PROfile is a series of interviews with artists and creative souls who have built businesses around their craft and passion. We’ll dig deeper to try and find out everything you could want to know from seasoned pros who have experienced the full gamut of highs and lows that come with running a creative business.
This week I interviewed artist Marina Dunbar, whose beautiful work makes me feel like summer can truly last forever. I hope you'll enjoy reading about her journey, which is just as inspirational as her work.
What was your first ‘proper’ job and how did you land it? Was it what you intended to do as a career?
Being an assistant for two professional artists. Landing it was a bit of serendipity and luck. I lived in the same building in which they rented their studio spaces. I started working for them one day a week and eventually my schedule expanded to Monday through Friday. The things I learned working for them have been invaluable and shaped me as an artist.
Has art and design always been in your blood?
Yes, I always loved creating and I started focusing on painting during my sophomore year of high school.
Do you see yourself as introverted or extroverted, and does being either affect the way you work?
Definitely an introvert, I'm a very private person. I think one of the qualities that helps artists is enjoying a life of solitude. You have to be willing to spend hours by yourself in the studio. I think being an introvert benefits my work because I rarely have impulses to go out and socialise. I feel most content when I am alone in my studio.
What is your favourite kind of commission, and why?
My favourite kind of commission is one where the client knows my artistic style and encourages me to do what I like with just a few limitations such a size and colour palette.
How did you know you were ready to have your own business?
I knew I was ready when I could visualise it. I decided that I wanted to go the online route. So I knew I had to have a website and online shop, I started with that and took it one day at a time.
How did you go about starting your own business?
It was a very natural process for me. First I started posting my work on social media. I got some good responses and a few people showed interest in buying my work. Then I thought about how to make purchases easier so I launched my website along with an online shop. It was a very slow but organic process.
How did you secure your first clients?
My first sales came from people who saw my work online. Social media has really allowed me to broaden my audience and get my work in front of more people.
What is your typical daily routine like?
I honestly don't have a daily routine in the studio. Sometimes I work on a commission. Some days I explore and get lost in my work. And others I work on my website and marketing. It just really depends on what needs to be done at the moment.
What traits do artists have that help with running a business?
Artists naturally tend to be outside-the-box thinkers and I think that helps when they have to figure out how to make things work for their business.
Do you have a favourite medium or technique?
Yes, I love watercolour and I love resin and, currently, my favourite technique is combining the two mediums. I start with a watercolour painting and add a translucent layer of coloured resin. Once dry, I paint with watercolour on top of the resin and repeat. I usually do 3 or 4 layers. This technique adds a lot of depth and dimensionality to the work.
What’s been the most beneficial business decision you’ve made?
When I first started college, I was a business major. I was too scared to be an art major because I couldn't see a tangible future and didn't know where my degree could apply. I’ve always been interested in the dynamics of small business ownership but going to school for accounting and microeconomics was not my passion. But it was practical. After several semesters of going to school and not being excited about what I was doing, I decided to make the switch and pursue the romantic dream of being an artist.
Artists and writers often describe the compulsion to work – do you experience an overwhelming desire to create something new?
Yes! Working, creating and experimenting is constant for me. When I have a new idea I have to materialise it right away. And if it works out the way I intended it, it gives me a huge rush of excitement.
Do you ever feel alone in your work?
No, I can't say I ever do. Even though I am alone when I’m working, part of what I focus on is always putting my work out there, always asking for advice and feedback. So I never feel isolated.
How do you relax?
Painting is really the best form is relaxation for me. Watercolour has soothing qualities and I would highly recommend to anyone who is feeling stressed, artist or not. I also love listening to podcasts.
Where do you find inspiration?
Oh man, almost everywhere! Inspiration comes in many forms for me. Sometimes it comes from seeing an amazing exhibition or meeting a great artist. Often it comes from learning a new technique. But most of all it comes from seeing other creatives succeed. It gives me reassurance that anything is possible.
What advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?
I would say keep focused, work hard, don't be afraid of failure, and know that ‘nothing is denied to well directed labor'.
‘Nothing is denied to well directed labor.' ~ Joshua Reynolds.
What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
I recently had a solo show and that was my proudest moment. It was during my last semester of college. I didn't have any sort of gallery representation so it was an independent project. I found a vacant space in a great area of town. I did my own marketing and installation. I printed my invitations and sent them to everyone I knew. The whole process took months but it was something I did from scratch so when it all came together I felt a great sense of accomplishment.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It’s rewarding when people connect with my work. When people have a reaction, when they say my work makes them happy or calm. But most of all, when people are inspired to make work themselves! I am so happy when someone tells me they haven't painted in a while but seeing my work inspired them to start.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your business and how did you overcome them?
I think one of the biggest obstacles for many artists is not having a guide that tells you how to be successful in what you do and that comes with a lot of self-doubt. It’s a lot of trial and error. It's different for every artist and each one has to carve out their own path and figure out what works best for them. I overcome this by doing a lot of research and following a handful of artists very intently. I read all their interviews, I listen to their podcasts and I found a lot of the same issues I have, they did too. So I don't have to invent the wheel, I just had to listen.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Two things come to mind: Take a little bit of time to do things you have no interest in. That sounds silly but really, go to a lecture on a topic you know nothing about, take a class that is outside your field of study, go somewhere that makes you uncomfortable (within reason). When I first started art school, I only wanted to paint. I wanted nothing to do with ceramics, photography or printmaking. But my professor advised me that if I don't want to take a certain class, perhaps that actually means I should. Ceramics taught me to think in three dimensions, photography forced me to go into new and strange places. Printmaking is still not my thing. But all these things informed my current work in many ways. Participating in activities outside your areas of interest and familiarity are essential to broadening your horizons.
And the second piece of advice is: don’t wait for opportunities but make your own instead.
What would you like to be remembered for?
I’d love to be remembered for being an innovative artist as well as a generous and kind person.
If you could have dinner with any inspiring person (past or present), who would you choose?
Danielle Krysa, writer of The Jealous Curator. I’ve spent countless hours listening to her inspiring podcasts. I love her approach to interviewing artists and also she seems like a genuinely kind person.
Want more? Head this way for more PROfile interviews.