A huge part of learning how to draw is being a self-taught artist.
Sure, art and drawing have been part of me for most of my life, and I bet yours too. I went through the art path in high school, then went for graphic design in college, and you could see me drawing on any bit of paper I could, at any time.
But the most I’ve learned about drawing wasn’t through school, it was afterward when I decided to take illustration more seriously, rather than graphic design. And this was self-taught.
You’ll learn most technical info in school, which is also very important. But at the same time, an art school will limit you a lot.
So I’m here to show you how you can become a successful self-taught artist with tips and places where you can learn your craft!
Table Of Contents
- 1 What Is A Self-Taught Artist?
- 2 Motivation to Learn As A Self-Taught Artist VS Trained Artist
- 3 Where to Learn Art and Drawing Basics by Yourself
- 4 The Business Side of Art For Self-Taught Artists
- 5 Tips for a Self-Taught Artist
- 6 Increasing Your Reach Through Social Media
- 7 Remember This
What Is A Self-Taught Artist?
Generally speaking, a self-taught artist is an artist that has taught themselves how to draw.
This means that as a self-taught artist, you have been learning everything (or a big part of art) by learning through practice, mistakes, and carving your own path in your artistic journey.
As an example, you could consider Vincent Van Gogh a self-taught artist.
Learning it all by himself without following any rules or specific imposed curriculum.
Usually, self-taught artists are freer to explore new techniques and try new ways to tackle a subject.
And that shows in their artwork!
Motivation to Learn As A Self-Taught Artist VS Trained Artist
Motivation is the most essential thing to consider when learning by yourself as a self-taught Artist.
The great advantage of school classes is that you feel obligated to go. If you miss a class, you risk failing it, missing important material or dates to deliver your projects. But when you’re at your own home, with some books you bought or online courses, they won’t go anywhere and they’ll always be there for whenever you feel like picking them up. And this can a bit of a problem for self-taught artists.
You’ll be easily tempted into postponing your self-taught classes.
This also goes for when working at home as a self-taught artist or not. If you work at home, you know what I’m talking about.
Anything will serve to distract you from what you have to do because there’s nothing and no one to supervise you. This is very normal to happen, but that’s why it’s important to be strict with yourself. Create schedules and stick to them!
I did write a whole juicy post, full of tips and ideas about Motivation, so do check it if you need an extra push and some help to motivate yourself!
Where to Learn Art and Drawing Basics by Yourself
As a self-taught artist, I have to say this: there’s so much around for you to pick up and start learning, you just need to find what works for you!
Let’s start with more traditional mediums. Books.
They have everything you need to know about drawing and its basics. Going more for the anatomy and figure drawing approach I can advise my two favorites: Figure Drawing for All it’s Worth, by Andrew Loomis and Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, by George B. Bridgman.
These are always books I go back to whenever I need some extra inspiration or simply for anatomy practice.
Artbooks are also a great way to go.
Be it either from movies you liked, games or from your favorite artists! They are good as references for you and inspiration, but you can also learn a lot with them. Looking and observing is key when learning to draw. And by looking at your favorite styles, you’re learning how to go about techniques, shapes, color, composition, and others!
Since I’m a huge nerd, I tend to collect a lot of art books from games that I like, such as Dark Souls and World of Warcraft.
They’re a huge source of inspiration for me!
But I also own some art books from artists that I like, for example, The Art of Loish: A Look Behind the Scenes. This is usually great since these are also very successful self-taught artists. You can always go for a less modern approach, of course, if artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Vermeer or Van Gogh is more your style, do look for them as well and learn with their paintings!
Now, for the digital side of self-teaching!
The internet is a wonderful place. And year after year online teaching becomes more and more popular. The two most popular platforms are Udemy and Skillshare, which I can 100% vouch for them since I have my own classes in there!
The courses are very affordable and there’s a lot for you to pick from!
Now, if you’re not in a position where you can spend money that easily, there are always options like Youtube and once again you can look up for your favorite artists. A lot of them do tutorials that you can follow!
The important thing is finding what works for you and that you like to learn with. If you don’t feel like you’re improving and only getting frustrated, move on from that and try other books, other courses or other tutorials.
The Business Side of Art For Self-Taught Artists
You might want to get into the art business, not just as a hobby. Well, it’s more than possible!
It will take some sweat and hard work from you, but it will also be rewarding, with time.
The first thing you need is to have an entrepreneurial spirit.
The second is a name for yourself.
Most artists (especially self-taught artists) create a nickname they use to sign their work.
You don’t necessarily need it, but it’s fun and if you wish to keep your private name and life in secret, it’s a good way to do it.
Now let’s talk business.
There are two ways you can go about it. In truth, you can always do both! Do you want to sell printed or digital assets? Both? At first, I’d advise picking just one, it might get too much at the beginning.
Printing is always nice, people will have something unique from you, the problem is the investment at the beginning.
You’ll be spending quite some money on printing your stuff and it might not be that easier to sell it, especially at the beginning. Which brings us to another vital part of being an artist for a living: get followers.
