Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Work-Life-Artist #1: Catherine Ingleby

This is the first in what I hope will become a series of interviews with professional artists about the reality of their working lives.

The aim is to build up a series of reference points for those who contemplate a career as a professional artist - and need to know more about what life as a professional artist is really like.

I'm developing a page on my Art Business Info. for Artists About the Working Lives of Professional Artists and these interviews will also be listed on that page as a resource.

If you're interested in participating in the exercise see my note at the end about what to do.

Below my questions are in bold and Catherine's answers are not!

About the working life of Catherine Ingleby

Catherine Ingleby in her studio

A really useful exercise to do, I keep being asked similar questions so great to formulate ideas into some form of clarity! Hope this is ok.
You can:

What is reality for a working professional artist?

What does the "real life" of being an artist actually involve?

The reality is, and perhaps partly because I have children, that it is a structured job, I have a strict weekly routine and generally take weekends off.

Is it like what you expected?

I have found I spend much more time dealing with business aspect of my art than I perhaps would have predicted. I employ someone to do some of my invoicing, accounts, and liaising with galleries and clients, but at the end of the day probably spend as much time in the office as I do in the studio. I also pay an accountant and lawyer for financial support and advice - something I wish I’d started a lot earlier!

Where/who did you get your ideas of what "real life as an artist" was going to be like from? Were they right?

I envisaged a much more sociable, interactive (fun?!) lifestyle whereas the reality of life as an artist is that is largely quite solitary.

I think that art school created a false impression that working life would be much the same as school studio life, just better funded!

Kwande Quartet by Catherine Ingleby

Making a living

How do you actually "make a living" (e.g. keep a roof over your head / pay the bills / have a studio / plan for retirement)?

I paint full time, and the income divides roughly into thirds between original sales, commissioned work and reproductions sales.

What percentage of your income (roughly) do you generate from making art? 


What percentage of your income (roughly) derives from being involved with art? 

10% from teaching/lecturing

(Catherine lectures at schools and colleges on developing a theme for a series and a career in the arts; and to adults on the business of selling art.)

How do you aim to be making a living in future?

I enjoy the lectures as they provide a break from the solitary studio, and also give me the opportunity to build my client list, but I do not want to do more than I am doing now.

At the moment I am restricted by school age children, however I can see in the future I may wish to expand in that area. I also plan to increase my sales of prints, and related merchandising.

Time allocation

What percentage of time do you have each week for actually making art? (Is this more or less than you expected?)

I work approximately 6-8 hours a day, and occasional weekends when under deadline. It is a lot less than I would like, but I found that having restricted hours makes me far more focused and productive than pre children. I probably spend two or three evenings working too.

How do you typically spend your time each day or week or month?

I have a fairly strict routine.
  • Monday is spent in the office, every other I have a meeting with my PA and we plan ahead, discuss any issues. I deal with various clients and galleries. 
  • Generally Tuesday-Friday is spent in the studio, but most weeks I will have to fit in travel to a gallery, client or to the print studio for a meeting. I do find myself working in the office when the children are in bed.

Phantegro by Catherine Ingleby

Challenges and surprises

How difficult is the real life of "being an artist”?

It has become less difficult as I have become more successful, I found the years getting off the ground, so to speak, exhausting and barely broke even for the first decade, but it has paid off in the long term.

I absolutely love what I do, and it is a very flexible job to fit in around children. It also has been surprisingly lucrative.

In terms of the reality of working as a professional artist:
  • What do you find your biggest challenge?

One challenge has been the shift over the past decade or so into the digital age, and adapting to the changing way people buy art. I started my career completely beholden to galleries, but now find that most of my business comes as direct sales.

The other, unexpected, challenge is how hard it is to be a professional artist if you have children. I think a career as an artist requires a degree of selfishness, and flexibility, which is not always compatible with family life. I strongly believe it is tougher for women, as it is harder to justify pursuing a career, if there is no perceived ‘job’ and financial guarantee to return to after maternal leave.

  • What has been your biggest surprise?

That I have managed to make a well paid career of something I love doing so much, and would do anyway even if it cost me to do so.

  • What are you much better at doing that you expected to be?

I have learnt to be a far better sales and business woman than I thought I could be. I also have managed to educate myself about technology to a far higher level than I ever expected to attain.

"In a Twist" by Catherine Ingleby

Improving and succeeding

Do you work on yourself to improve or do you work at your job to improve?

I work all the time to improve my painting style and method, and to ensure I am up to date with technology. There is such an easily available wealth of affordable courses and reading material now.

Beyond the art, what do you think makes an artist successful today?

I think everyone has their own definition of success, and every year, I set goals I wish to achieve. For me I have always wanted to attain a certain level of recognition and income.

What do you wish you had known at the beginning of becoming a professional artist that nobody told you about?

