It is kind of funny that the number one mistake I see artists make doesn’t have anything to do with technically creating work. It’s not using the “wrong” materials, not their proportions, or their skill, etc. It goes much deeper than this…
The absolute biggest mistake I see artists make is: Undervaluing their work.
Creating art takes practice. It often takes many years, lots of patience, and a whole bunch of money (art supplies aren’t cheap, neither is school) to learn to create effectively. I know in my case I’ve spent the better part of my life working on this skill, and that is exactly what art is; a skill. One people get hired for, one people make a living with. I also spent years of my life and quite a bit of money to go to post secondary school to further my skills, just as most people do to be able to gain the knowledge and experience they need to work in a specialized field.
Although whether one needs or should go to art school is another topic for another day (one I will do soon) I know that not everyone does or can go through a post secondary education. There are plenty of people out there who have made art a living without doing this. These people still put in countless hours of practicing and honing their skills.
Art is undervalued in our society. We all love it, buy it, use it, appreciate it on the outside but very little thought seems to be put into it otherwise or into the artist themselves.
This mentality has been so ingrained in us that, as artists, we do this to ourselves. We don’t value our own time or work. It becomes a vicious cycle that perpetuates this notion that art has little value. People hire for things they either can’t do themselves or don’t have time to do themselves. It is usually the former they hire/purchase for. Like I said, art is a skill, it is a skill like anything else. When your pipes are clogged from the main line and just plunging them won’t help, what do you do? You call a plumber. When you’re in need of high quality printing for that book you’ve written, what do you do? You go through a publisher or hire a printer. Car breaks down? Tow truck and mechanic. Tooth ache? Dentist. Packaging design? Graphic designer. Big party? Event planner.
This is the biggest mistake I see artists making: they undervalue themselves and their work. You should be charging a fair fee for materials, time, and skill. If you cannot even cover material expenses you’re doing yourself a huge injustice.
I see this almost daily. I am in a lot of art groups online and know many artists, so this is something I see people struggle with. I see people posting online in search of illustrators for next to nothing, expecting free work, low balling excellent pieces of art, and even not paying for commissions they asked for. I see artists fighting for attention and work, offering their services at severely discounted prices just to snag the job, working for free, advertising along the lines of “professionally done illustrations for only $5 a page”. Then they do the work and sign a contract for exclusive rights to whoever hired them for that $5 a page. What is the point in this? You aren’t helping yourself or others, you are teaching everyone else that your work is worth $5 and that, that is the amount other artists should be working for. Paying yourself cents on the hour for work isn’t helping you get anywhere, just like working for” exposure” isn’t.
This doesn’t mean that you cannot ever discount your work. Say, you feel very passionately about a project, but the person just cannot afford your regular fees, there’s nothing to say you can’t work out another arrangement, use a payment plan, offer them a discount, etc. Where it hurts you is if you offer this to everyone and don’t charge enough to pay yourself.
Believe it or not it is okay to turn down work. I’ve done it many times, especially in illustration. I want to be the right fit for a project, I want the person hiring me to be proud of the work accomplished. If they are writing a book, I want them to be able to shout about it from the roof tops when they are done. If I don’t think I can do their work justice or it isn’t something I feel I could do well then I will respectfully pass. I’ve had plenty of people ask me to work for free, do sketches of their characters, etc. I politely decline and let them know that this is what I do for a living, what I went to school for and that I simply cannot afford to work for nothing.
For example, I’ve had people ask me to provide sample sketches for a book they’ve written when they were looking for an illustrator. These people are in talks with other artists as well. They ask you to do the sketches, and I tell them I would be happy to arrange that, but I will have to charge a small fee for my time. This could be something as small as $10 or $20 depending on what they want a sample of. They are asking other artists to do the same, so they can see who they would like to hire. While I understand their thought process of wanting this for free (you don’t pay to interview someone), that is what a portfolio is for. Say, you do the sketches, then what? Then you’ve done the work with no guarantee you’re going to be picked, they then have the sketches that you developed (creating the characters is a big part of the job) and they can use those sketches for whatever they want because you’ve handed them over and you’ve done so for nothing.
