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Technique over Tools

A good artist will produce better art with cheap crayons than a bad artist with the absolute best oils, acrylics, or watercolors. That’s just a fact. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows this.

Just like give a guy like Carlos Santana or Jimi Hendrix a cheap guitar and have him battle a newbie guitarist. We all know who we’d rather hear, even with the cheap guitar.

That said, we’re all searching for the right tools. Watercolor artists are the craziest. We’re always looking for the right surface, whether it’s painting on wood, the best paper, or even experimenting on canvas (yes, the watercolors will slide right off so you’ll have to use some watercolor ground). We’re always looking for the right paints, the right brushes, etc.

The same goes with guitarists. Sometimes you’ll see a guitarist who falls in love with one guitar and uses it forever. Like Brian May of Queen or BB King with Lucille.

Usually though, guitarists try out every guitar and amp they could get their hands on.

Technique is more important than tools

That said, sure it’s fun to play around with new tools. But the art comes down to you. Are you any good? What can you produce?

That’s where I strongly suggest that you put the time in.

Art is just another craft. The more you work with leather, the better you get at working with leather.

The more you work on your art, the better you get on your art.

Sure, having nice tools helps. However, you simply acquire them over time.

Besides, you’ll find that the more known you get, the more people will give you their stuff to try, or even pay you to use their stuff.

My newest

I love quality watercolor and gouache paints as much as the next artist. Still for me, good paints are good paints. So far, I love M Graham gouache and I love Daniel Smith and Winsor and Newton watercolors the best. I have Sennelier watercolors coming in the mail simply because I want to try painting with honey based watercolors.

This latest piece though is with the first three I mentioned. I’ve gotten to the point where I could make good paintings even with cheap watercolors and mediocre paper. Sure, I’d rather have the good tools. But like this whole article is about – technique over tools.

A good artist with cheap tools smokes a bad artist with the best tools. We all know this.

Selene and Hecate
Selene (Moon Goddess) and Hecate (on the asteroid)
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I’ll let you in on a secret

I’m going to let you in on a secret. I don’t know what I’m doing half the time.

Actually, half the time? Heh. That’s generous. Most of the time.

And I’m not talking about watercolors. I’m talking about life.

The thing is, neither does anyone else. We’re all just winging it.

Life doesn’t come with a handbook. You don’t get a set of directions to tell you to do this, then do this. And now? Do this.

You’re on your own.

And you know what? That’s OK.

Inner voice

You know that inner voice that talks to you? Some of us even talk back to it and have a two way conversation with it.

Well, mine used to be a complete asshole. It used to say things that you’d say to your worst enemy. And it will also fill me with doubt. I’d be scared to try something new because of that inner voice.

Well, I retrained mine. Mine is now a coach. And a friend.

It took years. We’re all at varying levels of functionality and dysfunctionality. I don’t think anyone’s 100% sane nowadays.

But once again, that’s OK.

Training my inner voice to be supportive was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done. Now, rather than making fun of everything I do, it tells me how I can do it. Like a coach. But, a real good coach. Like a Vince Lombardi or Phil Jackson.

Our brains are rewireable. We can literally program them to be good at the things we need to be good at.

Persistence, Habits, and Repetition

Everything becomes a habit. Habits don’t have to be a bad thing. For instance, I do a 5 minute sketch every single morning. That’s a habit. Once you start replacing bad habits with good habits, your life will get so much easier.

I changed my diet too. I only eat twice a day rather than three times a day. No snacking whatsoever. Someone brings donuts into work? No thanks. I’ll pass. I’ll only eat birthday cake if I really, really like the person. Otherwise, no thanks. I’ll pass.

Once you start developing good habits, you can literally be good at anything. I’m pretty good at guitar because I practiced at least an hour daily. When I was a late teen, all my other friends wanted to get drunk on weekends. Instead, I practiced guitar. Then, they wonder why I passed them all up within a year.

Everyone thought it was natural talent. Nope. Persistence and discipline.

We improve by developing skill sets

What would you say if I asked you “what are you good at?” Would you be able to give me a list?

Over the years, I’ve developed some life skill sets and got good at the important ones. I learned nutrition from a coach, weightlifting from a coach, home finance from self-help books, guitar from jamming with friends, and piano from a piano teacher. I got good at all those things.

You can learn from other people. Or books. Or nowadays, even YouTube.

When Allie approached me about taking my art seriously, I started off with colored pencils. I started watching people painting on YouTube. Oils and acrylics looked really cool. However, I live in a tiny ass apartment. I thought watercolors would be more practical. Thus, I decided to try watercolors and been in love with them ever since.

