My Art couldn’t pay the bills
Ever stayed up late just drawing or designing, feeling like it's just you and your art?
Then, the next day, you find yourself lost in numbers and tables.
Scratching your head about how to sell your killer designs to clients.
Sounds familiar, huh?
That’s 'cause you're juggling two worlds:
the Artist's and the Entrepreneur's.
I’ve been there.
I would spend hours with my sketchbook, making things that made me so happy.
Creating made me feel so good.
But then, out of nowhere, a bill came that I couldn't pay.
I looked around my little room. It was full of art.
But empty of money.
That's when it hit me.
I was a broke and starving architect.
Yep… my “Art” couldn’t pay the bills.
That was my wake-up call.
So, what did I do? I woke the heck up.
Loving my work was great but that was not paying the bills.
It was time to hustle and make some money.
All that time in architecture school, what was it for?
Learning business stuff felt weird at first.
I thought I was turning my back on my dream, I don’t know.
But guess what.
Making money gave me time. Time to do the art I love.
I’m sharing this story because I don’t want you to feel how I felt back then.
I want you to blend your love for design with some solid money-making strategies.
Right from the jump.
We're gonna break down this whole "artist versus money-maker" thing.
And we'll map out how you can rock both worlds.
Man, I wish someone told me this stuff earlier.
And that businesses are just out to scam you.
They think getting into the money game ruins the whole point of art, you know?
But hey, there are architects who get the business side too.
And they're not just getting by. They're crushing it!
Making designs so cool and big that it blows your mind.
You may have heard of these:
- Norman Foster
- Frank Gehry
- Bjarke Ingels
- Santaigo Calatrava
You've heard of these architects not just 'cause they're super talented.
But especially 'cause they've got business smarts.
They’re winning awards, yes. But their bank account has the big trophy.
I once said to my friend:
And he said:
A few years later, I understood what he was saying.
Are you an Artist or an Entrepreneur?
I guess you are an architect who loves designing cool stuff.
But you also need to make money, right?
Actually you need both to really make it work.
You can’t just pick one, you've got to nail both.
Create designs people wanna buy and learn how to sell them.
To make this work, here's what you do.
Get a Master’s on Architectural Parametric Design, then a Ph.D. on Marketing, design 100 buildings, and wait till you're 60.
Nah, just messing with you.
What you really gotta do is simpler:
If you're clueless about business, take a business class.
Talk to folks who've been around the block and can guide you.
And for Pete's sake, ask your clients for feedback.
How else are you gonna get better?
So you're more of an artist than a business person?
Cool, but set aside time to learn the business.
Switching hats isn’t just smart; it’s non-negotiable.
The Artist's Mindset
Ah, the artist.
That’s what they geared you up for in architecture school.
You're gunning for the big awards, and I get it.
You're in your element when you’re dreaming up spaces that make people feel something.
You don't need to stress over whether your art will sell or not.
What matters is the integrity of your design and its impact on human emotion or behavior.
The artist's mindset values aesthetic, design, harmony.
And above all, the unique signature that makes your work unmistakably yours.
That's your signature style, and it’s all yours.
Your creation. Your art.
But listen, the artist's life isn't always rainbows and butterflies.
You might think you’ve designed the next big thing.
But if it's not what the client or market wants, you’re in a jam.
Ever felt down when your killer designs get a thumbs down? We’ve all been there.
Know when to wear your artist hat and when it's time to get down to business.
Don't take it to heart if people don't get your vision.
They just haven't caught up to you yet.
The Entrepreneur's Mindset
So, the entrepreneur in you isn't just thrilled by a well-executed blueprint.
That’s just another resource available on your toolkit.
But you're the one who scans through market trends, pores over budget sheets.
And knows which types of projects are more likely to get you good returns.
In this mindset, you're not just about designing spaces.
You're solving problems. You're solving puzzles.
The tougher the puzzle, the more excited you are.
You’re all about filling gaps.
