So I was in a waiting room drawing cat butts last week, and some very nice women sat down next to me. We got to talking about art, and one woman mentioned she had a younger teenager who was passionate about becoming an artist. I gave her my card, the teenager wrote to me, and… Well. I had hoped that I could just link to a few art community websites, but none of these seem safe for kids. I jotted down the following instead:
1) CONTINUE WORKING ON YOUR ART. This is the easy part of being an artist. Sorry. Take some live-drawing and figure-drawing art classes. Or just go to the mall and sketch people as they walk by. Learning how anatomy and objects work in real life will help you improve your style.
2) MAXIMIZE YOUR EARNING POTENTIAL. This is what I wish someone had told me when I was your age. Being a creator can be expensive. It has real physical costs. For example, you are most likely going to do a lot of your creation and distribution online, so you’ll need a computer. If it breaks, you can still draw, but you can’t put your work out there until it’s fixed. Learning how to fix computers yourself is an asset, because you won’t have to pay someone else to fix it for you.
Another example is that you will be handed business contracts that determine how, when, and why you get paid. If you study some business/contract law, you can serve as your own advocate on these. Or, you can learn how to handle online advertising, which allows you to promote your work at a reduced cost.
Keep in mind that while creators have to wear a lot of hats, you don’t have to do it all yourself. If you find a community of fellow creators, you can pool your resources. But I do recommend learning how to fix the most common computer problems, because those will always come up, forever and ever and ever and ever and ever…*
3) STAY ANONYMOUS ONLINE, AT LEAST FOR A LITTLE WHILE. You’re just starting out. You will (not might–will) make a lot of mistakes, but you will also go through a lot of personal and professional growth. Pick an alias an stick with it until you’ve at least got high school behind you. It’s easier to ditch an alias than a real name. Plus, people can (and will) be jerks. Even people who seem very nice at first. It’s okay to leave online communities that are toxic to your mental and emotional health!
4) DON’T BE A JERK. The creative community is very small and very huge, all at once. Your reputation is a large part of whether people will want to work with you or buy your stuff.
5) DON’T LET PEOPLE WALK ALL OVER YOU. Being nice/polite/thoughtful doesn’t mean being a doormat. If something doesn’t feel right, then it doesn’t feel right! If a business opportunity makes you cringe, it might be bad for you. I strongly recommend talking over anything that seems strange with people you trust before making a decision, because we are often too close to our problems to be fully aware of them. Other people who care about you can bring different perspectives to your situation.
Also? If someone says they like your art but they can’t afford to pay you, or they can’t afford to pay you now but the money will come once the project is done, run away very quickly. This is called “working for exposure” and it is BAD. Professional artists have value! If you get through art school with a minor in business, you will have invested time and money in your own professional development. You wouldn’t ask a doctor to perform surgery in exchange for good publicity, right?
6) STAY FLEXIBLE. What works for one creator won’t always work. Creators are heavily reliant on technology to spread our content, which means that if we get too committed to one platform or one mode of distribution, we lock ourselves down to new opportunities.
(Ask your parents if they still have any America Online CDs lying around. Back when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, America Online was the social media of platform of choice. It was replaced by MySpace, which was replaced by Facebook, which is currently being phased out in favor of Pinterest, tumblr, and Snapchat. These will also one day fade away, replaced in turn by some other new platform, quite possibly controlled by our insect overlords.)
Staying flexible means that you can keep active within multiple platforms. …… and now that I write this, I realize I should probably do more on Pinterest myself …… SO MANY HATS, YOUNG PERSON. SO MANY HATS. IT’S AN INFINITE NUMBER OF HATS FOREVER.
7) NO ONE IS OBLIGATED TO DO ANYTHING FOR YOU. This is a big one, and it’s kind of confusing. Creator communities are small and there’s a lot of favors traded between their members. Do not rely on these favors to succeed. Nobody is obliged to link to your content, or respond to your emails, or promote your work on their website, forum, or whatnot. If they do this, they have done a favor for you. Be sure to thank them! But don’t expect these favors to happen regularly. There’s one person out there who’s wholly responsible for your success as a creator, and it’s you.
8) LUCK IS A LARGE PART OF SUCCESS. Lastly, none of this might matter. At all. Being in the right place at the right time is sometimes all it takes to tip you over the edge to becoming a self-sufficient artist. It’s incredibly frustrating, but that’s life. All you can do is develop your art skills, maximize your own earning potential, and develop good relationships within the community. That way, if an opportunity comes your way, you’re in the best place you can be to take advantage of it.
*Or you do what I did and marry a Sys Admin, but I’m not giving a teenager that kind of advice. Plus I was just lucky. It’s not like I was all “HEY ARE YOU A SYSTEMS ADMINISTRATOR? OH REALLY? C’MERE!!!”
What am I missing? What do you wish someone had told you (besides Learn to Really Like Ramen Noodles and Best Get Comfy on that Futon)?