Art Business Planning with a Reality Check

by Carolyn Edlund

Artist advocate, strategist and educator Elizabeth Hulings talks about dreaming big, trusting yourself and staying balanced in your art business.


Elizabeth Hulings, Director of The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists

Elizabeth Hulings, Director of The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists


Elizabeth Hulings grew up in a household knowing that it is very possible to make a living as an artist. Her father Clark Hulings, remembered as a seminal American painter, was not only a tremendously talented artist. He was a very successful business person as well.

Inspired by his example and the need to keep his legacy alive, she founded The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists. This nonprofit organization’s mission is to support artists as self-sustaining entrepreneurs through in-depth business training and an online portal for learning, discussion and collaboration. Her vision in the art community at large continues through initiating conversation with industry leaders on new strategies for the dynamic and changing art market.

I spoke with her about business planning, staying on course and dealing with unseen obstacles.

AS:  In looking at a new year, what type of reflection and planning would you recommend for an entrepreneurial artist?

EH:  I would offer the same advice I give myself and anyone else: Take a moment to take stock. Recall where you were the previous January, and then think about where you are now in that context. What really made a difference? What did you do instead of what you had intended to do? Why?

Then reorganize the list of 2019 to-do’s you have spinning around in your head, placing the two or three projects or activities that will have the greatest impact at the top. And then congratulate yourself for all you have accomplished—because you know it is a lot, whether all of it was on the list or not—and forgive yourself for being human. Then take a deep breath and go around again!

AS:  How does one gain clarity on business goals to make them more achievable?

EH:  First, you have to be courageous: dream big and look at the whole dream.

Second, you have to look away and then look back at it with a critical eye, taking a scalpel to it and carving out the piece you feel you can make progress on now.

Third, you have to break that part into actionable chunks.

Fourth, you have to get granular in your implementation of those chunks.

Fifth, you have to stop once every month or so and take stock—write yourself a report (bullets are fine) of what you have done.

Only by looking back can you know where you are, reorient yourself and then keep moving toward the goal. When you feel despondent or stuck, do something. If you can’t figure out how to make any progress on the chunk you’ve been focused on, then back up again and find another bit that you can accomplish. Clarity is like balance: it is not a fixed state but rather a constant pursuit, and it comes from looking at the small pieces and the whole—micro, then macro, then micro, then macro.

AS:  What’s your best advice for dealing with unexpected challenges and staying on course?

EH:  It’s impossible to “stay on course” because life happens, and circumstances change. This morning my cousin and I were trying to get to certain spot in Marin County, and the exit from the highway was closed because of flooding. So we had to find another way to get there. We couldn’t stop on the 101 and wait, or even give up and go back because we couldn’t exit! No, we had to find another way to get there.

There is always a reason for roadblocks, dead ends, detours and diversions. The trick is to take a deep breath and give yourself a little space, and then trust yourself to pick the right way to go. Stubbornly pursuing something that isn’t working is not wise, but letting yourself off the hook isn’t either. Honestly examining the situation and being kind to yourself as you persevere is.


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