Embracing Yourself as an Artist
Embracing yourself as an artist is the first significant step on the path toward building your career. It’s not always an easy step to take. When you affirm yourself as an artist, the road before you can feel equally exciting and terrifying. It can be thrilling when you are moving toward fulfilling your dream and spending time doing something you truly love. On the flip side, doubt can rear its ugly head, causing you to question if this profession can really pay the bills or whether you’re talented enough.
many artists experience a tension between wanting to make art their livelihood and believing it is possible. But every single one of them learned through their experience that being an artist is a viable career choice. In fact, because of the potential of the Internet, there are more opportunities today for working artists than have ever existed before. Artists have access to marketplaces like Etsy and shopping platforms like Big Cartel to sell their work. And getting your work out there and noticed has been made easier by social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and the like.
If you feel anxious about your talent, it’s important to understand that almost all artists experience insecurity at some point in their careers—and often throughout their careers. Maybe you don’t feel worthy of success because you haven’t attended art school or because you’re starting your career later in life. Maybe you feel apprehensive because you aren’t sure your work is good enough. But just remember that established, successful artists were once in your shoes, too. It’s important to not let these fears seize your productivity or your will to work.
Indeed, doubt and insecurity are feelings that can paralyze us and hinder creativity if we allow them. But when artists begin to think of their work in a more positive light, doors open and success follows. Simply telling yourself, “I can do this,” or, “This is possible,” works wonders. And remember that the first few years of an artist’s career—being the new kid on the block—is actually a really magical and memorable time. So enjoy it.
The Thriving Artist’s Mind-Set
Creating a flourishing art practice comes from passion, talent, and hard work. Promoting your work means that people will know what you do. And selling your work will support your livelihood and allow you to make even more art. This is the “thriving artist’s mind-set.” Artists who possess this mentality are not frightened by the notion of making money. They think in terms of possibility and abundance, not limits and scarcity. They’ve given themselves permission to thrive.
#1 Find Your Voice
Developing your voice can be a lifetime journey, a continual process of discovery and reinvention. As you get older, your values and drives may change and you may learn new techniques—and all this affects your voice and the work you create. Everyone’s progress will be different, and there is always a bit of trial and error involved. If you create work that doesn’t feel authentic, that’s also an important realization—and helps eliminate what you shouldn’t be doing.
#2 Create Art for Yourself
Often when you start creating art, there’s a common misunderstanding that there is one correct way to paint a picture or throw a pot—that the process you learned is the method everyone is supposed to use. Your initial technique will likely be a great foundation, but make sure it doesn’t become so fixed that it locks you into just one style or even subject matter. It’s an incredibly liberating moment to start making work that reflects your identity and core aesthetic—not that of your teachers or your classmates.
#3 Take Risks
When making art, it can feel scary to change your work even slightly, especially if you are used to doing things in a particular way. But doing something differently, however small, automatically pushes your work to a new place. You can take small risks by using different colors than you normally use or adding or subtracting a medium. It might mean trying a new subject matter or narrative. In the process, you may discover that you need to take even larger risks. The results of these risks are what will set your work apart.
#4 Push Through Difficulty
when you begin a painting (or other form of art), you are at the top of the U. Things look clean and wonderful in the beginning. But as you develop a piece of work, it often gets messier; that is the bottom of the painting curve.
working through the bottom of the painting curve—the point at which we think our work looks horrible or awkward—is critical to making good work. Working through the complexities of a piece to the point where it looks and feels wonderful again—rising back up to the top of the U—helps develop your technique as well as your unique voice.
#5 Find What Inspires You
Inspiration does not always come to us in a flash. We often have to go in search of it, especially when we feel stuck. Finding inspiration means discovering the things that make you excited—even when they have nothing to do with your art practice. If you go on a trip, you might find inspiration in architecture, landscapes, or traditional patterns found in old cultures. Whatever speaks to you, infuse these visual stimuli from your life into your work.
