My high school art teacher, Mr. Medford, had a unique approach. He split his class into two groups. The first group may have enjoyed art, but really wanted an easy credit. They weren’t interested in pursuing art as a career. The second group did have plans to make art their career.
The first group had a much easier learning path. Their workload and expectations were lower, but they still had a minimum bar to set. The second group had a high workload and much higher expectations.
Mr. Medford was separating the amateurs from the professionals. And while none of us were making money from our art, it was the mindset he wanted to cultivate.
I was in that second group.
Ask yourself—what group do you want to be in?
The word amateur has a certain undertone, such as lacking experience and confidence. It may also mean the work is of poor quality. On the flip side, a professional is seen as confident, and is paid for their work. However, it’s more complicated than that.
There may be highly-skilled amateurs whose work is superior to a professional, just as there are many “professionals” who produce sub-par work. Just because someone got paid for something doesn’t mean the quality of the work was high.
As an amateur, there’s no pressure to sell. You create art simply for the enjoyment of it. You’re not looking to make an income or perhaps even concerned with how many Instagram followers you have. If that’s what you’re comfortable with, then that’s okay. Being an amateur also doesn’t necessarily mean you lack confidence in your work. You may take lessons to improve your skills, or even sell the occasional piece, but your livelihood isn’t dependent on your skills.
Amateurs may still be experimenting with different styles, or not have a clear goal in mind. Professionals have a clear style that’s been established over many years of deliberate practice.
Amateurs may also wait for inspiration to strike before doing work. This makes the learning process stretch on far longer.
This isn’t to say that amateurs don’t care about their work—it’s just that they have a different attitude towards it.
Being a professional means being okay with playing the long game. There will be many hours, days, weeks, months and years of deliberate practice. You will need to be okay slogging through mundane tasks while you build up your skills. Patience is key.
Getting better at something doesn’t mean you show up to do it “once in a while”. A professional shows up every day. It’s a continual process of self-improvement.
Showing up everyday doesn’t mean you’re always producing artwork everyday. It means developing a mindset to try to continually improve your skills. For me, that means improving my writing, working in my sketchbook, taking business lessons, etc … I’m also focussing on just one thing—my lettering and illustration.
A professional doesn’t wait for inspiration.
For example, I post to my blog every Tuesday at 10AM EST. This is scheduled. I have no choice but to show up and create content. If I have a cold, need to work around other commitments or just don’t feel like it, too bad. I show up. I also know I may have many years of “showing up” before I see any gains, and I’m okay with that.
Having a professional mindset means being picky about your work. I always feel like my work could be a bit better. This means cultivating a good degree of self-awareness about your work. I aim to be 90% perfect.
Professionals are always “on”, constantly looking for new sources of inspiration. I often will have my sketchbook with me when travelling. I will make notes or take photos of things that inspire me. I’ll cruise the flea markets for interesting finds.
- shows up when they feel like it
- has no clear goal in mind
- can discontinue their activity with no repercussions
- will not learn as fast as someone with a “professional” mindset
- waits for inspiration to strike
- shows up everyday whether they feel like it or not
- devotes all their energies into improving their “one thing”
- adopts a patient mindset
- has a schedule, and sticks to it
- doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike
There isn’t a right or wrong group to be in. But if you really want to improve, think like a professional.