Advice of an old artist

Email in my inbox:

Hi, my name is Reed and, I'm a beginner artist right now I'm in college and taking art and public speaking class right now and, I'm also having a drawingroute66project where in 2021 I did a trip and took tons of pictures and now I draw them with facts about the picture the handle is called drawingroute66 on Instagram. So, in the future, I want to own my own art studio on route 66 somewhere either in Oklahoma or New Mexico. So, I was wondering if you have any advice for an upcoming artist since you're an experienced one? Thanks, Reed



I got both your emails, thank you so much for the kind words.  I am going to be finishing that project this year, it got the legs swept out from under it mostly because of covid.  So maybe we can still get that portrait done for you.  

Advice for a new artist. 

This is the hardest job and easiest I have ever done.  The art comes easy for me, I find it is my go-to when I am stressed, excited, sad.  I can't not do it.  Even if no one ever looked at my work again, I would still "art" every single day. To me and many artists, "art" is more verb than noun.  And all the good artists I know, be their medium photography or music or poetry or canvas, are the same way.  Pretty fast you can tell the difference from the artists whose heart is in the art and the one who is looking for attention.  The one using art as a means to an end (fame or money) stop because when times get tough and they will, the heartful artist, pours his struggle into making more art.   

I numbered these but they really are not to be considered in order or anything.  

Rule number one.  ART every day. 

\Study it, improve your craft and technique and do it.  Build your passion for it.  Make it your obsession and addiction, that way when hard times come, your motivation isn't money or fame or other's accolades, you are pushed to create from within.  Even if it is a simple sketch or cell phone snap, do it, every day.  When Picaso died, he had over 45,000 works of art in his studio unsold.  When you look at the artists who changed history, there were machines in making art. Pablo Casals was a cellist in his 90's and he practiced daily.  When asked why he practiced so much he replied, "I think I am making progress, I think I see improvement."

Me using a cell phone to get images that will never be published, just not high enough quality.  I wasn't shooting for sales but for own enjoyment.

Rule Number two. Don't just make art, reflect on it:

  When you get done with a piece, study it, figure out what works about it and doesn't work.  Let each piece be a learning experience for the next piece.  Its one thing to frenetically make art, it's another thing to grow as you frenetically make art.  Not only that, but study other's art.  Does it move you, try to learn how to explain to yourself what you like about it and don't like about it.  Become an art critic.  Don't do it to compare your art to anyone but rather to understand what moves you and what doesn't.  Learn to reflect on your art, so that your next piece is better.

Rule number three, 80/20:  

Look it up and live it.  Simply put 80 percent of your income is going to come from 20% of your effort, the other 80% is just busy work.  The 80/20 rule applies to every part of your life.  My father taught me it.  He lost his job in his 50's and switched careers.  The only thing he could find fast was sales with an insurance company. His first year sucked.  But he read about this rule and he thought about his day and the 80/20 rule applied.  What activity was really making him money and what was just busy work.  Now keep in mind the busy work was important.  Filling out paperwork is necessary but often isn't a prime source of income.  He realized that 80% of his income came from 20% of his workday.  SOOOOO, after a terrible year, he evaluated what made him money and what didn't. Those 20% activities became his focus.  By the end of his 2nd year, he had enough income to hire a secretary to help with those 80% activities which helped him focus even more on the 20%.

Think of it as like this.  Is this activity going to earn me income directly or indirectly?  Oddly creating art is an indirect activity.  You don't get paid for making art unless it is a commission.  YOU GET PAID BY SELLING ART.  That hard cold fact is painful to every artist I know.  And the other hard cold fact is there ain't no damn art fairy that is going to make you magically famous and sell your art.  Art agents are so far and few, and only happen after you prove the commercial viability (does it sell) of your art... they only want you after a long track record has proven you will make THEM money.  

Learn to do press releases that are effective (hint reporters are like everyone else and don't like to work, write the article for them.)

So, I spend my day focused on the 20% of activities that will make 80% of my income.  I market and sell.  I spend time on social media, pushing my art, I spend time reaching out to galleries, and answering emails.  This email isn't about marketing.  But that is what will get you paid.  Making art won't get you paid until you sell it.  So, I flipped it, I spend 80% of my time marketing doing those things I don't like to make my income.  That is my work, art is my joy.

Learn to market and become a salesman.  But don't neglect arting.  If you don't feed your soul, you will starve to non-productivity.  I have made the mistake of marketing to the exclusion of not making art.  Big mistake.  Just limit the time.  80 marketing, 20 percent making art.  Rough gig, but it works.  

Rule number four.  Consistency:  

I have found over and over and over, I get much further down the road, doing small steps, every single day.  Post something on social media, every single day, spend a bit of time arting every single day.  I get more reading about art if I schedule 20 minutes of uninterrupted book time than if I try to fit it in here and there.  Small steps daily, build habits that build careers.  Do something every day.  Bruce Lee once said he feared the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times, more than the man who practiced 10,000 different kicks.  

Rule number five.  Clean your brushes:

If you do rule number 3 well, whatever your tools are, will need maintenance.  If I keep my lenses clean, I have less work in post processing.  But this is more than just about your brushes or lenses.  This is about you.  Take time to rest.  I work on my art and marketing every single day.  I can't recall when I just took a day off completely.  BUT, every Sunday, I only do social media posting and I only work on fun projects that have nothing to do with something that I can sell.  June and I always eat dinner with her mom.  Every day I knock off in the evening to eat with June and the rest of the night we do stuff together, watch movies or play games.  But we do it together.  Chopping down a tree with a dull axe takes twice as long as the time it takes to sharpen the axe and cut down the tree after.

