Understand that being an artist comes from the heart
Artistry is first and foremost a passion, this is also why I’m saying that you can’t really be an artist when the passion is absent. This passion may come and go throughout time, but it has to be there, to begin with for you to be able to become successful. But because it is a passion, it doesn’t mean you can draw your heart out on paper right away. It’s still very hard work, a lot of grinding and practicing, and even when you have your fundamentals down: The is still a sh*tload to learn. In art: You will NEVER stop learning, You’ll be in your grave someday analyzing how dark pitch-black is, getting frustrated over the fact this shade of black can’t be drawn nor printed. Or something along these lines :p.
Art is absolutely a passion, and you really need this passion to be able to live off of art someday. But because it’s a passion: It comes from the heart, from our being, our personality, our imagination… Few things are more personal than art. And this means that you need to take extra good care of yourself if you want to survive in this world. It’s one of the most wonderful professions when you finally start making your money from it, but you need to practice your whole life.
The hurdles of a (freelance) artist
You likely won’t work in a team, at least to begin with. You might not even go to a school, but follow courses and tutorials instead. This is all fine, but it does mean that most of the time you are alone. You need to generate your own discipline. When you don’t manage, you need to practice or find another way to overcome a problem. You likely start from scratch and need to find a community of like-minded people. Because the chance you will find someone like you your family is relatively slim. And because art comes from the heart: It can hurt you just as much as it can please you. And then there is life, which will keep throwing curveballs at you all the time.
When your hobby becomes your work: It’s no longer a hobby
When I say this, I mean it. But maybe not exactly the way you’d expect. When you start taking on commissions, you can no longer treat your hobby as such. You have to start treating it like any other job. This is very hard, especially in the beginning. Most artists that work from home (for a studio or as a freelancer) have trouble with keeping work and private life separate, for obvious reasons, but also less obvious ones.
Issues you will likely run in to:
- Constantly remaining in work-mode, or unable to get into a flow because you’re distracted by your environment and things that need to be done at home.
- You need to put in time for your gigs, but you might need to practice or work on your personal artworks as well. Both are likely happening at the same computer and at times it will be hard for you not to pick up your personal work.
- On the other hand, it might be hard for you as well to stop working on your gig and put in some me-time.
- Your clients won’t care what time it is. Truly. Especially when you are freelancing: You work worldwide. Your client will contact you whenever he or she has time to do so. Your client might even want to discuss things through a social media channel, turning it into a real-time chat rather than an e-mail conversation. Just do your best to have your conversations through e-mail. Like that you can decide when to reply, how to reply and you have everything stored in one place.
All the above things require planning. Nobody is going to do that for you, and your environment won’t be helpful with it at all. On top of that: Artists often are not that good at planning either, but it HAS to be done. Prioritize your planning, get to know your strengths and weaknesses, and plan accordingly. And no matter how important your work is to you, or how much you need the money: You won’t be functional if you don’t spend some time on yourself and take a break every now and then.
There are some planning apps available, they’re usually aimed at large businesses, but the free version of these apps tends to be more than enough for freelancers and people that work from home for studios. I myself am horrible at planning. I do get my stuff done in time, but because I work with so many different clients and also have a regular job on the side, I tend to forget what needs to be done (and started) when. These apps are THE solution to keep track of it all.
There are way more out there, but this will get you started!
Yea, getting paid, the big elephant in the room, right? I’m not gonna discuss the technicalities about this, because it’s different in every country, for every person, and every platform. But you do have to realize that when you land your first gig you should AT LEAST charge your minimum wage. If you’re not from America or Europe (or any other relatively wealthy country) I even recommend using the minimum wage that’s the standard for these countries, rather than that of your own (unless of course, your first gig is coming from someone in your country). But this is where you should start.
NEVER do art for free (unless it may be a friend or a family member, I’m not referring to those) be careful about collabs where payment in one form or another is promised afterward, and if you put in fair practice: Up your price at least 10% each year. When you’re roughly 3 years in the gig game you will get a feel for what your art is worth a lot better because you are now part of the community and have a good lay of the field.
Clients CAN be assholes
You will find out this one for yourself soon enough. Especially when you’re starting out, you will get entangled with a group of people that wants the best for the least of money. This means they can have unrealistic expectations, especially considering your own lack of experience in the beginning. But it can also mean that they try to reduce the price you set. They can be disrespectful, either because they think you do what they want for fun (which may not always be the case, because you will lack freedom in commissions) or they are just that: Assholes.
