Category: confessions of an artist

Confessions of an Artist – Romance and Artists

It’s been awhile since my last entry in the ‘Confession’ series. We’ve talked about everything from storing art improperly to getting out of our artistic comfort zones.  Today…I’d like to admit that at one time in my life, I was intent on being the ‘crazy cat lady’.

You know the one. That kooky lady next door with eight cats, who has named them all for pop singers, knows each cat’s personality by heart, and will talk hours on end about them and their adventures.  In my younger days, I thought that’s what I was destined for, and, in fact, welcomed it. I didn’t need the distraction of a huge epic social life.  Chilling with a few close friends suited me just fine. I’m not trying to be selfish, so for the gentlemen who’s reading this, I will recommend don’t let the girl you like the most fall for other guys.

I had an education to finish and a career path in front of me.  I didn’t need the distraction of marriage, children, and the dedication of time and energy and the stress that comes with it all.  I considered myself pretty darn selfish, as was my right as a person with free will to be. I gave a verbal warning of “Beware, INDEPENDENT ARTIST” to just about everyone I dated.

I didn’t think there was a way to reconcile the alone-time it required to develop as an artist, writer, etc. while also being with anyone, ever.  The cats would understand me…, guys however? I wasn’t so sure about them!  I felt that most guys I dated didn’t deserve a gal like me, who was always putting her career ahead of the cutesy couple time that should have been filling up every second of my free time when I wasn’t in class or at work.  I did not need to call them to tell them I missed them because I had plenty to keep me occupied.  I had stories to write and masterpieces to paint, after all!  Most guys found this off-putting.  They deserved a ‘normal’ girl who could give them the time and dedication that they deserved.

Boiling all that down, being an artist (or a creative individual in general) requires a heck of a lot of alone time just to think, practice, and develop one’s craft.  This leads to a lot of hangups on both sides of the dating coin. The Artist, who is tortured by guilt because they’re a terrible person for making art instead of spending every moment with their Sweetie OR tortured by guilt for not wanting the American Dream (marriage, 2.5 children, and a house in the suburbs).  The Sweetie, who thinks that because the Artist doesn’t want to be with them every moment means that the Artist cares more about art than them.

Coming into my 9th anniversary with my Sweetie (celebrating this very day, in fact!), I’m happy to say that the years have a way of making us wiser.  We’ve both struggled with our maturing senses of self and what we want from life, both fought with our hangups until I’ve come to realize that Important Thing:

Despite it all, he is still here with me.  Even if we get frustrated, we are both still here trying our best to understand one another and make it work.

He does not judge me because I’m rambling about what exact shade of blue the sky is (Cerulean or Cobalt).  Most of all, he is behind me every step of the way, as far as pursuing my business.  He has learned not to assume that I will always put art over him, but rather that he is a vital part of my happiness and well-being, a living part of my inspiration.  We’re a team, just as I’ll never judge him for comparing the dropped frame rates of consoles games versus PC easy slots  games.

Maybe one day we’ll make a family?  Maybe not.  I’m glad to say I am no longer judged on the prudence of such a choice, at least not by him.

One should never start dating a dedicated Artist with the expectation they should try to take the Art from them or belittle an Artist’s fascination with creation. It’s an essential part of their being. To make them any different is to change what you probably loved about them in the first place.

Happy Anniversary, my Little Kaio!  I do hope you like cats….;)

Inglourious Artests

(For in-joke reference, see Inglourious Basterds)

Today, I am grumpy and thought I would share.

What makes me grumpy?  I am not in the studio.

Why am I not in the studio?  Because as a one-man business, I’m doing business upkeep instead.

What business upkeep might that be?

  • Taxes – I do them in Turbotax myself because I am hard-headed and don’t want to pay someone else to do essentially the same thing as going through a step-by-step program that walks you through them. (Just my opinion..probably wouldn’t recommend this course of action to folks not comfy with a computer and lots of tedious reading.)
  • Gallery Setup – I recently bought a space in a local gallery, meaning I’ve had to fill it with signs, frame & hang work, take inventory, and any number of endless list of things just to make it presentable.
  • Filing Receipts – This goes hand in hand with taxes. Got to keep good records of your expenses and income!  I use Quicken to keep track of my cashflow and record receipts.
  • Making Phone Calls – As much as I’d like to think I am SO awesome that people will come to grovel at my feet and offer me opportunities, I’ve spent much of my time on the phone lately setting up book signings, repeating the same marketing spiel over and over.
  • Updating Website and Shops – Entering products one by one, picking categories, uploading product images, and all that fuss are required for marketing my work on Etsy, Artfire, etc.  This tedious activity is the sole flagship of my online sales, meaning there is no escape from doing this duty!

