Every year I go to Monmouth Comprehensive School to try and give some advice to students about writing and illustrating as a possible career. There used to be a sort of career path I could suggest but, thanks to the Internet, so much has changed in the last four or five years, I went last night wondering what to say.
Every one who came to talk to me was different. Different aims, ideas and levels of ambition. I had different conversations all night, but themes did repeat themselves. Here are a few things I remember saying more than once.
Do you want to be an artist or a craftsperson?
There is a difference. An artist originates ideas, a craftsperson turns those ideas into a physical reality. Many Artists are experts in their craft, but not all craftspeople are Artists – they make beautiful art but not from their own, original brainwork. A craftsperson is more likely to get work in the artistic field, and many people are happy just to be able to be in the artistic world in any way they can.
An Artist may well starve or they may become fabulously successful because they are originals and reap the reward.
That’s easier said that done as a teenager. Standing out from the pack can bring unwanted attention. But if you want to be a successful artist you need to be different so that you reflect back the world so others see it in a way they have never seen before.
To be successful you need to be recognisably different. Copy other people’s work as you learn, but always ask yourself, “What Have I learned from copying this? How do I bring these ideas into my own work and move these ideas forward into something new?”
For illustration and other visual media, drawing is the core skill. By drawing every day, you build up a knowledge of how the world works and develop eye-brain-motor skills. It is simple you paper and pencil. There is nowhere to hide!
When you want to make art, you don’t want to have to think about the process. You want to be able to concentrate on the image or the idea, not your lack of skills and understanding.
Draw when you are at the bus stop, in cafes, out shopping, draw the dog, the cat, Grandad fast asleep in front of the TV. You have no excuse to be bored. Pick a pencil and draw whatever is in front of you. Keep drawing it until you get it right!
This goes without saying. Reading connects you straight to the mind of the author. Movies are a mediated interpretation. You learn a lot about how other people think by reading.
Just say yes to experiences that are offered to you. The more you say yes, the more seems to get offered. If something is a bit oiut of your comfort zone, try it any way. Push yourself a bit. You can only get new and original ideas if you have lived a bit and have some experience of life.
X-Factor is not reality.
The winners of reality shows have put years of practice and learning in before they ever apply to be on the shows. The TV doesn’t tell you that. TBV needs to sell you a fairy tale dream.
Don’t be in a hurry.
The plain fact is that you are still young and don’t have a huge amount of experience. That’s okay. You have a whole life-time in which to grow up! If you feel you want to be original but don’t have any good ideas, don’t worry, just keep working at it. Ideas come when you put different ideas and experiences together, so you have to have lots of small ideas and experiences in your storehouse before you can start to make the connections. Do stuff, build up your experience and increase your knowledge.
Keep a journal or sketchbook.
Journals and sketchbooks are like idea batteries you can go back to when you need recharging. This is where you will find your connections. If you don’t make a note of an idea, within seconds it will be lost forever.
If you feel called, nothing will stop you!
Art is a vocation. If you really want to be an artist, nothing will stop you. You may have to make some serious sacrifices along the way.
A degree means nothing in the career of an Artist
As an Artist you will be judged purely on the quality of your work. No one buys a painting because you have a degree. BUT! Art college or Uni gives you time to try things out and make mistakes under the tutelage of teachers who understand what kind of person you are. It also gives you time spent with other student artists. You will feed off them as much as they feed off you. Make use of this time. Art college or Uni should be fun but it should not be a three year party with no work! It is a fabulous opportunity to find out who you are and build the ground work of your original ideas.
You may also decide at some point that you want to be an art historian or work in museums or galleries or go into some other artistic field where qualifications count. As you go through your artistic career you will become aware of jobs and fields of endeavour you never knew about before. One day you matt well find something and say, “This is me!” So be prepared and have some great qualifications to back you up, just in case.
Choose the subjects that will obviously support your artistic path and then choose the subjects you enjoy and will do well in. Make sure you get the best grades you can, just in case you find yourself on a different path that needs the qualifications.
There is no such thing as luck. Luck is making sure you are in the right place at the right time with the right people with the right knowledge and experience behind you.
Any other advice you would like to add to this from bitter experience!?