How to be an Artist

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When people asked you what you wanted to do when you grew up, I’d imagine that not a lot of you said “work in an office”, or “stack shelves in retail…” If you were anything like me, you didn’t quite know where you would end up, but you knew it was going to be anything but a boring career. Ballerina, artist, journalist and film critic were all on my list at one point or another… What about you?

Those of us that want to make a living from something creative often come up against opposition. From the guidance counsellor who says “well, that’s all very nice, but no-one actually makes any money doing that… ” to the concerned parents and friends who worry you’ll live your life constantly hungry or working at a dead-end minimum wage job while ‘following your dreams’.

This can all be intensely demotivating, but more than that, it can push us away from our passions. It can thrust us into doing a degree we don’t care about because it leads to a well paid job, or applying for any old thing listed in the back of a newspaper because we need to pay the bills. If this is how you want to live your life, than great, don’t let anyone tell you you’re less of a worthwhile person because of that. But for the rest of us, well, that just isn’t an option.

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When people warn you away from your dreams, although they are most probably doing so because they love you and are concerned for your welfare, it is their own fear that motivates them. They believe that a stable income, the guarantee of a P45 and an attractive pension scheme is the way to be successful. But we know that this isn’t the only choice. We know that living our lives based on our own belief system is the only true way to be successful, fulfilled and happy!

Sure, making a living from something creative is a million times harder than living a 9-5 existence. As an artist you are in charge of your own destiny. You need to have self-discipline, passion for what you do and the drive to make it happen for yourself. You need to put yourself and your work out there. You have to march to the beat of your own drum, and allow your work  to be up for public criticism or ridicule. It’s hard, really hard.

You’ll get paid in drips and drabs… and sometimes not at all. You’ll have months when you eat nothing but beans on toast or can’t pay your rent. You’ll have to work unusual and antisocial hours. You’ll have to be constantly coming up with new and innovative ways to earn a crust from what you do. Nothing about this path is easy.

Going to work in an office is much less difficult. You put on a suit, hop on the train and as long as you don’t do anything too terrible you’ll get paid regularly. But what would you rather do? Is living a commuter life really worth it? Wouldn’t you rather wear flower crowns on the train instead of pinstripes?

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If you want to live a creative, artistic life then the best thing you can do is decide that you will. Now. Commit to it. Instead of cowering in a corner in embarrassment when someone asks you what you do (“I’m a b-b-blogger…I write about w-w-weddings…”) you need to own it! Even if you’re not doing it full time yet, when someone asks what you do, stand proud and exclaim “I’m a writer!” and then make it your reality.

The illusion that we simply don’t have time to follow our dreams is just that – a lie. If you’re a photographer, have your camera on you at all times and snap strangers in the street (with their permission of course!) If you’re a writer, carry a laptop or notebook and write while you’re on the train to work. If you’re a designer, scribble ideas and sketches at any opportunity.

Put your work online. Start a blog. Open an Etsy store. Offer to work for free. Be open to feedback and (horror of horrors!) criticism. Learn. Improve. Grow. Apply for jobs more in line with what you really want to do. Make that passion of yours your everyday, until you can make it your living.

Most of the time our parents and friends try to dissuade us from living an artistic life because they think it will be difficult. They don’t want to see us struggle, or have to scrimp or save all the time. They don’t want us to miss out on the things that they perceive to be of value – money, security, benefits. They want to protect us and make sure it will all turn out all right in the end.

You, and only you, know what you really want - need - to do with your life. It’s a much harder path to follow, but so much more amazing in the long run.

how to be an artist

‘Be the Artist’ print by Emma and Pete of Emma Case Photography. Get yours here.

Supporting Cast

24 comments

  1. Jamie

    This is so very true as I know struggling to make a living out of being an artist but it is me

  2. What a great article. SO motivating….my jewelry line is my passion, albeit not my ‘full time’ job right now….this is just a reminder to keep kicking ass and doing what I love. Thank you!

  3. Many years on, I can still hear the words of my careers advisor as he met me for the first time and offered me 10 minutes of advice, “Art! We’ll people don’t make money from that! How about becoming a teacher instead?” Hmm…I now listen to my own advice :) I’m an artist.

  4. Amy-Karen

    Thank you. I needed that. I’m a stay at home mother with two little boys. As a result, my head mostly resembles that of mashed potato. I used to be so into everything, and would often make my own jewellery. Recently I’ve been wanting to embark on something, but not quite sure what yet. This could be the thing that’s going to get me into gear.

  5. Great advice, and very true. Be prepared to go through bad months where you can’t pay rent or afford anything but ramen noodles in the beginning, but don’t let that stop you. If you work hard it pays off, and things get better!

  6. Love this article. I think friends who try to dissuade you are just put there to test it’s what you really want. I had a friend who wanted to be a singer. I wanted to support her but I also wanted to let her know that it wouldn’t necessarily be easy and that she should be doing it for the enjoyment not the notion that one day she would be rich and famous. I wanted her to succeed but for the right reasons…

    If you want to do something badly enough you’ll find a way to make it work. I love to write. I cannot NOT write. Simple as. I work a 9-5, where I’m lucky enough to be able to write for part of my job and then I write, write, write when I get home and at weekends. If it’s your calling, then that’s what you’ve gotta do! It’s only recently I’ve started looking into using my writing as a way to earn some extra money (outside of my 9-5) I think it’s going to take hard work, determination and lots of knock backs. But hey!

  7. This is exactly what I needed to read, I definitely need to take a few risks to force myself into what I really want to do.

  8. Ruddy perfect!!
    I’ve written about an ‘elevator speech’ (linked) in a previous blog when I was struggling with my own identity as a creative type! I do love how people who don’t know me think I swan about like an art-eeeste. The glamour!

  9. Even now when I run two successful creative businesses my family urges me to get a ‘proper job’. I’m so glad I was never swayed from my passion and determination to do well. It took a while but I did it! Yey :D

  10. You know those days when you stumble across something that you just really needed to hear/read? This is it. Thank you.

    xo Ashley

  11. Loved this article! I am 25 and have only decidd very recently to take my art hobby further and forge my way with it as a career.
    I have less money and time but I am happier. Spending my days creating is wonderful! I still need to have a steady job but it is a start. I have more time now to express myself and I love getting the time to read inspiring pieces such as this.
    Thanks again!

    Gabe x

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