How to Network and Build Meaningful Relationships

Hi there!

I’m so glad you’ve found my blog. I love sharing my artwork but I also want to venture into posting content that might be useful for other artists. I figured I should start with what I have found to be the absolute most important thing in my journey as a professional artist: networking!!!

I’ve included links to some of the resources and organizations I’ve found useful. If you’re a Toronto-based artist, they might be useful for you so check them out. 🙂

When I was in school, I heard all about the power of creating a network. When I graduated, I finally got to experience it.

I had a Parks, Forestry and Recreation job as an art instructor since high school. One day, there was an information session for employees. I had never spoken to the facilitator before but that day I decided to, and I am so glad! I asked if there were any openings for art instructors. There weren’t. But he pointed me towards someone else he knew, who told me about Toronto Arts Council

I was so thrilled at the idea of getting a grant to do projects I designed. So, I researched all the grants I was interested in, and then looked up organizations that were funded by them. I joined all their newsletters and then sent them all emails introducing myself and requesting meetings. Many of them responded and I finally felt visible and supported.

Through these newsletters, I found out about Cultural Hotspot. I didn’t know what Cultural Hotspot was, but I decided to go to their information session. They were the first ones to award me a grant, which became a stepping stone toward building an even broader network.

As I developed more relationships, the number of grants I got also increased. I didn’t suddenly turn into an amazing grant writer. I had just gotten to know lots of fabulous folks through volunteering, attending workshops, and inviting people on coffee dates. They all wanted me to succeed and were willing to spend their time reading boring grant applications. With the support of this wonderful network, Art Ignite was born, a non-profit community arts organization… and I was titled Executive Director… by myself! And well, Art Ignite’s board members, who were all my friends. Shh…

With a vision board and a $400 honorarium from a program run by Vibe Arts, I was ready to take on the world. This led to project grants from Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Art Council, Inspirit Foundation, and ArtReach, allowing me to create an entity that supported other artists along with myself.

While running Art Ignite, my own creative practice slowed down to a trickle, but I was able to exhibit at some pretty cool places, including Meridian Art Centre, Ryerson University, Artscape Youngplace, Daniels Spectrum and Ontario Place. I would love to say my work is good enough to be accepted into these spaces on its own merit, but having a network played a huge role in landing all these opportunities.

One beautiful baby girl and one pandemic later, I decided I wanted to take a break from programming. My creative trickle had turned into a gush of ideas. I would binge-draw until my stylus ran out of power. These drawings turned into comics and then into my first children’s book, How to Show Love.

Because I like to tell the entire world my life story, the entire world then helps me make my dreams come true. While I worked on How to Show Love, one of my friends, Sherry Chen told me about Gale Institute, an organization that offers free courses through Toronto Public Library. So, I started taking courses again, this time about creative writing, publishing, and marketing.

I read books and blogs and devoured all sorts of information. I partnered with other illustrators, set up meetings with editors, called up authors, asked questions, and kept applying for more grants. I kept networking. I kept building relationships.

I recently finished writing and illustrating a book with mentorship from Giuseppe Castellano from The Illustration Department. I found out about him through Angela Hawkins, an amazing illustrator I connected with through my Instagram account. I was able to afford the mentorship sessions through a one-time grant I received from Ontario Arts Council. I learned about the grant because of my experience with Art Ignite, which I formed with the help of all the organizations listed above. See how one thing always leads to another?

As I continue to market my work and learn about the book publishing industry, all my contacts from the community arts sector have come together to help me succeed. Every time I need a marketing boost, they will do a social media interview with me, leave me reviews on my sales page, or find me a list of bookstores. My book is on the shelf of one of those bookstores btw!

A very similar post to this is currently on ArtReach’s and North York Arts’ blogs. I asked them if I could write for them for publishing credit. Not only did they say yes, but they also paid me! After 7 years of practicing art professionally, I still get stupidly excited when I make money through my creative practice.

For a VERY risk-averse introverted person like me, it’s scary to move towards the unknown. But… one elbow bump at a time is all it takes to build up a network of incredibly supportive peers and mentors! ❤

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