The Everyday Genius of Your Artistic Voice: Part 6, Art&Business

Everyday Genius Part 6: Art&Business

In Part 6 of The Everyday Genius of Your Artistic Voice… Lauri Novak and I wrap up the  conversation we started in Episode 5: “Art&Business “. In this one, she offers 7 tips SHE has used to successfully cross the line from hobbyist photographer to photo pro.

We’re not business coaches, nor do we pretend to be! The spirit of this conversation is to share – through personal experiences – what a crossover into the business of photography can look like – in real time – when it’s aligned by your artistic voice and lead by what you love. This series is, after all, about practical ways you can apply all this ephemeral “artistic voice” stuff into your everyday thinking and life.

The whole notion and process seems simple enough and even no big deal. But I can tell you from personal experience, the moment you start holding every decision accountable the standard of “Do I love this?”… life will never be the same.

Lauri’s been applying this approach to her photography and business for a few years now. I so admire how she’s navigated the waters of her artistic and business growth. They have really evolved hand-in-hand. From the projects she’s taken on, the ways in which she has marketed herself and networked (she’s a master at it!), the choices she’s made about what she will and won’t do – have all been made from this proactive, empowering point of view.

She’s certainly inspired me! And I know she will you too.

With out further ado, here we go!

Transcription (and images!)

[thanks to for making the transcribing process SO much easier than it’s ever been before!]

Karen: 00:09
Hi everybody it’s Karen Hutton! Welcome to Episode 6 of The Everyday Genius Of Your Artistic Voice. This is an 8-part series that begins the journey of connecting your inner voice…that inner flame… the inner spark of divine fire into the practical world of photography. 

Part 2 with Lauri Novak

Today’s episode is Part 2 of our conversation about “Art&Business“; where we imagine a business created  from what you really love, who you truly are and how you see the world. My guest is Lauri Novak

Lauri Novak

Lauri has been engaged in this process for a couple of years now and she is still in the process as we all are. I would like to remind you that this process never ends. No it does not. No it’s a yeah it’s a life. This is a life. This is art as life that we’re talking about here.

Last week we talked in a more general way. Are you a budding photographer, a hobbyist looking at where next, or a new or established professional looking for what’s next?  And we shared general thoughts about how to get yourself out there.  Lauri’s strong background in marketing and networking applies to no matter what you do. Now we get down to specifics, so that you can walk away with 7 tips from today. (7 is a good number.) I wanted everybody to have actionable steps and ideas that you can put to work right away, because it’s only by taking the action in the world that the feedback loop gets going.
For instance; you take action, something happens. You get to then say “OK I like that!”.  “I don’t like that” or “I want more”… “I didn’t think about this detail, so let’s fix that and try it again.” You need to get that thing going. Because by focusing and taking action is how you’re going to be able to get your bird to fly!

02:15 I’m sure I don’t have to remind you all that first, before you decide anything, you’ve got to feel into what really floats your boat, what you want to try, what feels like will fulfill your vision – and dream big about how you want to show up in the world – and for yourself.

02:35 So… Lauri. Tell us a little bit about how this all happened for you. What actions you took, the outline, the template, the mind map. These are all things anybody can do; but you went about this in a very deliberate, intentional way.

Lauri’s Path

Lauri: 02:49
Yeah, it’s become much more deliberate and intentional as I learn about the process. But I’ve always had a passion for photography. I had my first camera when I was 10; I’ve had one ever since. I shot for high school and college newspapers, yearbooks – but my heart and soul is in travel and nature more than events or people. My dream job was to be a National Geographic photographer (whose wasn’t?!). But that’s still in me. That is still where I ground myself. Once in a while I do other things, but they don’t feel right. They don’t bring me joy.

Monacobreen Iceberg and Mountains ©2016 Lauri Novak

The Arctic: “Monacobreen Iceberg and Mountains” ©2016 Lauri Novak

So I started by entering local contests. When I was in high school, I sent photos to local newspapers and TV stations, which I still do sometimes because honestly, I don’t care who you are it’s fn to see your picture on TV!  We all like to be famous for a few minutes.

