Are you a creative who would like to break into the industry? Would you like to make more money from your art sales? Does starting at a blank canvas intimidate you?
If so, then Lift Off Art is here for you!
Creating art is hard. Creating art for a living is even harder. Artists and creatives are weighed down by crippling self-doubt, fear of rejection, and impostor syndrome. Add on a lack of solid business advice for artists and even less information about what it's like to be a professional artist, and even attempting to make it as a creative professional can seem like a Herculean effort. No wonder people believe in the myth of the Starving Artist.
Despite these obstacles and the downturn of the economy, in 2007, Rick Kitagawa and Eve Skylar made the best decision of their lives and decided to go pursue art as a career. After meeting each other at UC Berkeley at a theater club (Rick was studying Biology and Asian American studies, Eve was studying Narrative Theory and Acting), the two graduated and promptly decided to enroll in art school. While in school, they started vending at local art and craft fairs as Monkey + Seal. To keep in touch with fans, they started blogging.
At first, the blog was mainly about their art, but as they developed as artists and professionals, the content evolved to the emotional hurdles that plagued them as creatives. From artist's block to business mistakes, from fear of failure to the fear of the blank canvas, Rick and Eve began to shed light into the challenges and obstacles faced by artists trying to create and live off their craft.
Fast-forward to 2015. Although he couldn't paint when he started art school, Rick holds down sponsorship deals from multiple art material companies, paints for gallery shows, runs a successful screen printing business, and teaches business and entrepreneurship at universities across California. Taking inspiration from the animated films of her youth, Eve's artistic talent bloomed as a successful visual development artist, working in both the game and film industry with clients such as Paramount Pictures, SEGA, and Nightwheel Pictures to help create award-winning, internationally acclaimed films.
After unfortunately taking time off from blogging to build their careers, this dynamic duo is back. While there are many venues to learn the technical aspects of creating art, Rick and Eve found an absence in solid, research-based, tactical advice on dealing with the psychological demons that prevent artists from being their best selves. Just as sparse was any specific, tactical advice for breaking in and making it in the art world and how to present oneself to the industry.
After mixing first-hand experience with research in business, psychology, biology, and personal development, and sprinkling in an emphasis on intersectionality, identity politics, and empathy, Lift Off Art was born. We honestly believe that everyone is an artist at heart, and whether you want to create more or if you want to be a professional artist, we're here to help guide you. So join up today and let's change the world with your art.
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Shakespeare once said “All the world’s a stage / And all the men and women merely players” and he’s 100% right. With a world that runs on Instagram, Facebook, and Tindr, we’re constantly putting ourselves on stage.
We curate what we share with the world so we can make ourselves the most appealing (or what we think others will find the most appealing). We post the selfie when we’re at the hip art show, but not when we’re disheveled after working on a freelance project for two days straight. We show the painting that sold, not the five paintings that lay unsold in our apartment.
This makes total sense to me as a marketer. Obviously, whether we’re trying to establish a brand, find a date, or keep in touch with friends, we want to show our best selves.
However, when we see others, whether its peers or celebrities, we tend to forget this fact. There’s a lot of comparing ourselves to them, wondering how they might have such great luck, or that they know so many more people than you, or that maybe they’re just naturally talented.
Michael Jordan, the most amazing basketball player in the world, has this message for you: don’t make excuses.
Sure, this is a commercial for your shoes, but damn, that commercial gives me chills, and I’ve watched it about four times in a row now. Really, it’s a great reminder that while we might bemoan everyone’s good luck or talent or success, we really should be constantly looking within ourselves. It’s not about whether or not someone else is destroying the competition, but whether we’re letting that act as an excuse to do our best.
“Someone else has already made it” is a great excuse to keep from putting your own twist on something. “They’re too good at doing what I want to be doing so why should I even try?” is a great question to ask yourself to keep yourself from risking something. The best thing is that art isn’t a zero-sum game – we can all be winners. Sure, there are a finite number of jobs at any given company, or only so many galleries in the world, but that doesn’t mean we have to be all cut-throat about anything. If we really choose to, there very little that we cannot achieve ourselves.
We all have “it” in us. “It” being the potential to do amazing things and create amazing work. Whether or not we want to be the best in the world, I hope we all share the common goal of making something worthwhile. Something remarkable that changes things for the better, even if it’s making a single person a bit happier for a second. This potential often gets buried by self-doubt, or negativity from friends and family members. We sometimes forget because when we watch the stage, all we see is the glitz and glamour of what people are putting out there for us.
Why compare the entirety of our lives to someone’s extremely curated successes?
While it’s hard not to respect the amazing craftsmanship of the Renaissance creators, I do hold a big grudge against them. Because information access wasn’t what it is today, they would often burn their sketchbooks to make it look like they had some rare gift from God – they basically hid all their hard work. Never mind that often artists were often sponsored by the church (so even back then smart artists knew how to market themselves), but their legacy is that of wonder and awe and envy and false information for generations to come.
The idea of artistry being raw talent and nothing else has plagued artists for centuries – think of how many people probably gave up on creating since they were comparing themselves to Raphael or Michelangelo or any of the other ninja turtles – I still get upset that I can’t do backflips while eating pizza. Fortunately, artists nowadays are very generous with their process and constantly share how much hard work they put into their craft, but nevertheless we often forget and get wrapped up in chasing other artists’ lives.
Even though we may follow them for their success, something we often don’t think of is whether or not they are actually happy. While this might seem like a good problem to have, there are a lot of trappings of success and fame.
There is the intense fear of failing now that everyone is watching you. There is the pressure to make another big hit. There is everyone telling you to make something similar but slightly different when you really want to go back and experiment with something completely different. There’s the issue of equating the money you’re now making to the value of the art, when that might not necessarily be the case. There’s something to be said about enjoying our obscurity now – mistakes are easily fixed, and no one is scrutinizing us – and who knows how happy they really are?
