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Follow Your Inner Compass and Make a Life Doing What You Love

Image courtesy of hmomoy

This post features a review of The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, a book by Margaret Peot all about how to earn a productive, joyful living with your artwork.

But before we get to that, I recently caught up with Margaret, who took some time out of her busy schedule to answer a few of my questions:

How would you define ‘success’ for an artist?


Margaret Peot

Margaret: The novelist Ray Bradbury said in an interview for the NEA, “Love is the center of your life. Things that you do should be things that you love, and things that you love should be things that you do.”

So, keeping this in mind, success for an artist is to be able to make a life doing what you choose to do and love, to be able to make a sustainable living from this thing that you love, living in a place that you choose. Or, if you have decided, legitimately, to make your money-making gig separate from your art-making, that what you have chosen to do for money honestly sustains you on multiple levels as well. And then, within that framework, to be able to embrace all of the rest of things of life: to have a family if you choose, and to contribute to your community.

So many young artists set aside their art making as they get older, to get a “real” job with benefits, without realizing that they can have full lives as artists. A full life, a life that you choose, is within your grasp. It requires some soul searching, followed by decision making and detailed planning.

There’s a lot of buzz at the moment about how artists can easily promote themselves online. Do you think it’s important to combine this with a certain amount of offline promotion too?

Margaret: It is extremely important to make oneself “discoverable” online. When someone goes to the internet to find out about you, they should be able to find your name, images and accomplishments in many places. So, posting about your work, classes you teach, and exhibitions you take part in is crucial.

Because this is so crucial, it is easy to think that time spent on self promotion online, which is amusing to do, and time consuming, is all that one must do to promote oneself as an artist. However, none of this is as important as meeting with people face to face, making eye-to-eye contact with them.

Looking at real art, meeting people at art fairs, exhibitions, parties, conferences of like-minded individuals: These meetings can’t be beat.

If you are anxious meeting with people, stop thinking about what people can offer you, and think about what you can do for them. This internal shift can alter the whole DNA of a social encounter. Also, don’t forget that the reason people deal art or make it is because they love that. So, ask them questions about this love – make a friendship. These conversations are the beginnings of relationships, which start associations that can last a lifetime.

How important is it for aspiring artists to get really clear on the direction they want their art to go?

Margaret: Making art is hard: You have to absorb everything, and then chuck it out the window and make the things that are meaningful to you. You can’t ride the tide of what has been done before, but really have to forge forth with your vision – something true to you – otherwise, why bother, really? No one wants to live an imitative life. We want to be the heroes of our own stories.

In my book The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, Marshall Arisman, the famous illustrator and raconteur, told me that his friend, the novelist Paul Theroux said, “Never try to make a universal point, or write a letter to the world. Try instead to find a personal truth and hope that it becomes universal.”

Find your inner compass, and check in with it frequently. Try to separate your work from promotion of your work. You will be good at this – as an artist, you are used to looking at turning ideas around and looking at them from all sides.

You say The Successful Artist’s Career Guide started out as a conversation about what you wish you had been told in college. If you could go back and talk to your younger self, what one piece of advice would you give her?

Margaret: I would give two pieces of advice to the younger me:

  1. Follow your bliss – it is the lens that you look through that makes you unique.
  2. You don’t have to dance every time you are asked—you can actually sit out some offers that don’t seem right.

(Both of these bits of advice are about having an inner compass that centers and guides you).

Tell us briefly about your art background and how you came to be a published author.

Margaret: I have always been fascinated by books and book structures, narratives, stories. My studio work is full of them, and I have always written stories as well.

But the things that have gotten published to date are the books that I have written in answer to people telling me that they have always wanted to be an artist but can’t even draw a straight line, or that they used to be an artist, but had to quit to get a real job.

As I think everyone should be engaged in the act of making things, I wrote Make Your Mark, Inkblot: Drip, Splat and Squish Your Way to Creativity, The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, Alternative Art Journals (coming in September 2012), and two accompanying videos. They are all about making things, removing obstacles to making things, and making a life as an artist in whatever capacity you choose.

My Review of The Successful Artist’s Career Guide

The first thing that struck me about The Successful Artist’s Career Guide was how beautifully designed it is. Full colour glossy pages and a kind of grungy notebook/scrapbook style make the book a pleasure to look at, so if aesthetics is your thing, you’ll be pleased from the moment you open the book.

So what about the content? Over 7 chapters and 224 pages, Margaret guides you through the process of launching a successful art career, from planning how your ideal life would look, and choosing your area of expertise, through practical and legal considerations, to promoting yourself both online and offline, and ensuring that you keep up a regular studio practice.

