I get all kinds of email and asked TONS of questions about all sorts of creative things and in the weeks and months ahead I will be answering many of the frequently asked questions here on my blog!
I get lots of questions about the business of being an artist and quitting my day job and pursuing a career in art. I wasn't quite sure I could address all of different inquiries so I put together a list of the best advice I can give on the topic of "being an artist". Please note that the following advice is just my humble opinion and my experiences- what works for one person may not work or feel right to another.
To begin I feel like I need to give a short summary of my journey as an artist to give context to the advice that I have put together.
I have always known I wanted to be an artist. I am not sure the exact age but art and creativity has been in my blood since the beginning. I have two parents who are potters and ran their business from home so this meant creativity and self employment was a big part of my life. Thankfully my parents identified and fostered my interest in art at an early age. Growing up I took drawing classes, participated in art shows, contests and sold things at craft fairs. It wasn't until I graduated from high school that the concept of being an artist became real for me. While I had always loved the creative process and identified myself as an artist, I fell in love with it in college. From that point on I knew I would do whatever it took to pursue a career in the arts. Like most, I worked lots of "day jobs" while working on my portfolio, showing my art and taking on freelance jobs. I landed a really great job in marketing that allowed me to be creative but it never satisfied my craving to make art on my terms. I set out to quit my job- a long 5 year process that started with setting a lot of little goals to work towards that would get me to the point of making money and supporting myself with my art full time. After time spent working long days at a day job, lots of rejection, research, tears, persistence and never giving up, I was able to get to the point (financially and creatively) to quit my job and have never looked back!
Something I get asked more than anything is how to quit a day job and work as a full time artist and most of the time people don't like my answer! My journey has been LONG and slow (like painfully long and slow) and most people aren't looking for a long and slow journey- it seems these days we all want things fast. But in my experience it is rare to find success (especially creative success) overnight. Instead many artists and creatives that I know have worked for years learning, practicing and working at other jobs while making art. While I knew I wanted to be an artist, I still had to survive and pay the bills which meant a 9-5 job. Because my life after college was spent needing to work, I had to accept the fact that I could only take baby steps in my creative career. Sure we all want our big break or something awesome to happen over night but when you have to work 9-5, life can take over and it can be challenging to go after the big stuff. I found that small goals or baby steps worked best for me during this time (a time that stretched over 10 years).
The key to taking baby steps (in my opinion) is only taking on what your schedule can handle, completing that one task and then moving on to the next. Sometimes these little goals are quick and easy while others will take lots of evenings and weekends to complete but all of these baby steps equal action and forward motion towards your bigger goals and dreams.
The big dream so many artists have is to quit their day job and go full time with art but I am here to tell you that its ok to have a day job and it can actually work in your favor! While I have worked just about every job under the sun, a lot of my professional life was spent working day jobs that had some element creativity or allowed time (and energy) to make art in my free time. I think the reason it took me so long to go full time as an artist is because having a day job really worked for me. All those years I was getting a paycheck (and insurance) every month which meant I had a nice safety net- I could take risks with my art, I could fail, I could turn down opportunities that weren't the right fit, I could take my time, I could take baby steps and I could make my own rules. All of this changes when you head out on your own and while working for yourself is wonderful, it can be scary and a lot of work- way more work than most day jobs!
I don't know if it's the information age that we are living in but I see lot of art out there that looks the same. When it comes to being an artist or pursuing a creative career I think it great to follow trends and be inspired by others but it's even more important to find your own voice- and this may take years! For me this means not looking too much at what is out there. I want my work to feel authentic to my life and my experiences which means I try to spend more time making art than looking at art- this is the one and only way I can truly be me.
For a look at how I keep my work authentic take a look at my free online class- Finding Your Muse
Ok so maybe its not THE best thing but rejection, failure and even criticism are all really important parts of the creative journey. I cannot tell you how many times something I submitted was rejected or an opportunity failed. But I am here still standing and as much as it hurts in the moment it toughens you up and helps to define who you are as an artist, rejection can even inspire and motivate you to create better work! It sounds cliche but working through failed projects and opportunities after you have put your heart out there- really does builds character!
Pursuing a creative career means growing and getting better at what you do and the only way to do this is through action. Making art and building a body of work takes practice and work which means taking time to create every day or as much as possible. In my opinion you make time for what you love. I love drawing, painting and anything creative so its always been easy for me to make creativity a priority- even when I am juggling other things. Of course there have been seasons in my life when I have been distracted, overworked or just plain tired but overall sticking to the goal of "make art every day" has helped me grow as an artist and build a portfolio and large body of work.
Of course we all want to get paid for our creative work but when it come to working as an artist there are times when you don't get paid or an opportunity (a show, an idea, a project) flops. Some of the best creative opportunities that came my way (especially in the beginning) were things that flopped OR didn't have a paycheck attached to them. While I would love to have success attached to everything I put out there, I have learned over time that success as an artist does not always equal income. Early on I said yes to lots of stuff, I tried different things and there were a lot of opportunities that did not pan out. But looking back I see that even those dead ends or things that didn't pay somehow helped me grow, learn the ropes and even brought about opportunities that I never expected.
I know this sounds totally boring and the opposite of being an artist but over time I have found that the best thing I can incorporate into my daily life as an artist is discipline. Practicing discipline has been part of what has gotten me to where I am, it is what drives me to create every day, it is what keeps me focussed and on track (even with a baby), it is what keeps me creating even when the emotion isn't there, it is what has given me the inspiration to start again when I have failed. Pursuing art and a creative life can be whimsical and fancy free but if you want to be a working artist you have to be organized, have boundaries and persistence- discipline, even a little can work in your favor!
I'm gonna be honest- being an artist can be a selfish path to travel. Often it seems to feel like it is always about MY work, MY emotions that go into MY work, MY success, MY failure, MY goals, MY voice, MY inspiration and on and on and on! I want to always be striving to offset this part of being an artist and find ways to be better at giving of myself when it comes to art. Being an artist is an amazing opportunity to share with others the joy, the healing, the inspiration and gratification that creativity can bring into your life so why not give of yourself and discover ways to pass this along!