"Becoming a professional creative is more than just a 9-5 job. Successful professionals learn to hone themselves as a creative tool, by waking up everyday and making the choice to show up to their practice with curiosity." —Hardy Fowler
6 Minute Read: Professional Advice for Digital Painters & Concept Artists
The "Creative Professional" is a stereotypical contradiction
I've grown up watching movies and reading articles that romanticize the idea of pursuing art as a career, along with some pretty heavy stereotypical baggage. The ‘Starving Artist’ or ‘Tortured Artist’, according to pop-culture, is talented, passionate and eccentric. Creativity seems to flow to them naturally and so they have to create whenever inspiration strikes—whether that’s at 4pm or 2am. The 'Artist' puts creativity before income, and will spend their lifetime sacrificing themselves for their art.
This stereotype has perpetuated a powerful myth that pursuing art as a career is extreme, risky and unstable. This archetype is basically the antithesis of the characteristics our culture uses to define the stereotype of a ‘professional’:
To be successful as an artist you must be free and liberated from structure, and to be successful as a professional you must follow social norms and adhere to structure. Chaos versus organization, scarcity versus affluence, emotion versus apathy and freedom of thought versus closed mindedness.
If we think about professional creativity in these terms—the very idea of a ‘Professional Artist’ is a contradiction. How many artists have settled for the wrong career because the fear of becoming a struggling artist was too great? If left unchecked this unconscious belief can completely sabotage a digital artist’s career
Change your mindset and change your career
As a professional creative our mindset is our most valuable tool. How we approach our work and the world around us is more important than you’d think.
#1 How You See→ Developing an artist's eye and removing creative blocks
Part of a Concept Artist’s job is to walk around collecting visually interesting ideas and filing them away in our minds so we can use them in our work. It’s actually a very practical part of the job—we are dealers of ideas after all.
One of the most powerful ways that we can transform our work as a Professional Creative, is to simply practice looking at the world with curiosity and interest. This practice is about making the choice to deliberately notice the beauty and details of the world around us everyday. Overtime, this practice will train our mind to deliberately and automatically seek out the beauty in everything.
#2 How You Work→ Developing processes for predictable results
Take The First Step: When we sit down at our desk and open up a blank canvas, the possibilities are so endless that it can feel incredibly daunting. The sheer expansiveness of possible directions can feel so overwhelming that the creative process can shut down before it even begins. My advice for avoiding ‘Blank Canvas Paralysis’ is to just dive right in. Making a few marks on the canvas gets the ball moving and things flow forward from there.
Move through a Process: Once I’ve started I can lean into my workflow practice and move through each layer, highlight and detail step-by-step. By having a clear process I always know what next step to take, and the act of creating digital artwork is fluid from start to finish.
Make Practice a Habit: This professional process for creating reliably stunning artwork is one that I’ve learned over time and through practice. We learn to do by doing—and every time we paint it ingrains the process into our minds and bodies, and overtime our hands and muscles will just know what to do.
By carving out time each week and prioritizing practice, we can hone ourselves as a creative tool that will intuitively move through the act of creating digital paintings naturally. The simple commitment to practicing each week will have a profound impact on our work and our career as a digital artist.
#3 How You Self Evaluate → Developing the context for evaluation
What is good art? That’s a huge question. Artists tend to be fairly critical of their own work, and this paired with the fact that artistic taste is subjective, means that the benchmark for what constitutes ‘good art’ is an ever moving target. If we get caught up in comparing ourselves to other artists, we’ll lose sight of what really matters.
The really important question isn’t, “is this painting any good?” but rather “did I learn something new with this painting?” There is no zenith of artistic mastery to reach because artists learn new tricks, tools and techniques every single day—at every skill level. Curiosity is one of the most powerful places to live and create from. When we look at the world, and our work with curiosity, we’ll naturally stretch, grow, and improve.
#4 How You Grow → Developing the mindset and practices to stay motivated
The road to becoming a full-time Digital Artist can feel long at times. It takes a lot of commitment, practice and skill development to fill a portfolio with enough great work to sustain a career as a Concept Artist. That feeling of futility can creep in and rob artists of their motivation and drive, which can be a real career killer.
So instead of looking at the road ahead, I have learned to go one step at a time. I know I am on the right path if I can wake up each day and be able to say that “I am better today than I ever have been before in my life”. Weaving that mentality into my life—every single day—put me on a trajectory towards my dream career.
So my advice to you is: go paint something cool today. Stretch yourself and paint something better today than you did yesterday. With each new attempt you will grow.
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