Wednesday, September 05, 2012

frequently asked questions- being an artist

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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.
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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!
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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).
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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.
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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!
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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.
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For a look at how I keep my work authentic take a look at my free online class- Finding Your Muse


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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!
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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.
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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.
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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!
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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!
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51 comments:

Faygie Fellig said...

what a super wonderful post. i love your feelings and perspective about life, art, marriage, family etc! thanx

Alyssa Renæ said...

This was so helpful to me! Thank you so much. I recently graduated from two years of college and am trying to decide what to do next. Just yesterday, I was presented with two job opportunities (day jobs) and I wondered why I was so excited about it when it would take time away from my art. Like you, I realized that baby steps are okay (and good) and that a day job can take the pressure off a little and let me grow more.
I feel like I have learned a lot about being an artist from following your blog. This post was really perfect timing. :) Do you mind if I share it on my blog?
Blessings,
Alyssa

dawn said...

WOW, this is such an inspiring and awesome post. I love the way you took baby steps and never gave up. What a great example you are to all of us.

One thing I'd like to know more of is how does your husband play a part in all of this, did you meet him in college and planned this together or later on? Hope you can share about that, I THINK IT'S SOOOO AMAZING AND SWEET THAT YOU TWO ARE TOGETHER MAKING THESE DREAMS COME TRUE. SO HAPPY FOR YOU BOTH AND OF COURSE THE SWEET LILLY!!

My oldest daughter has wanted to be an artist from age 2, she never drew stick figures and such, her drawings were amazing and so real from day one. She is super talented and loves to share her art with others. I will be sending her this way to read your post. At 23 now she is finding it hard to keep having a day job when all she wants is to paint all day. This will inspire her for sure, THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS!!!

Ladybird said...

You are soooooo inspiring!!! Thanks so much for taking the time to share all these advices!

Michelle O'Connor said...

Thanks, Alisa...You are an inspiration! After 21 years of working 9-5 and waiting and wishing for the day I could stay home and focus on my art, I am working in baby steps. I've gone from creating a couple times a year to creating every day even if only 15 minutes (like in the morning when I'm waiting for my daughter to get ready for school, or while dinner is cooking,etc.) Your advice is good advice. It is sometimes difficult to tell your family, "it's my creative time now? because it doesn feel selfish but I try to work hard to make the time I'm with them good quality time. It's all about balance. Thanks again

Michelle O'Connor said...

oops, bad typos in my comment! "it's my creative time now" because it does feel selfish...you get the picture!

Tam Hess said...

Such a wonderful post! THANK YOU THANK YOU for sharing your advice. My journey is long but baby stepping in the right direction. What an inspiration you are. Keep it up and know you are LOVED!!

.savannah. said...

as another artist, i completely relate to this post. especially the part about needing discipline- the hardest lesson for me to learn, personally.
when my husband and i took the plunge and moved into an old warehouse that had recently been converted into an artist commune, our work flow kind of went out the window. because we wanted to hang out and work with the other artist in the building, we started living on this crazy schedule, while we were both trying to work day jobs, and our art suffered. and by suffered i mean, it just plain stopped being worked on.
we were working on a lot of other projects, for other people, but finally we had to sit our friends down and explain that we had to work on our own art, and were re-directing our energies into selling our pieces.
it's still something we're adjusting to - finding the balance between friends/family/work is difficult when you don't have set hours. love the idea of setting aside an hour a day. right now we've set aside specific days of the week. i'm wondering if that is burning us out a bit.

Colleayn said...

Excellent post- Thanks for sharing all of this. I love "Be You", "Sometimes Success doesn't equal income", "Stop wasting time and get off Pinterest", etc. I need to set aside time and treat this as a job even if I'm not getting paid. I'm off to check out "Finding Your Muse". Thanks again.

Leanne said...

I would like to add my thanks Alisa. It has been very difficult this summer to make art everyday. I have been in the 9-5 type of work force for 45 years and still have more to go. You have inspired me to take the time, no matter how little, to make art everyday. September is a new season and a new start.

Joni said...

Thank you for your heartfelt inspiration and hard work!

Kaili Williams said...

Fantastic post, thank you so much! I have recently decided to try and take a path towards working as an artist. It is a hard road, but seeing you succeed and share your success is a huge inspiration, as well as a reminder that it is an attainable goal with enough hard work.

Mia Bloom Designs said...

Wow! Great post! I took a break from my dreaded "day" job to read it. The things you said rang true to me. Thank you for sharing such a honest post.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post Alisa!! You are very inspiring and your 'giving back' via your blog is wonderful. I am in New Zealand so you are touching women all around the world - thank you for your generosity :)
Lesleigh

Deb Dane said...

