When I first graduated I spent a year working on my portfolio then I worked as a concept artist in San Rafael for almost 3 years. It was a good job while it lasted, and it helped pay off my school debt. Once the company dissolved I found myself scrambling for anything I could find to be able to make rent. I decided then that if I going to be on the brink of pennilessness (sp) I might as well be creating exactly what I want to create. That's when I decided to make a full go at fine art, and that's what I'm doing now.
2010 was very much feast-or-famine, but fortunately I have my parents here to fall back on while I figure the business side of art out as I go along. Thanks to them I've not yet had to consider looking for a job outside of art since. 2011 looks to be a good year. I am starting to get larger shows, and getting more and more accolades. A goal for the end of the year is to finally have my own studio.
So how to avoid being a starving artist? In other words, how do you 'make it?' I think there are 3 main things:
2. Putting yourself out there in as many different places as you can
3. Having a unique voice in your work that is valuable
Fortunately these have very little to do with what school you go to. You can gain skill from almost any dedicated art school. If your main goal is to learn the craft of painting and drawing, I would recommend an atelier if you have the money to spend on it (they're not accredited so you can't really get government grants for them) otherwise accredited art schools are also very good. I judge schools on the quality of the teacher/student work. If you don't like what they do, don't go there, because that's what they'll teach you to do, basically. Nowadays I supplement my education through art books, museums, and websites... I'm constantly finding new art and good pictures to feed my brain and keep me motivated to improve.
Finding a unique voice has a lot to do with skill and practice and is what really separates the herd. Those three things are all inter-connected. Skill is what will get you to that point, and putting yourself out there will get people to recognize your skill and voice. You can make a mediocre living being a mediocre artist as long as you constantly put yourself in front of the right eyes. It's very easy to get to the middle, that's the good news. The further up you want to go, the harder and harder it gets, but the rewards get better and better.
I know I wrote a lot here, but it's all stuff that no one told me when I first started. I was so ignorant, I didn't even know that I would want to know this stuff someday. If I did know, it would have saved me time and stress down the line. Good luck, and feel free to ask me anything else!
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