I have been asked many times for advice from artist friends, or artists I have mentored in the past. When someone came to me recently with the same request, I jumped at the chance to offer some of what I have learned over the years — and decided why not post it on here, in hopes that my advice it may help other artists out there.
The most important advice I have learned so far:
Create for you, not for everyone else.
Being an artist is rough at any age because we creative types crave affirmation and praise – sometimes to the point that when we don’t receive much, we start to doubt our own talent and self-worth. Don’t fall into that trap. You would not be creating art if you did not love it. Maybe you started because it offers stress relief. Maybe you started because it just came naturally. Think of those reasons when you start to get discouraged, then pick up a pencil, or pen, or whatever your tool of choice is, and just keep at it!
If you are unsure about something, learn.
There will always be those who are more skilled or more talented. Don’t be discouraged by them – learn from them! This was a hard lesson for me, but it’s been a good one. Once I let go of my need to be “the best,” I actually began improving tenfold because the insecurity wasn’t holding me back.
Always strive to be better, but recognize the value in your own work. You have a style that is all your own. Embrace and nurture it. Definitely learn new things, but don’t try to be something you aren’t.
Surround yourself with positive people.
If someone tells you that you can’t do something or that you’re no good, ignore them and try harder. Oh, and kick them to the curb. You do not need that kind of negativity (we usually do a much better job at being our own worst critic, anyway).
Figure out your personal brand.
This is important when you start marketing yourself. It’s important to think of you as a business and your artwork as the product it sells. How will people know what accounts are yours, that a site is yours? Not only by your unique art style, but also by how you market yourself. That means your “business” name, logo, color scheme, etc.
Many artists I know use their own name, which is the common thing to do. You can also make it more of a business-style name – for instance, my brand is [email protected]
If you are curious and want to know more, I wrote a blog post on this very piece of advice.
Building a following is a long, slow process.
Trust me on this. It doesn’t mean that your art is no good, it just means that we as a society are over-saturated with – well, everything. Just keep at it. Engage your followers. Post as often as you can (but not too often! I’d say no more than once or twice a day) – and definitely look at the best days/times to post based on the social media platform. There are lots of resources that can help schedule posts in advance and whatnot.
Anyway, I hope that this helps! If you like, I’ve got lots of other resources on my site. And I’m always available if you have any questions, need a critique partner, or just want to chat about art.
I miss autumn on the east coast.
That crisp air and the crinkling of leaves underfoot. Red, amber, orange, and gold that explodes in a kaleidoscope of color everywhere I turn. The biting scent of burning firewood from chimneys and outdoor fire pits. Scarves and warm fabrics; heavy boots and sweaters. Pumpkin everything.
Back in my hometown, you are completely immersed in the fall season. The leaves pile high enough to jump into. Once the weather turns cold, it sticks to you and lingers. Cold turns colder. Frost covers every surface . Every waking moment, you are reminded of the season. Halloween seems a tangible, real thing. Pumpkins and pumpkin spice are the norm.
Okay, so living down south still has a lot of those things. Certainly the pumpkin. But, it’s hard to enjoy fall when the mornings are frigid but, by midday, the temperature has shot up 40 or 50 degrees and the afternoons turn sweltering hot. (Mother Nature has a serious case of menopause down here.)
Alabama autumns just aren’t the same.
In Alabama, the trees hold onto their leaves until the last possible second. There are brief flashes of color interspersed within the green, until one day late in the season – the leaves fall in great bunches, leaving the branches bare for winter. No kaleidoscope. Just a spark that extinguishes when winter rolls in.
Halloween makes less sense to me in that warm Alabama weather. Pumpkins and pumpkin spice seems a bit forced.Although I am jealous of the kids in this area. (Insert old granny voice) When I was that age, we fought tooth and nail every year NOT to have to wear a winter coat over our costumes. Here, it’s so nice out that they usually don’t need any jacket at all. Many times I remember my friends and I (unsuccessfully) trying to squeeze out coats underneath the costume. Marshmallow ballerinas, puffy superheroes, policemen that looked like that had one too many donuts… it was truly a sight to behold.
But, north or south, east or west, autumn is still my favorite time of year. If you’re like me, autumn is the perfect time to reflect. It is a time of creative renewal. I get my second wind, and the ideas start rolling in.
Here are some fun things to do to keep you in a creative, artistic mindset (and maybe a jumping off point for some great new projects!):
Now that you are in the right mindset, take this time to think about your favorite fall things. Maybe jot them down, describe them in detail. Try out one of the ideas above. Snap photos. Journal. Mind map some new ideas.
While you are delving into all these creative outlets – what are your favorite things about autumn? And, what sort of things do you like to create during this season? Post them in the comments below!
