Made It! Short Supply’s Top Tips For Budding Artists


About to graduate from art school? Just starting out? Read this! Champions of emerging artists, Short Supply, share their top tips for making it as a creative practitioner – from setting goals NOW, before you actually leave university, to why nurturing a sense of fun might be the most important thing you can do for yourself…

It’s episode thirteen of the first season of Malcolm in the Middle when Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) sits next to his dad, Hal (Bryan Cranston), and expresses that he wants skating lessons. His dad stops dead in his tracks, the rest of the scene behind him fades to black, and he says, with almost frightening seriousness, “Son, you know once you start, there’s no going back.” It’s a brilliantly delivered joke, infinitely sharable and quotable, and is also a point of character development for Hal.

Things don’t quite fade to black when people ask us about Short Supply and express that they want to start their own project in the same vein, but we can feel that same, almost frightening seriousness rear its head when the moment to respond comes.

We’re Mollie and Rebekah, artists and the co-directors of Short Supply: an artist-led organisation based in the North West of England that creates opportunities for emerging artists within an increasingly competitive industry. For five years, we’ve produced exhibitions, talks and workshops – for HOME, Manchester Art Gallery, Design Manchester, MMU, Islington Mill and many more – that address barriers in employment and education that creatives face. We’re well-known regionally and nationally for our practical advice and playful energy – artist development and grins guaranteed!

“The satisfaction of having smashed this goal would set us on a path to more self-organising, upping the ambition again and again”

Making It

The idea for Short Supply started in 2019, when in the final year of our BA Fine Art degree at The University of Salford, we were full of beans and full of questions. As a soon-to-be-graduate artist (as some of you reading this may very well be), at some point, the fear starts to set in. What happens when you leave the bubble of university? Is it possible to make a career out of making art? What options are out there for graduates who are serious about sticking with it? These questions (and many more) flooded our heads. We had a trick up our sleeves, though.

Having been offered opportunities to organise exhibitions throughout our degree, we’d decided we wanted to build on this experience and run one that took our knowledge to the next level. Something more ambitious, with a long-term vision. That exhibition at Paradise Works in Salford was the first instalment of MADE IT, the North West’s Graduate Art Prize (and one of the only independent annual graduate art prizes in the UK). To pull it off, we needed some credibility and to get organised. Enter Short Supply.

We were spinning plates. MADE IT came out less than one month after we’d graduated, which means we’d been working on it throughout dissertation, final hand-in, the run up to and prep of our own degree show, as well as juggling part-time jobs. The stress mounted, but we pulled it off, and the satisfaction of having smashed this goal would set us on a path to more self-organising, upping the ambition again and again.


Work that work ethic

This is all to say, we are the kinds of people who like to do, and when we say we will do something, we go all-in. This is a work ethic that has served us well when running Short Supply, at the expense of our sanity, energy, well-being and joy at times, too. This is why, when we’re asked the question “I’d like to start my own thing, where do I begin?” we take our response so seriously. ‘Fade to black’ seriously.

There are realities to working in the ‘art world’ that we don’t want to hide from emerging artists –  there’s a degree of discovering the landscape for yourself, of course – but we feel it’s our role to share our knowledge responsibly, and to make sure that you understand what some of those challenges can look like. As fun as it can be starting a DIY project, it really depends what you want out of it.

“Often, things that feel initially insignificant can become crucial later down the line… it’s the reality, and if you can take on the challenge, inch-by-inch, then you can build something brilliant”


When reading about somebody’s journey to success, you’ll often get the highlights. This thing happened, then that thing happened, which led to this, and here I am. There’s nothing wrong with this narrative summarising – we’ve done a little bit of that ourselves in this article. The problem with this arises when you go to find inspiration for your own business/project/career, see one or two big opportunities under somebody’s belt, and think that this is what led them to success. “So if I just seek out x/y/z opportunities, do this and that, that will work for me too, right?” There’s no doubt that for some people, these moments of note are an honest reflection of their trajectory.

However, in practice, when starting your own thing, you need to be ready for thousands of small actions, choices, failures, and only in shining moments, success. It’s those seemingly insignificant steps that influence the circumstances which bring you to the milestone. Often, things that feel initially insignificant can become crucial later down the line. It’s not a compelling story, but it’s the reality, and if you can take on the challenge, inch-by-inch, then you can build something brilliant.

photo 09-12-2021, 20 05 25

Planting seeds

Nowadays, we tend to think of our careers less like ascending in the lift of a glistening skyscraper, floor by floor, handshake by handshake, to the promise of a glitzier life, and more like planting a seed.