There are times when I am willing to trade a kidney if I could have someone do this crap for me so I can spend more time in the studio. Alas, no one has taken me up on that kidney offer!  Alas again, this was my choice to run a business and be a micro-manager of every facet, therefore there’s no one to blame but my evil twin, Mangela!

If there was a time I was thinking on how awesome it would be to draw ‘pretty pictures’ all the time and bring the enjoyment of sexy otherworld creatures to be adored the world over, that time has passed!  Running a business requires just a pinch of shameless self-promotion with a dash of evil.

Evil being the thought of preying on people’s impulsive spending tendencies to make a sale (IE. the acquiring of a credit card terminal to persuade those with plastic money, for instance), of convincing them they need things that they really don’t (IE. my pretty pictures of stuff). Evil being that undercurrent in my thoughts, no matter how small, that leads back to how I can help promote myself.  Evil being the realization that, yes, the purpose of any business is to make money, in addition to anything sprang from morality and inspiration, that drives your urge to keep waking up every day and doing this thing called a business.

So, balancing a bit of wickedness with all this pretty talk of ‘doing what we love’ I’ve talked about on this blog!  (And I do love this, for all that I purport my grumpiness).  I will keep creating (when not upkeeping).  I will keep drawing sexy otherworldly pretty things because I damned well want to.

But first, gotta update a few more websites…

….Kidney, anyone?

Sewing Up the Chaos

It’s that time of the year again where I start feeling antsy.  My biggest con is just around the bend, the book is almost here, and I’ve got so many things on the horizon that I’m unsure about.  Plus a nice bout of insomnia while the gears turn and turn each night trying to plan how things are going to go down.  I warn you that this is going to be a candid entry, as I’ve always meant for the point of this journal to be an honest look at my venture into being a fantasy artist.
It’s time to start planning the promotion of the book.  Will the book do well? Will I make enough from royalties to help pay for rent on a bigger place?  Will it flop?  Am I going to sell well at the next convention?  I just have no clear idea right now what being published by a major publisher will even mean, how it will effect my plans, and that is driving me a little batty.  I’m sure things will become clearer as I work with the company to learn what their promotional procedures are like, but right now waiting for things to come together is absolutely maddening.  But the publishing wheels turn, turn, turn and that is just the nature of things.  I wonder if this is how all debut authors feel when they’re in that limbo time between the finished manuscript and the publication date?
I’ve had a rocky start this year as far as convention sales, though they’ve been great for meeting other artists and not feeling like I’m trapped in a dark cave somewhere gnawing on raw fish a la Gollum and wasting my life away chained to my art desk.  Am I making a living out of this yet? Sadly, the answer right now for my first year doing this is no, not yet. I am surviving thanks to the loving support of family…which makes me feel somewhat guilty.  Next year, there will be art fairs to help supplement online sales (and HOPEFULLY licensing revenue..but still working on a portfolio for that and researching the ins and outs).
And of course questions always lead to other questions. What do I work on next?  What will bring in money (but also not make me feel like I’m selling my soul?)  Will my portfolio be good enough for the companies I’m looking at?  I’ve had a very strong urge to try to get back to writing and illustrating my own stories, but is this a gamble I can afford right now?  It’s where my heart is and all the universal signs are telling me character driven art is where I want to be, but there is still an aura of guilt that such ventures take time, even moreso than other things, and that it would be irresponsible of me to not make money now now now drawing things that take less time.
By the same token, good art should take awhile, it should be something we spend a piece with so we realize it to its full potential.  Oh how I envy the speed of other artists!  It’s something I’ve yet to achieve.  The luxury of being able to simmer overlong on ideas until they’re brought to me in a shining stork basket by the Muse is not mine anymore.  It’s been really hard adjusting to this fact too now that art is a job and not a past-time.  I feel an insane pressure to produce portfolio quality things all of the time, or I am wasting my time.  This has really put me in art block mode because I can’t lighten up and have fun with my work.  IT MUST ALL BE A MASTERPIECE or DEATH!
In a surprising twist of events, my new leathercrafting hobby has saved my butt as far as making up for table fees this year (and saving sanity as well!).  People seem more interested in it than my art, which is slightly annoying, but what good does it do me to be jealous of myself?  Sales are sales and at least I can have a little justifiable fun filling my table with a variety of things beyond prints, yet another by-product of being an experimental artist overburdened with too many hobbies and interests!
The only solution I can think of right to sew all of this chaos up is to find a way to hyper-charge my brain so I don’t need to sleep OR can somehow manage to work WHILE sleeping.  So while I ponder on that, I leave you with a laugh, for what lightens the soul better than a smile?
(Crazy optimistic OVERLOAD or ELSE!)

