Colleen Cook, my oldest friend (and by "oldest" I mean the one that I've known the longest), was recently the featured blogger at Kidlit Central News. In her post she compares writing to do-it-yourself home renovation.
I think some of her points can be transferred to almost any creative endeavor, especially trying to "make it" as an artist.
These points resonated with me:
"Reading how-to books helps, but it won’t make you a professional."
"The only way to become a true craftsman is to slop on comfy clothes and do it every day for years and years."
Most of the other points can be applied to visual artists as well, either in building a career or just creating a single painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.
The last point reminds me of this video that I saw recently, where Ira Glass of This American Life talks about how to be a great storyteller. He's talking specifically about radio and television, but it can relate to visual art as well:
I've had that exact experience - where what I was making didn't meet the expectations that I had for it. Over the years of doing it again and again, I've gotten to the point where I can make things that meet or exceed my expectations. Well, most of the time.
On the flip side, I've also given up. I've also had the experience of wanting to be an expert at something but giving up immediately upon realizing that I truly suck at it. I don't know how many times I've borrowed my mom's sewing machine because I wanted to learn to sew. But when my first project would turn out hideous, I would give the sewing machine back. I never gave myself the opportunity to make bad things for a while until I figured it out.
I realize that it was something that I wasn't committed to. Learning to sew wasn't important enough to me, so I quit.
The late Randy Pausch said many inspirational things in his "Last Lecture," but one that applies here is: "Brick walls are there for a reason. They give us a chance to show how badly we want something."
So you have to figure out what you're committed to for the long run and be willing to make ugly things, make mistakes, break down that brick wall, and gradually get to that point where what you create is exactly what you had envisioned.