Exposure pivotal for Toronto artists’ careers

Nov 26, 2021 | Arts

Artist Elizabeth Haney has found a bright side to the dark days of COVID-19.

“I had more time to do my artwork during the lockdown,” the Toronto-based artist said. “I was able to travel to the north, out of Toronto, where I was outside, in the environment, and that’s what I wanted to paint. I wanted to paint the outside, away from big cities.”

Haney, an artist and photographer, has hosted exhibits and had her work featured in many galleries during her 10 years in the field. Her most recent exhibit was called ‘BLUR’ and was hosted at the University of Guelph-Humber.

“Before the pandemic, I volunteered at the AGO in the Prints and Drawings department,” she said. “They had a lot of workshops for aspiring artists in the evening. I think workshops are a great source to get connections with other artists.

“But now with COVID-19, AGO stopped hosting the workshops,” Haney said.

During the pandemic, she took the opportunity that she had at home to perfect her craft and work on her art. She hopes her artwork could give people a view into the things they missed while being at home.

“It’s a time where we haven’t been able to travel for 20 months. Maybe with seeing my work, they would find it inspiring to go out and explore the world after the pandemic,” Haney said.

However, her experience might be considered a night-and-day contrast compared to other artists in Toronto.

Hana Shafi, who specializes in digital art and design, has been in the industry for seven years. In the earlier parts of her career, exposure was her number 1 priority.

“I was pretty desperate for my work to just get out there, I would be making pieces for dirt cheap or for free,” Shafi said. “I tried to use Instagram and other social media as much as possible to get my art seen by as many people as possible, but it was incredibly challenging.”

When the pandemic hit, things became more complicated for Shafi as people were hesitant to spend money.

“Exposure doesn’t pay the rent,” she said. “Artists, like everyone else, have to pay their bills and often work multiple jobs to support their art career on the side.”

Growing even a moderate number of followers on social media can be a struggle for some artists, Shafi said.

“It’s always a slow climb to grow a following, and social media can add on extra pressure to stay relevant, which can be really toxic for your mental health,” she said.

Magen McCallum, a digital artist and digital designer, scored a position as an illustrator for book covers, work that can be done from home.

However, McCallum did not get this position right off the bat.

“The hardest part of being in the business is getting your name out there and making a liveable wage off your work,” she said, “Luckily, I was able to find a great-paying job in my field, but it took years to get there. There is a reason why ‘starving artist’ is a common phrase.”

McCallum said she had to work a stream of freelance jobs while improving her skills and building a portfolio.

“This also means taking jobs that you hate and dealing with impossible clients,” she said.

As in many fields, McCallum learned networking is a key to success.

“If you know how to talk to people, they are more willing to give your work a shot,” she said. “That is how the world works these days.”