Tag Archives: career

What’s the best advice for a teenage artist?

teenager ?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.

Be different.

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.

Be lucky!

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!?

So you want to be an author?

Tonight I’m attending the Monmouth Comprehensive School Careers and Higher Education Fair and I’m thinking what to say to the students that ask me for advice about becoming an author.

It’s actually quite hard to give advice, as there is no career structure for authors and the internet is changing all our futures rapidly.

Being an author is the ultimate one person business. Everything is conjured out of your thought processes. Think of JK Rowling, sitting in her fabled cafe, writing Harry Potter in exercise books. Most people watching her at that time would have thought she was a bit of a loser with ideas above her station, scribbling away all day. “Why doesn’t she get a proper job?” They probably muttered under their breath. And now? Not only is she a multi-millionaire, she has made many other people millionaires too, and provided a living for thousands of others – all from a single, simple idea that grew in her head.

Authors are the ultimate manufacturers, creating something from absolutely nothing.

I think writers are a slightly different breed. Writers love to write and are very good at distilling ideas and concepts into words. The words don’t have to be clear or understandable to everyone, in fact some writers like to be cryptic, but they love playing with words and would carry on writing even if you stopped paying them.

And then there are story tellers. They just love to tell stories and can find a story to tell in any subject they investigate. At heart, they are teachers. Stories are how humans learn, so stories usually have some insight or piece of knowledge to impart.

If you can work out what you are, it might help you decide what to do next.

If you are a writer, then maybe a writing course would be good for you. There is always a worry that you might be over-influenced by your teachers and adopt their style, but if their style is in fashion or you have great teachers, you will be okay. You will learn all the tricks of the trade (literally, as you will have the arcane workings of the publishing world taught to you as well as the skills of writing.) All I would say is that if you have ideas of being famous, then what you want is an original voice. It is possible that your fellow students will all graduate from the same place as you, with the same voice as you. If you can write clearly and well, that is skill you can take with you into advertising, marketing TV film and the Internet. These industries are hungry for content.

If you are a storyteller, then it is ingrained in your DNA. I should follow your interests. Study science, history, geography, art – whatever it is that gets you going, after all, you will need something to tell stories about. The only worry here is that academia has come to hate story writing. Nowadays, written academic work requires the most bland delivery, so that marks can easily be given to facts.

Always remember that the real world needs to understand your subject and the real world will always welcome those who can explain the complicated in exciting and colourful ways and is prepared to pay them well. So keep writing for yourself and keep learning about the art of writing and storytelling in your own time while you become an expert in your chosen field.

And then there are the authors. Hmm…

You cannot write something great without any life experience, so that is what you need. My advice is usually to go and work on a sheep farm in Australia, or an oil rig in Outer Mongolia. That way you will get paid while you gather life experience. There are no courses for authors. There is no career path. Authors are single-minded thinking machines. The ultimate one person businesses.

But single-minded does not mean bull-headed. If you want to be rich and famous, you need to experience what the multitude do, but on a higher plane, and reflect it back to them. Yes, work on your writing technique, but better work on your people skills. Many of the best-selling books come down to the editor and the marketing team. Being an author is a lonely business. No one can experience life for you nor can they have the ideas for you. That is your particular gift. But you will need a team to help you turn your idea into that best-selling book and if you can work well with that team, your book will have a better chance in the long run.

The perfect combination is an author who is a storyteller and a writer – someone with drive, determination and enthusiasm. No one is going to stand over you and make you write. The first draft is entirely up to you. I feel that anyone with that combination will have such a strength of thought and character that they will succeed whatever they choose to do.

BUT – always think about those people skills. Being an author, working on your own a lot, can make you depressed and insular. Make sure you get out and talk to real people and experience the world that your readers live in every day, after all, that’s where you will find the ideas that you will turn into nuggets of gold.

Exile From Easy Street

The creative world is changing rapidly.

Exile on mainstreet Rolling Stones coverI heard Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones being interviewed the other day, about their new documentary that is going to be shown at Cannes Film Festival. It’s about the time they made the album, Exile On Main Street At the end of the interview, I think it was John Humphreys, asked him, as a businessman, what he thought of downloading. “Oh, I’m pretty relaxed about it,” said Jagger.

He can afford to be. I imagine he’s pretty well set up by now. But Jagger then went on to point out something that has been dawning on me for a little while now. He said he was just lucky to have been making music during a short period of time from 1971-1999, when it was possible to make oodles of money from record sales. We’ll look back on that period as a blip in time. What we have now is going to be the norm in the future – as it was the norm in the past – Make your living with live music, if you can – recorded music is just a marketing tool.

The Internet is about to blow the writing world apart too.

In future, some musicians will become superstars, but they will never earn that kind of money again and neither will their record companies. I’m really beginning to think that this may be true for authors too. Never mind Exile on Main Street, we are all being exiled from Easy Street – not that it was ever easy or profitable for your average children’s author – but there was always the dream.

We are all more educated now, and people know how to write stuff now like they never did before. Authors spend a lot of their time, and earn most of their income, teaching others how to do it, thus increasing the competition and driving down the rewards for each book they write. From a business point of view, there are probably too many authors chasing an ever-decreasing market. The last twenty years will likely be looked back on as the boom times.

New ways of reading. New ways of earning.

Already, I often read blogs on my iPhone, in bed, before I go to sleep. It’s not a good experience, but it will get better with an iPad or one of its descendants. That’s why they are selling so well.

Authors have to be paid somehow. There has to be a whole new business paradigm coming along to support authors and journalists or we will all be doomed to reading free downloadable classics or amateur, unedited stuff on blogs! Someone will probably make a good living aggregating the good stuff on their site. But the authors won’t see a penny of it.

“What to do?”

Hoping it will all go away won’t help. I’ve been fiddling about on the internet for thirteen years now and have barely made a penny. I think it’s time to change all that. Authors are self-employed business people. We like to pretend that we aren’t – Authors hate getting their hands dirty doing deals. That will have to change. We need to start learning new marketing skills and understanding business and where we fit into it all. The change we have managed to put off for so long is coming and it is coming fast.

What are we going to do!?

Any ideas? I’ve got a few…