How to be a successful artist

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We all have different ideas of what makes someone successful.

When I started illustrating professionally, I told myself that I would be successful when:

  • My work would be published by a renowned publishing company
  • My illustrations would be sold on products
  • I would have thousands of followers on my social media (basically when I would be famous)
  • My art would be my sole source of income

Quite quickly I started feeling like a total failure because despite all my hard work none of that seemed to happen.

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Do you know that saying that goes: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”?

Well, that’s sort of what happened to me. The universe, seeing that I was ready, threw a bunch of talks, podcasts and articles at me which helped me realise that I had been thinking about it all the wrong way and that I had dismissed every little good thing I had already achieved because it wasn’t ‘enough’ according to my high standards; because it wasn’t the ‘big thing’.

At that point three things happened almost simultaneously:

1) I remembered something that I had read in a few different books: that it is good to celebrate even the smallest successes, and failures too because it means that we tried something that didn’t work on this occasion but we tried, and we learnt.

This was a sort of epiphany and I realised the amount of stuff I had been dismissing up until that point. And I made a contract with myself: from now on I would record everything, successes and failures alike, no matter how big or how small. Keeping track of these turned my world upside down and I realised how much had happened since I had started my illustration career.

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2) I also changed my definition of success, which became “I will be successful as an artist when:

  • I create art consistently
  • I make art that ‘looks and feels’ like me
  • I make genuine connections thanks to my art”

Some of these things I was doing or were happening already!

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3) I accepted the fact that there was no shame in having multiple sources of income and that I wasn’t less of an artist for it.

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I still dream of being published by a renowned publishing company and to see my illustrations on products and I am working on it. But it doesn’t define how successful I am anymore and if that level of external recognition never happens then I will have at least enjoyed the journey and every step of the way.

I am happier with my life and with the person I have become now than I have ever been before. And that, to me is what really matters.

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So how can you become a successful artist then?

Maybe all you have to do is change the way you look at it and go back to the essence of what really matters to you and of what makes you happy. Maybe you are already successful and you just haven’t realised it yet!

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