Dan Johnson has not always been an artist. Until quite recently he was a web designer who painted for a hobby in his ‘spare time’. Then one day he woke up and decided to ditch his 9-to-5 job to become an artist.
I saw some of dan's paintings online and immeditely became a fan. His excellent blog which teaches others how to make a living from their creativity, revelas a passionate man who cares deeply about his audience.
In this interview Dan discusses his definition of success, what he thinks about the term "Starving Artists", and what others can do to get their career off the ground.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become an artist? What ultimately led you to quit your job and make a lifestyle change?
I’ve loved drawing since I was a child. Art was always my favourite subject at school, but after high school, I made the decision to take a more academic route, eventually doing a computer science degree and ending up as a web designer. I kept drawing and painting in my spare time though, and always told myself that one day I’d become a successful artist.
I think what led me to make a lifestyle change was the dawning realisation that unless I did something about it, I was never going to become an artist. I couldn’t let fear of failure keep me from a life of fulfillment. So last October I simply decided that I was going to be an artist. That was the hardest part, making that commitment.
I’m still not a full-time artist, but I’m proactively working towards it, currently making a living from a combination of part-time work, freelance art projects, portrait commissions and web design.
2. Why art? Can anyone do art? Can "non-artists" benefit from creating art during their free time?
Personally, I just love painting. I do believe that anyone can create art, even if you’re not good at drawing (which can also be learnt by anyone). Art is just a form of self-expression, which could be music, poetry, sculpture, whatever takes your fancy.
I believe that everyone has the potential to be artistic. All children enjoy creative activities such as painting and dancing, it’s only when we get older that we often leave these things behind for things that are considered “more important”. Anyone can benefit from rediscovering their lost creativity.
3. You've heard of the term "starving artists" before, why do you think so many artists fail in their quest to earn a living through their art?
I think a big factor is the self fulfilling prophecy of the starving artist story. Artists fail to achieve financial success through their art because they don’t believe it’s possible. They have been told over and over again that you can’t make any money as an artist, it’s not a real job etc., and not everyone can get past that kind of negative mindset and find success for themselves despite what they have been told.
4. Can you actually make a living from your art?
Yes. There are plenty of people doing it, so clearly it’s possible. In fact, the Internet has made it easier than ever before to promote yourself as an artist and even sell your art directly from your own website. I think that most people simply don’t make the most of the tools available to them.
5. Do you believe professional training in the arts is an advantage for an aspiring artist? How important is to have an expert status in this field?
I think some degree of training is always useful, to learn the basic skills of your art, but you don’t necessarily need an art degree to be a successful artist.
The question of expertise is an interesting one, which I wrote about in a guest post on the Expert Enough blog. Since art is very subjective, one person’s master portrait could be another person’s childish finger painting. Who is to decide who is an expert artist and who isn’t?
The last thing you want to do is perpetually put off starting your creative career because you don’t feel like your good enough yet. Sure, you should always strive to improve, but you don’t need to wait to reach some supposed ‘expert level’ before you can start making a living from your art.
6. How important are business skills to success in art? How do you bridge the gap of the business side of designing?
Business skills are essential to any form of self-employment, and art is no exception. Fortunately, I am not completely devoid of left-brain capabilities, so I don’t have too much trouble managing the business side of things.
If you really struggle to get to grips with finances, accounting and taxes, you could hire someone to do it for you, but in the early days, this is probably an expense you could do without, so I find it best to set aside at least half a day every week to work on the business side of things. Knowing that your finances are in order will make it much easier to focus on your artwork.
7. As an artist, how would you define "SUCCESS"?
I think success is something you have to define for yourself. Nobody else can tell you whether you are successful or not. You need to decide how you want your life to be, and take steps towards making it happen.
For me, success is less important than fulfillment. If I’m doing work that I enjoy and feeling motivated when I wake up in the morning, then I could consider that to be success.
8. Do you use any "method" to get into a creative mode? What inspires you to begin your work?
I don’t have any specific method, other than listening to music that I like. If I’m painting a musician, I’ll often listen to their music, as I find it helps me capture their personality somehow. If I ever have a creative block or feel uninspired, I will sometimes browse the work of some of my favourite artists, or look for new artists online to find inspiration.
9. What has been the biggest challenge for you on your journey? Did you ever feel like giving up?
The biggest challenge is definitely the uncertainty of not having a regular income, but people shouldn’t let that put them off doing what they really want to do.
I have fleetingly wondered a couple of times whether I should have stayed in my job, but I know that I couldn’t go back to a 9-5 office job now, at least not full-time. Having made the commitment to be an artist, it’s not something that I’m going to give up easily.
10. What’s absolutely integral to the work of an artist?
Passion. You need to have a burning desire within you to create art, even if you’re not sure exactly what it is you want to create yet. If you don’t have that motivation, you’re going to struggle.
11. How important is it to have confidence in what you do and how did you cultivate your confidence?
Confidence is very important. You need to have confidence in the work you create, because, as with any form of creative work that you publish, not everyone is going to like what you do, and you will inevitably face criticism at some point. You need the confidence to rise above the critics and move on with your work.
I constantly work on building my confidence by venturing out of my comfort zone. Try a new medium you’ve never used before, take your paintings into a local gallery and ask if they want to display your work, ask for feedback from an artist you consider more accomplished than you. The more you step out of your comfort zone, the more confident you will feel about doing these things again.
12. What inspires you to keep going and how do you keep yourself motivated?
The thing that inspires me is that burning desire to create art that I mentioned earlier. That, and knowing that if I gave it all up and went back to a 9-5 office job, I would regret it for the rest of my life. Most people my age (31) will probably end up working well into our 80s, so you need to ask yourself what you want to be doing every day of your life for the next 50+ years. That’s a long time to be doing a job you can’t stand.
13. Should people care what others think and say about their art? How much do you care about what others think of your work?
Anyone who says they don’t care what anyone thinks of their work is probably lying, but like I said earlier, you can’t please everyone, so you need to develop a thick skin. It’s lovely, and very encouraging when people praise your work, and it can be difficult to hear people slating it. But unless your only motivation is praise and popularity, the only people who really need to like your work are the people who buy it, and you.
14. What's the best way for artists to market themselves? Can you also tell us more about the "Artist Website Launch Package" you designed for people who want to gain more exposure for their art?
In today’s online world, the easiest and cheapest way for artists to market themselves is on the Internet, by building a community around your artwork. This should be centred around your own personal art website.
The Artist Website Launch Package is a simple and affordable way for artists who don’t have much of an online presence to get their art online on their own website, which they can then use to build their online community.
15. Where do you want to go with this? As an artist, is there anything special you hope to be accomplish? What is your dream project?
I’m still in the very early stages of building an art career, so I don’t have an ‘ultimate goal’ just yet. I would love to reach the point where I can spend the majority of my time painting what I want, without having to think about where the next paycheck is coming from. I also want to do a bit of art tuition, which I plan to start offering soon in the form of online training through Right Brain Rockstar.
16. Lastly, any last words of advice for aspiring artists or anyone who want to unleash their creative side?
Make time to be creative. Turn the TV off, get up an hour earlier, whatever you need to do to squeeze in some art each day, do it. If you’re always waiting until you can find more time, it’s never going to happen. Start today!
Dan Johnson is an artist who writes about his journey toward making a living from creativity at Right Brain Rockstar. You can follow him on Twitter at @rightbrainrocks.