Since I have the great honor of working with hundreds of Christian artists in my artist mentorship program, I'm always getting questions. One of the most common questions I get from newbies is "what can I do right now to start thriving?" Here's 12 things you can do right now to start thriving as a Christian artist:
1. Just show up & do the work
There’s just no substitute. It’s been said it takes 10,000 hours to become a master at your chosen artistic medium. So whether you’re a painter or metal artist, potter or basket maker you’re going to need to put in some serious studio time. The beautiful thing about it is that for the artist, the process of being in the studio can be the reward. Yes, we’re all after fantastic art that we can sell and make a living from, but for the artist, the magic of creativity happens long before the sale happens. It happens when we walk in the studio, turn on the music, prepare our materials and just get in the zone.
2. Push through the ugly
Many Christian artists I’ve ever known, including myself goes through periods of creating crap. Sometimes its for a week, or months or a year or sometimes it’s in every piece. If you stop in the ugly phase, you’ll never get through to the place of creative resolve and resolution. Keep pressing, reworking, walking away and returning until you know that you know it is finished.
3. Encourage yourself and silence your inner critic
The voice of the inner critic will never go away by itself or by wishing it would stop. The voice must be silenced by a greater voice; the darkness pierced by the purity of light. The dominant inner narrative in your soul can be guided, not by your emotions but by your choices. Who are you and what do you want? Practice some creative visualization, create a treasure map, journal your personal and creative affirmations daily and listen as the critic is silenced.
4. Take time to rest and renew
It’s been said that creativity happens best on the edge of order and chaos. That being said, we can’t live 100% of the time in that tension. You need time to reflect, rest and renew your physical body and your inner life so that fresh ideas can clearly come to and through you. This is not a luxury for the artist, it is essential.
5. Fill your imagination
When it’s time to create, artists create from the heart. And we go inside our imagination to draw upon the inspiration and understanding that lies within. If we’ve not invited the Holy Spirit into our creative process and intentionally filled our imagination with inspiration, then the work becomes mundane; studio time only makes us and our experience in creative bored and anxious. What exhilarates your spirit? What makes you stand in awe and wonder? Movies? Music? Sculpture? Great art or theatre? Whatever feeds your inner life should be on your regular menu."
6. Don’t eat seed
Over the years I’ve found that emerging artists have one main question they are always asking: “How do I make money with my art?” The better question is how can I keep the money I’m making with my art. Becoming a successful Christian artist for most people is able building a bridge to a dream; transitioning from a 9 to 5 job or even beginning to sell your work to the public for the first time. Regardless, all of that takes money. I always encourage artists to take the money that’s coming in initially from selling or teaching and put it away in your business envelope. That way, when a big show, marketing need or other opportunity comes along and you need capital to invest, you have it. Money invested at the right time in your business can be valuable seed to produce the harvest of success you desire.
7. Create what you love
We’ve all done it. You sell a couple of pieces that are similar and you start thinking “If I make 1000 of these, I’d be a gagillionaire... so I better get to work!” Only to find out that at the next show, you only sell a grand total of zero. While we must always keep an eye on what’s selling and what our clients are genuinely responding to at the end of the day, we must make what we love. Otherwise, we become robotic craftsmen just replicating patterns with wrote skill instead of creating out of the place of inspiration and passion. Create what you love and trust the money and opportunities to follow.
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8. Reach up and reach back
None of us have gotten where we are in life without those special people God placed in our life at the right place and time to teach us, lead us, guide us and inspire us to go to the next level. No matter where you are in your creative journey, you can do the same for someone else by reaching out in genuine relationship. In addition, there’s always someone who’s further along than you are in whatever creative endeavor you find yourself. Continue to purposely reach up to them as well and become a river of inspiration; both receiving and giving the abundance that’s flowing through you.
9. Tell your story
Art is not a commodity. No one buys great art or fine craft because it was the cheapest or it was on sale. People buy fine art and fine craft because they desire connection; connection with the maker, the process, the materials and ultimately their own human experience. Your personal creative story is a huge part of that because when people connect to you they connect to your work. It’s no longer just a basket, mug or painting, but rather a reflection of the story of the maker who poured their heart and soul into the piece. Art becomes like ancient cairns, pointing the way and commemorating significance in the journey.
10. Dream Your Dreams
Most Christian artists I’ve met over the years are so completely overwhelmed with where they are right now – creatively, relationally, financially – that they’ve lost their ability to dream and imagine outside of their current life experience. What happened to the kid on the playground who believed he could climb to the top of the highest tree on the mountain? What happened to the little girl who wanted to be a famous fashion designer in New York City? I’ll tell you what happened. Life happened, they got bogged down in the details and lost their dreamer. Without dreaming and imagination, we become robotic manufactures of commodities. With dreams, desire and imagination become artists who allow all of life to converge in the studio where we create beautiful objects that help others to live with wonder.
11. Say No to the Wrong things and Yes to the Right
You’re an artist, yes, but you’re also an entrepreneur, shipping department, marketing department and custodial staff in addition to whatever personal and civic obligations that may find their way into your life. If you say yes to everything, you allow everyone else’s emergencies, priorities and passions take precedence over yours. Design your life. Dream your dreams. Create what you love. Life a beautiful life with beautiful people and allow your priorities to be the measuring stick for everything else you allow into your life. That’s not selfish, it’s healthy.
12. Connect to Your Source
If you’ve been an artist for very long, you realize that your creative gift is not your own or even the result of all your own hard work. Pure and simple it’s a gift from the Creator and we simply have the incredible opportunity to collaborate with that Creators process, inspiration and gifts in order to reflect His beauty. Without that connection we die creatively because we cut off the source of our inspiration. With that connection, we go further than we ever could on our own good ideas and hard work. With that connection, we simply lean into the process of creative collaboration that’s already been designed especially for us. With that connection, we always prosper because that’s the design of the Creator.
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Matt Tommey is an artist, author and mentor who is passionate about empowering artists to thrive spiritually, artistically and in business.