Adam James Butcher didn’t take the traditional path towards becoming a full-time artist. He went to university to study sculpture, but never pursued sculpting as a career.

For a while, he created art in an alley and worked as a sandwich maker, but realized it wasn’t right for him. So he became the head of art for London schools.

During his time teaching, schools began using iPads to allow kids to create art. This was a pivotal moment in Adam’s career. After seeing his students work so well with technology, he began painting himself. Adam did so well with his digital art that he was able to move to Mexico to sell his digital art full time.

In this episode, Adam talks about why you should share your work, the value of habits and routines, and why selling is crucial for your business.

Here are three things you can learn from Adam:

Share Your Work

One thing Adam has learned about being an artist in the digital age is, sharing is absolutely crucial to your success. “I think that now it’s absolutely vital that you share because that’s the way that people, that the vast percentage of the population, experience digitally through social media platforms.”

Although, he didn’t go into digital painting with the intention of sharing his work, it became obvious to Adam that sharing his digital art was very important. “Yes it’s important to share what you’re doing. That’s one of the things that I found that I didn’t intentionally think about when I started using the iPad, but obviously the iPad was made for that purpose right from the very beginning.”

The most important element about sharing your work is the ability to tell your story. Instead of someone else setting the narrative, you can do it yourself. “Even before the iPad, the story, however it was depicted, of the artist, was incredibly important I feel. It’s just now, instead of someone else telling the story, the artist themselves can do it from their own studio.”

Habits and Routines are Essential

One of the most important things you realize about being a professional artist is establishing habits is incredibly crucial. “I think that you’ve got to adapt professional habits. And I thought I was a professional when I was head of art, but I realized that actually, being a full-time professional artist who is independently making it happen is a very different thing. And a much more difficult thing to do, and deep down I feared it. I avoided it for years because what it means is that you totally have to take complete responsibility. You don’t have a boss telling you what to do.”

Adam learned that, in order to succeed as a professional artist, he needed to treat it like his full-time job. “The one thing I learned straight away was… that to become a professional, I needed to treat it pretty similarly to when I had an incredibly busy full-time job. Some of those habits… I was very lucky in that I had established them.”

He also realized that routines are absolutely essential if you want to succeed as a professional creative. “Creativity is finding that thing that you know you have to do… Knowing what it is, and doing it seriously at a professional level is what makes a professional artist.”

This routine also creates value for others, and Adam believes as creatives, it our duty to help others too. “When you’re working, you have to understand, it’s a privilege to get to a stage you can be doing what you love, what you’re good at, and what your mission is every day… and you have a… duty to create value and communicate something and to help others with it… That’s what it is. It’s not about you and being closed away in a studio.”

You Need to Sell if You Want a Business

When Adam was early in his art career, he had a romantic idea of what it meant to be an artist. But at a certain point, he realized this thinking was holding him back. “I think I’ve lost that kind of romantic idea that someone is going to discover me one day… I just don’t think nowadays that people discover you in that way.”

As proof, Adam points to Picasso. “Even Picasso was… incredibly good at selling. He was a brand and a business.”

He also points to the fact that galleries won’t represent you unless you are a viable business partner for them. “Galleries are not going to take you up unless you’ve already got a following, unless you’re something that’s really viable for them.”

If you want to be a professional artist, you need to come to terms with selling your art. Instead of bemoaning the fact that you have to sell your art, embrace it. That’s what makes the difference between an artist that fails and one that succeeds.

Shownotes

  • about Adam
    • lived in France, Singapore, and London
    • left London year and a half ago for Mexico
    • now specializes in art with a digital medium
  • growing up
    • was a shy and introverted child
    • grandfather was amateur artist and art teacher
    • when left school, he didn’t know how to make the leap to being a professional artist
      • took a year doing teacher training
      • became head of art in London schools for 15 years
  • when he started creating digital art
    • only became interested in digital art after being a teacher
    • the school system let him run art department using tech
    • tablets made impact on engagement in classrooms
    • became frustrated with his own creativity so he started drawing on his phone during his commute
      • created a portfolio of portraits
  • finding the time to be creative
    • create art any time you have free time
    • “The more you do, the more you do.”
    • was desperate to make his own work and follow his own path

“I think you have to really want to do it… You gotta really want to get up and do it.”

  • being a digital painter
    • time and space being an issue
    • iPad became his studio
    • could do it along side his day job
    • using the tools that are available in the time that you have

18:35 “I don’t see myself as a digital painter, right? I see myself as a painter and an artist actually… It’s very limiting to say you are a digital artist. I mean, you are someone who creates visual art, but to limit myself to an iPad would be what I would find quite limiting. I just found that as a medium, it had immense potential and possibility.”

  • his work
    • doesn’t have exact ideas in his head when working
    • being an introverted kid and watching/recording what he saw
    • iPad being a great way to record the world around you because of its portability

21:11 “I always wanted to respond to my experience of what I saw in front of me and I think I’ve been kind of fascinated with communicating the connection experience with people and the places that I encounter.”