Savvy successful businesses don’t give everything away for nothing, if they did they wouldn’t be able to grow or even survive. We keep alive this notion of a starving artist because we do it to ourselves. Yes, the market is saturated, but most are, there is still enough room for people to create and make a living. There are clients out there for everyone.
The more you respect your work, the more others will. In turn, the more we collectively do this the less we feel the need to. When we value our work and our time, we are sending out the message that other people should as well.
I have worked with wonderful people who value and respect my time, talent, and what I do. The right clients and buyers are out there for you, there is room for all of us in this wonderfully beautiful art world we have created. It all starts with you.
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Until next time my Creative Friends!
The “Draw it Again Challenge” is a fun and interesting way to see where you are with your art. You may be thinking that this challenge sounds familiar, it should! Not only has it been fairly popular over the internet it is a tool I use often like in my recent post: 7 Ways to Take your Art to the Next Level Right Now.
What is the Challenge, exactly? It is actually quite simple. You take a piece of work you’ve done. I suggest you use something at least a year old, you can go back farther if you like. Then you take the premise of that piece and you redo it. You do it again but as you would do it now. You can be as close to the original as you like. I often stick fairly close to the original unless my style has changed so much that, I just wouldn’t do the artwork the same at all anymore. You can do this challenge as often as you like but I do like to do it at least one a year.
Why would you redo old work? Isn’t that a waste of time? Nope! Going back to a piece can do quite a few things for you:
- Show where you’ve improved
- Show what you still need to work on
- Show you how your style has progressed
- Bring in new inspiration
- Give you a more polished and finished piece
I recently redid an old Inktober sketch of mine. I actually really enjoyed this particular piece and wouldn’t have changed much about it composition or content wise now. My style has changed a bit in this time though.
Usually I would start off with a sketch, try different placements, ideas, etc. I didn’t want to go that into detail with this particular piece. I was happy with it the way it was and was more interested in seeing my process in developing it; particularly the colours.
The original is mostly black ink on white paper with a bit of red for the balloon. My work these days is a lot more colourful.
I started off by drawing this lovely little robot in pencil in my sketch book.
Once I was happy with my rough outline I decided where I wanted to go with colour. I knew I wanted to make it more colourful than I had in the past. I toyed with idea of making the Robot himself a fully coloured and detailed component in the picture. Ultimately I decided that I liked the contrast of the Robot’s bold black outline and wanted to keep that against a lighter but still colourful background. He is the star of the show.
Because the Robot and his balloon are the focus of the image I wanted them to jump out against the background as much as possible. I decided, again, to stick with the darker, bolder red of the balloon in order to accomplish this.
I didn’t outline anything other than the Robot and balloon in black, unlike in the original ( everything was in black).
While I do enjoy this finished piece I did learn a lot from it. I do think it is an effective example of where my style and work has been moving to for some time now. I do not think it is a completely finished or effective piece on its own though. I do still love this little guy, I like that he is now surrounded by colour, I am mostly happy with it compositionally. Looking at it now and had I spent more time on it I would move the Robot down lower, he is too close to the edge of the paper and would do the composition more justice to have him overlapping the buildings instead of just kissing the tops of them. This leaves an awkward balance and flow in the area around his legs. I do think it is well-balanced and overall an acceptable piece but I do see a lot of work that needs to be done. The colours convey the dreamy and fun feeling I wanted but they aren’t as bright as I think I should have gone. Looking at this I’ve noticed that this has been happening in a lot of my work lately. I need to be more conscious of being too subtle with my colour, it isn’t my intention but it has been happening. Much of my work would be more effective being more saturated with colour. There isn’t much point in using these bright and vibrant colours if no one can see them. Playing it safe isn’t helping me here. This is something I have noted to work on for myself; perhaps a different medium would compliment this better.
Check out my YouTube channel on Friday (videos go up at 6 pm EST) to watch the creation of this lovely little Robot!
Have you done the draw it again challenge? Do you Plan on it? Or what do you think I could do differently with this picture? Let me know in the comments below.
Until next time, my Creative friends!
