Things to do when you graduate

The degree shows are finally over, and you’re looking forward to going on a long holiday before thinking about what to do with yourself next? Bad idea.

Subscribe to email newsletters

There are a number of free email newsletters you should subscribe to, in order to keep tabs on the art world.  These list everything from new spaces and exhibitions, artists’ opportunities and jobs.  They are also invaluable in finding internships, should you decide to get some first-hand experience in the life of a gallery or arts organisation.  Just beware of signing up to a lot of them, as your inbox will get swamped.  Essential ones are:

Exhibiting your work

If you haven’t got any exhibition opportunities lined up yet you need to get organised as soon as possible.  Look regularly at Artquest Opportunities pages and give yourself enough time to write the applications.

  • As a new graduate it might be a good idea to apply primarily to group exhibitions as you are more likely to be included in these at this stage of your career.
  • At the same time you might want to organize a solo or group exhibition yourself, perhaps together with fellow graduates.
  • Remember to be realistic!  Don’t waste your time submitting work for opportunities that have no chance of success.  Remember to be professional!  There are a lot of poorly organised shows on offer which usually are more trouble than they are worth.

Start a database of contacts

Because of the Data Protection Act you are not allowed to use emails and contact details of people who have not willingly decided to join your mailing list.

  • At every exhibition you should keep a notebook by your artwork, inviting the audience to write down their email addresses if they are interested in receiving more information about your work. Read the Mailing List and Social Networks article that explains how to keep in touch with your audience…without becoming annoying.
  • Get some professional business cards printed so you can easily pass on your details to people you meet at private views and gallery events.and remember to ask for their contact details at the same time.

Further reading: Artists self promotion and press listings.

Create an online presence

It is becoming increasingly important to have at least an online presence, whether this is your own website or on a social networking site.  Remember that if your work attracts the attention of a curator or a buyer they are bound to do an online search on you first.

  • You can either have your own website built or research online galleries or portfolio sites you want to submit your work to.
  • A bespoke website needs not to cost a huge amount; if you don’t have any friends who can help, you might be able to find a web design student who wants to get some experience.
  • Twitter, Facebook, Instagram are all social networks you should be testing. Decide which one is best for your practice and put in the effort. Read our start-up guide.

Learn about your rights

Artlaw is Artquest’s free online legal service containing over 250 articles written by Henry Lydiate, the UK’s foremost art legal specialist.  All the articles are written in an easy-to-understand style and focus exclusively on the law as it relates to artists.

  • Copyright is important both to protect your own work and to know what the law allows if you want to use other visual sources when creating work.
  • Contracts are a vital part of freelance work.  A contract, or simple letter of agreement, can be a very simple document, written, negotiated and signed by both parties, and you do not need a solicitor to draft one.  They should clearly state who does what, when, and for how much.  Most of the legal queries Artquest receive relate to problems which could have been easily avoided if a contract had been signed beforehand.  Never, ever, ever work without one.
  • Be warned: on the Artlaw website there is a lot of information on these topics to digest, so take it in small chunks. You will also be better prepared, if you get offered a commission or an exhibition and are given a contract to sign. Read it in detail before signing it and remember all contracts are open to negotiation.

Decide if you need a studio, and get yourself on the waiting lists

Do you really need a studio to work?  Is your work too big or messy to be made in your own flat?  Do you always make so much mess that you couldn’t make do with a smaller space for the time being, and find a temporary space to construct work in?

If you have not done so already, get yourself on as many lists as you can for studio space, as some can have waiting lists up to 2 years long.

Don’t get on the wrong side of the law

Now is the time to decide on self-employment.  If you are working as a freelance, or making money from the sale of your work, you are liable to pay income tax – and if you do not pay, you can be fined a large amount of money.

  • Becoming self-employed makes it easier to get paid for the work you do, and signals to organisations that you are professional and take your career seriously. You can also deduct many of the tools and materials as expenses against income.
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