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” – Charles Caleb Colton
How true that statement is. Everyone has things they love, and many of those things shape us. It’s inevitable. This is no less true when it comes to our art. We see things we like, we imitate and try to shape our style to include those things.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I am NOT talking about stealing other people’s work and passing it off as your own. I am also NOT talking about imitating something so closely that the end result is something that is nowhere near your own work. I am talking about imitating things in a quest to find your own style. Finding styles that you like and working them into a style that is 100% uniquely YOU.
Throughout my journey as an artist, these are the top seven things that have shaped my style:
If you know even a little about me, you know about my love of Disney (also known as an intense, all-encompassing obsession). I had Little Mermaid everything as a little girl. Then Lion King everything. Then — well, you get the idea. I mean, I currently own approximately 30 Stitch stuffed animals. I am a member of the Disney Vacation Club. I go on Disney cruises.
(I may have a problem…)
My point is, it seems natural that Disney would influence my art style, seeing as I soaked up Disney animation from a very early age.
I started my love of Japanese animation (anime) and manga around middle school. It started with Sailor Moon (didn’t every girl from the 90s start with this? No, just me?), though my real love was Card Captor Sakura. It branched off into many different directions, but I started drawing in the Anime style, and it definitely leeched into my work after a time.
I blame Labyrinth for my addiction to all things shimmery. (C’mon, that movie is an explosion of sparkles. Seriously. so. much. glitter!!). It is my all-time favorite movie. I’ve watched it an unprecedented number of times. And I admit that I do like to add a bit of sparkle to my work every now and then… Oh, and I will always love owls.
4. Just Imagine: a Book of Fairyland Rhymes
For anyone that isn’t familiar with this picture book… oh, you’ve missed so much, my friend. In case you can’t see the theme, I really, really love fantasy and fairy tales. I think this may have been the beginning of it all. Guy Gilchrist is an amazing illustrator (and the writing is spectacular as well). He has this whimsical, slightly antiqued style with soft colors.
5. Contemporary Artists
I came across Aimee Major when I was in high school. She was going to college for character animation (which I really, really wanted to do! Funny how life doesn’t work out quite how we picture…. Anyway, I digress). Her work was and is spectacular. She’s worked on several animated television shows over the years, and I remain a faithful follower of her work. And she definitely influenced my style in the late 90s.
James Hance. This man is my hero. He makes the most wonderful geeky masterpieces. I mean, seriously, his work is brilliant. C’mon, Wookie the Chew? He combined Star Wars with my all-time favorite stories – A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. So, I’m not ashamed to admit that he inspires me to be as geeky as I like in my art. If he can make such beautiful masterpieces, surely I can, too!
6. Antique photography
I love looking at antique photographs. The soft, muted colors (or soft shades, for black and white or sepia photos). The slightly warm sepia tint that comes through that makes them look worn and old. I think that’s why I’m growing to love watercolor so much. You can recreate so much softness that way.
7. Comic books
This is a bit of a broad subject, but I do love comic books, and I do feel they have shaped my style quite a bit. Especially comics such as Sin City. I really, really love the black-and-white/grayscale mood of the art with splashes of color mixed in at certain places.
So, that’s basically it. I’m sure I could come up with many more, but really, those seven things encompass most of what my style is comprised of. Now, it’s your turn. What sorts of things have influenced YOUR style? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
my entire childhood.
If you’re anything like me (and you probably are not, because I’m completely
strange unique), then you like to find tutorials on the web and try them out. Or, you know, buy those Disney “How to Draw” books. Does anyone else remember those? Are those still a thing? I need to see if I still have mine. I’m pretty sure I got twenty.
(No, that wasn’t a reference to Little Mermaid. I swear.)
Ehem. Anyway, the point being, I love tutorials. And so, I’ve scoured the web for days on end (translation: I googled for about ten minutes) and found a list of art tutorials and projects that I love and want to try — and I hope you try them, too!
- Tips for drawing backgrounds: I will be the first to admit that I hate drawing backgrounds. I don’t know why, but I do. So, that of course means that I should be practicing drawing backgrounds as much as possible because if it’s not something you love doing, you aren’t going to do it, then it’s going to suck, and then all your art is going to suck, and then you’re going to curl up in a ball and cry. So.
- Step-by-Step Digital Painting Tutorial: Not only do I love this artist’s style, but the infographic-style of this tutorial is beautiful to look at and extremely thorough. I already follow several of her steps, so it will be easy for me to try this one out and tweak my current process!
- 13 Short Guides That Will Make You a Color Expert: These articles are short and sweet, but jam-packed with great information!
