5 Things No One Tells You About Being An Artist

Whether your dream is to become a full-time artist or just to make a little bit of money on the side with your craft, becoming an artist is a dream for many people – including myself.  A few years ago, I took the leap, quit my full time job and pursued a career selling my art.  I knew nothing about target markets.  I knew nothing about budgeting my life based on an inconsistent income.  I knew nothing about YouTube videos, Big Cartel, WordPress…the list goes on.  All I knew was that a) I was good at art, and b) I wanted to sell it.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m back working full time after trying – and failing massively – as a full time artist.  I found myself in a little bit more debt than I had planned for – needing to go back to work full time.  By taking the leap and not learning what I needed to learn before I did, I not only found myself in a financial bind, but I found myself losing passion for the one thing that I loved to do.  I didn’t create any art for about a year after I went back to work.  This was partially because of loss of passion, but also partially because I claimed to not have time.  I really went into this mindset that “being an artist isn’t a reality – you have to have this crazy education and a massive following already, and I don’t have that, so it’s probably not for me.”

It took a long time for me to get back into creating art more regularly.  But once I got back into it, I remembered how much I loved making art, and I’m back building my art career back to where it used to be – and more.  My dreams of becoming a “full time artist,” while they still exist, I know that there are plenty of things I need to do before I can achieve that dream – and if I never get there, I’m happy with the supplemental income my art makes me.  There are so many things that I wish I knew before I attempted to make the leap from “girl who’s good at art and makes a few bucks here and there” to “full time artist.”  I want to share with you the five biggest things I wish I knew.  I could make a list of 100, but I feel like if I had known these five – maybe my journey would be a little bit different.  I’ve used my epic failure as a learning experience and fuel to better approach growing my art business, and I hope you can use these tips to help yourself build yours – no matter what you want to do with a so-called art career.

1 - You absolutely DO NOT NEED to go to art school!Here’s the thing. For a long time, I told myself that the reason I was failing was because there were so many other artists out there who were “formally educated” and knew art history, proper technique, how to properly mix colors, etc.  I figured that because I didn’t go to art school or have any kind of art degree (I went to college for music business, believe it or not) that my art was never going to be taken seriously.  Whether painting, graphic design or sculpture, I figured in order to really be successful in the art world, you had to have that stupid piece of paper that says you did your time.  Well, let me tell you that I was telling myself a load of BS.  I mean, think about it – if you see a painting you like, if you hire an artist to do something for you, or even if you go to a gallery and take in some art in a live setting – how often have you asked, “yes, but do they have a degree in art?”  If you found out that your favorite painting in the world was made by someone who never attended a single class, would you all of a sudden like it less?!  Probably not!  The truth is, to be a successful artist; you do not need art school.  I mean, if you want that education, go for it.  I’m not saying it’s a waste of time!  Be a sponge and learn all you can!  All I’m saying is that if you love art, you have a knack for creating things and you have a desire to make a profit from what you are selling, it is not NECESSARY to have a formal art education.  In fact, I think it’s more important, as an artist, to have an education in social media marketing, traditional marketing, business and finance.  Because THOSE are the tools you will need in order to create your own business.

