Definitely do all this, but don’t forget that if you really want to be a great artist, you absolutely positively have to live a life worthy of an artist.
What is a life worthy of an artist?
You’ve seen the stereotypes. Artists love passionately, often with reckless abandon. We either break hearts or let ours be broken. One or the other. Or both.
We live to live and love for the sake of love.
I just wrote on artists and suffering and I stand by what I said. Artists should feel something if they expect to produce great art.
The Pre-Raphaelites understood this. Maybe too well. Their love affairs were often scandalous, especially for the Victorian era.
Guilty of too much thinking?
Why do I even bring this up? Because, nowadays too many people live on their phones. When they’re not on their phones, they’re doing something else cerebral. For instance reading or playing videogames. Indoors and alone.
Nothing against any of that stuff. But what ever happened to living?
Heck, even when you go to a concert, you see people doing everything but watching the concert. What’s the point of even being there if you’re going to spend the entire time hiding behind a tiny little phone screen?
The artist needs to live
Artists of the past lived. I mean, really lived. They squeezed as much life as possible out of their years, even when their years were cut short.
Jimi Hendrix only made it to 27. But in those 27 years, he did way more living than ten or twenty random people you and I know combined.
That’s what I mean by living. Really living.
Leonardo was physically quite strong and even a competitive wrestler in his youth. We only know him as an old man.
Beethoven loved passionately and recklessly and to this day, nobody knows who his immortal beloved is. Historians list many women who could fit that role.
Have you been to Key West, Florida? Ernest Hemingway is honored there. For a very good reason.
Nobody could ever say that Hunter S Thompson didn’t live. Oh we know all too well that he really lived.
Yes, they all did their share of heavy thinking. I’m not at all against heavy thinking. By all means, think away!
But recognize there is such thing as too much thinking and not enough living. You have to leave the house and live, really live, if you expect to create art to write home about.
I mean, how many paintings of bowls of fruit do you think the public can stomach?
You’ve heard the cliché many times, that the artist has to suffer to create good art. You’ve seen the examples. How perhaps the greatest American novelist, Ernest Hemingway, suffered from lifelong depression and finally ended his life with a shotgun.
My favorite composer, Tchaikovsky, suffered from melancholia his entire life. And finally ended his life when the orchestra performed his magnum opus poorly and the critics mocked him.
Sylvia Plath, author of the Belljar, a book about a highly intelligent and talented girl who just completely mentally loses it. She tried to end her life many times, finally succeeding by putting her head in the oven leaving and behind a family.
You could hear Beethoven’s manic depression in his music. You’ll literally hear the manic and the depression in the same symphonic movement.
Edvard Munch, the artist who painted The Scream, said my fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. Without anxiety and illness, I am a ship without a rudder… my sufferings are part of my self and my art.
They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.
Vincent van Gogh suffered from mental illness his entire life. No, he did not cut off his ear to give to Marilyn Monroe. He had already ended his life in 1890, decades before Monroe was even born. (Note that some historians do believe he was murdered and his death is still up for debate).
I personally loved the works of John William Godward, but he ended his life as Picasso was already on the rise and the art world was not big enough for both of them.
The list goes on and on
I could keep adding to this list, but I’ll probably bore you. We all know most of the greats suffered from depression. Many even ended their lives because of it.
So the eternal question goes – does the artist have to suffer in order to create great art?
The artist has to suffer
I strongly believe that art is feeling. If you don’t feel, you cannot create art. Whereas stoicism is great for philosophy, accounting, and stock and real estate investing, you’re simply not going to create great art being a stoic.
No offense to your accountant of course. I’m sure she’s a lovely lady.
But to feel requires pain. The most empathetic folks you’ll ever meet have suffered and will help absorb your misery since they’ve gone through something similar enough that they can relate.
Those folks are wonderful people. They create great art. And they’re way more likely to take their lives than your accountant.
(If you’re an accountant who also uses your right-brain quite well, you’re definitely an exception, a rare person indeed).
I love a good happy song as much as the next sappy guy. But the ones that really hit you. You know they’re the sad songs, right? Even Elton John sings about that. They say so much, right?
The same goes for music. But alas, music is the soundtrack for a painting anyways. Mussorgsky showed us that with his Pictures of an Exhibition. And speaking of suffering, he died at the young age of 42 as he slowly killed himself via alcohol. Yet in his short life, he left behind some beautiful pieces.
