I graduated from art school 2 years ago, here are some things I think I’ve learned. In the words of my current client, Donald Glover: “I’m not saying this thing is true or not, I’m just saying it’s what I learned.”
- “Creativity Is Recession Proof” were the words plastered over the novelty T-shirt I bought in college, and it turned out to be the most honest piece of clothing I have ever, and likely will ever own. Sadly… it also shows my nipples.
- The Internet is the world’s most powerful tool. With great power, comes… you know the rest… or maybe you don’t, since you’re scrolling through facebook or tumblr. The way you share creations is almost as important as the creations themselves.
- Advertising is worth the shame. My first illustration job out of college paid 20 dollars an image — a feeling not unlike getting mugged by a paraplegic sloth — yet every time those 20 dollars filled an empty wallet, my name and sites were sent off into the ether to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. Now some of those people pay me 100x-1000x that for illustrations. Why? Maybe because I make nice things, but more likely? Because with every underpaid image I made, I made someone, somewhere, remember my name.
- Don’t “fuck the haters”, embrace the hivemind. The “haters” will come in many forms: sometimes with criticism based on personal preference, sometimes with nonsensical attacks that seem like youtube commenter vomit, and sometimes with actual advice disguised as “hate”, saying what you’re doing wrong and what you could be doing better. Not everyone is a sage, not everyone is right, but they are worth listening to, if only to put a pin in to see if you hear something like that again. You will literally never be above improvement. There is no plateau, keep climbing, and pay attention to what’s around you, even the guy shouting through a megaphone while jackhammering directly underneath a potential avalanche.
- Waiting for inspiration is like waiting at the DMV: It lasts forever and if you don’t know enough, you’ll probably still fail at the end. Nike your problems away by just doing it… “it” being something. You can wait and wait for good ideas, you can consume books, magazines, websites, and music by the truckload, desperate for something to trigger some sort of eureka moment, but if you just write your shitty lyric down, lay your shitty brush stroke down, or take your shitty photo, you’re on the right to track to actually making something good. I have made many terrible things, some of which remain terrible but served as stepping stones to better things, some I transformed into rather nice things, and I learned more about myself, the world, my work, technique, appeal, and a million other tiny factors from simply doing something, even when it failed.
- Work to play. Be an idiot when you’re young, like… college-young. I was quite an idiot in college but I could have been even more of one and probably have been just fine. However, when you leave… leave the party there. If you give up a lot when you leave your childhood behind, and put your all into boring grown-up things like “work”, “money”, and “responsibility”, it genuinely doesn’t take much time to get the freedom you had in college back. The only difference is that instead of keeping the party going to distract yourself from a job you hate and rent you can barely pay, you can kick back and enjoy the party when you choose to on your own terms, if you even care about doing so at all. In other words: Stop it with this YOLO nonsense, why you are taking a filthy-rich, diamond-selling recording artist who was on a Canadian TV show’s acronym of wisdom to mean: “be an idiot always and forever because fuck it, I’m young”, is beyond me. He worked hard to be able to wear $6000 socks, he didn’t “You Only Live Once” his way to them.
- There are a lot of people more talented than you, that’s something you should know, but never accept. I’m regularly embarrassed by the quality of my work when I look at the hordes of artists superior to me, but you have time to spend, knowledge to gain, and skills to practice for the rest of your life. Your place amongst the world has no finality to it, you can always be more.
- A friend who will stab you with a knife in the front is worth your weight in unicorn blood. Friends will back pat and backstab, occasionally becoming bloat and baggage, but if you should be so lucky as to find a person who cares about your success enough that they will outwardly knock you down a peg or ten with the truth so that you can better yourself, don’t toss them for the easier friend. Even lone-wolf-alpha-dog-max-payne-type people need a little help along the way.
- Karma is a pretty damn good business model. I have hunted for clients before. I have barked up their trees, aggressive and hungry for work, failing to get it every time. I have also done a lot of personal work, just for fun, but executed seriously. Many of these would be labelled as “fan art” — depictions of pop-culture icons with my own odd twist that I put out into the world — some of which I pour dozens of hours into. Traditionally, when I finish work with a client, I ask: “So, how did you find me?” almost every time the answer is: work of mine they saw on the web that I did for shits and giggles. I put good in, and in time (thanks to item #2), I get good out. There is no science or stability to this beyond the notion that if you work hard enough and if you can make your work seen, you will be rewarded. These are the naive musings of a 23 year-old, remember?
- “Art” is a shitty word that people will tack on to anything these days. Just focus on creating, whatever that may be, however that may be, do it well, and do it because you love it.
10 Things I’ve Learned In The 2 Years Since I Graduated From Art School