The last type is a rarity, but they are out there. Don’t hesitate to say no to people like this. They will cost you more mentally, and probably even financially than they are worth. And if you are uncertain about how to handle a situation, talk about it with your friends, or ask it in our community.
You have to ask yourself beforehand if you want to give discounts. I recommend not to do this with clients that contact you directly unless they’re returning clients or have more than one job for you. If you work through a platform like Fiverr though, it may come in handy. It’s more of a marketplace than anything else. Add 10% to the price you want and give people a 10% discount when they come in. They will love you for it.
Protecting yourself against theft
This happens to every artist and it can take on many forms. You may have agreed to payment after finishing the artwork. If you do this: Don’t send the full-res image until you received the full payment (more on protecting your own art here). But better even: Ask for 20-50% of the payment up front and the rest right before you deliver the full-res image. Keep in the back of your mind that clients are scammed often as well, it’s worrying to them if you ask for a 100% payment upfront. But especially when starting out, it’s very good to start on a platform like Fiverr. Both you and your client will be protected through their system, making it almost foolproof.
Saying no to a client
Honesty goes a long way. If you can’t do something: Don’t do it. If you’re unsure if you’re ready for it: Give it a good shot, but keep in the back of your mind that, if you don’t manage, you may need to refund your client. That’s fine, if you can spare that time and money (and if your client doesn’t have a tight deadline). Because if you do manage, you got in some nice payed practice.
If your client is one of these assholes; It’s just better to take the high road. Thank them for their time, but tell them you cannot do it. If you’re tactful you could explain them why you cannot do it without insulting them, in some cases you may find there’s a misunderstanding or an absolute lack of knowledge from your client. But if you’re not: Just leave as is, give a refund if you got payed already, and continue your journey with the plenty of clients out there that do respect you, your time, and your craft.
Value yourself, no matter what others say
This is probably the most important of all. Value yourself, no matter what others say. We are hard to ourselves. Social media isn’t helping because it only shows the wonderful finished pieces without context. We have high expectations of ourselves but forget that this wonderful piece took weeks to make. And we forget that, before that, the artist probably trained thousands- if not tens of thousands of hours to become as good a he or she is.
Time can’t fly quickly enough because you want to be better. But let me tell you: There is always gonna be someone better than you. You need to put in practice to make progress, there is no other way. And 2 years of solid practice will likely land you your first gig. 4 Years of solid practice will get you a solid flow of clients. Add 2 more and it’s not unlikely that you either land a job in a studio or have a large enough client base to fully sustain you.
Understand that non-artists won’t understand
Valuing yourself is hard when your friends and family don’t value what you’re doing. Being an artist is often seen as a useless job. This test results below, coming from Singapore is proof of that. The irony is in the whole image. This image couldn’t have been made without the help of at least one artist.
Artists are needed for creating poll results. Artists are needed for book covers. For movies and games. Artists are needed for fancy commercials on tv and in your town. They are needed for newspapers, who doesn’t love the little comics somewhere near the back of each and every one of them? Who doesn’t love scrolling through social media. What person doesn’t have some sort of art hanging on the wall? The car you’re driving in has been designed by an artist specialized in cars. Heck, your coffee machine was probably even designed by an artist at some point!
Artists are way undervalued, simply because people have no clue what we do. But not only that: They usually have no clue what skill, knowledge and effort is required to make an awesome dragon like Smaug, the cute monsters in monster academy, or the insane designs for many fantasy games. This doesn’t only count for creature designs, this counts for any kind of art. 2D, 3D, landscapes, character designs, props, animals.. You name it.
It’s up to you to educate people about what you do when they’re open to it. If they’re not: They’re not worth your time on that matter. And because of that: Not your feelings and self-worth.
I mentioned this one before in another article. We artists are strange folk, we see and analyze the world a lot differently from non-artists. If we are lucky, these non-artists will do their best to understand what you’re onto. But the only people that will really understand you and your passion are other artists. Because of this reason, it’s very important to have at least a few. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to friends, but here are some qualities I really value in my friends:
- Always there, even when we didn’t speak for a while.
- Know how to cheer you up when you’re in yet another art or lifestyle pit.
- Won’t criticize your art when you’re not asking for it, but will mention a glaring problem and will give solid feedback when you do ask for it.
- Sharing perspectives with each other about the working field, but also art techniques and workflow.
