"Do you think the dragons are big enough to ride and fight with?" This is a quote from my second grade journal, and it was accompanied by the art you see at the top of the post. At seven years old, art wasn't something I analyzed – it was something I did, and it was fun. In fact, I only did it because it was fun. In the twenty years since then I've spent a lot of time making art, thinking about making art – and even more time getting in my own way (not making art.) All of this has lead me to an interesting conclusion, and hopefully it will help you in your own artistic pursuits. Though I could describe in a variety of ways, here's the short version:
You'll have more luck as an artist if you choose to have fun with it.
Before you dismiss this as self-help nonsense let me explain a bit of personal history. There have been times that I felt great about making art due to naivete (see 'dragon lord' above), and there have been times that I've dreaded making art because of poor self-esteem. Neither of these are sustainable relationships. Now that I'm a professional artist, I know what it means to draw every day. That includes 'bad drawing days', and days where I'm in a terrible mood. To make this work, I have to control my mindset. The conclusion I've come to is that most successful artists weren't born successful. They got that way through a long series of small victories, and successes happen more often when you don't dwell on failure.
Choose Not to Fail.
The attitude I've decided to adopt is simple: my next project is going to be a huge success, so I will approach it with all of my energy. Is every project a success? No! Of course not. I've had tons of failures. But each time a project completes I can choose to focus on the minor successes, or on the minor failings. Every project, big or small, has both. When I focus on the negative aspects it's easy to delay the next project in fear of another failure. Instead, when choose to focus on the small successes, I'm ready to dive into the next attempt. After all, it's going to succeed!
When it comes to breaking into the commercial art world, luck is an unavoidable factor. I've listened to dozens of 'breaking in' stories (my favorites are from the Sidebar podcast) and they all seem to mention incredible timing. Lucky breaks. Knowing the right person. What these stories often leave out is the attitude that allowed the luck to happen in the first place. Remember: when the opportunity knocks, you need to have a portfolio ready to show. To help visualize this, let's quantify it with some made up numbers. We'll pretend that every piece of art you make and post on the internet has a 1% chance of attracting the attention of an art director. Knowing this, what is the proper mindset when your recent submission is met with no response?
a) My art is bad, and I should give up.
b) That one didn't work, but the next one might!
Clearly 1% is a made up number, but the point is fair: 'good luck' only happens to you if you are determined. In order for the lucky moment to happen, you have to be willing to try 99 times and hear nothing in return. Sadly, the world is not filled with cheerleaders. No longer seven years old, I can't expect others to tell me how great my artwork is. Now it's up to me to focus on the minor successes instead of the minor failings. And at the risk of being overly dramatic.... this just might be the secret to a successful art career.
Since this post is heavy on theory, I'd love to hear some practical tips and personal stories in the comments. So lets hear it: How does mindset affect your art-making?