I often get that question like, why don’t you do like portraits or abstracts or all of that kind of stuff, and it’s because in our work, there’s two parts to it, right? And most people get this super confused. There’s the craft, which is a skill in which to produce, and then the art, the meaning, like the message you’re trying to get across, whatever that might be. And now sometimes the message that you’re trying to get across is, look how incredible human ability is, cuz I’ve done this like super detailed fine artwork, right, that it’s like photorealistic. Sometimes that’s the message that people are getting. But for me it’s like all of that whirls into comparison by this one question, which is why does anything exist?
And those questions always come to me when I’m looking at space. For instance, it’s like you never look up at space and think, oh, did I leave the oven on ? You don’t. Look at the amazing, vast, expansive stars cuz in every single direction right now and almost infinite distances, space like below you if you went through the ground and through the earth out there, almost infinite distances is space, stars and galaxies and nebulae are literally surrounding us at all points of the day. And yet it is something that basically no one thinks about. It’s like the largest part of what even exists is not in our little microcosm or the minutiae of daily life. It’s out there. But that always raises the question, how did it all get here? And I think there’s like these two schools of thought. There’s like the kind of religious approach, and then there’s the scientific approach and both are right, like it depends on who you are and what you think. But there’s a fundamental issue with both, which is give me one miracle and I’ll explain the rest. The miracle just happens to be the creation of all matter and energy and time and space and everything else. I’ll explain. Cuz I’m always like, what came before God? What came before the big bang? Like how do you explain all this? Because logically nothing should be here, and yet here we are.
So I like to paint space because for me it’s that I’m just so dumbfounded. Like we shouldn’t even exist. And not just humans, but like everything, all the matter and energy that makes up our bodies or the things that we’re sitting on or the devices we’re watching this on, none of this should really exist if you’re thinking about it logically. And I’m so fascinated by that question. I can’t help but paint space.
Stuart: So as you’re painting this, you are sort of constantly contemplating this vastness and this scale and all these questions.
Cat: It’s baffling, isn’t it? It’s a bit weird really, but I used to sit, when I was a little kid, and look out my window in a little village in Stoke-on-Trent and I’d be like, where did all these trees and all this matter and energy come from? I don’t know what’s put that question in me, but I’d be like five years old or six years old looking out my window, all the cars going past thinking like, huh, wonder how all this got here? You know what I mean? And it’s never left me.
Stuart: So when was the moment that you decided to make a career out of painting. Obviously the fascination from space came from very young, but when did you realise you could actually make a career out of painting space?
Cat: I’ve only been painting for six years. I’m super new, I suppose. I spent my whole life avoiding being an artist, which I’ve obviously failed miserably. I feel like this is true for so many artists, I think we’re often told to get a real job. And it’s done in love. It’s done because those people don’t wanna see you starve. They spent all this time protecting you, stopping you from dying. They want you to have the best chance at life. So I had this really early opinion that artists were failures. It was just something that was told over and over again, and that they don’t contribute. There’s no real purpose or whatever it is, which is an opinion, and everyone’s entitled to an opinion. But life without art would be pure misery. Everything would be vacant. Vacant objects. Everything would be bland. There’d be no texture, no passions, no intricacies, no literature, no films, no music, no culinary. It would just all be bland. Porridge would be every day, right?
I realise now, it took a long time to get here, and actually it took years of being a successful artist before I even called myself an artist, which is crazy. And even now I feel guilty producing artwork, because it’s always often seen as a hobby. It isn’t. It’s my whole life. That’s all I do. But even I feel guilty, which is bananas. But I think the earliest memory of me really loving artwork, my brother’s eight years older than me and he taught me how to draw and sketch. We went through that and him being much older, he was going through his terminator phase. In the UK, for people that obviously aren’t in the UK, like when you are in school and it rains like that, you don’t play outside. You go inside and you draw or you use the computer of which when I was little, there’s probably only a couple computers and they were like green screens and they were very old fashioned. But I would draw and I drew this thing and I remember it was a mechanised robot with big like shoulder pads and it was holding up a human decapitated head, but the spine has been down with blood dripping down, which was pretty intense for a small child to be drawing, but it was super cool anyway. We ended playtime. Scrunched it up and threw it in the bin. And then my teacher, her name was Mrs. Cherry, and she called me into her office and she was holding this crinkled picture of a robot decapitating a human. And she said, did you draw this? And I was like, I’m done for, I’m going to get in so much trouble. Like I was really like a good girl. I just never really misbehaved. And I was terrified. And I was like, yeah, I did. I did draw that. And she was like, wow, because you know what? The shading is really good on this. And I was like, what? And I think that was like one of those early moments when you receive praise as a kid and you’re like, oh, I can do this. And I feel like that self belief never left me, but it was squashed down by this don’t do artwork. So I spent my whole life avoiding it up until very recently.
Stuart: What made you come back to it and at what point did you realise actually I could make a career outta this?
Cat: I went into engineering and I became a video game developer cuz I was like, how can I be creative? But I still refused to call myself an artist, I called myself a technical creative, which is awful. So I did that and I was miserable because actually what I was doing was denying reality. Reality was that I was just built to be a creative artist and I thought, I’m miserable at the bottom. Maybe if I get to the top I’ll be really happy. So I did that thing where you climb the corporate ladder. Over a decade and I got all the way to the top, became project lead and executive producer for games, which is insane levels of workload. Like it was extraordinary. Everyone would be able to go home, but I wouldn’t. At the end of every game there’s this period called crunch, which is where everything’s broken and you’ve gotta fix launch day and you’ve gotta get it working for that specific time. And it was a moment where I was like sleeping under my desk cuz I’d worked so long that I couldn’t drive home. I would’ve killed myself on the road. I was that exhausted and I woke up cuz like the lady had come in to vacuum the floor and I was startled and I got bits of crap stuck to my face and I just had this soul crushing moment cuz I was like, what am I even doing? Like what am I really doing right now?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance of video games. I’ve spent my whole life building them, but for me I was like, I am not helping anyone improve their lives. I’m just distracting them from really making the true progress that they need. And I understand everyone needs a break of course, and that’s why videogames are good and they teach skills and all this other jazz. But to me, in that moment I was like, what am I even doing? Not benefiting society. Here I am pathetically lying under a desk, stressed the fuck, I haven’t eaten properly in months. I’ve barely been home. I stank like shit cause I probably hadn’t had a shower for a while. I got bits of crap stuck to my face. I probably look like a living zombie. And I was like, what am I doing?
And I think everyone has that moment, and if you haven’t had that moment, you’re either doing the thing that you’re destined to do or it’s coming. I call it the itch, which is that moment where you’re like, at some point I’m going to die and is this gonna be the thing that I’m forever remembered for? But for me, I was like, I literally just got to the top of the ladder because I thought that’s what you were meant to do. And now I was overqualified for everything. I couldn’t go to a lower job because I was now overqualified. And it’s a flight risk. If you are a business trying to hire someone, you don’t wanna hire someone overqualified because you know they could leave for a better job. And that’s true. So I couldn’t go back into the games industry, something I’d spent 10 years building and I thought, wow, I’ve lost everything. I really did feel, in that moment, I had lost my whole life.
