In Serious Need for Art Career Advice

  • Hey all.

    Have to be honest, I'm not in a good place now, emotionally. It's not as bad as it's been before, but I have this overriding sense of potential futility in pursuing a career as a professional artist - or professional ANYTHING, really, freelance or not. I just feel that the odds are against me, even if I DO try everything to attain my illustration goals, because of these terrible anxieties that gnaw at me - even when my gut, emotional self tells me that this a vocation path worth pursuing. I have depression when I consider careers that aren't illustration/comics/game art related, and I feel depressed when I consider the realities that face me specifically if I DO pursue them. There are two main issues I struggle mightily with emotionally, and I felt I needed professional advice to better guide my decision making.

    I live with my family in a highly poverty ridden border area of South Texas, studying art independently as an English major. The illustration market down here is nonexistent, so I'd have to move to upper parts of Texas, if not out of state, to find even the slightest bit of halfway decent work opportunities. That's hard enough on its own, but my skill level is at the point where I would struggle a lot to attain slightly decent freelance gigs. I think I would need 3-4, maybe even five years to be skilled enough to be full-time. Even then, attending Illustration cons, comic conventions, or CTN would be difficult, as I would be dealing with day job and financial restraints, up until I become full time. Where would I be able to find storyboard work? For Game Art, I'd have to learn the software, but I can't/don't want to attend game art schools for financial reasons, and I fear that the game art modeling programs would also be costly - these issues also apply to illustration jobs in animation.

    I fear that I might not be emotionally/psychologically prepared for the realities of in-house and freelance art. I read about artist's sometimes working 50, if not 60 or more hours a week, some living pay check to pay check, all working to find paying clients. I do love illustration, and I know that starving/suffering artist's are just myths, but when I consider that I don't live in a bustling art area, my skills need some years of proper development -(DA is, Tumblr is and that I'll be attempting to compete against younger, more polished art school grads, I can't help but question if could handle it. I fear that, independent of my skill level and the opportunities available to me, I'd struggle with isolation, frustration, depression, high stress levels, even though I love illustration. And will I be rejected by companies if I don't have a BFA in design or art?

    These issues make me feel that I'm doomed to fail, that it can't happen because of where I'm from, and financially in terms of providing for my utilities, my Adobe subscription, my physical and mental health, even though I do really want to be paid to draw for a living. I wonder, from a pro's perspective, if my issues are overblown - and this isn't even getting into providing for a family, or retirement. Is the lifestyle stressful, but not in a way that makes you want to throw in the towel? Does the overall satisfaction outweigh the day to day highs and lows? Are my imagined physical/mental/financial health risks really that grave looking? I ask these questions here because there's a fair respectable number of working professionals on here that I respect as a visual storytellers and designers, and I welcome any insights into my existential woes. I know, on a gut level, there's an attainable middle ground between the harshness of reality, and my idealistic goals, but I fight to see them.

  • Hi....just read your post..Do you love drawing,then draw.Just keep going,even through all you feel.Feelings come and go,but what we love stays❤Thank goodness for the internet,it cam give us a global platform that illustrators a few years ago,who were limited to the area they were in,would have loved...just to say I have a degree in art,but I'm back at square One cos illustration needs a new set of skills and I'm in my forties,and I grew up in care.But I never let things hold me back...Dont worry hun,if you want this,go for it,whatever the ups and downs,and you decide how far you go....

  • I don't know if I'm the right one to give advice, seeing as how I don't have an art-career. I create art mostly to scratch my creative itch - my day-job is in graphic design. But I will say this - anything that seem overwhelming is far more manageable if you break your goals into smaller, more attainable goals. In stead of telling yourself that you need to be working full time as an artist in x number of years, try to focus on the smaller things that eventually might get you there in the end. Along the way you'll gain experience and adjust your goals accordingly - life isn't always as straight forward as we'd like it to be.

    Most artists do work a different day-job for quite a few years before being able to support themselves through doing art of some kind. And even creative professions eventually become a JOB, even if it is something you enjoy doing. I'm not saying this to be mean, it's just how it is. If you enjoy creating art, and would like to grow as an artist, I would suggest that that should be your first priority. Through the prosess of building your skill level, you'll be more likely to make an informed decision of wether or not this is what you build a career in.