I just want to thank you for all you share on your blog - after decades of pushing aside creativity I have recently been pushing myself to draw, doodle, stitch, journal... (pushing through perfectionism and fear) and your blog inspires me daily.

Anonymous said...

It feels so good to visit your blog every day :)

Http:\\timebite.blogspot.com

Caatje said...

Thanks so much for this post. Even though I know all these things, it's good to hear them from others from time to time. I will be printing this one out and putting it in my journal to remind myself that baby steps are indeed steps. Sometimes it really does feel like everything goes so slowly, but when I look back I see how my artistic practice has already changed so much. I did start a blog two years ago, have had my work published and now soon my first article. Sometimes you have to look back to see how far you've come instead of looking forward to see how far you still have to go. As long as I can still do what I love (next to my 9 tot 5, or in my case 8 to 4) I have it good.

Jan Priddy, Oregon said...

Thank you for this. I think you nailed it.
jan

Sara Bell said...

This whole post was very interesting to me, but what hit home was "Sometimes success does not equal income."
I've self-published two books this year and while I have had sales every month, I haven't had the sales I'd hoped for... even still, that doesn't mean I haven't been successful. Thanks for this!

Anonymous said...

You are very wise for someone who's so young. You're such an inspiration and beautiful example of what you speak. Cynthia

Veronica said...

Thanks for this inspiring and educational post. I read you everyday tho not comment much. This post just makes me jump into my art area and start creating. Sometimes we lose ourselves in the future without living the present. thanks again!

Char said...

Alisa,
Beautiful. . .thank you for always sharing so much of yourself. Lots of truths, wisdom and inspiration. I'll refer to this post and your class often. xo, Char

Miss Marple said...

Thank you for giving me that kick in the behind. It is OK to take little steps, keep away from TV and internet, take that time for practice and making stuff...One knows, but always need areminder now and than. This was mine, so I am turning off the laptop and start working. Thanks!!! - Irma

Anna said...

Love, love, love this post. Thank You. xxx

goudenregen said...

This is all so helpfull. I try to do something everyday! And it paid off (not literally), my work will be in a book in the Netherlands with a lot of other creative artists!

KBecker said...

I feel like you were describing my life! I am about to see the light at the end of the tunnel and quit my "other" job in the next few years! I know that sounds like a lot, but I am starting a needle arts business www.ninestonesneedlework.com and am watching it SLOWLY ramp up to where I can drop my other income.
A great film to watch if you haven't seen it is "Who Does She Think She Is"- I HiGHLY recommend finding it and watching- its about the "me, me ,me " that you talked about- but from a gender perspective- watch and email me- I would love to hear what you think- it made me get out of my complacency and go straight out to rent a dedicated studio space and start taking my art seriously again! Thanks for listening!

Sara said...

I absolutely loved and needed this post. Thank-you!

Madeline Rains said...

My 12 yo son and I just started your sketching class and I wanted to tell you that I particularly love what you say about inspiration and following your own muse as opposed to looking at other artists all the time. I needed to hear that. My son and I have made ourselves travel journals filled with paper to collage our trip into, and also filled with lots of sketch/watercolor paper to practice what we're learning from your class. It's a two and a half week train trip (starting next week) so we'll have lots of time. I can't wait!

Ms. Lucie said...

Excellent post Alisa! I'm so glad I found you! This was EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I began my journey to quit my job 2 years ago, and have been taking baby steps all the while working full-time, and I am totally ok with that. I do something creative every single day. I am on the path that I need to be. So confirming to read about your journey! Thanks so much for sharing with us!

Cristi Baxter Clothier said...

Awesome and very timely (for me at least) post, Alisa! Thank you for sharing all this great advice with us.
I am in the midst of a creative struggle wondering where my art is headed and how to grow it.
I am going to print out this post and keep it in my studio as a reminder that all it takes is patience and effort!

Cathie said...

great post with really helpful advice. Thanks!

Lianne said...