Interspersed amongst Margaret’s own advice are several interviews with successful artists of many different areas of expertise, who share some of their own personal stories and advice.

In every chapter, there are worksheets and checklists for you to complete, which will help you make important decisions about your art and your career, and may give you ideas you hadn’t previously thought of.

There is even an 8-page checklist of potential art-related jobs for you to consider, followed by as many pages again explaining what some of the jobs entail. If you’re not yet sure what artistic career path you want to take, this can really help you brainstorm ideas.

Overall, there’s very little that I don’t like about the book. One thing worth noting though, is that all the legal stuff and advice on taxes and health insurance etc. is based on US law, so if you live outside of the US, those parts may not apply to you.

One piece of advice from the book that really resonated with me came from Marshall Arisman (mentioned by Margaret earlier), who offered the following advice to an artist just starting out:

“Paint what you know and care about… and through this, you will start to get at what is important to you. Its resonance with you will make it important to others.”

Win a Copy of The Successful Artist’s Career Guide

successful-artist-career-guideIf you think you would benefit from reading The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, Margaret Peot has kindly offered to give a copy of the book to one lucky reader.

To be in with a chance of winning the book, simply leave a comment below, stating how you think you would benefit from reading it. For bonus points you can also share this post on Facebook, Twitter etc. (it won’t increase your chances of winning, but you will get good karma!)

Note: This competition is now closed, but you can still buy the book from Margaret’s website. Congratulations to Karen Landrum, who was our lucky winner.

43 Comments on Follow Your Inner Compass and Make a Life Doing What You Love

  1. Janice Davison says:

    Win a Copy of The Successful Artist’s Career Guide – Sounds intriguing. I’ve tweeted as well @JDavison415

  2. Left graphic design to pursue a fine art career, only to have to return when the economy tanked, I would like to see what I missed last time that I need to be aware of when I relaunch a fine art career.

  3. Pam Kilgore says:

    The desire of my heart is to make a business out of doing what I love. After years of suppression I’m finally giving myself permission to go for it. This book sounds like exactly what I need to help kick start it all.

  4. Mary Collins says:

    I have a nephew who is just out of college. He wants a career as an artist, but doesn’t know how that can happen. I would love to be able to give this book to him. It sounds perfect.

  5. Karen L. says:

    I want to read The Successful Artist’s Career Guide, by Margaret Peot. What I read so far gives me hope I wished I had pursued an art career many times in my life ~ and maybe it’s not too late!

  6. Linda Hatfield says:

    I worked as a graphic designer, have been working on fine art but now, am starting to realize I want to do BOTH. I need some guidance about how to have it all. The book sounds perfect and Marshall Arisman has been a favorite of mine.

  7. Emma says:

    Genuinely wanting to extract the best from Me The Artist without chucking out the person ME. Stunning kickstart – that’s the book for me!

  8. Mary Hawkes says:

    I have painted and written two books and part of a third and I have to admit that I have not marketed myself sufficiently to make a living from this, even though a publisher said that was all I needed to do. This book would help me fill the gap between creating and earning, so I am entering to win it.

  9. Bob McLean says:

    Margaret and Dan,

    Thanks for sharing your bliss about art. I am on the cusp of a life change, and have been very focused on producing art for my “second act”. Every morsel of encouragement is appreciated.

  10. This sounds like an excellent and very useful book. I was made redundant and currently have only bits of income. I’m finding it difficult to know how to make my creative activities into a proper income. I think this book would make a huge difference!

  11. Elizabeth Hamister-Burnett says:

    I am an artist and writer full in the throes of transitioning the “I am” of this into a career. I would love to have the advice of Margaret at my side.

  12. Noble says:

    I have several books of this sort, but they are rather out of date especially in terms of online aspects. I’d like to see what the current thinking is on the subject from this author’s perspective. The interviews are also of interest to me.

  13. The visual beauty of the layout of the book intrigues me first; the practical workings to create a successful business as an artist are equally intriguing to me.

    I’d like to win a copy, please.
    Mary Lee

  14. Hooray for this book. I will own it wehther I buy or win it. (Would be terrific to win it…) I am focusing on moving out of the day job and into a working artist/writer role. I have been lurking in the shadows for too long…you know doing the “resisting” we artists are so good at, but I am moving forward now. I think this book would be a great help. Thanks for this wonderful opportunity. I will post about this book on my blog and FB.