Confessions of an Artist 5 – Why Sketch?

It’s been a long time since my last confession, where we talked about the nightmares of storing art incorrectly. Lately, I’ve come to realize a bad habit about myself that I’m desperately trying to break.

I don’t sketch.

By ‘don’t sketch’ I mean, instead of doing thumbnails or studies, I like to hop right onto the canvas and sketch, let the drawing go where it wants to, and then paint away! While this may work for some folks, more often than not, it’s led to the too-late realization of compositional problems, anatomy errors, or dysfunctional color schemes that made me not as satisfied with my work as I wanted to be or should be.

You may ask yourself, why take the time to sketch when you already know what you want to do? Why bother with sketching at all when it’s not guaranteed that you’ll use a sketch for anything? Just go straight to the finish line!

Only recently have I started to do more thumbnail drawings to figure out the best composition for an idea (a practice my college professors always pushed on me and one which I always rebelled against). But I’m not on my own time anymore, I’m on the clock. When my work is for a company, I just can’t let the pencil loose and trust it’s going to be the best it can be. I have more than just myself to satisfy and even then I shouldn’t just let my standards slip when I AM working for myself, either because I’m in a rush or just don’t feel like doing preliminary sketches thanks to the impatient niggling of my muse.

This realization was especially reinforced when I saw Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s Major Arcana Tarot book, a lovely compilation including her thought processes and the many sketch revisions she did for each card in the Majors suit. I was amazed by the fact she went through so many sketches before arriving at any single figure.

For instance, in the Justice card, she went through multiple figural sketches. In each sketch, she evolved her symbols and improved her composition, from a sword to a feather (for truth), from a classical blindfolded Justice to a figure with blind eyes. Sketching and toying with the concept helped her to arrive at something more profound and dynamic, in the end, than it would have been if she merely sped through the concept. Even then, many of her ‘discarded’ sketches ended up being used for later work, making it even more worth it to play around with sketch ideas because it helped to prompt even more ideas for future artwork.

So while I may get fussy at the idea of not being able to explode into drawing the final composition that’s bursting to get out of my head, sometimes the muse needs to sloow down. Enjoy a nice cup of tea and coax that coy idea out with thumbnails and sweet nothings.

How about yourselves? Do you find it hard to sketch? How do you go about developing your ideas for a concept? My confessional is always open!

“Justice” by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law

Confessions of an Artist Part 4

On the last “Confessions” post, we talked about the merits and downfalls of tracing. Many of you revealed that I am not the only one to start out in art with early tracing books. It was also interesting to hear about how I am not the only one to suffer Dragonball and Sailor Moon anime influenced phases. I do wonder sometimes what the next influential phase of infectious art styles will be for the future generations of artists? Perhaps Avatar: The Last Airbender, Naruto, or Inuyasha styles?

This week I’d like to make yet another confession.

I have only in recent years learned that piling artwork under my bed is not the best practice for storing original art. Even worse, there was a point during my high school days where I was storing art with….cardboard and plastic wrap. Yes, the plastic wrap from your kitchen. (Don’t try this at home, kiddies!)

