A while back, I read an article on Medium which said, “Attending art school is a waste of your money.” I knew the author had to be interesting. He is. So we're really glad to have him here on GiveGetWin.
Noah Bradley is an artist who’s been freelancing for 5+ years. In that short time, he achieved enough financial freedom to finally work full time on his own art. Now he’s here to share with you really cool insights and lessons from freelancing as an artist, such as:
- A simple exercise he did in a week to figure out what to do with his life
- The best use of your time if you want to go from adequate to great
- His different take on how to cure artist burnout
- Why being an artist is more than just ability to pick up a pencil and draw
If you do any sort of art at all, read and enjoy this interview. Then head over to Noah’s deal to take his course on making money online as an artist, something he’s always found lacking in art school.
I’ve started working on my own project. I've been working on it on my own time for the past 3-5 years. I've done a painting, a story, here and there, but was never able to devote enough time to it since freelancing took all my time.
Thankfully, I have now gotten to the position where I can devote 95% of my time working on my project of exploring a world doing painting, drawings, and writings.
Something’s always fascinated me about the primal people.
So I’m creating a primal fantasy. I just put together a teaser website for it: sinofman.com. I wanted to do my own little take on things. I’m having a really good time with it.
Far too often fantasy is based on the Medieval or Renaissance era, but I'm more interested in going back to really ancient people. More cave paintings than anything. There's something fascinating to me about the Dawning of Mankind, discovering fire, stone tools, and spears. It's always fascinated me.
Now that I've got freedom to do it, I'm creating this unique world.
I'm doing this because I really enjoy it. At the same time I have to make a living like everyone else. At the very least, I'll put together a book -- either an art book or a novel, or some combination of the two.
Beyond that, I’ve always had a love of video games and film. So I'll try to push it in one of those directions. Maybe bring on a team of people and do something very big. Right now I'm fleshing things out, and once I do, I'll nail down more of what it could be.
It's a bit of an odd approach, but I have a very scattershot process which works for me.
I don't get up at the same time and do the same work every day. I kind of work here, work there… I spread it out. And the types of work too -- whether I'm writing, sketching, or painting. Sometimes I'll spend all day with a sketchbook, putting initial thoughts on paper. Other days, I'll take those ideas and push them a little further.
Some days I want to just think about writing, and come up with titles and names for the objects and places in the world. I bounce around between all of them, and I find it works best for me.
I've tried the really habits/structured thing, and it's never worked that well for me.
When I was a kid, I was homeschooled by my parents. I didn't have to worry about the typical structure of school. You're given a set of work you need to do, but you can do it in any order you wanted.
And I seem to work best under those circumstances. I could blaze through and finish fast, or spread things out. This taught me a lot about putting my own schedule together. The chaos seemed to work pretty well for me.
I'm eternally thankful to my parents for homeschooling.
It was amazing. I got self-discipline. I know how to schedule my days. I know how to get work done by a deadline. I was raised with this, and it's carried me all the way through to today.
I'm not used to being told what to do. I'm used to waking up, figuring out what I need to do, and doing it. I got all of that ability from homeschooling.
What if you don’t have motivation or natural self-discipline?
I honestly don't know how you can teach someone to have motivation. I don't know if you can. But the thing you can teach people... Is how to use structure to their advantage.
If self-discipline doesn't naturally come to you, structure is incredibly valuable. Almost essential. Look for routines to schedule your day around.
What should you do with your life? Should you go to a certain school? Are you good enough to go to a certain school?
My general advice is, "Do what will make you the happiest for the longest amount of time." That's why I chose to be an artist, and it's worked out pretty well for me. But what that is for them, I can't say. Only you can say.
I feel bad, because I really don't know.
I don't know what they should do with their lives. I can't tell someone what school they should or shouldn't go just based on email.
As for me, how I decided to became an artist...
It’s somewhat entertaining. When I was 18, I had the crazy idea that I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I set a deadline. I decided I'd give myself a week to decide.
For that week, I sat and wrote lists:
- What I like to do
- How I spend my time
- Different careers I might have
- Colleges I might go to
At the end of the week, I decided I was going to be an artist.
It wasn't because I was the best at it or because I thought it would make the most money.
I knew that I'd never get perfect at art no matter how much I did it. It would always challenge me every day. I found it would be eternally challenging for me.
That was very attractive to me.
The other frontrunner for what I was going to do was computer programming, and I was actually quite good at it, and I probably would have made million dollars if I'd done that.
I’ve always had this “I want to be better than everyone” attitude.
But it wasn't for the money that I chose art. I decided when I chose art that if I made a living, that would be fine and I'd be thrilled. And I am thrilled.
Everyone has something they're good at.
Something they're adept at. Something that comes naturally to some degree. It might not be a tangible skill – maybe just being great with people, connecting with people… That's what they're really good at.
You can't make a living just off being great with people. But you can use that in whatever profession you decide to go into. So it's about whatever that strength is.
I wasn't born with an incredible ability to draw, but I'm pretty good at figuring out how things work. So I figured out the rules of art and how it works.
It's about figuring out what your ability is and using it to your advantage.
When you break it down, art isn't as mystical as people make it out to be.
Most people look at an artist creating something and they're really mystified. They don't know how it's done. They can't see how it's done. They see an artist putting brushstrokes down. And then there's a picture in front of them.
Most art happens in the artist's head. That's mystifying to people. But really, it's not that mystical or fantastical. There are fundamental exercises you learn,
Drawing is a very learnable ability.
Being able to look at something and putting it down on paper with a pencil can be learned with books and practice.
I realized art was an ability I could learn. So if I put enough hours of practice and time researching to find the best techniques, I knew I'd be able to learn the technical abilities of art.
That doesn't go into the message of what you're saying and the subjects you're choosing. But the creation part of art is learnable.
I broke things down as much as I could.
I looked for the best books on art, and I put in tons of hours into learning.
As a kid, I would draw and stuff. I took a couple art classes while home schooled. I was okay, but I think the first lesson I really learned in art was imitation. I think that's how most of us learn as human beings. That's how many of us learn to speak, even.
You do the same thing in art: Learn by imitation.
Trace over an image, and then you’d have drawn -- with your own hand -- something that looks pretty good. And if you imitate enough, you start learning the rules and developing your ability to create from scratch.
That was my first groundbreaking moment. Then it was about pushing myself professionally, learning more, and continuing to develop.
How do you go from adequate to great?
Do a lot of drawing. Break it into 3's for a while.
- A third of the time, do master studies. Study Rembrant or Leonardo. Try and reproduce them. Put one next to your piece of paper, then try to draw it. That's how many of the Old Masters learned. It's an extremely useful practice. I still do it to this day.
- The next third, work from life. Still life, portraits, landscapes, figures… Draw, paint, and just work from life. Try to reproduce what's in front of you as accurately as you can.
- The last third of your time – this one people miss out a lot of the time -- do whatever interests you. If you like working from imagination or doing weird fantasy paintings... Do it. Far too often, people get so wrapped up in exercises, reproducing what's in front of them, that they miss doing stuff they really love.
So when they're given an opportunity to do something they love... They have no idea what to do with a blank canvass and total freedom.
Even when you're an awful artist, you should still create stuff you love out of your head. It'll develop a whole new skill set.
I was freelancing for like three years. It was a pretty wild ride. Sometimes you're overloaded with work, you do tons of paintings, deadlines kill you… Other times you've got no work. It's a bit of a wild ride.
If I went too long without doing work just for myself and doing what I wanted to create... If I went too long without it, I get depressed and don’t like what I am doing. I disliked painting. It was really sad.
Then I learned that basically all I need to do is some personal work. Just for myself. It reminds me of why I do art in the first place. I like making cool art. And it's a nice reminder of that.
Even when deadlines were terrible, I set aside a bit of time.
Either every day or one day a week. I’ll do what I want to do. As long as I did that, I was more energetic, happier with my career, and doing better work overall.
I see it far too often. People doing freelance or working in-house for someone find that after five years or so, they're burnt-out.
Don't like what they're doing. Creative energy is gone. Ready to crash and burn.
Eventually, most people who just produce work for other people burn out from that. At least from what I've seen.
If you're burnt out...
My advice is different. A lot of artists say you should just keep working if you're burnt out. There's some merit to that, but my advice is to take a complete break.
No drawing, no painting, just take a break.
Most of my creative breakthroughs happen when I’m not working. When I take month-long overseas trips where I don’t do any art. I find I have so much energy when I come back, the productivity is even higher.
Oftentimes when you're burnt out, it's because you're not enjoying things enough. Art is a very personal, emotional process. Have fun. Travel. Eat good food. See friends.
And remember to enjoy life again.
Then it ends up coming out in your own art.
I had an idea early this year.
I thought I could create something to help students keep learning during the summer.
Back in my art school days, at the end of Spring Semester... Artists would go home or go travel for the summer. And they'd come back in the Fall and start learning art again.
I saw something wrong with that.
There were long months when art students weren't learning, drawing, or painting because no one was doing it with them.
I think that held back a lot of students’ development. I know how difficult it is to keep the work ethic when you don't have assignments, deadlines, and fellow classmates.
So Art Camp... They’d get assignments, deadlines, and a community of fellow artists working through them. That was the brain child of Art Camp. I thought students could use it.
Now it's grown beyond students. We have people of all ages and skill levels. But that was the original intent.
Easily one of the best parts of art school: You have classmates working alongside you.
Community is extremely beneficial. One of my fondest memories of art school is just going to the studio to work, surrounded by other artists creating work. There's something really energetic about it.
That sense of being not alone in this is important.
I wanted to give people that community. People have gotten a ton out of just that aspect of it. I've been arranging for these people to connect more closely. Community is important for both student and professional.
When you're learning, it gives you this motivation to figure it out and do the exercises. When you're a professional, it’s very important that your peers push your work to the next level.
I personally have some good close friends I rely on to push my work further. And if I know my work needs a push, I'll send it to them to get good and honest feedback.
Everyone benefits from that sense of community.
I don't know that I, as a single person, could make a community work. Here, it just happened. It sparked. And it's done very well. Maybe there's something of me as a ringleader that made that happen, but honestly I just give credit to the students for being fantastic people.
If the environment is very cooperative, friendly, and energetic... Everyone adopts that mindset and it gives them a much more positive community to work in.
Learning by teaching helps a lot.
When you’re teaching, all of a sudden you need to not just know things subconsciously. You need to be able to articulate it.
I'm used to picking up a brush and painting. But when I have to explain why I do something, I realize maybe I don't know exactly why I do what I do. And having to analyze what I do to figure this stuff out has been very helpful to me.
Realize that being an artist is more than just being able to pick up a pencil and draw.
As you learn to be an artist... I urge you to pursue a lot of different hobbies and interests. For example, if you're really into archaeology... Research it. Really get into it and go after it.
As you create art, you're going to pull from everything you know, everything you love, and everything you've studied.
Eventually you'll learn and acquire the technical abilities. You want to have something to express.
That's why I encourage you to pursue whatever it is you’re interested in.
In a similar vein, try everything.
Try every different medium. Every different approach. Everything.
I'm primarily a painter, but a sculpture class is the best class I ever took. It taught me the most about drawing and painting. Learning to be a halfway decent photographer helped my composition immensely.
There's a lot of crossover in art. Experiment with everything especially in your early years. Don't get locked into just doing one or two things well. You'll learn those abilities faster if you spread yourself out in the early years.
My really high level advice, if you're looking to succeed is this:
I break success down into three principles:
- Hard work
Obviously you can't do anything about luck, so you have to make up for it in the other two.
You have to work really hard and keep at it for a long time. And if you do? Odds are you're going to do some great work and become quite successful.
Far too often, people work really hard. But then stop before they got lucky. So they never get the chance to be successful.
Some people just keep at it. But they just don’t push themselves hard enough. They keep at a low level of effort.
So please, I really encourage you to push at these two things: Work really hard and keep at it.
Then go to this page and learn how to make money off it.