Making art is easy to me, I just draw the thing and be done with it. Being an artist is hard, I draw the thing, show the thing, get people to know the thing exists, convince people to pay me to draw more things so that I can use that money to live somewhere where I can draw the thing, or get rejected when no one wants to.
It takes self-discipline, self-awareness, and self-esteem to be an artist. Some days, you feel like a fountain of ingenious creations, but more days you feel like a worthless loser who doesn’t want to do anything and regrets ever having interests or thoughts. This is usually the life of most artists, musicians, actors, and every other “creative” professional.
This is a list of tips that I’ve trying to follow for myself for the past few years as I try to become more of a professional artist. I don’t know if this will help anyone else, but these tips seem sensible enough to make being an artist less frustrating.
Keep track of how long you spend doing drawing or painting or doing things in general. Often, people are upset that they never have time in the day for making art or working on projects.
Taking the steps to find out how you exactly spend your time doing things is the start of basic time management skills.
A good way to start is to record how you spend a day in your life. At the beginning of your day, get a small piece a paper or notebook to keep close to you and write down the times you start do each activity to the best of your knowledge.
Write down things like what time you start and end a shower in the morning, the time you eat breakfast, the time you commute to your day job, the time you leave your day job,the commute home, the time you actually get home, time you spend working on chores, cooking dinner, relaxing, playing a video game, browsing the internet, and of course, actually making art.
At the end of your day, you’ll look at your recordings and learn more about yourself and how you spend your day. You’ll probably be surprised at how long or how short you spend doing things.
I have and will continue to recommend Neil Cicierega’s Work Timer. It only counts the time when you’re actually using your photo editing software, but it’s good for any other software that you need to be productive with, and it will open your eyes to how much you actually work.
You’ll realize that you need to be objective about how you spend your time, and think more about what things you’ll need to do in your day to lead you to your goals and dreams.
I personally had to reduce playing video games, watching movies, and television shows so I could spend more time getting more prolific with my art. I sometimes had to say no to small hangouts with friends or non important family things to tackle my projects, chat in phone meeting with clients and commissioners, find conventions and art events, figuring out streets and hotel rooms to attend those conventions, or comparing prices of a printer for my next comic.
It’s a stiff existence I’ll admit and I’m not as perfect at this as I want to be: I fall into wiki holes about topics that have nothing to do with anything, I go on crazy reference image hunts that go off-tangent, I suffer FOMO as I constantly refresh my stupid social feeds despite struggling to get away from it.
You only have so much time during the day and limited energy to think or care about things. If friends, family and fans care enough about your goals, they’ll understand. The bottom line is that you’ll have to decide what’s important to you and to have an objective idea about what you want for yourself.
When you make small goals for yourself, you’ll put that vague concept of the idea in your head into a more concrete state that your weird monkey brain can understand. A daunting project you want to do can seem less painful when you break it down into as many small tasks as possible. It’s hard and boring at the beginning, but the point is to break it down and use the small steps to build momentum and get your mind and body in the rhythm of the work you want to do.
To get started setting goals, start by getting a piece of paper, a Word document, or a phone text sent back to you, of one minuscule thing that you want to finish by the end of the day; nothing world changing, just something you can actually do in the day.
A decent way to get started with your goals is to dedicate one minute to the task you want to do. It’s a very tangible goal and everyone has one minute so it’s hard to excuse not doing something.
Whether it’s a warm up doodle or even one line of ink, you will have at least SOME progress done on a goal you want to achieve. You might not make a giant stride, but the point is to make one step forward.
You might think one minute isn’t much, but it all adds up in the end. One minute becomes two minutes, two minutes become five, five to ten, ten to twenty, twenty to thirty, thirty to an hour, hour to two hours, two hours to four, four to eight, and BAM! You’ve taught yourself to sit still and focus on drawing for a standard work day!
Small examples of how you can start: cleaning papers off your desk, gathering and organizing your references, or writing a premise for a story.
Small goals build to medium goals: doodling where a body should stand in a comic panel, write one sentence of dialogue in a sequence, draw in the frame when a mouth should be open during an animation lipsync.
Medium Goals build to Big Goals: Pencil one comic page to completion, animate one eye blink in an animation, place the flat colors to a comic page, write one paragraph to your novel.
Big goals build to bigger goals: Draw, Ink and Color a comic page a day, Complete the first draft of a chapter in a week, Program four-directional character movement in your indie game, complete a beat track for you newest song, complete that cool fight scene that you’ve been struggling to animate, etc.
Every time you complete a small goal of the day, your brain will feel good regardless! It’s that feeling of productivity, accomplishment, and meaning that everyone hunts for! But if you don’t achieve your goal of the day, you’ll feel sad and useless, but don’t panic.
Write it down in tomorrow’s list of goals to accomplish, so you’ll have that second chance to make a difference in your life and your work! See if you can figure out why you couldn’t get it done and think about what you can do differently. Often, goals aren’t accomplished because they’re too large for the time you have and you need to shrink it down some more. When you stay aware of your task list, you’ll spend less time deciding what to do and more time actually doing it.
In order to be a professional at anything, all you need to do is get money for what you do. Most people don’t know or understand the value of your work, so it’s up to you to give it value to people. Even if it’s a low amount, try to get some money out of what you do. Set up a donation system, join a link affiliate program, build a storefront, do commissions instead of free requests.
One too many times artists become starving artists because they’re too shy about asking to get paid for their work. They don’t negotiate a contract with the person hiring them explaining exactly what they will and will not deliver as to each other. This opens up artists to getting taken advantaged of and clients getting used to bad practices from inexperienced artists. Artists let bad clients flake out on payments after an artist finishes work and bad artists flake out on work after a clients pays them. This leads to poor communication and a poor artist-client relationship.