Stuart: At that point, when you left, you just left because you knew you didn’t wanna do that, but you weren’t quite sure what you wanted to do?
Cat: I wasn’t sure, but one thing I had made clear to myself was, I’ve already lost everything, so I might as well do the things that make me happy. And actually, that was the biggest breakthrough. The funny thing is that I truly believe that nervous breakdowns or like having some massive breakdown is probably one of the best things anyone could have as long as they can then use it as a line in the sand to say, I can’t go back to that. I’ve gotta move forward. However, people can actually change their lives before having a nervous breakdown. I just haven’t been able to work out how that’s done. You don’t necessarily have to leave it to the breaking point to change, but then I was like, what am I doing? What should I do?
I started a cleaning company. I was scrubbing people’s toilets for a living and I was also doing the accountancy work for my then partner’s business but again, I was miserable. I watched this amazing Ted Talk called Draw Your Future by Patti Dobrowolski. It’s about drawing a little crappy stick figure of where you are and a crappy stick figure of where you’d like to be. And I just drew a picture of me painting, strangely enough, it was a picture of space. And I literally sat out with this simple ambition, actually I was gonna draw a picture of me having an exhibition, but I felt calm down. You don’t know how to paint, so maybe you should learn that first. So I drew a picture of me standing next to an easel and that became my North Star. That’s where I was heading.
And then I just started putting stuff online and then people were like, oh, this is really good, but can you please just make your own page? Cuz I am fed up of having to sit through your cheeky photos of food and pictures of art. Can we just have art in one place? So I was like, sure. So I built my Facebook page and it grew quite quickly. And before that I’d been a DJ and like I was still DJing all at that point. So it was like I’d had a tiny weenie, like a teeny following of like maybe one or two thousand people from that. So I was known to a bunch of people that then came over to look at the art, but they weren’t space fans, they weren’t art fans, they just were like supportive people. God bless them. And after a bit they were like, you know what? You should have an exhibition. And I was like, ah, I should have an exhibition. I was gonna write that down. And I had this really simple goal, which was fill a room with space and alcohol and let’s all get drunk and talk about space. And that’s how my art business became successful was a simple ambition to get my friends drunk.
Stuart: And I think there’s a sort of lesson in there as well, which is, you started painting the thing you were really passionate about and we are often promoting that people should maybe read this book by Simon Sinek called Start With Why. If you are at that point in your career where you don’t know where to go or you might already have embarked in your art career and you haven’t made that breakthrough, or maybe you are where ‘you’ were in a sense of not quite sure what you want to do, then, to me, that book says that everything that you are ever gonna be successful in is driven by the things you truly love. And they are very core to your personality and they’re things maybe you thought about since you were a kid. And then the challenge is to find, how do I make that support me?
So it sounds like that you took that plunge without actually knowing, okay, is this gonna work? But you were just at that point where, I’m just gonna do this cause I have to.
Cat: I was so miserable. Honestly. I was so depressed. I can’t even explain the depth of depression beforehand. And look, I think a lot of people don’t talk about that. They just see the glitz and the glam. They don’t see the really hard times that people go through. But yeah, look, here’s the thing. Part of the reason why it was successful is because I was invested in the process rather than the results. I realise now that had I drawn a picture of an exhibition, rather than me standing to a painting, it would not have worked. Actually, it was like the steps that I needed to take as a habit. The habit was just once a week for three or four hours, I would go and paint. That was literally it. And I did that for six months before I produced this first campaign, which I launched on Kickstarter because for me, I was like, all right, the mission is and also this other mission, which was like, to get my friends drunk. It’s a simple thing, but if your goal is, I wanna make a hundred thousand pounds or a hundred thousand dollars, it’s terrifying. And what if you fail? Like for me, what if I fail? My friends would be sober and there’s probably worse things they’ve been, yeah.
Stuart: I think, yeah, you really know they’re just there, that you are invested in the passion and the process and the measures of success whether that’s following, whether that’s making a sustainable living out of it. They’re just byproducts. They’re byproducts of the process and the passion. You were talking about Kickstarter. How did that go?
Cat: The way that I wanted to fund this process of having this big old space party was through Kickstarter, which honestly is so amazing and I think that it’s a great platform to use, like theprintspace. I wish I had that service when I was doing it, because I did everything myself and it was a nightmare. Not the selling part, it was really just the manufacturing and the logistics was a nightmare. But I had this issue where it was like, I am six months out from having a high paid executive job and I’ve gotta put on this event and I wanna put on this exhibition, right? I would love to do that. So I thought, I’ll try and raise $4,000, it’ll pay for the prints and then there’ll be money left over to rent a room, fill it with space and alcohol but I was physically sick before I launched that. I thought no one’s gonna buy really. But what I did was I just literally did a video that was just pure passion.
I didn’t really talk about the marketing aspect. I just talked about how amazing space is. And I’ll be honest, those first artworks were pretty bad. They weren’t that great. They were pretty terrible. Like often people show me their first set of artworks and I’m like, wow, that’s way better than when I started. But the reason why artwork is important is cuz when you look at it, it reminds you of the mission and the purpose. Like it reminds you of the story of the person’s told you. Cuz every time they looked at that slightly crappy picture of space, they just remembered how passionate I was about it and reminded them to be passionate about it. And that’s why people wanted it.
I lived in a cul-de-sac at the time so everyone in that area was like, it was kind of like one of those neighbourly kinds of units. Like no one was there that wasn’t meant to be. So we’d go and we put out the bins of the trash and everyone would be like, how are you doing with the Kickstarter? Oh, I think it’s gonna get to 20,000 and then 30,000 and then 40 and then 50, and then it finished. It’s $70,000 in 30 days. I had no idea that it was even possible, and I realised that whilst a lot of it might have been luck, I think also I picked up a lot of launch skills from launching video games and actually being a DJ and putting on events.
There’s a lot to be said for just being able to put yourself out there and do it, but for me, the failure point was really low. It was just an incredible success. Obviously the fulfilment and logistics was then a nightmare because at the time I was also very ADHD and I was undiagnosed and untreated at that point, so trying to do the meticulous cutting and packing and shipping and all that kind of stuff. Anyway, there’s things that you are meant to be and there’s things you are not meant to be. And doing prints for me was like, not what I was meant to be doing. Now it would be so easy to launch stores. Just thinking about how much of a nightmare that was. Getting myself to just do all of that. Just like the meticulous, repetitive work I just struggled massively with.