Oh sure, it is easy when we start out to believe that art is just for fun, so why not toss it under the bed or on the next most convenient pile on your desk? It will be fine until we dig it out again, right? Eventually, we graduate to stuffing them in trapper keepers and accrue piles of shiny notebooks, folders, and trapper keepers with papers sticking out of them. Things like pH balance don’t exist for us when we’re young and naive and, like our art, we view ourselves as immortal. The art will always be there when we need it.

I learned my lesson the hard way when I went to dig out old work, seeking something to display for a student show, and found that most of my work was yellow, stained with cat puke, or torn and ripped at the corners. Lesson being, don’t store your art under your bed if you can help it. So, I’m here to implore you to please, as early as possible, form good storage habits for art if it really means something to you.

Some basic things to remember for storing your art properly:

  • Paper, especially newsprint, is prone to yellowing. Store it out of the sun where possible. Use higher quality thicker paper like Bristol board or illustration board when you can instead of cheap drawing paper from drawing pads which is easier to damage. Drawing pads are great for practice sketches, but higher quality paper will make your masterpieces last longer.
  • Masking tape, scotch tape, and certain types of mat board contain acid, which can cause staining and yellowing. General rule of thumb: If it’s physically touching your artwork, it needs to be acid free (archival)!
  • Cardboard is NOT archival unless you special order archival backing board or cut your own backing from acid free board.
  • Certain media such as pastel, charcoal, and color pencil need to be sprayed with fixative to preserve their color and to insure that they do not rub off. Acrylics do not need to be sprayed, though they will benefit from being sealed with a protective layer of varnish. Oils, on the other hand, require a layer of varnish to set the colors.

Some simple storage solutions for your art:

  • Storage & Display Portfolios – Buy storage portfolios instead of trapper keepers. I recommend Itoya portfolios. They are fairly affordable and come in multiple sizes to suit all needs. Their pages and mounting paper are archival/acid free and the portfolios look tons more professional than your shiny hot pink Lisa Frank trapper keeper. You can also customize the spine to show your name by sliding the paper out and replacing it with your own like this.
  • Carrying Cases & Large Portfolios – Storing larger work over 14×17 inches can be problematic. If you can store them in a carrying case portfolio or keep them in their original art pad binders, that is better than piling large work loose somewhere where they are easy to damage. Another alternative is to properly mat and frame the large work and hang it up on the wall
  • Plastic Bins & Paper Copy Boxes – Storing larger framed work can be tricky. If you can’t put it on the wall, it is best to store frames upright in copy paper boxes or large plastic bins with protective styrofoam sheets or cardboard in-between. If you stack your frames with protective sheets between, just don’t stack them too high or the weight could damage the frames on the bottom. For additional protection, you may want to wrap each frame individually with bubble wrap. Most times, you can go to large stores like Sam’s, or other department stores, and get handy cardboard bins or paper copy boxes for free or low cost.
  • Plastic Storage Drawers – For storing smaller framed works and stacks of portfolios, you might want to invest in good plastic storage shelves. I prefer shelves which have closed walls as this helps to keep dust from gathering on your work. Be warned! Don’t skimp on buying good plastic shelves, as the cheap ones will bow and are only useful for storing very light objects. A general indicator of a good quality plastic storage unit is that the plastic is opaque instead of clear.
  • A Good Plastic Bin
    A Bad Plastic Bin

My Home Setup

Just about all of my supplies and materials are kept in the opaque plastic shelves on the bottom with lightweight portfolios, mailing envelopes, and small originals kept in the crappy clear drawers sitting on top of the ‘nice’ plastic shelf. I still have art piled under my bed, but it’s generally the stuff which I don’t mind being damaged or it is still snuggly attached in its original art pad.

I have tons of copy boxes and over the shoulder carrying case portfolios in my room and basement which store framed art, scraps, large art, and other supplies. My setup isn’t perfect yet, as my large canvas work still sits relatively unprotected and leaning against a wall, but it’s a start!

My final word of advice is to start storing your stuff properly as early as possible. You don’t want a possible masterpiece to be ruined by carelessness and trust me that cat puke is the most horrible permanent yellow you will ever see.

Those of you who are already practicing good habits, how do you store your art? Do you have anything to add to this list of suggestions? Feel free to share photos of your storage space!

