The Journey to Becoming an Artist

Updated on March 26, 2018
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Chris is a 28 year old writer residing in Phoenix, Arizona but born in Los Angeles, California. He's an artist, musician, and writer.

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What's An Artist To You?

When you think of the word artist, what do you envision? Probably anything from a hyperactive young adult with a fascinating yet peculiar taste in fashion, to a shut-in surrounded by the tons and tons of canvas with abstract images that can only hint to the painter’s inner demons. Maybe you think of a millennial with thick-rimmed glasses and a fancy scarf over a flannel shirt, a few tattoos, a camera perched on top of a thick beard, and an unparalleled taste for coffee; wait, did I just describe a Hipster?. How about a singer that performs and travels, living out their dreams? Or a sculptor bringing to existence a 3D depiction of what only looks like a Greek god.

Whatever you see in your mind’s eye, all artists have one thing in common, creativity. Creativity is the foundation and root for any artist and inspiration is the water that provides nourishment for those roots—which in turn bears the fruit of one’s labor, the art itself. Finally, that fruit is to be plucked and consumed; the taste of which is one’s appreciation and connection experienced when eaten. But just like food, everyone has different tastes.

All that aside, what does it take to be an artist? Even for the most creative of us, it can be difficult to produce great work, and even more difficult to make a living off of it. Many people give up too soon because they can’t turn their passions into a paycheck; their projects into profit if you will. It’s discouraging but very common.

Over the years I’ve learned what it takes to be able to continue creating and improving one’s skills. I will be sharing a few things to consider for those aspiring to be an artist, or those who are already artists and want to take it to another level. The main focus are the general fundamentals that even more experienced artists tend to overlook. I’m aiming this mainly towards novices, beginners and intermediates, but I’m sure anyone can take something away, from what I’m about to say—that rhymed. If you’re serious about this, then here’s five things to remember if you’re wanting to be an artist.

1). YOUR STYLE

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Just Do You!

Whether you’re a novice or have been creating for years, you need to be careful of not falling into the trap of not being yourself. It’s easy to notice more advanced artists in a certain style and want to copy it. Creative minds are usually the harshest critics of their own work, even if it’s a masterpiece to others. One reason why that is, is because we’re too busy comparing ourselves to other people. Listen, it’s okay to be inspired and learn from other great works and artistic idols, but never aim to straight copy, unless it’s strictly for practice/technique. You’d be surprised at how many people could fall in love with your art simply because it’s original and fresh.

Art is an expression of what’s in the mind, the heart, and soul. LAME! I know, but it’s undeniably true, and it will never not be true. I’ve seen plenty of good work that could’ve been much better if I had felt some kind of passion, or emotion, or expressiveness in it. Simply drawing, or painting, singing, dancing well isn’t enough to make you stand out, especially today what with the growing number of creative minds out there.

Don’t worry about being better than him or her. Competition is great and all, but put more focus into being better than yourself each day, and that applies to all areas in life in general. Challenge yourself and play around with the style you’re looking for, or the style that’s looking for you, which leads to my next tip.

2). EXPERIMENT

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It's Okay To Play Around

Did you know that you don’t have to stick to one style of creating? Even if you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you want to paint, don’t let that stop you from dabbling. And if you don’t really know what it is you want to do then you almost have a responsibility to experiment! You see, I can draw very well but I’m not the best painter, much less a sculptor. Even when you find your calling you may come to find that the other areas you dabbled in helped you improve on your specialty.

You may find that playing around with sculpting helped you with symmetry when you’d draw, or vice versa. Or that being able to play drums, even a little, can help with coordination and rhythm which can make you a better dancer. Have fun and play around, even if you have one area that you’re already trying to specialize in. It’s okay to dip your feet in other waters. Not every artist does this, but the ones that do will usually have an edge over the others. Also, don't be afraid to get a little messy, go crazy! It’s all up to you!

3). NO NATURAL TALENT?

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Well, Guess What?

One of the BIGGEST mistakes an aspiring artist makes is thinking that they need natural talent to successfully make art. That simply isn’t true. Though having a natural inclination can give you an edge, it doesn’t mean much when it’s not being put to use consistently. Even if your talent isn’t “natural”, you can indeed develop talent you didn’t necessarily have before. “Hard work beats talent when talent refuses to work hard”, is something a fellow artist and good friend of mine would say to me quite often.

Though I can draw very well, it's only because I’ve been practicing it for years. I was horrible at first! I can play multiple instruments, only because I kept doing it. I was always naturally gifted at playing the drums, but I’m better on guitar because I’ve practiced it much longer—mainly because I had to sell my drum set years ago and I can’t fit a new one in my apartment now. And don't get me started on when I first picked up said guitar. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing for about a week before I took lessons. Now I can play almost anything.

Everyone has at least a little bit of a creative side to them. Just like a muscle, the more you use and exercise that creativity and imagination, the better you can perform—no matter how little or unused it was before. Forget the others who are better than you right now, you have everything you need in you to become the best artist you can. You just really have to want it, and practice. Speaking of practice…

4). PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

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Gotta Work That Creative Muscle

Practice is probably the most difficult, frustrating, longest, and yet most important tip to implement on your journey to better your artistry. It’s worth it though, because no matter how bad you think you are, you can always improve. That’s just how humans are designed. But people tend to get discouraged because they’re not seeing the results they wanted in the timing they wanted. The more focus and time you put into something, the better you’ll get right? But as you get better, you’ll actually be able to increase the speed at which you improve.

