The Artist's Dilemma: getting yourself out there without burning out

There is a belief that the life of an artist revolves around simply making art. All we have to do is make whatever it is we’ve chosen as our craft, be good at it, post it on Twitter or Instagram or some other social networking platform, and BOOM! Insta-fame.

The truth is, life as an independent creative requires having to be your own tech person, social marketing person, publisher, editor, accountant, peer reviewer, and more. I can easily spend 30 hours a week on the actual art aspect of my career. The rest, is everything else.

I turned to making a portfolio site because Tumblr is the toxic dumpster fire we all love to watch burn, and I haven’t really utilized other platforms similar to DeviantArt but, you know, better. It can be a daunting task, frustratingly hair ripping actually, to put yourself out there and simply hear crickets in response. Burnout is often just a step behind you as you work longer hours and compare yourself to other artists who seem to be living the life.

The first rule to remember is “never compare your art to others”. I will never put down another person’s artwork to make me feel better, and I encourage you to do the same. That one artist’s sketch that got 1000 likes on Instagram while your finished painting received 5? They’ve been around longer and have more followers because of that. That one artist’s status update on Twitter posting about pillow cushion aesthetics that got 50,000 retweets while your status about updating your comic got 2? They also frequently post art updates, discounts, and share other artists’ work. Many great artists just aren’t the best at social networking theory, and hey, I’m still trying to figure it out myself. So in addition to never comparing your art to others, never base your worth on fake internet points. That takes a combination of time, luck, and perseverance.

My second rule is to research. Take classes or watch tutorials! I took an online class on Udemy for social networking for creatives. Jamie Benson’s “Social Media Smackdown for Artists and Creative Entrepreneurs” was a fantastic leap forward in my social media usage. I worked smarter, not harder, and I got almost immediate results. It wasn’t miraculous, but it was significant enough that I got more likes and followers simply because I interacted with others (shocker, I know). I’m still a newbie with social media and networking. Hell, I should probably take a course on how to make a portfolio site, but the first step is to get started. Learn as you go. And when something isn’t working out, research to figure out why.

My final rule is have a set schedule. I work from 9 - 5, M - F. That means I don’t start work before 9 am, and I stop around 5 pm. I don’t work weekends. I used to work whenever I could, which usually meant working from 7 am to about 9 pm throughout the week. Burnout was constant, and I tended to get sick often.

In 2018, I was pleasantly surprised to see a trend of independent artists talk about working healthier hours. They shone a light on the constant physical pain (usually in the wrist or back) and emotional turmoil from the expectations of their readers/followers. Most followers responded positively, as is expected, because we are our own worst critics. We aspire to be artistic robots that turn out beautiful works of art daily. And failure to meet that expectation turns to depression and anxiety. It helps to be reminded our heroes in the field experience the same thing, only they’ve been doing it longer. Gaining notoriety takes time, and they pulled those hours… perhaps hundreds if not thousands before you decided this was the path you too wished to take. There’s also no shame in having other part time work that isn’t art-related to pay the bills. Just remember that you require actual breaks in your day/week. Take vacations. Make use of that time to recharge and have fun. Your art improves when you do that. Really.

Along with setting a schedule for my work, I also have a set schedule for my social media usage. I have social media templates prewritten for my comic updates on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and more. It helps to have that formula all ready to go, and all you have to do is plug in the links, maybe add a personal quip or hashtag, and then post it. What used to be almost an hour’s worth of work went down to maybe 20 minutes.

Now that you’ve read my musings, what rules do you think promotes a healthier and smarter work ethic for artists? What tips and tricks should be added?