So the second one, I was like, all right, that first New Year’s resolution of starting to paint was good. So this New Year’s resolution was like, let’s paint really big cuz that’s the only New Year’s resolution I could think that would be better. So the following year I bought this massive canvas, four metres by two metres, like six and a half by 13 feet. Huge like a bloody wall. And I wasn’t sure what to do with it. I just bought the canvas and was pondering on it and then I got this phone call from my brother who was in the US and he was devastated. And my brother, he is like my best friend. He was the guy that taught me how to draw in the first place really. And he was devastated because he really wanted to go into this rocket factory. But you could only go in if you were an American citizen, cuz most rocket factories are ITAR, so it’s military grade operations. And I was like, I’m gonna get him in. How am I gonna do that? And then I looked at this giant canvas and I looked and I thought about it for a second. I thought, I’m gonna paint for the person that owns this big rocket company and I’m just gonna paint something and I’m gonna ship it to them and that’s how I’m gonna get us in.
I didn’t really know who I was painting for, which now I think if I knew I probably would be a bit more nervous. But anyway, for me, again, like the failure point was really low. The point wasn’t like, I’m going to paint for this said billionaire. The point was I’m gonna get my brother into the factory and I just wanted to give him the most amazing experience of his life. And the worst case scenario of me failing would be just that he doesn’t get a tour. No big deal. So it wasn’t something that I was like, oh, am I gonna do it? It’s whatever. Just do it. Cause if you fail, whatever, doesn’t matter. And I realised that it was like I didn’t understand the importance of setting goals in that way. Um, it’s amazing. So I got this low point of failure. So I was about to paint it, but I thought, I don’t know if they really want it. It’s a big painting, it’s probably gonna take me months to do. I should probably check if they want it first. And I didn’t realise how bold this move was, but it was very fancy.
So anyway, I photoshopped a picture of the space cuz I knew exactly there was this galaxy called NGC 3190, which doesn’t mean a lot, but I dunno if you’ve ever had the old Apple Max had that galaxy as a wallpaper. It was that one. I wanted to paint that specific cause that’s a real galaxy. I wanna paint that one. And I was like, okay. So I photoshopped, I took a photograph of the delivery truck drivers taken off the truck and it looked, because it was so big, it had to be moved in a furniture removal van, this big canvas. And I photoshopped it. I took a photo of them, like carrying it out and I took a photograph of it and then I just emailed them. But I didn’t have emails because who has an email of said person right though? I emailed their one below, the COO of this said rocket company. And I said, hey, I’ve painted you this picture. I just love everything that you do. I would love to drop it off. Just let me know where and when. And obviously I had to guess the email. I was like, blah blah blah at blah blah blah. 50 or so failed attempts later I got a message back that was like, Oh my god, this is beautiful. I’ve just gotta figure out where to put it. And I was like, I’m in. But then it hit me. I was like, damn, I’ve gotta paint. Idiot me photoshopped a real photograph of a real galaxy onto this damn canvas.
I’d been painting for a year and a half, probably a little less at that point. Now I could mix a purple, right? But now I had to mix the exact shade of purple and lay in the exact position on this canvas to match the picture that I’d sent them. Woo. So that was a trial by fire and actually that upped my ability so much, I can’t even put into words. That was the biggest, strongest upskilling cause I was not about to fail because I had got this opportunity now to take my brother into this factory so that he could look at the rockets, a thing that he’d been passionate about his whole life. Anyway, I did the painting. It looked amazing, but it was like, I think 10 weeks out before we were due to fly. I was gonna fly to the UK for a few weeks and then fly to the US and I was gonna just ship the artwork directly to the US to get it framed. However, I touched the canvas and it was still wet. I couldn’t fly with it. And everything about this canvas was unique. All the stretcher bars, everything was like custom made. And there was not time to get another canvas and then like I had to wipe that canvas back and paint it again, but with fast drying paint. It was insane.
So I did that first painting in let’s say five months. I did the second one in two weeks, maybe three weeks. The one week for clearing the canvas and two weeks of painting. And it turned out great. It turned out really good, but it was very emotional for me because A)it was the best painting I’d ever done, B) I was not entirely sure I could pull this off, but I just had to because there was no way I was turning up with no painting. And then C) at the time my granddad had just passed away. So I was scraping it back with these rags that were soaked with automotive thinners. I had to tape all the windows up in that particular room and the door because the smell was just going in. I had to have this full like a respirator, but I was crying because I was super emotional wiping back this beautiful painting. Then the passing of my grandfather and it was just probably very intense and I then had to go through and I couldn’t mourn the loss of this artwork. I just had to go straight into it. I’ve never painted so fast in my life and it turned out better actually. Funnily enough, it’s amazing what a bit of pressure will do.
Stuart: Yeah, totally. It’s an amazing story by the way, but that pressure is a really important part and having those deadlines, isn’t it? Because you had that in the games industry. You had it with this painting, and also you do a lot of timed sales as well. So you work up to a certain day where you know you’re gonna have to have everything ready by, and do you think that’s really important to have that kind of date to work to? Because otherwise you might always just come back and say, yeah, but I could make that improvement. I could make this improvement, and you’d never get that.
Cat: I think there are honestly just different types of people. For some people, that practice of, every day I do this routine and the routine involves doing this little bit of painting, doing this little bit of editing, doing this thing, and then there’s a finished piece and then I will upload it, whatever. And they’ve got this just almost like this pipeline of how they produce their pieces and they do it diligently and monotonously and it just worked really well for them. That is not me. I wish it was me, but it’s just not. And I realize that it’s okay because everyone has a thing that will work for them, but it’s like this whole thing, like if you judge a fish by how well it climbs a tree, you will forever think it’s stupid. In the same way for me, I have to have those deadlines. And also it has to be a publicly acknowledged deadline because if it’s just me, on my own, I’m like, yeah, I’ll get this done by next week. Next week comes with not so much pressure.
But it’s like what works for you? So for me, I like to take people on the journey. So I will literally, and this is just so important for any launch of anything, even if you are doing a consistent monotonous thing, whatever it is, tell people this is what’s coming in a few months time. Even if it’s just adding additional artwork, whatever, to your already existing catalogue, that’s fine. Tell ’em it’s coming. Take them through the process of it being developed, show them what works, show them what doesn’t work, build excitement about it. And then coming up to the launch, sharing all the behind the scenes. Just get really involved and really passionate and talk about what you are making. And then when you launch, it will always be so successful.
With most things like art, in some senses, is an optional item. You’re not gonna die. No one’s gonna die if they don’t have a piece of artwork on their wall. They might not be inspired or they might not have a beautiful place, or they might not have something that brings them joy, but they’re not gonna die from it. Generally speaking, the world today is very intense. People are just nonstop and Zoom meetings and traffic jams in like bundles and bundles of notifications and emails and overwhelm. And it never stops, right? Because people always have their phones on them, so it’s always with them. So people are exhausted. We’re all bloody tired. So the problem is it creates such a level of mental fatigue that when people come to buy print, they come to buy artwork, the problem is then it’s like they come to do it, they sit down. Which artwork should I have? What size should it be? And oh, these too many decisions. I will think about it tomorrow, but then tomorrow never comes. That’s what happens when you often have artwork there for, if you’re buying it as a gift for someone, there is a specific deadline. And of course that’s different for everyone. But if you wanna, that’s why you know, exhibitions, it’s like a moment in time to say, this is the moment to do the thing, to think about the thing.
