Ruth Speer


musings and studio updates 

re: being an artist? five things


The most common questions I receive through emails, DMs and comments are

"What paint do you use?"


"How do I become a successful artist?"

Regarding the first, Gamblin oil paint nearly always!! The second is trickier because I'm a student myself and I immediately feel like I don't have any authority to answer that question. I feel really self-conscious talking about any "success" I've had because I dread sounding condescending when I'm so young and inexperienced. I also probably struggle a little with ye goode olde imposter syndrome and feel reluctant to recognize what I've achieved, so here's the truth: I do work really, really hard, and I've learned some things. There, I said it. I recently went into detail answering an email from another lovely art student like myself, and I've adjusted what I said to fit here so I can keep it in one place. So without further you are xxx

preface re: discouragement

A lot of the time, people will message me to say their friends, parents or advisors are discouraging them from being an artist. It is really, really hard to feel like what you're doing and want to do with your art is valid or "right" or even has any kind of place in the world sometimes, especially when ~unhelpful~ people are making comments about that very thing. I've had so many people - from relatives to classmates and just random adults I meet briefly - say that art is a dying field, or "good luck living in your parents' basement", "how much can you even make from that?" "better have a backup plan" etc etc and it is actually the worst. Sometimes they are honestly trying to be helpful, sometimes they're unconsciously trying to take you down a notch because your unusual dreams make them uncomfortable with their own path in life. Sometimes they're ignorant and spit out what they've been taught without thinking. I list these reasons because it's helped me in my art path to try to get underneath what people say instead of taking it at face value :)

The best counter to this is: a) realizing only you can determine the passion that will fulfill you in life and fiercely holding onto it and b) surrounding yourself with a community of people who love art and think it's important, and will encourage and build you up. More on this later!!

some tips.

Here they are.

1. the quality of your work is not about talent!! it's about practice!!!

I am really, really fortunate to have parents and family that wholly support me and gave me the resources as I was growing up to go crazy with making art, so I spent hours and hours making and drawing and experimenting. So that's why my ability/technical level might be higher - I've experimented, read books, looked at art, painted and drawn a LOT as I grew up which is the main thing that's important when you're making art! Even if you take classes your whole life, if you don't make things on your own time because you want to and know you should, it won't really matter too much. It doesn't have a lot to do with "talent", it's all about the time spent doing the things and teaching your brain to make all the thousand decisions in the best way. It's like learning to drive stick shift (which I did last year) you practice and learn things that make the car go the right way, and eventually your brain catches up and you can do it entirely without thinking "now I have to put my hand here, push down the clutch, move into 3rd" etc. Except art has a million more gears than a car does so you're ALWAYS learning new things and filing them in your brain toolbox. For example, I've been practicing painting peonies and it is really difficult and takes a long time (and looks crappy at first), but after I teach myself how I'll be able to pull the "paint a peony" card out of my brain in the future much faster and easier!!

Besides that, it's really important that you trust the emotional places that the ideas you have are coming from, because that's what is going to enable people to connect with it emotionally. If you're drawing or painting a piece that comes from a mood of calm and serenity, or anger, or strength, remember that and talk about it, in a caption or wherever it's being seen. Art is so powerful because people can feel what it says in an instant. There have been pieces of art I've seen that aren't technically or stylistically very "good", but the feeling that emanates from it is done so well that it doesn't matter. However you choose to use the mood - in the symbols, facial expressions, colors, etc - is up to you but always good to remember and use intentionally!

2. social media is important...

Instagram has been the main way people have found my art, bought pieces from me, invited me to gallery shows, etc. Almost every gallery I've been in has seen my art there and emailed me with an invitation to be in a show from that, even before I had a website up and running. I've also met the most lovely artists through insta!! Something I'd recommend doing is following all the galleries you would like to be in someday, not to spam them with comments, but to observe what kind of work is being shown, what's selling, what artists they invite and what those artists are making, and all that stuff, which personally I love and find fascinating!! Basically follow all and any places you'd like to be seen/collaborate with someday - art magazines, galleries, other artists, fashion designers, musicians, etc and keep up with what they're doing. However, while a lot of successful artists do have a lot of followers, you'd be surprised at how many artists are showing all over the world and don't have any large social media presence at all. So...

3. ...but meet wonderful people in person!!

It's also super important to immerse yourself in the art world personally. My professors talked about "networking" a lot and I used to be kind of grossed out by the term because it sounded like trying to meet people in order to use them to further your career, but that's not what it is at all. It's about meeting wonderful people who love art just as much as you and realizing what you can learn and offer each other. It's about creating your own art community. If your city has any kind of monthly art night, I highly recommend going to gallery openings, because you can meet gallery owners, the artists showing work, and a ton of artists and art enthusiasts just enjoying the art! For example, Portland has a monthly "First Thursday" and my college town Newberg has a "First Friday". I met the lovely, lovely kind owners of two amazing galleries in Portland on these days and as we got to know each other, they invited me to be in a group show. I was thrilled just to know them because they are so insightful and encouraging to chat with, so this was just a bonus!! 

4. fortune favors the inventive 

A lot things I'm able to do are just purely lucky, but here's the thing. (I'm going to do a biology metaphor now and I got a C in my bio class so bear with me) It's like Punnett squares, where you see how likely you are to see a certain recessive trait. If you want to get flowers with a recessive white gene, you're going to have to plant a ton of flowers that will just end up purple in order to get a few white ones. Planting a lot of seeds in different places is just a thing you'll do to get those lucky good things. You may write emails, and put a painting up for sale, and show in a coffee shop, and do a lot of things that you may not see the fruits of until much later. For example, someone recently commissioned a piece from me because they saw my work in a coffee shop years ago. I didn't sell anything from doing that at the time, but now I know it was important! 


5. if you aren't happy, your art will be crappy

Finally, make things you like. This one is kind of obvious but I thought I'd say it anyway. If you're not enjoying the work you're making (for the most part - everyone has off days where they hate a certain part of doing something, but I mean in general) then you're going to be unsatisfied and the things you make will show it. There are always times where you have to adjust your work to what is selling, and accept commissions you're not particularly excited about, but for the most part try to make sure you're always doing something you're really, really stoked about - something you have fun looking at!!! You know exactly what I mean. There's that buzzing feeling when you can't wait to get back to your easel/paper/tablet and work, and then when it's finished you're so delighted you just want to jump into the piece and swim in it. Trust what you want to create, even (maybe especially??) if it doesn't seem to be a thing that's popular at the moment.

and that's all, for now

I hope that helps a lil bit somehow. enjoy the art journey my friends. It's a dangerous but lovely one ♥

Ruth Speer7 Comments