Selene Greek Moon Goddess
Allie posed for my Selene Gazing Upon Endymion painting

Life gets way easier once you have some skill sets

Life gets significantly easier once you’ve acquired some skill sets. I put health at the top, relationships second, and finances third. Once you get good at all three, you’ll have a pretty good life. Guaranteed.

I had to learn all that stuff on my own. Like I said above, I hired coaches for health. I learned about healthy relationships by watching functional people. You get treated by how much you allow. For instance, if someone treats you like shit, did you cut them out of your life? If not, why haven’t you already?

This isn’t a finance blog so I’m not going to waste time here, other than I learned that if you live within your means and put 10% of everything you make into your investments, you’ll be doing pretty well within a decade.

“But I want it now!”

Grow up. Life doesn’t work like that. You have to work for it.

I use finance as an example for that mindset because it’s the most obvious. That said, you can apply that to everything.

If you want to be a great artist, you’re not going to be selling a million dollar paintings in one year. You’re going to be busting your ass for at least a decade.

I’ve been drawing daily for almost a decade now. I’ve been playing guitar for over thirty years and piano on and off during that time.

And that doesn’t include drawing and doodling for decades before that. I used to make silly cartoons for friends of stupid shit we did. They’d laugh.

So the art was always there. I only decided to take it seriously this decade.

Keep going

So keep going. Develop the skill sets you need for what you want to accomplish.

We’re all just winging it in life anyways. If you’re actually good at the important things, you’ll do well in life. And that will significantly help your art by allowing you to focus on art rather than the world falling down around you.

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Does your artwork have a common theme?

Does your artwork have a common theme? If so, great. If not, does it need a common theme?

Honestly, I like artists who are somewhat consistent. And I notice that when you could recognize someone’s work, it sells better.

So a partial answer to the second question – yes, if you want to sell it.

You should be able to recognize my artwork right away. It has a common theme to it. Sure, I do mostly fantasy pinups. But even when I’m not doing fantasy pinups, it still looks like something I did.

Speaker Girls pinup art
Allie modeled for both speaker girls

I’ve done the same theme twice in a row and will probably do it four or five more times in a row. I’m on a speaker girl kick. Why? Does it matter why? That’s what’s been motivating me recently, so I just go with it.

Also lately, I haven’t been doing that many full nudes. They’ve only been topless. I don’t know why that is. It just is.

I got a friend from Los Angeles coming over tonight. I see her once or maybe even twice a year.

She’s a professional model who’s getting more into business than modeling. Which is great. Let her go over all the bumps in the road so I could pick her brain and figure out where the bumps are. I actually am looking forward to her becoming successful. I take picking people’s brains very seriously. The more successful they are, the more I want to pick their brains.

How to develop a common theme

Who are you? No, not just your name. Who are you really?

If you can answer like this, then you need to do some serious soul searching. I highly advise you to take this seriously because potential buyers will want answers.

My name is Roman. I’m a Neo-Romantic composer and a fantasy pinup artist. Oh, you want to hear more about my art than my music? You’re interested in my art? Well, thank you.

Yeah, I call myself a fantasy pinup artist but I’ll go into more depth. You remember those planes in World War II? Remember they used to paint pinup girls on the planes?

I absolutely loved that style of art! But, I grew up in the 80s and got heavily into fantasy.

So, I thought recently why not combine my love for pinups with fantasy? Just imagine if rather than the usual pinup girls on those planes, they let me paint witches, mermaids, sirens, naiads, faeries, or succubi.

Know yourself

So that’s why I mean by knowing yourself. If you have to, make it conversational like I did.

My themes are very consistent. My artwork is very recognizable. That’s why I have no problems selling it. You either like it or you don’t. But you know I did it.

Good luck. And keep painting.

And, have something prepared when someone asks you “what’s your art all about?”

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If you’ve done it once, you can do it again

Humans are complicated beings. But there are pretty much two different mindsets.

No, most people aren’t either or. They’re a percentage of each one.

You got a scarcity mindset. These people believe that if I win at something, that severely lessens your chance of being successful at it. Needless to say, these people aren’t exactly fun to be around. They won’t be happy for you when you start achieving awesome things. Rather, they’re way more prone to jealousy and bitterness.

When it comes to art, they’re the type of people who think that greatness can only happen once. Like if a musician nails a song, that’s it. He could never do it again that good. It’s perfect as it is and could never be replicated. Ever.

It’s a shitty mentality to have. I can assure you that great musicians can have epic performances of the same piece as many times as they want. Do you know why? Because for one, they’re great musicians. And for another, they never ever have scarcity mindsets.

The other type of mindset to have is the abundance mindset. They know you have unlimited opportunities for growth. If you’re awesome at something, rather than being jealous of you, I’m picking your brain. Or if I can’t get a hold of you, I might copy some of your tricks.