But I was always told by others; really, you should do something with this. I’m like; What am I going to do? It’s really hard industry to get into, you know “Back then”. And it hasn’t really changed It’s probably actually gotten harder, because there are more photographers out there right now. Everybody has access to everything and everybody. So that really hasn’t changed. However, in the last several years it’s gotten to be more attainable to me. I’m in a place now in my life where I can pursue it more seriously. I have experimented and tried different things; different genres, different jobs. It’s like trying on shoes. Do they fit? Are they comfortable.? Are they going to last? Are they going to feed my soul? You know, no pun intended


Karen: 04:33
I’m going to throw something in here, which is the big doubt stops everybody in their tracks – and you named it. It’s the Big Doubt that say: “It impossible to enter the photography world because there are so many photographers and nobody values photos anymore.” That’s a belief system. Yes, it’s partly based on a certain reality. But if this (photography) is what floats your boat – if this is your flame – then what you’ve got is do is dig deeper.

This happened in voiceover, by the way, some years ago when certain changes in the industry caused those of us who wanted to figure out a way to stay in it and thrive. At the time, my business was a six figure business. You had to really dig deep and decide who you are within it and create the value around that. Because when you when you enter the world as a signature with a signature it is unique.  No one does it like you and that has value to your audience. The specificity that you have to be able to get to is staggering . And so, all this experimentation that you’ve been going through had to do with this vision that you had – but every step made you get more specific with it.

I personally think that it helps as a photographer – and I think you do this – I think it helps to have a wheel. Imagine it as: you’re the hub of the wheel. You are your brand. Then you have to decide… out of what you love, what you want to do and what your vision is; what are the spokes? What are they going to contain? For me, it’s speaking, it’s writing, it’s photography, obviously, it’s teaching. What are the spokes for you right now?

Lauri: 06:10 I think I still work at it. But teaching is possible spoke right now and I’ve just started the writing side of things. I mean I wrote a little bit before for my own blog but now writing for Photofocus has grown that side

Random TIP: Write For Industry Blogs!

Karen: 06:24 Which, by the way I want to throw in here that that is a tip: a tweetable: Writing for other industry blogs, other industry sources establishes your authority. It gets you recognized for something outside of your own blog. Guest blogging is a very good marketing tool.

Lauri: 06:53 Yeah it is. I’ve done that couple of times before Photofocus, even. I’m kind of just working through things still. I have stories to tell with all the images that I’ve never processed and stuff – so that’s kind of in the back of my mind, as where I’m going to get some of my images back out there and on my web site.

Karen: 07:06 This is really valuable, because in this conversation, I know Lauri always says “Well, I’m still figuring it out.” And you almost feel like you have to apologize for that – and you don’t! Here’s why:  because you will be doing this process (of figuring out what’s next) in 10 years and 20 years at every single stage of your career or your business. Even if it’s another career you’ll be doing that. So it’s a process. It’s always a process.

07:32 If you are in the arts, if you are living your life as an art – you have to keep coming back to the core values and the core YOU and how you want to show up in the world. Figure out what your gifts are – and what really floats your boat. So you’re doing it perfectly! You just have to know that it never feels perfect. It always feels chaotic.

Lauri: 07:47 Yeah that’s true.

Karen: 07:51 And believe me, I feel the same way. You teach what you want to learn most. So that’s all there is to it. The other thing I wanted to point out was; you’re experimenting with writing. My contention is photographers think; “Oh, to be a professional photographer you’re going to go out and take pictures all the time.”

But in fact you got your next big level your big leap of recognition recently by writing which is why I wrote an article (for Landscape Photography Magazine) called “The Second Most Important Skill You Need To Know As a Photographer” and that is writing. Being able to write is key, because you have to write e-mails. You have to write social posts. You have to write articles, you have to write all the time in this business. And writing you got you on Photofocus. Suddenly you’re an authority. Adobe shares one of your articles all over the internet and it was stunning. It’s kind of crazy and it just sort of happens like that. But you did it by doing what you love.

So. You have a series of steps. We’re going to talk about the 7 Steps now: immediately implementable steps toward bringing your art to the next level and into a business. What are they?

Lauri: 09:05
None of these are rocket science I don’t think. 

Tip #1: Continue to Grow

Continue to learn and practice your craft. It seems like common sense, but I think that we get lazy. We continue to do what it whatever we do without growing in our world and without growing in our visions. You continually need to feed your muse. Your vision also changes. I think mine has totally changed from last year to this year. It’s not a sign on the path you’re on. It’s like something that’s continually moving in and sometimes it’s like the movie “Inception”, and you’re falling off the ledge of the other side. But the important thing is to learn listen to that and change the direction if you need to.

