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Lucky To Be An Artist?

Some people look at my life and say that I am lucky. I create art for a living, have a successful studio business, am married to my best friend, and have a large following of fans and art collectors from all around the world. I really love the work that I do, and I spend a lot of time feeling ridiculously fortunate to be in that position.

As much as some people like to say that I’m lucky, luck had nothing to do with it.

I do believe that sometimes timing, circumstance, serendipity, and privilege play into the choices you make, but even then, your deliberate action determines the course of your life.

People don’t get to do what they want for a living, get awards, come out in newspapers, or get the things they want in life simply because they are lucky. I feel like it is insulting to tell someone they are lucky when they achieve something awesome in life. Luck rarely has anything to do with what actually goes on behind the scenes.

I personally get inspired by stories of long rejection runs. For example the story of Haim Saban, who spent 8 years pitching Power Rangers. Whenever Saban presented the Power Rangers pilot, network execs would ask, “Why do you embarrass yourself with this?” Eventually, someone picked it up and the Power Rangers has been a tremendous success for 30 plus years.

  • J.K. Rowling was rejected by about 12 different publishers.
  • After just one performance, Elvis Presley was fired by Jimmy Denny, and told, “You ain’t going nowhere, son. You ought to go back to driving a truck.”
  • Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times before it was published.
  • Steven Spielberg was rejected by the University of Southern California School of Theater, Film, and Television, THREE TIMES.

Rejection has everything to do with opinion and nothing to do with fact. Power Rangers was rejected by networks because it looked cheap and there was nothing else like it out there to compare it to. They could not SEE beyond the scope of what they knew and based their rejection on popular opinion. Rejection is simply an opinion based on the limit of that particular person’s imagination, or they just don’t like your particular brand of stuff, either way, rejection is all part of the game.

Most times, the success that you see is just the tip of the iceberg. What you see accomplished is only a tiny proportion of what that “lucky” person TRIED to accomplish.

If by “luck”, you mean putting yourself out there — all the time — into situations where you are probably going to be rejected, fail, or make a fool of yourself, then yes… you are on the right track.

A lot of people ask me how I got to where I am in life. As if there is some secret formula or answer to getting lucky. Usually, I tell them, “The hard way.” I honestly don’t feel like it is supposed to be easy, I think the suck is all part of the journey and what makes it so beautiful.

To illustrate what I mean, here’s a list of just some of the things I have been rejected for over the last 10 years. See if you can find the inspiration behind the rejection or failure.

  • I was rejected the first time I entered a juried gallery show.
  • Launching my art career was a failure for 2 years.
  • I was rejected for at least 143 commission projects.
  • I was rejected from the first gallery I approached.
  • I failed at launching a YouTube channel for about 5 years in a row.
  • I was rejected the first time I applied for a juried art festival.
  • I failed at traveling the country, still have several states to go.
  • I was rejected the second time I entered a gallery show.
  • My first 4 websites were epic failures.
  • I’ve been rejected for large community art events.
  • I’ve had at least 19 large art proposals rejected.
  • I’ve been rejected from art conferences when pitching as a speaker, I would put the number close to 60.
  • I have been rejected by many award judges. I’ve won 5 out of 500.
  • I failed epically the first time I showed my art at my own event.
  • I have been rejected by at least 200 businesses that I have approached with my art.
  • I was rejected by a museum for a proposal for an art and music event.
  • I’ve had countless art that has been rejected.
  • I’ve had countless art failures, just about every day.
  • I was rejected when I tried to talk to people at a black-tie event (one dude even turned his nose up at me).
  • I’ve been rejected by art cliques who don’t like that I’m from out of town.
  • I was rejected when I applied for Twitter verified (I know how ridiculous this makes me sound).
  • I am rejected most days by commentators on YouTube who don’t like my BRILLIANT videos.
  • I have been rejected by art associations who think my work is sub-par.
  • I have been rejected by many collectors when I show new forms of work.
  • I have been rejected for several large mural proposals.
  • I have been rejected for large international commissions.
  • I have had my ideas rejected by people who are in charge of an art event.

Each one of these was a blow, and that’s not even the full list, we’d be here ALL day.

Being rejected or failing is shit. It’s hard not to take it personally, and to keep going when it feels like a consistent barrage of ‘nope’ and ‘EPIC FAILS’.

But the only way to do the awesome stuff is to put yourself out there. To put yourself in a place where you might get rejected, constantly. To be in a place where you might fail big.

Everything doesn’t always come up roses, and I am not told yes every time I want to do something. That is ridiculous. It is also ridiculous to quit just because you failed, or get your feelings hurt because you were rejected. That’s why I keep going — ALL the time. I apply for things, I try things, I put myself out there. I make a huge effort to go for almost everything that piques my interest and pushes at my comfort zones.

