Small Business Series No. 7: Craig Swan

For this edition of our SBS I'd like you to meet Craig Swan--our second painter in the series. We got to know Craig through photographing him and his beautiful bride back in May in a sweet backyard wedding. I always love shooting artist's weddings because they are so unique and usually very personal, as was Craig & Laura's. So please meet our talented friend Craig. Small Business Series, Craig Swan Small Business Series, Craig Swan

Name: Craig Swan


Favorite Artist/Album:

Painter: Zak Smith

Sculptor: Manuel Neri

Music: Bjork, The Tallest Man on Earth, Metallica, Slayer, Sevendust, Miles Davis, Beethoven, Nick Cave.

When did you start your business?

This is a difficult question to answer accurately; I started making money fairly consistently, from making or teaching art, about five years ago when I moved to Norman.

What inspired you to start it?

My art career grew up around me; I wouldn’t say that I really started it. I saw opportunities where there was money on the table – calls for artists, various awards and grants – and I wanted to see if I could compete. I always liked to draw, and realized right before I applied to college that you could go to school for it, and I was kind of shocked that I got in. I thought that if I didn’t really go for it, that I would have wasted so much time and effort and money and anguish and let myself and everyone else in my life down, so I decided I needed to commit myself to make the thing I love doing self-supporting and maybe allow me to support myself and family.

What would you say was your biggest challenge to overcome?

I never feel I have enough time to sit and think about what I want to do. Being an artist isn’t just making art, it’s about experimentation and thinking and discussion and working on your self. Introspection is a large part of being an artist, and self-examination and edification are big thematic elements in my work.

It is a huge challenge to balance making art and applying to things, with teaching, and family and friends and my day-job. I am always neglecting at least one of those things, so I can devote myself to some other item on that list. Tom Waits says that balancing family and career is like having two dogs that hate each other and you have to take them for a walk every night. Trying to make everyone happy, including myself, and not feeling guilty for the things that get lost in the shuffle is difficult.

Doing everything that a business does, just by yourself, is really difficult. I’m part accountant, secretary, agent, ad-man, auto mechanic, educator, delivery driver, grant writer, machinist, wood worker, designer … the list goes on. It’s everything that the business needs that isn’t factory-floor kinds of things that make being an artist really hard.

Who/what was your biggest encouragement and why?

If this were a novel, and this were an acknowledgement/thank you page, these are the people whose names would be on it:

My wife Laura Swan

My parents Mick and Rita Swan

My sister Julie Swan

The good people of the Norman Arts Council and Norman Public Arts Board, the Songwriters Association of Norman, the Fire House Art Center, Douglas Elder and anyone who has ever handed over their hard earned cash for something that I have made.

It’s really encouraging to accomplish something new that I never thought I could do, and to always feel like I’m learning and rising to the challenges I create for myself.

What is your favorite part of your business:

My favorite parts of making art are building things, creating problems to solve, and figuring out how to solve those problems. I also really like buying tools and materials. There are some artists who are really sophisticated and aristocratic, and treat their work like it’s a great sacred act. I think of it more the way an old-school mechanic or carpenter thinks about their work, I want it to be right, and I want it to be the best. I really dig that struggle.

If you had advice to anyone who might be starting a business like yours?

I would say: Brace yourself. Get some education. Mastering techniques opens the back door for creativity and expression. Become articulate in several mediums through practice, so that when an idea comes to you, your not struggling with the how-knowledge, more with the what-knowledge.

If you want to just have fun and do cutesy stuff, you know, stuff you think is great but is really just charmingly naïve, stay home.

I would say: participate. You have to go to every local art event and talk to people.  Keep up with what’s happening in important art centers around the world. Apply to as many things as possible.

If you don’t want to put yourself out there to be judged and rejected, this may not be the career for you.

I would say: Find your voice and talk loudly.

Art is fun and serious and competitive and an extremely rare and insular community.

I would say: Make sure your customers or commissioners are extremely satisfied with their purchases. Make sure they feel like they made the right choice, and give them as much of your time as they require. Sometimes a long conversation with someone will result in a sale, and a friendship. Check in with these people periodically, let them know about upcoming shows. Make everyone feel happy and special and smart. Don’t trash talk.


Thank you Craig for being part of the series!! --Ryan & Ely

Ashley & Danny: Ely Fair Photography

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