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How Long To Become A Successful Artist?

Updated on January 13, 2016
PAINTDRIPS profile image

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40 years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

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It takes a long time.

I'm a little discouraged that becoming a successful artist has taken SO LONG but I'm encouraged too that I'm still working on it. It's nice to know when you aren't alone. Anything worthwhile is going to take some time and effort to achieve. It seems to me everyone faces the detours, big and little, but if they really WANT it, the creative process is still waiting to be discovered and nurtured in our lives. Isn't that good news?

Ernie Weerasinghe giving a demonstration.
Ernie Weerasinghe giving a demonstration. | Source

Watch this short video

Watch this short video on the Creative Process and the idea of wasted time. I found it very insightful.

Ira Glass on the Creative Process

“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”

— Pablo Picasso

Have you ever self-studied a subject from the Library?

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The library is a wealth of educational opportunities.

When I was in high school, thinking of what I wanted to be, my father heard me talk about art with passion. He was alarmed and appalled. He told me artists don't make money till they are dead. He tried to talk me out of pursuing it. When that didn’t work, he decided not to pay for any more college for me. At the time I was stuck so I got married. I didn’t stop pursuing art; I just had to find a way to do it on my own. I went to the library often, devouring any and all books in the art section. I read about famous artists in history and found they faced similar hardships and even worse. I went as far as I could, being self-taught before discovering online classes that made college again possible for me.

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Self Portrait
Self Portrait | Source
Nocturne in Black and Gold
Nocturne in Black and Gold | Source

Whistler

What looks incredibly simplistic is extremely difficult in art. As a matter of fact, artists work very hard to make just a few well-placed lines say volumes. I see the 5-minute sketches of others and know that there was a lot of experience and practice behind them. I know that in that short time frame you have to rely on intuition and experience of all those sketches done before. It reminds me of the trial of John Ruskin. Ruskin was an art critic and published a highly critical, even slanderous critique of James McNeill Whistler’s latest paintings. For the first time ever, an artist decided to sue a critic for a miserable published critique. In Whistler’s case it was slander for Ruskin to call him an uneducated Cockney and to accuse him of “throwing paint at the canvas.” The defense attorney questioning James Whistler asked how long it took to do the painting. Answer: 2 days. Then he asked how much he was charging for the painting. Answer: about 200 pounds. So the defense attorney said, what you are saying is you are charging the British public 200 pounds for 2 days work. And Whistler said, No. I'm charging the British public 200 pounds for a lifetime of experience in art. That's it isn't it? We artists have to build up a lifetime of experience in art. The side-note is that Ruskin lost the case but the judge only ordered Ruskin to pay Whistler one farthing in damages. For Whistler, it was rather like winning and loosing the case all at one time.

“Fine Art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together”

— John Ruskin
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Often when people are looking at sketches by a master they don’t know what they are looking at or what makes them great. The general public can’t really see the lifetime of experience and anguish that goes into making one line so great… so well executed, that it tells more that a thousand little lines. They have to develop rhythm, fluidity, draftsmanship, curve, quality and continuity. Sometimes an artist never achieves greatness in his lifetime because they go unnoticed for the personality and emotion that they have learned to put into their drawings. Yet even so, the work they put into their art is not wasted. Someone someday will be blessed by it and uplifted by it.

“My American image is made up of what I have come across, of what was ‘there’ in the time of my experience—no more, no less.”

— Thomas Hart Benton
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What I need to work on.

I know I have many things I need to work through in my own art. I have to strengthen my knowledge and skill drawing hands and intend to spend a good deal of time on that in the next year. I have a problem giving up outlines. I have clung to them because they are familiar in children’s illustration but I am somewhat afraid of what it will mean if I eliminate them. Yet these outlines are becoming a crutch and are limiting.