Grasse Color & Shutters ©2016 Lauri Novak

Grasse, France: “Grasse Color & Shutters” ©2016 Lauri Novak

Karen: 09:53
Right. A lot of times people say, “You’ve got to watch out about finding your style.” I’ve seen this argument that says if you find your style, that just means you’re dying as an artist, since you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. I believe that can happen, if you suddenly get recognized for one type of work and that’s all you do for the rest of your life. Yeah, then you might get stuck. But what we’re talking about here is constantly going back to who you are. And who you are as a human evolves. That’s why your work changed last year you change and grow as a human. So will your work. You will always show up in your work or what type you try. You can’t hide: my family and friends all know who I am, no matter what I’m wearing, no matter what I’m saying. Because they recognize my voice, they recognize me, they recognize my footsteps, they recognize everything about me, because I’m my own little signature.  And so are you. So that’s an important distinction to make between style and signature.

Tip #2: Work For Other People

The second thing I did is tried working for other people. If you’re interested in learning how to shoot portraits for weddings, contact local wedding photographers or portrait studios. Work for them for however long it takes you to decide whether you want to do that or not do that. Second shooting weddings is a really good way to learn how wedding photography works. And again, if you like it or you don’t like it, you’ll find out pretty quickly! I think if that’s what you want to do, do that. I’ve done several of these things. And I’ve learned that I’m not a people shooter. I don’t want to deal with that. It’s not where my passions lie. I’ve done it. I still do once in a while when people ask. But how do you know if you don’t try?

Karen: 11:22
Exactly. It goes into your resume and you meet people along the way. That’s part of the “take action” feedback loop. Rinse repeat. Adjust and carry on. So that’s brilliant.

Here’s an important piece, going back to our prior question about weddings. Let’s say you start doing weddings and you find you have a knack and maybe you don’t love it but it makes money. And that’s what you need to do.  Then do it. And you do it the best way you can. You know you want to do it for the rest of your life. Then don’t. But understand that at that moment in time, being a wedding photographer is serving the bigger picture. It’s in service of the big vision.  That’s why you have a Grand Vision, so that you know which things are on the continuum and taking you towards it – and which things are distractions.

So, if wedding photography is something you can do, where you can bring enough of your signature to bear and create some income then DO that! But keep your eye on the prize, which is: your Grand Vision. Then that thing you HAVE to do is in service of where you’re going. And then it’s less hateful, if you find you have to do a particular thing to get to the next level.

Lauri: 12:29
That’s a very good point. Yeah.

Karen: 12:29
And side by side, it doesn’t mean that you stop doing the other thing you love – which may be what the shooting landscapes or whatever – you do projects. Artists always have projects they’re doing they may not be their mainstay of income and recognition but they keep developing their chops. They keep evolving by doing projects.

Tip #3: Sell Photos Online

Lauri: 12:50
The third thing that I tried and I did this right off the bat, was selling my work online. There’s a zillion places you can do that now. At the time, I put myself on six or seven sites at least… then gave it some time, to see what works, what’s worth your time.

Karen: 12:50
What are names of some of them?

Lauri: 13:07
Red Bubble Fine Art America. Zazzle.

Karen: 13:07
Photoshelter? Smug Mug?

Lauri: 13:16
Right. I kind of see those more as website hosting but right. And it takes time to do all that. It takes time to upload your images to seven different Web sites, you know, in hopes that somebody sees and it buys it. I think I might be on two now, and my own Smugmug site. Because you don’t want to keep spending the time on things that are paying off.  I’m not getting rich on any of this stuff!  But a couple of hundred bucks here and there helps.

Karen: 13:47
In any entrepreneurial business you want to have multiple streams of income. So, 200 bucks here, 300 bucks there… multiply that by several sources and it adds up. So you don’t turn down your nose at any at any income level.

Lauri: 14:04
The other thing people will do is put their photos whether it’s Smugmug, or stock photography they’ll put their stuff somewhere and then they never market it. They’ll never talk about it and never put it out there. I’m of a mind that says whereever you put your work, you’ve got to market it. If you don’t know how to market or run the business part, then you have to learn that.

Lauri: 14:21
Yeah right. Again you can’t just put it there and hope people will find it. They might …but you have to help.

Tip #4: Join Online Photo Groups

Lauri: 14:31
Join online photography groups. You know, last week I mentioned that Google Plus was huge in part of my journey and still is actually. Facebook has tons of photography groups as well. You know, once you’re in those groups, participate! Ask questions, interact with the members, help people out when you can, just be active and visible. Then go meet these people in person. I helped Karen out in the Arcanum when they first started and going through that program. I met her (in person) at Photoshop World. She introduced me to other people. And it’s the game sort of that you have to play but it’s all networking. These people have become my friends it’s not a bad thing. You know now I have people that I can go visit when I’m  traveling almost anywhere and go out shooting.