  15. Last year I got laid off from a job that I took to pay the bills. I’m back in school to get training on creating digital art. I’ve been wonderfully creative in the last year and have made forward progress, but
    I want to continue the forward progress, and learn what more I can do. This book sounds perfect.

  16. Sounds like a great book! I’m in the process of launching my art career for a second time, and the landscape of promotion has changed so much. Sadly, I had to abandon it all the first time in order to support myself when my shop went belly-up in 2001. It was profoundly disappointing. All I want in the world is to create, and to be able to support myself that way. I’d happily give everything I make away if I could simply live in exchange.

  17. I’d love to own this book! I’m really at the point in my career, where I’m confident enough in my ablilities, but really need to figure out how to market myself, and get the work done! I’ve spent too long floundering, and not getting things right. I’m ready for some direction.! (I tweeted this article, too!)

  18. kathryn says:

    for me, i have always found that reading about other artist’s success not only inspires me but i usually garner little tidbits of information to add to my own marketing strategies!! so, for me that would be very beneficial along with those checklists you mentioned!!

  19. Deborah says:

    I have always wanted to be able to make enough money creating & selling my art, so that it could be enough to support my son & myself. I would benefit greatly from this book as I am recently divorced and having to return to the work force & I am also returning to college with grants & scholarship help to finish my degree. I would much rather be doing what I love & making it, vs. being trained in a new field just to be making a living & getting by……I want to create art & make money & live happily in a creative environment.

    I will also tweet @dvoizin & share on facebook!

  20. Wow, this really seems like it’s been written for me, I mean, I’m trying to follow my dream and would love to know more about Margeret’s words on that.
    I often drown myself in this art culture that says that you’ll have to do this and this and that,and I feel I’m very sensitive for all kinds of advice because somehow my head thinks I should listen to it and take that more seriously than what I actually think I’m supposed to do and I find it very hard just to listen to myself. It would honestly be very useful and an eye opener I think :)! (and you know, when I don’t win I’ll probably buy it anyway)

  21. Denice says:

    My daughter is just about to enter her HND year of art and this would be invaluable to her, also my son is showing a real natural atristic flair so this would be passed down and read and re read over and over.

  22. This sounds like what I need to jump-start some much-needed changes – I have struggled with job-juggling too long, and now feel pressured to get my art-career focus more successful, even with years of professional work, it’s terribly difficult to make a living. Yet, Art is Life and we all need encouragement and advice! Thanks for this book and the wonderful possibility of a free offer! Ever Onward!

  23. Staar says:

    I am an artist…….I work in a very analytical environment and often wonder if I was doing what I loved for a living how would this change me, would I be a different person that who I am now? I think this book would be a great kick start to find out the answer to those questions. Thanks

  24. Mickie Bull says:

    My girl is wanting an art career to kinda prove to her parents that she can do it and be successful in it, rather than doing something more… commercial and paid regular, 9-5 job that they would prefer her to do. This book I imagine would give her the perfect base to begin to showcase her talent.

  25. Kandy says:

    Wow! If I could go back and have read that rule #2 (you don’t have to dance…), I could have
    saved a lot of false detours! I have an online library of how-to books on the subject of art career
    building, and I always get something valuable from each of them. I will look forward to reading
    Margaret’s perspective. I have been pursuing doing what I love for seven years, and I have not
    yet regretted the decision to follow my bliss. I continue to be grateful for the education that comes
    everyday from this choice.

  26. Tishist says:

    I’m sure this book can give me the gentle push I have needed all these years. Having gained a First class degree in Fine Art 12 years ago, I have never known just how to push myself into the big wide art world and have since felt I am doing myself a serious injustice, having let my creative endeavours gradually slip away from me. I am not naturally a self promoter so I think this book can finally get me on the right track and give me some vital counselling in the areas I have always lacked!

  27. Daniel Levinson says:

    This sounds very interesting. As an emerging artist I can use all the advice in the world. Thanks for the opportunity!

  28. Paul Witney says:

    Just looking to get back into painting after many years absence, so this would be a great win.

  29. Kate says:

    Well I’m currently on the path to finding a creative career, after quitting a soul-destroyingly uncreative admin job last year. Since then I have been doing lots of arts an crafts, like I used to as a youngster, and I love it. I think Margaret’s book would be a great help to me because at the moment I am not totally sure how to make a creative career happen.

  30. Dorothy says:

    There are many more talented artists than there are SUCCESSFUL artists. Being successful takes more marketing and business know-how which is not a natural in-born skill set for us artists! I know enough to know that could use some help!

  31. heather c says:

    My child is an amazing artist already. This might make the transition from student to professional easier, knowing the road ahead of time.

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