Do or Die List for Artists

I recently posted a list of tips for artists by Robert Genn. He was talking about coaching for artists and suggested a few things that could help an artist.

In the comments, Karl said “Dion, this is the feel-good list. I want to hear the real in-the-trenches do or die list.” So I thought I might try and add to the list. It’s not a serious list that an artist should live by and it’s not a complete list, so please do add to it or criticize it by leaving your comments (and I might repost a more complete list if some good tips are added)

Do or Die List for Artists

  • Learn to like noodles from packets as you probably won’t have much spare cash to buy real food for at least a few years.
  • Have at least a couple artist friends so that you’re not always the only weird creative person in the room.
  • Find a psychologist or a good shoulder to cry on before you start creating art as it will bring up a lot of stuff.
  • Inspiration is found in the studio while you are working. If you sit around waiting for inspiration before you start creating you will have about 15 paintings finished when you’re 60.
  • Never listen to the criticism of family and friends, especially if they’re not an artist or gallery owner.
  • Don’t take criticism personally. It’s not an attack on you as a person (unless it’s from a petty little person that needs to put others down to feel important).
  • Don’t expect to be “discovered”.
  • It’s OK to steal from other artists, as long as you don’t remain a parrot.
  • Learn about business, marketing, taxes, media, and start your own website.
  • Work with the best quality art materials available and don’t expect art collectors to buy your cheaply made art that will only last a few years before falling apart.
  • Being an artist is a privilege. Don’t feel sorry for yourself or other artists that are “struggling”.. feel sorry for people working in jobs that they hate.

Here’s a couple from the first post..

HellyUK says “Don’t worry if you think an idea has been done before, do it anyway.” I think people will always come up with similar ideas at the same time and people can limit themselves by not making the artwork they want to make because it’s ‘been done before’. A lot of things have been done before, but it won’t stop me doing them again, everyone re-interprets things differently anyhow.

Nicholas says “That is great advice for artists but I think that having a personal coach removes some of the learning process that makes a great artist.”

Add your own “in the trenches” tips for coping and growing as an artist..

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. Anonymous says:

    my favorite thing about art is to “make a statement” — push the envelope.

  2. Inspiration is found in the studio while you are working. If you sit around waiting for inspiration before you start creating you will have about 15 paintings finished when you’re 60.

  3. A toaster and a tea kettle are two absolute necessities for anyone considering making the jump, trust me; tea is infinitely comforting during the winter and the toaster makes bread a hell of a lot more interesting.

  4. I would have to add: #1 You do not have to buy into the struggling or starving artist myth, take your self seriously and invest money and time into your art. It will pay off. #2 Do not feel bad if you have to pay the bills with some form of commercial artwork. Your commercial projects can give you the resources to do your own personal projects that will inspire you and keep your commercial work fresh.

  5. The most important thing is to find yourself a good agent, if you can.
    Next is to regard your art as a product to be marketed. That’s the agent’s job, but he needs your cooperation.
    Don’t believe me? Visit Stephen Wiltshire’s website. He’s a Brit. lad with learning difficulties. He now has his own gallery in London and his work is beginning to fetch good prices at auction. He has an excellent agent who is nurturing his talent and bringing him along at a nice, steady pace. TV appearances and now an MBE.
    I posted a blog on Stephen last year, and sought permission through his agent to use one of his pictures. The agent replied immediately, was really helpful and appreciative of my post. Mostly, when I contact an artist, he doesn’t bother to reply. So he doesn’t get posted on my blog. Missed opportunity for a bit of publicity. Stephen’s agent doesn’t miss a chance.

  6. I had to laugh at your point -get yourself a good psychologist. I have always thought of myself as a reasonable, sane human being and then I put my stuff out there for sale and came unglued! Well, anyway, one of the things that helped me in the beginning was being inside the studio of an older, successful artist. It helped me avoid struggling with how-tos of lighting, easels, brushes, paint, and so much more.

  7. I would consider myself very lucky to have 15 finished paintings by sixty!!

  8. Dion,

    This is what I meant, what I was asking for. These are my favorites:

    “Inspiration is found in the studio while you are working.”

    So so so true, and so easy to forget.

    “Being an artist is a privilege. Don’t feel sorry for yourself or other artists that are “struggling”.. feel sorry for people working in jobs that they hate.”