Chicago, IL: “Marina Towers” ©2016 Lauri Novak

Karen: 15:11 is another big community that’s strong. They do contests – but they also have a huge community aspect of it. And these people are very engaged and there are a lot of great photographers there. It’s a good one.

Tip #5: Contests

Lauri: 15:24
This one is something I don’t do a ton of; but participating in contests. It also gets you noticed. Viewbug is a good one for that because they have pretty good following and community there. Some of the big name contests out there…  I’ve not really had experience with many of those so I can’t really talk about them. You have to pay to enter. But again there’s people that I do know that have entered some of those higher visiblity contests and are not famous, but they get recognized.  Tons of recognition. Tons of time in front of people on their Website and the sponsors Websites and on social media. So that’s another way to do that.

Lauri: 16:05
But even a smaller contests – like Kelbyone is a good one. They do things where they feature Kelbyone members. You have to member, but you know-  this week’s theme is spiral staircases. So, there are a couple of times I’ve been featured because of that.  And those are take any time – you just add your photo into the stream.

Lauri: 16:25
Camera companies, gear companies, print labs, education companies, they all do these little contests from time to time – and they’re not huge. There may or may not be prizes, but everybody else following that are going to start seeing your name over and over and over. And that’s how marketing works. You’ve got to get your message out over and over and over for people to see.

Karen: 16:40
Right. And then they show up and say “I feel like I know you” when it’s the first time they’ve met you. It’s amazing how that works. Do it (marketing) well and that happens.

Tip #6: Local Art & Camera Clubs

Lauri: 16:49
Also check out local art and camera clubs. Several years ago I joined a local art organization here in my hometown outside of Chicago. And because of that I was able to hang my work in local establishments. There’s three or four places in our little town that have a monthly rotation of images or artwork that is hanging. Which is a good way to learn how to hang galleries, what is involved in hanging in gallery.

We started working with a local gallery in our town. So there’s a monthly exhibit there and then and then every so often there be bigger exhibits. And having done that has led me to get my own exhibit at a couple of local libraries. One of the libraries had me exhibit for a month. Then at the end of the month I gave a presentation on an Arctic trip that I had gone on, which is an amazing experience.

I don’t do that! That’s not what I do, I’m not giving presentations. But it was a really good experience for me. Doing that helps you, again, know if that’s something you want to get into or not.

Lauri: 17:45
Right. Because people want to connect with you when they see your work. They fall in love with your work. That happens because if you are using your artistic voice and really show up in your work… and if have been successful at getting the inner stuff into the photo so that it’s recognizably you… people connect with it because they recognize you in your work. Just like people recognize my speaking voice or the way you walk or how you dress whatever.

Get an Exhibition History Going!

Karen: 18:10
There’s another really profound part of this that a lot of people don’t think about. Which is: “Well I don’t want to exhibit at the library”…  or “It was only in my local coffee shop.” Let me tell you, if you ever want to enter the art world, the fine art world, and be in galleries or whatever – now you’ve got to build a website. Now you have to show your exhibitions, because nobody wants to be the first one. You’re an unknown commodity. Who is this person? Where have they exhibited? But if you haven’t exhibited anywhere and you haven’t done anything,  you got nuthin’. And nobody will take a chance on a first time person – an unknown. So it’s important to know. Same thing with the contests, if contests float your boat. Juried exhibits. That goes on your resume too, in a fine art business approach. So all of these things add up. You may think they’re small but they’re not.

Lauri: 19:11
I was going to throw art fairs in there, because that’s kind of part of this too and that’s something that I tried. Some of those are juried also. So you get a purchase award or you win 3rd prize for photography, or whatever. Those are all part of that as well.

Karen: 19:25
And you actually wrote an e-book about art fairs. Which is available on your website, right? Lauri Novak dot com.

Lauri: 19:25
It will be!

Karen: 19:25
It’s a great little resource.

Tip #7: Meetups, Photowalks, Workships

Lauri: 19:39 Meetups, photowalks, workshops. They’re a really fun way to learn and network. You know photographers love talking about their photography and their gear. I don’t talk about gear, but many people do, which is actually a little side thing here. I don’t get hung up on my gear stuff. And that’s part of who I am – and who I stay true to – as much as people try to drag me into stuff sometimes. It’s not who I am and that’s not what I do. So my work is about my art and not about what I use to make it. Anyway, I felt like I had to say that!.

