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How Long to Become a Successful Artist?

Denise has been studying and teaching art and painting for 40+ years. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her art and design.

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

It Takes Time

I'm a little discouraged that becoming a successful artist has taken SO LONG but I'm encouraged too that I'm still working on it. It's nice to know when you aren't alone. Anything worthwhile is going to take some time and effort to achieve. It seems to me everyone faces the detours, big and little, but if they really WANT it, the creative process is still waiting to be discovered and nurtured in our lives. Isn't that good news?

Ernie Weerasinghe giving a demonstration.

Ernie Weerasinghe giving a demonstration.

Watch This Short Video

Watch this short video on the Creative Process and the idea of wasted time. I found it very insightful.

Ira Glass on the Creative Process

“Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.”

— Pablo Picasso

The Library is a Wealth of Educational Opportunities

When I was in high school, thinking of what I wanted to be, my father heard me talk about art with passion. He was alarmed and appalled. He told me artists don't make money till they are dead. He tried to talk me out of pursuing it. When that didn’t work, he decided not to pay for any more college for me. At the time I was stuck so I got married. I didn’t stop pursuing art; I just had to find a way to do it on my own. I went to the library often, devouring any and all books in the art section. I read about famous artists in history and found they faced similar hardships and even worse. I went as far as I could, being self-taught before discovering online classes that made college again possible for me.

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

Whistler

What looks incredibly simplistic is extremely difficult in art. As a matter of fact, artists work very hard to make just a few well-placed lines say volumes. I see the 5-minute sketches of others and know that there was a lot of experience and practice behind them. I know that in that short time frame you have to rely on intuition and experience of all those sketches done before. It reminds me of the trial of John Ruskin. Ruskin was an art critic and published a highly critical, even slanderous critique of James McNeill Whistler’s latest paintings. For the first time ever, an artist decided to sue a critic for a miserable published critique. In Whistler’s case, it was slander for Ruskin to call him an uneducated Cockney and to accuse him of “throwing paint at the canvas.” The defense attorney questioning James Whistler asked how long it took to do the painting. Answer: 2 days. Then he asked how much he was charging for the painting. Answer: about 200 pounds. So the defense attorney said, what you are saying is you are charging the British public 200 pounds for 2 days work. And Whistler said, No. I'm charging the British public 200 pounds for a lifetime of experience in art. That's it isn't it? We artists have to build up a lifetime of experience in art. The side-note is that Ruskin lost the case but the judge only ordered Ruskin to pay Whistler one farthing in damages. For Whistler, it was rather like winning and losing the case all at one time.

“Fine Art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together”

— John Ruskin

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

Often when people are looking at sketches by a master they don’t know what they are looking at or what makes them great. The general public can’t really see the lifetime of experience and anguish that goes into making one line so great… so well executed, that it tells more than a thousand little lines. They have to develop rhythm, fluidity, draftsmanship, curve, quality, and continuity. Sometimes an artist never achieves greatness in his lifetime because they go unnoticed for the personality and emotion that they have learned to put into their drawings. Yet, even so, the work they put into their art is not wasted. Someone someday will be blessed by it and uplifted by it.

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

“My American image is made up of what I have come across, of what was ‘there’ in the time of my experience—no more, no less.”

— Thomas Hart Benton

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist
how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

What I Need to Work On

I know I have many things I need to work through in my own art. I have to strengthen my knowledge and skill drawing hands and intend to spend a good deal of time on that in the next year. I have a problem giving up outlines. I have clung to them because they are familiar in children’s illustration but I am somewhat afraid of what it will mean if I eliminate them. Yet these outlines are becoming a crutch and are limiting.

I tend to rely on just one or two brushes in my paintings and in Photoshop. My joke has always been that I will be painting until the pry the brush from my cold dead hands. It seems I don’t have to pass away for that to still be true. I just don’t want to drop my favorite brush to try another one. I have been told that a variety of brushes and textures would help my work but when I use a variety of brushes I’m not as happy with the outcome. I need to experiment more and that takes time. I figure I will eventually find the textures and brushes that work best for me but until then I am using an abundance of experimentation.

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how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

The Maid

My husband and I joke about the maid. I need to fire her. She is letting me down, not doing the dishes, not wanting to pick up clothes or get laundry going, cook meals, etc. She just sits around and draws and paints all day long, from morning till night. Half the time she is so focused on drawing that she doesn’t even listen. The toughest thing about this is that the maid is me. I've noticed when I begin a new project the house suffers and my dear honey goes hungry unless he can scrounge for something in the fridge. What can be done? The art is far more important to me, but I realize there is a balance to all things. It's like hygiene. No one really wants to do it but it must be done. So I'd fire the maid but then I'd have to do her work, haha. Ahh, the irony.

I understand throughout history many female artists hired someone to do the mundane housework but I have never been able to afford such a thing so I try to keep up with it and my passion both. Not easy.

“A man throws himself out of the fourth-floor window; if you can’t make a sketch of him before he gets to the ground, you will never do anything big.”

— Eugene Delacroix

Dennis Lewis drawing from a live model.

Dennis Lewis drawing from a live model.

Models

Models for artists are vital. Even cartoonists benefit from using a live model in the proper costume for shape, lighting, folds of fabric and gesture. I used to be able to find possible subjects/models all around me a few years ago, but after my hip operation, I've noticed I stay close to home. I don't get out and make contact like I used to. Consequently, I haven't the same model base I used to draw from. This is becoming a problem I hadn't really noticed before. I even found a site where people can hire models from (Model Mayhem) and that would be great only I don’t have the kind of funds it would take to hire anyone. Mostly I have gotten models to pose for me in exchange for a drawing or painting. So if an artist comes up to you and says that he/she would like to photograph you for a model for some ongoing project, be kind. Be flexible. Who knows, you may be the next superhero or heroin in a children’s book.

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

My Children’s Dreams

When it came to my own children, I wanted them to know they could do anything they set their hearts on and were willing to work for. I didn't want them growing up with cold water poured on their dreams. They still thank me for that. Only one of them has pursued art, but they all think if they work hard they can do anything. Now I have to take my own advice. It has taken a lot of work and time (longer than I wanted it to take) but I'm still working. I have a HUGE volume of artwork behind me. Like Ira Glass says, all that "wasted time" really hasn't been wasted at all. I was still working on art, creating things, as he said, that wasn't quite right. I'm getting closer; I can feel it. I'm very excited to see light at the end of the tunnel. And this time, it isn't the train running me down.

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

" All great achievements require time. "

— Maya Angelou

how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist
how-long-to-become-a-successful-artist

Creative Comments

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 27, 2021:

I should say that my idea of success isn't a financial one even though that would be nice. I define success as one of affirmation. Sometimes affirmation comes from within my own heart and other times affirmation comes from my peers. My favorite affirmation is my own amazement at what I have accomplished. Next to that, financial success is gravy. Thanks for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on May 27, 2019:

I should say that my idea of success isn't a financial one even though that would be nice. I define success as one of affirmation. Sometimes affirmation comes from within my own heart and other times affirmation comes from my peers. My favorite affirmation is my own amazement at what I have accomplished. Next to that, financial success is gravy.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 24, 2016:

Theresa Jonathan,

I see what you mean. Thanks for clarifying. Words to live by.

Blessings,

Denise

Theresa Jonathan from Maseru, Lesotho on March 24, 2016:

That is a challenge I am alluding to. First success is subjective and others may quantify it in financial terms only. I see success as achieving joy and inner personal growth which only you know how to qualify. Parents may fail to recognize value in this way and display disappointments for not following what they perceive as prestigious. Art give this intrinsic motivation and deep sense of achievement. Most of us as parents see our children as our extensions and not individual. That view will derail a parent from really assisting a child to identify given social and spiritual gifts.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 24, 2016:

Theresa Jonathan,

You talk good sense. I agree with you that we shouldn't spoil children, nor should we pour cold water on their dreams. The reality is that my dad was partly right that I will never make big money in art; not like I would if I had gone into, say, the law or nursing or becoming a doctor. Yet I love what I'm doing and in the end, I think he would be happy for me that I am doing what I love. Thank you for your positive words.

Blessings,

Denise

Theresa Jonathan from Maseru, Lesotho on March 24, 2016:

Parental praise is very important though it was regarded as spoiling a child. A praise following a desirable behavior encourages that behaviour to be repeated. The good this is that you made it without it and I am sure it is an achievement to you. I wish we could all adopt that attitude because we would be able to live without blaming. We however must continue advocating positive and purposeful parental support.

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on March 22, 2016:

YouGet1Shot,

Thank you for asking. I may never know how my father feels today. He passed away 23 years ago at the age of 60. I was struggling to be an artist at the time but of course, wasn't too successful at it. I tried giving him art but he never said much about it. Knowing how much he LOVED John Wayne, I painted a large montage of John Wayne as he appeared in a number of Western movies. The said "thanks" but never said much else. Later I found the painting displayed in Mom's office not Dad's. Once he even paid another artist to do a portrait of him on his horse. He asked me if he'd gotten his money's worth and told me how much he paid her. It so hurt my feeling that I'm not sure what I said. He didn't want me to be an artist but he would pay someone else to do it. Hmmmm. As I get better and better, sell work and create books, I'm not sure what he would say today if he were still here. But I have a feeling he would say the same as always, "yeah, nice neese." Still, I have to live MY life and follow MY dreams even if I never ever receive his praise. I'd love to, but I can't even imagine what his praise would sound like. Thanks so much for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

Chris Desatoff from USA on March 22, 2016:

Hi Denise,

I really like your drawings. That tree and rock is my favorite too.

Sorry to hear about how your father tried to kill your dreams. I'm sure he meant well and wanted to see you prosper and not struggle financially, but wow. What a dream killer haha.

How does he feel about your art today? Have you given him any art as a present? If so, how did he respond?

Denise McGill (author) from Fresno CA on February 27, 2016:

FlourishAnyway,

Oh thank you! I think I will give the maid a break and get back to my painting now. Thanks so much for commenting.

Blessings,

Denise

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 27, 2016: