Surviving the Pandemic as an Artist

2020 started off so promising.  Our son had a meltdown-free 1st birthday party, the Titans kept Tom Brady and the Patriots from another Super Bowl, and by March I was having my best year of art sales on record.  A little over two months later, 2020 has been canceled.  Our son now eats adult amounts of food, Tom Brady broke up with Bill Belichick, and like many full-time artists COVID-19 just deleted half my income.  So far.

While surviving as an artist under normal circumstances invites challenges, the pandemic has multiplied them.  I rely on art, music, and street festivals for a majority of my annual income, so every cancelation brings greater urgency to change my business model.  However, I also need to keep the lights on in the meantime.  I’ve had several commissions come in to help me break even, thankfully,   but since these projects require the bulk of my time I’m currently in a sort of catch-22.  I’m struggling to pivot my business while simultaneously paying the bills—not to mention keeping my “inner artist” from burning out.

I’m managing to stay afloat, but I can’t do it alone.  For my business remodel I’ve hired Nashville neighbors Jon Acuff, Michael Hyatt, and Donald Miller to help me pivot, structure, and market my art business.  They haven’t endorsed me on any of this, but I’m looking to these pros because although they’ve also been hit hard, they’ve led themselves and their organizations extremely well.  I’m sharing what I’ve learned so far, but bear with me: I’m still very much in the middle of my own reconstruction.

“Pivot, Don’t Panic”

By now you’ve either taken Jon Acuff’s mantra as your own or ranked his quip next to “Kindness isn’t canceled” as two of the most popular truths you’ll hate this year.  Either way, he’s right.  Crying about lost income won’t help, but moving into a new arena might.  Jon’s daily YouTube series #TheGetUp provides a bit of entertaining insight that’s helped sustain my own pivot process.  While working to expand my online art presence through social media, digital events, and virtual marketplaces, Jon has helped me stay motivated and grounded—and laugh.  If you’re pivoting right now, you’ll want to enlist Jon as your virtual coach. 

Studio Commissions – Tony Sobota


Between trying to meaningfully engage my family, overhaul a business, and paint and draw with time-lapse speed, I’ve never had a greater premium on my time.  Thankfully, before the pandemic hit I took a course from Michael Hyatt & Co, the name of which now seems laughable: Your Best Year Ever.  While he aims most of his content toward corporate leader types, the lessons easily apply to solopreneurs like artists—and the results have been life changing.  Through the course I learned how to break down my goals into yearly, quarterly, monthly, and daily tasks, and comes with monthly coaching sessions. The practice of laying out my ideal week, for example, has helped me avoid anxiety, make progress on what matters, and proved to be a necessary tool to keep me moving when COVID hit.  I highly suggest leveraging the resources Michael Hyatt & Co offer to make the most of your time and energy—the podcasts, articles, and many of the videos are free.

Sales Funnel

Finally, through Donald Miller and Storybrand I’ve discovered the key to business survival in any economy: a sales funnel.  True, my inner artist still cringes at the words “sales funnel”, but without sales I can’t buy groceries and without groceries my family starves.  In essence, a sales funnel connects a customer’s problem with a given solution.  At the publication of this article I’m still building this aspect into my business, but I can share how a funnel works from the customer end. 

From the #lovetransported seried – Jeremy Cowart


My family and I participated in photographer Jeremy Cowart’s #lovetransported series—and we love it.  The photo serves as a priceless reminder to find joy even in murky times.  But how did we find him?  Jeremy used his mailing list to drive traffic to Instagram where he engaged his audience, presented his idea, and offered a clear way to buy his product—and he’s killing it.  Furthermore, if not for these engagements, we would have missed out on an item of timeless value to us.  You and I may not have a huge photography studio or superhuman creative flow like Jeremy, but we have something to offer.  How we get that something into the hands of people who want it is called a sales funnel, and will help you set one up.

Feed Your Artist

Like I said before, trying to incorporate these changes while finishing studio artwork on time has been one of the most exhausting magic tricks of my life: POOF!  The day is gone.  In order to prevent burnout I’ve also scheduled tiny slices into my week to feed my inner artist.  

Download a Skill 

If you’re looking to add to your artistic skill set, now is the closest we’ve come to a Matrix-style instant download scenario.  While Masterclass has done a great job placing itself as the authority to learn an array of random skills, has become a go-to resource for visual art learning.

Schoolism offers a huge variety of on-demand video classes presented by the best in the industry that you can either binge or take in at a slower pace.  I approached my recent charcoal portrait class like regular 9-week course, adding it to my phone’s weekly calendar and making up any missed classwork the same week.  The videos and accompanying homework assignments helped move my portrait skills miles down the road while enabling me to offer more value to patrons.

30 Days No Matter What

Using a more time-limited format than a class, engaging an artistic discipline for one hour per day, 30 days in a row really helps stock the inspiration pond.  I participated in #PleinAirApril this year, a month when artists typically paint “en plein air” or outside on location.  During quarantine I opted to paint from photos rather than life, but nevertheless ended the month with a stack of mini-paintings that will inspire future work.  Bonus: as a full-time husband and dad the one hour a day devoting to my craft functioned as self-care, which helped me be the less-grouchy, more-present version of myself for my family.  Even if you missed #PleinAirApril, why not take the next month and treat yourself to one hour a day to explore a new series?

Reach Out and Touch Someone…Virtually

Most artists live with paradox: in order to connect to people through our art we spend vast amounts of time alone creating it.  And while I fantasize about weeks of uninterrupted studio time, I know that after about 9 hours I start eating paint and forget how to speak words.  As artists we still need people.  Fortunately, now more than ever it’s become common to connect with those outside our typical circles—albeit virtually.  I’ve taken this opportunity to reach out to creative friends and colleagues at least once a week in order to help keep the creative juices flowing.  In all of the present weirdness I’m glad connecting virtually has become so normal—why not reach out to that person who inspires you?  

I’m convinced 2020 is still salvageable.  It’ll be a dogfight, but if all the festivals close and the galleries never open—even if kindness IS canceled—I’m poised to make this year one of my most productive.  Why?  Simply put, I don’t have the option to stop being an artist.  But also, next year at our son’s 2nd birthday party—just before the Titans win the Super Bowl—I want to look back and say I beat the odds.

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