  • studying sculpture
    • foundation – preparation for degree
    • had background in drawing – was working in his comfort zone
    • teacher convinced him to try different techniques
      • forced him to work with leftover pieces of aluminum
      • form took a lot of pain/effort

23:17 “If I’m talking about creativity, it’s about constantly pushing the boundaries of what you’re discovering and I think if you’re in a safe place, I’m not sure that you’re actually being creative.”

25:51 “The more difficult the process,., the more you have to think, and therefore it can actually be quite exciting. That was an incredible revelation to me, and I kinda kept that ever since.”

  • his teaching experience
    • making art in an alley was isolating
    • realized it wasn’t what he wanted to do
    • had preconceptions about what an artist was
      • working in a study all day and being discovered
    • was working as a sandwich maker, making no commissions
      • friend suggested teaching art
      • spent year getting teaching qualification
      • had no luck applying for part time teaching jobs
    •  opportunity came up to become head of art
      • ended up getting the job
    • learned about discipline, self-motivation, and tools necessary to be a professional artist

26:40 “I think in life, you get what you need, not necessarily what you want.”

  • why they chose him to be head of art
    • saw his passion for the subject
    • keeping up practice on the side
  • duties as head of art
    • you have to deal with your own issues first
    • focused on the idea of creativity and how to get non-art students engaged in the process
    • linking the real world of art with his students
    • younger generation’s connection with tech/social media
      • they were suspicious at first, but saw the potential for creativity
      • made progress quickly for things that usually took a lot longer
      • students used iPads to develop/research their ideas

34:15 “It’s not so much what you make, it’s more of the process you go through and your ideas going into it.”

  • the importance of process
    • millennials buying/experiencing/making art through digital medium

34:57 “I think that now it’s absolutely vital that you share because that’s the way that people, that the vast percentage of the population, experience digitally through social media platforms.”

35:34 “Yes it’s important to share what you’re doing. That’s one of the things that I found that I didn’t intentionally think about when I started using the iPad, but obviously the iPad was made for that purpose right from the very beginning.”

36:00 “Even before the iPad, the story, however it was depicted, of the artist, was incredibly important I feel. It’s just now, instead of someone else telling the story, the artist themselves can do it from their own studio.”

  • sharing his work on the iPad
    • already had the ability to draw on a professional level
    • there was 3-4 month period where he had to get used to the medium
      • creativity and motivation were already there
  • results from students
    • had assumptions about students
    • some students completely changed when introduced to the iPad medium
    • medium is accessible to most students
    • the leap from not being able to draw to creating something that’s interesting
    • iPad helped him make jump from sculpture to painting
      • loved color, but was afraid to use it
      • was used to monotone work with sculptures
      • iPad made him feel free to experiment with color
  • working with the tools you are comfortable with
    • iPad’s ability to be visual journal/research tool
    • presenting work professionally and quickly using digital medium
  • how digital medium is changing art
    • accessibility and ability to be appreciated on global level
    • removing elitist ideas of what art is
    • wants to use 3D paint brush for digital medium
    • Google Brush
    • not getting caught up with digital format, artists are also diving back into old techniques
    • coaching semi-professional artists with digital medium to take them to the next level
  • becoming a professional artist
    • continually worked while trying to be a full-time artist
    • started writing about art and tech for Huffington Post
    • creating from anywhere
    • student who has illness and can’t paint like he used to
      • some days he can’t physically paint
      • is using the iPad to paint
      • stepping back and looking at the whole picture
      • helping people develop creative process and tell their stories
    • Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work
      • digital archive of your process and work
      • getting yourself out there
    • building identity and process for your art
    • learning from his students and getting a better understanding of who he is as an artist
  • lessons he learned when he turned into a full-time artist
    • adopting professional habits
    • you need people to help you
    • establish a routine
    • Steven Pressfield : The War of Art and Turning Pro
    • telling his students to build a routine/habits vs. doing them himself
    • getting started and being inspired at the same time every day
    • finding your own routines
    • Daily Routines of Famous People
    • spark of creativity vs. consistency creating creativity
    • knowing vs. doing

52:36 “I think that you’ve got to adapt professional habits. And I thought I was a professional when I was head of art, but I realized that actually, being a full-time professional artist who is independently making it happen is a very different thing. And a much more difficult thing to do, and deep down I feared it. I avoided it for years because what it means is that you totally have to take complete responsibility. You don’t have a boss telling you what to do.”

53:36 “The one thing I learned straight away was… that to become a professional, I needed to treat it pretty similarly to when I had an incredibly busy full-time job. Some of those habits… I was very lucky in that I had established them.”

54:40 “I think that’s been the most difficult thing for me is to build that routine to help me be great… through hard work and practice you have moments of inspiration.”

