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10 Top Tips on 'Making it' as an artist

I've been asked to do a talk on making a living as a painter next week so here's some cheats on how to succeed in making your hobby your job:

1- Define Your Goals

What do you mean by 'making it'?I f you want to be famous and earn millions from your paintings forget it, you've either got to be dead, mental or very lucky to do that.

My expectations were relatively modest, if I could pay the rent, travel, socialise with my mates and maybe save a little from painting then I'd have succeeded.

2- Are you (or do you have the potential to be) Good at What You Want to Do?

OK, we all wanna be movie stars but we're not going to be, right? Be realistic, I don't really believe in 'natural ability' when it comes to honing a skill, I think it's much more about putting the hours in.

So if you're not that good at what you want to do, no problem. Just keep doing it and monitor your progress. As soon a s you think you can produce something of value then go for it!

3- Work

Boring but true, NOTHING gets worse the more you work on it. Former US defence guy Colin Powell nailed it with this:

Devote as much of your time to getting better as you can.

4- Make mistakes

You want to be different, get ready to fail and learn, celebrate your failures and take from them the mistakes, then repeat what you were doing minus the thing that made you fail originally.

Too many artists are afraid to fail, the ego that allows them to dream big ideas also inhibits them from executing them. Stay humble and you'll progress.

Remember what Einstein said:

Learn to hate procrastination. If you find yourself talking to people and starting the sentence with any of the following shut yourself up:

'I'd love to do .......'

'I'm thinking about doing....'

'I have an idea that....'

I have a lot of artistic friends that crap on about what they'd love to do or take delight in entertaining people with their hopes on what they'd love to create. And then I have a few friends that surprise me, a songwriting friend of mine goes 'hermit' for 3 months at a time then surfaces and releases amazing music.

Spend less time talking and more time doing, hate yourself for's healthy.

6- Live it

OK this is not a Tony Robbins type phrase, make painting your mistress. Let's stretch that analogy, make it the first thing you think about when you wake up and let the development of your ideas be the thing you fall asleep to. I absorb myself into every idea I have, if I don't feel passionate about an idea then I don't follow it up.

I usually wake up at 5am, watch the sunrise then get stuck in for 10-12 hours a day. When I had a 'proper job' I would do the same, wake up at 5am, paint until 8:30am, go to the office and then resume the scribbling at 7pm when I got home. Now I have the free time, I try and keep that discipline.

If expressing your ideas through painting isn't your top priority then maybe you're not ready to be a full time painter.

Keep a sketch book handy and jot your ideas down, then grow your ideas. Most artists have no idea what they're creating until halfway through it's conception.

Take Sgt Peppers, one of the greatest albums of all time, listen to the out-takes. They lack the majestic quality of the final mixes with their basic drum/bass/guitar and vocals but these sketches gave The Beatles a springboard that helped them add more and more sounds until it was something truly brilliant. This is the same with painting.

I sometimes see painting the canvas as not 'adding' to the final picture but 'erasing the erroneous' parts of it.

You'll be amazed at how your idea is honed, perfected and even changes from the original concept.

8- Give Stuff Away

When I first started painting I gave everything away, after a year I gave about 50% of my paintings to people, now it's around 20%...but why? Firstly if anyone is good enough to hang a painting in their house, you should consider yourself lucky. Secondly you build up a reputation, your friend has a party and people say 'Who painted that?'...Kaboom, free publicity.

Approach bars and restaurants and places where you know a lot of people hang out and offer to decorate their place with your paintings.

9- Find and Nurture your Supporters

Learn to take a compliment and remember who said it. If you're lucky enough to sell a painting show your gratitude, your supporters and your buyers are your best mates, never take them for granted.

Keep them informed on your day to day projects through social media and ask their creative advice on something. If I'm stuck on an idea I sometimes post a question onto Facebook, Instagram and WeChat, your supporters are happy to help and get involved.

Footnote: Don't call them 'fans', you pretentious turd! I have some friends who do reasonably well out of art/music and they call their supporters 'fans'. Justin Bieber has 'fans', you have people who 'like what your doing'.

As this year was my 10th year painting in China I decided to thank the people who'd helped/supported me. It took a few weeks of thinking but I decided to produce a 'Wall of Fame' that included close friends and people I'd watched from afar that had inspired me to carry on.

Above: Me and my pals who've been supportive of me in front of my tribute to them (does that make sense?!)

10- Listen to Business Advice.

If you're looking to become an artist full time then see yourself as a business. OK, I know it's 'not cool' or 'so corporate' to do this but change your attitude or get used to Pot Noodles.

I'm lucky enough to know some high rollers in business over here and I always go to them for advice on how to sustain an income from a hobby, they know more about sustaining an income than I do.

Most of all, enjoy what you're're a long time dead and like any job, this might not last forever.

If you have any questions I'll try and answer them, please add them in the comments box below or email me.

Please share this if you think it could help a friend...


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