The more you understand the more basic, the easier it gets to comprehend and work out the less basic, and the momentum will continue to increase. Just remember, as far as seeing exponential improvement, it’ll most likely not happen overnight. You'll probably see a little progress, but even a little bit of progress is still progress. You just need to practice. You’d be surprised by the fact that some of your favorite artists are only as good as they are mainly because they practiced and practiced over a long time. Very, very few people excel greatly on their first few tries.

I hear it all the time...

“Oh you’re so good! I wish I was as good as you, I’m jealous”. People say that to me often, but they never saw the time and effort and the struggle I went through to be good at anything. They just saw the end result. Don’t worry about the end result just yet, you’ll learn and grow from the journey itself to get the results you want.

Just envision where you want to be, and WORK towards that goal. Also remember, it’s never too late. You can’t give up just because someone younger is better than you at what you’re doing. Trust me, I know what that feels like. You have to remember though, that younger person most likely spent the better part of their life practicing, and if you put in the time you can and will catch up. Who knows, it may not take you as long. Just dedicate at least 30-40 minutes a day to your craft. Start today, and don’t stop.

5). INCOME

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Money From Your Art? HOLD ON!

Now you’re going to have to hear me out on this one. Most of us artists, or people for that matter, detest the idea of working a 9-5—we want to be paid for our art work instead. Patience young grasshopper. Too many of us end up killing our own passions down the road because we try to make money from it right away. Wasn’t it the passion that made us want to make beautiful and meaningful art on the first place?

Believe it or not, it’s okay to find other ways to make an income or living before you start making mural money right away. In fact, that’s pretty common. I’ve worked jobs, that I liked or didn’t, that played a vital role in me supporting my passion in the first place. The main problem is that many of us find jobs that we either end up hating, or are either too time consuming, energy consuming, or have nothing to do with what we love. But don’t worry, I’ve found that in these times it’s easier to find work that not only you can enjoy, but can help contribute to your creations.

If you’re one of those people that don’t mind working any kind of job to support yourself then have at it. But it’s okay to be a little bit picky finding work, especially for the younger ones that don’t really have to worry about paying for bills or food...oh to be that young again. Having an income, even better multiple incomes, is a valuable asset because not only will it allow you to continue what you’re doing, but it’ll allow you to grow to the next level—what with buying newer and better supplies or maybe taking a course or two.

If you continue to work hard then you’ll be able to turn your hobby into your lifestyle. Sometimes we have to do to things we don’t necessarily like at first to get where we want to go. Having a job in the long run has many benefits. It can teach us the value of hard work, the value of a dollar, can either further develop skillsets or allow us to learn brand new ones, and it gives us a chance to meet new people and network. Also, money! So what's the problem? It’s only temporary. Many of the greats in any artistic genre worked some kind of job before they made it. It’s very common, and only temporary.

Remember!

If you can, to try to find jobs in areas you’re already interested in. If you’re a writer then try finding freelance writing jobs, content creators, creating your own blog, writing eBooks, etc. If you like arts and crafts try working at an arts and crafts store you enjoy going to. Love music? Then surround yourself by a record store or instrument store. These are just some simple examples. Of course, if you’re strapped for money and need to pay bills then you may need to find what you can get. But as I said earlier, with just a bit of effort searching you can find something that you’ll enjoy while earning cash. Money helps big time! And if you can create multiple streams of income, passive or active, then that’s even better. If you can, shoot for some passive income. It would be best because you’d have more time and energy for your art.

6). BONUS TIP!

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TADAH!

Because you've read this far, I'm going to reward you with an extra tip.

Now I know I said that practice is the most important tip to implement on your artistic journey, but I was wrong. All the information and skill in the world won’t really matter to you in the end if you’re not enjoying yourself. With anything there’s going to be ups and downs. There’s going to be very frustrating challenges and confusing times for you. That’s okay. Those moments are the very ones that allow us to level up and go further.

Despite everything you may or may not experience, always remember why you started in the first place. Never ever lose the spark that made you feel alive when you started creating. Never forget how relaxed and at ease you felt when bringing to life your inner expressions. There will be moments where it’s not fun and you’ll want to give up. Don’t! Continue to seek inspiration, expand your mind, and appreciate life.

You’ll find that you’re best work comes from a place of emotion. Even if your work is sad and depressing, you can still find release in getting that darkness out. Don’t let making art go from something you love to just something you’re doing, even if it’s just a little hobby for you. If you find enjoyment in it, then continue! I’ve known plenty of people who’ve gone on to make a living out of their work without really trying, simply because they did it for the fun and the expression.

Too many of us want to just think “I need to make money from my art! Make money! Make money!”, and they fail because they lost sight of what was important. I know this extremely well because I was one of those people. Even if you do make tons of money, was it worth it to lose that spark? Wanting to build a career out of art is a wonderful goal, but don’t let money or fame cloud and take life from the very thing that made you feel alive in the first place.

I Leave You With This

I know that not everyone is going to find this information useful, in fact, I know some people probably rolled their eyes reading some of these tips. But I know for sure that I wish I had realized some of this stuff sooner than later. I’m hoping that anyone in the same boat will have more insight and a better piece of mind after reading this.

Just remember that no matter how hard things can get, in the end it’s worth it. Persevere, focus, learn, and have fun! You never know, you may end up being a big inspiration so someone someday.

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