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Meet Lily Reeves

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lily Reeves.

Lily, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I got my undergraduate and master’s degree in Fine Art with a concentration in sculpture, from Alfred University and Arizona State University, respectively. Graduating like anyone else with debilitating student loan debt, my job options were already looking super slim in the field of Fine Art. Art schools don’t really train you for life as an artist, and what it realistically looks like. You learn how to talk about and critically analyze art, and how to think and problem-solve creatively, build a good work ethic, etc., but there was never anyone telling me how to run a business, which is what being an artist basically is. Nobody ever prepared me for a life as a freelance entrepreneur. You are trained in art school on ‘how to be an artist’ based on this really outdated model of artist-gallery patronage. After school is done, and most of us are riddled with debt, you are expected to ‘make art’ while affording a studio, materials, and life expenses. Needless to say, I got a job out of grad school that was not at all in my field.

Working there, I was super great full to work under the two owners of the business, and my position was unique in that I was doing a ton of different things and managing different projects, and I kind of learned how to self organize and conduct my art and design clients like a business. Eventually, this led to being able to freelance full time, with the help of a couple of large projects that gave me a financial cushion to make the transition. It’s been super hard, but the stress is worth it when I remind myself that I’m making a living for myself! One of those huge projects will be installed at the end of October, with the Atlanta BeltLine. It’s a massive, architectural neon facade that was commissioned by the BeltLine.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Absolutely not. When your self-worth and your value and your passion in life are all tied into your job, it’s a lot. It has definitely broken me down a few times- I’ve lost friends, lovers, and I’ve wasted a lot of time figuring out how to make it work. It’s really true when everyone’s like ‘you learn from your mistakes’. Working for yourself as an artist the failures feel twice as bad. It’s not something you can just walk away from on a weekend. Financially, the starving artist stereotype is something I am constantly trying to escape. People are like ‘oh you’re an artist? Wow, that’s crazy’ and I have to remind them that yes, art is labor too, and it is work that deserves compensation. People are always asking me to do things for free, all the time. It’s super frustrating working within a culture that just expects artists to do things for free. Would you work for free? Would your dentist work for free? Absolutely not!

Reeves Studios – what should we know? What do you do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
I run an art and design company called Reeves Studios. About 50% of my clients are design clients, and the other 50% is from art sales. For the design clients, I specialize in contemporary neon lighting, and because I was trained as an artist, I always work with my clients to push the boundaries and expectations of what the medium of neon is. I also do a lot of installation rentals for events and things. The Fine Art side of my business revolves around art sales and public art. Obviously, I would like 100% of my business to profit from making and selling art, but I really enjoy the design side as well. I’ve been working for myself full time for less than a year, so I know that what I do will change as I mature and focus my energy on where I need to grow. It’s exciting stuff, every day is different. I get to meet a lot of really cool people who are out there living the dream, and that’s always super inspiring to see.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
Success for me at this point in my life would mean being in the art studio full time and being able to take the weekends off. I’d like to get in a place financially where I can get out of debt and be able to have savings, obviously, but the work to me is also really important. If I am able to show my art and have it really affect and change people, no matter who it is or how many people, that’s a success. I feel like in my art practice I’m always trying to ground people in themselves and in the world. I think that self-awareness and everything that comes with it could solve a lot of problems in the world.

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