My JOURNEY TO SUCCESS
or … ‘HOW I BECAME A SUCCESSFUL ARTIST’
“Every child is born an artist. The hard part is staying one.” ~ Sharon McLeod
This is something I have always believed. Artistic ability is easy to identify in children because, unhindered by adult values and beliefs, they naturally ooze creativity. But many adults, unaware of the importance of art and creativity, squash their children’s confidence over time by telling them they’re not artistic or that art makes for a good hobby but not a ‘real job’. And to be honest, this echoes my own story.
My mother has always supported my art, but I remember one day when I was in Year 10, my teacher asked the class what we hoped to do career-wise. When she came to me, my reply was I said that I wanted to be an artist and an actress. My teacher was horrified and, shutting me down, snapped ‘they’re not real jobs!’ and promptly started to explain what a real job was (in her opinion). I’ve never forgotten that day. I felt like my heart had been ripped out and crushed underfoot.
Lucky I was, and still am, a stubborn soul!
Refusing to take her word for granted, I retorted “Well, if they’re not real jobs, then why are thousands of people getting paid to do them? Besides, these jobs must exist, because I see movies and art everywhere, to which she replied “Sharon, be serious! You’d have to be at the top of your game to think about turning those ‘jobs’ into careers!’
So right there and then I decided her words that day were going to become my motivation to prove to everyone who ever doubted me that I can make art (at least) my dream job, and from that day on I’ve strived to ‘be at the top of my game’. Becoming the artist that I am today was my destiny, and no one was going to stop me.
I often wonder how many children and young adults out there take advice from people like my teacher; people who have no faith in others and no dreams of their own …
As I’ve pushed forward to realise my dream of becoming a professional artist, my path has been pitted with many ups and downs, all of which have led to tears of both sorrow and joy. It hasn’t always been an easy path but, looking back – I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
I used to work in retail; in a bank and, to be more precise – the bank’s Staff Club, which saw me serving bankers and their families all day, every day. But, secretly, in my thoughts, I was thinking about art and how I could make a living from my creative gift. So, when I finally bit the bullet and cut back my hours, I created gift cards using my art to supplement the earnings I’d lost by going part time at work. But then something happened. I got used to having less money, and realised I was doing okay, so I fled the city to follow my true calling full time.
Every day I woke knowing it was going to be a day filled with art, so I just kept drawing and in between taking on odd jobs or private commissions, I would submit my art to Witchcraft Magazine who loved it and always published it. Back then, magazines actually paid artists for their submissions, so I was sure to constantly have art to submit. And, to be honest, that’s how I met Scott Alexander King, the co-owner of ANIMAL DREAMING PUBLISHING. Scott was a regular contributor to the magazine, as a columnist and contributor of feature articles. So, when Scott submitted an article, the editor would automatically send me his words and, because I connected to his view of the world, I would read his work and illustrate what he’d submitted. We quickly became a team, even though it would be many years later that we’d finally meet.
From humble beginnings, coupled with and a steadfast belief in myself, my art evolved both physically and spiritually as I found my confidence, my personal style and my private niche in the industry.
When I look back on my early work. I can’t help but giggle at some of the work I was fortunate enough to have published. I mean, I couldn’t even draw hands properly! Instead, I would always hide the hands of the subjects I was painting. That was until one day when I said to myself, ‘Learn to draw the bloody hands and stop hiding them.’ Again, it came down to the solid belief I held in myself that the muse stopped and heard me, and the energy came through my art, and no-one noticed that I couldn’t draw hands properly.
Every year I would set myself a new goal. For example, I might decide that ‘This year, I want to see my art in a book’, or ‘This year, I want my art to be published in a calendar’. I would set myself achievable goals but, in my heart, I longed to illustrate a tarot deck or an oracle deck at least, because being that I come from a long line of fortune tellers and tarot readers, this was the industry I wanted to break into and the area I wanted to be known for as an artist.
That’s why I believe it’s so vitally important as an artist to ‘know your genre’, and to stick to it, all the while expanding and growing as person and an artist at the same time. I call myself an ‘inspirational artist’, and the themes or genres I focus on are faeries, the goddess in her many forms, folklore, and all things otherworldly and mystical. To be honest, my art falls snugly into the category of ‘visionary art’, as my work is inspired by my dreams, visions and inner knowings. To me (and I’m not taking away from what landscape artists do), but painting landscapes for me is boring, as all you need do to see what’s inspired the artist is look out the window. Instead, I reach into my heart and pull out what I see there, and I share it with the world through my art.
As an artist, it’s important to know what inspires you, to make your art your life and to surround yourself with what inspires you. So, even though I am primarily a faery artist, I enjoy a love for all things gypsy, the wilderness and nature. These things inspire me, more than anything else. So naturally, my love of all animals makes its way into my art at every chance it gets. So much so, you will notice that animals, in one way or another, will often appear in my art, either accompanying a faery or a goddess or some other manifestation of the divine. In fact, mythology is another of my greatest inspirations – so be sure to know what inspires you and infuse your art with it as much as you can.
Which leads me to another important lesson I learned, and one that I hope you will adopt for yourself. And that is the importance of BEING YOUR ART. My house, for example, is a shrine to my art. My house is a living example of my art and my love for my art. So much so that I have personally hand-painted many of the doors, cornices and skirting boards in my home, using only the colours that I love and that inspire me. I have little monuments dedicated to the faeries and the goddess in her many forms dotted throughout my garden, and every available piece of wall space has a piece my framed art hanging on it.
In short, I’ve literally dedicated 100% of myself and my life to my art. For me, it’s the only way. All the artists I have ever loved or have looked up to have been artists that have LIVED THEIR ART, and it’s thanks to them that I have learned to do the same. I’ve allowed my art to infiltrate every detail of my life. I mean, even the way I dress is inspired by the characters that I paint. I am literally a living example of my art.
Remember that, as an artist, it is really important to forever expand your skills and to build on your range of abilities. It’s important to grow and evolve as an artist, and the best way to do this is always try new mediums. Don’t be afraid of trying new things, or of making mistakes because, if the truth be told, there are no such things as mistakes in art. No matter what you do, ‘mistakes’ always lead to better braver things. So, be brave and allow yourself to make mistakes. I started with pen, ink and watercolours. While I knew this was my area of strength, I also often felt frustrated because it was very slow and sometimes restrictive. But because I had been told by a gallery owner not to bother with other mediums because, in his opinion, I wasn’t very good at them, I took his advice and loyally stuck to pen, ink and watercolour. I believed that man for many years because, even though he wasn’t an artist himself, I confined myself to his belief system. Then, one day I had a fit of frustration and said ‘Stuff him! I’m doing what I want’, and I secretly started dabbling in acrylics. With no one to guide me, I taught myself to trust in my new medium, just like I had taught myself to use pen and ink all those years ago. My want and need to expand was strong, and that’s all that mattered. And from that day, I stuck to my ‘artist’s rule’ to listen to NO ONE but myself and to follow my own heart. Now I paint using ink, watercolours, acrylics, oils and I’ve even started painting on ceramics, which was a skill I had to learn in order to decorate the fortune tea leaf reading cups and saucers I’m fast becoming known for the world over. My advice is obvious therefore: NEVER LIMIT YOURSELF as an artist. NOT EVER.
An excuse I hear all the time is, ‘I have no inspiration. I can’t draw or write because I have a block!’ BORING, BORING, BORING! I find this excuse so boring because THERE ARE NO SUCH THINGS AS BLOCKS. It’s a false belief. The only problem is you and your unwillingness to trust your creative abilities. If you’re going to sit and wait for inspiration to come, you’ll be waiting a long time! The inspiration is already there, you just have to feed it and encourage it to show itself.
I never had the luxury of time to wait for the MUSE to turn up because, as an artist, I had magazine deadlines to work to, and contracts with publishing companies I had committed to, but even during the most difficult of times when my heart wrenched with grief and personal hardship threatened to bring me down, not once did I revert to making excuses for why I couldn’t go on. I had to get up and start drawing, no matter what. Even as I lay in a hospital bed recovering from a serious accident, I held true to my art and kept drawing. I always found that even when I felt my inspiration had left me, by almost forcing myself to draw, the MUSE would arrive, and I’d be back on track, powering through the day with art healing me. So, please don’t waste your time (or your talents) sitting about making excuses for why the MUSE hasn’t arrived arrive because, she may never come! Not when you could be proving your worth by dedicating yourself to creating your art on your own. I promise though, the moment you start, she always turns up, if only to inspire you to not give up.
The McLeod Clan is the only affirmation I have to offer: HOLD FAST! In other words, NEVER GIVE UP. KEEP GOING.
So, to sum it all up – take risks with your art, believe in yourself, don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you’ll never realise your creative dream, hold fast and never give up. So, do what I did and get yourself out there. Remember, the world is a much different place to what it was like when I started. Today there are cheap and easy ways to get your art noticed, such as launching your own Facebook and Instagram pages, websites, booking market stalls and just ‘being your art’, and staying true to yourself and your dreams. You’ve really got no excuses not any more, huh?
Join me on the GOLD COAST in October and I’ll help you start your own JOURNEY TO SUCCESS