Los Angeles based painter and tattooist Shawn Barber extensively paints, portrays and documents contemporary tattoo culture. Shawn earned his B.F.A from Ringling College of Art in 1999 and A.A.S. from Cazenovia College in 1997. His works have been exhibited in diverse solo and group venues including the Somerset House Museum in London, Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles and Joshua Liner Gallery in NYC, to mention just a few. He has taught drawing, painting and the business of art for over a decade at various art schools throughout the country and together with his girlfriend Kim Saigh opened Memoir Tattoo in Los Angeles. All these extensive achievements have not been attained without the perseverance of going through the ups and downs of a self-employed life. He has therefore compiled some helpful suggestions for all those, who find themselves desperately lost in the process of becoming an artist (you’ll find some of them below). For more of his works and thoughts visit his website www.sdbarber.com.
Be Prepared to Struggle
The life of a freelance / self employed /gallery artist is not an easy one. It definitely has it’s ups and down. The pros- you can be creative everyday, you can set your own schedule, you can travel whenever you like, you are in control of your day to day, including your future…The cons- inconsistent cash flow, stress of not knowing when work will come, sometimes you have to do work that is less exciting, no health insurance, bills sometimes get paid late…
Be Down for the Long Haul
It’s not going to happen overnight. If you’re lucky- in 5 years you maintain some sort of consistent work flow, sales and success. For most, it takes 7-10 years. The first 3 years are the hardest. With a lot of people, these are the “make-or-break” years. Frustration, lack of motivation, laziness, insecurity and lack of drive will overwhelm most people who even think about being an “artist”. You can’t claim to be something if you make no effort or have no aspirations. Wanting to be or being are two completely different people.
Make a list of goals, no matter how lofty, outrageous or small they may be. Work diligently and daily until you achieve these goals. Appreciate and celebrate the small successes, but stay hungry and keep your focus on the future and the unaccomplished goals. Put yourself around successful, healthy and creative people. If your friends are excited about life and what they do and who they are, that energy is contagious. People that have no drive, no direction or aspirations are dead weight – they are going nowhere, talk about the same things and, typically, their depression and negative energy will affect you and take you away from your own goals. Sometimes it’s difficult, but if someone truly cares about you, they should be happy for your success and dedication, not jealous, bitter or resentful. Life is way too short.
Be honest with your work and wour weaknesses. You HAVE to be your own worst critic. Do not settle for where you are. You should constantly strive to get better and learn something new. Complacency turns into laziness, which falls into boredom and mediocrity. Why do something if you don’t care about it? No one is “making you” do it. If art is a hobby, that’s all well and good- but don’t fool yourself and think you’re something that you’re not.
Be humble. Realize that you’re not that good. There are 10,000 artists living that are better than you. There are 100,000,000 in art history that are even better. Feel good about what you do but don’t lose sight of this reality. Challenge yourself to do things you don’t think you can do, either out of fear or lack of knowledge. Expose yourself to ALL kinds of art- painting, sculpture, film, furniture design, illustration, architecture, animation, etc. Ask yourself WHAT and WHY you like certain aspects of your favorite art pieces and allow that to nurture, inspire and motivate your own work. The artists’ ego is his/her own worst enemy.
More than anything stated, the most important ideal is to HAVE INTEGRITY. Stand behind what you do, have your own voice, your own aesthetic and your own opinions. Don’t try and be the ‘Flavor of the Month’. Please, Please, Please- whatever you do, don’t be a jackoff. The art world is very small. Don’t let yourself get labeled as a clone, a copycat, a spineless, unoriginal bastard. No one will respect you or your work. It’s lazy and unethical, disrespectful and disgusting.
Don’t turn work or commissions down. No job is too small. Sometimes, you even have to do work for free…. ALWAYS be professional. Try to challenge yourself and take on more than you can handle. You will be surprised, when it comes down to crunch time, if you focus and make deliberate decisions and actions- you will accomplish much more than you thought you were capable of.
Read more of what Shawn Barber’s got to say on www.sdbarber.com/f-a-q-new-old. It’s informative and helps you figure out what you really want from life.
All images © Shawn Barber