    I'm wishing you the best of luck figuring out where to go next in your life - where ever that may be 🙂

  • Hi! It's great to hear from you and I hope you find encouragement and support here at SVS and the SVS forum just as I have. It sounds like you have a lot on your plate and that you're struggling with some of the same things many other artists struggle with. So, if it's any reassurance, you're not alone! I received my BA in 1985 and am just now getting around to fulfill my goal of being a freelance artist. So, sometimes it takes a little longer for some than other. But don't give up.

    Feeling lost when starting out is normal. Not everyone is overflowing with confidence, it's something that takes time to build. How do you eat an elephant? bite at a time. Becoming an artist is like that; one drawing at a time. The more you do the better you'll get. I can guarantee it. As for futility, you must be willing to put in the time to become proficient in your craft, or with ANY career to make it. If you're unwilling to do the work, you will not prosper. Period. So, keep pressing on.

    Now, you may have to have some other job to do to make money in the beginning. That's with most creative fields. However, with the advent of technology it may not be necessary to live in a large area to get jobs. That's the beauty of it. (I live in Georgia and have done freelance for a company in Louisiana) Your first priority would be to get a strong portfolio. That's what I'm doing now. I'm not even thinking about other stuff until I have a stronger more complete portfolio. You should check out the classes on SVS if you have't yet. and also participate in the monthly challenges here. Focus on your work and get your portfolio together. The work will find you. If your work is excellent, you may find getting a BFA is not necessary. Repeat after me, "I will focus on my own work and create a most excellent portfolio." (yes, I really want you to say it out loud) Move forward.

    You are not doomed. You may fail on things you're working on. But that will not make you a failure. You will discover new and improved ways of working. New mediums you love and hate. You have the capacity to learn and to work. Fail, fail, and fail some more. It is good to fail. It teaches you to be resilient. Do not fear failure. I used to be fearful. I'm not any more. I embrace failure. You should to. Now, go create something sublime.

    Recommended reading: Mindset, The New Psychology of Success. How We Can Learn to Fulfill Our Potential by Carol S Dweck, Ph. D.

    P.S. Please feel free to reject any or all of this rambling.


  • Hi there. I don't have a ton of advice but I wanted to say that you're not alone. I let fear get in my way 15 years ago when I graduated high school and I'm still trying to dig out and live my dream. When I was thinking about colleges someone said to me "Do you really think you can make a living with ART?!" To make a long story short I meandered a lot, finally went to art school for animation and took on too much debt, meandered more and then realized I should have done illustration like I wanted to upon graduating high school! "Do you really think you can make a living with ART?!" still bugs me some days but I have to ignore it, especially when I go to my day job and know in my heart that it's not what I want for the rest of my life. Do one little thing each day that will bring you closer to what you want and don't beat yourself up for not cranking out masterpieces on a daily basis. It could be reading, sketching, observing, making a list, setting a goal. Do it and pat yourself on the back.

    There are many ways you can learn on your own now - free youtube videos, SVS, Skillshare, copying artwork you love.... and it will take years just like any degree.

    Are you currently in school as an English major? If so, are you going to graduate and wish you had done illustration? Or are you majoring in English because you love to write? If it's the second one then that will work in your favor. I don't want to offend you but I know two graduated English majors - one works for the cable company and the other is a barista. They're both alive and content. They're not wallowing in misery and struggling to get through each day. Even if you don't pursue your passion you can live a fine life! You won't die! Just be careful that you're not getting a degree in English to please someone else.

    Take it a day at a time. Keep drawing and posting. You'll learn a lot here.

  • I'm now a barrista after quitting teaching! Downgraded some might say,but want to be able to draw and paint😊

  • My bro-in-law loves his barista job. He was always a coffee lover so it works for him. I hope nobody takes what I was saying as bashing those jobs because I said it to show that they have good lives even if they didn't pursue a passion for writing as a job. You can pursue a passion as a hobby while working in a different field.

  • SVS OG

    I hear your anxieties and fears, and though they are not unfounded, I would advise getting away from thinking too black and white about a career in art. I have been working as a full-time artist for over 10 years, mostly in the video game industry. I have worked, and am currently working, as an in-house game artist and art director, but I've always done freelance on the side and did it full-time for a couple of years. Here are my thoughts in no particular order:

    Develop both practical and passion-based skills
    I didn't go to art school, but I did get a film degree and when I got graduated from college I saw a few of my friends working low end or no job at all waiting for their dream job to come along as a movie director. Guess how many of them are doing that? Zero. On the flip side I actually sold copiers, and did art gigs on the side. I started making jumbotron animations for use during games (I hate sports) but it got me work, taught me to work with clients and my day job was actually a huge motivation to work even harder at my art, as I didn't want to sell copiers for very long. In fact it was at a game where a future employer at a video game company saw my work with a mutual friend which led to me 'breaking in' to games.

    I love illustration, and maybe I'll do it full-time at some point, but for now knowing how to do 3d modeling, texturing, animation (all learned online) gives me skills that keep me doing art in different fields full-time.

    You don't have to be a starving artist
    Will and Lee have talked about this quite a bit. There are starving artists out there, plenty of them, but there are also a lot of well paid artists that support themselves and their families off of their art careers. I have been able to support myself, my wife and our 3 kids in an art career. For me, the video game industry, mixed with illustration jobs has allowed me to continue to grow as an artist, do what I love and often get paid to learn new valuable skills and software.

    Not all jobs are created equal
    I just had a pep talk with a young man the other day who's mother was discouraging him from pursuing a career in art, and he was in a similar place as you I think. The truth about an art career is that there are many many different things you can do, many different companies to work for, several fields and of course thousands of people to work with and each unique combination of these elements will provide a different experience ranging from dream job to nightmare grind. The key is to find something that works and not be a victim of your circumstance. I know people that have worked at video game studios where they are in perpetual crunch mode and the hours are killer. I personally have worked the bulk of my career doing mobile games with small companies and therefore my experiences have been much more positive.

    Don't get roped into thinking there are only a couple of art jobs out there. In the age we are living there are more opportunities than ever. Everything you see on your phone, tablet, computer, TV, was created by an artist whether it is an app, game, webpage, tv show or movie, and all of these use illustration in some capacity.

    Motivation is key, educate yourself if you have to
    The biggest thing that I see keep young artists from their goals is a lack of real motivation and passion and some sort of discipline to go with it. When people ask me about my dream job, or retiring when I'm older, my response is always the same: "I will keep doing what I'm doing in some capacity my entire life, not because I get paid, but because I need to be creating art on a regular basis."

    No amount of education or opportunity will provide the self-driving motivation that you need to meet your goals, it's got to come from within. Art careers ARE hard, but they are good, and they require tenacity and above all a desire to make art on a daily basis. If you're not doing that on your own accord, a paid gig may not change it. I learned how to make 3d models, texture, draw, paint, illustrate using online tutorials 90% of them free. But it takes work and real hours put in day in and day out, but hopefully it's working at something you love.

    I had a friend that I had formerly worked at a studio with who decided he wanted to be a full-time concept artist, probably the most competitive position in video game art departments because you only need 1 or 2 usually. He was looking for work for close to a year, doing side gigs as they came, but the entire time, any free hour he had was spent drawing, painting and improving. He was determined, and man did his portfolio show it after a few months. He finally landed a very high paid position at a new studio in CA. We had a lot of conversations over the past year where he felt discouraged, but he kept climbing that mountain.

    Art careers are hard, but they are so good!
    You are right about a lot of what you say. Working at a studio can be hard, freelancing can be taxing, going to comic cons is exhausting, storyboard art can be hard to break into, and I've done all of them. Any competitive field with a high level of compensation, be that emotional satisfaction, freedom or monetary gain, is going to be challenging. That's a given. But if you are really passionate about doing art for a living, it's a small price to pay. Trust me, I used to sell copiers for a living.

  • @lydia, you didn't come across as putting any job down😊 I just commented about being a Barrista cos you mentioned it!! I chose it over teaching, 'cos it allows me mental and time to pursue my goals!!!All good.

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