Throughout my development, the goal was always to find a balance between making art that sold & art that felt true to me. In searching, I fell for many creative pitfalls. I've found these 6 reminders to be most helpful in staying positive, productive & creative.
1. Art is never perfect. While working as a staff artist that became very clear. Even the veteran painter's art needed digital correction. It's nothing personal. The publishing & licensing market has broad needs (subject, styles) that are very predictable. To be sold, however, the art needs to fit a specific need for a specific customer. It comes down to having the right 'look' at the right time. It's best not to fuss too much over details. Call it done and move on to the next project.
2. Comparing yourself to others is bad. Following trends and looking at art is a good thing, but when you start to doubt your own abilities, it becomes very unhealthy. Living in an office overflowing with trend reports & other artist's work, it was very difficult to break the habit of comparing myself to others. At a certain point, you need to stop, absorb the inspiration, and trust your instincts.
3. Do what comes naturally and makes you happy. In my first few years as a staff artist, I was flailing. I tried everything to make my work marketable, including adopting techniques and styles that felt foreign to me. I was trying everything to fit a mold. As a result, my art ended up looking like something someone else had created and I end up hating myself just a little bit (see Mo Mullan). I find it's best not to live by the trends or worry too much about how it will sell. Instead, focus on your strengths, draw what you love, and aim to stay true to your vision. Once I started trusting my artistic instincts, people began reacting more positively, and art making became less painstaking. Trust your instincts.
4. Pinterest is amazing/awful. It's convenient & easy, and is my go-to source for inspiration. It reveals trends, but also features so much derivative art, it's depressing. Everything has been done, it seems. Part of selling your work in this market means hitting trend subjects, sometimes twice, but try to do it your own way. It sucks for the artists being copied but it sucks even more when you get called out for it. Make sure to broaden your scope of inspiration.
5. If you do anything consistently, even if it's shitty, people will take you seriously. Basquiat, James Franco, both perfect examples. My alternate portfolio, Oliver Towne, is full of rough sketches inspired by outsider & children's art. This work does not blend with my main portfolio, but I love the spontaneity these drawings hold. Individually, the drawings are weak, but presented as group, they hold weight despite their crudity. When building a portfolio, consistency, the volume of work, and presentation is key.
6. Breaks are important. When you work for a company who's main source of revenue is new art, the staff artist has excellent job security. The downside is that your work is never done. It's a good problem to have, but it's important to remember in this situation, you're only as busy as you want to be.