Don’t be afraid to feel
Too many folks are afraid to get hurt. I say if you’re an artist, then get hurt. That pain can go straight onto the canvas. Or straight into a song. Either way, that’s when artists create their best works.
Nobody ever wants to buy the work of someone with an easy life. No. They want to know you bled for that piece of art you produced. I’m not talking about some moronic pop song. I’m talking about real art.
Like Prince’s magnum opus Purple Rain, an album about the love of his life – Vanity, a girl he never could have.
Or how Freddie Mercury loved recklessly, leaving behind a trail of broken hearts. (While leaving his own empty).
And we all know Beethoven had his immortal beloved, who still to this day remains a mystery. Last time I checked, historians think she’s one of four different women.
Whereas Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living, he’s talking about philosophy. Let’s take that phrase and turn it into something for artists. The heart that’s never been broken cannot produce great art. How’s that?
Fantasy inspiration could also come from real life. It doesn’t have to be totally random.
We’re not rich. I drive a piece of crap car with tons of miles and a big ass dent that I never fixed. We live in an apartment barely bigger than a shoe box.
Every dollar I get, we spend on travel. And travel is where it’s at for fantasy inspiration.
Of course my models, Allie and Roxy, model for me in real life so I get their poses down. But then I turn them into femme fatales. I get that list from historical fiction since for my fantasy inspiration, I want to be somewhat historically accurate. Well, mythologically accurate. (Is that a real term?)
Traveling for fantasy inspiration
You don’t always have to go far. We had some really cool caves about an hour from our old condo. Of course, I took tons of pictures as I knew I’d end up drawing them.
But if you live in Europe, you’re blessed. You got all these buildings you can use for dark fantasy. Disney probably got half his ideas on a European vacation. I have no idea where Frank Frazetta got his ideas from though.
Romania has Dracula’s castle and it’s a great resource! Sure, it’s super touristy now. But you can take lots of pictures, then let those pictures inspire you when you get back home.
Pretty much every country in Europe has magnificent castles, cathedrals, and other architecture you could use for fantasy. I just picked Romania since we were just there.
Whereas Europe has the really old architecture, America has nature, and tons of it! The West Coast, the East Coast – tons of scenery. Montana has breathtaking mountains. Nevada and Utah have magical deserts for days.
Arizona’s got the Grand Canyon. So many states have magnificent forests you could use.
You already know I’m leaving out a lot and there’s no way I could make a comprehensive list of every awesome spot for fantasy inspiration in America.
Mexico has tons of cool spots. They had both the Aztecs and the Mayan civilizations who both built some pretty spectacular sites that you could still visit to this day. Same with Central America, although we haven’t been there yet.
For tropical fantasy, if you’re rich, there’s the South Pacific. If you’re not, there’s Hawaii. I’ve done a tropical mermaid before. I drew the background inspired by our trip to Maui. We haven’t been to the South Pacific yet.
You also already know I’m leaving out a lot of countries. We only got the travel bug recently so there’s so much more world we have to see.
And let’s not forget Alaska and Canada. Two places with endless unspoiled nature.
Some artists could draw human or humanoid subjects without a model. I’m definitely not one of them. I need Allie and Roxy for reference. I hired Jin n Tonic one time too. She’s super nice. But Allie and Roxy are local and we’re really close friends as well.
If you can afford it, you can always hire professional models to work with. If not, ask your friends. A lot more people want to be in paintings than you realize.
From there, I just draw the pose. Then later, I’ll get an inspiration and suddenly, Allie will be a witch or Roxy will be a mermaid. It just happens.
You might want to look into cosplay. You’ll find a lot of people are heavily into it, and will more than likely model for you. Cosplay would be great for fantasy. They already have the outfits! You just need to draw then paint them.
These are all just quick ideas. I’m sure you can come up with a lot more. I’ve intentionally left out a lot. It’s up to you to fill in the rest.
Are you a creative person? And are you going through a period where no matter what you do, it just plain out sucks, or you’re totally blocked?
Well, the good news is it’s the same problem. We can fix it.
The bad news? To quote RuPaul – supermodel? You better work!
That means getting out of the daily grind and changing some things up. Yeah, you’re burning the candle at both ends. Or the opposite. Nothing is happening in your life. Either way, same result. We need to fix that.
Explore life more
I know today is crazier than it’s ever been. I get it. Looking back, I’ve never seen people around here so miserable.