2 - You CAN make a living doing this…but don’t quit your day job just yet unless you have a massive savings account or a really great budget. – I most definitely made this mistake, and I’m still paying for it after a few years. I had this misconception that because I was already selling a few pieces here and there, that once I had more time to create more, that they would sell at an increased speed, and therefore completely cover my income.  I mean, it made sense in my head at the time, so I just jumped in.  Well guess what happened.  I started making more art, and the speed at which my sales increased didn’t change.  So I had said bye-bye to my full time income with an art supplement, and I was now trying to pay my grown-up bills on an “art supplement” income.  I was burning through what little savings I had at record speed.  Art supplies, food, living expenses – they all cost money!  I wasn’t making nearly the amount of sales I had thought I would make, and I was not financially prepared.  I was not ready for how absolutely unpredictable the art sales would be!  Some months, I would sell one small painting, and some months I was so busy I could hardly keep up with orders.  My income was not steady at all.  I had no budget plan, and I had no idea how I was going to buy groceries some months.  I was working twice as hard for less money, and I had no cushion for those slow months!  That lack of cushion (and my desire to eat on a fairly regular basis) is the one huge factor in why I returned to work full time.  So if you’re thinking of leaving your full time job to become an artist – or even thinking of cutting back to part time status to spend more time on your art, please, for the love of all that is holy, have a plan.  Have your finances in order.  Plan ahead for the slow months.  Unless you have already saved up enough  money to survive for a year or two on little to no income, I definitely don’t suggest quitting your “normal job” to be an artist.  So if your dream is to leave the work force and create full time, don’t do it now; make a plan.  Start saving up $x.xx each month until you have enough saved up to cushion your behind if you don’t sell a single piece for, say, nearly a year.  A great way to do this is to use what you make from your art now – as a “full time whatever” – and put that right into savings.  Get your budget planned out, build up some “I didn’t sell a single piece this month” savings, and plan for the struggle – don’t just dream about the success!
3 - Sleep? Who needs it? A clean house? What’s that? You mean the closet is for putting away clothes? I’m sorry, I’m going to have to pass on that birthday party tonight. – Now if you’re asking yourself based on point #2, “how the heck am I supposed to work full time, do art the rest of the time, AND maintain my normal life?”  Well, the answer is – you aren’t going to be able to do it all.  You’re just not!  The truth is, when you’re trying to change your life and its path, no matter what you decide to do, some things are going to suffer.  This is no different than someone who decides to go to night school.  Plenty of adults work full time and go to school at night – and you know what, they survive.  So will you.  But things are going to suffer.  If you are trying to transition from part time artist to full time artist, or even if you’re just trying to work harder to get your work out there to create a more consistent part time flow of income, you are going to be TIRED.  That’s just fact.  You are going to be busy.  You will have to learn to say NO to things more often than before.  There will be days that the laundry doesn’t get done, you’re forced to order takeout, your bed doesn’t get made, etc.  You will have to say no to social invitations.  You will have to say no to overtime hours at work.  You will have to say “not today” to that pile of dishes in the sink.  Learn the word “no.”  Use it.  Better yet, learn this phrase.  “I’m sorry, I would love to be able to _____, but I have chosen to invest my time in my art in order to _____” (and in that second blank, fill in why you are chasing this dream).  If the people around you support you in your journey, they will understand.  Much like those trying to lose weight have to learn to say no to their “trigger foods” or excess helpings, you have to learn to say no to the things that eat up your valuable time.  Have someone else do the dishes.  Use a grocery delivery service.  Stop worrying about whether you made the bed that day.  Prioritize your social invitations.  Accept the fact that you are going to be busy, you are going to be tired, and you are going to have to turn down invitations and tasks.  You cannot do it all; no matter how hard you try.

4 - Your creativity will strike at the most inopportune times – it’s up to YOU to find a way to carry that creative push through to the time you are able to create. – Want to know something that still drives me crazy to this day?  Your creativity does not shut down just because you’re at the office.  It doesn’t shut down just because you’re on the train to work.  It doesn’t shut down just because you’re in the middle of dinner, and it will show up whenever it feels like it.  That’s just how it is, and it’s up to us, the artists, to find a way to hold onto that spark until we have the time and materials to use it.  Have you ever had an idea hit you in the middle of a huge meeting?  Have you ever been at the office on a slow day and suddenly have the desire to leave your desk and paint?  This happens to me ALL THE TIME.  I get my biggest “creative streaks” around 2:00 pm on a fairly regular basis.  I’m at the office, and I am nowhere NEAR a canvas, paint, a good set of colored pencils or even a great camera.  So how do I take that spark of creativity and make it last until I get home and have my daily “art time?”  I do whatever I can to keep that fire burning.  I feed it throughout the afternoon in any way I can.  I have a small sketchbook I keep in my purse with a fancy pen and one good pencil.  If I get an idea for a piece, I break it out and at least do a quick rough sketch.  If it’s a slow day and I get a spark, it’s not unheard of for me to pop in my headphones and watch a few YouTube art videos to feed the fire. (Bob Ross’s YouTube channel is a staple, but also check out Lioba Bruckner, Happy D. Artist, Lena Danya and Tanya Shatseva.) If I’m out somewhere and I see something I like, and I think to myself, “hey that would make a good idea for an art piece,” I don’t hesitate to break out the camera on my phone and take a quick picture.  I do whatever I can to make the creative inspiration last until I have the time and the resources to make it happen.  I had to learn to avoid that feeling of “Oh, I love this!  I have to remember this when I get home tonight in 8 hours!”  If I get an idea, no matter when or where, it is up to me – it is up to us, the artists – to keep that fire burning.  Feed it, nurture it, and let it burn all day long until you can let it open up and expand.  Always be prepared for inspiration to strike you at any moment.  Because there is nothing more frustrating than getting an amazing idea at 1:30 pm, but when you can finally sit down at 6:00 pm and get to work, you have lost your spark.  Inspiration will hit whenever it hits.  But I wish someone had told me that it is my responsibility to carry it over through the day.

