I’ve been a artist for a long time—I’ve been drawing since I was old enough to hold a crayon, so we can safely say it’s been over fifty years. I remember well what it was like to be young and enthusiastic. The world lay at my feet as an artist! The sky was the limit.
We didn’t have the internet back then and I lived in a rural area. I don’t know where the nearest museum or gallery was, but that was okay: I knew about horses and I knew about art and that was all I needed to be successful. I couldn’t wait to get started.
I’ve learned since then that although passion is important, it’s not the only thing an artist needs. I learned my lessons the hard way, in the Academy of Trial and Error. One of the most important was that the tools I needed as an artist were more than paints, brushes, and canvases.
What are those tools? Let’s take a look at just a few of them.
Most artists are not overnight successes. Even a lot of those who appear to be overnight successes spent years working toward that point. The successful artist has a healthy amount of perseverance mixed in with paints, pencils, sculpting tools, or whatever their stock-in-trade.
Perseverance is required on several levels. Learning your craft (whatever it may be) is only the first. Here are a few others:
Going to the studio
Believe it or not, even the most passionate among us have days when the last thing we want to do is create. While we all have times when the creative well runs dry, it’s important to develop enough self-discipline to go to the studio even when you don’t feel like it.
Developing a body of work
This is never as easy as it sounds—since most of us are our own worst critics—but don’t let one disappointing piece derail you. Keep after it! Be prepared to spend a year or two (or maybe more) to create your first “body of work.” After that, improving it will be a life-time ambition.
Not everyone will love your work. And those who love your work will not always love it enough to buy it. You’ll have to wade through a lot of “no thank you’s” before you find a “yes, I’d like to buy that” and even more before you hear the ever elusive “I can’t live without it!”
Getting gallery representation
You may be one of the few artists who gets a positive response from a gallery after submitting to only 15 or 20. You’re much more likely to be among those artists who have to submit to 100 galleries or more to get a positive response. But don’t give up on it. If you’re serious about getting your work into a gallery, approaching galleries will be a lifetime activity.
Perseverance is also known as self-discipline. Learn enough self-discipline to do what needs to be done even when you don’t want to do it and you’re well along the road to success. The rule of thumb to remember is that everyone will suffer setbacks. The key is to keep trying. Don’t give up.
2. A thick skin
Into every life, critics must come. That’s especially true for artists. No matter what type of art you create, some will love it and some will hate it. Learn to accept praise and criticism with equal grace.
Part of having a thick skin is learning to accept the critical comments that are warranted. As much as it might sting, not all criticism is unfair or untrue. Set aside the knee-jerk reactions long enough to analyze comments at face value. Implement anything that will improve your skills as an artist, your dealings with people, or anything else that’s applicable.
That said, another part of developing a thick skin is learning to tell the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust. Once you’ve identified a toxic critic, you can ignore anything they have to say in the future.
Everybody talks about goals. I used to hate hearing about goal setting. I don’t anymore because I’ve learned the value of setting goals. Whether you set goals on a day-by-day, weekly, monthly, or annual basis isn’t as important as just taking the time to set goals.
Because goals establish a target to aim at. The artist who aims at nothing, will hit it every time, so don’t be that artist—set goals, even if they’re modest at first.
Keep in mind, part of goal setting is being able to monitor your progress. A calender large enough to record the time you spend in the studio, for example, might be all you need. Or, maybe you’d like a little more detail, as I do. In that case, a spreadsheet is ideal.
The key is to find a way that’s easy for you to use and review so you can record progress. Seeing how it adds up day-by-day, week-by-week, and month-by-month provides additional momentum (and we all need momentum!)
Yet while we’re talking about goals, let me add one caveat. Don’t let your goals rule you. Most of the time, they will be vital to forward progress, but there will be times when you simply cannot maintain a regular schedule and your goals need to be set aside. It might be something pleasant like vacation or travel. It might be something worse, like a death in the family or an illness. When those times happen, learn to turn the goals off and don’t stress over them.
4. A joyful heart
That’s right. No matter what type of art you do, whether it’s a hobby or your livelihood, have fun doing it. There should always be joy in your work, or it’s just work.
Anyone who has been artist for any length of time can (and should) add their own list of tools. This is not a definitive list by any means.
But all the items on this list are the things I most wish someone had told me when I was getting started. They are, therefore, the things I most wanted to share with anyone who is thinking about pursuing art. And hopefully. . . they’ll help you as much as they help me.
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