How To Be Successful As An Artist

Being successful as an artist is challenging and takes a lot of dedication and perseverance.  Anyone who decides to become a professional artist must be aware of the hurdles ahead.  Digital artists have it somewhat easier than traditional artists, as they have many more professional job opportunities, such as production modeling and graphic design.  However, they face extreme competition.  Traditional artists have challenges with both competition and visibility, as well as limited job opportunities.  However, no matter which path you chose, there are hurdles to face to be successful.  An artist, like any profession, needs to continue to learn and grow over the course of their career so they can maintain their competitive edge.

Develop Your Skills and Style

Stick with a topic you enjoy, but don’t limit yourself.  Not everyone has to paint flowers or landscapes, so if that is not your thing, then don’t do it.  However, it is extremely important as an artist to not limit yourself to one thing.  Having a broad range of skills is very important to enhance your skills and improve as an artist.  If you love animals, great.  But don’t only draw animals.  Broaden your subjects every now and then, and you can be surprised at what you can do!

Don’t compare yourself to other artists.  This is the single most important bit of advice I can give anyone.  No matter what your skill level, there will always be those who are better than you and those who are less-skilled.  Admire those with greater skill and learn from them!  What makes their art so good?  You can do that too!  But if you compare your art, and say, “No matter what, my art will never be that good.  Look at this garbage!”, then you will never improve as an artist.  If you ever feel yourself doing this, just read the second sentence in this paragraph and take it as mantra.

Practice, practice, practice!  Draw as much as possible.  Even if you think your drawing sucks.  Draw anyway.  Draw everyday, if you can!  Even little quick five minute sketches are vital to developing your skills.  Not every drawing has to be finished.  The more you practice, the better you will become, just like anything else.  No one is born being able to draw masterpieces.  Every single artist you admire got to where they are through very hard work and practice.

Learn new skills.  Pick up a book about drawing (or painting, sculpting, whatever).  Follow an artist who has a YouTube channel that posts instructional videos.  Study!  Read the book and try to follow the artists’ tutorials.  Learn new techniques.  Practice drawing different textures.  Study photographs, and also pay close attention to details of light and shadow in real life.  You can even take simple classes (online or in person) to sharpen your skills.  If you are lucky enough to live near a professional artist who teaches, you can enroll in a workshop.  Some artists will have these occasionally, focusing on improving techniques such as watercolor painting or colored pencil drawing.  These are invaluable!

Start simple.  Sometimes new artists can be too ambitious and take on projects that are way out of their skill level.  This will only lead to disappointment and failure.  We all want to do those huge highly detailed murals, but realistically it is best to start out small and simple.  Work on developing your skills first before tackling a huge project.  Draw still-lifes, practice portraits, work on anatomy and proportions.  Then work your way up to the big projects later.  They won’t go anywhere, I promise you!

Develop Your Own Style.  This will come naturally, but may take years to develop.  Every artist has their own specialty.  Early on, as you are learning, you will be incorporating other artists’  styles into your work, and that is completely fine.  It is how you learn and grow.  As you mature, you start to develop your own style.  It is so important to stand out as an artist.  Sticking with popular subjects or styles may be the “safe” thing to do, but I have found that some of the most successful artists march to the beat of their own drum.  Being unique and standing out can be difficult, but in the long run you will have less competition.

Networking Is So Important

Social Media Presence. Networking is so important as an artist, whether online or in the real world.  Unless you are a celebrity, you will not have a huge following at first.  This takes a lot of time and dedication on your part.  There are so many other people vying for attention,  it can be very hard to stand out. This is true whether you show your art in person or online.  Sometimes it feels like you are screaming into a black hole.  Networking is the first step in recognition and growing your fanbase.

Having a strong presence on social media is vital to being seen. There are over 2 billion active users on Facebook, over 1 billion active users on Instagram, and over 300 million active users on Twitter.  These platforms are huge and have the potential to reach a lot of people. It allows you to communicate with your fans in real time.  Post works in progress, finished artwork, talk about your gallery, or direct people to your online store.  Have as many social media accounts as you feel comfortable updating, and post regularly.  Each social media has a different target audience, so it is best to have accounts with all of them.  The most essential ones for an artist are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Besides setting up your accounts, it is so important to network with other artists.  Follow other artists on your social media accounts.  Networking has many effects.  First, it can help to establish your fanbase, as many artists will be happy to follow you back. Second, it can open you up to new opportunities.  By looking at other artist’s feeds and posts, you can discover exhibits, online stores, other galleries and portfolio websites, and even news and events such as a new gallery opening in your area.  These artists become familiar with your work and may refer people to you.

In order to make social media work, you must be active.  Post often, and post new art.  Retweet or share other’s work on your profile.  If you retweet, others are more likely to retweet your posts too.  This will help grow your followers.  Join groups on Facebook and Pinterest, and post there often.

Join your local art society, groups or clubs.  There are many societies out there for different media and topics.  For example, the Colored Pencil Society of America is a group that is dedicated to artists who work with colored pencil.  Some are open admission, others are juried (you have to apply with a portfolio and be selected).  This is great for networking, exposure, and learning. Facebook groups are also a great way to network with other artists as well as potential clients.

Go to your local art galleries.  Galleries can provide inspiration, as well as being a great source of information.  Many galleries and even art stores will have classes held there that can help you enhance your skills.

Stay Organized

Keep a “to do” List.  Staying organized is essential.   I always have ideas swimming around in my head!  Keep a pen and paper handy to write down those ideas, and keep a list of things to draw.  That way, when art block strikes, you can look at your list and get fresh ideas!

Maintain a database of reference images.  These are invaluable when it comes to doing your own paintings or drawings.  Get a decent camera, do not use the camera on your cell phone.  You need to be able to see fine details; the camera on your cell phone has a high compression ratio and will make the picture blurry.  You do not need to spend a thousand dollars, but invest in a good quality digital camera.  If you travel, take lots of photos!  Even if you cannot travel, take lots of pictures of flowers and animals outside.  Go to the zoo and take pictures.  This is extremely important, as many artists use photos as references.  Due to copyright issues, you cannot just use any image you find on Google or Pintrest as a reference.  However, with your own photographs, you own the copyright!  There are excellent resources online also for providing copyright-free (or less restricted) photos for use as reference.  A good stock photo website that provides free images to use is Pixabay.

Maintain a Professional Website. The most important thing for any artist is to have a presence online.  Everyone and everything is on the internet.  Having a website is like having a home base.  It is a way for people to find you and your art.  Thin about how many businesses have websites.  The ones who do stand out in search engines, the ones who don’t get lost.  A website is a place where you can send people to see your art.  You can display your portfolio, talk about yourself and your art, have a way for people to buy prints, and give people a way to contact you.  Making a website does not have to be difficult or expensive.  Signing up with an inexpensive webhost such as Lunarpages, and using WordPress makes building webpages very easy.  There are also other artist portfolio websites online, some for free and some that you have to pay for. ArtStation and Behance are both great examples of an online portfolio sites.  These are great to have as a supplement to your main website, as they increase your visibility online.