( All Illustrations by Armand Cabrera)
I think it’s time we bring back a word that was popular before the baby boomers started to ‘find themselves’. The word is “amateur”. Do you notice that practically no one is an amateur artist anymore? Everyone has “professional artist” status—their desire and intent are enough to warrant the “professional” claim. I think artists should be “amateurs” until they actually make their living from selling their paintings. That way, they’ve actually earned the right to call themselves “professional artists.”
To those seeking a professional career in art —
I wouldn’t recommend having a website until you’re in a fine art gallery. Don’t show the world what a bad artist you are right now. Spend all your time working at becoming a better artist. (Do grab your domain name right away, though!).
When I wanted to become an illustrator, I worked my fulltime job, came home and painted at night and sent samples to art directors. I stuck the rejection letters on my living room walls. It was a reminder that everyday I didn’t paint or improve my skills, was just another day those people were right and I wasn’t good enough. It took about five years to get my first book cover. I stayed in illustration for another five years, doing magazine and book illustration. I chose not to get married or have a family. My focus—becoming a professional artist.
When I decided to leave illustration and become a production artist in games, I worked harder to improve my speed and skill. I knew that creating a painting every two weeks wasn’t fast enough to succeed in the games industry. When I was hired to paint backgrounds, I was doing two, 10” x 14” paintings a day for my clients. They decided when the backgrounds were good enough for the industry. Having that valuable external input was critical to my artistic growth—and an important reason I feel most gallery artists fail to draw or paint at the level of an illustrator or production artist.
After 15 years in the computer games business, I changed my focus and decided to work for myself as a gallery artist. During my transition to full time fine art, I worked 12-hour days in computer games, then came home and painted until 1 am or 2 am…and also painted on the weekends. Within two years, my paintings were accepted into a fine art gallery. Within a short time, I replaced my 6-figure games income with gallery sales and I quit my “day job”.
As an amateur artist, I sought after and benefited from professional advice. I never thought the art directors were wrong about my skills when they said my work wasn’t up to par. As a production artist, my drawing skills were weak in the beginning. I improved them with drawing from life whenever I could. I studied the fundamentals of painting. I appreciated the successful artists who guided me by offering honest criticism, even though it was sometimes hard to hear.
I’ve noticed that constructive criticism is a thing of the past. Most people are offended if you tell them the truth. It’s very sad that we’ve lowered the bar so very far and that everyone is a “professional artist”. We’re subjected to the worst of art because it’s not “correct” to criticize anyone’s “creativity”. Many art shows and organizations have no jury process—just a fee charged for participation. As a result, anyone, with or without skill, can exhibit their work in the show.
It’s time to demand skill and facility as basic tenets towards becoming a professional artist. Let’s bring back the fundamentals of art and be honest about amateur and professional level art. Perhaps, if we’re all honest, amateurs will work harder and will someday become professional artists in the true sense of the word.