And sometimes you need that cutoff for people actually like me. Really also, it’s like, I’ve always wanted this thing and now it is here. It is a choice of do I want it or not? And if I do want it, I have to make that decision now. But also one of the things I love is that I like the idea that when those pieces are gone, I don’t bring them back. If I bring them back, they’ll be different. And it creates this level of rarity in artwork because as much as it’s meant to be inspiration, we wanna create pieces that are assets. And this is the sad thing about art, of course, is that when artists die, their value goes up. But the reason isn’t because they’re dead. It’s because there is a capped supply and there’s no more that could be ever made. So having these moments when things are specifically sent out, it’s like this is the moment and you can be involved or not and it’s fine. So that’s why I like to do it like that.
Stuart: Okay. So I think you touched on something also really interesting there because you were talking about how, and I know you did it, cuz I’m always looking at your Instagram feed and your TikTok. And so you talk about the works right from the inception to the production, to the things that don’t work, to the things that do work. I’ve actually noticed that when I need something and I buy something, I do it really quickly because as you say, we’re all really busy and we have a limited amount of time, and I do it really quickly, I quite often regret that. But when I actually spend a long time thinking about it, especially with creative kinds of purchases, a bit of art or something, and I really think about, oh yeah, which one do I really like? Then when I find it, it’s almost like I subconsciously land on what I really love. It’s not like a conscious thought process, but because you’ve been showing this for a long time before it’s even available, people have a chance to go through that process and get an emotional attachment to one of your works basically.
Cat: A hundred percent. I say this all the time. Someone needs to see that artwork at least 30 to 35 times before they can commit. It’s like falling in love, right? That’s what artwork is. But imagine if you just met someone and it’s time to get married. You are like, whoa, alright. Calm down. You know what I mean? Going on a first date with a wedding dress on. It’s like that. You don’t do it, that’s not how it works. And offering people artworks, these pieces like emotional pieces, whatever they are, is just like that. It’s not bam, here it is to just buy it right now. Give people a moment to explore, to see, to understand so that by the point when it is okay, now is the time to make the decision, they’re already connected. They already understand. They’ve had time to rationalise whether they want or don’t want something. So it never becomes like something that they would necessarily regret. But it’s something that it’s like, oh, I’ve built a connection with this piece over this huge period of time and now I’ve got it. They’re part of the story of it.
Stuart: I think it’s like an album, actually, I’m thinking of an analogy here. Often when I hear an album that I really love, the first song that I really love and the one that I play on repeat constantly, actually doesn’t tend to be the one that really, like after listening to it for a year, you find different nuances in different tracks. And so I think that art can be the same. And I think that’s why, cuz it’s really important that when someone buys something, that they really have that deep, long lasting connection with it. They’ve gotta be looking at it every day. So I think by showing that process, people are able to do that and they’re really able to develop those connections.
But what do you find is like the optimal time span to be able to do that because you don’t want it too long. Cause people maybe switch off cause it’s like, Oh God, that’s not gonna be available for three months forever. What’s the time scale?
Cat: So I would say an optimum time scale is usually about six weeks. However, it could be done as much as two weeks before launch. Those final two weeks are usually the most important weeks. And as long as you have those last two weeks, you can make this process work for you. Like it’s worth holding back artwork just for a couple weeks just to drip feed and share and get people really excited. However, it’s actually fine. Like some of my most successful launches have been launches over four months. In fact, this latest launch was actually technically over six. However, it’s like this: it’s like the beginning parts of that launch isn’t every day like bam, it’s coming. It’s a very gentle whisper. Getting people at those very beginning stages, my recommendation is, because here’s the thing, out of let’s say 20 artworks, some artworks will sell like hotcakes and some won’t sell at all. So find out which ones are good.
Like for me, I would always recommend that people wanna be launching with somewhere between 7 and maybe 12 or 13 artworks max. There’s like this window. Any more than that it’s overwhelming, any less than that, there’s not really a great deal of choice. But you might have 20 artworks. So how do you thin it down? And I really believe that data is the best way to run a business if you understand what people actually want. So share the different artworks. Just be like, here’s a poll, I’m thinking of doing a store in a couple months. I just wanna know which of these do you want to be involved? And which ones do you think I should turn into X? Like on this particular project, I was like, what products do you want me to make? You want me to make prints? I did like blankets, puzzles, a bunch of different products as well as like the prints that went along with it. So it’s like asking people, which are the designs? How do you want, do you prefer this or this? Like I would do colour versions of the different artworks.
But that meant that by the time I launched, all those artworks were like heavy hitters. It wasn’t just like a bunch of, if I launched with 20 artworks and let’s say 12 of them were like blah and then there were just a few great ones, those are really the ones that may just take mental processing to filter out for most people. So use those earlier months or weeks or whatever it is for you to work out what it is. But then also people, your fans, are invested. They’ve been part of the creation of this store. They’ve made decisions and helped you. They chose everything for me from the names of the artworks to the name of the store all the way through to which artworks went in, what kind of products, colour variations of which artworks. The people that follow me made so many decisions and that’s what you should use those earlier stages for. But also throughout this whole process, just build your email list, build your email list, build your email list. The longer you can take that for the better. But again, it’s not like you’re posting every day about it. You might post maybe once or twice a week at the very beginning and it ramps up as it goes. Those last two weeks, it’s pretty intense. Those last few days it’s like, that’s it! Come on. So you can start with minimum two weeks, maximum probably four months, I would say.
Stuart: Okay. It’s interesting cuz when you say that you actually get your followers involved in quite a lot of the creative process, quite a lot of the sort of choices, I’ve actually heard, I did an interview with a photography professor and he said something very similar about doing photographic projects in the sense of start putting it out there on Instagram and see whether it’s a market for it and then, cause you might be shooting this for six months and the last thing you want to do is get to the end of that six months and go, okay, nobody was that interested, or this is really niche or something.
But then again, I would imagine that goes against the nature of the way a lot of people think about art, that is you have to be working away behind closed doors and then you come out of this sort of master selection at the end. Would you advise other people to adopt this approach? If you didn’t adopt this approach, would you find that your sales would be significantly lower?
Cat: I’ve done launches where I’ve not really shown a lot pre-launch, and then it’s just really hard for people to feel emotionally invested in things on the day of launch. It just hits them all, Oh, I didn’t know, this was out of the blue. You don’t want people to feel like that. But I would say there is an aspect to how you present your work in progress because there is a thing where you don’t necessarily wanna remove all mystery from it. Here’s the thing, most artwork looks like utter crap for most of its development, right? And it does until almost like this finishing part where it starts to come together and it’s, I have a lot of that and I’m just like, uh, but it’s like finding the shots or the sections. And what’s important at those really early stages is not necessarily, you don’t wanna, you wanna be showing some of the artwork or showing some of the process. But the things, if I showed you two objects and they looked similar, let’s say one was just like made on a machine and the other one was handcrafted. Like when you see the process of it coming together, people really appreciate the labour, the details that you’ve put in that no one would ever know about.