I have always drawn, painted, and created in general. The moment my Mother let me scribble on some paper with a pencil, that was it. I was hooked. Art was always the best part of the day, I spent my free time playing video games or creating, I spent my extracurricular activities taking classes at the community centre or doing something else creative there ( I danced, was in plays, etc), my summers were filled with art ( I was either creating or dancing), even my electives in high school allowed me to spend half my days in the art studios some semesters.
Growing up, being the oldest kid in my family by at least 7 years, I happened to be the only one interested in art (although I do have a couple talented family members now). My family has creative people in it; people who write, craft, sew, crochet but I am the artist. I feel very fortunate to come from a family of creative people even if they don’t see themselves that way. Art has always been apart of my life and my family, luckily, encouraged that. They were the ones trying to steer me into an artistic path when it came time to decide what I wanted to do with my life. They even suggested I become a tattoo artist, I mean, really… what family does that? I love them for that, so much. I was the one that fought back against initially following art into the business world. It just didn’t seem like a viable option to me and I had other interests that seemed like they would be more stable, more lucrative. I love psychology, criminal psychology, biology, sociology, history, and even anthropology. Clearly I love to know why and how we work. My first career choice in high school was to go into the forensic sciences. That didn’t pan out, I didn’t take into account that I wouldn’t be able to do anything that required math (I have a mathematical learning disability), that and I hate it.
So, I found some more inspiration in my life and went with social work. It was similar to some of the things I already wanted to get in to and as an added bonus I could help people, which also happened to be a passion of mine. Going into social work wasn’t a mistake, I loved it and I was really truly good at it; I even graduated with honours. Towards the end of my social work program I realized that I hadn’t created anything in almost 2 years. I had a desire to pick up a pencil and let that part of me out. I had been so caught up in school and in life, that I just didn’t realize that such a large part of me was missing. As I was about to graduate and trying to figure out what to do once school was done ( find a full-time job in the field of social work) I felt unfulfilled. The idea of this didn’t excite me, it made me reflect instead. All of those years pushing back against art I had suddenly felt so stupid for thinking that way. Now that I had social work under my belt I felt like this was it, I could really go for it. I could go to art school and I would have social work to fall back on if I needed it. I got brave. In my mind I had taken the risk out of going to art school and pursuing the career I knew I was more passionate about. Realistically, it isn’t any more of a cushion to fall back on than anything else but it was what my mind needed for that push, it was my way of rationalizing going for my dreams. I am so glad I did. So, off I went to art school.
My life didn’t go exactly as planned ( does it ever?) even once I was in art school. I was almost done my first trimester of my first pregnancy at my art school graduation. I ended up having some health issues during this time. Life was once again taking over. I kept my part-time shoe selling job as long as I could ( it helped support me through college) during my pregnancy but I did have to stop working there as the complications in my pregnancy progressed.
In this time I was trying to figure out what I could do for work while not being able to work and with a Fine Art Studio background. I found some online options (society 6 being the one I went with) and I uploaded a few of my pieces there. As I could manage I made some more to stick up but I wasn’t able to regularly work on this. Needless to say, nothing happened with my art career in this time. My shop didn’t magically take off with the whole 3 things I had available. No one was banging down my door to buy my work, no one was even SEEING my work and I wasn’t creating anymore.
Once my son was born I was obviously very busy with him. Just after 8 months postpartum I realized that I had done this to myself yet again. I had pushed aside this part of me. I had pushed my dreams aside. Is becoming a Mother the best excuse ever for not focusing on art? Absolutely but that wasn’t the only reason. I had just let it all slip in the ups and downs of life. So, I went out on my birthday and grabbed myself my very first small set of Copic Markers because I had been eyeing them for so long. I slowly brought art back into my life. I even created my art channel on YouTube. I didn’t take it very seriously until about 6 months later ( mostly because of trouble we were having with our internet and service providers, we went months without any internet during this time).
