So you want to become an artist

So what does it take to become an artist?

A wonderful array of paintbrushes? Regular visits and a yearly membership to your local art gallery? Or perhaps you need a fancy name like Paul Van Smith or Leonardo da Linda? 

I remember drawing a flower on a piece of paper when I was 5 years old. I was in my living room and my father walked in and said to me. 

“Nice work. Are you going to be an artist when you grow up?” 

I was unsure of what my response should be. My father worked as a successful carpenter in Benin for many years and I was unsure if he wanted me to follow in his footsteps.

“No…” I replied.

He sat down and looked at me carefully whilst holding his chin.

“Well why not?” He said.  He kept his gaze on me. “I think you would make a good artist when you are older.” He continued as he raised an eyebrow.

“Thanks dad, what makes you think I would be good?” I replied. 

He paused and looked at me and pierced his eyes like he somehow found super x-ray vision to look through me. He then picked up my drawing and studied it. 

“You are willing to correct yourself.” he said, “I think that’s important for any successful artist.”

I went on to study art in more detail. I desired to know how to be better. I wanted to know what it took to be excellent and to find out which artists had made an impact on the world. I read books on various artists. I studied the history of art from ancient caveman paintings to modern exhibitions at the Tate gallery. I concluded that everything can be considered as art.

But in my opinion, when everything is stripped away, the evidence of a good artist comes down to their ability to draw. Drawing is a natural way of progressing our ideas into something special. Take for instance the young Michelangelo and his incredible statue of David. A creation which announced his genius to the would.  A marble statue standing 17.0 ft tall that he sculpted at the tender age of just 26 years old.

Breathtaking.

But don’t you think he would have drawn the plans for the dimensions of his design first? Don’t you think it would have been great to see those drawings today? To know what the creative process was like for the young genius. I certainly would. In fact, the preliminary drawings of his sculpture would probably be equally as important as the final piece in my eyes. Imagine if an art gallery held an exhibition showcasing those drawings today. Wouldn’t you go?

I believed I was the best artist in my class at A-level stage and I thought I would walk out of my year with an A grade. In my opinion, there was no real talented artist in my class and I thought it would be easy to stand out and be the best. Guess what? I got a C.

I got a C?!?

I was furious. Art was the one subject I loved. The one subject that I really cared about. How could they grade me a C?

Argh! 

My apologies for the exclamation, it clearly remains a tender subject for me.

Now, to make matters worse, there was one guy in my class who in my humble opinion wasn’t as talented as me, who got an A! Why?… 

“Because he showcased his preparatory work…” my art teacher explained.

“Preparatory work?” I growled. 

I didn’t even know what preparatory work meant at the time. The guy that got the A grade impressed the examiners because he showed various examples of how he got to his final decision. Preparatory work demonstrates the process of how you achieved your final art piece. It gives the viewer more insight into your thought process and decision-making. It made sense.

I’ve since gone on to work for the BBC, Sky TV and various animation studios using preparatory work to guide me along the way. So I’ve got revenge on that C grade. Ok I promise to drop it now.

Art is subjective. We all know this. However, giving someone clues as to how you got to your end result is both insightful and thought-provoking. In my upcoming blogs I will  teach and demonstrate all the skills that I know with regards to drawing, sketching and preparatory work.

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