I tend to rely on just one or two brushes in my paintings and in Photoshop. My joke has always been that I will be painting until the pry the brush from my cold dead hands. It seems I don’t have to pass away for that to still be true. I just don’t want to drop my favorite brush to try another one. I have been told that a variety of brushes and textures would help my work but when I use a variety of brushes I’m not as happy with the outcome. I need to experiment more and that takes time. I figure I will eventually find the textures and brushes that work best for me but until then I am using an abundance of experimentation.

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The Maid

My husband and I joke about the maid. I need to fire her. She is letting me down, not doing the dishes, not wanting to pick up clothes or get laundry going, cook meals, etc. She just sits around and draws and paints all day long, from morning till night. Half the time she is so focused on drawing that she doesn’t even listen. The toughest thing about this is that the maid is me. I've noticed when I begin a new project the house suffers and my dear honey goes hungry, unless he can scrounge for something in the fridge. What can be done? The art is far more important to me, but I realize there is a balance to all things. It's like hygiene. No one really wants to do it but it must be done. So I'd fire the maid but then I'd have to do her work, haha. Ahh, the irony.

I understand throughout history many female artists hired someone to do the mundane housework but I have never been able to afford such a thing so I try to keep up with it and my passion both. Not easy.

“A man throws himself out of the fourth-floor window; if you can’t make a sketch of him before he gets to the ground, you will never do anything big.”

— Eugene Delacroix
Dennis Lewis drawing from a live model.
Dennis Lewis drawing from a live model. | Source
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Models

Models for artists are vital. Even cartoonists benefit from using a live model in the proper costume for shape, lighting, folds of fabric and gesture. I used to be able to find possible subjects/models all around me a few years ago, but after my hip operation, I've noticed I stay close to home. I don't get out and make contact like I used to. Consequently I haven't the same model base I used to draw from. This is becoming a problem I hadn't really noticed before. I even found a site where people can hire models from (Model Mayhem) and that would be great only I don’t have the kind of funds it would take to hire anyone. Mostly I have gotten models to pose for me in exchange for a drawing or painting. So if an artist comes up to you and says that he/she would like to photograph you for a model for some ongoing project, be kind. Be flexible. Who knows, you may be the next superhero or heroin in a children’s book.

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My children’s dreams

When it came to my own children, I wanted them to know they could do anything they set their hearts on and were willing to work for. I didn't want them growing up with cold water poured on their dreams. They still thank me for that. Only one of them has pursued art, but they all think if they work hard they can do anything. Now I have to take my own advice. It has taken a lot of work and time (longer than I wanted it to take) but I'm still working. I have a HUGE volume of artwork behind me. Like Ira Glass says, all that "wasted time" really hasn't been wasted at all. I was still working on art, creating things, like he said, that weren't quite right. I'm getting closer; I can feel it. I'm very excited to see light at the end of the tunnel. And this time, it isn't the train running me down.

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Perfection vs. Excellence

Artists tend to be perfectionists. We work on our craft and look at it with a critical eye. After all, who can achieve perfection, outside of our Lord? The key is not to try for perfection, but instead to work for excellence. Be the best you can possibly be at your chosen creative pursuit. Learn new things every day; practice constantly and excellence is possible even if perfection is not.

So how long does it take to become a successful artist? I am still working on it so I’m not sure. For something like art, music, literature and any of the creative arts, we work our craft all our lives and may still look back and not be sure when we became successful. Perhaps it was the moment we decided to pursue it; the day we decided that it was something worth pursuing for a lifetime. At any rate it takes time as Ira Glass pointed out but none of that time is wasted if it is in pursuit of excellence.