Like at the beginning I was doing these paintings, right? And they started out 12 by 12, but now they were like 104 inches wide, the king comforters. And also doing like these 12 by 12, these massive, I think we did 30 by 30 inch prints, right? And it’s like a tiny speck of dust, which you cannot notice on an artwork, magnified to that level, looks horrific in print, however it’s put forward. So it’s like showing people the meticulous detail of fixing these things, the things that they don’t realise. But when they look at those art pieces, they mean so much more because they’re like, wow, a lot of time and care has gone into making that. So there is this balance. You don’t want to remove all mystery. You don’t want to put it in a bad light, but truthfully, the number one thing missing from online is trust. We don’t trust what we see. We don’t have this connection. We don’t believe people are authentic anymore. And in particular ones that are all done behind closed doors, like it is so much easier to connect to a process when you know a little bit more about it. But I do also agree that there probably could be too much or too little sharing. It is a fine line. Honestly, you can only discover where that line is by trial and error.
Stuart: I think that the trust thing is a really huge thing because in the past you would’ve gone to an exhibition to buy artwork or an art fair, you get to meet the artist, you get to communicate in a very different way with them. So obviously this builds trust. And I think this is probably why Kickstarter is such a great idea because there’s that thing of, I actually contributed to this in some way. I made it happen. And that’s a really nice feeling when you back someone in a Kickstarter and then it ends up to be this huge product.
Cat: But also, even more, now that we are seeing this advent of AI artwork, it’s like people wanna know it’s not necessarily done with the click of a button, but it’s done through labour and actually people appreciate it more. But we are gonna have to be more and more focused on showing people the process and getting people involved and getting people to really appreciate the details of those kinds of decisions that we make on day to day when we’re producing these beautiful pieces and getting people emotionally invested in the process. Because obviously AI has created this democratisation of skills so anyone, regardless of training, can now produce stuff. So it’s like showing people the process is now more important than it ever has been.
Stuart: And I guess telling your ‘why’ because an AI doesn’t have a why really? It’s a model that’s based around a layered statistical model, but it didn’t set that agenda. It didn’t say, I’m gonna turn myself into an artist. So social media gets vilified a lot and for certain reasons, quite rightly, but it also helps you to communicate that ‘why’, doesn’t it?
It helps you to communicate that sort of, okay, you started thinking about this when you were five years old and looking up at the stars. And that is something that is important when you have that print or that canvas on your wall because it’s so much more than just the picture. There’s a whole lifetime of fascination behind it.
Cat: I would say that like with a lot of the AI people, they still have the person producing it probably has some meaning and some purpose behind it, and it makes them, not artists, but art directors. And I understand them, and I think that that’s useful for a lot of people. But yeah, it’s that we are not making wall decorations contrary to what people make. We’re making little pieces of art that inspire or convey the message, whatever that message is. So the message is actually AI can produce the craft, but it can’t produce the art. The art is the meaning behind it. And the meaning is everything.
It’s a funny thing because I think a lot of people are like, oh, it’s so pretentious, it’s like fancy words. It’s just a vehicle. In the same way that a novel is a vehicle or a music piece or a poem is a vehicle. It’s a vehicle for a message. What the message is the artwork. So it’s like when you don’t have a process to get that message out, all it is a wall decoration and you don’t wanna be making those things because ultimately you are just competing with the lowest common denominator. You’re competing with Wilco or Target or Kmart or wherever you are in the world. Just an Amazon special, which is just some knockoff of our work, right? We are not in this game to compete against wall decorations. We’re not here to compete about that stuff. We’re here to spread something that’s a really important message, whatever that is. And ultimately the message doesn’t have to be like, it’s funny because sometimes we’re compelled to do stuff and we don’t really know why we are.
I’m sure Ian told you this story in his podcast, but it’s like this concept of purpose, right? And the story between Lance Armstrong, who is obviously now a disgraced cyclist and Tony Hawk. At the time Lance Armstrong had just recovered from cancer, he was giving charity donations, sending kids that couldn’t afford to hospital all that kind of jazz. And Tony Hawk was like, man, I’m just a dude that likes rolling around on some wheels. I wish I had a big grand purpose. You’re here doing all this stuff for helping kids with cancer. And like Lance Armstrong was like, are you kidding? He was like, what you’ve done is you’ve inspired a whole generation of kids to go out and physically exercise. You’ve inspired a whole generation to do that, and obesity is the number one cause of childhood cancer. So you’ve probably saved more kids from cancer than I ever will do. And like he had this oh my god moment. And then from that day onwards, the way that he went about putting out the content and also the message behind what he was doing was so different.
So it’s like that in a nutshell. Sometimes you are compelled as artists to do something, you don’t really know why, but the why is there, you just have to do the digging work to uncover it.
Stuart: Or someone can help you as well. I think sometimes we’re so close to it that we don’t really understand what connects the dots with everything we’ve done in our lives. But generally there are some sort of personality driven reasons for why we do what we do and they come back to early experiences and things like that. So I think, yeah, definitely, if people can’t connect those dots, then they could always talk to someone about it, someone they trust, that knows them and say, look, I make this work and this is why I got into it. And someone else might easily be able to say or at least ask the questions that prompt the realisation of what their ‘why’ is.
So, Ian was my first podcast and this is my ninth and I’ve started to notice something very common throughout all of the people I’m talking to, people like yourself, like Ian, everybody I’ve spoken to, they have become incredibly successful, have huge followings that are mind boggling, really, when you think about the number of people that are following them, have created sustainable art careers and are following their passion. Now, the other thing that connects them is that they, most of them, if not all of them, have some kind of formal training or background in some kind of marketing or launches or something like that. So it is starting to make me think that, do you think that maybe photographers, artists who want to embark on this should systematically actually go out and try and learn this stuff? Or should you just learn by experience?
Cat: I learn by experience cause I have no formal marketing training and actually neither does Ian. We both learned from YouTube and like articles because that’s the beautiful thing. And also this really important thing is that it’s a vastly fast changing landscape. What worked for marketing even 12 months ago is not working today. And you have to keep on top of things all the time. But all of these platforms have, it’s like they all have the current zeitgeist, like how you’re meant to do stuff, right? They all have this like process or this nuance that changes, this matter that changes, right? So I love this process called the 10-10 Method and Gary Vee is someone that coined it, which is to spend 10 hours using a platform and then produce 10 pieces of content. However, when you use the platform to market your products, so you are using it as a user, you need to ask yourself.