Confessions of an Artist Part 3

Last week’s discussion led us into the exploration of breaking out of our comfort zones. This week, I want to make my most horrifying confession of all.

I was a tracer.

Now, before you throw stones and Nerf balls at me, let me tell you the story of a girl who loved her Barbie fashion paper doll set. There was never more delight in stenciling in the trendy orifice-free figure of Barbie and tracing on any variety of clothes that she wanted. Why, there was even a texture sheet to rub on leopard patterns, zebra stripes, and more! This budding artist found hours of entertainment and a confidence in her finished fashion designs that blossomed into a genuine interest to explore more and the confidence to continue. The act of tracing blew on the embers of interest in visual design that the girl would grow up to discover later.

Over the years that followed, I switched methods to freehand tracing, the act of ‘eyeballing’ an image and copying what I saw rather than tracing it directly. I copied my favorite comics, Wild C.A.T.s and Jim Lee’s indomitable Zealot, Jack Kirby’s glorious reign as artist of the Uncanny X-men, the luscious lips of Michael Turner’s Witchblade. Eventually, I graduated to copying the poses only and filling in my own character’s details.

However, when I tried to draw without a reference, I failed miserably. My works carried a tinge of what I had copied for so long. My figures had diamond shaped feet, pouty lips, perky breasts, long legs, teeny waists, and exaggerated muscles. Copying the work of others for so long left an imprint on my sense of anatomy that I was not able to wash away till I began studying the Golden Mean in high school. Even still, that was only the beginning of what be a long and grueling journey to learn what ephemereal bones, muscles, and physics went into making human figures look human and not like statuesque anatomical anomalies.

My anatomy finally began to improve when I was exposed, literally, to nude models in college. Like many, I snickered at the unveiled human form and all its strange nooks and crannies, at first. Eventually, I came to see the beauty behind the skeletal structure and the awe-inspiring complexity of natural musculature. The difference between drawing from a photograph and drawing from a live model must also not go ignored. To fully understand the human figure, one must be attuned to the little things that seeing a human figure with your own eyes can reveal; the subtle way a model holds the tension in their shoulders, the shadows cast by the joints hooded just beneath the skin by flesh, the elegant sweep of shadow as a model turns their head. All of these tiny experiences lead to an understanding that seems barely noticeable at the start, but begins to show itself as you practice and absorb the intrinsic knowledge of how the human form breathes, moves, and shifts.

Sometimes the puffy lips inspired by Turner’s Witchblade still raise their poofy little heads up in my art. I still use references to help insure my anatomy isn’t wonky, but I have learned the important lesson that one can never rely too much on copying what one sees. Stock and photographs can be useful for adding realism to one’s work, but it is fairly easy for it to overpower your art. For those among you who may not be able to afford life drawing courses, take your sketchbook outside and draw people in the park. Draw your face in the mirror. You may get some funny looks, but in the end, most people are absolutely delighted to learn you’re an artist and are immediately intrigued by it.

Remember to put your reference away after awhile and let your imagination fill in the rest. It can be a hard thing to balance the perfection of a photo and your own knowledge of anatomy, but practice will make perfect. Hands, and particularly thumbs, remain a constant challenge for me, as does the physical anomaly of man-crotches in jeans or tight pants.

The mysteries of figure drawing continue to elude me and as such, I find I never stop learning.

So tell me what little secrets you might have to reveal? What malpractices did you have while you were learning how to draw? Or, if you have any now, how do you hope to improve your drawing processes?

My Favorite Figure Drawing Resources:
Figure Drawing: The Structure, Anatomy and Expressive Design of the Human Form by Nathan Goldstein
Posemaniacs – A site full of 3 dimensional figures which you can rotate.
Lockstock – One of the most beautiful galleries of classically inspired stock images on DeviantART
Cobwebstock – A gallery full of knights, cyberpunks, and other great stock featuring a male model.
Andrew Loomis Figure Drawing Books – A downloadable collection of figure drawing books from skilled figure artist, Andrew Loomis.

Find more resources at my forum.