But I started out going to a monthly outing that was local. And because I was going to it, I ended up organizing it and I take care of it every month now. I plan it, get the people together, put the invitations out and all that.  I mentioned this last week that it’s an international organization, so even people from the other chapters all over the world know who I am because I run the one here. Because of me being involved with this led to a print lab asking if I could be an ambassador for them.

The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès ©2016 Lauri Novak

Cannes, France: “The Palais des Festivals et des Congrès” ©2016 Lauri Novak

I struggle with it sometimes because I don’t want to be pushing stuff on people too much. I don’t want to be just always selling something to somebody. But it’s good exposure. I’m on their website – and you do what you do for them. You basically just use their product, or you when you do you let people know, when they have a sale you let people know. Because I was involved in things they approached me and it’s a little bit of a benefit to me.

Again, I attended local conferences and national conferences over the years and I’ve made connections at those. And that’s how I met an editor for Photofocus. And that’s how I got an asked to start writing for them. So it’s an important thing to be involved. Just get out and meet people. 

Karen: 21:17
Gotta get out and get wet! Gotta a jump on the pool. The thing I was going to say about brand ambassador and feeling like you’re selling out, pushing things. I’m the same way. And I do partner with different companies. The biggest one is Fujifilm. My criteria for that is: Do I love it? Would I use it anyway? So the only thing that I am an affiliate of or a partner with are things that I will use, that I love, and that’s it. That’s ideal, that you’re not selling out and you don’t have to push the products. You just have to show up and be you.

Lauri: 21:56
Right and that goes back to “stay true to yourself” and what you’re trying to do.

Don’t know business? Learn it!

Karen: 22:00
Exactly. And the final thing I’m going to add is like a #7a is this: If out of all of this you feel like “Well I’m not very good at business.” Then go to learn business! And my advice would be to learn things like funnels, e-mail lists, writing e-books, learning how to launch all this content that you create, because otherwise who’s going to know about it? Do you want to teach? Do you want to speak? Do you want to enter the art world? Each of these areas have their own handshake, if you want to think of it that way. And promoting them and understanding how to build a business around them is a separate skill. So either you learn it through things you’ve done in your life like Lauri – or like me – you go out and you have to learn it.

So I’ve worked with business coaches. I’ve taken a gazillion business courses, none of which were given by people in the photography world. They’re all outside. So I believe in cross training. I believe in going outside of my area of specialty. In this case photography, but I’ve done this my whole life and learned from the experts in whatever field I want to learn.

So do you have any final thoughts?

Final Thoughts

Lauri: 23:09
Yep. I think in the end you need to know yourself, have a pretty good idea of what you love shooting, what you love doing, and do the work. I said this last time too. You can’t just put your stuff out there and think that somebody is going to discover you. You have to promote yourself. You have to meet people you have to network. It’s work! It’s fun work, but it still will work.  And if you’re not enjoying it, then you’ve got to think about what you’re doing and if it’s right or wrong for you.

Karen: 23:32
And the tie in of artistic voice here is any business is a butt load of work. I don’t care what you’re doing. You really need to love it. It needs to be the thing that floats your boat, that you love, that you would do for nothing. Everything now in my business – and it’s been five years of honing and trying and eliminating and trying more of, or in a different way. Consequently everything on my plate right now are things I love. I would do any of them for nothing. I can’t do that because we all need to make a living. But if I do something that I don’t get paid for, then the tradeoff is either more exposure, more promotion, or just because I love this so much I’m willing to give my time. But my focus is very, very specific.  Anything that doesn’t meet that criteria or fit on that continuum of getting from here to there doesn’t make the cut now. That’s a really important final wrap up thought. I hope you get some value out of it. Thank you Lauri for being here for both of these parts.

Lauri: 24:31
Thank  you so much for having me.

Karen: 24:33
Oh my goodness. Your insights are tremendous because, you know, Lauri’s out in the world doing it. The more experts you can hear from the better.

If you loved this, if you have thoughts, if you have questions, comments, real life things to share along these lines, please share them in the comments. I do read them all. I know your comments. I’ll catch you next time for part 7 and in part eight, then our series will be complete. So this has been really fun. So we’ll see you guys next time!  Love Ya! Thank you for being here. Bye!


Lauri Novak’s Website
Lauri Featured on Photofocus


Just catching up? Here are ALL of the episodes in this series:

Episode 1: Introduction
Episode 2: Preparation
Episode 3: Appearance
Episode 4: Cameras & Gear
Episode 5: Art & Business
Episode 6: Art & Business
Episode 7: Post-Processing
Episode 8: Storytelling

Extra: Q&A