Let’s say you’re scrolling through TikTok. How do you make viral videos? What you do is you start to look for patterns and that pattern might be, so you need to be asking yourself, why am I interested in this content? At what point did I lose interest? Why don’t I just skip past that one immediately? What was it about? It made me skip past why? And don’t just ask yourself, why is this good or why did this one work? Ask why things are bad. When people see trends, they see trending things like, oh, I should copy this. Don’t just look at that one good one. Go into the sound and look at all the people that have replicated it, but did it poorly and be like, why are these not good? What is it about this that’s not good? And you will start to realise, cuz like the crazy thing about TikTok in particular, and the way that Reels work, it is not about how many followers you have. It literally is the quality of the item. And it’s like, whilst you might get a small amount of views from your following, it’s tiny. We’re talking like 0.1% of people who follow you will see your stuff.
Most of the people are people that don’t know you, that have never seen your stuff before. So it’s like asking yourself all these questions and being really conscious, like on Facebook, why did I stop at this post? What were the actions? What did I do? Did I immediately go to the comments? Did I skip to the end? Did I stop? Was I just not interested? Ask yourself, start noting them down. Create datasets. Like what is it? How is it filmed? What’s the lighting? What are the techniques? What are they saying? What kind of music are they using? And what happens is, you do that even just for 10 hours, you start to see a pattern. And that pattern obviously constantly changes every week, every month it’s a little different, but you’ll get the flavour of how these things are meant to be. And in doing that, and then producing your own content to test your theories, and you do get better over time.
So marketing in itself really is just getting the message out there. There’s like several different aspects of it, but number one is just viewers. Like just having attention of some form, like having people see what you are working on. So that’s one part. Then there’s like the branding aspect, which isn’t like you sending out a message, but what people think of you. What is the consistent personification of who you are and who you’re talking to and all of those aspects. The truth is that all of this stuff can be learnt online. There’s not any of this that you really have to get formal education in anymore. And even when you do get formal education, it moves at a shockingly fast pace. And I think that it’s frustrating for probably people that have spent loads of time learning this stuff only to get out into the real world to realise that things have moved on since they’ve even started.
Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. I guess what I mean is that everybody that I’ve spoken to so far has some kind of commercial background in the sense that, I guess when you work for bigger companies, that have developed a process for getting these things out there, for launching things you’d realise that, okay, there’s a process behind this. It’s not magic. And you’ve just described, for example, a process of just getting to understand TikTok. You also went on to talk about brand and you actually preempted my next question.
Cat: Before the next question, I think you are right and actually one of the most important things I ever did was become a DJ because you have to promote yourself and you have to promote your work and you have to put on events and you have to get people excited about stuff. And also with video games you have to build up this excitement for launch. I believe that part of the reason why I’m successful as an artist is because I avoided it for so long and I went into, I’m gonna call it the real world. So I went into the non-artist realm to take stock. But I think that whilst that’s obviously very good and I actually think that it’s beneficial for everyone to have experience outside of art work in either something that is manufacturing or selling or like offering a product where there is like sales and marketing involved, I think it’s just so important.
However, you can get some of that experience without being in those specific realms, but you have to be relentlessly curious and you have to be willing to just consume a lot of information in the form of tutorials and stuff and just be willing to trial and error those things for sure. But yeah, honestly, not being an artist was the biggest, most important thing about becoming an artist.
Stuart: Definitely. I think that even if you haven’t had that commercial background, I think the realisation that you actually have to do some learning. It’s like you might think that putting your work out there is just a kind of a skill, maybe it’s a talent but it’s actually something you develop. It’s something that just comes with systematically going and reading as much or listening to much and then doing it and trying it and experimenting.
Cat: So there was this one moment that was like a really pivotal moment for me cause I had grown up with this idea of you’ve gotta be successful and artists fell and all this kind of stuff. And it’s amazing cuz like when I started, I did this first Kickstarter and at the end of it I was wildly successful and I was like, oh crap, I guess I’m an artist now. And I did this thing, I went to YouTube and I typed in ‘what do artists do all day’ and there was a BBC documentary about it and I highly recommend you go watch the documentary. There was this pivotal moment when they were interviewing Tracey Emin, who for anyone who doesn’t know is part of the YBAs and a phenomenal artist. And there was a moment and she looked down the barrel of the camera and I’m misquoting it entirely because it’s just a distant memory now, but she said something like this: Some people think that all an artist is someone that paints all day, but here I am in front of my East London studio and it’s five stories. There’s one story for legal and accounting. There’s one story for international events and coordination. There’s one story for reproduction and printing. There’s one story for distribution like frame manufacturing and storage. And then I have my art studio and she was like, to produce an operation of this scale, I have to have a team of X amount of people.
And the penny just dropped. I’ve been thinking about this all wrong. I have literally just been thinking, this whole thing of what a successful artist is. Just this thing, which is I can draw and have a message, but actually being able to draw and have a message is all well and good and people should do that. But if that’s all that they want to do and they don’t wanna be a commercial success and they’re happy spending their years doing other things other than the art that they’re passionate about. But if you want to be successful, the rest of it, which is the business of art. And honestly, for me, the business side of art running is an art work in itself. The marketing, understanding the legal, understanding the finance, understanding how to put on events, how to manufacture or how to leverage services that manufacture, or how to do global logistics. Otherwise, you’ll be the very best artist confined to your own studio for no one to ever really see that what you are doing is there.
Stuart: Yeah, it’s really interesting. And I know the series actually, one of our clients was on it, Dougie Wallace, so I know the series and it’s fantastic because I think that a lot of people don’t realise that there’s so much more to it. There’s so much more to getting your work out there. And I guess even probably there’s more to it than there was to getting started than there was for Tracey Emin because she had, I think she was in Sensations and then was repped by probably White Cube or someone like from early on. But I think a lot of people that are now starting out are looking down the social media route and selling directly to their own audience.
And so that initial kind of traction has to actually come from them and not from a gallerist that’s pushing it and doing it for them. So I think that a lot of people probably fall at that very first hurdle because they just put it out there and it just flies. It doesn’t work like that, does it?
Cat: No. You have to bring the people too. It’s not like you build it and they will come, you build it and then you have to tell people to come. And I think the very first step is like the 3 Fs: the Friends, the Family, and anyone Foolish enough to be within five feet of you, right, is who you sell to. That is your audience. You know when you are starting and you are beginning, and I know that some people are in way more privileged positions where they are surrounded by an audience so beginning will be a lot easier. But regardless, the beautiful thing about online is you can put your artwork in front of millions and millions of people for free. All you have to do is learn how to use the platform effectively. And if your things aren’t doing well, it’s because you aren’t using it effectively, and that’s just the horrible truth.
You might think that video or that post is amazing, groundbreaking. It’s not, if it’s not doing really well, that’s why. Surely sometimes there is a bit of luck involved. So sometimes a post will do better than others, but skill trumps all. And if you’re producing consistently good, like online content, and I mean I know like sometimes it’s, wow, the video took longer than the art piece. But the art piece exists to communicate the message. It’s not about making a wall decoration. So part of getting that message out is the marketing. That’s part of sharing the most important aspect of what you’re doing.
