Teaching Art from Home
Everyone cares about how great your art is. Nobody really cares how you make enough money to survive.
What I mean is, you do what you have to do. In the end, here’s what’s important: Making art. Your studio time is paramount, and anything that impacts your ability to show up at the canvas is highly suspect. However, more often than not, it’s the “money” part that we, as artists, let distract us from our real goals – and understandably so.
Let’s be honest. We all know what being an artist full-time is like. Sometimes, you make some money. The check arrives in the mail, the gallery contacts you about a sale, someone makes a commission payment…
Sometimes – nothing. You might have a dozen different projects going, and you’re working, there isn’t any income…or there is very little trickling in at that time. While you’re working so hard, you’re probably spending money on art supplies. What you don’t want to do is spend money on art supplies and forget to afford things like….milk. Or car insurance. Or…god forbid…cat food.
There is no way that a person can survive like this, to be honest. Even the most commercially successful artists with occasional impressive sales figures will still have irregular income. As a solo businessperson, it’s up to you to design and structure your business in a way that will support you. Particularly if your household has no other income source — Regular payments to yourself from your business account are paramount. I know for some of you, this sounds crazy, or like wishful thinking. Is there some kind of TRICK?
The “trick” is to find something that brings in a regular income that doesn’t detract from your personal goals as an artist. Many artists turn to taking on art students for this reason. Some artists teach workshops for adults or children through arts organizations or privately. Personally, what I decided to do was try teaching art to kids from home. I started by volunteering at the elementary school my daughter was attending. (Many elementary schools have art programs that welcome — or require! — parent involvement, so you definitely don’t need any particular kind of art experience to begin this way. )
From there, I started offering art lessons from home (basic drawing skills). I was already set up as a business with a separate bank account. By word of mouth and some simple Craigslist advertising, I got a few client phone calls – from there I ended up with a few students. There was some turnover, so even though a had a couple of dropouts, I did add new students along the way too, mostly word of mouth from my first kids. In my advertising, I specified the age group (ages 10 – 17) the duration of each class (1 hour) and where the classes would be held (my studio). In the process I also taught a friend’s girl scout troop to get their drawing badge, and was recommended to other troops from there. Now I’ve been teaching for ten years total, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made to keep some money in my art account regardless of other factors.
That’s how I went about it, anyway. But how about YOU? Do you think this might be your kind of thing, but you’re not quite sure? Here are some questions that might help you focus and really decide if teaching individual students is a potential income stream for you.
1. What type of artist am I? What is my art background? Have I taken classes before? Can I defend/explain how much I already know, confidently, to others? If you’re an abstract artist, or work in non-traditional modes or materials, you might be less able to convince parents to put their faith in you to “teach their kids art”. Unfortunately, you need to fit somewhere within the parent’s definition of what art lessons should be like. Realistic drawing and shading using pencil and charcoal fit that mold well. Other traditional/easy approaches can include things like drawing from life, painting landscapes from reference, rendering pet photos in pastel chalks, and cartooning. If what you do doesn’t quite fit that mold, look at what your technical specialties are instead. See if you can define an attractive curriculum that might attract young students. For example, many kids are interested in sculpting, bookmaking, jewelry, or sewing… and these specific skills almost never get taught in public schools. If you have something unique to offer that they can’t get anywhere else, you might just be in high demand! Just be ready to describe your educational background, what you know and what you have to offer with CONFIDENCE. Keep in mind you’re presenting to the parents, not the kids.
2. Do I like being around children? Do I have any experience with children, volunteer or otherwise? If so, what age groups am I most comfortable with? How many kids can I manage at once? My best advice to you is to start where you are, and take it slow. So, if you don’t have kids and have never been with them, take some cousins out for a mall trip and see how you feel. If you do have children of your own, chaperone a field trip. Volunteer for any local art programs, school-led or otherwise, and get a feel for how many kids are overwhelming for you. For example, I still remember the cave painting day at the elementary school. All the classes got together to take my class. There were 60 — yes, you read that right, sixty — kids aged 9 – 11. After that experience, I never even tried to teach that many kids at one time. Over time, with enough volunteer exposure, I learned that the smaller the group, the better. Ideally, ONE kid was the perfect number for me. That’s about when I started to think of myself as a “personal art tutor.” Your experience might be different, though, as there can be good energy with a group. They, (and you!) can benefit from being in a social environment where they can discuss and compare each other’s work. Find out if you truly are a “kid person” and what kind of environment you would enjoy the most. If you’re enjoying yourself, it will definitely show!
3. What is my living space/studio situation? Do I live in a rural area, suburbia or downtown? I live in suburbia near many schools from elementary through high school, which is a definite plus…parents, who are already commuting and/or driving all of their kids around to various activities, tend to want to choose teachers that are close to everything. There’s also a definite positive to already having an art studio outside the home – you usually can have more control and create a more customized learning environment in this case. Don’t forget parking. If you have a problematic parking situation, make sure you can solve that at least temporarily for drop-offs and pickups. Do I have the space to teach another person (or a few), and store extra supplies for them to use? Even if you live in a tiny apartment, as long as you have some control over your space, you can make sure there is enough space cleared and ready, so don’t despair…just do a little planning. You can also drive to their home or school instead of them coming to your place. This is a bit more stressful, but if you’re an on-time sort of person who doesn’t mind driving, this might be a simpler alternative.
4. When can I be available? Of course, the best answer to this question is “all the time!” but realistically the time most parents and caregivers want is during the afterschool hours of 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm. You might want to commit to certain “time slots” during the day and then be ready for Fridays to fill up. Kids have academic homework at younger and younger ages these days, so the only times they might have left to add an extracurricular activity might be on Friday afternoons. Summers, of course, should be wide open, but are often problematic due to camps and vacations.
5. Have a written agreement for the parent, caregiver, or leader to sign. This clarifies expectations on both sides, up front. Plus, it shows you’re a serious professional! It doesn’t have to be complicated – in fact, it’s best if the agreement is a simple double sided contract, signed and dated at the bottom. Have all parties involved show up for a complimentary first visit. Then, if there’s sufficient interest, show them the agreement and have them sign it. Have two copies already signed by you, ready for them to sign, and keep one of them for yourself – no on-the-spot copying required.
Make sure to mention to the parents what reference materials you might be using during lessons or lending them to take home, in case there are nudes or other potentially disturbing or scary imagery…best to keep everything as “harmless” as possible. Another thing I’d recommend is to ask for permission to use images of the student’s artwork in your personal marketing efforts. You can mention, if you like, that no images of the student’s face, or the student’s name, will EVER be used without permission.
To show you the types of things I feel are important to cover, I’ve attached a pdf of a simplified version of my own agreement. Take it as a starting point – use what you can, ignore what doesn’t apply.
If you choose to teach kids, as you settle in to a teaching routine, you may find that you really start looking forward to that time in your week. It might become one of the most fulfilling activities in your life as an artist. You may just find you learn as much from your students as they do from you. I hope this article has helped you consider teaching art from home. Best of luck!
Leah Jay (Jakusovszky) has been an artist and illustrator in San Jose for 25 years. She creates using a variety of media including watercolor, acrylic, pastel, ink, and collage. Her illustrative work has been featured in many books, and highlights from her career include directing 2001’s WTC Memorial Art Project to facilitate artist’s responses to 9/11 and successfully crowdfunding her artbook “Amphibian Love” to benefit Save the Frogs in 2015.