We all know that art is a crowded space – everyone wants to be an artist and make a living out of it. It can be hard to find your own space and style, but I reckon it’s the most important first step. You need to have something that you can show people that is genuinely yours – something that is a little different to everything else out there, that is a little piece of your soul.
I recently had an email from Kassy, an up-coming artist from the Sunshine Coast, who asked if I could help her on her journey to becoming an artist. We had a chat over the phone, and she told me that she was desperate to achieve her dream of being an artist and had tried a whole bunch of ideas… and when they didn’t work out she’d switch and try something else in the hopes that it would be successful. She’d become disillusioned and art wasn’t much fun for her anymore since she was always thinking about who would buy it or what would be popular. She’d imagined from watching my videos that I’d always known what I was doing and that I’d planned my whole career. The truth was her story was eerily similar to mine.
I’d wanted to be an artist my whole life and teenage me wanted to be an equine artist and paint horses, when I realised that wasn’t going to be a goer, I studied graphic design when I finished school. Five years later I was working as a designer in London and I had the idea of customising vintage clothing with hand painted patches and making my own jewellery… that never got off the ground so I went back to design.
A couple of years after that I decided I was going to make ink drawings of cows and chickens with funny sayings and I’d send them to greeting card companies… I sent them away to greeting card companies and they turned me down… I continued on with Graphic design.
Over time I gave up on my dream to become an artist because I couldn’t figure out what kind of artist I was going to be… What would sell? How would I make a living? With an infinite array of possibilities I was paralysed by indecision and no would take me seriously because all my stuff was all over the place so I just gave up.
Life can be funny sometimes though, after I had given up, I took up surfing for something to do and to offset some of the frustration I was feeling in my day job. About 6 months into it I bought myself a sexy new surfboard and decided to paint it, because, I was after all, someone who dabbled in art now and again. I researched the process, painted that board and put it on YouTube so that other people could paint their own boards… and that was the moment that Fieldey the artist was born!
I’ll go a bit deeper into how it all worked out in other episodes, but suffice to say I never in a million years thought I’d be a surfboard artist, but that was a magic element that I needed to craft my own style: the surfboards created a set of guidelines and limits for me to work within: long and skinny, I borrowed a genre that I liked: old school tattoo, that because I was new to acrylic painting would be easy for me to do (big bold outlines) and then I injected that magic ‘X’ element: my own weird self and punny sense of humour.
Painted surfboards wasn’t a massively big scene, compared to say, hyper realistic pencil drawings, and people hadn’t seen many surfboards painted with old-school tattoo motifs like that. The canvas was unusual but the style was familiar… and that combination right there was my niche. I worked at this niche, developing my technique and style for another year until I felt I was good enough.
My advice to Kassy, was to dial it all right back to the beginning… to ignore thoughts about what was popular, or would sell, and go back to the kind of artmaking that bought her joy. To spend 6 months exploring, drawing every day and being open to things that interested and inspired her, working on and perfecting her technique. Once she found her own set of guidelines to follow, it would be time to develop her craft and style and try to be the best creator of that style around.
As an artist anything could be your inspiration – you have to open yourself right up to the world and sometimes what you are looking for will come at you from leftfield, so it’s your job to have your blinkers off so you’re open to it.
This Vlog is part of my new series of videos; Artist Insider. Through this series I’ll be telling my own story about how I became a full time artist, as well as sharing what I’ve learnt on my journey and tips for up and coming and emerging artists.