What traits do you need to become a successful artist?

Loish art
(Image credit: Loish)

Can artists succeed on talent alone? Perhaps. But in the real world, certain personality traits make the art journey a great deal easier. We spoke to industry professionals who shared their thoughts on the traits that helped them to succeed professionally. 

Of course, an outstanding portfolio helps too (see our favourite design portfolios here), as does up to date knowledge on the best social media platforms to display your work. But read on to find out the personality traits you can deploy to help to achieve success.

01. Set clear goals

Bobby Chiu art

"Talent is a gift you need to assemble yourself, through motivation, direction, time, and effort," says Bobby (Image credit: Bobby Chiu)

One, believes artist and teacher Bobby Chiu, is having clear goals. "When I started out, I had small aspirations," he recalls. "I just wanted to work in an art department. It didn't matter what I did: sweep people's floors, sharpen pencils, or whatever. But that mindset led me nowhere."

His career only took off, Chiu says, when he started setting bigger goals, and urges others to learn from his mistake. Most importantly, your goals need to be clear.

"You may say, for instance, ‘I'm going to spend this many hours on my art', but how are you spending those hours?" Chiu asks. "Are you practising effectively? It's like going to the gym to sculpt a ripped body, but only doing the treadmill. Just ‘doing art' isn't enough; you have to be specific in your training."

02. Have tenacity

Pablo Carpio art

"Events and conferences are the place to be to understand how this industry really works," says Pablo Carpio (Image credit: Pablo Carpio)

Setting goals, of course, isn't enough: you also need the tenacity to achieve them. Pablo Carpio, a Spanish concept artist working at ILM, offers a good example. As a youngster, he headed to Hollywood with no job or contacts, but kept going for a full year until he landed his first job.

It was a tough slog, but every time his portfolio got rejected, it just made him more determined. "Instead of punishing myself, I looked for reasons and solutions: what am I doing wrong?" he recalls. "Should I meet more people instead of sending portfolios online? Should I improve a particular aspect of my work?"

Ultimately, going out and meeting people at events became his turning point. And Carpio's advice to anyone in a similar position is: "Make sure every day counts in the process of becoming better. The time you spend waiting to get a job can be used to learn a new technique, experiment with a new workflow, or study the work of an artist who you like."

03. Make sure people want you around

Ian McCaig art

"Creativity is a miracle," says Iain. "Anything I can do to help people experience that is a pleasure" (Image credit: Ian McCaig)

Artist, writer and filmmaker Iain McCaig, who's known for his work on Star Wars, agrees that tenacity is vital. "I don't think any artist can get by on talent alone," McCaig says. "Success comes from an alloy of curiosity, imagination, passion, talent, craft, hard work, not giving up, doing the impossible, and being in the right place at the right time, with the right stuff."

And he offers one more suggestion. "It helps if you're easy to get along with, and a joy if you're a pleasure to have around," he says. "It's not a necessity to the success of a creative endeavour to be pleasant and have a good time, but it's not a detriment either, so why not have both?"

McCaig is known for his open-minded and helpful approach to other artists, and perceives this not as a chore, but an opportunity. "I see creativity as this giant bonfire of light, with artists circled around the outside, reflecting a part of the light back with our individual mirrors," he explains. "As artists, we're limited by our particular point of view, but by getting together and seeing the light from all the other perspectives, we can begin to grasp what that creative force really is."

04. Use social media effectively

Loish art

"The dangers of sharing online is that you can become overwhelmed with guilt from not posting every day," says Loish (Image credit: Loish)

Of course, these days being communicative is not just about connecting in person: using social media effectively is also becoming key to career success. It certainly has been for Dutch artist Loish, who has over two million Instagram followers. "The main advantage for me is being able to do different things," she says. "I can choose between client work, speaking at events, workshops, making books, creating personal art, and more. It gives me freedom and prevents me from being overly dependent on one specific area."

So how can others replicate her success? "Don't post to every social media," Loish says. "Focus on one, and learn what the user experience is. What's the platform made to do: browsing, commenting, discussing, or liking? Test different kinds of posts, and get into a flow of sharing and posting, as well as following and interacting with others. You'll gain an understanding of that platform, and find a way to express yourself on it."

05. Be passionate

Karla Ortiz art

"I’m honestly grateful for the mistakes I’ve made," says Karla, "as they’ve given me a lot to learn and improve from" (Image credit: Karla Ortiz)

If setting goals and being tenacious, open-minded and communicative are vital, it's all for nothing without one final trait: passion. It can, though, actually be a challenge to find your true passion as Karla Ortiz, an award-winning concept artist working in the entertainment industry, attests. "When I went to university, I thought my passion lay in animation, giving movement to my characters," she recalls. "But when I starting doing the work, I soon realised it wasn't for me."

Her passion, it transpired, lay in painting instead. "I discovered what made me happy was giving life to characters via brush strokes, crafting imagery that would describe a singular moment in time," Ortiz says. "This was a valuable lesson: sometimes you only know what makes you happy by actually trying it out."

And how can we keep that passion alive over time? "I like to find the challenge in every painting I do," she says. "Even if it's something that isn't super-exciting – like it's just a box – I'll find ways to make that box look as good as it can."

06. Don't be a jerk

But does any of this matter? Surely if you're brilliant, you'll succeed regardless? Ortiz disagrees. "No matter how talented an artist is, if you're a continuous jerk, you'll find it difficult to remain successful," she maintains. "This is a very small industry, and folks like to work with good humans. So don't be a jerk!"

This article was originally published ImagineFX, the world's best-selling magazine for digital artists. Subscribe to ImagineFX.

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Tom May

Tom May is an award-winning journalist and editor specialising in design, photography and technology. Author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Great TED Talks: Creativity, published by Pavilion Books, Tom was previously editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq, and deputy editor at net magazine. Today, he is a regular contributor to Creative Bloq and its sister sites Digital Camera World, T3.com and Tech Radar. He also writes for Creative Boom and works on content marketing projects.