Rafi Perez Painting Seed

I’ve been at this for 10 years and can tell you that it takes time to get to a place where you will have people call you “lucky”. Years upon years of rejection and failures that don’t ever end. Sometimes it will feel overwhelming, and you’ll have to become your biggest cheerleader to get through. But that is how you get there, you just have to do it and quit stalling to avoid failure and rejection.

Success means that you failed and were rejected more than anyone else. Growth means that you will always be facing rejection and failure throughout your career. If you are not, then you are not growing.

I’m not going to tell you to learn to love rejection because it really sucks. I will say, however, if you aren’t getting rejected every now and again, then you’re not putting yourself out there and you are not being as awesome as you can be.

Only awesome people know the sting of rejection and embrace it.

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Be Awesome

I was thinking about the concept of being awesome the other day and I looked it up. It’s embarrassing, because I use the word so much, but I realized I had my own definition in my brain goo for what awesome means. To me it means to be full of awe and inspire awe.

awe·some
/ˈôsəm/
adjective
extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
“the awesome power of the atomic bomb”
synonyms: breathtaking, amazing, stunning, astounding, astonishing, awe-inspiring, stupendous, staggering, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable; More
INFORMAL
extremely good; excellent.
“the band is truly awesome!”

Yeah, it works just fine and that is awesome… see what I did there?

When I was a kid, I was very quiet with my nose in a sketchbook. In fact, I would say that I was invisible. A compliment (if you want to call it that) I heard as a kid all the time was “He’s so quiet, it was like he wasn’t here.”

Right?

I spent most of my life that way, always quiet, not making waves, keeping my opinion to myself, and hiding my real emotions. I can tell you from experience that living that way is unstable, because things get buried and man oh man, it can get ugly.

I won’t go into details and share my pity party with you about my life of silent desperation, but I will share something that inspired me to change. The following quote will let you in on a little secret about yourself. It will make you feel something, and in the investigation of that something , you’ll get an insight into what kind of person you are, and what kind of person you may want to be.

“The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.” ~ Ayn Rand

I’ll be honest, if you aren’t comfortable with this attitude, it’s going to be really hard to be awesome. Sorry. You can be good enough without being assertive, but to a large extent, being awesome requires that you initiate, take action, and chart your own course through the norms of mediocrity.

And THAT, is what I mean when I say, be awesome!

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When The Going Gets Tough, Just Keep Going

Recently I felt like a little mouse, with a tiny helmet, attempting to figure out a way to get the cheese out of a giant mousetrap. I’m not going to bore you with the details of how I got into this situation, I’ve already talked about it in length in my last blog, I will say running a creative business is a bitch a lot of the time…

Heck, being a human can be a bitch a lot of the time, so what do we do in this thing that we call life?

A lot of artists ask me how I managed to “succeed” in a field that actually carries with it the stigma that you are automatically going to starve if you pursue said career. The word “artist” is synonymous with “starving” and a lot of the time, they seem to go together like email spam and my grandmother opening it.

What is funny to me, is that I don’t focus on having a successful career. So whenever someone asks me how I did it, I usually don’t have that clear of an answer. I do, however, have certain things that I try to remind myself daily, and that’s probably one of the reasons people assume I’m doing so well. These don’t have much to do with career, they are the way I want to see the world and myself. Simple little reminders to keep going.

  1. You’re alive right now, and if you are alive, anything is still possible.
  2. You’re expecting too much of yourself. Most successes are not overnight successes. Take your time and find a way to enjoy the slow burn. Keep chipping away, little by little, you’ll get there.
  3. Remember that you are stronger than you think. You might privately think to yourself that you can’t handle the pressure. Trust me, we all do that, but we can do so much more than we think… and we can especially do way more than some people think we can.
  4. Even when things seem to be falling apart, you have reason to smile. This one is tricky, don’t lie to yourself with false positive thoughts, but find a genuine reason to smile and change perspective.
  5. Don’t compare yourself to people who you think are doing awesome. Instead, I think “If they’re doing great then I can too.” Besides, you haven’t walked in their shoes, you don’t know how they feel, but you know how you make yourself feel when you do something dumb like feel bad comparing yourself to someone you don’t really know anything about.
  6. I can find a different “How.” Take a deep breath, do number 4, and then find a different way… especially if you have been knocking on a wall for days… you may just need to move to the left about 3 ft and knock on the door.
  7. Can you find the fun in doing this? If not, consider the fact that maybe you should be doing something else. For this to work, I have to be honest with myself, because I can easily deceive myself into stopping. It’s important to remember why you started whatever you started and find your why… then check with yourself that you haven’t deviated from that purpose with your current project.
  8. Take a break and work on something that will make you feel like a bad-ass. We all have things that we are really good at. Sometimes, I’ll take a break from the thing I am currently failing at, and work on something that makes me feel awesome. An “I am forking AWESOME!” break… We need that reminder sometimes, and I find that it is best to remind yourself by doing something you are a rock-star at, even if it is totally unrelated.

