7 pro tips for staying competitive as an artist

You might know the best pencils to use and how to draw just about anything, but if you're going to make a living from your art, you need some commercial savvy. Cape Town-based designer and illustrator Carla Latsky only graduated from the Ruth Prowse School of Art last year, but she's already off to a flying start – and has some top tips to share.

Nominated for the prestigious Valedictorian prize in her graduating group, she was selected as a 2016 Design Indaba Emerging Creative and recently took a position at Elle Magazine, where she works as a junior designer.

Latsky is interested in inspiring nostalgia through her personal artwork, which she creates by hand – but she's not one for staying still. "You can't just stick to one approach, because soon enough that approach will become redundant," she explains.

"It's all about the everlasting relationship between art and technology. I like to channel nostalgia in my illustration work as a reaction against the digital. So while my design work is quite trendy and contemporary, my illustrations are always old school."

So what advice would Latsky give for staying competitive in the fast-moving creative industries? Here are her seven top tips…

01. Experimentation is everything

stay competitive

An embroidered personal piece by Carla Latsky

In my first year of art school, I was convinced that to be successful as an artist you had to pick one or two mediums of creation and limit yourself to a certain style. Two years and many essays later, I realised that I didn't need to focus on perfecting one medium as much as I needed to focus on expanding my skill set. Experimentation is everything.

02. Start with a list

There are few things scarier than a blank page, for artists at least. Something about the potential that page holds can really psyche even the most natural illustrators out of starting an artwork.

My advice to those trying to diversify their skill set would be to start with a list. Writing down exactly what it is that you'd like to achieve – be it a new style of drawing or even just a feeling while creating – can motivate you to accomplish those things.

03. Pace yourself

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A watercolour piece. "The style of my work is focused on detail, accuracy and realistic depictions of my subject matter," says Latsky

Working on one list item at a time – and taking your time – will help move things along. It doesn't really matter how good you are in the beginning, because proficiency only comes with practice. I don't practice nearly enough, but I focus on having a good time with each item on my list, and magical things transpire when you're having fun.

04. Being able to learn from your mistakes is the most commercially valuable skill

Being (very recently) appointed as a junior designer in an editorial environment, I can say that I've learnt more in a month of work at a magazine than I did in possibly two months at college.

The pace at which you create is so rapid, I've found the ability to observe layouts, adjust my techniques and learn from little mistakes incredibly valuable. Accepting constructive criticism is important, no matter the environment. (Knowing your design software inside out really helps, too!)

05. March to the beat of your own drum

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Latsky developed the branding for the Ruth Prowse School of Art's 2015 graduate exhibition

When it comes to advice for designers for staying competitive in the fast-moving creative industries, part of me thinks: march to the beat of your own drum. Imitation is the enemy!

06. But keep an eye on what's happening

But another part of me thinks: stay updated with what's trending in contemporary design, while researching what designers did in the decades past. The answer is in a combination of the two. Read online, know what's trending and how designers in your industry are doing things... but don't lose yourself in it all.

07. Inject personality

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Latsky's personal identity design

Try to inject a piece of your personality or passion into your art, because that is what people will notice. There's something really cool and downright brave about making an educated choice to do things differently.

You can see more of Carla Latsky's work on her Behance site and Instagram.

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Julia Sagar
Editor-in-chief retail

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.