As part of the Catch “Soft Circuits” summer camp in Elsinore, Denmark, 18-22 August, a roundtable discussion on economic conditions of artists with Helen Leigh, Deborah Hustic and Majken Overgaard was held. Overview.
Helen Leigh describes her work as feminine and on-purpose. As an author, artist and maker, Helen is particularly interested in ‘worn’ electronics and how to move from hard electronics to soft circuits. In this talk at Catch’Soft Circuits, she introduced us to her circuit sculptures and her work with experimental controllers.
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Yesterday creative technologist Helen Leigh visited us virtually at our summer camp ‘Soft Circuits’. She held an artist talk about her work and beautiful creations 💡🌞 ⛓Link in bio for the full version of this artist talk⛓ @helenleigh_makes @deborah_hustic @radiona_org #artandtechnology #softcircuits #wearables #artisttalk #creativetechnology
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Working with other artists, Helen Leigh is helping them to expressive themselves in more traditional art work. As typically one of the only women in the room, she finds herself turning towards typically ‘feminine’ crafts such as sewing to bring more attention and respect to these traditional crafts. An example of this is her cuddly tentacle (see it here) which she describes as a comforting creature which she could interact with, especially during these difficult COVID-19 times.
Helen Leigh finished her talk in a classically Helen-esque, cheeky but deadly serious, explaining: “you may be shocked to know that making a disco ball theremin or a weird spidery harp does not pay my rent”
She described how she makes a living as an artist and highlighted that writing is one of her primary sources of income, writing everything from school materials to her book, “The Crafty Kid’s Guide to DIY Electronics” and her recent cover story of Make Magazine: “The Rise of Python”. She’s the author of 8 books and is a columnist for a variety of online electronics news sources.
Money & Art – A roundtable discussion
For the roundtable discussion, Helen was joined by Majken Overgaard, Catch Program Leader, and Deborah Hustic, Artistic Director at Radiona.
Helen, Majken and Deborah discussed the intricacies of making money as an artist. Deborah started things off with discussing the presumed shame involved in discussing salaries and pay rates and how difficult it is to be transparent, as Helen just was, during her presentation. Helen explained that for herself, “It’s a political act for me to show much I get paid”.
Helen explains there’s a few ways to survive as a creative. Firstly, multiple income streams are essential, then in no particular order, some options might include: Workshops, Writing, Public speaking, Day job, Academia, Being rich, Having a wealthy significant other.
From their discussion, 10 rules for making money as an artist in the art and tech world were established:
1) If you don’t value yourself, other people don’t value you – don’t give it away for free.
2) Use social media – connect to people and show what you’re doing. Helen explains that 95% of her work comes from direct messages on Twitter. Majken adds that Social media breaks the hierarchy of traditional art – you have your own tribe which enjoys your work and supports you, you no longer have to rely on the art gallery or museum.
3) Be transparent about your income to help set the standard for everyone. Money is often tied up to the self worth of an artist and the more transparent we are about it, the more we can help raise each other up.
4) Share your learnings and help others grow. Share your rates, talk about your experiences and what’s been good and what could be better.
5) Define success on your own terms. Helen gives an example, is a fancy apartment a signifier of success, or is having a place to live at all and being able to pay the rent a signifier of success?
6) Get yourself at least one or two skills you can get paid for that relate to your work. Don’t be snobby, take boring work. It will eventually seed into your work. Support yourself.
7) Do it yourself, learn, practice, be brave enough to do it on your own. Take advantage of the hundreds of free, quality tutorials out there. DIY – Do it yourself but also:
8) Partner with someone who is interested in developing a financial base. It’s difficult to talk about your own practice, even just text for your website. You can spar with this person and help each other to develop. DIWO – Do it with others.
9) Emotional resilience is essential as an artist, and therefore being open with your tools and your practices is important. Help each other out, share jobs if you need help, share resources when you have them, whether material, emotional, network, financial, or knowledge based.
10) Create your own ecosystem and don’t feel ashamed about it. Majken explains: If you don’t find a sustainable way of living – you will stop being an artist. You’ll get a day job. Universities don’t teach how to do this, you have no idea how to generate income or get jobs. This is a huge problem and you need to use your network, or have sparring partners to help you find your business model, how to describe your practice and how to be an artist, sustainability.
Majken concluded, joking: “I discuss money with my artist friends, and art with my wealthy friends”. From the 10 rules gained from this discussion, it’s clear that as artists, we need to mix these groups and be transparent, supportive, and resilient as we (re)define success for ourselves.
Watch the full panel “Artistic Equality” with Helen Leigh, Deborah Hustic and Majken Overgaard:
Catch, which you might have heard about before in this article, is located in Helsingør, Denmark (Elsinore in English) and focuses on art, design and technology. It was founded by Elsinore Municipality in 2017 to encourage and make space for innovation, creative entrepreneurship and education.
Read about Soft Circuits in Makery.
Catch'”Soft Circuits” is part of the Feral Labs Network summer camps series, co-funded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.