Building an Incredible Digital Art Career: Part 1 Growth & Earning a Reputation
It’s a rare person who doesn’t envy the success of those around them. As an artist, you probably feel this even more keenly because developing a career in the arts is more difficult than most. You may see other artists in your community and on Instagram that seem to have far more success than you.
But the reasons behind their successes aren’t a mystery. They follow a tried and true path of art career development that’s as simple to replicate as it is easy to dream about.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. As some of you already know, I’m not an artist. I’m the guy who writes about the artists. In a recent article on how Instafamous artists crush it on Instagram, I outlined why you might want to hear me out anyway, regardless of my lack of art experience. That’s because (a) my significant other is an artist and (b) I’ve interviewed many digital artists from all over the world.
These "original" articles are meant to distill some of my favorite lessons from those interviews for other aspiring digital artists.
Anyway, without further ado, let's talk about how to develop a fantastic art career.
Step 1: Shun the Nonbelievers
While some artists I speak with are encouraged by those closest to them, at least an equal amount struggle to find acceptance from family members, partners, and friends.
Bo Feng Lin was no exception.
At the age of 13, Bo Feng bought his first tablet. When it arrived, his mother hid the package from him for several days because she was worried about the direction his life was headed in.
"She wanted me to study," Bo Feng said. "After school, whenever I finished my homework, and I got free time, I'd use it to paint and draw on the tablet. I drew so much that my father once said that it's useless to do it and just to study. He said, 'You can have it as a hobby to paint and draw, but you will have to find a job to get money, and art is not a very good job for that.' "
Bo Feng, wanting to be respectful to his parents, but not willing to give up his art, eventually pursued an architecture degree. He lasted a mere two weeks because he realized he had compromised too much of his passion for art.
"I had to quit immediately," Bo Feng admitted. "I had to call my dad and say I didn't like it. That was the hardest call of my life. I was sitting in my apartment, which I moved into only two weeks ago, and I had to tell him that this wasn't what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I wanted to pursue art. He was very sad at that moment. I could hear it in his voice. But he quickly became very understanding and said that I have to do whatever I need to feel happy."
But the struggles for support didn’t end there. They continued into art school, where professors and fellow students would label his art as cliche. And he still deals with a lot of critics today.
But with each art piece posted to Instagram, Bo Feng continues to stand up for his dreams every day. Here’s how:
- He doesn’t focus on changing people’s minds about his career or art style
- He focuses on the people who already love his work
- He shuns the nonbelievers; AKA, he ignores them and keeps going anyway
And it's a good thing too because his career is quite the success so far. People from all over the world buy Bo Feng's prints and commission original pieces for their homes and workplaces, including Melt Cosmetics in the USA, and Huion in China.
You should be like Bo Feng.
Yes, you'll still have to deal with parents that think a career in the arts is a fool's endeavor. Yes, you'll still have to find a way to make a living as your reputation grows. Yes, you'll always have to put up with critics, many of which might be nasty.
But at the end of the day, your art isn't for everybody. It's for the raving fans, the true believers. Shun the nonbelievers.
But even when you do that, it can feel like too much to handle on your own. Luckily, you don’t have to.
Step 2: Join a Community of Artists
Creating art may often feel like an isolating activity. And if you’re the type of budding artist that lacks support, you’ll start feeling pretty lonely. Some days you might sit down to create your masterpiece only to realize, a little while later, that you haven’t spoken to a human since you rolled out of bed.
What’s more, even the supportive people around you aren’t often equipped to give you the best art career advice.
That’s why you need to join an active community of other artists.
Which is precisely what Rob Sketcherman did when he got involved with the Urban Sketchers, an international group of artists focused on creating artwork drawn from life.
“The first thing that drew me into urban sketching was the community,” he said. “The first meeting was in January. It was cold, and we were just drawing a bunch of statues, but I loved the fact that there were people from all strata of society.”
Rob credits much of his career path to the passion and welcoming environment that permeates the sketching community. In fact, one relationship in the community was a particularly strong catalyst for Rob’s life as an artist. And that person’s name is Luis.
“I was in a street market with Luis. We were sitting next to fishmongers, occasionally getting splashed with fishy water. But I was sitting with a good friend, and we just loved being in that moment — watching the people go by, and the way the colors and the light changed.”
It was that day with Luis where Rob sketched the framework for his most viral work to date.
There are a few essential things to consider when joining an art community:
- Join online communities, but find or create in-person communities as well
- Participate in events and collabs as often as possible
- Be a giver, not a taker
One of the best ways to engage with your art community is to produce great work and share your techniques with other aspiring artists around you.
Step 3: Show Your Work
Remember math class? I do.
The teacher would always tell me: “show your work.” Annoying or not, what the teacher was really saying is, “I don’t trust that you won’t cheat, so show me how you got to that answer.” Now, I was never a cheater in school, but I see the teacher’s point.
And the same principle applies to your art.
As in: show your audience how you do your work as much as what you've made. The best way our PaperLike artists do this is with Procreate's built-in screen capture feature.
First, and most important, it's excellent content. Your audience will love to watch you do your thing.
Stills of Nolan Harris's time lapse art. Photo credit: Nolan Harris
Second, it proves without a doubt that your work is original or lets people know that while you start with a traced image, you made it your own by adding your unique style.
Both of those outcomes build trust with your audience, buyers, galleries, and other artists with whom you might collaborate.
Almost all of the artists we've interviewed show their work. A lot.
So should you.
As with most of the information we distill from our artists, much of it seems obvious. But to build a successful art career, it doesn't matter whether or not you know how to do it.
What matters are your actions.
In the second half of this piece we'll go over three additional steps to ensure your art career reaches the moon, or at least has a pretty good view of it. 😉