Stuart: And you might be in danger if you fall up that marketing hurdle. Or thinking it’s your work. And then you might think just no one wants to see my work. And I guess that’s the possibility. And maybe you do have to go back and think about the work you’re making. Maybe you could get some advice from people on that. But I’d imagine that for a large proportion of people, work isn’t the issue.
Cat: It’s never the work. Here’s the thing: Mark Rothko, god bless him, who just made blocks of colour, they sell for millions and millions and millions of dollars. Like he was one of the most wildly successful artists. And of course there’s probably a fair amount of nepotism and luck in all of that kind of stuff in involving themselves in the right circles, but they’re just blocks of colour. Now that is obviously very demeaning because he was very fascinated by layers of transparent colours, and he wanted to produce colours that were so emotional that it made people cry. But ultimately, what they’re looking at is the craft, right? Which is separate from the art. Like some people say, oh my craft, my skill execution is not good enough that’s why people aren’t buying it. It’s not that. You can make a block of colour and you can sell it for millions of dollars. Why aren’t you? So don’t worry about the craft. The craft will evolve, of course.
There’ll be times when you are more confident and it is frustrating at the beginning when in your head you have a, this is what I wanna make, and the what results is. It’s not quite there. You’ll have that, but stop looking at it as a mistake and start thinking about it as, what did I learn from this one piece? And then what happens is like we would all die to have an early Picasso sketch where he was trying to figure stuff out. What an amazing aspect of an artist’s journey. Like wow. I had one of the first things, he hadn’t quite figured this stuff out. You can see where he made mistakes. Isn’t this wonderful? It’s a piece of history. We’re making pieces of history. Even the mistakes are the most important thing. Like every painting I look at in my early stuff, it was a step to becoming where I am. People own those really important art pieces. Like even now when I do a piece that’s not great, like sometimes I just be like, what did I learn from this? Someone can be an owner of that step in my progress. It’s amazing.
Stuart: I was gonna ask quickly about brands, because you mentioned brands and the podcast I did last week, it came up as well about this concept of brand as an artist. Is that a conscious process? Like in a sense of you think about ideas, but then you think about how those ideas might fit into your brand or not, and you maybe adapt ’em so they do. Or is that something that just emerges in retrospect?
Cat: It’s an interesting question. So someone said this really amazing line to me when I started, which is that every single artwork you make is a self-portrait. It’s a self-portrait, not of your face, but of your interests, your passion, who you are, ultimately the brand of being an artist. You are the brand. There is no separation between who the human is and what the artwork is. It’s the same. And that can be hard, right? Because in some cases, at the beginning I was like, oh man, I need to pretend to be so much more sophisticated than I am so that I’m taken seriously. But that’s just not who I am. I’m a bit of a nerd and I’m a bit all over the place, and that actually doesn’t stop me from where I need to go. But ultimately I think what’s more important is honing your why and understanding why that’s important to other people. And often it’s like asking people like, producing all this artwork, you know why you are doing it, but why are other people loving it?
For me, when I put out this artwork, I just got the same thing over and over again. I’m stressed. I’m overwhelmed. Life is really heavy right now. When I look at space, whilst it doesn’t fix those issues, it puts everything into perspective. I get that moment of relief, that moment of release or whatever it is, and there’s this concept that nature is just visually relaxing. You walk in a forest, you look at a sunset, beautifully relaxing, and it’s just built into our DNA, really the human aspect of it. And people are living in these concrete jungles and not around any nature and stuff. And for them, looking at space is like taking a stroll on the beach at sunset, but on steroids because for them it’s beautiful. The concept of it’s so massive.
So I realised that through asking people, it didn’t naturally emerge for me, you know, that people could carefully craft something. But the brand of your art is you and you have to live it every day. So if it isn’t authentic to you, it is very hard to pedal something that you’re not in your soul. So, I would say it’s more likely to be emergent. However, there’s nothing wrong with trying a few things out to see if it fits you, cuz sometimes you don’t know the right direction. So it was worth trying things out. I tried to be this like a very serious brand and I realised it’s just not me. But I wouldn’t have known that without trying.
Stuart: And as you evolve, because you do evolve as an artist, are you conscious of your history and the works you’ve made already in terms of what you’re known for and that’s you? Does the brand become something that kind of restricts you a little bit or can you just experiment wildly?
Cat: You can do it. I always say you really need to find a niche that’s an inch wide and a mile deep. For me, space is so massive, not just like it’s physically massive, but as a niche it’s like there’s so much involved with that kind of aspect of it. So there’s everything from science all the way through to the visual aspect, to taking photographs of it, to painting it, to learning how to process it, to even doing mathematical aspects. But here’s the thing, right? The reason why, and I relate this back to music, right, would you like a band if every time they put out something it’s just so wildly different? You don’t, cuz we like to curate what’s around us. Humans do. Because everything is again so overwhelming.
Your newsfeed on your phone or whatever you pay for, it’s like the things that are shown to you are the things that you really actually love. When you get lots of stuff that you don’t like, you’re like, how am I on this app? Why am I in this? So when you go on Instagram, let’s say you see a post that you really love from someone and you click it and it’s a post of, let’s say it’s a mountainscape, right? Lovely mountainscape. You’re really into it. You click on it, but then it’s interspersed with shitty photos of food, right? It’s interspersed with all of this stuff that’s just totally irrelevant. You’re like, I am not going to follow this person because this one or two random pieces are great. I’m now gonna have to trudge and scroll through hundreds, if not thousands, pieces of stuff, I couldn’t care less. I have this tiny period of spare time to enjoy myself on this app or on this whatever. I don’t wanna fill it with garbage that I’m not bothered about.
When you think about music like a band, they have a style, right? And you go to them for that style. And if you want something different, you go somewhere else. There’s nothing wrong and musicians do it all the time. They have Snoop Dogg and then Snoop Lion that does the reggae stuff, right? There’s nothing wrong with you creating two. And of course, yeah, the energy and time and keeping two things alive, but you are gonna be infinitely more successful unless the specific thing really meshes super well in a sense of, like for me, if I did space paintings and astrophotography, those two things sit together really well. But if I was to do paintings of space and then paintings of still life, no one who loves this picture of space will give a crap about a boring bowl of fruit and they just don’t care about it. They’re gonna be considering, should I even bother following this? And even now I have people that tag me in post and I’m like, oh, it’s a beautiful space painting, but that whole feed is like a jumble sale of crap I’m not interested in, so I’m not gonna follow them.
So I think that being concise with who you are is important. There’s nothing wrong with having more than one persona. Just keep them separate because then it stops people from being confused.
