How to be an artist as an adult with no experience
Many of us fantasize picking up a new artistic hobby, like painting, photography, or graphic design. Some of us had talent in the arts as children but chose to ignore it in pursuit of more lucrative careers. And some of us never expressed an interest in strengthening the right side of our brains, until now.
It should come as no surprise that many people have this creative calling. Art is incredibly rewarding in itself. It teaches patience, commitment and dedication, and has been shown to positively affect the body. Ruth Richards, a psychology professor at Saybrook University and Harvard Medical School, says engaging in creativity makes us brave, resilient, and “more vividly in the moment, and, at the same time, more connected to the world.”
But what do you about your art calling now? When you’re in your late twenties, thirties, or older with little to no experience? I’m not asking for a friend. I’m asking for myself. And maybe for you, too.
Realize you’re in good company
We’ve all heard — or known — of white collar workers who suddenly can’t do the 9 to 5 anymore but there’s an impressive list of well-known artists who started relatively late in their careers, too. Van Gogh “attempted to be a lay minister, teacher and art dealer” before deciding to pursue a career as a painter in his late twenties. And Monet began even later than that. 40 years old to be exact. The list goes on to include Toni Morrison, who started writing at 26, and, most recently, Adrien Brody. “Painting was something that I loved and dreamt of coming back to one day but never did. I think a lot of people have that” Brody tells Artsy. The actor dedicated himself to painting at 41.
So it’s okay to be at peace with your inner calling. Your body, soul, and energy are telling you to create? Oblige. You are in good company.
Education and exposure through social media
First things first, you need to build your knowledge— regardless of what medium you choose to express yourself. It’s important to know what’s out there in your field. T.S. Eliot famously preached this idea. He believed that all great poets needed a comprehensive understanding of poetry’s history. This way poets could learn from past artists, see what worked or flopped for them, and make better decisions for their own work. Picasso held similar views and famously said: “bad artists copy, great artists steal.”
But you won’t know what’s worthy to steal without two things that social media just so happens to offer: education and exposure. It is a great alternative for those of us who do not have the time or money for a formal education in the arts.
Your phone is full of experts whose sole purpose is educating beginners like you. Want to learn watercolor painting? This video talks about supplies and techniques all beginners should know. Need to learn at a slower pace? Pinterest is a great way to find step-by-step tutorials on any subject. Some accounts will even offer free ebooks and announce workshops through newsletters.
But, most importantly, social media exposes users to inspiring, like-minded artists. My advice to you? Create Instagram or YouTube accounts (or better yet, both) purely devoted to your craft. Follow users who are already doing the things you wish you could and then be consistently active on those accounts. That means, yes, checking your phone every morning for #inspo and new artists to follow. A few comments here and there can also bring you into a community. It’s no wonder why those who learn through exposure feel encouraged, self-driven, and part of a supporting network.
Practice, practice, practice but mix it up
As a novice, you will undoubtedly start off learning the very basics. And that’s okay. But you don’t want to mechanically learn new skills in a chronological order. Scientists have discovered “that by subtly varying your training, you can keep your brain more active throughout the learning process, and halve the time it takes to get up to scratch.” So avoid practicing the same technique until you think it has been mastered. Instead, take on a project that incorporates a few techniques and realize that none have to be perfect. It’s most important to let your learning flourish at a natural pace by constantly taking on just a little bit more than you’re ready for. And keep the projects coming.
Don’t be afraid to fall down the rabbit hole
This piece of advice comes from personal experience. And it’s very much aligned to the saying “be careful what you wish for — you may just get it.”
Recently, I became obsessed with embroidery art. I had fantasies of selling extraordinary knickknacks made from needle, thread, and my own creative visions. So I did everything listed above. I made profiles everywhere online and followed the best embroidery artists — and I practiced every day, all the time. It’s all I wanted to do anymore. And it scared me.
I started to feel guilty. I saw my obsession at home, in every room, in my bank statements, and noticed it was all I searched for online. But I also saw my amateur work improve. Every day and with every project.
If you get to this point I want to urge you to keep going. What is being an artist if not for passion? It’s not only talent or a paycheck from it — it’s an obsession with what you do. Take a look at Van Gogh. He didn’t start painting until he was 27 yet in just 10 years he produced almost 900 works. That averages to 2 paintings per week.
If you don’t reach this point, perhaps you are not expressing yourself in the right medium. Don’t be timid in staying in one lane. Explore until you find the thing you are crazy for.
I’ll leave you with two quotes about art and passion.
“ Being an artist is not a choice; it is an obsession.” — Andrew Hamilton
“It’s the addicts that stay with it. They’re not necessarily the most talented, they’re just the ones that can’t get it out of their systems.” — Harold Brown
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