Case study: finding the courage to become an autonomous artist

Visual artist and illustrator Manuela Bianco, originally from Italy but based in The Netherlands, came to me in Spring 2021, for a Power Session. Like most of my clients, she had too many ideas and projects filling her head, felt easily overwhelmed and distracted, and she needed guidance. In those 90 minutes I was able to help her with some simple steps to make her feel instantly calmer, and more in control of her marketing. A happy client, she soon returned with the exciting news that she had been successful in applying for a professional development grant, so she was able to invest in working with me for three months 1-to-1. We embarked on a journey together, where I watched her grow from introverted illustrator to an ambitious artist with big plans. This is her story.

Like many visual artists and makers, Manuela struggled to earn a good income from just selling her work. Her floral illustrations with ballpoint pen are stunning, but she found it hard to find a consistent stream of buyers.

So she offered online and in-person drawing courses on the side, which gave her extra income, so she could pay at least for the monthly studio rent. Manuela blamed the low income from her artwork on her lack of knowledge of business models, strategies and marketing. As often is the case, the true reason was something else.

From corporate career to justifying being an artist

Like so many creatives, Manuela suffered from the common belief that “artists are poor“. A deep-rooted belief, that is not easy to shed, but one that prevents most creatives from becoming the confident business owners they want to be. Also, like many self-taught artists, she had long ago chosen a ‘safe’ corporate career before finally leaving it, but was now struggling with the feeling and insecurity of no longer having a ‘proper job’. On top of this, as an introvert, Manuela also hated being in the spot light and making herself visible online. Important barriers that were all holding her back.

Still, she had big ambitions: making more large works, possibly for high-end clients and interior design companies; starting a gift-ware collection with stationary items, creating label illustrations and printing her work on wallpaper. Perhaps looking at licensing her artwork. She wanted her work to be for sale in more shops and galleries, open an online store, and apply for a spot at art fairs in The Netherlands. Her website needed updated, and she needed a strategy and better organisation of her time around family.

And then there were her drawing courses.

Making brave decisions opens up opportunities

I knew from the start that what Manuela really wanted was to be an autonomous artist, and not a course leader, but as a coach, my role is not to tell people what to do. Instead, I offer guidance and let clients discover their own truths, by asking questions and holding up mirrors. At the start of our journey, the courses were an important part of the business, and Manuela wanted to run them. So I helped her come up with more ideas to promote them.

But as we continued to work together on marketing her offers, it became more and more clear that Manuela didn’t get any joy from offering her courses. They felt draining. However, she was too attached to them, and too scared to let them go. It provided her with a steady income, and moreover, the courses for her were a way to ‘justify’ being an artist. They were “easier to understand for her friends and family than her art practice” (her words, and, of course, mainly a story in her head!), but mostly, they gave her the idea that she was still having some kind of ‘proper job’. An offer led by self-limiting beliefs, and not giving her any joy.

One of the worksheets I gave her, made her realise that she needed to change things drastically. The exercise asks clients to list their offers and give them a green, yellow or red light, depending on the amount of income earned, time spent, but especially joy felt, while doing them. Doing this exercise made Manuela see immediately that the courses were given the red light. But how do you give up something you dislike but are scared to let go of?

As often happens when you say a crystal clear yes or no to something, the wheels start turning, and the magic happens.

The light bulb moment and choosing joy

During one of our calls, two months after starting the programme, Manuela appeared on screen very happy. “I have some exciting news!” she exclaimed. She told me about the revelation that what she really want to do is drawing, not teaching. The courses came from a place of fear and scarcity. “Everything fell into place”, she said, after doing the exercise. “It was a light bulb moment.” After also feeling inspired by one of my blog posts about having a job on the side, she noticed a vacancy for 2 days a week as gallery assistant in one of her favourite local art centres. That was it! “15 hours a week, the same income as I get from my courses, but I now have three days left to focus on making my art instead of marketing and delivering courses.” She got the job.

Clarity and focus for the future

Choosing a part-time job alongside her business as autonomous artist provides her with a better organised week, and more focus on the days that she gets to spend in her studio. The fog has lifted and she now has a much clearer idea of where she wants to take her business. She is now working on creating a couple of large artworks to exhibit in September, which she may turn into wall-sized prints for a big art fair next year. She is finalising her website and launching an Etsy shop to start selling smaller prints and stationary, and will take on more commissions when they come.

During our work together I have seen Manuela grow in confidence as an artist in her own right, and become excited and in control of her professional future as an illustrator. She left her old beliefs around ‘status’ behind, and cares less about judgement by others (although this, of course, is a much longer process than three months!).

We celebrated her getting her first corporate commission, after working on mindset and pricing. We have come up with ideas to come back to in the future to find new clients and approach more places to sell her art. And her courses? She actually hasn’t completely ditched them (!), but will no longer offer them like she did before. Instead, an evergreen online course is in the pipeline, to reach a larger global audience. Exciting!

creative business coach
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on

Manuela says about working with me:

“When I signed up for Nina’s 12-week programme, I wanted to build a profitable – but also sustainable – business that would allow me to live off the sales of my artwork. I had as many ideas, as I had doubts, and I wasn’t able to focus and make choices.”

“Nina has helped me with an incredible amount of very concrete issues (from defining my ideal client, to approaching local shops, defining the price of my work, securing commisioned work from a corporate client, etc.) as well as strategy and mindset issues that went well beyond marketing. I feel so much clearer and confident about what I want to achieve, and I now know how to achieve it too.”

Are you interested in growing your business and confidence too? Schedule a free 30-minute call to find out how I can help you!

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