This post is by, Eric Armusik, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Eric is best known for his classical figurative paintings for private collectors and churches alike. Currently, he is painting 40 large, 4ft x 5ft panels of Dante’s Inferno with the assistance of renowned Dante Scholar, Dr. Christopher Kleinhenz. A museum exhibition and comprehensive book will be available once the collection is completed. Eric teaches painting and drawing and runs intensive workshops in his studio located in Pennsylvania. He has a workshop coming up this August in California. He’s extremely passionate about inspiring and empowering artists through his blog, Underrated Artist as well as his popular YouTube channel, “The Truth About Being An Artist.”
Becoming a Successful Artist = Hard Work
You can read about how to be an artist. You can study all the latest trends and try to emulate a style that seems to be working for someone. You can attend a thousand workshops and lectures. You can ask for advice and take a lot of notes. You can pray, ask the universe, use the law of attraction or any other mystical force to try to guide your career to success but if you don't put in the hard work, you'll never get anywhere as an artist. Ideas are great and plans are essential but never DOING anything to achieve these dreams is a huge problem for most artists. Some believe that entering a juried show will land them their big break and when they fail to place, dreams are shattered. Some are prolific but are waiting for some gallerist to meander into their studio and offer them a show. I'm here to be brutally honest, for 99% percent of us, sheer luck isn't going to bring us fame and recognition. So please, for the sake of your future, let go of any fantasy that doesn't include hard work and a ton of disappointments.
I am no stranger to hard work. Unfortunately, I didn't come from a wealthy or prominent artistic family that could help bolster my career. Though both of my parents had college degrees, my father had to resort to working in the construction field to support our family of five. After I got in some trouble with my friends at age 9, my father took me to work with him as a laborer for his construction company. For the next 8 years, I learned the value of hard work through many cold winters, blazing hot summers, and every weekend and holiday I was off from school. Within a few years, I was a carpenter's helper and for a short time after college, I was running my own construction crew. I know what an 80-hour week of physical labor feels like and I've seen what a grueling schedule did to my father after 40 years. In comparison, making art is far from hard work. Though I've pushed the gamut of how long one can paint without collapsing from exhaustion (I painted 22 paintings in 48 hours for an event in 2011), you’ll never hear me complain that being an artist is exhausting or laborious.
What I took from all those years of strenuous labor was simple, hard work and dedication will eventually be rewarding. Extreme effort is essential for any worthwhile battle. Along the way, you may stumble, fail miserably and become disenchanted with your dream, but if you continue to forge through, no matter how beaten and tired you are, there is something amazing at the end. If you only sit around dreaming of what a house will look like you'll be staring at a pile of lumber for the rest of your life. You have to put in the work.
I receive numerous emails from artists who ask, "How do I support my family while pursuing my dreams?" The answer is a tough one - there is no magical formula or template that could possibly yield perfect results. What I do know, is that I've faced this dilemma for 25 years and it's been a rewarding and sometimes, a soul-crushing journey. The first and most sobering reality is that you must accept that you’ll need to burn the candle at both ends – it’s difficult but self-produced success never comes easy. I never gave up on my dreams of independence even when I was forced to work for someone else to pay the bills. I painted when I came home into the middle of the night and then, after a few hours of sleep, woke early and painted a few more hours before work. Years ago, I had to take a time-sensitive commission to work with me and paint in my car on my lunch hour. Trust me, painting with your panel balanced on your steering wheel is a whole new level of weird. But, there is no perfect plan sometimes - you do what's necessary to inch closer to your goals. What did I get from a decade of painting in the middle of the night and on lunch breaks? I got a career that never slowed or peaked. I painted on average 4-5 hours a day, 5-6 days a week. That's 30 hours a week.
How my career worked out in 10 years: 30 hours x 52 weeks x 10 years = 15,600 hours
It's been said that it takes a person 10,000 hours to master a skill. In under 7 years, I did just that while keeping a full-time job. Does it mean you'll have to sacrifice sleep? Yes. Does it mean you'll have to sacrifice all your 'free time'? Yes. But ask yourself one important question and answer it honestly - do you need that free, me-time? In my case, becoming a successful artist was worth so much more than that wasted time. Will you be at peace years from now when you've given up because life was too hard, or you were too tired, or it was all just too much? Or are you the type of person that seizes their future and takes what is rightfully theirs? In the end, YOU make or break yourself. It isn't the outside world, the economy, where you live, or who’s in the White House. It's you and you alone that determine your future. Make yourself accountable for everything and anything. Look at any success story and you'll find one common denominator, the person overcame insurmountable odds.
My dad was a master carpenter. He couldn't teach me anything about art - but what he did teach me, in my opinion, was far better. He taught me the value of hard work and sacrifice. Though he was proud of my accomplishments as a carpenter, he didn't want me to follow in his footsteps. Imbued with passion and determination, I went to college to pursue my dream of becoming an accomplished artist. I took what my father taught me and made beautiful paintings, frames, and a gorgeous home that’s been featured in many magazines. I took my disadvantage and made it my biggest strength. What was once counting against me makes me special and unique – I learned to embrace my disadvantages and use them to my advantage.
What is your disadvantage? What’s your current struggle? What is keeping you from success? You must, no matter how difficult - self-actualize. You must learn how to be honest with yourself. Once you begin a heartfelt dialogue, things will come into perspective. Sometimes, we create our own obstacles. We become fixated on an idea that in the end is detrimental to our future. Trust me, I’ve been there. I’ve been stubborn and narrow-minded and reaped all the havoc and setbacks that sort of toxic thinking brought to my door. Take a look at where you are in your career and ask yourself what role you’ve played in your own misery and failure. How are you responsible? Trust me, you’ll feel like crap for a few days but in the end, the clouds will part and you’ll be glad you were honest and hard on yourself.
I'm encouraging you to never give up even when things look grim. At the moment you feel like throwing in the towel, I ask you to remember this; tomorrow may bring your break-through. So please, keep forward motion in your career no matter what life throws at you. If you want to be a successful artist you have to think and ACT like someone with lofty but achievable goals. Life will continue to be difficult and complex in some fashion because sadly, it’s part of the human experience - perfect lives are a fallacy. So when things get tough, work harder. I always found that when life becomes more complicated, stressful or depressing, pouring myself into work made it less bitter. Keep that momentum and eventually, you’ll have something to celebrate.
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