Applying the abundance mindset to art

I never fret that if I did something cute one time, I couldn’t replicate it. I think that’s the dumbest thing in the world to believe.

In my last article on cleaning watercolor brushes, I showed a painting I killed because I accidentally got gouache in the watercolors and Roxy ended up looking like a zombie.

Bad Roman. But you know what? Do it again!

prepping a pinup watercolor
redoing a painting I killed

Here’s the same painting redone. I just got done inking Roxy. Now, I have to draw the speakers and another kitten. Then of course erase the pencil lines before I begin to paint.

And just like this, I have the same painting.

When you have an abundance mindset, you don’t fret so much about mistakes. Imagine for instance if Tom Brady after losing a Super Bowl for his first time said “screw it! I never want to do this again.” And just quit.

He’s used to winning Super Bowls. Suddenly, he’s on the losing end of it.

He could have quit. And he’d have three less rings. (As of 2019 – they’re the favored team for this upcoming season so he might have yet another).

But love or hate the guy, either way, you have to admit he has an abundance mindset. He doesn’t have that negative scarcity mindset.

Too many artists I know, especially musicians, have scarcity mindsets. They think that if their sister band got big, then they’d have no chance. Like for some reason, their competitor succeeds so they can’t? That’s the dumbest thing in the world to think. If that’s how you think, you’re never gonna get ahead in the brutal world of art.

If you do something awesome, you need to know that since you’ve done it once, you can do it again. Change your mindset to an abundance mindset and your chances of succeeding in this industry will skyrocket.

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Jealousy is poison for your art career

I thought “one more time.” And I co-formed a band, two guitarists, a bassist/vocalist, and a drummer. I played lead and rhythm and the other guitarist played rhythm and lead guitars.

We struggled. Barely got by. I was delivering pizza to make ends meet.

The most we ever made in one night was $43. Four people. $43. On sub-standard equipment.

We argued a lot, and on our very last show, we got into an argument mid-song, fighting on stage. The four or five people watching the show probably left by then anyways.

Metal was already dead in the States. Even grunge was about to be on its way out. But we refused to budge. We were Metalheads, God dammit. Lack of audiences be damned.

It ended just like that. After breaking up, I sold my equipment and never touched a guitar again.

(Well, that never lasted 13 years but that’s another story for another day).

Wasn’t always that bad

Five years earlier, I was in a rising band. We were actually writing some pretty cool music and wanted to ride the wave of Bay Area Thrash.

I played guitar 100 mph. Super fast with amazing technicalities. Harmonic minor appegiations at lightning speed? No problem.

But there were also the haters. Bands that we surpassed. So of course, rather than making themselves better, they said bad things behind our backs.

I remember going up to one of the kids who I heard bad mouthed me. Introduced myself and held out my hand.

He made the mistake of putting his hand in mine. I crushed his hand and he almost started crying. I said “I’m sorry. I forgot how strong I am.”

He learned to be careful who to badmouth our band to behind our backs. Definitely not someone who would tell me about it.

But just like that, we never got a good singer. And without a good singer, you go nowhere.

Our manager tried to argue with us that we should be purely an instrumental band. I was proud of my lyrics and wanted them heard.

Looking back, they were cheesy as heck but when you’re 19, you think everything you do is super cool and anyone who says otherwise simply doesn’t get it.

Regardless, their jealousy just made them look like complete idiots. They were jealous of a band that got nowhere too. Just had a few more fans than they did. Yay. Neither of us made any money. Neither of us got famous. It was all for naught.

Happy ending?

Several years and several bands later, I knocked a woman up, initially splitting custody, and ended up getting along. We later got married and raised the kid together.

He turned out emotionally healthy. Served his country and is doing really well in life.

But when he was in high school, I got the itch one more time. This time, just a band that recorded.

The problem was, a million other bands were doing the same thing.

Music was a money pit. Just threw more money in and got pennies back. I probably got 2c for every dollar put in.

After awhile, I decided enough was enough. Plus, my dear friend Joe said “your Metal is run of the mill but your Classical is excellent. You should really pursue a Classical route.”

Honesty. Don’t get much of that around these parts these days.

So that’s exactly what I did. I still and always will love Metal. But enough’s enough. I’m too old for this.

So I switched to painting.

“What does this have to do with jealousy?”

We’re you reading between the lines? The jealous people were jealous for nothing. Jealous of a nobody that nobody’s ever heard of. If I rattled off all the bands I was in in the 80s and early 90s, you’ve never heard of a single one of them. Not one of them recorded anything and not one of them packed a single house.

You know what’s even more pathetic? Being jealous of someone who nobody’s ever heard of.

Yet, those jealous losers did exist.

“What about jealous of bigger people?”