" All great achievements require time. "

— Maya Angelou
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Creative Comments

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    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Theresa Jonathan,

      I see what you mean. Thanks for clarifying. Words to live by.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 

      2 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      That is a challenge I am alluding to. First success is subjective and others may quantify it in financial terms only. I see success as achieving joy and inner personal growth which only you know how to qualify. Parents may fail to recognize value in this way and display disappointments for not following what they perceive as prestigious. Art give this intrinsic motivation and deep sense of achievement. Most of us as parents see our children as our extensions and not individual. That view will derail a parent from really assisting a child to identify given social and spiritual gifts.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Theresa Jonathan,

      You talk good sense. I agree with you that we shouldn't spoil children, nor should we pour cold water on their dreams. The reality is that my dad was partly right that I will never make big money in art; not like I would if I had gone into, say, the law or nursing or becoming a doctor. Yet I love what I'm doing and in the end, I think he would be happy for me that I am doing what I love. Thank you for your positive words.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 

      2 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      Parental praise is very important though it was regarded as spoiling a child. A praise following a desirable behavior encourages that behaviour to be repeated. The good this is that you made it without it and I am sure it is an achievement to you. I wish we could all adopt that attitude because we would be able to live without blaming. We however must continue advocating positive and purposeful parental support.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      YouGet1Shot,

      Thank you for asking. I may never know how my father feels today. He passed away 23 years ago at the age of 60. I was struggling to be an artist at the time but of course, wasn't too successful at it. I tried giving him art but he never said much about it. Knowing how much he LOVED John Wayne, I painted a large montage of John Wayne as he appeared in a number of Western movies. The said "thanks" but never said much else. Later I found the painting displayed in Mom's office not Dad's. Once he even paid another artist to do a portrait of him on his horse. He asked me if he'd gotten his money's worth and told me how much he paid her. It so hurt my feeling that I'm not sure what I said. He didn't want me to be an artist but he would pay someone else to do it. Hmmmm. As I get better and better, sell work and create books, I'm not sure what he would say today if he were still here. But I have a feeling he would say the same as always, "yeah, nice neese." Still, I have to live MY life and follow MY dreams even if I never ever receive his praise. I'd love to, but I can't even imagine what his praise would sound like. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • YouGet1Shot profile image

      Chris Desatoff 

      2 years ago from USA

      Hi Denise,

      I really like your drawings. That tree and rock is my favorite too.

      Sorry to hear about how your father tried to kill your dreams. I'm sure he meant well and wanted to see you prosper and not struggle financially, but wow. What a dream killer haha.

      How does he feel about your art today? Have you given him any art as a present? If so, how did he respond?

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      FlourishAnyway,

      Oh thank you! I think I will give the maid a break and get back to my painting now. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      2 years ago from USA

      Part of any expertise is making it look simpler than it is. I'm glad you have pursued your dreams. Give the maid a break and let her create.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      kiddiecreations,

      Thank you for the complement. I have felt that way before, torn in every direction at once. I guess it comes down to choosing which one really inspires you right now and work on it till you are happy. I remember working in oils for a couple of years and then trying watercolor. I spent many years there and then tried printmaking, which was inspiring. I did months in between working in pen and ink also. I ended up with quite a body of work in a variety of mediums. I'm so glad you are inspired. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • kiddiecreations profile image

      Nicole K 

      2 years ago

      I really love this article. Thank you for sharing! I've been wanting to publish my poetry and also write a novel for a long time. I've written little short stories, but have never finished a whole novel. I'm starting to work on actually finishing a novel and hopefully self-publishing soon. Your article makes me want to work that much harder toward my goals and not give up. I also love painting and want to sell my paintings on Etsy, but getting started is hard. I just have so much creative energy and not enough time to use it all! Plus I want to go in about 15 different directions at once! Anyway though, thanks so much for this inspiring article. You are a wonderful artist! Truly inspirational.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Theresa Jonathan,

      I agree with you, there is joy and fulfillment when I paint and design that goes way beyond the financial gain. I still feel like my paintings are like my children. How can you sell your children? You just hope they are happy in their new home and with people who love them. Thanks so much for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 

      2 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      I tend to understand the author's point when mentioning that it is not about financial gain but personal fulfilment. Some people have spiritual visions which when reached brings joy and sense of achievement. Writing is like that; one feels good for sharing information and knowledge which may have no significant financial gains. I do believe that this is it. This Hub Articles demonstrates a passion in this field which bring joy and admiration of our uniqueness.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      lawrence01,

      So true. And these things take time too. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      I agree. Dad used to say "two things money can't buy. Health and Happiness"

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      lawrence01,

      Yes, I did. Not that it enriched me financially but I have to say I feel enriched emotionally and artistically. I love what I do and don't mind living in a small way making a little splash as opposed to a large one. Still, when we pursue our passion, isn't that what life is all about anyway? I think so. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 

      2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Denise

      Glad to read that you followed your passion.

