Pearls of wisdom; advice on becoming a successful artist
After 16 years of building other people’s dreams through designing logos, brochures, posters, vehicle graphics and the like, I’m now taking more steps to further my success as an artist. I was reading a brilliant article written by Artwork Archive, and would like to share some pearls of wisdom with fellow artists new to this field.
They asked 14 accomplished artists: “What do you wish you had known at the start of your art career?” Here is what they have learnt along the way and what they would have told their younger selves:
1) It’s a marathon, not a sprint - Julia Ibbini
“The road is very, very long. It takes a lifetime to develop your craft and anyone who tells you otherwise is just lying. There will be many tears and not much appreciation (at first) [...]There are no lightbulb or grand inspiration moments (ok maybe once in a while, but hardly ever); it’s about chipping away each day. Learn to feel the joy in that.
[...] Get to know the people who collect your work, and keep in touch with them. They are a part of what makes it all worthwhile.” - Julia Ibbini
2) There is no right or wrong, there is no win or lose - Jessica Watts
“When I was first starting out I thought there was a “right” way to approach my art and my art business. I felt like all artists knew the way ... except for me. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself there is no right or wrong way [...]
The art business can be very competitive: whose work is better (art prizes) whose work is selling more. It took me a while to detach myself from the noise. So, I would also tell my fledgling self that competition is the enemy. It’s a much better use of time to monopolize the space in which you create value.” - Jessica Watts
3) Being an artist also means being a business owner - Melanie Rees
“I wish I would have known how much being a working artist today requires you to be a small business professional with an understanding of art market trends [...] A website is a requirement, social media presence is a necessity, keeping an inventory is crucial, and an ability to sell artwork directly is not only possible but desirable and with that comes the responsibility of understanding the intricacies of the art market.” - Melanie Rees
4) B.L.E.N.D - Jill Sanders
“Be nice. Always be nice to people even if they critique you or simply do not respond to your images.
Learn everything you can about marketing and develop organizational skills. [...]
Educate yourself. Never stop learning. Intelligence is the foundation of great art. [...]
Network. Everyone needs a tribe for support.
Don’t give up … just try harder.” - Jill Sanders
5) Minimize administrative tasks and maximize making time - Karen Whitworth
“Paint (or create) more. I spent so much time doing busy work early on that my time at the easel was affected. In hindsight, I should have devised a way to delegate or outsource my busywork sooner so that my painting time could have been preserved or even increased [...] The expense and time to hire and train an assistant is worth it. Make plans and start budgeting for it now.” - Karen Whitworth
6) Develop the business side of things early - Caitlin McCollom
“When I was just getting started I really didn’t understand the entrepreneurial side of being an artist. It was quite the learning process to get established as a business alongside developing my studio practice and personal vision as an artist.
I highly recommend finding a mentor who can show you the road ahead while you’re getting where you’re going. Equally, I wish I would have known how important it is to have accurate archives and records. Years later when I was established, I had to do months of data entry to get caught up.” - Caitlin McCollom
7) Only compare yourself to your former self - Gillian Buckley
“I began in a place of very little understanding of the art world and other artists around me. I think that had if I had known the amount of talent that was already out there, I probably wouldn’t have even started! Back then, I compared my work only to my earlier work, which is a safe place to build confidence.”- Gillian Buckley
8) Don’t rely on money from your art ... at first - Julie Anderson
“Having multiple sources of income other than just selling your artwork is very important [...] A diversified stream of income has allowed me to experiment and make the work I truly want to make, rather than just making work that I know will sell. I learned that trying to please everyone with the type of art I make is a recipe for making pieces that are not so great.
[...] Create the work that you truly love and the right buyers will come along eventually. This way, you can stay on your own personal creative path, but in the meantime, you can feed yourself and keep a roof over your head with your alternate source of income.” - Julie Anderson
9) Trust your instincts and your abilities - Beth Kahmi
“Your sincere commitment to your practice is the path to becoming a successful artist. That, and trusting your instincts. Those two things plus a current approach to marketing = success.
A degree in Fine Arts is not the final answer. I know many highly talented artists who feel unqualified to call themselves artists because they don’t have an MFA. I also know many MFA Artists whose work is subpar. You have it or you don’t. Believing in yourself is paramount to artistic success and artistic happiness.” - Beth Kamhi
10) Make more work - Sawyer Rose
“The standard logic behind this advice is that working in greater quantity loosens you up and you end up making more good work. And this is true, but also I find that when I speed up my workflow I’m not as emotionally married to the final product. Each gallery submission or residency application doesn’t feel like a personal referendum on me as an artist. When, inevitably, rejection comes my way, it’s easier to carry on when I can say to myself, “Oh, but that was old work anyway.” ” -Sawyer Rose
11) Keep going in the face of rejection - Kathleen Elliot
“After nearly two decades as an artist, there is much I am still learning [...] Perhaps the most important, though, is the ability to keep going in the face of declines or people not responding to and liking my work. [...] Competition is fierce, the number of declines is exponentially greater, and we have to be ok and not knocked down by that.” - Kathleen Elliot
12) Commitment is everything - Steven Spazuk
“I would tell myself to really devote all my time to my art; to work towards my goals full-time, stay on track, and stay focused.
When I was a young teenager, I was a big Dali fan, and one of his citations was, “No masterpiece was ever created by a lazy artist.” That always stuck in my mind.” - Steven Spazuk
13) Put in the hours and persevere - Laura Guese
“You have to be willing to accept a lot of “no’s” to finally get a “yes.” Perseverance is key, and it’s important not to take those rejections too seriously or personally. [...]
Your work will continue to improve if you keep practicing your art and putting in the hours. I received advice from an art professor in college that has stayed with me to this day. He encouraged me to just show up at the studio even if I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to work. Usually, after being in the studio for an hour or so, I would find myself getting engrossed in my art.” - Laura Guese
14) Don’t wait to get serious about art - Anne Wildey
“Don’t be fearful. Be more willing to take risks. Be confident and believe in yourself. Nurture and explore your creativity and master your skills. [...]
I would tell my younger self to find a mentor or a creative coach whom you can learn from. And, put money aside when you have it! Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, identify your goals, and approach your art career with a business mindset.” - Annie Wildey
15) My advice is to ‘Follow your dream’
I’m sure you’ll agree, all good advice here! Certainly something you can build on in your own art career. My advice would be to do what makes you feel whole as a person. I chose to go into graphic design at university because I wanted the job security afterwards, which is all well and good, except it wasn’t really following my heart.
I have never been short of work, which I’m grateful for, and I’m also grateful for the skills picked up through being a graphic designer over the years. It has definitely influenced and shaped my style as an artist. It’s never too late to follow your dreams! Do what makes you feel fulfilled as a person. - Beth
To see the results of my experience in graphic design then please view my selection of works in my online shop.