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May 18, 2017

Answers from a Practicing Artist (But Not an Expert)!

If no one's ever told you before, being an artist is hard!  I love art and I love being able to create, it gives me a great sense of purpose in this chaotic world.  But trying to elevate yourself to any kind of next level can be quite the challenge!   I am by no means the best expert on the subject, but I do like to share my experiences because there is always someone out there looking to answer a question you may have asked and answered yourself.  I've been lucky to reach a few such people who have approached me with questions about being an artist.  I'd like to share with you some of what I told them.

Questions from a student of art:

1.    What first got you interested in illustration, and how long have you been illustrating?
I have been drawing since I could hold a pencil!  I didn't start selling my art until high school, to friends mostly, and then to strangers when I went to college in 2003.  Ever since then I've been on the path to making it big!

2.    What is your educational background? 
I have a BFA in Studio Art.

3.    What are the skills that are most important for a position in your field?

Determination! Perseverance! Patience! Working as an artist can be lonely, one must know how to be sociable and personable to market and sell work outside the studio, and disciplined to make work on a constant basis in the studio.

4.    Can you briefly explain your creative process?

I have videos! My new YouTube Channel is here. My creative process is linked to one of my favorite books The Artists Way by Julia Cameron.  Through this book I've learned that it's important to make art everyday or at least frequently, and that you must let go of perfection because more often it will create a block.  Thus I find inspiration in something everyday (almost) and make a small finished piece of work or study in the sketchbook.  This keeps creative skills sharp, and keeps artist block away.

5.    Do you have any side projects you work on? How is your time managed between both professional and personal projects? How many projects do you work on at a time?

This can be a difficult one. I try not to take on more than 3 projects at a time depending on the size/scope.  Professional projects always must come first in the day to finish on time.  I will either put personal projects on the back burner or work on them for a short time after the pro work.  I find it's best to switch between the two at times to keep from getting bored or overwhelmed with either.

6.    What are the best and worst parts of your job?
The best part, of course, is doing what you love! It gives you a great sense of pride and accomplishment, not to mention fulfillment.  The worst part is being responsible for EVERYTHING: Scheduling, Marketing, Financing, Bookkeeping, Inventory, Packaging, etc.  It all can get in the way of the one thing you want to do which is make art! There's also dealing with rejection of your work, and the fear of being vulnerable.  You find out quickly that making the work ends up being a much smaller fraction of your time.
7.    What mediums do you use/favorite to use? What does your workstation consist of?
My favorite medium is watercolor, but when I have time, and depending on the concept, I will work in acrylic, collage, or digital, and have enjoyed some paper sculpture before as well!  My workstation is setup for watercolor work mostly, I have brushes and pens, blank paper ready to work with, tubes of paints nearby, stacks of paper nearby, I have my favorite small pieces hanging on the wall in front of me as well as inspiration pics, pics of loved ones, and a calendar of upcoming events and shows!  I can't work without music, and often have the tv on playing a beautiful movie or inspiring music videos. 

8.    What is a typical day like for you? What kinds of problems do you deal with or decisions do you make on a daily basis?

Working alone can make it very tempting to avoid the studio and get distracted, there is always a desire to be out on the town, hanging out with friends, or any other distraction (including being on social media).  It can be very hard to develop the discipline necessary to stay focused, and the motivation to keep working when you're tired or busy with other areas of life.  You just have to learn the best way to find a balance.

9.    How did you get your job? What jobs and experiences have led you to your present position?
a.    Can you suggest some ways a student could obtain this necessary experience?
b.    What things did you do before you entered this occupation?
         i.         – Which ones have been most helpful

Being an artist is like being self-employed, so your job starts when you're ready to work. Not when you think your work is good enough or you've learned enough, or you've got a degree, or anything that tells you that you're ready. You may not ever be in the best position in life to "start' being an artist. You will never stop learning to get better.
a.)  I would suggest taking business courses with art, because they are both important.  I didn't want to learn business when I was in school, but now many years later I've had to teach myself, which is really hard.  Most artists do not want to know about business, its not as fun for sure.  But remember you have to do it all, on your own, for a long time.  And selling art is a business, and you'll have to treat it as such if you plan to make it work for you.

 b.)  I carry a sketchbook around with me everywhere I go, and draw in it at least once a day.  Make art that you like, and show it to people you know, and who like what you do.  These are your first customers.  Learn new techniques, and try new mediums, to keep the creativity fresh and new.  Once you have a lot of art on loose paper or canvas, ask around businesses to display it.  When you feel confident, enter art shows for free or cheap, and win prize money maybe.  ASK FOR HELP! You'll need people to help you carry your work around, hang it up, frame it, and talk about it to others. Galleries sometimes have free shows that allow ANY work to be shown, get in there!  Don't be shy and don't feel like you're not good enough yet.  There are artists of all levels and styles in these shows, they like a good mix.  And galleries are NOT the only choice!  Explore other ways to expose your art that you can do yourself, especially early on. These are all helpful to me, but anything that keeps you motivated in working, just keep doing.