      Lawrence

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Theresa Jonathan,

      Nicely said. You are very correct that the precious resource of time is what will yield results for those who focus on one discipline. Thank you for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 

      2 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      It is said that focus of energy on a particular idea, task or plan will yield results. Sowing a seed will eventually yield results.. It take time to acquire skill and refine it to be a masterpiece like this collection of art. I have learned to conquer doubt over a period of time to express my views and feelings. Artist are said to be a little overboard in terms of restricting their expression in their work; to me that depicts uniqueness of every artist. What matters is that those who have an eye for art will see beauty in due course. Time is a precious resource and an indicator of value.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      rajan jolly,

      This is so very true. I like that. Work and time put into your craft is never a waste. Thank you for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 

      2 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Refinement takes time and the time used to reach that is experience which is never waste of time.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      CorneliaMladenova,

      Ah, yes, we could be sisters! We have so much in common. Thanks for commenting.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • CorneliaMladenova profile image

      Korneliya Yonkova 

      2 years ago from Cork, Ireland

      Great article, Denise. I know that I will never be successful in arts and design, nevertheless I am extremely stubborn and continue working hard. And yes, I am the bad maid who deserves being expelled from home because there is often nothing on the table, piles of clothes waiting to be washed, and, of course, the house is a mess :D

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Theresa Jonathan,

      I'm so glad you understand what I meant. I know I can laugh but often my family don't get the joke and don't see why I can't do it all. It is frustrating, but my husband is supportive and that's all I care about. Thank you for sharing your insights.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Theresa Jonathan profile image

      Theresa Jonathan 

      2 years ago from Maseru, Lesotho

      A wonderful article! Yes when a maid is doing a project, she cannot do anything! I understand this very well because even cooking is an art; this is why you cannot cook well when you are chatting and engaging your other senses elsewhere. It is for this reason that spouses or partners have to really understand who you are in order to be supportive. Often conflict occur when the other party overlook the importance of letting you be who you are. This is brilliant!

    • PAINTDRIPS profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise McGill 

      2 years ago from Fresno CA

      Dbro,

      I appreciate your definition of success and I agree. I think in the light of Ira Glass's quote, I was thinking more of the moment when you feel truly happy with your own creation; the moment when you feel you have created successful work that matches your own idea of excellence. It's another matter to get to see financial success from it, which as you know, sometimes doesn't happen in your lifetime. I'm so glad you like my work. I have been working extra hours on it these past couple of years and feel I am only beginning to get there. Thank you for commenting and good luck in your own creative process.

      Blessings,

      Denise

    • Dbro profile image

      Dbro 

      2 years ago from Texas, USA

      This is an excellent article, Denise! I really appreciate your thoughts on this question of success as an artist. It's something I've wrestled with over the years. I can relate to your struggles to find the time for your creative work - I raised three boys - and it's hard to carve out that time for something that, to most people, isn't "important."

      A lot of what it boils down to is how we define "success." To most people, it translates into monetary success, which to a visual artist can be an elusive thing. It's hard to put a price tag on creativity, beauty, inspiration. These are subjective qualities, and not everyone will agree on what those things are.

      All I know is I've been drawing and painting all my life, and I can't imagine doing anything else. Of course I've had jobs unrelated to the arts to help put bread on the table, but art is something that feeds my soul - you can't quantify that on a balance sheet.

      PS - I love the illustrations in this hub - especially the tree. Exquisite!

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