5 - THICK SKIN REQUIRED. If you can’t handle critique, you may be in trouble. – The thing about the art world that makes it both great and a pain in the ass is that not everything is meant for everyone.  No matter your tastes, the art world has an equal amount of things you will love, and things you will hate.  That also means that for every one person who LOVES your work, there will be one who really…well…doesn’t.  And much like most things in this world, the ones who have an issue with what you do will tend to be the most vocal.  Realize that you cannot and should not please everyone.  The one person you need to please is yourself.  If you do what is true to your heart, you will attract like minds and like hearts.  People are going to criticize your work – whether it’s because they don’t like it, it’s not their style, or they see flaws in your technique.  But if you let those negative comments get under your skin, you will let them sink you. Let the haters hate.  Let the critics criticize.  Do your thing and brush off the negativity.  But in addition to negative comments, you will deal with critiques that – even though they are meant to be helpful and positive – manage to tell you that you still aren’t “good enough.”  Here’s where that thick skin really comes into play.  In art, whether you’re a beginner or a self-proclaimed expert, you will be critiqued.  In contests, galleries, shows, or even just on your own Instagram page, people will give their honest opinions.  And yes, you’ll get some haters, but what about the criticism from people who aren’t “hating on you?”  You’ll have other artists, teachers, critics, etc. pointing out “flaws” in your work.  Guess what – that’s not trying to make a dig at you, it’s a tip on where to improve.  If you listen to what they say, and you take their advice, you can improve your skill.  Or, if you hear what they say and you don’t agree (like if it’s a matter of changing subjects, changing your style completely, or just a difference of perspective/opinion), you can brush it off because like I said, the art world is completely personal.  Not everyone will like everything, and you will never ever be able to please everyone.  Too many times I let critics tell me that my work wasn’t good enough, and too many times I believed them.  It made me lose my steam, lose my motivation, and it made me not want to create ANYTHING for various periods of time!  I took everything personally, when I should have just learned to thicken my skin, take the constructive criticism and use it as fuel to improve.  So use the criticism as inspiration!  Take the criticism you disagree with and brush it off as a difference of opinion, and take the straight up haters and let them roll off your back like water droplets on an umbrella.  Do not, under any circumstances, allow the criticism of others to damage your spirit!

Whether you transition to a full time artist or you just keep it as your “side gig,” there is no better feeling than doing what you LOVE TO DO and making a living (or a supplement to your living) by doing it.  It is honestly the best feeling in the world knowing that you are doing exactly what you love at the pace that makes you happy.  Some of us want that full time artist life, but some of us just want to create a few pieces and sell a few pieces so we can go out to a fancy dinner once a month.  Whatever your motivation to create art, just go for it!  Jump in and get creating. Becoming an artist with a steady portfolio of work is hard.  Becoming an artist with a steady portfolio of work that SELLS is even harder!  But if you set yourself up properly, do your homework and make sure you are prepared for whatever this artist life will throw at you – you can and will make it happen on your terms.  You will have good days and bad days.  You will experience things that I didn’t even touch on in this list.  You will learn how to navigate through trial and error, and in the end, it will all make you a stronger, more confident artist.  Start here, start with what I’ve given you, and GO! You can make this happen!  You can do it YOUR WAY, and let me tell you – when life is lived your way, life is being lived properly.

Artists – tell me, what is something you wish someone had told YOU before you made the leap to become an artist who profits from your craft?  Tell me in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter or on my Instagram!

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