A letter of EncouragEment to the Beginning Ar-teest

Dear Ar-teest,

We have never met, but you’ve been on my mind lately and it’s clear you have a real desire to be a professional artist. It’s brewing in your eyes, controlling your actions and affecting the words you speak. Most likely, you love making art as much me and want to see how far you can take your talent. You wonder if you have what it takes to compete out in the world, if you’ll ever make the amount of money that you want to make, and mainly, if your work is good enough. You see other artists doing it, and you want to do it yourself. You want to prove that it’s possible, maybe to your parents, or to your friends, but most likely, to yourself. You’re scared and excited at the same time, which is, quite frankly, the perfect place to be.

If you are thinking about doing it, here’s my advice to you: DO IT. Go after it. Make time for it every day, even if it’s just for 15 minutes. If that’s all the time you have to spare, then do it. Set up a place for yourself—in the garage, in the laundry room, even a tiny closet will do. Then go there every day at a chosen time and start. Just start. Start making art, doing calligraphy, creating sculptures, whatever it is you want to do. Once you start, it will begin to build up momentum. You will start carving out more time. Your work will start to evolve. You will start having small, then large breakthroughs. Setbacks will pop up, but you will press on. Then, at some point, you will know the time has come, and if you have the guts, you will make the leap and become a full-time artist, or writer, or whatever it is you want to be. Maybe you’ll decide to raise a family. Maybe you’ll become highly successful. It could happen. It might not, but it probably will, if you do it long enough.

Success may happen overnight, but most likely, it’ll happen in small increasing amounts. Many successful artists, illustrators and writers are older—in their 40s and 50s and 60s. Over time it’s become clear to me—the successful ones are older because that’s how long it takes!

Once you make the leap, then you just keep going. Fill your art with joy, and if and when you get to those points in life where joy is hard to find, fill your art with sorrow, tears, even rage if you have to. But DO THE WORK!! The work is the only way through. Make the time to create what you see in your head, even if your concepts sound silly, or the results aren’t what you were expecting. The journey will be easy sometimes, but it will also get extremely hard. You’ll have to jump moats, run through fire and tread water getting to where you want to go. Then, one day, you’ll look back and see that a long career has taken place, and that will be satisfying.

Also, you may have been led to believe through loving relatives and well-meaning friends that one day, you will reach the top of the mountain and have all the riches in the world and life will be peachy and grand. You made it! End of the road. Done. Spoiler Alert: There is no summit. It doesn’t exist. There is always someone better than you at what you do. Sure, there are some real advantages to being a well-known artist and all the trimmings that come with it. Doors fling wide open for pitch meetings and conversations and networking. People treat you differently. But if the focus is on the CREATIVITY, where it should be, it does not get any easier. It is as challenging to stay focused and “in the boat” and creative as it was in the beginning of my career. A new idea is the hardest thing to create and nurture and sell. It is harder than ditch digging. Trust me.

So don’t do it for the money. Money comes and goes and comes again. Sure, you should go into business to make money, and everyone needs an income, but you may or may not fall upon riches.

And don’t do it for the fame. Fame is a fickle mirage. When success happens, you are everyone’s friend. When things aren’t going so well, crickets chirp loudly.

Bottom Line: Do it for the LOVE. LOVE your work. LOVE the freedom that comes with creating. Find gratitude every day in the thought of waking up and possessing the ability to do what you do. And love isn’t about PASSION. That’s how love starts, but passion fades. Anyone can love something or someone when passions are high. Real love is when you wake up thinking about the work, noodling with the work, becoming frustrated and maybe unhappy with the work, but you press on knowing in your heart that the work is important enough to put the time into. You keep the fire going because you have faith that things will be good again down the road. That is real, true, creative love.

My thoughts are with you as you start your journey. Stay focused. Stay strong as you branch out and create a life for yourself. Take advantage of any and all opportunities. Include others in both your successes and failures. Enjoy your family and friends.

But keep working. And reach out if you need me.

Onward and upward.

Your Ar-teest-In-Arms,

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