Profession: Visual Artist
Number of Years in the Industry: 5
1) Summarise what you do in 2 sentences or less.
I produce artwork for corporate and commercial clients, on a variety of platforms. I founded and run Singapore’s only free art residency, which allows artists to have a creative space to produce their work.
2) What's the biggest misconception about what you do?
My favourite misconception from people goes, “Oh you’re an artist ah? So you paint very well?” Another misconception I get often is that people assume that I became an artist because I wasn’t capable enough to pursue a mainstream career.
3) What do you really do then?
As a visual artist, I have to take charge of many things: business development, marketing, copyright issues, legality, production complications, etc. The actual production of the artwork itself comprises of what, 20% of my work? The rest of my time goes to settling all the challenges that come with working with a variety of different clients.
The “real” art of our work is convincing people to find value in things that they previously did not place any value.
4) What made you decide to do what you do?
I decided to study Fine Arts because art was something that I actually enjoyed studying. I only realised I wanted to be an artist during Art school itself. I felt that this was something pretty exciting, and I could actually do this for a living.
5) What are the best and worst things about your job?
The best thing is that I genuinely love what I do for a living. What I do, and the people I meet along the way inspire me to continue producing work, which is great! Being able to convert people; to get people to see value in art when they were previously uninspired is pretty much the most rewarding feeling you can have as an artist.
The worst thing is the pay. Seriously. I’ve actually done some research on this. Statistically, having a career as a visual artist requires you to work about 300% harder than the average corporate executive to earn the same amount of money. So it’s tough.
6) What skills should someone have, to do what you do?
Business development and marketing skills, to be honest, with passion running as a constant undercurrent. Your paintbrush contributes very little to your actual success as a visual artist. You can have all the art skills in the world, but people must see the value in what you do. People don’t actually need art in life. They need food and health. If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, art is right there at the bottom. So you need to convince people about the intrinsic value in art itself. You can only do that by understanding your client, so know how to promote yourself and your work effectively.
7) What advice would you give to someone who aspires to do what you do?
Be prepared for instability for at least the first 5 years of starting your career. Once you’re set on this path, you have to start putting in your 300%! In my line of work, rejection is not a measure of failure. Failure to win an award or clinch a gallery exhibition space is part and parcel of life as an artist. Failure is an indication of progress, so I believe in the 9-1 rule. 9 failures will eventually lead to 1 opportunity, so every failure is just a stepping stone to the next opportunity. I’ve had countless failures and rejections, and I’m still failing and getting rejected, so it’s really a constant challenge.
Early in my career, I was fortunate enough to get great opportunities to pursue art as a living, including an exhibition at the Louvre in Paris, and curating art festivals in Singapore, like Noise Singapore and most recently, designing an experiential retail space at Tangs Orchard. Start small, work hard, and the bigger projects will come, in time. Don't be discouraged!