How to Be a Successful Artist
Hello, and welcome! I’m so happy you decided to take the next step towards owning your creative power! In the following guide, I’ve outlined what I believe are the steps to becoming a skilled and confident artist. I hope you enjoy it.
1. Do it because you love it.
Art is a calming, healing, beautiful practice. Exploring it can bring so much joy into your life. I recommend beginning an art practice just for the sake of creating. Just be in the moment and don’t censor yourself. It’s ok to just play and make art for the sake of art.
If you start from the beginning with the intention to sell your first piece, you’ll become frustrated and won’t have the rewarding experience that you need in order to keep going. I wouldn’t expect to be signed into the NFL because I learned how to throw a spiral. That’s not realistic. You have to practice and get confident before you can treat art as a business.
2. Overcome any mental artist’s blocks that are holding you back.
Now that you’ve determined that you love making art and that you’re open to making art for yourself, you might start to hear that little voice in the back of your head that keeps chiming in with negative thoughts. This is your ego’s voice. The ego isn’t comfortable with the unknown, it wants to keep you safe.
Whenever you hear that voice telling you don’t have what it takes to be a good artist, it’s important to analyze those thoughts and ask yourself if they’re true or if it’s your ego playing tricks on you.
There’s nothing to hurt you now. Facing your ego can get a little uncomfortable, but without addressing these blocks people sabotage their art and wind up with big creative wounds that can fester for a lifetime.
In my affordable e-course, Creative Freedom: How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Make Great Art, I’ve outlined the four main areas of If you're not sure how to really get over these blocks, I highly recommend taking my e-course: artist’s block and how to overcome them, including how to deal with negative self-beliefs. Sometimes I teach this as a live workshop, but it's always available online. Click here to learn more.
3. Organize your life around your goals.
Don’t wait until you have the time, space and the money to make art. Having those three things is like waiting for all of the planets to align before you can make art. It ain’t gonna happen!
You have to take the steps to declutter, organize, and set up your life to make art when it comes to the following three areas: Your calendar, your finances, and your space. Only once you organize your life around your art practice, will you have the clearance to create. If you want tips on how to organize your life around your art, that’s also a part of my online course, Creative Freedom: How to Get Out of Your Own Way and Make Great Art.
4. Dedicate yourself to practicing.
Now that you have some time, money, and space to create, it’s time to get to work. There’s no magic recipe for being a productive artist. There’s no one way to do this. Some people think you need to make stuff every day. Some people say a weekly practice is best. Some people spend a few days straight per month batching their creative production. That’s cool, too. Just make stuff! Make as much as you can. Just like if you're learning guitar, or cultivating a garden, or an athlete, you have to train.
5. Upgrade your supplies little by little.
Once you’re practicing on a regular basis, you’re going to start to understand how the right materials and tools will actually save you time and money in the long run. Not only that but they’re way more satisfying to use.
But I warn you, do it little by little and do your research. It might feel like you want to run out to the art supply store and upgrade your entire supply inventory. I recommend testing one product at a time.
You can mix student grade and professional grade supplies. Some famous artists still use student grade paints in their underpaintings. It’s up to you. Some expensive products aren’t going to be right for you either.
Just know that you don’t have to spend money on all top-shelf products to make great art. Get the best quality that you can afford, even if it’s just paper and a pen or pencil.
6. Get feedback from the right people.
When you’re making a lot of art it's super tempting to ask your spouse or your best friend to give you feedback on your work. The thing is, though, if someone isn’t an artist, they’re going to do one of three things:
They'll act like it’s great, even if it’s not. They’ll blow smoke up your patootie and you won’t grow as an artist.
They’ll act indifferent. Oh, yeah, awesome… They’re trying to be polite, but they have no idea how to talk about art and you’re actually making them uncomfortable by asking them to.
They will give you bad advice. This is the worst. Some people will project their own negativity onto you about their own artist blocks, which can turn ugly. Or they compare you to artists who are not at the same experience level as you. This is usually very off base, critical, and even damaging to artists who are starting out.
