(all images by Armand Cabrera)
I believe curiosity to be a cornerstone for success—in any field. More than anything else, it’s the fuel that drives us to know new things—the necessary requirement for the achievement of a goal. Stop for a moment to think about the question—“How do you do that?” Then ask —“Can I do that?” These are the thoughts that spark creativity.
All the artists I admire have a strong sense of curiosity about how things work. They tend to be voracious readers, seeking out knowledge wherever they can find it. They are not afraid to ask for help to solve a problem. Great artists experiment, they analyze, they question how and what they are doing—always refining or working to improve something about their art.
Curiosity can take you down dead ends, too. However, curious people seem to pull more knowledge from the experience than others would. They use the information, learning from their mistakes and incorporating that experience into their library of knowledge to avoid similar situations in the future.
The famous science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon, signed his name, followed by a letter “Q” with an arrow through it. His symbol meant—“ask the next question”.
Want to be more successful at what you do?
Be curious. Ask the next question!
How does an artist maintain success throughout their lives? I remember seeing an interview with Don Henley of the Eagles once. The interviewer was asking him about success. Henley said he thought success was the ability for endless repetition. I always took that to mean that success is as much about servitude as much as it is about talent. Service to your audience or your clients, for as long as you can do that willingly you can be successful. That seems easier as a musician, where if you are willing, you can make a career out of a handful of songs or tunes that you are known for.
Good advice it seems but what about changing tastes? How does that work for visual artists? Sometimes you can reinvent yourself and your audience will follow but most of the time that isn’t true. What if the things you become successful for no longer satisfies you as an artist? If you decide to keep doing the same things you still run the risk of losing your clients because of them changing and growing older.
Some artists can split their time between what pays them and what satisfies them; making two types of art. That’s fine if your industry grows and thrives but what if it doesn’t? Remember album cover artists? Some artist don’t have to make a living from their art, they have a spouse or an inheritance or are retired with a pension. Some decide to not make their living as artists, settling for a steady paycheck and pension as teachers or even work outside the art field completely.
I have been reading a couple of different posts online from younger and older artists struggling with these issues. It seems everything is fine starting out, things are still fresh enough that they can enjoy it even if it isn’t completely satisfying. How do you hold on to that though after ten or twenty or thirty years?
Most people will live into their eighties or longer. If they start their careers in their twenties or thirties, that’s fifty or sixty years. Think about that. Think about how much the art markets have changed in that time frame in the past? If you work as an artist now think about what your market looked like forty or fifty years ago. Magazines, comics, books, TV, Movies, Games, ten years is a long time for most genres. As an artist do you change styles and mediums to keep current? As an artist can you even do that successfully?
I’ve seen some artists do it, Dean Cornwell, Meade Scheaffer, Norman Rockwell, Kelly Freas, Jon Schoenherr. All evolved their styles throughout their careers It seems the more successful ones adopt new trends and make it their own, so they reinvent themselves but stay recognizable to their audience. Others like Syd Mead or Alfred Munnings manage to keep going and even though they improve they change their style very little. I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on this. What are your plans for keeping your career going if you have one now?
I have noticed more and more students eschewing direct observation from life for their painting and in doing so slowing their efforts to be better artists and illustrators. Some of this is an over reliance on digital tools but not always. I see a lot of bad habits developing around color in particular. The biggest flaw I see most student work is monochromatic color strings for elements of the paintings and no interaction between the colors of the elements within the image.
I believe there are a few reasons for this.
They are making up the scene from their imagination without having enough of a mental library of images. An artist builds a mental library from working from life studying how light and shadow affects the color of objects and scenes around them.
They are using photos and video pulled off the web or other outside sources and have no understanding of the place or thing in the photo or video because they didn’t actually generate the reference. Photos are really bad at showing real world aspects of color and value.
They are coloring a black and white sketch, painting over the top of it without any modification of the hue and saturation of the color for light and shade. This lets the under drawing control the color which just lightens or darkens the chosen hue.
Color shifts from light to dark are poly-chromatic. That is the hue, saturation and value all change as the color lightens or darkens. These changes are altered by the angle, quality and color of the light source and all of the other lit elements in the scene that also act as secondary and tertiary sources of light.