You’ll need to work quite a lot to increase your reach through social media, but we’ll talk a bit more about that below!
“But where could I sell my art??”
Don’t worry, I got you, here’s how you can make money as a self-taught artist:
- Online Stores: If you can’t really finance your own printings, websites like Society6, Teepublic, and Redbubble are an excellent place to start. You can create an account, upload your design and add it to prints, t-shirts, mugs, and so many others to sell on them. Of course, for each item you sell, you’ll only get a small percentage, but it’s a very good place to begin and to have some passive income. Once again, it will be essential for you to share your work everywhere you can! You want to print your stuff and sell it instead? Great, go ahead! There are online places like Etsy where you can sell your art. Gumroad and Tictail are also very popular among artists who sell their own prints. As opposed to the other stores I mentioned above, you’ll be in charge of printing and sending the work to your customer. It might be a bit too much at the beginning, so I’d say to get on this when you have some more experience. Now, I talked about Etsy to sell your own prints, but you can also sell digital assets on there as well. It’s the main product I have on my own Etsy store, check it out!
- Conventions and Markets: There are a lot of events throughout the year. Conventions, local markets, fairs and even small gatherings organized by college students to sell their own creations. Try to be part of these communities. If there’s a local market happening nearby you once in a while, try to sign up for it and start getting some customers in those places. You might even find other self-taught artists around! Try to get a friend or even another artist friend to help you out, you can even share the table and the costs to be at the market and that way it’s also easier to bring all that stuff you have to sell!
- Patreon, Youtube, and Twitch: Back to the internet. I’d say Patreon and Twitch are for when you already have quite an audience that you know will follow you and support your work. But it’s always good to know all your options. You can create a page on Patreon, where people will pay you monthly whatever amount you chose, by tiers, in exchange for a reward. Artists usually give their patrons the files of their work, small tutorials, etc. As for Twitch, you can stream yourself while painting and people can follow and subscribe to your channel. For Youtube, you can upload speed painting videos, make small tutorials and monetize them to earn some money with your videos! Remember that all these platforms are communities, so try to hang out with other self-taught artists and learn from them, maybe even collaborate!
Tips for a Self-Taught Artist
Teaching yourself to draw will take a lot of dedication from you, but doing so doesn’t need to be hard.
Here are some tips for being a successful self-taught artist:
- Copy the Masters. This is usually the best way to learn techniques and how to paint and draw generally. Use your favorite artists as a reference. Look at their work, their lines and try to understand how do they paint and draw. Now practice doing the same. This is quite important at the beginning, but keep in mind that what you’re doing is studies, you want to take some time to develop your own style as well.
- Start and Keep it Simple. If the last time you picked up a pencil was when you were a kid, then start from there. Start to learn how to pick up your pencil, then start drawing simples lines and shapes, warming up your hands, gaining confidence in your lines. You can’t expect to start drawing a Mona Lisa right away! So don’t think about complex pieces yet, start small and simple and grow from there.
- Don’t compare yourself to others. I cannot stress this enough! We artists have this big problem: we follow art we admire, but then feel that we can never get to that level. Everyone’s art is different! You’re not trying to do the same as the others, you’re you. Have in consideration that maybe the artist you’re trying to compare yourself with has quite a few more years of practice than you. Some of them are self-taught artists for many years, others have academic knowledge and many courses under their belts. Follow artists that you love and support them, learn from them and keep on practicing!
- Be part of the community. Be it either on the internet or near you. Share your work with other fellow artists, get in touch with them. Try to get one or two artist buddies and meet each other at least once a week to draw together. You’re always learning new things with others and you can also share your own findings.
Increasing Your Reach Through Social Media
And here we are, we arrived at the Social Media part. It’s very important to learn marketing as a self-taught artist (or get a business partner that learns it).
If you want to have some audience, be it either to sell your art or just to have someone to share your art with, you need to work on your reach in Social Media.
Now, you might think this is easy, you just create an account and start posting your work and done. It can happen, not going to lie! You might be very lucky and also have such a unique style and ending up going viral from one day to the next. But that’s not the way things usually happen. It takes time and some work.
The best place I found out to share my work has been Instagram.
It is very simple to use and since it works with pictures mostly, it’s always a good showcase for your work. As you’re building your audience, you should try and create a page everywhere: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest (I really like Pinterest), even Tumblr! Try all of them and see what works best for you.
Besides posting your work on your own pages, try to share it in other places. Join facebook art groups and share your artist page and art with other people. Talk with fellow artists, follow people that you like. For you to have people looking at your art, you need to reach out to them as well. You’re not an island and neither is your work.
Try to be part of the community and open your work for the whole world! Many self-taught artists out there can help you and you can help them.
Once you found a platform that works for you though, focus on that one. Don’t try to be the best in all platforms, do your best on one and own it!
Success is as measurable as you want it to be.
For different people, success can be anything from getting 500-800$ per month and living a simple life in a quiet apartment, and for others, it can be getting 7,000$-10,000$ per month (and beyond) and providing for their family.
So focus on what your goals are as a self-taught artist, plan out for them and above all: be happy!
Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!
Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!