4 Mistakes to Avoid as a Beginner Artist
I opened a new DM on Instagram. “Your art is AMAZING!” I replied, “Thanks so much, that means a lot.” “I’d love to commission a piece by you, how much do you charge?” They asked. “$200 for a 16x20 piece.” I stated. “Great price. Let’s do it.”
This message was just one of my transactions for a commission that I wish someone had told me…
DUDE, YOU’RE MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE!!
DON’T DO IT!
Making Mistakes is the Only Way to Grow and be Successful
There is more to the story that I will continue later, but I ended up learning the hard way. It was one of the biggest mistakes I made as a beginner artist. I had no clue that I was making a massive art faux pas. I spent so much time on numerous projects that held me back instead of those that propelled me forward. I was making all kind of mistakes, and I had nobody to tell me otherwise. But making mistakes and learning from them is apart of any game in which you plan to grow.
I’ve been embarking on this journey of being a professional artist, and I will still probably make a mistake every so often! Nobody said arting was going to be easy! I’m not perfect, and I have to make the errors to move to something bigger. It’s about training my mind and continually learning to develop my skills.
Every week I talk with artists about what’s working and what isn’t - the successes and the failures. I talk with the newbies and vets. A topic that comes up often is mistakes made being an artist.
“What do you wish you had done differently?”
“What mistakes do people make starting out?”
“I wish I hadn’t...”
Finishing a year-long art mastery program made me realize all the mistakes I was making before I enrolled in the program. So this guide explores 15 mistakes from conversations combined with a bunch of personal experiences. I’ve also included some of my favorites quotes about the mistakes from some of the best minds in the world.
Let’s get into it!
1. I Didn’t Have My Voice
When it came to finding my style, I had a few artists that I admired! I would copy their art exactly to their style. Every brush stroke, color, and mark, but that wasn’t my voice. Now, I certainly wasn’t dumb enough to post it as my original work, but some artists do - (no offense if that’s you.) I don’t have to go over plagiarism 101, but that would be wrong trying to pass it off as my own. Copying is a huge mistake that many beginner artists make.
During school, I studied old masters techniques to learn the proper way to use my tools to grow as an artist. I thought of replicating another artist as a study if I wanted to copy them and if I posted it, I certainly gave credit to the original artist.
Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like an Artist is one of my favorite creative books because of the fundamental principles on how to boost creativity. He states that nothing is original and all creative work builds on what came before so copy from your heroes. One artist is not nearly enough! I’ve learned that my voice needed to be something distinct, an easily recognizable style and ~that is what sets me apart from everyone else doing the same thing I do.\~
I found multiple artists I liked and choose a thing from each of them that worked for me and then made it my own. It would look like something entirely new and original when in fact it’s just a mash-up of many styles.
Stand out from the massive crowd of artists with a unique style.
Browse a lot of paintings on Instagram and Pinterest that you admire. Which artists are inspiring to you? Materials? Techniques? Colors? Create a board of all the styles you want to incorporate into your style.
2. I Didn’t Paint Consistently
Painting consistently is one of the biggest things that I’ve learned you HAVE to do as an artist. For me, it was very similar to training as an Olympic athlete - on the track day in and day out, then in the weight room for hours EVERYDAY. I practiced close to 50 hours a week with just Sundays off, and that was the only way I would get better. I didn’t just pick the days I felt like training, I went into every session whether I wanted to or not. Every day there was a little progress involved and over six months my times would drop.
My teacher told us regularly, “Your goal is to paint 40 hours a week. There is no way you can paint that much and not have success.” I would for sure make mistakes, I would create bad paintings, but I had to get all the bad art out of the way to develop the excellent art that would sell. Like my Olympic training days, I have to show up every day!
As I consistently show up, my work will become better, and I will create artwork faster. It doesn’t stop there though. I read in a James Clear article that a professional's best work produced comes after the 10th year in your career! Ten years. (yep I know, insert your shocked face emoji) Sometimes I underestimate how much time it takes to be great. I may have gone to one Olympic game, but I had been training almost every day for ten years before that. Being consistent will produce tangible results along with massive improvement.
The artists born with raw talent aren’t the ones that get ahead. It’s the artists who are committed to maintaining high levels of consistency.
