Thursday, July 21, 2011

A General List of Advice for Aspiring Artists

I've shared this before, but never here. Once again, a lot of these are just general life lessons, as well, but it's good to keep them in mind, as an artist, too:

· 9-to-5 will get you by, but it won't get you ahead.
· Whatever opportunity is given to you, do not snub your nose at it just because, "it's not what you're about." At first, you have no choice. As you progress, and you get better at what you do, a positive reputation is being built. If you start making a consistent surplus of money, THEN you can be picky. But I haven't got to that point, yet, and I don't know many that have!
· Only be an artist if you love it with every fiber of your being. Otherwise find a career that will make you MONEY.
· Starting out will more than likely suck. But just remember one thing--your worst day as an artist will be 100 times better than your best day as a waiter!
· Do the artwork you love first, find a market for it second. Every piece of "guilty pleasure" artwork I've done for myself has found an applicable sector of the industry that finds interest in it.
· Don't go to college 'til you think you're ready. There's no shame in taking a few years off to get the immaturity out of your system. Nothing will motivate you better at getting an education than working as a waiter or starving for a bit!
· Know thyself: Be honest with your talent, know your limitations. There's no shame in having a certain style nor being capable of copying the style of your favorite artist. Have you honestly been trying as hard as you can? Start with what you know and are good at, but continue to drive yourself towards being not only a better artist, but a better person.
· Hustle, hustle, hustle! Always keep an eye out for opportunity! Seek out new avenues and clients that may need your services!
· DON'T BE AFRAID TO TALK TO PEOPLE! That's the biggest obstacle the majority of artists have. Remember—it's not necessarily your art the client's sold by, but the person. Plus it gets easier the more you do it.
· In relation to the top one, word of mouth has been my best marketing strategy out of everything I've done. If people like you, and you're easy to work with, your clients won't mind sharing you.
· If you have a better idea for a project than a client, don't hesitate to suggest it. The worst they can do is say no. But in my experience, people appreciate creative, passionate individuals. And clients are always looking for creative and original approaches to promoting their product.
· Choose your battles wisely. Is it worth bitching about every little difference you have with your client's vision on a project? Very rarely. Is it worth going to court over a lousy $200, or would it be better to let it go and continue on the path towards new, better clients?
· Don't work in a vacuum. If you're dubious about a piece of your art, show it to other people and get their feedback. I don't necessarily take the advice too literally, but if five or more people point out the same issue in an illustration, dear God, change it!
· Be inspired. Read magazines, talk to artists, go to shows, take classes, keep practicing, try different techniques or medium. Doing so has a two-fold effect: first off, it keeps your mind open to different approaches to art. I went into Computer Illustration kicking and screaming. Now I preach the gospel about it. Secondly, seeing other art styles keeps you on your toes by showing you who your competition is.
· NOBODY gets their dream job, coming out of the gate. Suck it up, make it work for you, learn as much as you can, and if you're still not happy, figure out a good Exit Strategy. Everyone starts on the ground floor, but it doesn't mean you need to stay there.
· IT'S A SMALL WORLD—Any good businessman/woman lives or dies by their reputation, and none more so than in the microcosm of the art world! We're all going to the same conventions, hanging with people in the same fields, going to the art colleges, entering the same competitions, and talking the entire time. I've seen people get such poor reputations that their businesses dissolve—don't let that be YOUR story!
· Remember that freelancing is a business, just like everything else. This means you have to keep track of everything, just like you would in any other business. Keep track of your mileage for tax deductions, keep spreadsheets of expenses, invoices, food expenses. Keep track of your website traffic. Did that last promotional mailer you send increase the traffic to your site? If it did, what kind of percentage increase did you receive, and better yet, what percentage gave you a job?
· The point of an education is to work smarter, not necessarily harder!
· It never pays to be a dick. Just reinforcing the last point.
· Work for a company in a specific industry before trying it on your own. Every successful company 99.99% of the time is started by someone that worked for a company in that industry before trying it themselves. There are so many factors involved in really big projects, that to just blindly try to do it from scratch--and expect to get it right--is almost guaranteed financial and professional suicide.
· Sometimes you're going to have clients that are hard to please. If you're starting to gain momentum with what you're doing, and don't need certain difficult clientele, one very polite way to try to get rid of a client is to significantly increase your pay scale. That way, it'll either scare them away or at least make it more worth your while to deal with them!
· At the same time, remember that a client is only a temporary boss. With a normal boss at a full-time gig, you have to put up with the person on a day-to-day basis. With a client that's a jerk, eventually the project will be over and they'll go away. So take it on the chin, if you can, just to make the process go as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
· Know basic contracting lingo. Understand what the term "work for hire" literally means, and remember that ANY contract can be revised or negotiated. Never hurts to try.
· Promote yourself. With postcards, tearsheets, websites, banners, skywriting, business cards, phone calls, whatever! Just do it. No one gets "discovered"—they are made aware of someone's presence by that person.
· I'd recommend starting self-promotion on a small scale, and going from there. An e-mail with a link to your site is as cheap as it gets. It's got a 99% chance of being deleted, but it costs nothing but time, and when you're starting out, you typically have more time than money.
· Step back, reevaluate. I'm not necessarily talking about in painting, either. Make a list of what you want to accomplish, figure out HOW and WHEN you want to accomplish it. Timelines are very important. Not making self-imposed deadlines is the slacker's road to complacency! Don't be afraid to revise that plan, as necessary, as time marches on. What you thought would work, and what actually does may be two different things.
· If something didn't work, really do some soul-searching as to what results you were anticipating, and what happened. It may just be bad circumstances or timing, but more than likely you were in error in your judgment, and the plan needs to be altered, or a different approach needs to be taken. Remember--the definition of insanity is doing the same destructive actions and expecting a different result!
· Understand starting out that you will make mistakes. How you handle those mistakes, or make them work for you is entirely what will make you sink or swim! This applies to life, as well as your career!
· Diplomacy is a very valuable skill in any business, not necessarily just art. If you can diffuse a tense situation, convince a stubborn client to your vision, maturely handle a hostile coworker, or put out any other personal fires that sometimes arise from all of us just plain being human, you'll have acquired one of the most valuable assets needed in being a professional, regardless what field you're in.
· Don't fight fate too much. Let life take you where it will. Sometimes sticking too closely to an initial dream might cause you to ignore a better opportunity up ahead.

Thursday, July 14, 2011