top of page

SECRET LIFE OF AN ARTIST By Mays Mayhew, Aurora, IL Shares Her How-to-Be-Successful Tips

Mays Mayhew at work in her studio.


This week I talked to my 16-year-old niece about how to use her artistic talent in the future. My husband, my sister, and I, all gave her our expert opinions on possible vocations. This included such suggestions as informational interviewing and job shadowing. Later, it dawned on me that perhaps she wanted to know what it’s like to be a working artist like me— since she did enjoy drawing. So, little miss niece, here’s what a professional artist actually does.


My art practice is pretty straightforward and logical. I start by developing an idea that I want to communicate. I search the depths of my soul to determine the best way to express an idea visually. The end result must also be compelling visually as well. I look at photos of people and pull-out interesting shapes.


Visual brainstorming usually takes the most thinking time which I like to do alone in my white-walled studio. This part of the process takes the longest and is the most nebulous. It’s about taking an idea and making it tangible, in story form, without words.

The corporate world calls this ideation. I shoot reference photos of models and then analyze the images. The concepts I like are put together quasi-digitally and then production starts.


Production (putting graphite on paper and rendering an image) requires the least brainpower but is the most laborious. After about 90% is done, there’s usually a redesign phase. Then it sits in the ‘test zone’ where I look at it out of the corner of my eye for a week while doing something else.

If it passes that test, it’s finished. If not, there’s another redesign stage. That is how original wall art is made. When the drawing is finished, I document it. There’s only one of the original and the photo is the only other documentation I will have of it. That’s it.


Here’s the rub though: I don’t always create art, when I’m in the studio. I must spend just as much time sharing it in order to keep my job as a working artist. The undisclosed secret part most professional artists don’t talk about, is the time they spend away from the easel. Now, I’m about to ruin it for you. This next part is going to end the romance of the “artist”. The honeymoon stops here.


Being a professional artist means you earn your living off of sales from the art you create. Sounds pretty straightforward but oddly, there is a lot of controversy about this part of my job. I’m not one to listen to the naysayers though—I don’t create art for art’s sake.

The way I see it is that the art I create must get a home. On paper, I create an echo of someone’s journey, and it’s my job to find that someone. I believe the artwork becomes a statement, or piece of communication to help others understand the person who owns the artwork.

Sometimes, the artwork provides conversation or simply beauty—It is my job to connect the artwork that I create to its owner. I sell directly to clients without gallery representation.

Self-promotion is considerably harder and not for the faint of heart. Selling direct allows me to get to know who I’m selling to. Likewise, I’ve found most people really appreciate getting to know the creator of their artwork. Still, finding the artwork an owner is not easy—it’s pretty tough, actually.


Sharing the artwork publicly takes a considerable amount of planning and time. It requires an entrepreneurial spirit. I have a few strategies to do that, and an art mentor who weighs in when I have questions. Mostly, however, the work is seen online via social media, my website, gallery events, and art fairs.


Galleries and venues are instrumental to how I share my work, as they are often the conduit to the painting’s future owner. I spend significant amount of time finding the right place to have an event. I create a lot of the marketing materials for events. I also host events at my studio. This allows collectors and potential-artwork-owners to actually see everything that’s available all at once. It also shows people how I make my art. I’m an extrovert. I get energized by being with the art community.


I manage a business. It’s not sexy. However, unlike most working artists, I enjoy organization and bookkeeping. I like spreadsheets and data analysis. I look for patterns in Excel to understand how to market myself. I manage inventory, record sales and pay taxes each quarter.

The corporate world calls this PRODUCT MANAGEMENT.

I go to art events frequently. This is the best part of my job. Seeing art inspires me. I take that (inspiration) back to the studio and begin to experiment. *

The corporate world calls that RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT (R & D).

* The Copyright Act of 1976 (USC Title 17) protects artists and the things they draw with some exceptions. The rights to use the art always remain with the creator but that is not what is meant in this context.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch for Art BEAT's upcoming interview with Mays Mayhew, here on the NEWS page, for HOW TO MARKET YOUR ARTWORK

Mays Mayhew in her booth outside VIZO ARTS in Aurora, IL at the June 2021 ARTS RAMBLE.


bottom of page