There’s a guy I follow on Twitter named Dennis. He’s an older gentleman. And he’s always doing something difficult for even a young gentleman. Something physical, but very difficult, even if he were young.
To me, that’s inspirational. And it totally applies to art.
Do hard things. Constantly.
You want to be improving. Here’s a work in progress of Allie posing under a waterfall. In real life, this was the latest live model sketch we did over the weekend with an old sketch of her. I’m constantly using both new sketches and recycling the old ones. I recycle the old ones since I’ve improved immensely since then. I want to give those poses proper credit.
So I decided to use my artistic skills. Make something really personal. Something that other people can’t give her. Show her how special she is to me.
Grandma was a huge influence on me. She traveled the world. She wanted things done her way. That’s two things that rubbed off on me big time.
She was also a piano teacher in her past. I blew it when I didn’t take my piano lessons seriously. Now I have to do a lot of catch-up because I was totally into sports and totally not into my piano lessons as a kid.
Of course, not at all slamming sports. I’m glad I did them. But I really wish I practiced the piano too.
Where to start?
“So where do I start?”
Here’s the beauty to it. What’s hard for you may not be hard for me. And vice versa. I can guarantee that I’m better than you at five things. I can guarantee that you’re better than me at five things.
Nobody is the same. So this is on you.
What is hard for you? But don’t just do it because it’s hard. (Unless that’s how your brain is wired. In that case, do it!)
Do it because that’s what you need to improve.
I’m constantly trying to get better and better at water. I’m a water person. If you look at all my paintings, you’ll see that water is a big part of a lot of them.
I talked a little bit about this when I wrote about when creative people cannot create. But I really want to expand on the importance of having a morning routine.
You’ll basically meet three types of artists. The first time is the successful artists. They make a living doing the job they love.
The second type has much larger numbers. Significantly larger. It is the artists who want to make a living in art but are either failing or will fail.
The third type, we won’t talk about. They’re irrelevant for this discussion. They’re the ones who do art for the love of art, and have no intention of selling it whatsoever. Nothing against this group. They’re just irrelevant for this article.
Where a morning routine comes in
Anyone ever heard of Jerry Rice? The saying goes that he woke up every morning at 4:30AM because Cris Carter woke up at 5AM.
You may dismiss this as a joke, but it’s no joke. There’s a reason he has every single record in the record book. He worked harder than everyone else. And that’s not me saying it. It’s all his peers.
Today, Drew Brees is about to break every passing record in the book. It’s because like Rice a generation before, Brees is known as the hardest working man amongst hard working men in a brutal game.
Why not apply this to art? I totally believe that mindset is underrated, especially for artists. The difference between the ones who make it and the ones who don’t is often mindset. Mindset will surpass talent. Well, let’s be real. Everyone who’s gotten this far has some talent. So assuming you do have some talent…
I wake up at 5:45AM Mondays thru Fridays and I get to sleep in until 6AM on the weekends. I’m doing a random morning sketch, then doing a quick social media plug. I don’t stay on social media as social media is a terrible time sink. You could get lost there for hours and not get anything done. I think it’s possibly even worse than television.
I’m also practicing my foreign language. This of course has nothing to do with art, but I’m tired of being monolingual.
When I was taking photography seriously, I’d wake up at ungodly hours and shoot. Those are often the best times to shoot anyways.
Yeah, I never claimed to be good at photography. It was just one of those things that I did. However, if I kept up with it, I would have worked every morning on it until I got really good.
But this mindset really helped my musician skills and now my art skills.
I started this blog just for my short stories. I didn’t take it seriously for years. Then on January 1st of this year, I decided that I was going to take my art seriously.
As an artist, your biggest enemy is obscurity. Don’t ever get discouraged by anyone who doesn’t like you or your art. Who cares? Let it go in one ear and out the other.
However, if nobody knows you exist, you’ll never sell you art.
I’ve recognized that immediately. And so I plan accordingly. I write this blog to help out other artists. And I also use the main site to sell the art.
My morning routine also involves a bit of promotion because marketing matters. If you don’t take marketing seriously, good luck making it as an artist. You’d have to get lucky, and I personally don’t ever like relying on luck.
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?
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.
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.
Back when I was in my previous band, we had a bass player try out. Super nice guy. We’ll call him Jim.
Anyways, Jim had the absolute best equipment on the planet. So good in fact that if the Rolling Stones’ trailer that carried their bass equipment got lost or stolen, they could have asked to borrow Jim’s equipment. Yup, absolutely top of the line gear.
