While there are millions of artists in the world, only a select amount are able to live a comfortable life off of their work; and when I say comfortable, I am not talking about just simply getting by, but to get ahead in life. So what does it take to live off your artwork? What sort of mentality do you need? How many hours per day or week are needed? With the hopes to help other artists climb the ranks and make their dreams become a reality, we sat down with an artist who's been able to live off his work and asked him a variety of questions. Phoenix based artist, Wij.. has been living off of his creations for the past couple of years and he's recently been gaining some serious financial momentum in the art world. Oh and not to mention, he's only 22 years old!! So without further ado, let us dive in and find out what it takes to make it full time as an artist...
Artist Replete: Let's start with how long have you been an artist for and when did things start shifting to the point where you became able to make a full time living off of it?
Wij...I've been an artist for about 12 years and have been blessed to live off it for the past 3.
It was a long process to get to this level. As a child growing up I was always drawing. I could barely pay attention in school. I always just doodled through classes. I could express thoughts that I couldn't get out in words when it came to drawing. It was a stress reliever. I was posting drawings on Instagram around 2012 and then people were contacting me from there. They weren't contacting me to purchase anything it was more just complimenting me on the style. Some people would even ask to see my drawings in person and just hang with me. Then early 2014, I got into painting. I was working at AT&T and painting houses at this time to make money.
All the money I made went towards paint supplies and canvases.
I must have made 50-60 paintings before really I sold anything. At this time I wasn't even after making money, I just wanted to keep painting new things. I think it's important to have that mentality when you are growing. Just love what you're doing and don't sweat about things taking off. You must do it out of the love for the art, not for the quest to riches. I was posting everything I made on IG at this time as well. After posting nearly 100 paintings online, people started contacting me for commission work. I didn't know how to price things because these were literally the first moments anyone offered money for my art. I had no guidance from anyone. I wasn't hanging out with other artists, I was really in my own world and just learned as time went on. The first piece I sold was to a friend. It took me two weeks to do it and I charged $60. It was a good size canvas too, 36" x 36". Basically I made my paint supply money back. I continued working at AT&T and made art when I got home. I started selling more work to other people as I gained more exposure. Then I started charging $100-$200 a piece. One day I received a text from a friend of a friend for a bigger job. I'll never forget the day. They asked me if I could do two 4-ft canvases for $1,100. They didn't ask for my price range. Instead, they provided me with a budget for what they were asking for. I was ecstatic! In fact, I ended up quitting my job that day hahaha. Looking back, it may have not been the smartest move but I really was more interested in going through the struggle than staying at a job I didn't like. From that moment on, I knew it was now or never. I took that money and invested in myself; buying more canvases, paint, etc. From there, I continued to sell more work and that's when things began to pick up. At this point I must have made around 200 pieces and thought to myself "Ok, I can do this.” I remember being told all the time "you should probably should get another job to be safe" but I looked at the “safe” mentality as the majority mentality. I said "Fuck that I'm here to stand out and leave a mark! It could have went completely south. So I don't honestly recommend it if you're still early in your art voyage. I had painting for about 9 years at this point"
Artist Replete: Currently how pieces per month are you creating?
Wij...Last month I did 22 commissions. Starting out as a new artist, it was slow and I was barely getting any work, but now I view the slower months as a time to create new work or discover previously undiscovered concepts. In this game, I've found that it's all about perception. It's important to think a certain way as an artist. You need to be an artist for the right reasons. If you think you're going to make money in it easily, you're going to fail and be very miserable. You must view your down time as time to discover yourself.
"Tune out the rest of the world and focus on the canvas in front of you."
Artist Replete: How important is it to try new styles or new things as an artist?
Wij...It's your livelihood. You must focus on new stuff. You must have the mindset that someone is out there creating better work than you. Constantly put yourself in motion. Nothing fires me up more than seeing a really talented artist create an amazing piece that I didn't do.
Artist Replete: On your downtime, what do you do to stay creative so that you keep coming up with more work?
Wij...I find inspiration in life. I'll be walking through the grocery store and I'll see an advertisement that triggers a painting. I'm constantly taking in my surroundings and thinking of how I could put it onto a canvas. I find inspiration in traveling as well. That's a big one. Another one is meditation. I do dabble in psychedelics at times as well, but in moderation.
Artist Replete: Who or what do you think is important to surround yourself with in order to really make things a reality in the art world?
Wij...It's not necessarily important to hang with other artists. It definitely can help but you can make things occur on your own. I like to surround myself with people who think outside the box. People who aren't afraid to color outside the lines. Don't ever get into the mindset that it's all about who you know. It helps, but it doesn't define your career
Artist Replete: How important do you think it is to save money as artist? Any advice you could give on that subject?
Wij...So saving money...Well with being an artist, there is no retirement. You have to always plan ahead and make sure that at all times, there's a pillow to fall back on. If that pillow isn't there, then don't spend money on things you don't need. If you close a good transaction that doesn't mean you should celebrate by spending half on yourself. You need to be very disciplined. There is a balance I like to maintain. For instance I love to travel and have hobbies that require funds, so ultimately you must find the balance between your lifestyle and dollar-flow and plan accordingly. Most importantly know this; as an artist the more you create and invest in yourself, the more fruits of your labor will be harvested.
Artist Replete: Do you think an artist has to work with a gallery to achieve success or can they do it on their own? If so...How?
Wij...Here's the thing...If you're in the mindset to get into a gallery, drop that idea right now. There are no doubt great galleries out there, but they are few and far between in my opinion. Starting out as an artist and trying to get into a gallery, it feels almost like back peddling. I don't hate galleries in general, but there is a time and place when they're necessary. In my earlier years, I reached out to galleries but they all shut me down. Some gallery owners even tried to tell me which direction to go with my art, aka killing the creative process. Right now, I don't have any of my work in a traditional gallery.
"I find it does not define you as an artist if you're featured in a gallery or not, rather what defines an artist is the ability to be consistently original."
Artist Replete: Is there anything you'd like to say to other artists that want to walk away from their day jobs and do art full-time?
Wij...If you believe in yourself and have money saved, then know that it's 100% possible. There is never going to be an absolutely perfect time to make the transition. I will say this though.. if you have a fall-back, you're going to not work as hard. When you treat it like it's your way to eat, then you will have a better chance to make that a reality. If you treat it like a side hobby, then it will forever be your side hobby until you put 100% focus and dedication into it. It truly is what you make it. You must believe and dial in on the process of becoming an artist. After all, it's the process that separates the strong from the weak...
Artist Replete: While there's no crystal clear path to becoming a full time artist, we hope this helps steer you in the right direction.