Turn your art into business with Laura Sheridan
In this episode, I’m talking to Laura Sheridan from Studio Sheridan Art. She is a commercial fine art photographer from Belgium, who managed to turn her passion for fantasy photography into a successful business, which is growing. In our talk, she shares ideas that helped her get there and that allow her to stay humble and continue developing today. No matter what area of art you’re into these precious nuggets of wisdom will definitely allow becoming a better human being and will point you to success. Please enjoy!
What we talked about:
- Importance of failing multiple times
- Why teaching can be enlightening
- Dealing with good and bad criticism
- How to do collaborations right
- Pricing your work and turning your passion into a business that pays your bills
Jake Hicks, photographer
Lara Jade, Lauren’s inspiration
Kirsty Mitchell, Lauren’s inspiration
Tim Walker, photographer
Eline Deblauwe, Lauren’s MUAH
- Please, tell us about your backstory.
- I started with photography because I don’t have talent for drawing, I think it’s something a lot of us have. In 2007 my parents gave me a small digital camera and told me to have fun and it escalated from that point. I realized it’s much easier for me to photograph. It became a passion of mine really quickly, and from that it became a obsessive, compulsive behavior. I had to shoot every single day, I shot everything and everyone. It took me a while to pursue it, I’ve studied fashion and jewelry design and after that I studied photography. At some point I thought maybe it’s more serious than I thought it is and it just happened from there on. I started doing it seriously around 2010, I discovered the internet and people that are like me and that’s how I got in touch with models, designers etc.
- So you also did jewelry design?
- Yes, I did it for a year, really loved it, but their idea of jewelry design was not what I had in mind and we didn’t agree on many things. I wanted, and still want to, learn traditional goldsmithing but they had this more conceptual designs in mind. It taught me to deal with criticism and being more stubborn and not giving up, the year wasn’t a loss.
- So that’s why jewelry is so important in your artwork?
- Yes, I used to do fashion, 2 years of specialization. I was interested in fashion, I don’t have talent for it either, I hate patterns, don’t understand them. But I did jewelry because as I did fashion I thought to go for it.
- You mention that you’ve learnt to deal with criticisms, please tell more.
- I have a thing called “OK movements”, basically when somebody gives a “constructive criticism” - trolls - I always just respond “OK” and people get so upset by it, it’s beautiful. I tried not to let it get to me but it’s difficult, sometimes people will just be mean and I always try to turn something mean into something more positive and learning experience. The “OK movement” became a meme on its own and it’s awesome, because you don’t know will they ignore you, cursing you out or shouting or apologizing, you never know. Their opinion often doesn’t matter, they all hate you no matter what. I pay people to criticise my work so I know where to my value, when it really matters.
- How do you differentiate really constructive criticism from haters?
- I’m a part of 2 amazing Facebook groups, I can go there and ask for feedback, and people there always have something to say in a constructive way, it’s awesome. Jake Hicks, for example, you can ask him for criticisms on his page, he does this every week. And if I get random criticism and it sounds like they know what they are talking about I go check their profile and see their work. I try to read it and understand it and if it’s bullshit I’ll OK it and move on, a lot of times I’ll be like maybe they’re right, sometimes it opens discussion. There are portfolio reviews you can go to, but they cost money, but be prepared to be broken into million pieces, they are very harsh.
I haven’t been on a big ones yet, trying to save up a budget for them and I feel like at this point my style is getting there but it’s not just there where I want it to be. I don’t want it criticize right now because I’m still growing as an artists and as a person. People say my work is so good, but it can be better!
- It’s a great point, for many people your work can be perfect, but if you stop right there then you’re dead as an artist.
- I’ve been close to that point, I got to be big, in my own terms, for few weeks I was really posh about myself. And then I thought that I’m nobody yet, I got my niche somehow and all the likes and I’m sure there’s something I’m really good at, but I’m nobody yet. I teach a lot these days, I love it, and people are often intimidated by me, I have more numbers and work that’s maybe further than yours, but I don’t want to feel that I’m better than somebody else, I’m might be further than somebody else. You can learn so much from people that start out, they have the fresh mind without boundaries.
- How did you find your style?
- You go through stages where you shoot everything, but I’ve always been interested in creative stuff, I was always obsessed with movie and costumes and I think a weird obsession with my and my dressing up times as a kid had a big influence on it. I’m ambitious and I never wanted to create work that’s cliché and I think that’s what made my trademark style a bit. I’ll take all the elements I like, I have hundreds of mood boards on Pinterest. I don’t see certain limitations and aesthetics in styles and I like colors a lot. I connect many random things together. It’s sounds much easier than it actually is but it’s something you can learn. It’s kind of like a language, even if we speak the same language we still have our accents and that’s what makes us different as artists, even if you imitate somebody there’s still some bit of you in there. I don’t recommend imitating, we’ve all been doing it, especially when we were staring, it’s easier and you’re inspired but we grow out of it. I still sometimes get inspired by others’ work. I was inspired by Lara Jade, Kirsty Mitchell, Tim Walker and many more. I also try not to look at other photographers because most of them are my friends, I’m trying to get inspired by more external things like music, movies etc. If you look at other photographs it’s more difficult to proceed in new original version because it’s been worked out already. But I like when people create something inspired by my work, it’s the biggest compliment I could get. But if you do get inspired by someone’s work and create something, just credit them.
- Do you work alone or do you have a team?
