There’s a turning point in every career where you’re given a choice—to either stay safe and color inside the lines, or to see what happens. Letting yourself set your own rules—giving yourself permission to do what feels right—is a major step away from the norm. It’s scary. But it opens doors for challenges and opportunities.

As a fine artist, making the decision to step outside the norms of the art world and work with brands was huge. Diving into uncharted territory, I worried people would perceive me as a corporate sellout, but I knew collaborations would allow me the resources I needed to push my work further.

Last spring, an agency called Collectively approached me about working with Banana Republic. I was barely in my second year of self-employment and still emerging onto the Instagram scene—so I was hesitant about saying yes, but I agreed.

Navigating the Brand World as a Fine Artist | Heather Day
Navigating the Brand World as a Fine Artist | Heather Day

Upon confirming with Collectively, I sat down and wrote an open letter—which I posted on my blog—about reimagining what being a fine artist could look like. Rather than commissions, sponsors could represent patrons of the arts, similar to how the artist/patron system worked during the Italian Renaissance. But instead of being controlled by the patron, I would only choose to work with whom I respected and felt aligned with. And that’s exactly what I did.

If I could go back in time and tell myself what I know now, I would have advice worth sharing. The process of working with brands represents an opportunity for expansion—you just need to do it wisely.

I’ve really enjoyed working with Collectively. They mediate between you and the brand, acting as a buffer and as your supporter. Each week, I get an email about a new campaign concept. From there, Collectively and I have a conversation about whether or not a brand is good fit for me.

When deciding whether or not to work with a brand, I always take their reputation into consideration. I like seeing corporations involved in communities, so I tend to gravitate towards those who take corporate responsibility seriously. Budget represents another deciding factor—not only do I need to make sure I get paid, but I also need to make sure the budget allows room for my editor, assistant and photographer.

Navigating the Brand World as a Fine Artist | Heather Day

Following the Banana Republic campaign, I worked with method and Blurb Books, both unique campaigns that allowed me to close the learning gap about working with brands. Method wanted to capture the mess in my studio, which afforded me the opportunity to share my process. Blurb Books asked me to create a book. So, I scanned images of my sketchbook and compiled them into a small book, which gave me an opportunity to appreciate the work I do in the sketchbooks that no one ever sees. I usually work in my sketchbooks and then close them, sometimes for months at a time. This sponsorship got me thinking about the intimacy of my sketchbooks. Who knows, maybe I'll make a book one day. My most recent collaboration was with Uber. Through them, I was able to share what a day in the studio looks like for me, which was so fun.

Navigating the Brand World as a Fine Artist | Heather Day

One thing to keep in mind about working with brands is that once your name is aligned with theirs, then reputations become intertwined. If something negative happens to the brand, that could reflect badly on you—which is sometimes unavoidable. Going with your gut reaction is the best advice I can offer in this situation. You can’t always control the outcome and sometimes you’ll need to accept that.

To attract brands you need a community with whom to share information. If you’re still growing in your practice or business and feel like working with larger brands isn’t within your scope yet, approach smaller brands. There are endless options if you just start.

Ultimately, I want the sponsor to be background noise to my practice. Their support gives me more time in the studio, opportunities for travel and the chance to learn more about business. But they also allow me the time to put together stories and ideas to share. This has created a community that I can interact with—from social media to folks commenting on my online journal. Starting conversations has been a benefit that I didn’t expect.

If I hadn’t decided to reimagine what being a fine artist could look like, I might not be where I am now. Thanks to social media, you can share your work and process with others.. Thanks to galleries, you can build community relationships and sell work - and thanks to the help of brands, and creative agencies like Collectively, you can take everything in new directions. It comes down to this: You set your own rules. You set what your practice looks like and how it functions. That turning point is you.

Navigating the Brand World as a Fine Artist | Heather Day

A word on partnerships: With the objective of remaining true to my art and lifestyle, I only agree to partnerships with companies I respect. Therefore, I’m thankful for companies like Collectively, who are involved in bettering communities, and support my practice as an artist. I want to be as transparent as possible out of respect for my readers and in accordance with the FTC law of 2013. All content and opinions are my own. For more information on my views please read my open letter regarding partnerships.

Written by Heather Day and edited by Kate Holthouser. Most of the photos in this essay are by Jen Kay.