Stuart: That’s absolutely amazing advice. So we’ve got time for one more question which is, if someone was starting out right now, so they’ve got zero following and they’re starting out with their art career and they wanted to emulate what you’ve done and create a sustainable career whilst having the freedom to pursue the art that they want to pursue. What sort of two or three pieces of advice would you give them?
Cat: Firstly, it’s like figuring out what your art stands for and what you like to produce and pick something that’s not just like a fleeting love, it’s something that’s like you’re just super fascinated with and you are willing to put in. The reason why I’ve been successful is because I’ve been, and I am the least consistent person in reality because I’m so ADHD, but find the burning desire that has just been with you for years. It’s been the thing that you’ve been fascinated about. I put aside all that concept of space when I was getting a real job and stuff. I forgot about all that stuff going through the world. And you can start off by making little bits and barbs of different things, but find the thing as quickly as you can. That is the thing that you’re just like, this is it. And hey, sometimes you’ll settle on something and it’s not the right thing. That’s okay.
Just pick something and then start to think about why it is important to me? And even ask other people, what is it about this piece you love? And start to use that information to start crafting your ‘why’. That Start With Why book by Simon Sinek, I probably butchered his name, is amazing. It’s a great start. You get the audio book, listen to it as you’re painting. Consider all of those things. There’s also other online courses that help you craft your ‘why’ as an artist as well. There’s a course called Making Art, Making Money that I think is really good for that as well. So start with having a vibe. And of course, again, as you start, you can have more than one channel. You don’t have to keep them just, but keep it uniform on whatever it is.
Number two is you need to gain attention. And that attention is, and there are viral mechanics to all of these different platforms. Now it’s the 10-10 rule, 10 hours of super conscious observation. Take notes, start to find patterns in what’s happening, and then start to produce these 10 pieces of content to practise and to hone and ask yourself what worked, what didn’t work, right? So you’ve started off with, you’ve got a vibe, right? Then you’ve got, you’re starting to understand the process.
And then the third thing is to produce a project, a body of work, right? But the body of work isn’t like just a lifetime of work. It’s to try to aim to produce, let’s say eight pieces in a consistent theme that you can launch into a thing and set yourself a beautiful goal. It does not have to be, I’m gonna make a million dollars. It could just be, I wanna get my friends drunk, I wanna have an exhibition, or I wanna use this money and I’m gonna give something to charity. I really wanna help this person out. Make it something that it’s like a thing that you’re like, I would love to do that. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. I’ve got a friend who just said they set up a ball because they wanna give an art grant to artists in particular, artists who are marginalised or people who are from a less affluent background. And the beautiful thing about that is that an art grant could be $50 or it could be $5,000. There are no failure points. So instead of thinking about how am I gonna fail on this, you’re thinking about just how much am I gonna succeed? And that’s all that matters, right?
And then probably the fourth thing is the most important really, is creating the habit. Now for me to produce my very first Kickstarter, it was the habit of four hours every weekend for six months. That’s all it took to produce all of those artworks. And because I was working full-time as a cleaner at that point and doing all this other stuff, but you would be surprised, four hours a week for six months is enough to produce a body of work. If you are working a full-time job or you’ve got all this thing people do, they have responsibilities, they’ve got kids, they’ve got families, but most people can produce four hours and that doesn’t have to be all in one night. I think that maybe two hours and two hours, if it must be, or whatever, is manageable for most people, of course, doing more or doing less is fine, but always try to do that tiny amount every week and you’ll start to firstly build a discipline of actually doing it every week and being consistent.
You’ll find that by the time you’ve come to it, you’ve got this matching body of work, and that is the perfect point to start offering your work. It doesn’t have to be necessarily through a store, but you can do it that way. Take photographs of your artwork and you can set up your first store from that, and it’s amazing. You can upload your artwork, obviously to print like the creativehub. Get it printed and shipped for you. And the beautiful thing about that I like is that it allows you to offer things at probably a more reasonable price than what original artwork should be paid. So a lot of these original artworks, look, original artwork is a luxury item, even when you’re starting out it’s still a luxury artwork. And I always say like when you’re doing your first campaign, do not worry about the piece of selling. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but realistically you don’t wanna sell those in some ways, still offer them.
The reason being is like I’ve kept some of my very first artworks, I am now climbing to success building a 6-7K business annually, right? And I’m able to now put on exhibitions if I wanted to, a private exhibition that involves like a piece from every year of my career. I’m able to say, this is the first piece I ever painted, and here are the pieces I’m painting now. That contrast is mind blowing. Don’t worry if you don’t sell those first few pieces because when you are big and successful, you’re gonna be able to say, hey look, this is where I came from. So that’s what I would do.
But it’s like a chain link, right? Well, if any one of those links is broken, the whole process doesn’t work. If your first link, which is your purpose or your aesthetic isn’t defined, it’s very hard to get people that are really into it. People aren’t really just into random shit. They’re into something. And also being able to speak about your message and ethos and why you really love this aspect and having that as consistent. Like you could, for instance, be just like, there’s a lot of people that do this hyper realistic pencil drawings, right? Now you could do hyper realistic pencil drawings of lots of different things, but you have a very consistent message, like consistent messages. Human ability is amazing and it’s just phenomenal that a human could produce something like this. A reminder for you that it just takes dedication and practice, and anyone really can do this with consistent effort. You could have that as a consistent aspect of your messaging. Or you could have someone that is really focused on, they just love geology and they just love producing crystals, whatever that is. And they produce all this crystal based artwork, right? And they have a consistent message and a consistent thing. Whatever it is, just offer something with some level of consistency, right? That’s the first link.
The second link is attention. So understanding how the platforms work, how to bring people in, how to share your message. The third thing is creating the consistency to work. You only need six months and four hours a week. It doesn’t need to be a lot. That’s enough to produce your first body of work. And then the last thing is to start offering it. Produce a project, do a buildup, get people excited about it, and yeah, you can upload your stuff and they can ship for you. It’s amazing. I wish I had that when I started, cuz it was like, honestly, I feel like that bit would’ve been so helpful in the beginning.
Stuart: It’s nice of you to say that as well about us and that is actually brilliant advice. I think that breaks it down into sort of steps, doesn’t it? And it breaks it down into steps that people can follow and just do it one thing at a time and make sure you do each step right and then at the end of it you’ll be in a much, much better place than, than when you started.
And look Cat, this has been a really fascinating talk. I’ve learned a lot myself and I’m sure everybody listening will have learned a lot as well. So I really appreciate the time that you’ve taken today to give us your thoughts.
Cat: Thank you so much. I also have my own podcast, but it’s specifically about art business and it’s called Art Wisdom. And I actually break down the steps to launching your own print store as an episode. And even it’s got other things like how to find your purpose and all that kind of stuff. But I think that’s something that would be really beneficial if people want to know more detailed, intricate steps on those things. But yeah, I just want people to do well, man. I think if everyone can do the thing that they’re passionate about, the world would be so much happier and more fulfilled.
Stuart: Definitely! Brilliant. Thanks for your time today, Cat.
Cat: Thank you!