When I grew up, a lot of people would smile for no reason. I almost never see people smiling nowadays. Everyone looks like they’re either stressed out or zoned out. But no smiles.
So what do I suggest? Explore. Break out of the ordinary. Do something you don’t normally do. Go somewhere you don’t normally go.
Do you have a sibling you haven’t seen in years. Why not call them up and tell them you’re coming over? Or where does your best friend live? When was the last time you saw them?
You could always plan a vacation out of the blue. Go somewhere you haven’t been to before. You’re broke? Don’t worry. Check out some places close by that you can drive to. Get a cheaper motel if you have to. Heck, you can even camp if you’re totally broke. Just get out there and do something.
For years, my wife and I were too broke to do anything. It took years of budgeting and aggressive investments to get us into the middle class. When we finally made it, we decided to travel.
I can’t tell you how great this has been for an inspiration. After getting back from our now yearly vacations, I have so many ideas for paintings. And so many references as well.
Don’t be afraid to get hurt
Imagine your favorite song of all-time. Now imagine if you found out that it was all a lie. That the person who wrote the song never felt anything about anything and just computer generated the words.
Imagine how betrayed you’d feel that something you were so attached to was nothing but a lie.
Now, flip this around. Imagine that your favorite ten songs of all-time were totally real. You got the backstories to all of them. Wouldn’t that make the songs way, way more genuine? For me, it definitely would!
Same with art. You need to feel. I mean, really feel.
People who feel something – it shows in their art. The art looks totally genuine. Because it’s from the soul.
That’s how you create the best art. By feeling.
Those afraid of getting hurt will never get their hearts broken. But, will they be able to create art? Sure, but not good art.
I have a confession for you. I don’t like to talk about this because it makes me a bad guy. Unfortunately, it’s true.
All artists have had their hearts broken. In my case, I was the breaker. I had a perfect girlfriend who was super nice to me and treated me great. She went through a bad time period of my life though. My band was about to breakup and I felt my life was going nowhere.
I felt like a complete loser and I took it out on her. Why? Because she was there.
Eventually, she had had enough and cut me off and I made her one last promise that I’ll never ever contact her again.
She’s been the subject of over 20 of my songs. No, no exaggeration. I’m happily married now, but when I need to write something sad, I think back of her. That was almost 30 years ago.
Another bad thing – I’ve stayed in touch with most of my friends from the past. No, not Facebook. I don’t even have that. I mean real life. And I found out a few years ago that she went through a divorce and never had any kids.
Very sad. I really was rooting for her. Rooting for her was the least I could do.
Alas, that’s what I mean about feeling something. Don’t be afraid to get hurt.
Let the creative juices flow
For a songwriter it’s easy. You just strum chords on the guitar or play some chords on the piano and sing a melody that goes with the chords. A song will come.
You know why that works? You’re literally flowing. You’re letting your creative juices flow.
Now for writers, you start writing stuff. It could be random gibberish. It doesn’t matter.
Once the words start coming from your brain onto the paper (or nowadays, computer), your creative juices will flow and you’ll create.
Now as an artist, just start drawing something. It could be a picture from your vacation. It could be anything. Doesn’t matter. Just draw.
The ideas will come. Lucky for me, I got two beautiful models I work with. Well, technically three now that Jin came by for a solid session. But really two – Allie, the blonde, and Roxy, the brunette. Half the time, they end up selecting the poses and I draw accordingly. Those drawings transform from beautiful young ladies into mermaids, femme fatales, dryads, sirens, selkies, succubi, or whatever. Since I’m letting the creative juices flow, it just happens.
It’s all about movement, my friends. Don’t stay stagnant. Rather, you need to move.
The physical movement for the creative types will cause the creative part of the mind to move as well. You simply use your creative medium. The guitar or piano for the songwriter. The typewriter or computer for the writer. Or the pencil or paintbrush for the artist. Move those fingers!
Morning routine always helps
I’m extremely predictable. Every morning, you know as soon as I wake up, the coffee brews. It magically happens. I drink a cup and immediately do 50 push-ups, 25 body weight squats, hold a plank, then start to draw. I stretch when I remember. That’s admittedly not as often as I should.
The whole thing about drawing every morning, it really helps. If I can’t find anything to draw, I do an image search for Game of Thrones. I can always find the best images that way. Beautiful women. Dragons. Exotic landscapes.
Every morning, I get my warmup drawings in. And needless to say, I’ve improved way faster than I thought I ever would.
Same thing if you’re a musician. Start off every morning with coffee and practice. (If you don’t drink coffee, how in the world do you wake up?)
Do these four things my friends and things will just work out. A consistent morning routine. Physical movement. Feeling something for someone else. And exploration. I listed them backwards this time but the point is to remember those four magical ways to get yourself into a creative mindset.
I know I’m going to offend a few people by writing this article. I’ve been buying art for quite awhile now and I have amassed quite a collection. Some of it is actually worth something. Some of it we bought because we just like it and want it up on our walls.
The thing is, artists are a weird lot. Most artists are just like musicians. They think they can write some songs and everyone will magically discover them.
Hate to break it to you. That’s exactly not the case. Your audience doesn’t have to look for you. Rather, you have to look for your audience. You have to do the work, not them.
Whereas Walt Disney gets all the credit since he had the big vision, he’s lucky he had his brother Roy to handle the sales, marketing, and finances. Unless you got a promoter, you’re simply going to have to do your own promotion.
I’ve seen so many artists with gobs and gobs of talent fail and quit, then go back to doing a job they hate. Meanwhile, their art collects dust and ends up in a landfill.
The hands down most naturally talented artist I’ve ever known hung himself. You’ll never know his name because he killed himself and his parents keep his art for obvious personal reasons.
Most artists who fail fear…
Most artists who fail fear the sales and marketing side of art. Or, they’re in denial that it’s important.
Once again, your audience doesn’t have to discover you. You have to discover them. It’s your job to find them, not the other way around.
Of course, get really good at what you do. Don’t produce complete shit and expect it to sell like hotcakes, even if you have the best promoter in the world. It still has to ring a bell with someone. It still has to touch someone. In other words, put your best foot forward and hide your mediocre stuff.
Don’t worry, we all produce mediocre stuff. Pick your top five bands of all-time. How many of them produced excellence in every single album? Two? One? Zero?
The thing is, until you build your audience, you can’t show your mediocre stuff. More on that later though. Let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Talent and self-promotion
Talent refers to innate ability. Some artists have it. Some artists don’t.
That said, some artists have so much passion that they end up passing up artists who have natural talent. I’ve seen this happen in real life. There is something to be said about work ethic. If I were running a company, I’d rather hire someone with a solid work ethic. There’s a reason for that.
How does that apply to art? Well, for the artist, you have to have a bit of both. Whereas talent is innate, laziness will get you nowhere.
And that ties into self-promotion. Artists have to get over themselves. You need to realize that your artwork may be downright awesome, but if nobody knows you exist, you’re simply not going to sell your art.
That’s where self-promotion comes in. You have to figure out a way to self-promote without sounding desperate. There’s a line in there. You learn it by interacting with people. Read their faces. Are they interested or are you turning them off?
These are all things you learn with experience. Artists should know the sales and marketing side.
What are you doing for sales?
Are you selling at an art fair? Do you have a pretty nice webpage? Are you in an art gallery? Or an art auction? Do you have a distributor?
I sincerely hope you have at least one of these and whichever one or ones you pick, you’re good at. The good news is you only have to be good at one. I got a chance to attend a selling lecture from a successful artist who makes a lot of money. She has a shitty website, but her sales skills are top notch. It doesn’t matter that her website is garbage. She sells in person and shows you her value immediately.
There’s more than one way to sell your art, my friends. This is good news. Find the route you’re best at and go that route.
What are you doing for promotion?
File this one under marketing. How do people know you exist?
I’ve done sales before so I do talk to people about my art. People who matter. People with money who buy art.
Don’t waste your time with people who don’t buy art. It’s like if you write Country and Western music, don’t go to a Goth show and expect to sell your CDs. You need to go to a Country and Western club.
Today, you can promote online. You have social media. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be on all of them. Find the one or two that you find actually getting results and get really good at them. There are no wrong answers. We have different personalities so what works for me might not necessarily work for you and vice versa.
I have an online store. It’s been open since January. It’s already getting some traffic because I’m currently working with two traffic coaches. Yes, not everyone can afford to do that. I get it. But you can still learn how to generate traffic through other means. You can buy books or courses. Or you can figure out how to do it yourself.
Regardless, take the marketing side seriously. Unless you have someone else handling for you.
Artists who fail don’t take sales and marketing seriously. Artists who succeed do. Be the latter.
If you’ve ever been to an art gallery where paintings are for sale, you more than likely saw an artist statement before. They’re the pieces of paper by the artwork that tell something about the artist and his or her intent.
Artists may ask if they really need one. They may question its relevance.
That’s totally fine. But think of it this way. How well do you know yourself? Do you know why are you an artist in the first place? And if anyone asks, how will you respond?
Think of it like an elevator speech without a 30 second time limit. You can make it as long or as short as you like.
However, not everyone who buys art wants to read a book. They’re coming for the art.
“But my art speaks for itself.” I’m sure it does. Remember though art gallery owners are sales people. They may or may not be artists themselves. So even if it’s only a 5% importance thing, that’s still 5%. You want to create an air of professionalism and competence. At the very worst, a good artist statement will appeal to those art gallery owners. Keep reading.
“So what do I write in an artist statement?”
Make it reflect yourself. Are you whimsical? Make it whimsical. Do you love painting the Scottish lochs? Well, tell me, the buyer, why your paintings of Scottish lochs are different than your competitors.
Buyers buy art, and the hardcore ones often want to know something about the artist. I can tell you a lot about Olivia de Berardinis and Craig Tracy. I haven’t even met either of them.
So yes, an artist statement is important and it should be easy to find online. I had no problem finding the links for either of those two artists I just mentioned.
Make it memorable
Are you a good writer? If so, you already know how to make something memorable.
The problem is a lot of people, even damn good writers, have problems writing about themselves. They’ll expose their soul through particular characters in their fiction but when you ask them directly who they are, they often freeze.
Hot tip – if you’re one of those people who has trouble writing about yourself, then write in the third person. You’re totally allowed to do that!
Yet another reason to have an artist statement prepared.
Make it reflect yourself. If you have to, start off with a short biography. You’re divorced, remarried, and have two kids? That’s great. Put it in there. You love dogs? Well, what’s your favorite breed? Put that in there too.
You had the most romantic time of your life in Venice? That’s great. I like Venice. So does that rich old lady there who buys art. Hopefully she’ll read that line.
My son served in the military. A lot of art buyers have also served. You can bet your ass that’s in my artist statement.
Commonalities my friends. Become relatable.
Your process and your materials
You will find a lot of people find the art process fascinating. You don’t have to discuss your process. Some people love to keep how they did their works a secret. That’s perfectly fine.
But, I can guarantee you that someone will ask. You have the choice of discussing your process or keeping it a secret. Totally up to you.
If you do, make it interesting. Don’t just say “I paint with brushes I like.” Make it interesting.
Art geeks may ask which tools you use. Or even what kind of materials. You can mention that. You can even mention why you choose certain materials over others. Some people love to hear stuff like that.
As an art buyer, I hear those conversations all the time. Totally up to you though if you want your process and your materials in your artist statement.
Now, talk about the art itself. That’s a pretty amazing painting of a lady’s nose. But why did you paint a lady’s nose?
You can talk about your muses. You can talk about your influences. So much could go here.
Maybe you paint because you have chronic pain and art is the only thing you can do to help you focus away from it. Tell me more.
Or maybe your past haunts you and you paint it for therapy. I met a UDT once. Very few people will know what a UDT is. Anyways, he painted islands from the air. They were awesome.
This was 30 years ago but had I met him today, I’d love to interview him and help him with his artist statement. I’m sure I could help him make it fascinating.
Memorable and relatable. You’re human. So is that guy with the big wallet who wants to buy a painting or two. Sure you have a 20 year old beat up car and he drove here in a Ferrari. But did you know his grandma was the biggest influence on his life?
You have commonalities with everyone, even if it looks like on the outside you come from different worlds.
Be yourself. I’m sure the art buyer and you have overlap. And you even have overlap with that art gallery owner who asked to look at your artist statement, and is wondering whether to include you or this up and coming hotshot in this upcoming exhibit.
I’ve been studying what good pinup art is for awhile now. Although I’ve been studying the Pre-Raphaelite masters like John William Waterhouse lately, I’ve always been a fan of good American pinup.
American pinup artists during the so-called Golden Age of Pinups made their money in ads. The ads only had a few seconds to catch the reader’s eye. They had to really stand out.
Those ads would be called sexist today so we don’t see them anymore.
Which is sad because it hurt both the models and the artists. A lot of them were actually pretty good.
Post Golden Age, my favorites were Frank Frazetta and Olivia. I was a huge Frazetta fan. I even enjoyed that movie Fire and Ice he did with Ralph Balski.