As I got going I got pregnant again, this time health issues on top of raising an incredibly active toddler that could give any monkey a run for its money. I had to let it slip again. I tried so hard to hold on this time but it just didn’t happen. After I was induced and my second son was born I went into heart failure and was readmitted to the hospital at 3 days postpartum. Luckily, we had caught it fast enough that we were able to remove the fluid around my heart before it caused any damage. Although I struggled with fluid retention and lingering issues after this happened I was and still am fine in those regards. This was a huge wake up call for me, as I am sure it would be for most people. I didn’t wait this time. Shortly after I was back from the hospital I started creating again ( The first piece I did after my Second Son, Benjamin, was born is pictured below entitled “Birthday Bear”). I slowly built it up. I did stuff for myself, I found some illustration work, I put more work up on Society6, and I redid this website. I was working towards something now. I was working towards what I had wanted to do my whole adult life, so far. I had some set backs, I let life take hold every now and then. I had emergency surgery that set me out for a good month or so. I didn’t let it keep me down this time though, as soon as I was able I jumped back in.
I have learned my lesson, I will always keep pushing I will always be creating and I will always remember what a large part of me art is. I have the best reasons for pushing now. I have two amazing boys who look up to me. I want them to fight for what they want in life, I want them to always be pushing and always be true to themselves. I know there are other artists out there with similar struggles and I want to help you with them. I want to encourage the arts in everyone; whatever your age or stage may be. The arts are beneficial to everyone. In fact, I had seriously considered combining my two career paths into one with art therapy. Although I have ultimately decided that I am not going in that direction I am still able to help people through art the way I am now.
I am an artist because I love to create. I am an artist because I love to provide social commentary. I am an artist because I love to help bring other people’s visions to life; there is something magical about creating something for someone that was once something they could only picture in their minds. I am an artist because this is what I love, this is what I am passionate about. I am an artist because I am good at this and I am proud to be one. I am an artist and I am here because I want to and can help others in their creative journey.
Art was always there, even when I pushed it to the back. My life was always meant to be the creative journey of an artist. Looking back, I have no doubt about that. I am exactly where I should be.
If you take anything from reading this I hope that it is: it is NEVER too late to follow your dreams and to always go for what you want in life.
Why and how did you become an artist? I would love to hear your story, my Creative Friend!
As some of you know I am back from quite a long break. I went on a hiatus due to health issues in my last pregnancy and post partum; these life events took a big toll on me. Not just becoming a family of four but having a difficult pregnancy with complications, going in to heart failure, having surgery in December (unrelated to my heart), and just dealing with life in general. My time away was not something I wanted or planned. I am now, very luckily, doing well, in good health and getting better every day while I work towards being the healthiest me I can be.
As you can imagine, and as the long break will suggest, my life was full of stuff in this time. In the past year I did still find some time here and there to create but it was quite limited. I allowed myself to be caught up with everything else, not taking time for this, for my art. Understandable? Yes, I am sure it is but truthfully, this is me. Being an artist is who I am, it is how I express myself, work through things, relax, make sense of the world, create beauty, and help others do the same.
Getting back in to creating is not an easy thing for a person to do. You know the saying, “if you don’t use it you lose it”. I’m sure you’ve also heard the phrase “writer’s block”, fortunately for writers yet unfortunately for every other creative being it is not something that is solely a writer’s curse. Any creative person can suffer from a block.
You have the urge to create setting the blank page in front of you. You grab your pencil ready to make some beautiful creative magic. Put the pencil to the paper and…. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You cannot think of something to draw for the life of you, the disappointment and stress of the attempt makes you put your pencil away. This continues, one day you’ll pick it back up and force it. You’ll scribble something random on a page, perhaps something sitting right in front of you, but it doesn’t turn out right, it never does when this happens. It is like running in to a brick wall that you just can’t seem to find a way over. Quite literally a block that your brain just won’t get past.
I know the feeling all too well, I have had this happen many a-times in my life. Most recently while all these health issues were going on. Then it just got to the point where it was like I just didn’t know how to anymore. Nothing I did was good enough, nothing felt right or done, my skills had depleted (luckily this is another cliché example, but it is just like riding a bike, it comes back with practice).
I am not telling you all of this, so you can throw me a pity party. I am telling you this so that you know, you’re not the only one. You are most certainly not alone in this creative block. At this very moment there are countless creatives just as frustrated as you. What is about to set you apart is that you came here. You came here looking for a way out.