#6 Take a Break from the Internet
To home in on your voice, you must first abandon the messages in your mind that tell you how you should be doing something, so that you can free yourself to create art that is authentic to you. Sometimes we get caught in the trap of comparing ourselves to other artists. The Internet is a great place for artists to sell and promote their work, but it can also be a distraction. At any time, you can open your computer and have immediate access to the work of thousands upon thousands of artists. Looking at the work of other artists can be motivating, but it can also be intimidating. You might question whether your work is original enough or, conversely, whether you fit into any particular trend. Turning off the computer, finding your own inspiration, and exploring your own creative process may get you much further than studying the work of other visual artists.
#7 Detach from Other Artists’ Work
Many artists go through a period where they feel a need to make their work look like what they consider “good art,” like creating work in a vein similar to their favorite contemporary artist or the work of an old master. Consciously or unconsciously, artists may initially hold ideas about what is acceptable and good and what is not. To carve out your artistic voice, you’ll need to detach yourself from images of what you think constitutes successful work. This might mean a period where you avoid looking at the work of other artists on the Internet or books with images of your favorite work. “Pay attention to your inner compass,” advises artist Josh Keyes. “It’s easy to get caught up in the speed and blur of social media and exterior influences and expectations. Get to know your center and what propels and ignites your creativity.”
Exploring Different Income Streams
You’ll have several options—like selling original works and prints, illustration, and licensing. But where do you start? It may sound corny, but the best advice is to follow your heart.
There is no one blueprint that will work for everyone, so deciding what is best for you depends on the unique circumstances of your life, your strengths, your goals, your resources, and your experience.
Some artists are able to make a full-time living focusing mainly on one income stream, like illustration or fine art sales. But it’s more common now to have multiple income streams. Diversifying your income is a great way to keep your artistic venture interesting and dynamic, and it also means that you won’t be relying on one source of revenue. When one income stream becomes temporarily slow, another can pick up the slack. When you grow tired of a particular way of selling your work, you can focus on another for a while. Pursuing a passive income stream like licensing requires little or no additional work after the original image is sold, and yet you can earn royalty income over the course of years while you work to produce more original art.
Creating a Strong Website
Creating a website that showcases your work is an important way to establish yourself as an artist. Your website is often one of the first places that people—customers, gallery owners, collectors, art directors—will encounter the breadth of your art and brand. Since first impressions are everything, investing resources in creating a site to show and sell your work will go a long way. And there are many ways to create a clean, easy-to-navigate, professional-looking website, even on a limited budget. Site hosts like Virb, WordPress, and Cargo Collective, among others, offer free or low-cost templates or themes that you can customize. You can also barter your art with a designer to produce your website for you!
- Clean design
- Clear domain name
- Strategic selection of work
- Contact information
Using Social Media to Promote Your Art
Your social media network can become a significant part of your customer base. Social networking platforms that are helpful for artists are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Best of all, they are free and easy to use. If you are new to social media, begin with just one or two platforms. Familiarize yourself with them and gauge whether they’re something you might be able to manage and update with some frequency. Don’t spread yourself thinly across many platforms, or you might find yourself juggling too much. If you decide to use several platforms, it’s best to be consistent and choose the same user name for all—one that is short, easy to remember, and makes sense—like using your name or business name.
- Social Media Basics
- Here are some recommendations for making the most out of your social media pursuits:
- Start small
- Be responsive
- Stay positive
- Share some of yourself
- Market, market, market
- Celebrate your successes
- Keep a balance
Onward and Upward
Success. What is great about this word is that you get to define it on your own terms. For some, success might be about recognition, fame, winning competitions, being represented by a prestigious gallery, or having a big collector base. For others, it may be much simpler. Success could mean making enough money to pay your bills or take care of your family, having your own studio space, or being in a group show. For most people, success is a combination of both high-level goals and smaller, basic goals.
As artists, we can have enormous success, but we also have a responsibility to stay true to our values and our commitments to ourselves, our loved ones, and our families. Finding equanimity in the midst of our creative and entrepreneurial journeys is truly our life’s work.