By Gunnar Gaylord
I recently posted a short list of rules on Instagram that I found to be helpful with my art. I received a lot of positive feedback and it seemed like something that people wanted to hear… Maybe even needed to hear. I know personally that after 15-plus years making a living with art, I have had major lulls in creativity, growth and confidence…
Art also has moments where breakthrough and growth take place in major spurts. Art is wonderful, because traditional art can be measured. You can see that the quality of your line work has improved, that your blending has gotten smoother, that your drawing skills have been honed. There is a marker for growth. I feel like I am currently going through a growth spurt as an artist, and it is great as an artist to experience that, because it lifts your confidence and allows you the belief that you can move your art to the next level.
I decided it was a good idea to sit back and study what has changed in my life and why I am in the place that I am. This way I can return to this list of rules when I begin to suffer another lull.
Below is a list of rules or habits, that I believe can help any artist improve. To be honest, I feel that they can apply to any aspect of your life. This is what works for me and maybe it will help inspire you.
[Author’s note: I chose not to use tattoos in this segment on purpose. I didn’t feel that a comparison in growth through tattoos is fair for clients to view. Especially those with work is a decade old. I also believe that ideas and techniques should be worked out preliminary to the process of tattooing. If you can’t do it on paper, then you shouldn’t be doing it on skin.]
1. Surround yourself by artists more talented and motivated then yourself.
It is always better to look up to people then down on them. Some artists get in the habit of putting down artists they believe that they are better then.
There is no growth to be gained in this. As an artist, it is more beneficial to surround yourself by art that inspires as well as artists that inspire.
The time saved on belittling others can be more wisely used finding inspiration in the work and drive of others. It motivates you while at the same time leaving you with a sense of humility.
2. Stay Humble and open minded. There is always room for growth.
In the wise words of Bruce Lee, “Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.” Layman’s terms, if ya think ya know everything, you’ll never learn anything. Something can be learned from anyone. One of the most beneficial things I have done for myself as an artist is to surround my self with artists of vastly different styles. This is how styles transform and growth is had. You have to look at inspiration from multiple sources, absorb it and understand it. Either it will creep into your work or it will not. This is not the same as biting or mimicking the work of others. It comes from watching them, listening to them and viewing their approach with understanding. Listening is also a huge part to this. Be able to take criticism, review and suggestions.
If you surround yourself by other supportive and positive artists, they want to see you grow as artist too and they are offering these suggestions to help you improve your skill. Do not let ego or lack of confidence deter you from listening. You will lose out as an artist. With this said,please understand that there is a major difference between positive criticism and negative criticism. Positive criticism contains information to help you become a better artist. While negative critism is cruel and belittling and contains nothing constructive. There is nothing to be gained from this and it is important to recognize the difference.
3. Work from passion, if you do it will never seem like work.
Like most professional artists I have to work to live. My work is art, which fortunate for me is something that I am very passionate about. However, because this is work sometimes we forget we are passionate about it. Its easy to form a lifestyle that relies on you having to create art you are not excited about until one day the passion fades. Then creating art is now just another job. When art becomes work there is definitely a burnout rate. I trully believe in order to grow at anything you have to be passionate about it.
My passions lie in art and my kids. That is where my time and energy is directed, because those are the things that bring joy to my life. For some people its music, for others it fly fishing. Regardless, unless your passionate about art you will not share the same growth as an artist that is passionate. When you create art from passion, you can see “work” as an opportunity at honing your skills as an artist. This is how you work toward making sure every job you do is a step toward creating your masterpiece.
I can not stress the importance of this. Performing is not the same as practicing. Practicing is the work involved before you work. I have found that for me personally, the greatest growth spurts I have as an artist are never seen by anyone.
They are manifested from fore-thought, repeated applications and trials and errors.
I know that everything I create is not a masterpiece, but I want them all to be steps to creating what I hope will one day be my masterpiece. Without practice there is a lack of understanding and learning.
Anyhow, I hope this helps a little. I know its worked for me.
Gunnar is a tattooer and contributing blogger for Tattoo Artist Magazine. Gunnar can be found at: