Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Bad Do You Want to Succeed?

It's the Monkey here again:

First off, this was inspired by this article over at Muddy Colors, a pretty cool illustration blog. While I highly suggest you go take a look, I know some of you don't like clicking blog links (I know I'm usually guilty of that), so I'll summarize for you: Life as an artist is hard, it usually takes on average, 5 years after graduating from art school to really get a stable illustration career. Live inexpensively, and take all the work that you can get.

While this is very, very true and great advice, it sort of brings up the big question: How badly do you want to succeed at this whole "chasing your dream" thing? Because with all the awesomeness that comes along with being able to do what you love for a living, not everyone will be able to do that right out of college. Yes, there are definitely exceptions, and we know lots of illustrators who got picked up by game companies within 3-6 months of graduation. However, that's not going to be the case for everyone, and especially if you want to be a successful fine artist, the road could be even longer assuming the traditional gallery path.

So you have to ask yourself, and be totally honest - are you going to be able to do what you love right now and make a living off of it? Personally, I think that the advice to live inexpensively is great, but when you've got nearly $200,000 in student loans to pay back, living super frugally still doesn't cut it a lot of the time and it's not even living frugally, it's being broke-ass poor.

Now to be totally honest, this is a question that I've found myself asking myself more and more. I'm generally a super happy, go-get-'em type of guy, and this isn't some front that I put on to just try and encourage other artists to go after their dream. I'm not the type to sell you something that I don't believe in. However, we've talked about going through Hell before, and the reason we can talk about stuff like that is because we've gone through it, or in my case, are going through it when we write these posts.

While co-owning a gallery and running the Monkey + Seal shop and co-running a screen printing biz and teaching workshops and doing demos at Paper Source and painting for gallery shows might seem all super awesome and fun and magical, and don't get me wrong, it is most of the time, it's also really, really, really, really fucking hard.

I work, on average, between 50-70 hours a week. I don't usually get entire days off, and if I do, they come about once every three weeks or so. Now yes, some of that time is painting or making prints, or designing a new tie design, or writing blog posts, or updating FB, or whatever, but nevertheless, it is work. I also cannot stop because to be perfectly honest, I'm broke, and if my income comes from the art hustle, I gotta hustle.

There are times where rent is put into jeopardy, and times that I skip meals because I spent all my money on bills or on art supplies or table fees at craft fairs. On good nights I get 6 hours of sleep, on bad nights I get 3-4. I also have to go to my two community college classes twice a week in order to defer my student loan payments.

Don't get me wrong - I'm really happy most of the time as like I said, I get to paint and draw and illustrate and make cool stuff for people for a living. But the cost is that I can't currently afford to travel or take vacations, and I can't stop. I'm constantly worried about money, and that's why I hustle trying to simultaneously make Monkey + Seal, Lords of Print, and Big Umbrella work.

So while this may come off as a whine-fest, it doesn't intend to be one. At any time I could go and apply to office jobs that would pay me enough to get by, or I could do my best to manage a retail store or something like that. All very valid and perfectly okay decisions for some people, but just not me.

But thanks to Eve's tremendous emotional, psychological, and financial support, I'm able to keep on doing what I love, even if it means some great sacrifices at times. And that's why I can't give up. I can't squander everything the lovely Seal and lots of other people have given me. To me, art is (almost) everything.

And while you might think that I'm trying to convince you to give up everything to follow your dream (I'm not), an equally important thing you have to figure out is your limits. How long will you give yourself before you give up? 6 months? 2 years? A decade? Your entire life? What else are you willing to sacrifice to get it? Are you willing to give up the love of your life for your dream? Your friends? Will you leave everything behind and relocate? Personally, I've decided that art is the most important thing in my life - besides Eve. We don't talk about our personal lives a lot on the blog. So while there are a lot of things I'm willing to give up for my art- vacations, eating at fancy restaurants, etc., I'm not willing to give up the little (seal) lady. But whether or not you are in a relationship, figuring out what you're willing to give up is crucial, if only so you know what not to give up.

There is no right or wrong answer to this. Everyone is different, and everyone needs to make up their own boundaries for themselves. The most important part is that you stick to them! Once you break a boundary, it's a slippery slope downhill. Just watch Requiem for a Dream and you'll see what I'm talking about.

So if you're already living the dream, congratulations. If you're not there yet, ask yourself: How bad do you want it, and what are you willing to give up (or: what aren't you willing to give up) to get it?

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