Artist-turned-Copywriter

Written by Meghan Downs

Meghan Downs: Artist-turned-Copywriter

 

Let me tell you why my first creative business failure prepared me to become a freelance copywriter. In my first article on my new website, I thought it would be rude not to share part of my personal story. Indulge me whilst I dive deep to 6 years ago and tell you what my mistakes have taught me…

How failures from my first creative business are helping me now

I learned these lessons the hard way –

  • You don’t need to say yes to everything
  • You should value your time and worth more
  • The skint artist lifestyle is not for everyone
  • How to be my own boss, manage my own time and prioritise tasks
  • The ‘dream’ artist life did not turn out to be right for me, and that’s ok…

These lessons are helping me on my freelance copywriter journey.

Why I started my first creative business

It was 2015, I was standing by my graduate ceramics collection at the New Designers exhibition in London. The 4 long days of standing proud by my work in anticipation of being ‘spotted’ was my first real experience of an Art Exhibition.

It was hot. There was almost no ventilation, and we were in the height of a UK heatwave summer. My feet rubbed against my new Birkenstocks, and there was a slight glisten across my forehead.

A young man and woman approached me and started talking to me about my ceramic work, asking me questions about my inspiration and techniques. It felt good to hear people’s interest. Helped to pass the time, too.

Then came the life-changing question –

“Have you thought about what you’re doing next?”

The truth was, not really.

I’d graduated with a First-Class Degree in a pretty un-employable industry: Decorative Arts. My dream that I’d be able to move to London with my friends, bag myself a job in a design agency, and work my way up, was fading – fast.

My assumptions were all wrong, looking at the world with Graduate naivety. When I looked at applying for these jobs, I was not a good match and lacked proper ‘design skills’. Sure, I’d dabbled in Photoshop and created mood boards, but I was a maker, a craftsperson.

So, when these two people approached me and began talking about a Ceramic Studio programme in Sheffield to set up your own craft business, it piqued my interest.

They explained how they were both a part of the programme themselves, looking for new recruits for next year. Mike and Victoria, who later became good friends.

  • Be my own boss?
  • Set up my own studio?
  • Move to Sheffield?
  • Can I really do that?

These were the things that my course leader warned us were almost impossible to make sustainable. (let’s not even go into that one…)

It turned out that conversation and being handed a flyer changed my life.

I applied to the programme, submitting an application at midnight before having to leave for Croatia for a party holiday. Whilst I was away, I got the email inviting me to an interview.

I went on the train to Sheffield with my portfolio in hand and was offered the position on the spot.

My head was now racing with the possibilities, should I take the risk? What else was I going to do if I didn’t do this?

My Mum spurred me on, but I was sure she just wanted me to stop moping around the house.

I wanted my own life. I’d had the taste of independence at University, so the idea of staying in my home village was depressing. I’d also killed off any dream of moving to London. I felt like I was unemployable from my Degree.

All these thoughts combined made me think –

“Sure, why not… let’s give it a go”.

So, there I was, fresh out of Uni, in a new city where I didn’t know anyone, trying to set up my own business. Not just a business, but an Arts business!

Already racked with debt from the holidays, I had a family loan to help get me on my feet. That paid for my deposit and first few months’ rent.

Long story short, I worked in a supermarket 25 hours a week to sustain myself (just about) and put every other hour into my studio practice.

 

A whole bunch of Firsts

I put myself out there for any opportunity I could find. Totally winging it.

I learned about marketing myself, how to work with galleries, and attended trade shows. I talked to the general public about my ceramics, taught workshops, presented public talks, and took on commissioned projects. The list went on.

I said yes to everything, happy to have been given the opportunity.

Some of them paid off really well. My first trade fair, for example. I won the Best Newcomer Award. This was a great confidence boost for me, I got a magazine front cover deal and a shiny glass award.

This led to me stocking my first galleries, doing my first commissions, and having my first real business relationships to nurture.

I decided to power through the financial struggles and long days to try and do as much as I could. I was determined to become a successful artist and live the dream.

 

Burnout hit

Safe to say, that lifestyle was not sustainable. There were many opportunities that took up so much of my time and effort that did not pay off, either financially or personally.

