Tips on Survival!

A year or so ago the Portrait Society of America did a series of articles in their newsletter on “Traits of a Successful Artist”. I was honored to be asked to contribute my thoughts on things that have helped me to survive as a artist. Because this list is fairly long (10 points total) I will post it in two installments. As Mr. Kinstler has said to me more than once “keep the faith”!

1. Set goals and write them down! List things you would like to accomplish both in the short term and in the long term. You might consider committing yourself to a weekly class, list teachers you would like to study with, techniques you would like to improve on, subject and compositions you would like to tackle, galleries you would like to show with, competitions you would like to enter, etc. Setting goals is the first step to accomplishing them. Hang them near your easel as a constant reminder of what you will achieve.

2. Work hard. Whether you have the opportunity to devote your entire day, or just a portion of the day to your art, work hard! I have worked 12-18 hours a day for more than 15 years. It is important to devote as much time as possible to your growth as an artist, but you must work smart as well. An hour of painting free from distraction is worth 3 when the phone is ringing and the kids are home from school.

3. Study. Set aside a portion of each day for study. Read about a favorite artist, visit a museum either in person or via the internet, browse through a favorite art book, sketch from life, etc. Spend quality time developing your skills by reading and studying each day.

4. Tenacity! Don’t take “NO” for an answer! This can be no truer in the life of an artist. You will constantly face defeat and rejection. Galleries, agents, clients, friends, and even family may at times dampen your resolve. Put your passion to work. Remind yourself constantly that you can and will succeed. Pick yourself up after a bad painting, a rejection notice from a competition, or a negative review from a client. Turn each of these situations into learning opportunities. Ask yourself “what can I do better or differently next time?” Commit yourself to growth from every experience. Remind yourself constantly that you will succeed, that you will grow as an artist, and your decision to follow your dreams to become an artist will become or remain a reality.

5. Thrift. For nearly the first 10 years of my life as a full time artist I painted every painting on a $2 easel bought second hand, mostly held together by duct tape and a prayer! I rented a small studio that was prone to flooding and had less than ideal lighting conditions. It was important that I kept my overhead low and focused on living off of less than I made. Survival is your main goal. Living frugally whether by choice or not, is important. Getting to the next painting is your ultimate goal.

4 Responses to Tips on Survival!
  1. Melody

    I really enjoyed reading this blog. Thanks so much for the tips…they are totally accurate.

  2. MIchael Shane Neal

    Thanks, Melody. So appreciate your comment and stopping in. I plan to post as often as I can.

  3. Annie

    Love your blog. I have just made the commitment to be a full-time artist. I was actually struggling with the question of should I just do portraits or do I do portraits and other work as well. You answered that question for me. Thanks. I also paint angels and have recently learned that St Thomas is going to hang one of them and sell my prints in the gift shop. I believe that art can heal and help people, so I am thrilled.
    I also love the freezer baggie idea! I just figured out the coffee can, tuna can thing, now I can add a baggie! http://annietagg.googlepages.com

  4. MIchael Shane Neal

    Thanks, Annie. So appreciate you stopping in my blog and delighted you found the tips helpful. Following your dreams is important, but making good choices will make or break you as an artist. A bad choice is to train to become an artist of one subject. Portraits can only be tolerated by an artist who can apply their craft to whatever inspires them. Even if portraits are your greatest love, make sure to paint other things. Not even Sargent could keep up the pace he set for himself early. Even with painting other subjects the demands of portrait painting became to great for him. Good luck!