What does the client need?
What's the market craving?
You aim to fix that.
Unlike the artist, you're not lost in daydreams of "what could be."
Nah, you’re all about "what is." You can call it realistic.
That means understanding what clients are looking for.
What will meet building codes without a hitch.
And what can be achieved within a given budget.
Sure, it's not the glam part of the job, but it's just as vital.
When you’re in entrepreneur-mode, every line you sketch has a reason beyond just looking good.
Your designs are chess moves.
Whether that's maximizing profitability, increasing sustainability, or meeting some urgent community need, you're on it.
You're in this not just to design but to solve big problems.
And hey, if you can make more money, all the better.
Why Architects Need to Know This
So, why does this artist versus entrepreneur debate even matter for you, an architect?
Simple: because you don't have the luxury of being just one or the other.
In this field, you've got to be both.
Mixing the creativity of an artist with the pragmatism of an entrepreneur.
Unlike a painter who can create in isolation, or a pure businessperson who doesn't need to think artistically, you're stuck in the middle.
In the architecture game, it's not enough to come up with cool designs if no one will fund them.
Likewise, a profitable but uninspired design can turn down your reputation in the long run.
Balancing these two mindsets isn't optional. It's survival 101.
And it's a requirement for long-term success.
Think about it. You can design the most beautiful building in the world.
But if it’s too costly to build or doesn’t serve a practical function, it stays a dream.
How many projects were end as a dream?
On the flip side, you can’t just churn out generic buildings that might be cheap and quick to build but don’t have any of that creative flair that sets you apart from the competition.
I know some of you will you're going to be foaming at the mouth for the latter.
Sure, not every project will land you on a magazine cover.
You've got problems to solve, and that's the gig.
That's the tightrope you walk every day.
Blending the Two Worlds
So here's the million-dollar question:
How do you marry the Artist and the Entrepreneur within you?
Well, first off, it's not about choosing one over the other.
Instead, it's about knowing when to tap into each mindset and how to make them work in tandem.
Here's a pro tip: Collaborate.
If you're more artistically inclined, seek advice from people who excel in the business side of things.
If you're a natural entrepreneur but struggle with creativity, surround yourself with people who can inspire you artistically.
The goal is to strike a balance that allows you to create works of art that are not just emotionally fulfilling but also commercially viable.
What did I learn?
Alright, so we’ve established that being both an artist and an entrepreneur is the way to go.
But how do you make that happen in your day-to-day work?
Here are some action items to get you started:
If you're a creative genius but business plans make you break out in hives, consider taking a business course tailored for architects.
There are plenty of them out there.
My tip: take your first business lesson with us.
🎓 Start building your architecture business with the Business Challenges. It will help you understand the basic business principles to start small and grow fast.
Consult and Network
You can't know it all.
If business isn't your forte, consider hiring a consultant or getting a mentor.
Networking events are also goldmines for making connections that can help you with the business side of things.
Always ask for client feedback.
Especially about how they found the entire process of working with you.
They have all the essential data that can help you refine both your artistic and business approaches.
Ask them without fear.
Look, being an architect isn’t easy, especially in today's competitive landscape.
Your job is not just to design buildings.
You have to feed your life structure: yourself, your family, your business.
It takes money to feed them.
That's why understanding the delicate balance between the artist and the entrepreneur in you is more than just an intellectual exercise.
If you’re feeling stuck, just remember that being a successful architect means wearing multiple hats. The Artist, the Business Owner, the Legal, the Operator…
The good news is, you don’t have to do it alone.
We’ve all been there.
I hope you’ve got some new ideas from this letter.
And that you put your focus and attention on the business side of architecture.
I hope you to see you win.
Whenever you're ready, there are 2 ways I can help you with:
1. If you're still looking for traction in your architecture business, subscribe to the Wisdom for the Modern Architect Newsletter. Every week you will get actionable ideas, mental models and resources to help you build a profitable business.
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See you around ✌️