Dilara Niriella graduated from UNSW Art + Design during a pandemic. Now, she’s just moved into her first studio, and is diving straight into becoming a full time artist. I spoke to her about how she got there, and what role The Other Art Fair played in that journey.
When The Other Art Fair returned in 2021, after being in lockdown and without in-person events, we were beyond excited to start connecting face to face again with artists, and art lovers. The artists who joined us that year were just as enthusiastic – including Dilara, who was a year out of finishing her Fine Arts Honors completely online and over zoom. She hadn’t been to an in-person Fair before, but saw a social media post about our call for artists.
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“It was around the time that I was figuring out how to grow as an artist, and the main thing I knew about was publishing an ad in a magazine, or something like that. I thought I might as well see people interact because sometimes a magazine can feel like you’re screaming into a void. I was like, what’s the worst that can happen? My goal was to sell one thing to someone who isn’t a family member or friend.”
Dilara’s paintings are pretty amazing in person. Hyper-realistic, they depict things you’re used to seeing but on a new scale. Hot Sauce bottles, M’n’Ms, or perhaps a rubber duck. Up close, you get the texture of the paint, the brushstrokes, and can see the way the colors have been layered. Then you step back, and all the elements come together, as if a tiny soy sauce fish has just been beamed large-scale in front of your eyes. That’s the magic of seeing these pieces in person. Capturing that magic in photo-form? Way more difficult!
“I tried to make it very clear [in my Instagram captions] that it’s a painting made with paint. To get that idea that this is real and tangible is quite hard with my art. So having that ability for people to come up close… It’s just something you get with in person shows and you don’t get with social media.”
In December 2021, Dilara’s first show with us, she was still in the very early stages of her career as an artist. She was working part time as an art assistant, and making art from her parents house. She relied on word of mouth, and social media to get commissions, mostly from friends and family. “I was selling one painting every couple of months.”
The goal was to be able to make a full time living from painting, but she wasn’t quite sure how to make that happen. Like most artists, Dilara absolutely loves to paint – but everything else? Not so much. These days, there’s so many other elements to think about – social media, marketing, shipping, pricing, and most artists don’t know where to start.
“I’m terrible at marketing. That’s a pretty major way of getting new clients and gaining new followers these days. Doing the Fair and getting content there, becoming more comfortable in myself as an artist, helped me with my own marketing. It’s definitely given me confidence as an artist.”
That first Fair, Dilara really struggled to settle on a price point that valued the work she did, but also kept the work accessible to the people who loved it. “If someone falls in love with a piece I’d like them to be able to afford it.” she told me. We talked a bit about how difficult it is to find the sweet spot where you’re not pricing out your customer, but you’re also still paying yourself for the work you do, the skill you have, and valuing yourself.
“It’s just me huddled in a room painting. I don’t know what it’s worth or if people think it’s worth anything. If it’s too cheap people undervalue it and if it’s too expensive no one buys it. The Fair is a good indicator of what the market is looking for, getting feedback from people in the community is so valuable especially if you’re just starting out and unsure of yourself the way I was.”
It’s often that feeling of being unsure that I see in so many artists that prevents them from taking those chances and putting themselves out there – or even calling themselves artists! We’re constantly doubting ourselves, and de-valuing what we do, even when the people around us are giving us positive feedback. The idea that artists might be able to exist doing what they love full time – for a fresh out of university artist, that can seem impossible. Her first show, Dilara sold nearly everything she had on her booth. When she returned this year, she once again headed home with only 2 pieces left, and not long after, she moved into her brand new studio. Her work was resonating with new customers, but she was also building connections with other artists around her who were already working full-time from a studio and living and breathing their artistic practice.
“I spoke to a few [other exhibitors] at my first fair and I was like “what do you do to exist?” and they told me! I was like ‘you can do that [be a full time artist]?’ I realized that it’s a great way to meet people in the field, because being an artist can be a solitary job, especially for someone [like me], I get really nervous when I have to speak to people or see a lot of people. It just felt good and it felt right. That’s why this is such a good opportunity. It’s just the push I needed, to know that there is a way to make money and grow as an artist.”
She grew her community of artists, people who were there to support her, and who valued the same things she did. “Everyone around me was so helpful, I felt like the little kid that everyone looked after! It was so lovely, I felt so loved and encouraged by that.”
Dilara’s favorite part of the Fair is that direct interaction with visitors – especially before they realize you’re the artist and you’re getting their honest first impressions. “People slow down, and you can see them start to get stars in their eyes.”
“I had a creepy doll still life at this past show, and so many people said ‘Oh this reminds me of my mum or my aunty’. I thought that’s so funny and cute because it’s made with my mum in mind, because she loved all this vintage stuff. I’m like: ‘oh it’s connecting, it’s resonating!’, which is what you want as an artist. Going to the show the second time, it was so interesting and encouraging seeing people who were coming back. They were like ‘I followed you on instagram after the first show, I’ve been following you to see how you’re going’ or ‘I came back because I wanted to see what you had this time’. It’s just building that community of supporters.”
For us, it’s rewarding to see artists like Dilara grow, and be able to take on new challenges and opportunities. We’re focused on creating the kind of environment that is accessible to all sorts of art lovers and artists, where community and experience are key components, and hearing Dilara’s experience with her fellow artists and customers brings us a lot of joy. “It’s kind of like the art version of farm to table.” Dilara said, when I started to talk about the unpretentious and accessible environment we try to foster. There is no magic button you can push to go straight to full time ‘successful’ artists (whatever successful looks like to you!), but trusting in yourself and putting yourself out there is a good start.
“I know that I did really well, and so I will always recommend the Fair. Without the publicity that the show gave me I don’t think that I would have been able to take this jump and say ‘I can do this, I can be a full time artist.’ It’s a risk you have to take and it might pay off, or it might not. I’m very lucky that it paid off in my circumstance. You might meet a collector who then follows you for the rest of your career, or you might meet someone that down the line might buy a painting from you. It might not be that immediate gratification in every circumstance but you will get something out of it. If it’s sales, or feedback about your work or connections [with artists]. It’s all valuable.”
If you’re interested, you can apply to exhibit at The Other Art Fair Sydney, which will take place from December 1 – 4 at The Cutaway in Barangaroo. It’s free to apply, and applications are open now until September 4th.