If you are reading this article then I expect that you have the great hope of being a successful independent artist. There is a way to make your dream a reality and become truly free to explore the full potential of your art. But young artists should be warned. Our paths begin with great hopes and big dreams, but many artists give up in the face of misconceptions, financial hardships, or find the training period to be longer and more difficult than they imagined. For those of you who have already come a long way you may be wondering how you will ever make “enough” money as an artist or if you are already working, then perhaps you have given up your dreams of working on your own ideas and settled for fleshing out other people’s idea. We know it is possible to make it big and become famous for your own art, because we all have our favorite artists whom we look up to. Such artists give us hope, and challenge us to improve our skill. As children we copied their work. As students we studied their work. And as artists we develop our own style to reinvent their work. But very few artists ever get far enough to truly connect to their audience and realize their art to its full potential. My message to the young aspiring artists out there is this. Our generation has access to the single greatest advantage of all time in the history of artists – The Internet. If you use your tools effectively and train yourself to become great, then there is no reason why you can’t fully realize your dreams of developing famous content and live life free to work on your own creations.
I would encourage people to dream big. As long as you are willing to take action and you have good intentions then dream big. The problem is not that people have dreams that are too big, the problem is that people don’t take action. The founder of my church wrote a the following proverb…
If you take action then even what is impossible becomes possible. But if you do not take action, then even if you have 1,000 years you will not succeed.
I am writing today first to educate you about the new possibilities that exist for artists today, and secondly to show you how you can take action today. If you wake up tomorrow and you have not made any progress towards your dream then that is a small failure that could easily lead to a large failure. If you live the next day and the day after that without taking action and making progress then your dream will slowly become impossible to reach. That is why it is absolutely urgent that you take action after reading this. The more time you let slip by the more difficult it will be to motivate yourself again. If you take small actions everyday over a long period of time then you will see just how easily one can succeed.
The Professional Artist – Reality of the Working Artist
The first thing that we as artists need is a full understanding of the art industry, and the business machine that is operating behind it. First of all let me define which industry I am referring to. I myself studied animation, illustration, and I taught myself web design. So when I refer to artists I am mostly referring to designers and production artists which may or may not apply to the music industry or fine artists who sell their artwork to galleries. What I am teaching here might apply to those professions, but because I do not operate in those areas I cannot say for sure. I am referring to the world of entertainment, the movie industry, television, any form of visual broadcasting, graphic design, web design, print media which includes magazines, book illustration, comics, and most forms of advertising.
Many artists come into this industry nieve and leave bitter. This is due to the artist’s own ignorance. Educate yourself by asking professionals about what truly happens behind the scenes. And I’m not referring to those documentaries on the extra features of your favorite movies that are made long after most of the movie’s artists have already been fired. I’m talking about the reality of the cubicles and studios where artists are paid to perform their craft. You may be surprised to find that the majority of these artists are working very hard and very few of them are doing what they originally set out to do. Talk to a professional and ask him about his, “Production Nightmare Experiences.” You might want to find a comfortable place to sit because any production artist has many horror stories to tell. He might tell you about the long hours of overtime he spent to make his most recent deadlines. He might tell you about all the times that he got screwed out of descent pay, or how he got fired after pouring his heart and soul into his work to never see it hit the light of day. Or maybe you’ll meet a creator, one of those few individuals who actually pitch their own ideas. Listen to their stories of how one of their ideas finally made it big but how he got screwed out the profits from licensing rights. Or this artist might tell you how their company stole the rights to their work. Some artists became successful business owners and then get kicked out by their own company! It nearly happened to Walt Disney himself. The important thing to understand here is that there is a business machine at work here that only cares about power and money. It does not consider the rights of it’s artists any more important than the rights of it’s custodians. Because to the industry, the artist is just another employee.
Many Artists are freelance which means they might have enough contacts within the industry to work from home or their own office. Technically speaking, the term freelance refers to any employee that does not receive an annual salary ( a consistent amount of pay each year), but I’m using it to to refer the small group of elite artists who worked at different companies long enough to build a reputation for themselves among a group of clients. They typically don’t have to go out looking for work. Work comes to them. This can be much more ideal than the production studio artists I referred to above, but the majority of these artists paid their dues working at cubicles or companies in the industry. And they aren’t really operating outside the industry since they still have to answer to clients, publishers, editors, and anyone else who will have to approve their work before it is ever exposed the the audience.
Every person who becomes an artist first becomes the audience of another artist. You saw someone’s work and it inspired you to do your own. We then begin to do artwork either for ourselves or for others. As professional artists we get paid to do our artwork. But the terms and conditions greatly change our circumstances, because the purpose of our artwork is to please the person paying us. We do no get to do the work to please ourselves or our audience anymore. We are now doing everything to please the person with the power to get us paid. Even though you would enjoy doing the artwork your way, or even if you think the audience would appreciate the way you are doing your work, neither of those two considerations are important any more. The only thing to be considered is the tastes of the person who will approve your work and pay you for the service. This is the sad reality of the professional artist operating within the industry.
It is rare that a production artist sells his work directly to the audience. Kids do it all the time by selling their drawings to their buddies, but this business model does not usually work well enough for professional artists to make a living off of their artwork. Fine artists who sell their artwork in galleries are probably the only professional artists using that traditional business model. Most other professional artists provide their service at the request of an employer so that someone else can make money off of the work produced. I will discuss more about the realities of working as a commercial artist in a chapter III. But wouldn’t it be great if we could make money doing artwork to please only ourselves as well as our paying audience without any middle men? With the advent of the internet this is becoming more and more common. I’ll also discuss more about this in chapter IV, V and VI, but first let’s consider today’s most common path for becoming a commercial artist.