50 YEARS AS A PRO.

2016 marks my first 50 years as a pro. A full-time professional artist that is, or FTPA. I don’t really expect to get another fifty years in the job but I am certainly not finished yet. Being an artist is definitely a full-time profession. It takes all day, every day, 7-52, times 50. There is no compulsory retirement, no redundancy pay-off, and no pension provision unless you do it yourself. Yes this profession is mostly a do-it-yourself career.

I suppose that when I first went to Art School I might have naively dreamed of being a full-time professional artist. But within a short time I would have understood that realizing the dream was very unlikely.

Firstly, most people’s career path involves getting a proper job, but there are no jobs as an artist, anywhere, worldwide. It is a self-employed profession.

Secondly, I didn’t know any full-time professional artists. Neither did anyone else. None of our family or friends was a full-time professional artist. No-one knew one, not even the staff at the Art School.

Thirdly no-one expected you to actually make a living at it. The term ‘starving artist’ was a very common term. Whereas you don’t hear about starving accountants, or starving bank managers do you.

Colin Ruffell [starving student 1963]

“Get a proper job”

Oh OK. In those far off days there were actual jobs in advertising agencies that employed art school graduates as ‘visualisers’. There were ‘commercial artists’ who were employed to create stuff for other people in other places. Magazines and other branches of the media employed art grads to do creative work as ‘illustrators’. Leaders in fashion, furnishings, giftware and more all gave jobs to art school leavers as ‘designers’. And there were jobs in education establishments where ‘artists’ were employed to teach art. Most of the actual real artists that were in the news, or were having exhibitions, or were our role models, also taught art in Art Colleges as a way of getting a regular income. College art lecturers didn’t really have to make a living from their art. They just needed to demonstrate a degree of professionalism. An art school degree and a couple of exhibitions was all that was needed to be a ‘real artist’, and get a job.

It was generally understood and agreed that making a full-time living just doing your own art was nigh on impossible.

A while later the Sunday Times newspaper published an article that suggested that there were just 300 FTPA’s in the UK. And yet there were hundreds, no thousands, of art students at art school, and year after year hundreds, no thousands, left art school to go out into the big wide world as qualified artists. What happened to them? Where did they go? Why had they spent three or four, or even seven or eight, years in tertiary education only to vanish into the unknown void of hobbydom?

My story.

After five years I left Art College with a qualification that enabled me to teach in a secondary school as an art teacher. I did it for a year. The pay was dreadful and I couldn’t pay the rent and feed my wife and two kids on the money. So I spent all my evening spare time making pictures to sell and then selling them at the weekends. I actually got quite good at it and found that I sometimes made more money on a Saturday or Sunday than I did all month in the school classroom.

Coincidentally the school went through a relocation process and all the staff had been expected to apply for new posts in the new building. But I didn’t wish to be re-employed and I was reluctant to re-apply for more misery. I kept putting it off and concentrated on selling at the weekends instead. Until it was too late, and in the Summer of 1966 I became a FTPA. And I haven’t had a proper job since.

Colin Ruffell 2015

How I managed to spend the last fifty years as a full-timer is what I write about in these blogs. What to produce, how to sell it, and what to do next, are constantly top of the daily agenda. I have learned a lot of things that they don’t teach at art school. Vital things that should be taught are not being taught. In the past I wrote, and in the future I will write more, about the actual tricks of the trade in the hope that I can show others how to be FTPA’s. But readers might be better off sticking to a proper job.

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