Surviving as an Independent Artist

Hetain Patel gives his top 5 tips for surviving as an independent artist.


1. Make clear goals for yourself and plans on how to achieve them. It creates focus, and embeds longevity into your head. These goals can and will change but it is useful to have something solid to check against for every decision you make: Will this next potential commission, teaching job, workshop, funding application, temp job etc bring you closer to your goals?  If not, what would? Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish (I read this on a Nottingham bus).

2.Utilise your networks. Make a list of all the people, galleries, organisations, etc that are familiar with and sympathetic towards your work. Include all the people who you have bumped into and have said, “we should talk more about this” or “we should meet” or “sounds good, send me more info”. This will likely be a bigger list than you imagine. Can these people help you achieve your goals?

3. Tell people what you are doing. There are lots of artists trying to make it out there- you need to work hard to be visible. Send out sensibly spaced e-mailouts and use social media to tell people what you are doing. Most people on your list won’t come. This is not the point, rather it is to remind them you exist and that you are active. You never know who has been thinking about you and your work lately, it can prompt other commissions, invitations, recommendations etc to come your way.

4. Negotiate with an open mind. To get the best deal in any situation, first seek to understand things from their perspective – what would be important for the gallery/commissioner/buyer/org/employer to get from you? Then explain what would be most valuable for you to get from them, and why. Money? Visibility? Professional development? Introductions to their networks? This is much more likely to end in a win win result and leaves both parties keen to work together in the future. Having said this, don’t under price yourself. It can be tempting to work for a low fee to get the job, but in the long run, it is bad for all artists and devalues what we do. We should not remain at the bottom of the arts ecology. There is good info on artists fees here:

5. Don’t forget the art! Keep making and seeing work no matter what.  You never know who is keeping an eye on your work as it develops. You’re a practicing artist, so practice, get better at what you do. Invite critical feedback from trusted peers, don’t operate in a vacuum. Manage your time well. Don’t spend every hour of the day on ‘urgent’ emails – make time to research, make art, and plan your future.

Hetain Patel is an artist working with photography, video and live performance. 
More details about his work at: or
View his TED Talk:


Last modified onMonday, 22 December 2014 18:20


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