Home Business Success Story – Jennifer Lang

Home business success stories are one of this blog’s favorite features.  The best way to prove the viability of starting and running a home business is by introducing readers to a variety of successful Homepreneurs.

In this post, Homepreneurs is very pleased to feature a remarkably talented fine work artist.  Jenny Lang may have some physical challenges, but her superior talent belies any physical limitation.

Kookaburra - Jennifer Lang

HomepreneursWhy did you start your own business?

LangI have Multiple Sclerosis and cannot work full time. I recently had to choose between finishing my education in fine art and maintaining a job. In the end I decided I was unable to physically meet the demands of full time school along with work. Part time school was not an option with the financial assistance I was receiving. While I still retain a part time job, I felt it was necessary for my well being to focus on my art in a significant way in my free time and decided that I wanted to sell work to earn extra income and as a motivator to work as hard as I could. The work itself has become a form of physical therapy after having a lot of difficulty with my hands after an MS relapse this past winter. I am also looking into offering workshops for people I know to teach different art techniques out of my studio.

Separately, a few years ago, a college friend and I wanted to start a photography club at school. This slowly evolved into a photography collective called Hungry Ghost Collective and while we are not a fully fledged business yet, we are working in that direction and may pursue LLC or non-profit status. We had a common mission to bring our work out to be seen, to help create a wider audience for fine art photography and to have fun while pushing each other to make better work. We have grown to at least a dozen active members and just had a very large crowd for our last opening reception. We are now having exhibitions about three times a year and expanding!

HomepreneursWas this a hobby that evolved into a business?

LangI would hesitate to call fine art a hobby. Some might consider it this way but I would rather say that it was my life’s passion that I have been trying to fit into some kind of business model.

HomepreneursYou have a variety of talents – how do you decide which style or media to focus on?

LangThank you! I typically use different media to express different ideas, but lately I have been trying to work a little more across disciplines. I used to use my photography work to more directly discuss a topic (such as my MS, or a personal struggle or a story based on literature) and would use drawing to talk about some of the same things more symbolically and cryptically. I was using printmaking for a while to tell stories based in Japanese folklore, which I plan to continue. I choose the media that seems to “feel” best with the topic, and address it from a visceral place.  And sometimes I am just in the mood or in the mindset for something. Lately I have been focusing on natural history and science illustration. It is part of my artistic “roots” and something I have wanted to pursue for quite some time. It is also rather “sellable” work since we all can relate to it in some way. It also is very good physical therapy since it can be tedious, repetitive and exhausting. Glorious!

greaterparaesthesias by Jennifer Lang

HomepreneursWhat are the greatest general challenges you face? (e.g. discipline to create, ideas, money)

LangI am very fortunate that I do not have challenges in my ideas and don’t typically get the creative blocks that some artists talk about. I generally have way more ideas than I have time or the ability to work on. I am very committed to my “day job” as a respite care worker for an autistic child, and while this is only about 12 hours a week, this does impact the time I can spend on my work. My commitment to the family I work for is much stronger though than the impact it has on my art time.

My MS is a varying issue and with this last relapse I experienced a lot of problems with my hands that were threatening my ability to work. Those are luckily getting better. Money is always an issue, always.

HomepreneursWhat are advantages to self-employment?  What are the drawbacks?

LangThe advantages, honestly, are being able to walk down into my studio in my pajamas and if I am not feeling well, I can stay in bed for a little while. I don’t have to face the embarrassment of walking into work with a cane or in a wheelchair on my very worst days. It is just me. If I am up for it, I can go and work a couple hours before bed if I want to. The flexibility of the time and the fact that I am doing something I love is the best part.

Working with Hungry Ghost Collective has been wonderful. I adore the people I am working with. There have been some challenges from time to time. When you’re working with other artists, you’re going to probably deal with ego issues from time to time or conflicting visions on how something should go. Sometimes you have different goals than the others you are working with and have to find a way to meet in the middle. Sometimes this is not as easy as drawing a Venn diagram to figure it out. But, overall, we are greater than the sum of our parts and I would not give up my experiences with HGC for anything.