- Everything, except on the sets, is organized by myself, organization, concepting, moodboards, getting people together. On set I, of course, work with people. Right now I only work with my own people, it’s better and I also have too many issues with new people. Right now I have one main makeup artist Eline Deblauwe, she does hair and makeup. I used to work with other people as well but now they’re too busy and lately I haven’t been shooting as much either. I like small teams, I don’t want a big one, it’s too much hustle with it and if I have assistance it’s usually my models, but I do everything myself, it’s too much, I know.
I used to collaborate a lot, but now a lot of costumes I have myself, I buy them, it’s expensive but I’m obsessed. But collabs are great, but now I only reach out if I feel that I can really offer something in return. Since I started I think there’s a huge mindshift in people, they brag they have 10k followers, nobody cares! You don’t advertise free stuff because you 10k followers, just work for what you offer. So if you trade of collaborate actually offer something that’s more than “I can get you exposure”.
- How did you get to the point where your service is expensive?
- I started super cheap, then I did my business stuff, how much it costs me to do stuff like this and Belgium is horrible for freelancers. At one point I was so tired of working and being in debt, I worked day and night and was still in debt, I went to bed and woke up and was like “I’m gonna charge what I want now”. It’s scary thing to do to go from 70€ to 500€, but then I was working and being able to pay my rent this month, that’s a nice feeling! And I hate a phrase “starving artist”, it’s such romanticized idea. I worked so hard to get here, it’s self care! So charge how much you want, because the more you bend to those kind of things the more they will take advantage of you. The more we’re gonna push the idea of a starving artist, if everyone will stay they ground and say “it’s my price so be it”, everyone’s mind will change in matters of years I think, but people are still scared to do it because talking about money is such a shame.
- What about your old clients? They can’t pay the old price, how do you find new audience?
- It’s the marketing, I’m still learning it so it’s hard for me to talk about it. But one thing I know is that you don’t wait for your clients to come to you. I had periods that weren’t great and those were months of the starving artist so you just have to push yourself out there. Social media is great for that but also don’t rely on social media, it changes so much, Instagram was a goldmine until few months ago and look at it now. If people put everything in this one little basket they’re fucked right now. Marketing is a whole thing on its own, even studying it after so many years you can still learn something new and social media is so evolving nowadays.
- How long did it take you to make your business profitable?
- 3 years, it’s work in progress. To make business profitable to make it the first margin it takes about 2-3 years and that’s where I’m right now. It can easily fall but I think because I’m more confident and I’m done being broke you start to understand how to make it profitable.
- Who are your clients right now? Private individuals or?
- I worked with private clients for past 2 years but I’ve been expanding more towards businesses, I’ve been doing book and album covers, I’ve been teaching a lot more, doing workshops.
- Many people that start out don’t realize that photographer’s income doesn’t come from one place.
- Yes! If you rely on one source of income you’re fucked. I have more clients from everywhere else but Belgium. I have clients from America, Finland, Italy, Spain, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Netherlands and much more. And they come to me.
- Do you shoot personal projects?
- I put away too much time into personal work which is why I’m not shooting for a while, I’m forcing myself to focus on other things. But it’s hard because I get those random ideas and I feel that I just have to shoot this now.
- Personal work is very important, it contributes to the business a lot, in personal projects you can experiment, with clients not so much.
- Never experiment on clients! But it’s about the balance, you have to find it between your work and client work. I play a lot, I have those amazing costumes and models so I get carried away a little bit. It allowed me to learn very quickly my style, I shot every single day and I grow a lot. I had a lot of time, well, theoretically I had the time.... But you just make time. When I started as a freelancer I could shoot every day.
- I think it's very important that you have to make the time.
- When I started with my jewelry portfolio it was 8 in the evening and at 3 at night I thought that maybe I should go to bed as I had to wake up in the morning but no, I just didn’t sleep that night. I did a whole portfolio in one night so I’m proud of myself but I don’t recommend doing it.
- Is your work edited? Do you ever show behind the scenes?
- I do, I share BTS and before and afters. I’m really open about my process.
- Do you shoot with studio light or natural light?
- What’s more important in photography, talent or hard work?
- Hard work. You can have talent but if you don’t use it then who cares? I’ve seen people with talent just getting wasted. I don’t have a talent for photography, I just learnt it though education, dedication and stubbornness, I’ve seen people come from nothing and now they are amazing just because they kept learning the craft. Photography is a craft and for someone with a talent it’s easier to go faster and further at certain points but anyone can learn photography if they are willing to keep learning it.
- What is the area in photography in art that you want to grow in?
- Good question. I feel that my work hit the flat line, it’s good but I don’t feel challenged anymore. I think I want to go back to my studio and really learn how to make photos that really looks like paintings and I’m really passionate about retouching so I think I’ll learn more of that. I think that’s enough to start with, I’ve learnt that I have concentration issues, I want to do everything at once but then you end up failing.
- What’s your biggest dream as an artist?
- To be financially stable? I think I achieved such a dream already and I’m hitting the reality a bit, I want to be able to continue this dream, and to be able to do that I need to earn more money, get my business, settle down, be more adult. Become and independent business owner, artist or not just be comfortable in your life, it’s such an important thing. Artistically I’d like to shoot more famous people and bigger projects.
- What makes a good photograph?
- For me it’s when I look at the picture and I think “that works”, everything connects, you have technical thing, you motto thing, creativity behind it. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing.