3 Things I Wish I Knew Starting Out as an Artist

3 Things I Wish I Knew Starting Out as an Artist

3 Things I Wish I Knew Starting Out as an Artist


Artist Jordan McDowell Working in Home Studio Kitchen Art Prints Posters



1. Most of your time working will not be spent painting (or whatever your craft is)


Carving out a job as an artist and creative entrepreneur is awesome. I fully support and encourage you to take that leap of faith and go for it but, there are a few things you should know first. Going full-time as an artist or creative entrepreneur requires you to wear an insane amount of hats in the beginning. I know I come back to this a lot, but artists are not spending all of their time or even 50% of their time, painting or working on their craft, at least at the beginning of their career. 


Artist Jordan McDowell Painting in Home Studio Work in ProgressWhen I started painting for the first time with an intention to make this my job, I had a day job. I spent all my time outside of that job, learning my paints and posting to Instagram. I painted as much as I possibly could in the very beginning because I knew this was what I wanted to do. Once I felt comfortable with my ability to paint, had a general idea of how to make items to sell, and knew spaces in which to sell my art, I went full-time. 


Once I went full-time, I had to make a living off my art. I knew I was going to be hustling to create new works and get them out there. What I did not think of were all the elements it takes to sell something online or in person.


Artists and creative entrepreneurs are spending their time (when not yet able to outsource) doing ALL of the following:

Large Kitchen Decor Fruit Lemons Art Posters by Artist Jordan McDowell
  • learning new skills and techniques
  • refining their styles
  • creating new works of art
  • photographing new works of art
  • learning marketing techniques
  • employing those new marketing techniques amongst all the channels
  • answering emails
  • doing email outreach
  • developing products
  • placing inventory orders
  • reviewing inventory
  • learning how to blog
  • writing blog posts
  • creating websites and learning how to write copy for products and services
  • updating websites and listings regularly
  • social media posting
  • customer support
  • registering for in-person events
  • prepping booth set-ups
  • driving all over the place for shows
  • doing said shows
  • taking commissions
  • working with clients in person or over email to bring their visions to life

I could go on still!

These are the bits that you learn as you go, but as you can see they add up quickly. Even though I didn’t know it took all of those things and more to be self-employed with art, I’m glad I took the plunge. I LOVE what I do and I love doing that insane list of jobs above because making art and sharing it with my customers and clients brings a little bit of joy into this world. 



 2. It is ok to explore art styles, paint different subject matters and in different mediums.


Artists hear all the time from the heavy hitters on Instagram that as an artist you should narrow down your mediums and find an art style and stick to that art style. Find a subject matter that you love to paint and just paint that. And although that may make sense for the purpose of creating a cohesive grid on your Instagram, that doesn’t make sense if you’re trying to grow as an artist. 


Red Poppies Flowers Floral Fine Art Painting by Artist Jordan McDowell

It’s important to follow your intuition as an artist. To pick up pastels when you’ve never used them before because that’s just what you’re vibing with in the moment. It’s unlikely that the first medium you begin to paint with will be the only one you feel a flow with. 


When I first started painting, I painted only in watercolors and I painted only foods. I think I gravitated towards painting fruits and vegetables because I studied food in college, worked in the industry, and I just feel an affinity for foods. I really wanted to paint florals when I was starting out but they seemed so intimidating so I stuck to food. 


As I continued to paint and practice watercolors on avocados, heirloom carrots, pineapples, I became better at the medium and finally tried my hand at florals. I was SO glad I took that jump because painting florals and changing up my subject matter gave me confidence. Confidence to paint what I wanted with whatever medium I wanted. I swore up and down at the beginning that I’d never paint landscapes, but you know what I did after painting florals? I painted landscapes

American Wheat Fields Storm Fine Art Original Watercolor Painting by Artist Jordan McDowell


Every time I changed my subject I grew in skill and confidence in my ability to adapt to the imagery. 


Eventually, I wanted a new challenge. I wanted to change my medium. I’ve always secretly desired to be an oil painter but that medium seems like a mountain to climb with all the binders and toxic fumes you have to work with...so I opted for oil pastels. Last year, I had this INTENSE desire to do an oil pastel collection - my Lily Lakes Collection. Those pieces flew out of me and I attest that to all the play I had with my subjects leading up to that collection. Even though I hadn’t worked with that medium before I was really pleased with what I created and decided to release them!


Fast forward to today, and I’ve found a love for acrylic landscapes. I’m excited to share the collections I’ve been working on for the last 5 months with you all soon!

Waterlilies Lily Lake landscape Oil Pastel fine Art Print and Original by Artist Jordan McDowell


All this is to say, you don’t have to stick to one thing. You can play with your paints and you’ll be better for it. Oddly enough, it’s through the experimentation with oil pastels, acrylics, and gouache, that I’ve gained a firmer understanding of how I use my watercolors and what I can expand on. Having started with watercolors myself, I learned the importance of layering and how to build light to dark. That in turn has informed my painting style with acrylics and I build layers in a whole new way now. Because I allowed myself to play with different mediums I now have the confidence to paint whatever I want with whatever I want (except for humans...that’s still scary.)


The greatest discovery I’ve made thanks to experimenting with different paint mediums and subject matters is that I now know I love to combine all sorts of mediums together in one piece! You won’t know what you can create if you don’t dip your toe in all the different streams. 



 3. You can create original collections of fine art without being a master painter and you can sell prints of your artwork without being a sellout. 


I don’t know who needs to hear this but you’re not a sellout if you make prints of your fine art originals. Alternatively, you can absolutely release your work to the world and make fine art collections even if you’re not a master painter, even if you didn’t go to art school. 


Vibrant Colorful Floral Flowers Stripes Watercolor Fine Art Print by Artist Jordan McDowell

I touched upon this in last week’s blog post “5 Assumptions People Make About Professional Artists,” but to begin selling your work and releasing collections you don’t have to be a master painter. The literal definition of “fine art” according to the Oxford dictionary is 

1. creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content.
2. an activity requiring great skill or accomplishment.


    If we look at the essence of the two definitions together, great skill can simply be the jump from an amateur painter where you’re doodling around to a painter who created a cohesive body of work that can be “appreciated for its imaginative content.” 


    I think it’s so important to let go of this 1800s romanticism about fine art.


    Tea Flowers Stripes with gold Fine Art Original Painting by Artist Jordan McDowell

    We don’t live in an era where benefactors are running around ready to throw money at all the artists out there trying to make art for a living. No, we live in a time where it’s vitally important for artists to develop different streams of income in order for them to develop great skills and accomplishments. It is by releasing collections of art before you deem yourself a master painter that you gain an understanding of what works of art are being received well and how you can improve on that for your next collection. It is by perceiving yourself as an artist in 2021 and not 1856 that you can in good conscience release prints of your fine art originals. Because let's face it, not everyone can afford originals. It's important to honor those who do partake in originals, because originals are very special, but not at the cost of excluding all of your other supporters in the process. You’re not a sellout for making fine art reproductions. You’re an artist living in the twenty-first century.



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