But what makes good pinup art?
Good pinup art is of course subjective. You and I may prefer entirely different artists. And that’s perfectly ok.
But all good pinup art has most or all of these qualities.
The women are either sexy or gorgeous
A dear friend of mine years ago scolded me for calling her cute. “That’s something you say to a child.” We were dressed up to go out, and she was wearing a lovely long, black dress.
She wanted me to call her either beautiful, sexy, or gorgeous. Grown up women words. After all, she was about to turn 20. (This was decades ago).
So yes, there’s a difference between cute, beautiful, lovely, striking, sexy, and gorgeous. John Updike explained why striking is a backhanded compliment at best. You’ll never hear me call a girl I find attractive “striking.”
Now sexy or gorgeous, that’s the essence of good pinup art.
Pinup art often has a bit of humor to it. It’s lighthearted. If you look at Gil Elvgrin for instance, a lot of his models get accidentally partially disrobed. It’s cute.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously. I’ve worked with two models since I started painting. We’re always having a good time. The modeling sessions are never tense.
When I get a third model, she has to laugh. I don’t want a cold model with no feelings. She’s got to be human.
A celebration of femininity
In these parts, girls are taught that femininity is a weakness. That’s got to be the dumbest belief on the planet. Men have started wars over beautiful women. Femininity is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.
From Elvgrin to Olivia, you could tell how much the artists absolutely love women. Frazetta loves women. He was an old school family man who died married to the same woman forever.
If you’re a misogynist, you cannot produce good pinup art. You just can’t. And yes, this includes women who secretly hate women. It will show in your art.
Here’s a hot tip. The majority of folks who buy pinup art are either men or women who pick it up for their husbands. My wife bought me a Gil Elvgrin book back while I was still learning to draw.
The art had to catch your eye. Right away.
Since a lot of these early ones were ads, they only had a few seconds to make a man want to read them.
Frazetta’s art ended up on a lot of book covers. Sometimes men would buy the book for the cover and not even read the thing.
Olivia made a pretty good living selling her art to men’s magazines. Online killed off men’s magazines but Olivia to this day has a rabid cult following.
What do all her models have in common? They’re deeply seductive. Olivia gets it. She gets it so well that she’s famous around the world for her pinups. You’ll know her work in seconds.
That’s what I’m focusing on
You learn what works by simply looking what works. I’ll happily list my influences. Only Olivia is alive today.
Those qualities are the very qualities I emulate. I sketch with live models, then transfer my work into paint.
Both of my models are drop dead gorgeous in real life. They’re head turners. Jaw droppers. Whatever the phrase is now.
So, how does an artist achieve his or her own distinctive art style? I actually think this is an excellent question.
As always, there’s more than one way to do it. However, this three step process is as good as any.
If you don’t really know yourself all the way through, then how do you expect to create art in your own distinctive art style? You need to be honest with yourself. What do you truly love? What do you truly hate?
List them both.
Also list what you like and dislike. Less strong words, but almost as important. List what you’re indifferent to.
Actually, that’s the strongest word of all – indifference. If you love my work, that’s awesome. If you hate my work with a passion, that’s almost as awesome. Seriously. I want it to generate strong feelings.
But indifference to my work? That would bum me out.
Anyways, enough about me. Let’s talk about you. How well do you know yourself?
Also, let’s include the love of your life. Let’s include the one who got away. Remember family members who you’re BFFs with. What do you love about them the most?
Also the ones who drive you nuts. Why do they drive you nuts?
Know what you’ve done, what you won’t do, what you’ll no longer do, and what you really want to do.
I’m sure you can add a lot to this list. This is by no means complete. If you feel that you don’t know yourself enough, you need to spend more time introspectively.
There’s an old saying that the good artists borrow, the great artists steal. Know what you like. And practice it without shame.
Of course, you’ll have to know copyright laws. I’m only talking about for practice. For reals, when you’re selling your work, it has to be an original piece.
However, my original pieces have stolen from so many different artists that they look like they’re entirely original. You catch my drift?
Steal profusely, so much that nobody can tell you’ve stolen from anyone. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but the more artists you steal from, the more unique your work will start to appear.
This is especially true in music. You could tell when someone has a million influences. They sound original. Weird how it works, but that’s how it works.
Theme your entire life
You’ll get called weird by some and interesting by others. But who cares? Ignore that first set. Focus on the second set as those will be the ones who will be buying your art anyways.