10. What special advice do you have for a student seeking employment?
Make art everyday.  Learn something new about your techniques everyday.  Don't be afraid to copy for learning purposes, but always use your own references and photos for your finished work.  Everything has been done, but don't let that stop you from doing it better.  Market yourself for free on the internet but never post anything in full without your name or watermark on it!  Sell to everyone you know. Don't work for free (unless for a good cause).  Talk to other artists around you, develop a sense of community with them to help you keep going, it shouldn't be a competition. Fellow artists are sometimes the only people who will encourage you and be able to critique your work for improvement after you graduate.
Making art is very much an entrepreneurship and you will want to be self-employed, as most artists do.  The ability to make your own schedule and live off your own sales, will take a lot of work, but also a lot of help.  Artists tend to be used to working alone, which is great sometimes, but sometimes you need to know when to ask for help, to move on, and move on faster.  You do this by talking to new people, getting your art seen by more people, and creating relationships.  Its often been said that people don't buy artwork so much as they're buying into an artist.  It's maybe not true  100% of the time, but MANY of my sales come from people I know, and who want to support what I do.  The more people you have like that, the better.  Even when you have sales from strangers, they've probably looked up on you on their own, or heard great things about you. 

Questions from a fellow creative blogger: 

How did you first get into art?
I’ve been drawing pictures since I could hold a crayon. But I didn’t think of it as a career until around 6th grade, when we began looking at our futures for a class project. I have always been told I would be an artist, but I wanted to be many things before I chose to use my talents for work. My family was always nurturing, so I never had to fight to become an artist. My sister has great talent and helped me improve as a child, and then my own research took over from there. Plus I don’t sing very well, so that was out.
What inspires your work?
I have no lack of inspiration! My constant sources are mythology, folklore, animation, and comics. I find inspiration in nature, in people around me, and colorful environments like my recent trip to Mexico. I love authors like Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and it’s no secret I love “Harry Potter”! I love directors like Guillermo del Toro and Baz Luhrmann, and old fantasy movies like “Dark Crystal”, “Labrynth”, and “Legend”. My childhood influences I believe are very strong in my work and come out in my color choices, my subject matter, and the fact that I really like to have fun with an image. Probably because I’m a big kid.
Your website mentions that your work features “figurative fantasy and cultural diversity.” What does that mean to you? How do those two things work together in your art?
To me figurative fantasy is a play on the traditional figurative model. In my work I don’t just want to portray the figure as it is in reality, because I believe there is so much unseen mysticism. I want to capture something that speaks more about who they are perhaps if dreams could be realized. For instance I painted one of my favorite singers, Erykah Badu, and instead of a traditional portrait, she is painted as a siren atop a jukebox in a sea of records with speaker-head fish, and a crane carrying a microphone. There is a nod to fantasy, and a bit of surrealism there. I believe in the veil between our world and others and I believe they are always influencing one another.
As far as cultural diversity, I try not to limit myself to what I know, but I want to heavily lean on ambiguity when it comes to cultures. Living in America I still hope for peace because I truly believe we are a melting pot of the world, and I find it so odd when people forget that. I want to express my cultural heritage from Mexico and Native America. I want to express my upbringing with Hip-Hop/African-American culture. I want to express the excitement of learning about cultures from all the continents, because it’s all so fascinating and it should be celebrated.
Beyond that broad sentiment I want to bring what I know to be a serious lack of diverse entertainment and imagery to what I do. I look at what other people are doing and I can’t help but see that I’ve been blindsided by popular media. I use my work to correct that. I’m not just talking about Hollywood, because sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don’t. But on TV, in movies, and on the internet, fantasy images (and images in general) are often devoid of colorful, unique characters. For a few years I took a break from American movies, because I got tired of the lack of flavor and tired repeating stories. I was missing some imagination. I was inspired by anime movies by Hayao Miyazaki, Makoto Shinkai, and those series that really pushed boundaries on what the medium could do. I try to do the same with my work...
Theres more to this great interview but you should give that blogger some love as well so here's the link to the rest of the interview!  The Quibblerview with Johnny Perez!

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