Instead, seek out an artist, a group of like-minded artists, or a kind teacher who understands the language and concepts of making art. These can be found on facebook, or through local arts organizations. If you find yourself in a group of unkind, elitist people, don’t stick around. There are people out there who are looking for the same type of feedback. Finding an awesome support group can open up a lot of doors.
7. Make learning a lifelong pursuit.
Now that you’re making art and getting better, you might find that there’s something that you really don’t know how to do, or you want to fast track your growth as an artist. This is when it’s time to seek professional advice.
Now, you can go on youtube and piece together some new techniques and learn that way. That works well if you just want to learn one technique at a time. But if you want to learn a more cohesive set of skills, step by step, then I recommend paying for classes or workshops.
Also, there are core fundamentals that span across all subcategories of art. Whether you do ceramics, drawing, crafts, interior design, or painting, you need to know basic design, color, and compositional concepts. In this case, working with a quality instructor is also a good idea.
Good news! I happen to know a teacher who’s doing incredible work. What? Who? Where? Oh, it’s me! I wouldn’t be a good small business owner if I didn’t tell you about my own offerings. I give live classes in Northern California mainly focussing on acrylic painting and artist coaching. Also, as I’m growing my business, I’m offering more online classes, as well, and linking up with some of my other favorite online instructors to provide an even a wider range of ways to reach a wider audience.
To find my classes and referrals, come on over and check out my classes and events page. It’s a great way to fast-track your skills and confidence.
Once you get through these steps, you might feel ready to begin showing and selling your art. This is a different arena than being a successful artist - this is being a successful business.
I got you there, right? You might have thought that I was going to tell you all about how to support yourself as an artist because we equate success with money. However, being a successful artist, by definition, means being successful at making art. What comes next, after being a successful artist is running a successful business, if that is, in fact, the direction you want to go in.
Business is a vast topic! However, I don’t want to leave you hanging, so I’m going to give you the short version of what it takes to run a successful art business. Ready?
Bonus Guide to Running a
Successful Art Business:
Get your financial and legal affairs in order. This includes taxes, business licensing, accounting, and so on.
Take high quality, digital pictures of your art. Nothing turns people off like bad pics. If you're not sure how to take better, well-lit photos, hire help.
Inventory your pieces. I use excel. Document your titles, prices, mediums, sizes, the year you made your pieces, and any other categories you want.
Create a quality, easy to navigate website. This is your mothership and acts as your online portfolio. You can learn how to do it yourself, or you can hire someone to do it for you. Include pages like a home page, art gallery, about page, classes and events, blog, contact, and an online shop. How you design it is your call, but there are tons of resources out there for learning how.
Cultivate your email list. This one is arguably the most important thing you can do. Start collecting emails of people who are interested in your art. Why? Because social media sites come and go. With your email list, you will always be in control of your marketing. Be ethical. Don’t spam.
Showcase your work. How you do this is up to you. One way to do it is to work with galleries, pop-up venues, and alternative spaces in the physical, real-world, and show in person. Another way is to sell online through your website or online marketplaces such as Etsy, eBay, Fine Art America, etc. Both have their pros and cons. Research here is key.
Promote and Network. Meet people in person and online whom you can collaborate with, share information with, meet other people through, and may eventually buy your work. Types of ways to network are through live speaking gigs, online listings, social networking, partnering with influential people in your community, and attending events. There’s no substitute for networking. Once you meet people, get their emails!
Scale-up by selling prints, licensing, and teaching. These are ways to make one product that many people can consume. Instead of making one original painting and selling it to one person, you can create one artwork and then sell the print over and over. You can sell your classes to many people. You can license your work to companies who will make products that they sell to thousands of people. See where I’m going with this?
If all of this information has your head spinning, know this: I’m still chipping away at this list. It’s not really something you’ll ever finish, so just take it one step at a time. Your business can be just as creative as your art. Life's too short to get stressed out by art. It’s supposed to be an outlet. So have fun with it!
Thank you so much for sticking with me all the way to the end of this guide. If you’re still reading, I can tell that you have a real, genuine passion for art, just like me. Nothing would make me happier than helping you reach your goals! So if you’re still hungry for more, I would like to invite you over to my class and events page to see what’s available. You got this!
Sending you a big hug!