Get so into your theme that you theme your entire life. The way you act. The way you dress. Decorate your whole house in your theme. Everything – do it in your theme.
The artwork will flow like a big ass river. You’ll be called obsessed. Good. Best possible compliment for an artist.
Beethoven was obsessed. So was Michelangelo. All the great ones were.
So know yourself. Steal. And theme your entire life. Do those three things and I can assure you, you’ll start to develop your own individual style. Oh and also one more – work your ass off.
Why this matters
So the artist asks why. That’s the question the artist should always ask!
We’re art buyers. We’ve bought over six figures of art so far, from galleries, from auctions, and even straight from the artists. We can tell you which artists make it and which ones don’t.
Most get lost in the crowd. You know who doesn’t? The ones who paint from their souls, because everyone’s soul is unique. And that requires developing your own distinctive art style.
I just wrote about the mindset of an artist, which is the difference between the artist who “makes it” versus the artist who doesn’t. This is sort of part II of that.
Some people think there’s something special about producing art. Or the artist is born with some supernatural talent. No, that’s all bullshit.
The difference between the artist who makes it and the artist who doesn’t is the former keeps going whereas the latter quits. The former realizes that he has to keep producing art to get better.
That artist keeps learning and keeps honing his craft. He’s continually trying out new things. You’ll see it in his art. You’ll see the constant experimentation and the constant pushing of boundaries.
Keep producing art and at worst, you’ll have something to write home about
That’s the thing right there. If you keep producing art, at the very worst, you’ll have something to write home about. At the very best, you’ll become a household name.
I’ve lived long enough to see people’s careers take off. Some take off faster than others. Some take longer. Regardless, nobody ever remembers the one who quit.
I can see an improvement from my earlier paintings to my newer ones. The more experimenting you do, the more chances you take, the more you’ll improve. That’s how it works. You have to keep taking chances. You have to keep doing experimenting.
After awhile, your style will develop to the point that it looks like your work. Not someone else’s. But your work.
I know the exact point I reached that step. That’s when I realized I had to sell it.
And not ironically, I had my first commission. When you start calling yourself an artist, and say it with a straight face, that’s when you become the artist.
I’m always trying something new. I’ve been in dozens of caves before, yet never painted one.
Recently, I’ve been getting into dream sequences. That started when I painted a real life dream. I immediately called Allie and asked for a quick modeling session. She did some Marilyn Monroe poses and I got several paintings out of this quick session.
I’m still in my dream phase. Going back to the cave, I decided to stick a cave somewhere in this girl with a fairy painting.
So the cave has a stream coming out of it. To the left, you’ll see a girl talking to a fairy. Once again, we’ll see the same moon that keeps coming back.
Since it’s dreamlike, I’m intentionally working with a limited color palette. Except for the girl and the fairy. They’re in full color. That trick makes them both pop out and everything else gets pushed back.
Learn by accident
If you keep producing art, you’ll end up learning things by complete accident. For instance, this dual chromatic dream concept. I’m only using two colors – black gouache and Daniel Smith Moonglow watercolor. (Except of course for the girl, the fairy, and the moon).
If you keep producing art, you’ll get the same results. You’ll learn a lot of things by complete accident. You’ll have your “a-ha!” moments where you discover really cool things.
I cannot stress enough that experience trumps talent. That’s why when companies hire, they look for experience. You learn on the job. The same concept applies for art. You learn by doing.
You could take all the classes in the world. But nothing beats real life experience.
The obsessed artist
When you’ve been in this world long enough, you’ll meet this artist. He’s not necessarily more talented than his competition. But he’s nucking futs!
He’s working while everyone else is partying. He’s working while everyone else is sleeping.
Years later, he’s selling paintings for a lot of money. How did this happen?
Put two and two together.
A few who made it
Over the years, my wife and I have bought a lot of art. We’ve bought art from art galleries, from auctions, from street fairs, and from the actual artists. We’ve met a few artists who actually make a pretty good living doing their art.
It’s funny because I was surprised that one successful artist we met, I won’t say her name, has a shitty website. But, that’s not how she operates. She’s a crazy hard working woman in real life who puts lots and lots of miles on her vehicle and aggressively goes from place to place to plant her art everywhere she can.
She’s just not an online person. She sells in person. Yet, she’s a damn good saleswoman, despite her weak online presence.
You have to be one or the other. Or of course both. But if you’re going to make it as an artist, you’re simply going to have to go farther than your competition.