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Expert advice for building a creative career
By Katie Nelson
It’s a dream many of us have – painting in a quiet studio, writing the next chapters of your follow-up novel, playing a sold-out show – all the while, being paid to do it.
It’s true that creative careers have a knack for being over-romanticized in movies, books, and social media. In reality, making a living relying on your creative skills is challenging – the term “starving artist” exists for a reason, after all. But there are people who have found ways to do it – one of them being artist and web designer Theo Howard.
“I was always encouraged to make art and had many opportunities and exposure to all kinds of art throughout my upbringing. Making art was always what I was best at,” explains Theo of his upbringing and foray into a creative career. “I find the challenge of creating art more rewarding than anything else that I can imagine or have tried doing.”
Now of course, building that career is another story. But like many dreams, finding (or creating) your dream job takes time, practice, and an understanding of the bumps in the road. As an artist, Theo has experienced the challenges and sacrifices professional creatives make first-hand, and reveals that your mindset can be just as much of a challenge as the logistics of your chosen career path.
“Being creative takes a lot of psychological energy,” he says. “If you want to do it professionally, be aware of whether you are compromising on the parts you find most rewarding, and if that compromise is worth it. The motivation behind your creativity, and the pressures of being a professional may require some deep introspection if they are at odds with each other.”
While most professionals face intense pressure and run the risk of the ever-dreaded burn-out, keeping the passion alive as a creative requires a clear, honest conversation with yourself in order to decide if your form of art is sustainable as a career. Once that conversation is had, you can focus on the actual work. Theo explains the problem many creatives face as such, “We take for granted the skill and difficulty that our creativity takes, and the value that it adds.”
So, now that you know the real-life aspects of being a professional creative, how exactly do you go about getting your passion-turned-business off the ground? Theo shares his 4 key tips for building a creative career you can sustain.
Learn all you can. “Find other creatives who do what you are interested in doing, or people who need the service, and find out about the industry that you want to participate in,” explains Theo. “Find people in the industry, find out what it’s really like to work in it, and see other creatives as allies and resources rather than competitors.”
Find a community. “Find professional organizations, meetups, and support groups for your career, develop excellent skills, be true to yourself in your creativity, and contribute more to the community than you get,” says Theo.
Be confident. “A good creative person is usually exceedingly judgmental of their own work, which is why they are good at what they do, but it often leads to low confidence,” explains Theo. “It’s also the reason that [creatives] are often terrible at advocating for their own solutions, or underbid a fair-market price for their own work.”
Stay obsessed. “Develop a portfolio and then try to live that career every day. If you want to do it, you need to want to be the best at what it is, you need projects with measurable attainable goals, and you need to pursue these goals as though everything – your happiness, financial success, and reputation – depended on it,” says Theo. “You need to be singularly focused and obsessed with the attainment of your creative dream, and not settle for a second-best creative career.”
With Theo’s 4 tips in mind, you’ve got the insight, guidance, and inspiration to get started turning your passion into a career. As your journey progresses and you get busier and busier, remember to stop and reflect on the hard work it took to achieve this dream. Now get out there and create!
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You can learn a lot from other dreamers, even if your goals seem completely different.