All that hair is gray now.  But laugh at yourself often.  Never miss a chance to joke around and enjoy life.


Rule number six.  Do the work before you get paid:

I have watched with amusement many people who get into art and make no money the first year and then bail out.  Do you know the national statistics on the income of any new business to start making money?  2-3 years.  Most new businesses need to have some other source of income because no money goes into the pocket for 2-3 years.  As an artist, you are your own boss, you are your own business.  Don't expect instant success.  Don't expect success in a year.  Most of all don't expect success without putting the time and work in.  

There ain't no short cuts.  


Rule number seven: Have a plan:

The modern world of social media marketing is crazy and changes almost daily.  But if you don't have a target, you will never hit it.  How many viable, sellable pieces of artwork are you going to produce this quarter?  What is your income goal this quarter, this year?  I kind of backward engineer my goals.  I write what I want be it income, art exhibits, art work and then I make a plan of action to get it.  Break that plan of action into the smallest possible steps.  Remember consistency will get you there faster, so if the steps are easy to take and are doable daily, you are less likely to do it "tomorrow".  Tomorrows seem to never come.  Get your stuff done today!  I couldn't recommend school strongly enough.  Now I am not talking about college (but maybe)  Someone out there has already invented the wheel.  Don't waste your time inventing again.  Go find someone or some place and learn from them.  In reaching out, you are already doing this and I commend you.  My experience has led me to believe that most of us artsy types are mavericks who tend to try to rope and break every horse without even considering that it might be a waste of time as there are rideable horses already in the barn.  Have a plan but look to others to help you make it.  Your original work needs to be your art, not your marketing and business plan.  Read a book on goals and goal setting.  It is amazing how much more you will get done.

Route 66 is some 2400 miles long.  It winds from Chicago to LA.  Can you imagine starting in Chicago with no map, no plan and thinking you will end up in LA.  If you don't have a destination figured out, don't be surprised where you end up!

Rule # eight :  This is a marathon not a sprint. 

I am amazed that I sell art. Often when I look back over the course of the month, I will sell multiple items each day.  I have sold art to customers in all 50 states and 18 countries now.  That didn't happen overnight.  It didn't even happen in a year, or three years.  I think in it was about year number 4 of doing this professionally that I finally made a decent sale and then really several more years before I was happy with the income from my art.  Everyone with a camera today is trying to be noticed.  Social media is amazing for artists, but it makes it so easy to hang a shingle.  You are once voice out of billions, literally billions.  Distinguishing yourself takes time, consistency.  YOU WILL FAIL and FAIL often to get noticed but if you learn something, that failure is really just a lesson.  FAIL YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS.  Sadly, that is the only way it will work, well unless you have a rich uncle and win the lotto.  The biggest difference between the successful artist, making a sold living at his or her art and the person starting out is the number of failures.  The master has failed more than the beginner has tried.  Babe Ruth was not just the home run king but strike out king.  Picaso was not just a successful artist, but he had 45,000 unsold pieces of art.  In a sense he failed 45,000 times!  Failure is not an option but just another steppingstone that has to be taken.  Your plan shouldn't be for 1 year or 3 years or even 5...  try a ten-year plan.  


Rule # : Be ready to change your plan. 

What worked for me in 2013 on Facebook would be laughed at today.  If that was my plan and I stuck with it, I would be miserable wondering why every day it is failing.  The world is changing and every day that change comes faster and faster.  Be ready to change.  I use Photoshop each and every day.  The number one skill I have mastered to be good at Photoshop?  Learning how to learn the latest update.  I started Photoshop with 5.1.  It looks and acts nothing like what I started out with.  But here is the biggest trap I watch some artists and businesspeople?  They change the plan before they know if it is working or not.  They run after the latest gizbang wizmo.   Knowing when to change is critical.  And know you are going to make bad choices but learn from those.  

Rule #nine:  Give back.

You belong to a community, do your part to make it a great one.  When I print for a customer, I always print a few extra pieces.  The size and number depend on what is in the bank, but I build into my costs this extra printing.  Since 2015 I have helped raise a crazy amount of money.  The number one way is donating art to fundraisers which have raffles and silent auctions.  Almost monthly it seems some charity is working on some event to stay afloat and help.  I do turn some of them down but generally if I have a piece and they need something to auction, I try to help where I can.  

Art has power to change the world.  Some art can bring awareness to things that need change, or cause people to realize how precious and beautiful something is.  But in the sense, I am talking about it can help raise money for certain cause.  Not only do I give my art to be sold for those charities but often I lend my skills as a photographer to an event so they can have professional photos for press releases or magazines and Newpapers.   There are two sides to helping out with charities, one is doing good work.  But also, it will help your career.  You will gain friends and followers and even people interested in your art.  Don't let that be the main reason.  People can smell fake intention a mile away.  But help those things you believe in with your art and watch how it will help you grow both as an artist and as a businessperson.  



Art is amazing, more for how it changes your soul than anything else.  I have found I look at the world differently now, I see far more than the people around me.  Color shape form, let it shape your heart.  The world has so much ugly that screams for our attention, jumps in our face, yells at our sensibility but if you look around, right near those giant piles of preverbal dog shit, some of life's most beautiful flowers.  


Words from an old worn-out sick man, take what means something to you and forget the rest.


My heart hopes wonderous things for you Reed, the world needs more artists to feed our souls than we ever need venture capitalists.  Art is the original soul food.  Your mission should you accept it, is to first feed your soul, then feed those around you.