At least that would make a little bit of sense. But think about this for a second. What would that get you? You get absolutely no gain from it.

You’re jealous of someone who doesn’t even know you exist? Think about that. They don’t even know you exist. Why should they care? Why should you care? And why not use that mental energy instead on improving your own self?

Develop some skill sets. Get good at something.

Jealousy accomplishes absolutely nothing. Plus, if you tell someone else how jealous you are of someone, you just come across as a complete loser. Unless that other person is also jealous. Then they’re a loser and you need to pick your friends better.

Surround yourself with people who want to improve. Who want to get better.

The jealous mindset is a poison mindset, and if you’re an artist who is jealous, you’re being an idiot. Instead, spend that energy on improving your art.

Burning bridges

You’ll find that it’s a small world. Especially today with social media.

You can find everyone you went to high school with somewhere. And you know what? Some folks forgive. Most don’t.

You don’t want to burn too many bridges, especially when you need contacts.

If I’m running an art gallery and I really don’t like someone, their work isn’t going in the gallery unless they can make us a lot of money. But if it comes down to that person and someone I’m neutral with, you can guess who I’d pick.

Same thing with anything. Like I said, some folks are forgiving, some aren’t. Jealousy is especially poisonous in the art world because it’s a small world. I personally can’t stand jealous people. I know I’m not the only one.

Even failing is a good thing

Were you able to ride your bike successfully on the first try? Of course not.

But you didn’t quit, right? You can ride a bike today, right?

You get good at something by doing. And even if you fail doing it, no one can take it away from you.

So you didn’t come in first place in your Karate competition. But, you still know Karate. By not winning it all, it’s not like your knowledge of Karate evaporated.

Same thing with me and guitar. I learned to play guitar. I got really good at it. I even know how to read notes.

Guess what? I now use guitar to write the violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, and horn parts for the orchestral musicians.

Sure, I failed in Metal. But I got really good at composing because of all the past practice I had.

The same thing with painting. Sometimes, my painting doesn’t turn out that good and I end up giving it away rather than putting it up for sale. But if I like the concept, I’ll paint the same painting twice after I figure out where the first one went wrong.

You should be competing against your past self. Constantly. Constant improvement.

That’s yet another reason I enjoyed my four years of weightlifting. The first two were lame, but I finally hired a coach and started doing things the right way. With the coach, I made insane progress.

Which of course led to co-worker jealousy. I lost my dad bod and started looking good. And got compliments from female co-workers. Which pissed off a jealous beta male.

So tell me – don’t you think rather than getting jealous, he should have hired a weightlifting coach and did the same thing I did?

Now apply this article to your own art and you’ll see some pretty insane improvement, no matter what your art medium is.

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Do hard things

Allie x2 by a waterfall - work in progress

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.

As for the waterfall, that was kind of a fantasy waterfall based on some waterfall pictures I sliced together from Pinterest. No, this waterfall doesn’t exist, because it’s several spliced together.

I have no idea if it will turn out good or not. We’ll know in a few weeks.

Constant improvement mindset

I take artistic mindset very seriously. I strongly believe that the difference between artists who make it and artists who don’t comes down to mindset. Quitters never win.

But not quitting is not enough. You got to constantly push yourself. You can’t ever plateau and say to yourself “this is fine.”

Imagine Leonardo da Vinci or Pablo Picasso doing that. Yes, exactly. They never did.

You need to be improving. Constantly.

And sometimes, you really have to push yourself.

Recently, I learned how to make watercolor postcards. I wanted to do something special for my Grandma who’s turning 102 next year.

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.

Mermaids. Naiads. Selkies. What do they have in common? Water.

So what is your water? You tell me. Actually, tell me. Leave a comment below. What is your water? What’s a huge part of your art that you need to improve?

Tell yourself you’re gonna do it. And do it. Even if it’s hard. Heck, especially if it’s hard!

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Should an artist have a morning routine? Athletes have 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…

Mine

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.

Having a morning routine will really help you succeed
Having a morning routine will really help you succeed

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.

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Too much thinking and not enough living

too much thinking and not enough living
Don’t forget to live

I’ve read Plato. And of course, studied Greek philosophy, Greek art, Roman art, etc. All that good stuff.

But, we can go too far. What if one would spend too much time reading and forgot to live? Didn’t Cervantes write a book about that?

I do think artists should put their work in. We should do our research. Know the past very well. Be able to imitate our idols’ works.

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?

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When Creatives Can’t Create

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.

Sunset in Maui
A sunset in Maui

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.

A confession

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.

when creatives can't create
Fixing when creatives can’t create

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.

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Most artists who fail don’t fail due to lack of talent

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.

most artists who fail
Most artists who fail don’t fail due to lack of talen

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.