Confessions of an Artist Part 2

Last week in the first post of the “Confessions” series, we talked about how a major common mistake of artists is to be discouraged by friends, family, and others. I received so many heartfelt responses from all of you, many who have also experienced similar challenges and I wanted to say how inspiring it was to know that we are not alone. We cannot underestimate the power of a simple vote of confidence. Inspire yourself and inspire one another.

This week, I’d like to talk about another common mistake I think many of us make: comfort zones. Or more specifically, not leaving our comfort zones.

In the last Confessions post, I talked about how sometimes college made me inject themes into my work that I did not feel were ‘me’. At the time, I really hated abstract art and thought of it as overpriced pieces of dribble made by people who could plop giant red dots on canvas, price it at a bajillion dollars, and call it art. Though I may express some bitterness over my college years, I can’t emphasize enough how this dissension and frustration was essential to making me a better artist.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my favorite art teachers at my college who constantly challenged me to ‘think outside the box’. I was working on a series of paintings to depict a dream sequence and instead of using figures, she challenged me to draw myself as an abstract shape.

“Why?” I asked. “No one will get that. I don’t get the point of that.” I ranted and raved and argued with that particular teacher so many times about why I thought abstraction was pointless and how I really loathed opaque painting. I missed my faithful color pencils and pens and my beloved tight detail. Now, I was forced into switching thinking modes, collaging leaves, and painting with less controllable media. All was chaos and new and I hated every minute of it back then. I went to bed angry and woke up frustrated.

It was not until I threw my arms in the air and decided that getting even was better than getting angry. I endeavored to make the most obscure abstract paintings I could. I threw myself into an effort to purposefully do the weirdest things I could think of with burnt paper, mod podge, broken glass, and mixed media. And somewhere along the line, I found I began to like it. I began to realize the reasoning behind some abstract artists where the process became more expressive than the final image, or that atmosphere was sometimes more jarring than an identifiable subject.

In the end, I left college with a successful senior exhibition that would not have been as immersive as it was if not for my teachers pushing me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things. I was able to combine sculpture work with paintings and mixed media in a truly strange dreamlike atmosphere that I would not have been able to achieve otherwise.

The most important thing I learned from these experiences at college was that every media has a life of its own and an asset it can add to a painting. Using and experimenting with various media is the only way to learn what works for you, personally, and how best to achieve the vision in your mind’s eye. If you never experiment, you will never grow. If you never challenge yourself, you will never improve.

Today, I find myself drifting back to color pencils and ink, but the years in school being ‘forced’ to experiment have given me a bravery in trying new things I never would have had before. Color Pencils and Ink have been happily joined by Watercolor and Digital in my repertoire.

To be sure, there are still comfort zones I need to venture out of. I do admit a propensity for drawing people over animals and for using traditional media. I’ve found I am particularly enjoying drawing birds and feathers recently and plan to one day revisit my obsession with drawing Siamese cats that I had when I was young. I also want to learn how to use oil paints and mix my own tempera like the Old Masters of yore. Ceramic molds have also been calling my name again as well. The search for an adequate kiln in my rustic town has yet to begin.

So much to explore, so little time!

Now it’s your turn. What do you wish you had experimented more with? What comfort zones have you been afraid to leave? Share and share alike.

Confessions of an Artist – Part 1

As I enter the current round of trials in my life where I seek to find a way to organize myself professionally and to push my artwork to the next level, I’ve realized there were a few things I wish I could have done differently in the past or that I wish I had received proper advice on. I’ve made some mistakes and I feel that sharing some of them might help others, which has thus begun the first of what I hope to be a series of “Confessions of an Artist” so that hopefully someone might avoid the mistakes I made, or at least be able to face their own challenges with some sort of advice in mind.

As an artist, I’m still growing and still expanding my horizons so it’s not my intention to speak down to you as if I have already learned everything there is to learn. More than likely, I’ll keep making mistakes and learning new things as this wonderful world of art evolves.

My Confession of Discouragement

This is the biggest mistake I have ever made. Moreso than a mistake, it was an attitude I nourished early on in my life when I was in high school. I got a failing grade on my AP Art portfolio and despite my love of the arts, I let other people, including my parents, talk me out of trying for scholarships to attend art school.

“You’ll never be able to feed yourself as an artist.” Everyone intoned unanimously. “Art school is just a waste of money!”