But, when we asked Jim which covers he knew so we could jam with him, he didn’t know a single one all the way through. You can’t exactly jam partial songs.
Needless to say, Jim didn’t make the band. Like I said, super nice guy though. Had a beer with him. But we didn’t hire him as our bass player.
“What does this have to do with art?”
What does this have to do with art? Everything. Same concept.
You could have the best paint brushes on the planet. You could have the best paints on the planet. All the right gear. A gold plated easel made of the best wood. But if you can’t paint, you can’t paint.
That’s why I strongly suggest that if you’re limited on funds, buy the bare minimum amount of paints and take a lesson or two. It’s more important that you actually know what you’re doing with crappy gear, then having the best gear on the planet and can’t paint.
In fact, there’s a guy who I follow on YouTube that doesn’t even use high end paints. Yet, he’s a big influence on me. I’ve borrowed a technique or two from him. (More like three or four).
If we’re talking watercolors, I suggest buying good paper and decent paint rather than the other way around. I couldn’t tell you the game plan for oils or acrylics though. I can however tell you that you’re better off taking some lessons than buying the top of the line gear.
Get into the mindset of an artist
If you want to really get into the mindset of an artist, first, you have to call yourself one. If you’re still paying the bills as an accountant, but your heart is really oil painting, then when someone asks you what you do, say “artist.” Sure, it doesn’t pay the bills yet, but you have to start believing you’re an artist before you become one. And for Pete’s sake, start calling yourself an artist!
After convincing yourself that you’re an artist, you have to do the work. That means every day, you’re practicing.
My personal work is as a fantasy pinup artist. To keep my skills sharp, I’m sketching a live model at least once a week. I’m constantly working with either Allie or Roxy, despite being at the point where I can sketch a nude woman in five minutes flat.
That doesn’t mean I should ever let my guard down. The best sports teams decline when they start becoming overconfident. They think that nobody can beat them so they start to slack.
The same concept applies to art. You always have to be pushing yourself. Nobody knows every art technique on the planet. You can always hone your skills. There’s always room for improvement. Always.
Every modeling session, I’m getting a fraction of a percent better. That doesn’t seem like much to outsiders but I know how important it is to improve every single week. I have to stay hungry. Even when I sell my first seven figure painting, I’m not going to slack.
I love sports analogies because most people know at least one sport. They make for great analogies.
I worked with a guy who worked a Los Angeles Stop and Rob that two Hall of Fame baseball players used to frequent. You’ll have to forgive my ignorance here. I could name every top 20 fantasy football player, but I simply don’t know baseball at all.
If you’ve played baseball though, you’ll know their names. They grew up in the Los Angeles area.
Anyways, he’d tell me that every single day, they’d practice together. One day, the guy I worked with asked “are you guys any good?” They looked at each other and smiled and one of them said “yeah, I guess we’re pretty good.”
The guy I worked with explained their hunger. It was on a whole different level.
Hunger. A chip on your shoulder. Something to prove. All those things are good things. If you’re doing it for fun, more power to you. But the ones who will make it will take every hate message, every failure, every person who tells them to quit, and use it for fuel.
Do you think anyone ever told those two baseball players that they should get real jobs? By the way, they’re both Hall of Famers today.
Offended by everything
Of course, you can use this mindset for anything. But we’re specifically talking art. You and I are artists. That’s the aspect of our lives we want to improve.
Also I wanted to add, I think one reason why artists struggle is that most of today’s artists are very thin-skinned. I’ve never seen a generation as thin-skinned as my son’s generation. I intentionally raised him not to be, but I see his peers.
You’re going to have your haters, especially once you get your work really out there. You can’t just quit because someone makes fun of your work.
I’ve already had one feminazi call my art “porn.” Rather than getting offended, I’m using that as a marketing tool.
The mindset of the artist comes down to working. And improving yourself. And not getting offended because someone who doesn’t matter hates your work.
Also, if you go into this thinking it will be fun and have a laissez-faire attitude with it, you more than likely won’t make it. But if you’re absolutely convinced that you’re not only going to make it, you’re absolutely obsessed with it and it’s all you can think of – yeah, I’ll buy your paintings and hold them until they go up 10 times in value.
Keep busting ass, my friend. Don’t ever let your guard down. There’s always some aspect of your artistic resume that you can improve.