Having a written contract, means that an artist and a client are at a mutual agreement and if that agreement is broken, one of the parties can sue each the other and be disciplined for the broken agreement. That’s how to be professional.
It’s fine to be a young “not good enough” high school hobbyist, who gives their internet friends free art requests, but when you’re an adult with adult responsibilities and adult bills to pay, that’s a different story.
Your time is constantly running out and again, you only have so much of that time to spend and you gotta make priorities. The time you spend doing that free art request for some stranger, can easily go to a different paid commission for a stranger who gave you money to pay for your gas that week. Anyone that refuses to compensate you for your time and education spent learning your creativity and craft doesn’t actually appreciate what you do and are likely to be terrible to work with.
When you compare your art to other people’s art, you’ll paralyze yourself with insecurity. You won’t want to work because you always think that everyone else is better than you and you’ll think that you shouldn’t bother because someone else is doing it better or faster than you. You end up throwing yourself into a giant downward spiral where you question your career path, your worth as a person, or whether to bother being alive. Every artist worth their salt will feel that way about some other artist they perceive is better than them and it can lead to crappy depression.
You’ll need to push past this by concentrating on yourself and what you actually can do about your situation and skills. The point in your art career is not the same as a different artist’s point in theirs. They probably had different experiences, different people around them, different media available to them, different education, or different lives than you have.
As much as some clients, business people, and social media sites want to make it seem, making art isn’t a competition. You only need to compete with yourself to learn to better yourself. You’re as good as you need to be.
Again, art, making art, and being creative, isn’t a contest. If you mess up, miss your goal, make a bad drawing, film a shitty movie, record to terrible album, or humiliate yourself, it won’t be the end of the world.
I get that you wouldn’t want to be one of those guys that end up on those cringe art or fail compilation galleries, and rejection is scientifically proven to be physically painful to a person, but living in constant fear of that failure and rejection will only lock you further into indecision and you’ll regret not pursuing that when you get older.
Life sucks but you won’t make it worse if you make a mistake or add one more crappy piece of art to the world’s ever-growing pile of crap. Every artist need to make those 10,000 bad sketches, every basketball or hockey player has to take those 100% shots, every comedian has to spend hours bombing sets and getting boo’d. Even if it’s a huge blunder, you’ll recover from it, especially if you have friends, family, or even a guy on the street that you say hi to every few days, helping you out.
Fewer people are out to get you than you think and constantly worrying about what’ll happen if you fail will throw you in to a spiral of indecision and depression.
You won’t hit instant success, most notable artist and people didn’t do the things they were notable about until their late 30s and there are a good couple people who didn’t become notable until well past age 50. Many young superstars flame out fairly early in their careers because they’re aren’t knowledgeable enough about maintaining a career. The people who started young and remain successful are freak outliers and nothing like anyone else. You can only solve your own issues.
As of writing this, I’m working part-time as a QA Operator at FedEx Ground. I deal with correcting package addresses, auditing package shipments, and dealing with the paperwork of broken or missing items. I don’t particularly like this job, but it pays my bills, it paid for my Cintiq, pays for the printing of my comics, pays for gas money to drive to conventions, and pays for the art supplies I buy, so I can’t be too mad about it.
The best you can do is what you can when you can. If you can only doodle for 5 minutes a day then just doodle for 5 minutes a day. This stuff may take a long time; if success was instant you’d just be hungry for more goals to win, creating a constant hole for approval and external validation, and that’s not healthy for anyone, least of all yourself.
You don’t need to work for Marvel or DC to be a comic book artist, work at Pixar make animated movies, or work at Nintendo make video games. They might give you a more stable income and work for a few years, but if you have an idea burning in your head, you don’t need someone to give you the go ahead to make it exist. Heck, most publishers want a finished pre-made properties with preexisting audiences to sell instead of accepting new original pitches anyway, so it’s mostly a win for you if you start anyway.
It’s cool to sit in your room and paint, but without actually going out there and speaking with people and showing your work, no one will actually know about it. Just posting on the internet isn’t enough these days because you’re in a sea of other artists doing the same thing getting wildly different results so success on the internet not as surefire of a thing as many successful people claim. You’ll need to do more to get yourself and your work out there.
Most careers are built off networking and nepotism; it’s a sad, frustrating fact of life. Our monkey brains are incapable of asking strangers for help as people stick with known friends or old co-workers from different jobs to give job positions to.
Go to events where art people or other creative industry folks are, like a comic convention, an art gallery, or participate in a game jam. Attend Meetup groups of other creative circles who have the same interests as you like an urban sketchers group or a local plein-air painting group. Be open to participating in things that may only tangentially be related to your field like a copyright law lecture, or a business class. Keep yourself learning about stuff by reading articles or watching YouTube tutorials about things you aren’t as well versed in. Watch an art stream of your favorite artists, chat with them and ask them questions.
This isn’t the end-all, be-all of advice. Most of this stuff I know about from asking other artists, listening to podcasts, attending convention panels, and just doing as much as I can to think outside of the box about achieving things. I myself am still a struggling artist to tell you the truth. I’ve never truly did any “industry” work, I haven’t worked at a studio, I don’t even make a living with any of my art. I might even be unknowingly giving bad advice. If you’re not okay with this, you can ignore this all and find someone else who knows better. I do hope this might give any other would-be artists an easier time dealing with the rough issues of trying to be an artist. If you really want to be a pro, you gotta keep acting like a pro and do professional things.