It is up to the artist paint these transitions with understanding. This is why working from life is so important; careful studied observation is the quickest way to learn about color and light for a representational painter. I have used illustrations by N.C. Wyeth for this post because he had such a complete understanding of color and light his paintings glow.
Remember, all worthwhile theories started with careful observation, so if someone tells you that you need some complex color theory to learn about color, they are wrong. Theories can have their place in helping to clarify what you are seeing but in isolation without real world observation to back it up they quickly devolve into systems of formulaic painting.
By Armand Cabrera
An artist’s work is more than just the image they create whether it is digitally or traditionally made. It is also the rights to use that image for print, publication, advertising. Artists need to be aware of copyright and how valuable it can be to them as an income stream in addition to the making of art.
Every artist I know has at least one image they have created that they could have sold 100 times if it was still available. By keeping good digital files of all your images you can create an image bank that you can then license out for money long after the original has been sold.
Passive income streams are not just for digital artists. Traditional artists can and should do the same with their work. Just make sure when you enter into agreements with people for gallery representation or commissions you retain the rights to your image. I have licensed my images for use as decoration in hotel rooms, books, magazines, corporate brochures, movies and television shows. In some cases the compensation was equal to the price of the original painting.
I have recently heard of problems with people thinking they could license images without the artist’s permission just because they sell the artists originals in a gallery or act as the artist agent in other capacities. This is not the case and US copyright is very clear on who owns the rights to an image. All rights are retained by the image creator unless they specifically give up those rights in writing. Here is a link to the government website followed by the actual clause.
202: Ownership of a copyright, or of any of the exclusive rights under a copyright, is distinct from ownership of any material object in which the work is embodied. Transfer of ownership of any material object, including the copy in which the work is first fixed, does not of itself convey any rights in the copyrighted work embodied in the object; nor, in the absence of an agreement, does transfer of ownership of a copyright or of any exclusive rights under a copyright convey property rights in any material object.
With the slowed economy galleries and other artist venues are taking advantage of artists by not compensating them for the use of their images. Artists are being stupid not insisting on payment for the use of their image in any for-profit display. Artists need to insist on payment for use of their work and to not do so is hurting the environment for professional artists.
Digital media allows a lot of things not possible or not practical with traditional media. Nowhere is this more apparent than animation. Animation has been completely revolutionized by digital tools. Same with a number of other artistic endeavors, matte paintings, story boards and pre-visualization like concept and pitch art.
In publishing all the costs associated with printing have been lessened dramatically with digital tools. No more type setters or shipping and warehousing thousands of copies of an item that potentially won’t sell. Print on demand allows fast turnaround and low costs. There is no doubt that computers allow for a greater flexibility and fluidity when it comes to a finished product. At any stage of the production of a creative endeavor the work is easily changed; sometimes dramatically, and the work is always at the whim of the entity paying for it. This is not true of traditional media where expertise is not such democratic process.
All that ease of use and better cost benefit should be enough but it isn’t for some digital artists. I recently had a discussion on line where a digital artist was trying to make the case that digital prints were originals because with digital no original exists in the computer. Well that is only half right. No original exists in the computer or anywhere else either. A digital print is not unique by its very nature it can never be an original like a traditional painting can; that is why no one will pay the same prices for digital pieces compared to hand made things. If an artist doesn’t like this they can always learn to make art with traditional materials. I have a friend who is a very successful artist and he has always said your real level of ability as an artist is your level of ability when you work from life.
You would think this is obvious. As obvious as dressing up like a bird and stepping off a building and trying to fly. Wanting to fly like a bird won’t make you a bird any more than calling a machine made poster an original piece of art. People want hand made things. In most instances with quality craftsmanship, the more hand made a thing is the more people are willing to pay for it. The more unique a thing is the more people are willing to pay for it.
Before people write and tell me I hate digital; I’ve been making my living as a digital artist since 1990 so not only do I use digital tools I think digital art can be just as good or better than traditional art. What it can never be is a physical original. So stop pretending it is.