There are elements of trying to grow a plant that you can control. You can choose what kind of plant you want. You can choose where and when to plant it. You can choose how you’ll nurture it, with fertiliser or Miracle-Gro. There are far more factors outside of your control – you can’t guarantee perfect weather. You can’t will it to bloom before its time. You must let the process take its course, to a degree. No amount of experience can turn a keen gardener into mother nature. They still have to wait for the plant to decide. Perhaps you can see where we’re going with this.

In your career, there is action and hope. That’s it. There are no guarantees. Sometimes the conditions are just right, you get lucky, and the hard work feels easy, and other times you fight a losing battle. Others already have a greenhouse in their back garden, while you have to build one from scratch. Bad weather, pests, the wrong kind of soil. Sometimes all you can do is plant seeds and hope for a tree, accept that which you cannot change. And buy the Miracle-Gro.

“You don’t know the intimate lives of those you compare yourself to, so don’t hold yourself to a standard which doesn’t see the full picture”

Comparison killed the cat

Comparison is one of the more challenging parts of this industry, but it might bring some relief to know that in many ways, it’s unavoidable. It’s an innate human trait. A survival instinct left over from long ago. If you struggle with this, you’re not alone.

Though part of our human nature, it’s important to be able to recognise when comparison is helping you benchmark, set goals and look ahead, and when it’s stifling your ability to appreciate your own worth. Comparisons are a moving target. If you’re in the habit of comparison, with each achievement, you start to measure yourself against a more competitive group of people. If unchecked, it can have a devastating effect on your mental health and wellbeing.

To keep yourself grounded, we cannot overstate how crucial it is to be reflective, regularly, about your individual achievements. Give yourself a pause every week or month to reward your efforts and practice gratitude. Just one year ago, what would you have thought of your progress now? You don’t know the intimate lives of those you compare yourself to, so don’t hold yourself to a standard which doesn’t see the full picture.

Your career is your own, so make it your own! Take inspiration from other artists, but don’t think you have to follow the exact trajectory somebody else has found successful. You have to be bold and willing to do things that feel instinctive, even if others disagree.

Guild Leavers Do (w.ShortSupply) - Birmingham © Wes Foster

It’s all about you

Double-down on the one asset you hold forever: you.

Your skills compound faster than money. Skills go up in value, can’t be stolen and grow completely tax-free. These, and your time, are the most precious resources you have. Invest accordingly!

Something brilliant we heard recently is “the grass is greener where you water it.” Meaning, where are you putting your time and energy, and is it serving your aims? You are not the first person – and you won’t be the last – to start a journey of career development and look up from your work one day and think “what am I doing again?”

To help realign your wants, needs and goals, take a moment to analyse your time. A chart is a good way to break this down. How you spend your time shapes who you are in the long run. The sum of our actions doesn’t define us, but it does eventually start to speak to our character and help us move closer or farther from our goals. We’re not keen on the phrase “make time” as we feel it’s reductive and unhelpful, but when you understand where your time is going, you can be more intentional about where you put it moving forward.

“Just as you make time for strategy, you need to make time for fun, and this is what boosts productivity more than anything!”

Fun and fancy free

This might be the most important one on the list. We believe wholeheartedly that playful and professional are best friends.

Joy is the unsung hero for motivation. When it’s making you feel good, it feels easy.

The road to your goals is long, winding, confusing and the best / worst part is nobody else other than you can determine where you end up. There’s a lot of practical, technical and business focused advice out there for emerging artists, but it means nothing if the time comes to put the work in and you’re feeling bored and uninspired.

You can’t have fun all the time as an artist, but if you’re looking around and realising you aren’t having any, something is not clicking. Don’t believe the people who tell you stress = productivity. Just as you make time for strategy, you need to make time for fun, and this is what boosts productivity more than anything!

We find that many emerging artists trip at the first hurdle by not knowing what they want, and by this we don’t mean a ten year plan, we mean that gut feeling – what excites you? Let yourself be led by inquisitiveness.

Mollie Balshaw and Rebekah Beasley

Image credits courtesy Short Supply, apart from: Mollie (left) and Bek (right), MADE IT 2023 billboard on Church Street, Manchester, 2023, photo by Joe Oli Smith. SLAP-BANG at Castlefield Gallery New Art Space, Warrington, 2021, Photo by Molly Mansley. Guild Leavers Do (with Short Supply) – Birmingham © Wes Foster

See more from the fabulous Short Supply here and check out their podcast, BANG ON, for more pearls of wisdom

Posted on 27/03/2024 by thedoublenegative