Elizabeth Robbins on set at Bella Muse Productions.
Elizabeth Robbins is a painter best known for her classical floral still life paintings.
She also is the owner of Bella Muse Productions, where she produces educational art DVDs and tutorials to inspire artists one video at a time.
Why do some people get picked up by galleries and others don’t?
I recently participated in a discussion about what it takes to be a professional artist.
Was it just talent that separates us?
Was it great marketing?
My response to the audience was that I knew there were people in the audience that had more talent than some of us on the stage. So what, if any, were the differences between those sitting on the stage and those in the audience?
First and foremost, artists are a tribe. We think alike, we “get” each other and tend to gravitate toward other creatives. I find myself most comfortable among other creatives, but aren’t we all artists in some fashion?
Every human has the spark of creativity in them, so what makes one person become a professional artist making a living from their artwork and another person unable to make that jump to “professional”.
Here are the seven commonalities that I have found among the artists that I film for educational videos:
Artists are driven by passion and by failure.
One of the most important traits I see among professional artists is that we are driven by a passion to create. It’s in our blood—as much a part of our DNA as the color of our eyes. Most people have passion about something in their lives, but professional artists tend to take that passion and dive right in—regardless of the possibility of failure.
In fact, the possibility of failure is probably one of the key factors that drives artists to keep painting and searching for what they are trying to say. Writers talk with words, musicians talk with music, and painters talk with paint.
We are all trying to say something about ourselves and that thing inside us drives us to do what we do.
Professional artists are constantly searching for something.
When an artist is painting, they will almost always say they are searching for something—searching for that next breakthrough, searching for ways to express what they are feeling, searching for ways to say the same thing but in a different way.
How many times can I paint a vase of flowers and not get bored?
Each painting, even though it might be the same subject matter over and over again, has a new appeal, a new meaning, and a new challenge. I have never heard an artist say … “Well, I’ve said it all. I can’t do better than that.”
Ruby, Elizabeth Robbins, Oil on Canvas
Artists are highly sensitive and intuitive
Psychologist Elaine Aron writes in her book, “The Highly Sensitive Person,” that only 15-20% of the population are considered “highly sensitive”.
This doesn’t just mean that if you tell us you don’t like our outfit we will take offense. It means that we are highly sensitive to sound, light, energies, and pretty much everyone and everything around us.
I never liked going to concerts as a teenager. The lights, noise, and crowds made me very uncomfortable. I never understood why so many of my friends enjoyed the concerts, but I always found a way to wiggle out of going.
The artists that I have filmed are all highly sensitive people. They “feel” their way around the painting. They aren’t painting from their head, they are painting from their heart and their intuition. It’s this ability to paint intuitively that separates them from the student who is painting from their head.
All artists (regardless of stage) are, for better or worse, insecure.
We all have insecurities. Even the best artists tend to be the hardest on themselves when critiquing their work.
I’ve seen professional artists wipe off several hours of work that, to me, was beautiful. But to them, it was missing something or just didn’t seem right.
They will spend hours in front of other paintings trying to understand the brushwork and the method behind it—praising how brilliant it is—but then look at their own work and declare it unworthy.
Artists have an intense work ethic.
There are a few stereotypes of artists floating around out there that characterize us as being absent-minded, shiftless, or disorganized. How many times have you heard ... 'but, what do you do all day?'”
What I have found in professional artists is that they never stop working.
The mind of an artist is always in overdrive trying to figure out how to paint the light on the mountains as they drive with their families for their summer vacation. Enjoying a relaxing day at the beach with the kids turns into a photo shoot and research for upcoming projects because they have been inspired by the shapes of light and dark on the beach.
Professional artists might not paint every day, but when they aren’t painting, they are thinking about painting. They are researching, making frames, building websites, shipping paintings to galleries, poring over art books, and in my case, working in my garden nurturing the flowers I so love to paint.
Artists need more alone time than the average person.
This goes back to being highly sensitive. The need to be alone and reduce the chatter and noise that fills our head is sometimes overwhelming.
It is very hard for creatives to produce work when people are around. It’s the solitude that washes away the clutter and debris in our heads and hearts, which then allows the inspiration to take hold.
Professional artists know it’s not all about money, but that making a living is possible.
Many people are discouraged to become an “artist” because they are told they can’t support a family being an artist. After all, there is that “starving artist” mentality that has attached itself to the profession.
For professional artists, it’s not about making money. It’s about making art and saying something with their craft that will stand the test of time. Isn’t that worth something?
There is one reason why we know about the great civilizations; it is the art. Music, architecture, theatre, sculptures, paintings, and literature have defined culture for centuries and passed that down through objects, songs and stories. It’s rumored that Winston Churchill, when asked to cut funding for the arts to help the wartime effort said, “then what are we fighting for?"
Professional artists take their craft seriously.
Artists are dedicated to their professions just like an athlete gearing up for the Olympics or a pianist practicing for Carnegie Hall. There is that philosophy that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to get good at anything and that is true for artists as well.
Putting in the hours, overcoming failure, developing a strong work ethic, these are all learnable traits that can put you on the path to becoming a professional artist.
Professional artists keep learning and stay on top of their business.
Even if it isn't second nature, artists know that having an organized art business can save a ton of stress and elevate their career. Being organized helps artists get paid on time, look professional, and get bigger opportunities down the road.
Professional artists will block 15 minutes a day or an hour a week to make sure that their invoices are paid, their inventory is up to date and that their contacts are in order and email responses are taken care of.
You can have all the creativity in the world, but if you can’t remember which gallery has what piece or find the contact info for that interested buyer, then you won’t be selling much art.
Half the battle of being a professional artist is simply staying organized. Only then can your art business be effective and allow you to make a living doing what you love.