I initially wrote this for the Weekly Art Dispatch #17, but it became long enough to be a separate blog post.
This week, I was prompted by real-life circumstances to think about my "art career".
All my life I've noodled around with art as a hobbyist: drawing what I enjoyed, learning bits and pieces here and there, not really taking things seriously. (That's the short version; there's a longer, more complicated story behind it.) Now that I'm taking my art life a lot more seriously now than I ever did before, a question emerges: What does it take to move into a professional/freelancing space, especially when I don't have any formal art training? Is there a certain mindset shift that I have to make from hobbyist to professional? Am I caught in a kind of "hobbyist paradigm" that is unhelpful, and how can I tell?
I'd recently discovered a Discord chat server oriented to art freelancers and professionals, so I asked my question there. The professionals were kind enough to answer, and they basically said this:
More importantly, they gave me a reality check that went like this: The hobbyist-to-professional move will become clearer when you reach a certain skill threshold. You're not at that threshold yet, so don't stress about all that now. Just focus on what you can do right now -- which is improve your craft, and enjoy what you do.
Sound advice. This reality check prompted me to consider an even more fundamental question than "hobbyist vs professional": Why am I in the art game in the first place?
On one hand, I draw because I love drawing, and keep coming back to it even when I've tried to give it up. But I'm also trying to realize a childhood dream of being a professional artist -- or at least, making some kind of income from it. And there lies a tension.
There's a tension between those two things: doing art for its own sake, vs. doing art as a means to an end (making a career). There's also a tension between aspiration/ambition, and being realistic about my current skill level and capacity for doing art-as-work. On one hand, I don't want to embrace mediocrity and settle for the "I'm just a hobbyist" paradigm (which is how I've spent my whole life thinking). On the other hand, I don't want to let ambition and striving overtake my love for the craft, smother that love, and leave me burned out, disillusioned, and discouraged -- which is not uncommon in the art world. I suppose all creative endeavours contain that tension between aspiration and realism, between passion/personal investment and hard-headed business objectivity. And a healthy approach to a creative "career" is to keep both forces in a productive balance.
While thinking on all this, I was reminded of my Christian faith...
Don't stress about this or chase after such material things, because God my Father knows what I need, and has a purpose for my life and my art. Opportunities will come at the right times; and even if I miss them, opportunities will keep on coming, they may just look a bit different. Don't worry! Doing my art with joy and glorifying God with my enjoyment is the most important thing here -- so focus on that!
Well, I think my faith and those professional artists are right. So I won't stress about this "hobbyist to professional" question, and instead just keep making art I love. But also remember to stretch out of my comfort zone -- and digital art definitely accomplishes that!