“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” ― Mark Twain
Back in my days of freelance illustration I was a one man band and did it all. So, I thought when I made the jump from illustrator to fine artist, it would be the same. Little did I understand all of the hats I’d be wearing. Book keeper, scheduler of deadlines for upcoming shows and galleries, ordering frames, shipping box maker, shipper, social media guru (yeah, right), writer of thank you notes to collectors, newsletter and blog writer/editor, YouTube video creator, studio manager who makes sure I don’t run out of anything, social director who has to say yes or no to attending parties at my collector’s homes. And that’s just a small sample of what has to be attended to throughout the day. Oh, I forgot… that doesn’t even include the art of painting. Boy was I in for a surprise! Painting for a living is a blessing that I thank God for every morning and night. I don’t know how artists do it if they are with a partner or in a family that doesn’t support them, or even worse, tells them to go out and get a “real job”.
I’m thankful that my wife Ann has been my muse, my biggest supporter right from the very moment I shared with her my thoughts of making the switch to full time artist. And for the past 5 years or so, she’s been my studio manager. She does everything for the studio except paint (and I’m worried she may just pick up a brush one day). It’s been the same with my Mom and Dad, who always encouraged me to do what I love and never wavered in their support. But it’s not that way for many artists. I can’t tell you the number of my artist friends who have a completely different experience than me. Not only do they not get support, but often have people in their lives trying to keep them from becoming great. I hope you have people in your life who celebrate and help you to pursue your art, however they can. But If you aren’t one of the lucky ones, there’s still a bunch of ways you can get your needs met.
Of course, the main place to find belief in yourself is, well, yourself. Get those positive thoughts rolling around in your head and practice healthy thinking. You can’t expect people to believe in you if you can’t even believe in yourself. Reject the self-doubt recordings that repeat themselves and are so familiar to you. Put on new positive thoughts. I find, for some unknown reason, that when I’m in a good place, more good things just start happening for me. Try it.
If your family isn’t going to cheer you on, your second line of support should be your friends. For lots of us, our friends are the family that we get to choose. You know if you have good ones by how you feel about them not just when you’re together, but also when you’re apart. If they’re your cheerleaders you’ve got good ones. If not, keep looking. We don’t get to choose our family, but we do get to pick our friends. Life’s too short to have friends who aren’t interested in you or belittle your dreams. But, it goes without saying that you can’t expect to be supported if you aren’t a good friend yourself. Another Mark Twain saying that I love is, “Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option”.
Now we get to organizations. These are great places to find your tribe! I’m not a joiner, never have been. It’s just how I’m wired. But I’ve found that some organizations like the Oil Painters of America (hint, hint), have me changing my opinion about that. I’ve met so many of my friends, who happen to be artists, through my OPA membership. Sometimes I meet them at the Regional or National shows or Paintouts. We keep in touch through phone calls, zoom calls, or emails. Just finding out what they’re up to, letting them know what I’m doing and giving the “attaboys” we all enjoy. Don’t overlook all the opportunities you have by participating in your local art outings. There are lots of art clubs and plein air clubs that meet regularly in most places. If there isn’t one, start your own. It doesn’t take much to shoot out an email on Instagram or FB communities in your area to let them know you’re going painting on a certain day and time and invite others to join you. It may be a small group at first, but I promise if you keep at it, it will grow over time. Sometimes, I’ll just send a fan email to painters who I admire. I’ve never had a bad experience reaching out to another artist. I promise, you’ll make their day!
Taking classes or workshops is where I’ve met some of my dearest friends. Talk to the other participants who are there standing right next to you. Ask them about themselves and get to know them. I’ll never forget, the first plein air workshop I took. At the very beginning, the teacher encouraged all of us to arrive early each day, and stay late to continue to paint after it’s over. Wring every bit of knowledge out of the experience that you can. I wasn’t the only one who listened to his advice, and the others who showed up early and stayed late, well, we bonded so much that we still keep in touch. Artists want to connect with each other. It’s what we do.
I’m constantly amazed by the opportunities that are there to make those connections if you look for them and recognize them for what they are. Being able to make art is a blessing. Take time and share yourself with others. Get out there and be amazed at what happens. After all, painting is a participation sport. This thing we do called ART is all about relationships. The more you understand that and live it, the stronger your foundation will be. That can’t help but make us better artists, but more importantly, it might just help us to all be better human beings.