The Creative Spirit - You have to have the creative spirit. I have always wanted to be an artist, and I have it in writing. Each year of school, my mother filled out my “About Me” page in a schoolbook that summarized each grade. Even when I was only 5, I said that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. It was a revelation to open that book thirty years later and read that! Aha! It WAS in my blood, part of my being. Growing up, my drawings were always different than the other kids’. Abstract, colorful, fanciful. So it is definitely a plus if you feel that creative spirit.
Desire The Career - You have to really want to be a professional artist. I once heard it described as this: if you would rather work than eat, then you are definitely doing something you love. That’s an example of the amount of desire it takes to survive in this field. It is not easy. You need to have the level of commitment that will get you up early every morning or that allows you to work late (lark vs. night owl – whichever suits your disposition). And that’s how it is for me (a lark). Having to stop and eat is a bother, something I’d rather not do but have no choice. (My doctor insists that I don’t skip meals any more as it is not good for my cholesterol levels!) Not only must you competently run a business on a day-to-day basis, but you must also invent the product, figure out how to produce it for a reasonable price and adapt to changing styles. And change they do.
A Marketable Talent - You have to have a marketable talent. Sorry, it is a fact. If you don’t have “it” you aren’t going to make it as an independent artist. The bottom line is that your work must sell. It may be beautiful or controversial or eye-catching, but it also must have that magic something to which people respond, that creates desire in them. Designing is like pouring a little bit of oneself out each time. It is very intense, very draining, but it must be renewable. My work has evolved over the years as I have adapted my style to the market or as new ideas have come to me. In the beginning I worried I wouldn’t be able to come up with any new designs or products or styles that people would respond to or would want to buy. As the years have gone by that fear has receded. The more you design, the more of a mental portfolio of ideas, lines, color combinations that you have in your artistic vocabulary. Like learning a language, the more you use it the more comfortable it becomes. You learn as you go along, what works, what doesn’t.
Adaptability - You have to be adaptable. I love contemporary art, colorful abstracts and hard-edged designs. In the beginning that’s what I designed and there was a market for it, although a somewhat limited one. However, I was asked to make some representational designs, to apply my look to something recognizable. I finally relented, feeling I was perhaps selling out by not being true to my style. I designed an abstract heart and it immediately became my best-selling image. A light went off in my head. Did I want to force my narrow preferences and tastes on everyone, or was I willing to use my talents to create updated versions of familiar shapes, a new twist on an old design? I began to enjoy the challenge of finding a new way to express the common. How about a poker design? What do you usually see – 4 playing cards splayed out, the queen of hearts, or a set of dice? Check out the design I came up with: Poker Gifts. Doesn’t look like anyone else’s poker design you’ve seen, now does it? I like rearranging elements. “Repetition and subordination”, I can still hear my late artist father’s voice saying in my head. “Break out of the predictable shape.”
Willingness To Evolve - Be ready and willing to evolve. You might have a great selling line but in time the appeal is likely to fade. Once people have seen it around for a while it will no longer be the latest thing, the fresh new look. I started out as a fiber artist, hand-painting large abstract silk wall pieces. I moved on to batik scarves, then hand-painted silk in jewelry. The jewelry evolved into combining the silk with etched metal frames so I could break out of the basic round mold. I came up with many different jewelry looks, each very different than last. Then I moved into home furnishings – switchplates and night lights. Business card cases and personal fashion accessories followed. Who knows where my mind will take me next. It’s like being an inventor. I have more ideas than time to implement them. But I’m not worried. It is an adventure and I’m ready for it.