The tenth post of the series is up! For this article, we asked the talented botanical artist Lizzie Harper what advice she would give to emerging artists.
To view our other posts in this series, please visit our main blog post ‘Advice for Emerging Artists‘.
What advice would you give to an emerging artist?
By Lizzie Harper
I am in the fortunate position of being a full-time natural history and botanical illustrator rather than an artist, which means that my advice for artists starting out in the field can be quite practical, and relates to self-promotion, professional practice, and maintaining links with clients as much as it does to being an artist. For a blog on this side of things, please take a look at my blog on starting out as an illustrator.
However, there are definitely some good bits of advice that I’ve been told, and gathered, over the years, and these relate to the psychology of being an artist.
First, you really have to have confidence and self-belief. The temptation to see nothing but the errors in your own work can be overwhelming. Believe me, what is glaringly dreadful to you will almost certainly be invisible to your audience at large. If you’ve decided to invest lots of time into being an artist then you already know it’s something you love and are perfectly competent at. Bear this in mind at all times. You know that feeling you sometimes get when you finish a painting and actually really quite like it? Hold onto that feeling, it’ll support you when things are less easy.
Know and accept that you’ll have good days and bad days; understand that you can’t always be the happiest artist on the planet. A stint of gloomy work will, inevitably, be followed by much happier times.
It’s also wise to hang on to the kind comments and feedback you might be fortunate enough to get from others (even better if they’re not friends or family). I have been known to write positive comments I’ve received down in a notebook, and look at them when things are tough or when a job’s not going well. They help.
It can be tough to be an artist, often working alone. If the work’s not there, or you don’t feel inclined to pick up a paintbrush, it can be ever so easy to find a hundred other things to do instead. Fight this urge.
Set hours to work, like a job. Work to these hours as much as possible. Don’t be fooled by the lure of not being “in the mood” or waiting for “inspiration”; train yourself to be able to create your art no matter how you feel about yourself. The more you stick to your work times, the easier it’ll be to get going when you’d rather be anywhere else than in the studio, confronted by an empty sheet of paper (and a deadline).
Keeping a sketchbook is a part of this, it gives you the impetus to always be drawing, no matter where you are.
Drawing and creating art is like any other skill, the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Stick with it, draw as much as possible, whenever possible, and don’t put it off! It’s all practice, and it’s all good.
Keep on learning
You never stop learning as you go through life, and that’s true of your art too. Be sure to take time to go on courses offering skills or different approaches which are relevant to your work.
Go to exhibitions and galleries, museums and craft shows. See work that inspires you, figure out why, and bring that thrill back to the studio.
Find a few artists whose work you really love and keep tabs on them, see what they do and follow their progress, and allow yourself to be in joyful awe of their abilities. These can be people in the same fileld as you (and there are always lots of people better creating better stuff than I am, I find); or artists working in totally different fields.
Balance your life
It’s vital to hone your skills by drawing and keeping regular hours, but allow yourself the time and space to do other things too. Hobbies or other activities can be a welcome relief. Be sure to make time to do these things, and don’t allow yourself to become totally consumed by your art. For me, as an illustrator, I think that’s a far easier division to make than if I were a fine artist. However, being able to leave the studio and step into an entirely different head-space is massively important for me, and allows me to go on loving my work, and to never get burnt out.
Everyone can create art, but if you’ve committed time to being an artist then you’re investing in your skills, and that has value.
Do not be tempted to give your work away to anyone who asks for it, nor to fling it into the bin. Remember to price your work, if you’re exhibiting, in a way that reflects the time you’ve spent perfecting the art you’re creating. Do not sell yourself short, you’ll be under-cutting the whole artistic community if you do so, along with yourself.
Also, if someone wants to use your work for marketing, please take the time to research current market prices, and always cling onto your copyright!
What you create has an intrinsic value, and it’s important to respect your art work, and to respect the time you’ve invested in creating it.
Love what you do
Remember to get excited about the things you’re creating, and by the creative process itself. How monumentally cool is it that you go from a sheet of paper to a finished painting, all through applying pencils, brushes and paint to a white piece of paper? The feel of pencil on page, or of painting a perfect thin line with a paintbrush is exquisite, cherish this.
Allow yourself to like your work, and don’t be too self-critical. Be kind to the works of art you create, be sure to look for the successes and wonder in them and not just focus on parts you wish had worked differently.
Being in a position to be able to spend time drawing, painting, and creating is an incredible privilege. If you’re fortunate enough to have this as your job, then relish the thrill of going to the studio in the morning, and the pure joy of being able to earn your living doing something you really love.
If it’s a hobby you’re pursuing, then consider yourself blessed to have found something that works your eyes and brain and hands, and gives you those jewel-like moments of concentration where everything else fades out and you’re entirely in the moment, observing and creating, oblivious to the world around you.
Most of all, my advice for an emerging artist is to keep at it, and enjoy every moment; we are so lucky to have the love of what we do, and to be able to do it. And good luck!