Take the case of an Australian Instagram model (yes, that is a job) Essena O’Neill, who recently rebranded all of her instagram photos with what it really took to get that seamless, “life of luxury and parties and fashion and a media-approved hot body” look. After disappearing for a while from social media after a bit of a personal life crisis, she’s back with a new site to speak out against the untruths we’re told by each other. Major kudos to her for helping remind us that what we see on the media is not 100% real life.
Remember to keep your comparing tools in check. Don’t let someone else’s highlight reel prevent you from doing your great work. Don’t let jealousy consume you and create unnecessary spite and negativity when you don’t know the whole story. Keep in mind that social media, with all it’s potential benefits and allure, is still just media, and media can be spun to tell a single story.
So let this be a clarion call to all artists out there – don’t compare yourself to others! You live a different life than they do, so never stop creating and as long as you’re making something you can be proud of, never give up. Keep on creating for yourself. Live your own life. Whether or not you can become legendary is for shoe commercials and inspirational Pinterest boards. What’s important is to remember that you’re already incomparable. So stand on your own feet and let’s get to work.
As a professional creative (or an aspiring one), it’s every easy to let fear take hold of us and prevent us from reaching our true potential. We worry if we’re not good enough, or if anyone will every buy our work. We watch as other artists seem to effortlessly move ahead in our industries, and we can’t help but to look on from afar and say “I wish I had that sort of luck.”
In our industry, we talk about “skill-based” hiring, as usually what gets us hired is our track record. It’s our portfolio or demo reel, or the work we’ve done for past clients that future clients stumble upon. One of the first things I tell my students at the Academy of Art is that while I can teach you all there is to know about writing better resumes and cover letters, and how to present yourself professionally, I can’t help you if your work isn’t up to par with professionals in your field.
That said, we also are in a highly, highly, highly subjective industry. Who’s to say who is a better illustrator, or a photographer? What makes one piece a gold medal winner versus a silver medal? While we can talk about things like color, composition, storytelling, subject, perspective, and all the other technical aspects of art, sometimes we’ll find a piece that, for some crazy-ass reason, we fall in love with. How do you explain that? Maybe the proportions are off, the use of color is unrefined and maybe garish, and it’s technically poorly executed, but we still love it?
It’s a big hairy contradiction, and what this makes for is an industry where we have to go out and sell our own interpretations, and visions, and our personal opinion on how this piece of art should be made. Whether it’s a painting for a gallery, a website, or a storyboard frame, in the end, we’re selling a little bit of ourself.
And when our personal vision and voice and ideas might not correspond to the Gatekeeper’s, we can get rejected, dejected, and hurt. Usually, it has nothing to do with you directly (it might just not fit what they had in their head), but it’s hard not to take a critique of your work personally when the whole point is you imbuing your essence and personality into that work. So we get scared of sharing. We let the fear of a potential rejection, or a potential negative comment paralyze us and keep us from letting our gifts loose into the world.
Fear is a great thing to keep us from dying, but (most of us) no longer need to fear getting eaten by a tiger or some sort of other predatory hunter. This evolutionary throwback to the Stone Age hampers our ability to get back up and share our art and creativity and our voice with others. One of my favorite authors, James Altucher, has gone bankrupt three times. His wife divorced him, and he’s close numerous companies. He’s lost millions. Yet he still gets up every day, and keeps on at it. He thought he was going to literally die at times, but he didn’t, and he kept on going.
At the end of the day, if you haven’t tried and failed, you’re not challenging yourself. If you’re not challenging yourself, how are you ever going to grow? Whether or not you actually are afraid, the key thing to remember is that you have to act even if you are afraid. Go past faking it until you make it, but fake it until you become it.
So if you haven’t seen Amy Cuddy’s TedTalk on power posing, I highly recommend you do so. If anything, her inspiring story of faking it until she became it is worth the twenty minutes or so of your day. Really, since our body language can shape the way we feel about ourselves, we need to make sure that we’re utilizing any of the tools out there (like power posing) to help us conquer our fear and really push forward.
It can be terrifying to try and make something and share it out with the world. We often assign our value as a person to the number of likes or shares, or favorites we get on our social media posts. While that’s all good and fine, we really need to learn how to trust in ourselves, to believe we have something valuable to share with the world and to really go out there and make good work.
Whether or not you believe it, you have to act “As If.” Act as if you weren’t afraid, or as if you were already recognized as a world class artist. Act as if you knew that your work was good and that there are people out there who want what you create. Act as if you were an industry professional. Act as if your art was on the cover of a famous magazine or website. Act as if you are world class – because you are.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of the scared student, or the unconfident hobbyist, or the sad creator who creates but never shows anyone their work. It’s easy because we fear rejection – and as a creative, we’ll all get rejected as some point. But I challenge you to be relentless. To pledge to yourself that you won’t give up, that you’ll be unstoppable, that you won’t let rejection get you down. That you’ll take your hits and keep going. That you’ll dedicate your life to your craft, and come to terms with the fact that everyone faces rejection – it’s the super successful who keep picking themselves up again and again and never giving up on going after their dream.
There are concept artists that have been rejected from their dream company 16 times to finally get an offer letter on their 17th application. There are illustrators who couldn’t find work and took day jobs at copy centers for years to completely revamp their portfolio and come back and become the next hottest thing.
Every professional artist I’ve known has dealt with rejection at some point, but they’ve all worked through it. You see, it’s how we handle that rejection – whether we realize it’s a part of life and take it as a learning experience or we let it damage our self esteem and take it personally – that will define our careers.
So please, join with me and pledge that you won’t let fear stop you from creating. Be relentless and make something today.