    Some people have non-art jobs they like just fine (like I did when I was a scientist). I became an artist and I confess to feeling sorry for myself sometimes. But I guess there is no point feeling sorry about THAT. I’ll simply remember what you say, being an artist is a privilege.

  9. Oh Yes – will have to print out this list and have it available at all times in my studio!!! I started drawing and painting in April this year. Trying to fulfill this burning need to create. I have no idea where I am headed but just keep growing. It is truly exciting but the downs can be as great as the highs. I have recently found this wealth of info in all these wonderful blogs and hopefully some of my directions will become clearer!

  10. Great list lol! and so true:) I have learned not to question why I paint what I do and I don’t let anybody tell me what I am supposed to do. I do know someone who is into the starving artist bit and it is so bloody tiresome. Nobody asked him to quit a regular job to support his art.

  11. Yeah, an agent is probably a great idea Ian. Marketing, management and business are not usually strong points of people that spend most of their time alone in a studio. (I’ll have to mention Stephen sometime too)

    Rebecca, that’s so true. Artists don’t seem to like investing in themselves.

    I love the mentor idea too Emm.

    Fillip, you must either paint slowly or produce really large and detailed paintings. Unless youre talking about 15 “masterpieces”, which could be a more challenging thing than just producing 15 paintings.

    Karl, it’s hard to feel sorry for artists when they have the best jobs in the world :-) Who would want to do anything else??!

    I hear ya Jafabrit. Tell him to get over himself or go back to the 9 to 5 job.

  12. “I DO NOT SEEK.I FIND” Picasso

  13. I love the do or die list, I find myself making those sometimes, but none has good has this one! Really great list,…!!

  14. Anonymous says:

    One thing to remember is to have a small little sketch pad around at all times.

    I like to do ink drawings so at my day job at the newspaper I like to put little ideas down on post it notes.

    That helps keep you in the flow when you aren’t at home.

  15. I don’t think because you are an artist means that you have to make it your full time job.

    The world we live in is a cold reality where you must make cold hard cash to survive. I love doing art but it’s not as if I am going to be cranking out drawing after drawing to earn a living. That’s not even why I want to create art. It’s my own personal thing.

    I actually resent the fact that the ultimate goal of artists in the world today is to sell the art. That’s just anti-art. The cold, hard system doesn’t care about art or artists, only about what sells or keeps businesses going.

  16. That being said, if you find your niche doing art in the business world and making a living off of it then fine… you’re either really good or really lucky.

    But for the rest of us, there is no need to pressure yourself into thinking that you have to either make it your full time job or else die.

    Find a way to make a living separate from doing actual art (or find a creative job, like graphic design). Then, you can enjoy being creative without having the pressure to “do or die”. You can just “do”.

  17. I’d have to agree with spillow – having a “day” job isn’t always a bad idea. Just watch out that “day” job doesn’t expand to become the “evening job” or “weekend job”. It’s probably also not all that bad if you can use the day job to build out those creative skills.

  18. Sorry Spillow I have to disagree having to get a day job is usually inevitable but make sure it has nothing to do with painting or all you will ever is commercial work and this does not satisfy the creative yearning. I know as I ran a design company foer years and as a result never painted.

  19. If one considers $100,000 yr as a good salary nowadays and that an artist makes 12 paintings a yr. (1 a month) that will mean that the artist has to sell each painting for 8,300 approx. (assuming he/she sells all of them). Discount taxes and 50% commission for the gallery and whats left barely will pay the mortgage of a house, car payments, schools and bills. The good thing is that struggle will bring out the best on people…

  20. well said all of you. but i will try it my way .haah

  21. Great points. I work in custom construction, which allows me to still develop my materials handling and artistic skills.

  22. “the differenc between a warrior and an ordinary man is that a warrior sees everything as a challenge, while the ordinary man sees everything as a blessing or a curse” So keep your head down and continue to produce lots of work. Attend as many shows as possible, even if you barely cover your exspenses. reach for the stars
    Stone sculptor- Trevor Moen


  1. [...] had a go at my own reality check for artists last year and called it the Do or Die List for Artists, which was inspired by a much more optimistic list for artists by Robert [...]

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