I wrote this a year ago. But people still ask me for advice, so here it is again
Work hard, make friends, don’t give up.
A bit more: be incredibly opportunistic and on the hunt for places that can use your art. Be hard on yourself. Shun all the woo woo vagueness that people tell artists: “fulfilling your dreams”, “nurturing your creativity”, the whole lot of that. It exists to sell self-help books to dilettantes.
Care about money. You’ll need it. If not now, when you’re sick or old or have a kid. Never listen to anyone who tries to shame you for caring about money.
Be mercenary with most clients, but be incredibly generous with comrades in arms who inspire you. I still do a considerable amount of cheap or free work, for musician BFFs or Occupy Wall Street. I can do this because I charge alot for my paid work.
Remember that you actually have to make things that people want to buy, and if people don’t want to buy them it’s not because they’re awful philistines. Endeavor to both do better and find your audience.
Generate your own projects that you believe in. Work hard on them. Show them off.
Don’t illustrate people’s self published children’s books for free. Trust me.
Make friends with people who aren’t artists, and have interests that aren’t art. Hackers, entrepeneurs, journalists, models, construction workers, professors…
Draw all the time. Keep sketchbooks. Go to figure drawing classes. Copy old masters. Be hard on yourself and address your flaws. Find the voice that’s yours
Remember that the future belongs to multi-disciplinary mutants, and that a father-figure gallery/agent/manager probably isn’t going to swoop down and make you famous while you hole up in your studio and draw all day.
Learn how industries like marketing and the media actually work. It’s not hidden knowledge. You can learn to write a press release in five minutes via google.
There’s no shame in promoting yourself. No one else will do it for you unless you’re already making them money or they’re trying to suck up to your dad.
Invest in good equipment and good presentation. Crappy iPhone pics of your work aren’t going to get you jobs.
Pay your quarterly taxes. Get an accountant as soon as you can. Freelancers are fucked in America.
Don’t spend 150k on an art degree.
Make a cool website.
But most of all: if you want to be an artist for a living, you can’t half-ass it. You have to want it more than anything, and be willing to sacrifice sleep, social life, crappy high-school boyfriends, after-work drinks, and pretty much every other trapping of a fun, chill, early twenties experiance.
If you don’t want to do this, being a full time artist isn’t for you. There’s no shame in this. Drawing for fun, because you love it, is a beautiful thing.
But if you know that there’s nothing else that you can do but make art all day, that it’s what you were born for, you’re going to need to make sacrifices.