Struggling with figuring out who you are as an artist and where your work is going?
1) Set aside studio time.
This is the most important thing you can do to become a professional artist. If you can’t devote non-negotiable studio time, you aren’t going to get very far. You need to make art and more art!
Most artists who have “other jobs” will find this hard, but the commitment is critical. Everyone gives up something to pursue their dreams. If it is difficult to honor your commitment, block out time on your calendar (in ink!) for the week. Treat it as any other appointment and respect this promise to yourself. It’s the first step toward professionalism.
2) Draw. Doodle. Write.
Wherever you go, whatever you are doing, get into the habit. Sketch a scene, write down your responses to other artists. The goal is to keep your pencil on the paper and to capture your brilliance before it disappears.
These days, many artists are gaining insight into their art by blogging. I hear over and over again from artists that the most important reason to keep a blog is for self-discovery.
3) Look at art.
Look at lots of art! Some people are afraid of copying other artists. Don’t be. How do you think the Old Masters learned? If you do enough of it, you’ll work through the influences and find your own voice. If you missed out on art history classes, consider taking a few at your community college or higher education facility. You can also check out films about art and art history at your local library or through Netflix. Some of my favorites are:
- Art of the Western World
- art:21 / Art of the 21st Century (PBS series all online now)
- American Visions (5 Volumes)
- Anything from the Sister Wendy series
And check out my popular post about art documentaries.
You don’t have to make art to sell. You can make art to grow as an artist. Try a new medium, practice a new style, copy a favorite historical work, enlarge or decrease the size, or use a color outside of your normal palette range. You are making art just for you. No one else has to see it.
5) Take a break
It’s difficult to evaluate progress while you’re in the throes of production. Know when it’s time to take a step back, get away and return with fresh eyes.
After you have taken a break, look at your work critically to figure out your strengths and weaknesses. What do you like? Not like? Ask a variety of other people (friends, family, strangers, other artists, non-artists, etc.) the same questions. This conversational exercise what I have you do in The Relatively Pain-Free Artist Statement.
Making good art is the result of being devoted to your craft. Just keep doing all of the above.
(updated March 22, 2010, May 28, 2015)