Other drawbacks are financial. My income is variable and I have to rely on a fickle “market.” People don’t buy art in a recession or during a time of perceived recession. My photography work in particular tends to be extremely personal and so I have to rely on a smaller selection of that work to sell that is more relatable for collectors. I am trying to show people that they can and they should buy art. It is worth the effort to take a spin around Etsy and find something you can afford that was handmade, and even loved, rather than a mass produced trendy piece at your local Big Box.

HomepreneursWhat tips and/or suggestions do you have for others interested in art as a business?

LangWork and work and work. Don’t let yourself get idle. Lower your prices. Make art accessible. Make it possible for people to make a choice between a mass-produced piece from Target or Ikea and an original artwork—because they can afford it. If your work can’t be priced that low, make some work that can. The “little pieces” you can make at affordable prices will bring you buyers, will help people start to collect your work and will help sustain you. You will have the larger purchases but not every day. And you can’t eat on that.

The art world is changing and the climate is changing and we must change with it. Pop-up galleries, apartment galleries are very hot right now and I think the artists are taking back the art world from the high end collectors and the gallerists. It is becoming much more “DIY”.  And don’t be shy to work with other artists. You will have more strength in numbers, you will have good support and feedback for your work and you will develop alliances that will be very important. Find other artists you went to school with, start a live drawing  group or a monthly critique group or even a collective. It is easier to throw parties and hold events (which get you fans and collectors) when you have other people to help.

HomepreneursDo you use social media at all (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn)?

LangI use Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr (which I consider to be social in a small way.)
I avoid LinkedIn like the plague because it tends to be very redundant, and many people find it eerie in its data collection.

HomepreneursWhere do your customers come from?  Word of mouth, networking, social media, advertising?

LangSo far, most people who buy my work are friends or people I am connected with through social media. I don’t have a very good “real world presence” because my MS limits my ability to travel and to socialize in the physical. My relationships online are crucial not only to my social life but also my art life and business life.

Hungry Ghost Collective members have had friends and families purchase their work, or a person who happened to attend one of our shows, so that would probably be word-of-mouth as well as social networking.

Quaking by Jennifer Lang

HomepreneursIf you could change one thing when you started, what would that be?

LangI wish I had started sooner conducting workshops. This will be extra income for me that will help develop my studio, my work and feed me. I am just beginning this process now and wish I had done it sooner. I am looking forward to more relationships with other artists within that process. I also wish I had been able to set aside a little more of a financial cushion but this probably was not possible.

HomepreneursIf you need information or help with something, where do you look? Why?

LangGenerally, I utilize the internet and the relationships I have developed through my fine art studies. I have developed very good relationships with other art students from college, as well as faculty with whom I developed strong connections. Other artists living with MS have also been a great resource. I also find that sometimes if you admire a particular artist and want to learn from them, you can contact them and most of the time they will take the time to respond to you if you are warm and professional.

In addition to this, I was lucky enough to have a short apprenticeship last year with a local photographer who works in daguerreotypes, something very rare and special I have been “chasing” for quite a long while. I am not yet finished setting up equipment to make them yet and still have a way to go getting my hands in better shape to work,  but I am very eager to be able to utilize my experience in my failures and what he taught me to make it better.

Overall, developing strong relationships with others who are doing what you do is very important. Not seeing them as competition but as allies is the best way to go. Everyone you meet along your journey has something to teach you. Leave your mind open for it.

Jennifer Lang’s work can be found on these pages and websites:

My public artist page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JenniferLangArt

Hungry Ghost Collective on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HungryGhostCollective

My personal artist website: http://schooloftsunami.wordpress.com

Hungry Ghost Collective Website: http://www.hungryghostcollective.com

My artwork on Etsy: https://www.etsy.com/shop/haikupunchout