Work on your art in the morning when fully recharged from sleep. Wake up one hour earlier and invest that time into your work. Show up every day.
3. I Didn’t Have Family Support
Support is ONE thing I’ve always had, but its such a crucial element for so many others. As a young athlete, I had my parents support all the way up until I was a professional with sponsors. My parents always traveled to my track meets to cheer me on, and they loved being apart of the sport. The emotional support I had from them was everything, and I could only imagine if I didn’t have that support like most of the athletes we knew didn’t.
Since transitioning into being an artist, my wife has supported my entire venture. Deciding to sign up for art school was the most significant decision because it came at a very tight financial time for us. One moment we decided that I wasn’t going to do it and just continue teaching myself. But at the end of the day, we knew this program was what I needed for my career, and it was the best decision we made.
I had to make sure my spouse was on board with my vision, and we had to be on the same page. And if I weren't married yet and went through this, I would still be sure to find a partner who did support my dreams. The tension and negativity would be a hindrance to my growth and success as an artist.
If someone weren't helping me get closer to my goals, they’d be taking me away from it. It would be detrimental to my aspirations and my relationship to push in opposite directions. I had to show that this was my ultimate dream and what I wanted to do. In return, the best gift that I could give my spouse is being supportive of her goals as well.
Being successful means knowing what you want and investing all of your energy into getting there. If your spouse is not on board, you will not be successful.
Have a conversation with your spouse/partner or parents (or parents) about what you want to accomplish, why it’s important to you, and what your plan is.
4. I Didn’t Charge Enough
As I started my newest Instagram commission, I was super anxious to get painting. As I said at the beginning of this guide, an interested collector hit me up on social media, wanted a specific piece done, and I gave them a price of $200 for a 16x20” painting.
My previous style consisted of a lot of illustration, lots of painting coats, lots of tiny brushes, and lots of time. It wasn’t a very efficient way for me to paint and get my art out into the world. As I began the painting, my excitement was high, and my frustration was low. As 2 weeks went by my frustration rose very quickly and the excitement to finish this piece plummeted. I mean two weeks that I had spent so far on a small painting! I was so pissed at myself because this was taking me longer than it should have and the fact that I only charged $200 for it! So NOT worth it.
This was the number one mistake that I made as a beginner artist. I didn’t understand my value at all. ~As an artist I’m also an entrepreneur, I’m running my own business. Being an artist is still running a business. For me to make money as a professional artist, I have to create something and know the worth of that piece of work.~ I can’t charge so low that I don’t make any money off of my pieces. I then have to create a ton of art all at once or make prints off of one artwork to make enough money to pay bills. Here’s a thought how about charge $2000 for a large-scale piece and find the right market that will buy that work. Not charge $150 to do a commission, and I can barely for the supplies, let alone pay a bill.
I would charge $650 for a 16x20 today, and I would finish it within a week, along with two other paintings. It’s about being efficient as a professional artist! Pricing by square footage is the artist standard and to get that magical number I made a goal of how much I wanted to make within a year. Then just start breaking that number down, how much a month, how much in a week, how many paintings can you complete in a week?
Understanding your value as an artist is one of the most essential things you need to know. Know your target audience, know the amount they would spend on original art and go after those collectors.
Create a pricing sheet that will contain all of your prices for different sizes, different mediums, and whether on canvas or paper. You will rely on this sheet when dealing with collectors, commissions, galleries, and exhibitions. Use a Google sheet so it's easily shareable as a link and you can update it as your value increases. Remember, art is an investment for your collectors, so you need to keep growing and evolving as an artist.
A Free Guide on the Biggest Artist Mistakes
I don’t want your artist eduction to end here, so I’ve put together a free guide called “The Fine Artist Survival Guide.” The guide gives you an additional 11 mistakes to avoid as a beginner artist. I will walk you through each mistake along with some solutions.
Justyn is a Canadian-born artist based in New Haven, CT. He is a believer, husband, father, oil painter, Olympian, former pro athlete and avid Fresh Prince of Bel-Air fan. He is ridiculously obsessed with creating and sharing content that actually makes a difference in the world. You can often find Justyn on Instagram at @justynwarner where he posts his expressive abstracts.