Art Work Part 2: The Realities of Becoming an Artist
Illustration by Erin McPhee
My last post was pretty cheerful and upbeat. I shared the truth most parents—and teachers, and just about anybody who’s stuck in a boring day job—don’t want you to hear: that you can become a professional artist, right out of high school, without going to post secondary.
Now—for the sake of all those poor office folk wringing their hands and wondering what my words might do to the next generation—I’m going to bring you back down to earth.
Being a professional artist is hard. Whether you act masterfully, play piano so well the spine tingles, paint skateboards or write books, it’s hard. There’s a lot of competition at all different skill levels. And being a professional artist in today’s world generally means you also have to market your own work, often completely on your own, and try to stand out from other people who are also trying to market their artistic work.
As a professional artist, your income may never actually be stable. You’ll probably want a part time job at first to fund your projects and, you know, live well. Eventually you’ll build a reputation, find consistent clients and have a solid income, but it will always fluctuate.
More importantly, to survive as an artist you need to be willing to do the less exciting work too. You might create beautiful stand alone paintings, but if somebody wants an infographic, you should be able to create one of those too. If you’re a clothing designer at heart you might have to sew a few hems to earn some extra dollars.
As a young artist, the best thing you can do for yourself is learn every kind of art. Most large towns and cities have free arts workshops available for youth. You’ll also find tutorials on how to create every kind of art imaginable on YouTube. Sometimes just reaching out to a local artist and becoming friends can lead to opportunities to learn new forms of art.
Every client will want something different. To build a long lasting career as an artist, you need to be able to do different things. For a writer like me that means being able to write blog posts, feature length articles, press releases and anything else I’m asked for. For an artist, that means being able to paint on any medium, drawing, understanding graphic design programs and knowing how to use the elements of design in every project.
Someday maybe the work you love doing will become profitable enough to support you. If you keep working on it, keep promoting it, someday you probably will be able to live off of it. Until then, you will have to do work for other people, work that isn’t always fun.
And yet, no matter how many hard days there are, no matter how many boring projects you have to do to keep food on the table, I promise you that pursuing a career in the arts will be worth it. That you can get paid—even get paid well—to do what you love. More importantly, that no matter how many boring projects you have, being able to control your life, your work and your schedule will make up for all of it.
Don’t wait any longer. Start thinking about the steps you need to take to begin a career in the arts. The sooner you start, the more likely you are to be successful. The more art you produce, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to support yourself through your art, maybe even get famous one day.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get started.