58:09 “Creativity is finding that thing that you know you have to do… Knowing what it is, and doing it seriously at a professional level is what makes a professional artist… And I think that routine is something that creates value. When you’re working, you have to understand, it’s a privilege to get to a stage you can be doing what you love, what you’re good at, and what your mission is every day… and you have a… duty to create value and communicate something and to help others with it… That’s what it is. It’s not about you and being closed away in a studio.”

  • lone genius myth
    • being flexible with the hours you spend in the studio
    • being able to create anywhere without having to be stuck somewhere
    • the freedom of creating from anywhere through digital painting
  • building a sustainable business
    • had a romantic view of what an artist is, which held him back
    • friend who was very lucky getting representation
      • missing that story that connects people with it
    • the frustration of working with galleries
    • the benefits of social interaction with other people

1:03:12 “Even Picasso was… incredibly good at selling. He was a brand and a business… I think I’ve lost that kind of romantic idea that someone is going to discover me one day… I just don’t think nowadays that people discover you in that way… Galleries are not going to take you up unless you’ve already got a following, unless you’re something that’s really viable for them.”

  • Adam’s future
    • pottery workshop
      • posting and writing about it
    • recordings of portraits/paintings over Skype
    • working with 3D printing companies for painting tools
    • reflecting on the year and planning ahead
    • program for one on one coaching sessions for select students
    • teaching professional artists what’s happening digitally in art

1:06:36 “I’m going to make sure I keep up my own practice… I need to put the hours in and push my work to the next level… I want to try a lot of things.”

1:07:48 “I’m loving kind of mixing it up and pushing the boundaries of what I can do with a mixture of traditional techniques and processes and the latest light based technologies.”

  • advice for people who want to be full-time artists
    • made a plan and created accountability
    • made financial goals
    • shares his process on Instagram/Facebook
    • make connections
    • it’s a process, it takes time
    • getting into a routine
    • digital medium is helpful for talking about/sharing your work
    • experimental creativity and taking risks

1:11:33 “If you’re working to raise your profile in that way, you need to connect, and what I think I realize is that I don’t mean connect by just liking someone’s work. You really need to connect. In the first year, what I did, instead of getting thousands and thousands of likes… I actually connected with specific people that I was really interested in and platforms that I was interested in. I started up a relationship with those people… and that’s opened up a lot of opportunities for me.”

1:12:36 “You’ve got to get that working routine… to be honest, I don’t think you can do it on your own. That’s why I think you need to get professional help. You need to get someone to help you with building it, otherwise, you really haven’t got a chance. And that’s why I worked with a coach myself, and that’s why I really feel the need to coach people myself.”

1:13:44 “I suppose the most difficult thing for me was doing the social media, was recording the story. At first all I wanted to do was just make, but that planning and the sharing is something you have to make time for, and you have to balance that time. I quickly learned that 20% of my time had to be spent sharing my story and making connections and opening opportunities. That’s what an entrepreneur does, and that’s just a normal part of my routine, and now I really enjoy it, now that I’ve gotten into the routine of it alongside the hours I spend in my studio. I couldn’t see it any other way.”

1:14:51 “You have to get into a routine. You have to know what you’re trying to say. You have to establish what you want to communicate, and all those kinds of things take time to do.”

1:16:33 “The only way you can kind of validate yourself is to learn how to put yourself into context with the world around you.”

  • favorite quote
    • purpose and value for work you’re doing
    • On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz
      • dog taking her on creative path
      • 11 journeys she took on her walks with 11 experts
      • focusing on what you love doing in life
    • paying attention is incredibly important for artists

1:18:40.1 “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” – Steven Pressfield

1:21:08 “Even the feeling of time passing changes on our walk. With less to notice, time speeds up. The capacity to attend is ours. We just forget how to turn it on.” – Alexandra Horowitz

  • morning routine
    • gets up at 5:30
    • uses it to plan and think over the day
    • chants for 20 minutes
    • has a coffee and does Morning Pages
      • wipes out concerns and worries
      • gets important insights from notes
    • The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
    • goes for walks/takes kids to school, etc.
    • paints for 5-6 hours
  • books, podcasts, documentaries
    • Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield
    • follows museums
      • iPad lets him visit them
    • goes out and meets artists
      • does things that are non-digital/experiencing life
  • creative people
  • definition of creativity
    • creating value through your medium
    • you have to be strong enough to take risks

1:30:33 “I think that creativity is  being able to take risks, to be able to get to the position to where you can do what you really passionately want to do. And it does take a lot of courage, a lot of risk to able to do that in this world where people assume you need to do thinks you don’t want to do to make money and so on. And being creative is a constant path of challenge and personal development to achieve something… as an artist, you shouldn’t really stop and you probably never will.”

  • challenge
    • you need to take actions towards your goal
    • do something every day and start small
    • just start

Adam James Butcher | The iPad and the Creative Process Coaching Program | Huffington Post

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