To earn a studio art degree, you need to understand the fundamentals of art history, how to prepare a surface for creation, and how to select the right tools for your piece. As you develop your practice and hone your skills in a medium, you begin to build a body of work focused on your inspirations and backgrounds. Rebecca Ledbetter discovered painting in college, where she learned to mix colors and stretch a canvas, survived grueling criticism, and began to understand how to build an artistic discipline after graduation. Students learned to succeed creatively, but not necessarily profitably.

On the other hand, upon leaving business school, Anna Solomon carried the fundamental idea that passion must intersect with need. Entrepreneurship follows a specific set of formula procedures that develop your idea into a hypothesis, define your solution, to create a set of qualitative and quantitative data that proves it’s worth it. More often than not, what you predict doesn’t happen, but now you have a way to assess your obstacles and plan your next move. Students learned how to get a return on investment, but not necessarily how to stick to their creative vision.

We — Rebecca and Anna — are the marketing and sales team of NextFab, a membership-based creative space where these two worlds merge, with locations in Philadelphia and Wilmington. NextFab was founded on the belief that access to the right tools can bring an idea to life. By interacting with thousands of creators over the past 13 years, we’ve realized that entrepreneurs and artists are cut from the same cloth. Both want to use tools to express an idea within themselves, and both want to communicate it to the world. Thanks to the NextFab community, we have been able to observe the benefits of these groups working together in a shared creative space. Borrowing from both mindsets, these are the tools we wish we had to start a sustainable creative practice.

Rebecca Ledbetter (L) and Anna Solomon of NextFab. (Courtesy picture)

Business tools

As an artist producing goods for sale to the public, you are a business. A business plan can be a powerful tool when you face difficulties. It shows you which elements (like marketing, staffing, and product offerings) can be manipulated to increase your sales or receive funding. Your time and energy are precious and limited, and an entrepreneurial spirit can help protect them.

Tools for creatives

It’s easy to get lost in the creative process, but scalability, fine-tuning your production, and finishing for salability are just as important as the part itself. These tools can help you stand out, become more productive, and strengthen your product. When it comes to thinking about tools for creatives, don’t desert the pieces that bring you happiness, but balance them with refined process.

Tools for contemporaries

One of the most essential tools in your toolbox is your peer network – a conversation with a contemporary (a person or thing living or existing at the same time as another) can go further than you could. never by yourself. Your network may be better than a Google search; their solutions are underpinned by their lived experiences, unique skills and diverse perspectives.

Following our own advice, NextFab, as well as non-profit artisans, CraftNOWlaunches a hybrid conference, Tools of the trades, focused on connecting artisans to business resources in Philadelphia and beyond. From March 23-25, attendees will have access to experts, resources and peers from the craft community.

The return on investment is very important. We are taught to balance knowledge and risk, to gather as much understanding of total costs as possible, to try to predict how to develop a favorable outcome. You still have to jump, but you try to see where you’re going to land as much as you can.

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