How to become an artist
70th blog should an artist listen to the “get yourself a proper job” advice.
Chatting to an old friend last weekend about how she is coping with the lock down and what she did to celebrate her birthday, she told me that she had decided to try out the watercolour paints I bought for her over a decade ago. She is a very creative person and was always interested in having a go at painting, but family and work just got in the way.
She told me that her first attempts were nothing much to speak of and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear it, but what was sad was how quick her family were to tell her that she was rubbish and should give up.
So my first job was to tell her to take no notice of her family. I still don’t quite understand why people think that they can pick up a paint brush and create a masterpiece on their first attempt. It takes time; it takes practice. I normally liken it to learning a foreign language but, knowing how brilliant my friend is at making things, I realised that in her case it would be far better to liken it to knitting and sewing. She produces wonderful knitted and sewn items and she is constantly looking for ways to expand her knowledge and skills.
I assured her that, just like her knitting and sewing, painting takes hundreds of hours and lots of bad works before you even begin to be happy with the outcome. Even then as artists we are never completely satisfied, so I told her to be kind to herself.
Anyway, this sparked off a conversation with my family about making one’s career as an artist and just how difficult it can be. For a start, many people simply do not believe that being an artist, writer or musician is a possibility. The general consensus is that these activities are simply hobbies which don’t pay the bills and so you should get yourself a ‘proper’ job.
If you have a dream to be an artist, don’t be put off. Smile sweetly and go back to painting (or whatever art it is that you do). Whilst sometimes people are worried that you will spend your life being broke, they probably don’t understand the deep-rooted need to be creative and they never will.
Being a full time creative takes energy. There is a general misconception that all artists sit around dreaming all day long and producing a painting in a nanosecond or two, which could not be further from the truth. Being creative is exhausting. Most artists I know can only spend four or five hours maximum a day actually painting. Many of them though maybe only paint four or five hours per week. What people generally don’t appreciate is that every mark you make is a piece of you which you are then putting on show for the world to see and judge. You are baring your soul and it is not easy. You need to learn not to worry about what people say about your work and to grow a very thick skin, because there are some very opinionated people who will tell you that your work is rubbish and their granddaughter could do better.
Once you are at the stage that your art is good enough there is a bit of a shock in store. You could be the most talented, amazing artist in the world, but no one is going to knock on your door and discover you. It doesn’t work like that. So, assuming that you want the world to know about you and you want to sell you work, you need to learn about marketing.
You also have to realise that if making and selling art is going to be your full time career of choice then you are a business and to operate (and succeed) in the business world you need to understand so much more than just how to paint, sculpt etc.
I am not going to lie; it is hard work. Until your marketing has paid off and you are making a regular income you will have to do all the jobs required to run a business. That means learning about the best ways to market; Facebook, Instagram and Google advertising; book keeping; tax returns; customer service etc. I find that all the admin elements of my business take up at least 60% of my working day.
The next really big lesson to learn is that becoming a ‘discovered’ artist takes time. You have to put in the work. You need to do the exhibitions, enter the competitions, approach galleries and get really good at your craft. Recently, I listened to an artist I really admire give a talk about artists she admired. In showcasing one particular individual she talked through the pathways of his art over a 50-year career and reminded her audience that making art is a journey and not a destination. I have to say it was a reminder to me that I still have time to explore and that my work will change over time and that’s OK, but I need to stop thinking about where I am heading and enjoy the journey more.
What you will need to develop, assuming you don’t already have this skill, is discipline. Certain things have to be done at certain times, starting with your tax returns. They have to be in on time, no questions asked, or you will be fined. So, rather than wait until the last possible minute to produce them, get into the habit of updating your books once a month. Schedule your Facebook and Instagram posts once a week. Make sure you have your blogs written and scheduled ahead of time, and send out your newsletters, marketing and promotional materials on a fixed routine, i.e. weekly, monthly or whatever suits your needs. People get used to hearing from you on a regular basis and if you don’t appear on schedule they tend to give up on you.
If you can, draw up timetables for yourself, making sure that you have time working on your art; doing all the admin stuff; looking at other people’s art and time just for yourself. You need to strike that balance and you need to enjoy where you are on your art journey, too.
As time goes on you will find people who will be able to help you. My husband helps me set up at exhibitions, does all my labelling, mounts and frames my smaller artworks and checks most of what I write. I have another wonderful friend who checks my weekly blogs, newsletters and provides a huge amount of support with all things written. I know it embarrasses both of them when I publicly sing their praises and my editor added to following which he hoped that I would spot and remove. (Don’t overdo it – Ed). I do re-read what they edit because even they aren’t perfect and they do like to try and trip me up too. 😊
Both my sons have helped out with the technical and artistic side of my online presence and my marketing materials and I am involved in a number of online and ‘in person’ groups, where we share knowledge and understanding. Without this kind of support I would not be as well informed as I am today. In time you too will find people with whom you can share skills and support each other.
But never forget to enjoy making you art, learn as much as you can but always remember to enjoy the journey.