14 years ago I wish I knew then what I know now about choosing to be a self taught artist. My journey has been filled with learning experiences about creativity, skills, business, marketing, people, and the challenges that go with even owning the label of being self-taught.
Because I am a voracious learner, I committed to the practice of learning what I needed to so that I could be successful. The effort paid off in droves. For those of you just starting out, maybe my insight can save you some time. It is possible to be a successful artist and have a career as an artist, don’t let the naysayers tell you other wise. It does take a huge amount of passion and effort though……which leads to a very, beautiful life.
1. Fall In Love With The Creative Process
At some point, you LOVED making stuff as a child. Either with crayons or clay or even mud…you loved being a creator. As an adult who chooses to become a self-taught artist, you must fall in LOVE with the creative process all over again.
Explore ideas with reckless abandon. Test out new techniques and supplies and mediums to see what your heart loves…and what it doesn’t. View the works of master artists and contemporaries of our present day. Learn what you are drawn to, what styles captivate you, what genres you feel akin to. Then ask yourself why…and then ask again.
Wake up with the excitement that every day is a new experience to create and learn and experience the act of being an artist….for no other reason than because you love it, because you can, and because it makes you happy. First be true to creativity itself.
2. Pay Attention To What Fascinates You About The World
A Self-Taught artist needs to know what fascinates them about the world. Are they drawn to lines and patterns or textures and light? Do birds and everything about birds keep and hold their attention like no other animal? Does love or heartbreak move them…to music…to color…to expressions?
We are each hardwired with a brain and heart that finds some things in life more fascinating than others. When we truly find those juicy tidbits that rock our own world, we then are able to tap into our own, unique point of view which is the pathway to our artistic voice. Create in response to what fascinates you.
3. Practice Your Art Everyday In Some Way
There is no getting around it. If you want to be a successful self-taught artist you must practice. You must not just practice…you must adopt being a creative as a way of life. Seek out the practice that moves your joy. Create a consistent pattern of showing up and doing the work. On off days, think creatively in a different capacity…bake something, grow something, build something…but keep creating.
When you are called to rest, rest. Give thanks for the ability to practice and do what you love, and create the next day. Practicing our gifts…and growing our skill sets is what we are called to do. There is no short cut to success…you must do the work…you must do the work.
4. When You Decide To Go From Hobby to Profit….Learn The Business
The minute you choose to go from creating because you simply love it for fun…and that is a beautiful thing, to creating with the intent to sell….LEARN THE BUSINESS. Get a business license, study and become informed about taxes, pay attention to the market and what you are up against. I say that because in business you are always up against something….know your mountain. Learn how to climb it by viewing what other successful artists are doing.
Make a plan. The business side can zap an artist’s spirit so fast and believe it or not, not every artist is set out to be a business person. Get help. Ask…. and OWN the fact that you are now in business and that your work is ready to sell to a greater audience.
Put meticulous care into creating the best product you can and develop a beautiful connection to customer service. It will always pay off…it will.
5. Find Teachers/Mentors/Study Programs To Help You Master Your Skills
Be willing to study…to learn…..and to seek help. Choosing to be a self-taught artist gives us a lot of freedom, but it also calls us to truly understand our craft and practice. Depending on what type of art you create…become a master at that type of art. If there are techniques you need to learn, be willing to sacrifice if necessary to pay for the best training you can.
Let go of the mindset that you don’t have the money for workshops or mentors. Start setting aside a little everyday…or every week. Make your business and your passion a priority. Ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up so that I can do this or that?” I literally gave up eating out for 4 months to save enough money to attend a week long workshop that changed my entire artistic life. It was worth every single can of beans I ate instead.
6. Own Your Confidence, Share Your Journey
Self-taught artists seem to come out of the gate feeling the need to prove themselves or measure up. I get it. To offset this way of thinking, know your place and time in your journey. If you are a beginner, celebrate being a beginner. Own every single moment of practice to learn and better yourself…..and to show up for the creative process.
Do your very best not to compare. In fact…thump the comparison fairy on the head every time it flies into your head. The very fact that you are willing to show up every day and do the work is golden. Be proud of that…be PROUD.
With that confidence, share your journey. There are many artists in the world in the exact same place you are, so sharing your journey helps them relate to theirs. Don’t profess to be more than you are, but don’t profess to be less than you are either. When you choose to share your journey you become a Wayshower. The world needs more Wayshowers.
7. Practice Authentic Marketing
Be true to who you are…and to the profession of creators when it comes to marketing. If you copy to learn, bravo…but don’t share that as your own. Market what you create that is uniquely yours. We are all influenced by external forces, especially visual ones, and at the end of the day, we must choose to honor the artists who create from their unique voice and honor our learning path as well.
Realize that marketing is important, creating your own brand is important, but underneath all of that, honesty and integrity in the business world should rule the day. Don’t undercut your galleries, be consistent with pricing. Don’t sell high one day and then cut your prices in half the next for a ‘flash sale.’ Really seek out the steps in marketing that ring true to the customer as well as your artistic brand.
8. Serve Others
At some point, give back. One of the beauties of living a creative life is that it gives you so many opportunities to give back. Volunteer to speak at a school, offer to share a craft with a local senior center, write a blog offering how-to lessons for free. Find a way to use your gifts for the greater good. It will fill your wellsprings, it is a community minded way of thinking, and it is so very needed in this world.
If you are called to teach, teach…but know your subject matter. Don’t jump on the bandwagon of teaching because you only see profit, truly know what you are going to teach and meet your students needs as best you can. Serving others is how we move creative love forward.
9. Understanding That Timing Is Everything
Patience is a big deal. Just because you see a painting that you love…and you want to paint like that, doesn’t mean you know how to just yet. Give yourself the time to develop as a creative. If you put in the work and the effort, the doors will open. They will…but all in good time. There is a level of work ethic that you must find your balance to…and be willing to put in the hours, but when you do, the timing of opportunity will reveal itself.
Some artists study for years before they know they are ready to go full time. Explore, learn, have a riot of a good time, and trust your inner voice. He/she knows the way for timing.
Trust the timing.
10. Understand That Everyone Of Your Marks Matters
Never let anyone else, or yourself, convince you that your marks don’t matter. Every mark we make from doodling to scribbles to the fine lines of a finished piece are the steps it takes to achieve greatness. Without the little steps, the big steps wouldn’t connect. We are not giants…we are humans that through courage and grace have chosen the calling to be a creative. We create marks to learn, to grow, to expand our point of view, and to share with others. EVERY SINGLE MARK MATTERS…it does. Go make your marks.
Ardith Goodwin is a self-taught artist of the highest order…she also loves to write and teach about her passions. You can learn more about her offerings HERE.