I tried not to listen, but when you are young and reliant on your parents for college funding, you tend to go with what they want for you. And so instead of even trying for those scholarships, I went to a state school to earn a degree in English so that I might one day teach school and be able to afford to feed myself. That is not to say that teaching is not a noble profession and that I won’t someday do it, but I’ve always felt my fate lay elsewhere in more business-related ventures.

The more college classes I took, the more I started leaning towards art, art education, and business courses which soon pushed my education past the 4 year mark. By the end of it all, I had a double major in Art and English, a partial minor in Business Information Systems and far too many years of school under my belt. I regret my indecision and how much time I wasted as an unfocused student in a fine arts program that taught me next to nothing about commercial illustration, the field I was truly interested in. I must not be too harsh on these years in my life, however, for I learned many skills and met so many wonderfully talented students and professors at my college. My life would not be the same without having attended the college that I did and meeting the inspirational people that have entered my life since.

It was not until I worked through my lump of doubt after 7 years of undergraduate school that I bit the bullet, applied for a scholarship to the Savannah College of Art & Design, and managed to somehow obtain a significant fellowship, without which I would never have been able to afford graduate school. It showed me that it can be done, if I tried hard enough, and kept on trying. I only wished I had tried earlier. Now as a graduate of a Masters program, I’ve only just now begun to accept the mistakes I’ve made in my earlier decision making and have learned to move forward with my art career, a career which you are destined to fail at if you are not determined.

I am driven by the thought of “What if I had tried for those scholarships earlier? What if I just take the safe route and get a 9-5 job with my own cozy cubicle?” Sometimes the answers to these questions still terrify me…

My parents, and most parents, are right to worry about those of us with a twinkle in our eye and an itch in our palms to be artists. It is not an easy profession. You will most likely starve for your first few years until you are more well established. Only the most organized and driven of artists get jobs right off the bat. The competition for art jobs is massively high with more qualified candidates in existence than there are jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. To survive, one must be driven to improve, organized in their finances, and willing to work more than 40 hours a week starting off in most cases, particularly in the illustration field where you must meet serious deadlines.

The most common mistake I see in younger artists is that they think to themselves “Hey I like to draw. It’s fun. I should be an artist!” They give no real thought to how they can unite their love of art with a marketable format. This is a mistake of mine as well that led to much discouragement with the fine arts program at my college because I just could not find a gallery which would accept my kind of work. I felt like I was playing myself false…trying to inject themes into my work that would make me appeal to a wider “fine art gallery” audience when my heart lay elsewhere in more literal illustration. It did not even occur to me that someone COULD make money off of fantasy and book illustration until much later on. There were more options than the gallery (especially with the advent of new internet technologies) and I believe that to be a major discouragement for many artists going through traditional fine arts programs even today.

Even without the insistence of the gallery world, most young artists I know fail to even research what markets are out there that they might apply themselves to. Again, I cannot reference the GAG (Graphic Artists Guild) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics enough. Young artists, or even those who just feel lost, I encourage you to inform yourselves about your options. Art as a profession is not simply about drawing or painting. You must siphon your talents and skills to where they most suit your artistic drive. There are set designers, art directors, fashion designers, concept artists, scene designers, graphic designers, greeting card artists, and a whole multitude of specialized industries dealing with all facets of art. If you cannot reconcile the market with your work, you are merely pursuing a hobby, a personal pleasure, that will end up discouraging and frustrating you in the end if you try to make it your sole means of income.

Sometimes, even if you like to draw or paint, it is better not to pursue it as a profession if you find it impossible to push yourself to adapt to the demands of a business environment. And sometimes, this is okay. Some people are happier and more inspired without the expectations of business dealings hanging over their heads. That does not make them a failure and that does not make those of us who do business ‘sell outs’ ( a whole other rant there I’m saving for another entry).

In the end, all I can say is this.

Keep your eyes open, always work to improve yourself, research your options, expect to be driven hard and keep your head held high. There are artists who have become successful out there. They are not just random figures of serendipitous fate. They worked hard to be where they are now and they ignored those who told them that they couldn’t do it.

I wonder, how have you all faired? What mistakes have you made? And what have you learned from them?

My Confessional is always open.