- Head over to Clementine Creative for a list of 12 watercolor tutorials that you can check out. (I, for one, want to strengthen my weak skill in watercolor. It’s a medium where you kind of have to let go — which I have a hard time with!!)
- I love this extremely thorough guide on How to Draw Complex Folds and Ruffles in Fabric and Clothing. Nothing beats live reference material, and the first thing this article shows is photographed, real fabrics folded and bunched up to give you a truer sense of just how fabric works.
Talking about references… Looking at other artist’s work to help your skill along is never a bad thing (we all do it, and these tutorials are a great example). But, when at all possible, use live references (or at least photographs of live references).
Not only will you ensure that your style remains your own, you will also make sure you don’t inadvertently pick up any bad habits from other artists, either. (Sorry. We ALL have them.)
- Along the same vein as clothing, shoes are something I am always trying to improve on. Well, feet and shoes. And I was going to look for a specific tutorial when I came across this link to a bazillion (okay maybe not quite that much, but close) tutorials and references on Pinterest. So, why try to invent the wheel?
Another aside on clothing: this book by John Peacock is amazing! I have one of its older siblings, but I may have to upgrade. It’s a great reference on different clothing styles throughout (most) of history.
- One final tutorial on drawing figures – this article on Design Your Way has a ton of video tutorials on everything from eyes, to faces, to gesture drawing and poses.
You can also view more art references and tutorials on my Pinterest board, Art Reference – I update fairly frequently.
So, about those tutorials… Seriously. Try them. And let me know how they are in the comments.
I’ll wait. 😉
(P.S. If you have Netflix, they now have the entire Bob Ross series available to stream. That man fostered my obsession with art at a very early age. And, c’mon. Bob Ross. I dare you to watch it and not laugh you @$$ off or end up in a good mood by the end!)
“You want HOW MUCH for that?!”
Words no creative professional wants to hear. Pair it with an incredulous look and it’s enough to make blood boil. The truth is, real artists and artisans put a lot of time, blood, sweat, and tears into the creations they make. They toil for hours. They lose sleep. They forget to eat. (Trust me. I’ve experienced it all.)
When someone implies (or outright says) that they think an artist/artisan’s creations are somehow worth less…
Honestly, I can’t even describe it.
Here is the best example I can think of: say you just interviewed for a big promotion at work. The interview went well, the committee seemed suitably impressed, and you feel confident that you are the best person for the job. Later, your boss comes up to you and says, “We like you, [name], but that raise you’re looking for? We just can’t afford what you think you’re worth. I mean, [so-and-so] would do the same job for half that price.” Then, the company low-balls you on their offer.
How would that make you feel? Pretty crappy, I’d imagine.
I have wanted to do a post on how much an artist’s or artisan’s time is worth. Recently a friend posted a blog post that perfectly illustrates just what goes into an artist’s creation, so I thought, why mess with perfection? The post, titled “Materials, Time, Creativity,” written by Matt Munson (on the site The Project Workbench) goes into detail as to why artistic creations are worth so much more than the average person assumes.
As the name implies, the cost of most artisan pieces can be broken down into three major categories:
“This is the easiest one for people to wrap their heads around. These are the hard costs of the stuff used to make the thing you’re looking to purchase.”
Simply, these are the supplies we use to create the finished product. For someone like me, it would be things like paper, paints, brushes, etc. These numbers are easily quantifiable, and oftentimes they are the numbers that most people assume should encompass the entire price.
Just because I spent $20 in supplies does NOT make my illustrations worth $20.
“Contrary to what you may believe or understand, the time of the artisan is worth something. Just as you would not do your job for free, it’s a bit short sighted to expect an artist to do their job for free.”
I love the quote above especially. Developers may love their job, but they still expect compensation for their work. Teachers may have a passion for education and children, but they still spent a lot of time and money learning to do the job they do, and do it well. Is that not worth something? Should they not be compensated for their skill and knowledge of their profession?
Artists and artisans should be no different.
“And here we reach what I believe is the toughest pill for a potential customer to swallow. The idea that the product you are creating has some value all its own, independent of the materials and time used to create it.”
When I am looking at a priceless painting by a world-renowned artist, I would never presume to think that the item has no intrinsic value. And, while we cannot all be Picassos or Van Goghs, I believe that an artist’s creations do have value all their own.
After all, if a person does not love something about that artist’s work, why on earth would that person bother approaching them for a custom piece? It makes no sense.
As for me – if someone comes to me thinking they’ll get something for nothing, they are sorely mistaken. And if they claim that they can make the same thing for a fraction of the cost, I will smile at them and say:
“By all means, then. You’re welcome to do it yourself.”