- Happy go crazy, feel like being weird? Just do it. Turn me into garlic that’s dreaming of ‘banana’s’ make me your bounty hunter sidekick, or just butcher my face with the crude tools of Photoshop. I will do the same for you :p.
- Drawing together and analyzing each other’s art.
- Every now and then talking about other things than art.
You may look for other qualities in people, but these are a few you may want to look out for.
Where to look for art friends
There are plenty of places where you can find like-minded people. Think of the Life to Legend community, There are many absolutely awesome people out there. But there are many other Facebook groups, depending on your interest as well. The image of Spudnik and Knofje has been made for the daily spit paint Facebook page for example by Jade Jez. Want to learn human anatomy? Check the Proko Facebook group. Landscapes? Evenant Design.
Not so much into Facebook? Give it a shot at Artstation and Deviantart. Or maybe you are a very social person and Instagram will do the trick for you just fine. Anyhow, my point is: There is no need to be a lone ranger in the art world. Give it some time and be open to potential friendships and they will drag you through anything that comes on your path from thereon.
Art is a passion, even when it’s your job
As mentioned before: Art is a passion, no matter what. You may not always be passionate about it, you may even hate a specific gig, but it’s still very important to remember that art is a passion. It comes from the heart. Because of this, it can really eat at you. Either because you don’t feel like drawing for whatever reason, which can be really problematic, especially when it’s your livelihood. Or because you put way to much of yourself into it.
It’s very important that you take good care of yourself. Maybe even more important than for people that don’t practice a creative job. You need to realize that not being able to draw is a serious problem, it’s a lot different from having an off-day, or being tired. Not being able to draw comes from a deeper place, and whatever the cause: It needs to be addressed, or rather: Prevented. You can do this by not overworking yourself (drawing too much or never drawing things you like) and getting away from your computer. But also meeting up with friends that are not in the art world, eating healthy, and having walks or doing sports.
Go through the hassle of learning fundamentals
You either love it or hate it, but do yourself a favor: Learn the art fundamentals. It’s easy to skip them and dive right into a painting. That’s way more fun anyway, But if you don’t have your fundamentals down, there are times you get stuck on a specific subject. That’s especially painful when you’re on a deadline. Not only that: It may cause you to get an ‘art-block’. An art-block is usually portrayed as a problem in and onto itself, but it isn’t. It’s just a symptom of a bigger problem. This can be poor planning or health, being overworked or consistently running into the same problem, like not having your fundamentals down.
You don’t have to learn it all at once, drawing your own stuff is absolutely fine. But instead of just drawing your own thing: Draw it while working on one or two of the fundamentals. Make a study of it and you will thank yourself later.
Master a niche
When doing art you can go two ways: Being able to draw everything quite well, or master one thing completely. Both ways are fine, but if you really want to become a name in the art-world, you may want to opt for a niche. Personally I recommend to pick one specialization (like creature design in my case) but work on related subjects as well. For me those are things like environments, props and characters. I choose not to work on machines or buildings for example. If I need to I can draw them, but that’s about it.
Many niches require a lot of knowledge (e.g.: How machines work) others are outright based on science (like creature design). You cannot expect from yourself to master them all.
Using reference is not cheating
Another elephant in the room! Using reference is not cheating! Never! Everyone uses reference. Let me ask you: What sounds more logical? Using an aged reference in your brain of something you saw someday? Or using an image that allows you to see every detail, keeping your mind free from questions and trying to remember every angle, color, edge, shape, form, texture, lighting, shadow, reflective lights, local colors, pose, and what not? Yea, you get it. No matter what people say: Using reference is NOT cheating, absolutely not. The only reason why we can draw in the first place is that we can SEE with our eyes the way we do and have the mental and physical capacity to put it on paper. So we ALWAYS use reference, but instead of drawing from memory reference, we just let an image hold that memory for us.
Use reference, even the true masters use reference all the time and twist and bend it into something they want to see. Just make sure that when you use reference, you make something unique out of it. And if you prefer to imitate an image: Make sure you have permission from the photographer or the artist to do so, or that you got hold of a copyright-free image,
Life outside the art-world
After my rant in this article I’m sure you understand by now that there’s more to life than art. No matter how much you love art or how busy you are: Make sure you eat well, have walks outdoor (or do sports) and meet up with friends. It’s easy to get lost in your art, simply because it’s a passion. But even passions will wilt if you don’t take proper care of yourself. You really need to do your best to be the best version of yourself, that is the only way to unlock your true potential, which, unlike many other professions, comes from within.