One of the ways I help myself out of blocks (because they can and do happen throughout your life) is to use prompts. More specifically, I use challenges when I really need something continual to get me going. I am sure you’ve seen month-long drawing challenges out there. Some popular ones include Inktober and MerMay.
Why a month-long challenge?
I use a month-long challenge as a tool to get me drawing daily. These don’t have to be frame ready or Instagram worthy masterpieces. You can grab a sketch book or even some scrap paper and go for it. It doesn’t have to be good, it just must be done.
Using a longer challenge instead of a single prompt works on a few levels:
- The, above mentioned, push to create daily. Building good creative habits is important. Pushing through will allow you to keep those creative channels open and eventually allowing them to flow again. The daily prompts that often come along with these challenges takes the “I don’t know what to draw, so I just won’t” excuse out of the equation. Even if you are literal about your take on the prompt or super simple, no worries. No one has to see it but you.
- The “challenge” aspect. As a competitive person I like a good challenge. Having a goal to work towards, especially if written down, is commonly regarded as one of the most effective ways to achieve what you want. Allow the challenge to drive you to complete the entire month of drawings, paintings, whatever it is you are doing.
- Community. Ever heard the saying, “it takes a village”? Humans are social creatures, in fact socializing and having healthy relationships with others is an important part of wellness for us humanoids. Challenges, especially popular ones, allow you to take part in something bigger (even if via social media). There is no reason you couldn’t set up a challenge for you and your artsy peers as well. Something you can all work towards. Having people cheer you on is a great motivator. If you would like to keep it all to yourself it is still an awesome way to get inspiration and join in. You may not be posting your own stuff but you can still join in by commenting on other people’s work while you do your own thing in private.
This year I happened to hear about MerMay as I was looking for a push. I’m not the biggest mermaid fan. Not that I don’t love mythical creatures, I had just never had the urge to draw them. I went for it anyway. I did different things; drawing, painting, digital. My goal wasn’t to make gorgeous work, I just knew I needed to get myself going again, and I happened across an announcement for this challenge. It is also a great exercise to create something you wouldn’t normally. So, I gave it a go.
The best piece of advice I can give a person who is struggling to create is: KEEP GOING! It may sound cheesy, like a lot of the cliché phrases I used in this post, but it is the biggest piece of truth I can give you.
Let me know in the comments below what your biggest struggle currently is artistically.
Until next time, my creative friends!
Looking for ways to improve your work and take your art game to the next level? It sounds like a long daunting task and while practice (obviously) makes perfect that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways you can immediately improve.
I’m not saying you are going to become Monet or Picasso over night, that simply isn’t possible. What I can help you do is take small steps to acquire more knowledge, gain more skill, and put it all into practice.
- Learn a new technique – or at least try something new
This sounds like a big task, but it can be as complicated or simple as you like. Learning a new way to do something or trying out a new material is a fantastic way to practice your skills, bring in more creativity, and allowing your skill set to grow. Just as we grow and mature our art takes that journey with us. Your style, tastes, and abilities will change. Help yourself grow by exploring something new.
For example, if you normally don’t shade your work you could take a few minutes to do some shading exercises. Take a ball (or whatever object you like, balls are just one of the easiest and clearest ways to practice this), place a light source (a table lamp) somewhere that the light is shining on the ball and draw what you see. You can move the light source around and do a study. You can use other objects, multiple objects, multiple light sources, etc.
You could try out a new way of shading, say cross hatching or stippling, again this can be something that takes more effort to learn (like drawing realistically or learning how to print make) or it can be something simpler like learning a new way to shade.
It can even be something as simple as trying out a new material. Say you normally draw in pencil, try some water colours or markers instead. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn, pick up, and grow by doing this even if just every now and then.