That I would be reliant on so many other people for my success, and how crucial building, developing and nurturing those professional relationships would be.

I estimate that over the course of a year I work regularly with about 70-100 people.

What was the best bit of advice that anybody ever gave you about "real life" as a working artist? 

That it would be solitary, but I was 18, and didn’t believe him.
If I can add a question… my advice to any 'would be' professional artist is to actually be professional in every aspect of your practice.

and finally......

What do you think of my idea of trying to create a free resource online?

It is a BRILLIANT idea, your business resource for artists has helped me avoid so many pitfalls, and frankly I would have paid to have had access to it!

RECOMMENDED Best Books for the Working Artist

Books that Catherine recommends are:

More about Catherine Ingleby

Catherine is a prominent contemporary artist who focuses on equine, sporting and wildlife subjects. She works full time from her studio in Berkshire and travels to complete her commissioned work for clients - and like all successful artists she has a waiting list for commissioned work. Part of her childhood was spent on a farm in Aberdeenshire where she developed her passion for horses. In terms of education, she has a degree in Philosophy and Classics from Durham University and her art studies involved a year in Paris doing her Foundation Year and further studies in Florence - and a lot of drawing from childhood onwards.  She is a member of the Society of Equestrian Artists and is represented by a number of galleries - and is also represented on David Shepherd's websiteYou can also read more about her in this interview. Interview with artist Catherine Ingleby | Talented Ladies Club.

About the reality of working lives of professional artists

If you'd like to participate in a series of interviews with professional artists - to be published on this blog and linked to in a resource page on Art Business Info. for Artists looking at what they're doing when NOT making art, this is what you need to do

  1. check out my blog post About the reality of working lives of professional artists.
  2. contact me and let me know if you're interested
  3. I'll let you know what the waiting list is like and answer any of your queries.


  1. This is such a great idea. Please if possible explore a broad spectrum of people working in different niches. I'm sure sculptors have a very different story to tell as do installation and performance artists. The most difficult of all must be those performance artists with such a fleeting experience to try to then sell. I'm just in the process of stopping being a full time architect to being a full time artist. The transition has been slow and long!
    My route has been to target Open Calls and I had some luck last year in exhibition exposure and this year has kicked off well.
    I am mystified by the complicated dance that artists must perform with regard to galleries. It's not done to present oneself it would seem but rather one must wait to be approached. How tantalisingly frustrating. I've made a simple website and soon will spend time and effort on promoting it. So far as I can see with an estimated 40,000 artists at any one time in London or New York galleries will never meet the demand to be represented and so It's great to see in your first interview that Catherine Ingleby is making things work for her with direct sales from the internet.
    I really enjoy your blog..thanks for sharing your time and experience with all of us.

  2. One of the reasons for doing these interviews is to demonstrate that it is possible to get on with having a life as a professional artist without having marketing totally tied into galleries.

    Yes, galleries are important and at the same time are just one option for marketing art. Those new to art assume the answer to selling their art is getting a gallery. As Catherine has illustrated that just isn't the case.

    In relation to wider scope, my blog has always been about the art that interests ME - so Yes to sculpture (i.e. not just about drawing or painting) but I'm less sure about installation (too narrow a remit for most of my readers) and no to Performance Art which for the most part I see as Drama not Art (i.e. part of Arts but NOT Fine Art - which is what my blog is about) i.e. Performance Art is just the pop-up shop version of Theatre and/or Dance. IMO it's muscled in on Art in search of a wider audience base and/or enhanced credibility.

  3. Thank you for this really great post. I am just getting started on the professional side of things - actually trying to make money from my art - after many years in education. As a long-time student, ultimately getting a PhD in fine art, I was able to keep on making art and had the structure to do so while raising children. Now I need a job that pays! It seems really daunting, but this resource seems really great. Its hard to believe it might take 10 years to actually get to a place where things are "off the ground". I wonder, what is the best way to find appropriate competitions to enter? Is that really necessary? I am overwhelmed by whats out there, and where to start. What I have done over the years has been geared to my academic success - all very interesting - but not to getting paid for my art. Thank you for this wonderful post interviewing artists, I will be following it, looking out for more.

  4. I don't want to put you off Elizabeth! I think it took me so long to start making a profit because at the time I started you sold through galleries or barely at all, and understandably, most were not keen to take on a young, naive artist with no distinctive style. Now there are a plethora of platforms on which to market and sell your art, so I would try there, and gauge which of your pieces are the most popular. Start at affordable prices - you can always go up.
    I still think that galleries are the best place to begin though, the advice and support they can offer an emerging artist is invaluable. Do your research and draw up a list of at least a dozen appropriate galleries to approach, asking them to offer constructive criticism if their reply is negative. Try not to take negative criticism to heart, but use it as a learning platform.
    Most of all paint what you love - if you love it, so will others...
    Good luck!


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