After one month involving a studio move, 3 back-to-back exhibitions, and running a Kickstarter campaign, I hit burnout.

I’d cried one too many times about not being able to pay my rent.

For 3 years I had sacrificed most of my time, money, and energy on making this work. I’d said no to festivals with friends, ate too many tins of soup and beans, and was always exhausted.

This made me reflect on what I was doing and why. The realisation that I wasn’t enjoying myself anymore hit like a tonne of bricks.

At the time, my boyfriend and I were in a long-distance relationship, and I couldn’t even give myself a rest to enjoy my time with him. I became irritable, stressed, and awful to be around.

(Hats off to him for putting up with me during that stage!)

During this period, I also had a difficult time with a manager at my supermarket job. I couldn’t cope with juggling this underpaid, physically demanding job where I felt bullied by management.

Everything got on top of me, and I no longer had run out of creative juice.

 

Change of lifestyle

I knew I needed to slow down. Change my lifestyle. I wanted my weekends back. I wanted a job where I felt valued and respected. I wanted to go out with friends spending money on overpriced cocktails without guilt.

I secured an office job as an Admin Assistant in April 2018. This gave me the financial security of a full-time wage and some headspace to reflect on what I wanted to do with my ceramics.

It took a few months, but I finally settled and got over my burnout.

Then my studio became my sanctuary, only going in to make what I wanted to and when I wanted to. This was a beautiful shift in mindset that allowed me to enjoy it again.

Up until recently, I’d kept my studio going and took on selected exhibitions, workshops, and events each year.

When the covid pandemic hit us last year, it helped me make the decision to take a break for a short while. Everything was cancelled, so I had nothing to work towards and my rent felt like it was being wasted.

I knew I wanted to pursue my career in marketing and copywriting, so it was the right time to pause.

 

Looking back on what I learned

I’ve been reflecting on what life lessons I learned in this first business venture and realised how important it has been to my journey today.

To name just a few skills that have helped me dive into freelance marketing life –

  • Learned how to market a small business with almost zero budget.
  • Attended in-person events, sold online, ran social media accounts, fundraised for equipment through a Kickstarter campaign.
  • Had to wear the many hats of a business owner.
  • Became confident in my capabilities.
  • Business relationships developed with professionals in galleries, event organisers, and shop owners. Also, I had lots of experience in person with the general public buyer.
  • My creative making skills developed and I was able to be self-critical in a productive way.

I’ve been able to use this experience and make sure I don’t make some of the mistakes again.

 

Transferrable Skills for Copywriting

Teaching skills –

I taught many ceramics workshops. This gave me patience, how to explain myself clearly. This translates into my work now as a copywriter.

Public speaking –

A nervous wreck at first, but this gave me the opportunity to speak in front of relatively large crowds at multiple events. This now gives me the confidence to attend networking events and speak to new clients.

Pricing products & the reality of running a business –

I understand overheads, expenses, insurance, tax returns, etc. It’s not all so daunting this time around.

 

How have these mistakes helped me today as a freelance copywriter? 

Since I started my ceramics business, 5 and a half years ago now, I’ve learned so much about myself and what I am capable of. I’ve also found new passions in marketing that have happened as a result.

At this moment in time, I am transitioning to my freelance copywriting business full-time.

Ready to take the leap of faith in a new direction.

My skills and interests have joined together, so now I get to be creative in my work, but with a marketing focus.

Using all of these failures as lessons have given me a head start this time around.

Add in the experience working in a B2B office environment within a small team, and I know I’m as ready to make this work as I could be.

I know this road won’t be easy, but when something feels right you have to go for it.

If anything, I have realised that I will always want to work in a fast-paced way and continuously learn. Being my own boss is the best way to avoid restricting this personal progression.

The more I focus on being a copywriter, the more excited I get about the possibilities!

I would love to hear if you have had any similar experiences or failures, and how you’ve learned from your mistakes. 

Copywriting Services

If you have a project that needs a copywriter or you need some advice, get in touch or email me at meghan@meghandowns.co.uk