I'm just taking my art into public realm properly for the first time and have literally just opened my etsy shop today. Over the last few months I have experienced both painful rejection (people not even wanting my free art, being blatantly lied to, people buying work out of pity etc) and its been REALLY hard but I've learnt now that being an artist is more then just selling paintings. I'm so much stronger and confident. I know what I want to do and what I want to achieve with my art (dialogue with my peers and to pay off my tiny overdraft if possible. No grand schemes of international fame.) But it's all taken discipline. It's SO important. I have two children (2ys and a 9mnth old) and they do not make things easy, by any means (my sketchbooks are frequently coloured in, covered in dirty handprints, chewed on) but if it wasn't for them I wouldn't respect the time I did have and literally use every spare second to do my art. At the end of the day it's about passion. You don't give up because you CANT give up, it's who you are. And I think that's the hardest bit. People go home from their day jobs and become themselves again. Artists are always artists. So that's my tuppence on it all. Great post. I really wish other artists online shared their insights like this too. It needs to be discussed.

lifeofdeb said...

This is a fabulous post. Lots of words of wisdom for those who care to pay attention to it. I especially like the bit about success not equaling a paycheck. You CAN be a successful artist without making a lot of money at it. It is a mindset to call yourself an artist and believe in yourself as an artist. If you don't believe nobody else will either.

Julie Filatoff said...

Alisa, another way you give of yourself is through teaching! Yes, yes, I know you're getting paid--but speaking as one of your students, you go above and beyond. Thanks for all you do.

Ashley said...

So I'm a huge fan and love pretty much everything you do but this post.....Wow! I am just blown away by your wisdom abs generosity of spirit. You're absolutely an inspiration abd I pray I get to come out to a retreat and meet you one day! ;) Thank you for sharing so much of yourself!!!!

Amber Malarsie said...

I really can't say much that the others haven't said, but this really hit home. I had a college prof tell me they didnt like my work. I didn't paint for 7 years cause I let them get to me. Not a day goes by that I don't think about how far I would be if I didn't listen to her! Thank you do much for all of this! I have renewed energy and confidence for everything!

Mihaela said...

I BIG Thank You, for this post! You gave me such courage!
I'm sorry that my life is so that I must postpone again your on-line classes. But my hope is still awake because I understand that I can access them anytime.
Thank You, again!

Yael said...

Thank you for this wonderful post Alisa! I will share it at Facebook (I hope I may do this), because I think it is helpful for many creative people who try to live their dream and still can provide for their needs. I very much admire you! :-)

kara d said...

You are fabulous.
Thanks for the encouragement!

Andria said...

A great post, Alisa. It is especially encouraging tonight, as I had a very unsuccessful craft show today that I have had to work hard to put a positive spin on! Thank you for sharing your perspective and experiences with us so generously.

Autumn said...

Thsank you for another wise and inspiring post. I especially need to remember to create every day, no mater how busy the Day Job and the rest of my life is. Creativity can't wait until the day we have time!

Cindy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said...

Beautiful post Alisa! I think 'trying' to be an artist is something that many people struggle with. Your advice to "Be You' is the most valuable. The day you stop trying to be what someone else thinks (including yourself) is a 'real artist', and just be who you really are as a person... is the day you become a 'real artist', no matter your current skill level. I know, having met you in person and having seen your work, that you are authentic and true to who you really are. I wish for any one who aspires to be an artist, to really look inside and just be their own authentic self!

Robyn P. Thayer said...

What a fantastic and honest post. You are so very refreshing. Blessings to you.

grow. {gift studio & gallery} said...

thank you so much for your last post on being an artist ... especially for your generosity, inspiration, time and energy. much love, suzette

Anonymous said...

Alisa,
I just ran across your blog for the first time today. I just LOVED your post! And the timing was perfect since I am contemplating where my creativity fits into my life right now. Your advice was so honest & inspiring. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I will be visiting your blog on a regular basis...

verónica said...

Hello! I love your art. I had always feel attracted to art but I couldn't find the way to express myself yet. But when I visit your blog I can find a lot off inspiration.

love
from Argentina
Verónica

Megan said...

I don't know how I missed this post a few weeks ago. Awesome. Thanks so much for sharing. I am in 100% agreement with everything you said!

Meg =)

scott davidson said...

I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
As was my wont w
hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site, wahooart.com, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?

scott davidson said...

I pondered to myself recently what were the most important things in my life. The answer seems to be clear that art was up there in importance. Why? Frankly, I don't really know. May be someone here can enlighten me?
As was my wont w
hen I have some free time, I browsed the marvelous site, wahooart.com, where they keep thousands of digital images for customers to select to have printed into handsome canvas prints for their homes.
This image jumped out to jolt my reveries: Still life with bread, by the Cubist Georges Braque. Is art like this picture, as essential as bread and water, or should I say bread and wine?

Kunstknäul & Wollwerk said...

thank you!

Danie at Pasadya said...

This is amazing. Sometimes you accidentally stumble on things that are completely worthwhile, just like this post! You're an inspiration...thank you.

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