- Draw from life
One thing you will hear from pretty much every art teacher on the planet is to draw from life. Drawing from life (instead of your imagination or even from pictures) allows you to truly see what is happening with the figure you are drawing. This is especially true for figure drawing (drawing people). The difference between drawing from your imagination and drawing from something sitting right in front of you can be astounding. Our brains often think they know what something looks like and to be fair they generally do. What our brains don’t recall are specific and important details. Details that you often don’t notice you are noticing. When I went to art school we had at least one figure drawing class a semester. I cannot tell you how much my abilities improved even in the first couple weeks of these classes. Most of us don’t have access to naked models to draw from (and no, they don’t HAVE to be naked) so, you can improvise. Using your family or friends, people watching on transit or at a park can be a great way to get in some practice drawing from life. For objects or nature that is obviously a little easier. In fact, I challenge you to draw something that is sitting in front of you right now. Take 5 minutes and doodle what you see. The more you do it the more adept you will become. It takes practice, but you can start right now! Every little bit you do makes your brain work towards it.
You could put this theory to work: pick an object. Draw it once a day for a week. The more you draw it the better you will get and the more details you will notice. Drawing from life allows you to pick out and examine things you may not have seen from memory or in picture. You also get a more realistic proportion.
As a bonus if you ARE interested in drawing from models check out your local art schools, they often hold drawing nights that are available to the public for a fee.
- Make time
Even if you take five minutes; if you have time to read blogs, you have time to draw. You can doodle quickly on public transit, getting a coffee, during lunch break, whenever. Practice makes perfect and you don’t improve if you don’t do. A sketchbook is the perfect place to do this, you can even keep a small one with a pencil in your bag or purse. I keep a couple right on my desk and I usually have one stashed in either my diaper bag or in my purse depending on what I am lugging around. I never use to be a big sketch book person, even in art school I just didn’t understand them. Now that I’ve taken the leap I am wondering how I waited so long. I obviously owned them and used them before, but I only ever really used them to work out an idea for a finished piece. Now I use them for everything. I practice, do studies, take art classes or tutorials online, create my own work, draw from life, doodle, use watercolours, etc. I live in my sketch books now. It was one of the best things I have ever done to hone in on my skills and grow as an artist.
- Critique your most recent work
What do you like about it, what do you not? What is working, what could be done better? What elements and principles of design are being used and are they effectively done?
This doesn’t take long, you probably even have a picture of something you’ve created recently on your phone. Take a minute to look at it, evaluate it the best you can and find where you can improve.
I don’t particularly suggest asking a friend with no art background to help you do this (if you were thinking of getting another opinion). People without an understanding of art fundamentals and the elements and principles of design or who have never been to a more formal critique will likely give you answers along the lines of “I like it, it looks good”, “I don’t like it, it’s just not my style”. While valid observations to the person observing their likes and dislikes it is much too generalized and open to be productive for you to grow as an artist.
- Draw it again challenge
This one is a lot of fun to do! Find something you created a while ago, I would say at least a year ago, if not longer, and redo it. You can see where you’ve grown, what has changed about your style, where you still need to improve, and you may even end up with something you like much better. I like to do this at least once a year, but it is a great place for you to start right now.
- Prompt challenge
Pick a prompt and go with it. The prompt can be a word, a lyric, poem, sentence, whatever you like. The prompt is a tool that allows you to flex your creative muscle. Finding a way to incorporate something you may not have normally and giving you a project to work on. This is one of my favourite ways to either get out of a slump, do something for fun, or practice illustrating. A wonderful tool for those of you looking to illustrate things for other people. Need a prompt to get started? Try the word: Shadow (if you use it, I would love to see what you come up with, I will link my social accounts below this post!) If you like Teddy’s Shadow you can watch the creation of it here.
7. Brush up on basic design practices (elements and principles of design, a refresher is always helpful and can even provide inspiration)
Go back to your high school art days (or if you’re in high school, perhaps look back at your notes). Either way channel your beginner, learning self and brush up on the basics. Knowing and understanding the fundamentals like the elements and principles of design, colour theory, etc. will aid in your journey. I like to go back every few years and just go over some old notes again or even find a short course or video online explaining these things. I always find I have forgotten something or at the very least coming out of that I look at things in a new light. There is a reason you learn this stuff before you get in to doing bigger projects in school and it never hurts to brush up.
Have any tips for upping your art game right now? Let me know how you do it in the comments below.
Be sure to share your work with me:
Until next time, my creative friends!