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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I read this story in Tim Ferriss’ “The Four Hour Workweek,” and it’s a great parable about being happy in life. I’ve got more thoughts, but if you aren’t familiar with the story, read it first here:
An American consultant was at a pier in a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.
The Mexican replied only a little while.
The consultant then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?
The fisherman said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.
The American then asked the Mexican how he spent the rest of his time.
The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life, senor.”
The American consultant scoffed, “I am business consultant and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and, with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.
“You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”
The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”
To which the American consultant replied, “15-20 years.”
“But what then, senor?” asked the fisherman.
The consultant laughed, and said, “That’s the best part! When the time is right, you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public. You’ll become very rich, you would make millions!”
“Millions, senor?” replied the Mexican. “Then what?”
The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
Great story, right? Well, it’s a nice reminder to basically enjoy life while you’re living it – but if you’re like me when I was in school, it seems like a load of BS.
When I was going through art school, I was taking four studio classes plus working twenty hours a week at my retail job. I was sleeping between 3-5 hours a night on weekdays and maaaaybe get 7 hours or so on weekends. It was exhausting juggling a crazy amount of classes, projects, work, plus outside projects I would try and take on. Add that to financial instability (hello weeks of P+B sandwiches and instant ramen*!) and I’d say it’s safe to say that I didn’t really have time to smell the roses, let alone play guitar and sip wine.
That said, even when you’re in the thick of it and working your ass off to graduate, or to revise that portfolio, or finish that new project, keep in mind that you do need to take time for yourself.
When art becomes your job, you’ll find that there may be times when you don’t even want to make art. Often times, this is due to when you haven’t been nourishing your creative soul.
Think back to why you started pursuing art in the first place? Why do you create? If you don’t take time to work on art that is purely personal – that is for YOU and not a client – it’s easy to burn yourself out. If I don’t paint for myself for a few weeks, I start getting easily irritable, and grumpy, and I generally hate life. Once I carve out some time to prioritize painting something purely for myself, it’s surprising how much calmer I immediately become.
Really, if our goal in life is to just make art and live life, it’s important to give yourself tastes of your ideal life now, so you remember what it is you’re fighting for. And while I obviously would love to help you get a job in the arts – it might not be right for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with being an artist who doesn’t do it for a living, so make sure you have your priorities straight and that you’re hustling for the right reasons.
*Ramen pro-tip – get a shitload of frozen veggies, and just throw them into the pot when you cook your ramen. It makes it much better, and doesn’t cost a lot more. Also, a bit of sesame oil goes a long way, as does sriracha if you’re into the spicy thing like we are. Variety is the spice of life!
Most people don’t want to admit it (or maybe no one wants to, but does anyway), but at some point in your life as an artist, you will get insanely jealous of another artist.
Hopefully that comes earlier when you’re just some no-name art school kid, but realistically if you have the ambition and drive to succeed in this crazy field, you’re going to feel it all the way through your career.
There’s always going to be someone smarter/more successful/more famous, whatever. If you just had a solo show, someone else had a sold-out solo show. Get a new studio job? Someone else has a higher-paying one, or is your supervisor. Sell a painting for $10,000? Someone probably sold one for $20,000. I’ll get it out of the way now: the big take-home for the day is: Think of an island and get over it.
The reason why you should just acknowledge your envy and then move on is that really, I have yet to find someone undeserving of their success, and you can’t really blame someone for working really really hard.
“But Rick,” you might say, “I work really really hard too, but they got lucky.” Sure, keep on making excuses. Maybe they’re really attractive, or maybe they have rich parents, or maybe (insert reason why they’re successful and you aren’t).
But the thing is that the reality of things are that the grass is always greener, and often you’ll have no idea of what that artist went through to achieve their success.
See some artist explode “overnight” with solo shows and magazine features? They might have come out of nowhere for you, but for people paying attention, they’ve been hustling for YEARS before they managed to reach the acclaim they have now.
See someone selling more than you at a convention (this is embarrassingly exactly what inspired me to write this)? It might seem like they’re just lucky, but maybe they’ve built a fan base over THE PAST 10 YEARS travelling all over the country to get to the point that people come looking for their booth. Was I jealous of their sales? Definitely, but I also didn’t invest years and years of time creating and hustling and building a brand, and also the monetary investment of trying conventions that didn’t work out, or traveling to shows that were poorly organized, etc., etc. etc.
While I was feeling all crappy about my own slower sales, I then realized that I was still selling a lot more than some other vendors, so I should probably shut up and feel grateful that people were buying from me at all.
The point is that often we’ll look to another artist and only see the tropical island – lush with plenty of amazing animals and trees and sexy people running around wearing very little. However, we don’t think about the bajillion of years that it took to form the island or the mass of rock that supports the island.
You see, we often don’t think of what’s under the water of a tropical island. It’s not some floating patch of dirt that just hangs out in the same place for our easy access. It’s actually anchored to a gigantic land mass that is completely submerged that’s formed from underwater volcanoes slowly spitting up hot lava and cools and builds upon itself until it breaches the water.*
An art career is just like a volcanic island – it takes time and lots and lots of energy to build up something magnificent that people can enjoy. Believe me, I was an impatient as anyone to jumpstart my art career while I was in art school. I’m still building up mine now. But I stress much less about the timeline nowadays. I’ve come to realize that nothing but hard work and time is going to build up my own art island and that I have my entire life to do so.
Art is all about the long game. Like I always say, if you’re not in it for the long haul, you might as well keep it as a hobby and focus your energy on something else. You should be focusing on doing something you love, and if art doesn’t get you juiced up enough to devote your life to it, you should probably focus on finding something that does inspire you that much.
So the next time you feel the ugly green demon of jealousy spring up from within you, remember the volcanic island metaphor and remember that your time too shall come. Take a deep breath, congratulate the artist, and then try to deconstruct their blueprint to success and learn from it.
*Technically there are six different ways an island can form (so says National Geographic), but for argument’s sake let’s focus on the ones that are made from underwater volcanoes.