You are not a failure as an artist


Long tailed tit ATC drawn in coloured pencils

I understand it may feel like that because I have felt that way too. The internet has bought more opportunities for artists, but also a whole load of downsides. I think artists are, in general, a certain type of sensitive and feeling personality. You have to be in many ways to have the connection with your subject matter. We're also generally extremely self driven. It takes a lot of determination to devote the time needed to get proficient at it, to endure the loneliness, and to keep going after failures. 

What the internet does is put that type of person in an environment with a constant stream of perfect sketchbooks, great art, and people telling you that they've made a successful career in art, so you should too. I appreciate many people's hearts are in the right place and they want to be motivational, however for some people who are struggling it can make them feel worse.

The reason I know this is because I spent many hours volunteering for two mental health charities dealing with people having a hard time. It simply isn't as easy as changing your minsdet. 

We have a lot of issues as a society. There's a great deal of emphasis and pressure to achieve material success, rather than to lead a good life and be a decent person. Telling people how they can make more money is a profitable industry in itself. If you look at most adverts they play to what were known as the seven deadly sins - greed, gluttony, laziness and so on. We are primed at every level to feel we need to be more, have more, achieve more.

Social media is a great tool for getting your art seen, but it's actually quite difficult to reach customers. The people who follow artists are often other artists, and while we do, and should, support each other it's really hard to connect with the non artist who may want to buy from you. We get lost in a never ending nightmare of SEO and keywords.

As if that's not hard enough, seeing other artist's public highlights also brings a pervading sense that we're not good enough, not working hard enough, even our sketchbooks are too messy. It chokes sensitive, driven, people who have a tendency to be perfectionists.

When people give business advice and models it's generally what's worked for them, it's simply not a guarantee of success for everyone. I'm sure we all know great artists, who do the right things, but haven't achieved the success you think they should have. Sometimes there's no rhyme or reason to it. It's a harsh fact of life that sometimes luck also plays a part. The right post, at the right time, seen by the right people, can make a huge difference.

There are undoubtedly people who don't realise art doesn't sell itself and get disappointed when they put stuff out there and nothing much happens. For every one of those I bet there's five others, slogging their guts out, working all hours, trying very hard to make it work, and feeling awful that they're not where they think they should be.

I think one thing that the internet often doesn't show is that success sometimes isn't all it's cracked up to be. People who look like they have it all often don't. I know for myself success, as in selling lots of my work, would bring a load of pressure because I might not be able to fulfil a lot of orders in a week. Emily McDowell has written a candid and humble piece about the truth of going mega viral, you can read it here

Sometimes what you enjoy and love doing isn't what's popular on social media, or sells particularly well. Most artists are what I call multi creative, we like to try lots of things, and it can stifle experimentation if you get known for a certain thing and that's what sells. It can also make people very unhappy. When you're reliant on it to pay your bills being stuck doing something is just as much a job as any other.

I had tried selling art before and ended up in a complete pickle which led me to walk away from creating for a while. This time I decided to run what I do as a passion project to see what happens. My aim is to cover my costs first and foremost, and then see where it takes me. It gives me more flexibilty and freedom to enjoy what I do, although I am still prone sometimes to all the things I've talked about above, of not feeling enough.

For me two things are important. One is that I continue to enjoy what I'm doing, and the other is that I retain my mental wellbeing. Having volunteered in mental health I realised it is not something that I should take for granted, and it's something no amount of success can compensate for losing.

If you're making art then you're an artist. There is no smallprint that says you have to sell it, that you have to be popular, or that anyone else even needs to see it. Make a mess in that sketchbook, paint the painting that you want to, keep doing what you love doing. You're not a failure because you don't fit into the conventional expectations of what an artist should be doing.

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