How to lead a happy artists life

Updated: Jan 25, 2019

I have been working as an artist for a long time. 15 years to be precise. My main focus was to create outstanding images, be it photography , digital 3D images or visual effects for Hollywood movies. I had a dream of being part of something special, by creating the impossible. I have seen a lot of making-of movies and pictured myself as part of an award winning team. I did suffer a lot as an artist, but mainly because I was not told the following insights on how to be happy as an artist.

So read carefully, especially if you want to pursue a career as a digital artist especially in the film and commercial industry.

Your Client rules

First of all, if you work for someone else, you are not an artist, you are a craftsman. The result of your work can be considered art, just because it is something special. But your work will be judged and interpreted by your client, who has an opinion of his own. Your client decides on the deadline, and whether he needs your work to be changed over and over again. You get paid, when the client is happy, otherwise he will try to renegotiate the job or cut any costs from his side.

Your expertise is not always listened to. A lot of clients ask for your opinion or even your supervision, but ultimately they do what is in their mind. So your work is nothing more then trying to find out, what this is: your clients idea.

So remember: most artists work for a client, not vice versa. You won't be the superstar artist that people want on their job because whatever you do, is the greatest of all, and they will give you absolute freedom to create your vision. This is not gonna happen.

You have to sell yourself

Most artists that I know, when talking to fellow artists only mention their work. They brag about their latest reel or the latest movie they were part of. They talk about the latest tools they know or have learned how to use and most of them are proud of the hardest jobs, where they had to put a huge amount of hours in.

But nobody really knows how to sell oneself. Most artists get a job because they know somebody in another company and they know someone else. They accept the offers of short term contracts, low payment and overtime, because they want another story to talk about with fellow artists. They do not ask for more money or better conditions because they do not know how.

It is wrong ego that makes you accept every job without asking questions. You have a life and you have to fight for your time. So learn to sell yourself as a person where time is precious and so you are precious. Don't just accept what is offered. Invest in some personal skills and learn from people outside this industry.

Deadlines will be pushed anyway

Your client will, as mentioned above, dictate the timing of your job. He will set a certain deadline for your work to be delivered. I have been in this industry for 15 years, and let me tell you one thing: no deadline can't be moved, and every deadline will be moved.

So if your client insists in overtime, pushes you to your personal limit, stop. Just stop. No piece of art is worth a burnout. Do not strive for perfection, as nobody will notice anyway, especially if you are facing a deadline. Deliver something that is good enough, because if the client is not happy, you will be granted more time for sure. I am not saying, that you should not give your best as an artist. Of course you should always give your best. But if the perfect result takes longer than expected, well then, give them something they can use, and move on. Life is more important than a movie, a picture or a web-design.

Learn to let go of the pressure they make on you and your work. Give your best to achieve something nice, but you are the master of your schedule, not them.

Hugo Cabret , Oscar Award for Best Visual Effects

Recognition won't happen

As I have mentioned before, I was dreaming of winning awards in the movie industry early in my career. I did work a lot, and I finally was part of a winning team. My shot was displayed on the Award ceremony and we finally did win the Oscar for best Visual Effects.

But what happened next? Nothing really changed. Nobody knew about the award, except the people working in the same company. So it was like winning the company's christmas party charity lottery.

A lot of artists do their job, because they strive for one thing. They want to be recognised as someone with a special skill. They want others to say, wow, great job.

You should learn to party inside. What I mean is, that you should be happy with your job, but you should never expect someone else to praise your results.

Do not define yourself by your work. You have way more to offer. So if someone recognises your work or not, this won't matter to you, because your personality counts way more.

So if you want to live a happy life in the creative industry, start working on your personality instead of some fancy new compositing tools. Be aware of yourself and what you want of your life. You can certainly be happy as artist.