Usually right after I remind myself of these things, I have a momentary lapse into despair. It’s the lowest point in your whole journey, a hopeless-looking place that comes right before feeling good. Because I expect it, I handle it pretty well, most times. It is the brain’s last ditch effort to keep things safe and maintain the status quo.

I know, it’s a weird relationship we have with our brain, but most of the programming we have in our brain is designed to keep us safe and sound from anything perceived as a threat. Recently, the idea of leaving the safety and comfort of Etsy to pursue our own platform was seen as a threat to my well being, so my brain did everything in it’s power to protect me. It’s why some people giggle when they are nervous… not sure how that would save you from a saber-toothed tiger, but maybe you can giggle away ghosts or something.

Anyhow…

When you’re pursuing anything, it’s almost inevitable that at some point you’ll think one or more of the following:

“This is harder than I thought it would be.”
“Why is this taking so long?”
“I’m getting nowhere with this.”
“I keep failing and screwing it up.”
“I can’t do this. What was I thinking?”

And when you do have one—or more—of these thoughts, it’s very likely that you’ll want to give up. When that happens, I remind myself of the points I made above.

Achieving large, hairy life goals isn’t easy. Doing much in life isn’t easy, and somewhere along the way it’s very likely that you’ll want to quit. But when you feel like quitting, and the going gets tough, just keep going.

Beside, it’s not a failure if you don’t quit… It’s just a work in progress.


HELP ME WRITE MY BOOK!

Pretty soon I’ll be starting a crowd funding campaign to help me finish my book(s) and audio-books. It’ll be the first of a series that I have been working on for the last 8 years. I am both excited and nervous!

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Do What You Can With What You Have

There was once a boy who wanted to be an artist. This boy spent all his time planning and thinking about a way to be able to accomplish this. He knew that everything needed to be perfect. He would need all the best equipment, all the best education, and most of all, enough pieces to justify showing and being taken seriously.

Do What You Can Rafi Perez

In case you are wondering, this boy was me, and that plan was crap.

I couldn’t ever seem to create enough work to justify showing my art. As far as getting the best, anytime I purchased some equipment, something better would come along that I now needed to get. Not to mention, I was stuck working the family business and didn’t have time for school… not that I could afford it.

So, I spent most of my life wishing and eventually giving up on an art career.

Do What You Can Rafi Perez

It was only a few years ago that I just jumped in and did it. I pretty much had nothing to get started, but I had enough.

I had a bit of crappy old paint, some poster board someone donated to me, and some old pieces of wood. Most of all, I had people around me that didn’t discourage me, well… mostly… kinda.

I realized I had it all wrong back in the day. It wasn’t about waiting until everything was perfect, because that is an unattainable goal. It was about getting started with what you had. I also learned that it’s OK to start small… as long as you start.

Do What You Can Rafi Perez

Listen, I feel like the worst thing we can do in life is regret not doing something. That means being willing to fall on your face, pick yourself up and keep trying, at least until you make it, or you just don’t care anymore.

It came down to one question:

Are you willing to fall on your face, look like an idiot and put yourself through hell to accomplish what you want? Sure.

…and, just keep moving, even if you fall down… just keep moving.

Do What You Can Rafi Perez

So, if you have something that you’ve been wanting to do, go ahead and start… start small, it doesn’t have to be a grand gesture… just a bunch of micro gestures.

Those small steps add up over time, and take you further than waiting around for the perfect moment.

Besides, why not just do it? You don’t have to quit anything, you don’t have to leap over a tall building… just take a step.

 

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Tips for beginning artists No.1

These are 5 Tips For Beginning Artist. If you are an aspiring artist, or you know an aspiring artist that may benefit from this, feel free to share and enjoy.

Every Monday, I dedicate some of my daily efforts to giving back information that would have been valuable to me when starting my artist career. This is a very basic list of things that were extremely helpful in my perception and practice of art.

Rafi Was Here Studios
Rafi Was Here Studios

You want to grow up and be an artists? Here’s five tips that helped me become an artist.

Draw… A lot. Carry a sketchbook with you, and draw whenever you get a chance. The more you draw, the better you become at translating a mental image to paper.

Great art takes hard work… It takes a lot of work, so don’t allow yourself to get discouraged if something is not looking the way you want it to… Just keep trying, you only fail at it, if you give up.

Use a reference image. Take pictures of what you want to create, and reference them in your sketches. I usually have myself, or Klee model for what I am looking for. Take notice of lighting and shadows in your photo. For some of us, it helps to bring the fuzzy image in the mind to life.

Get used to rejection. You are going to get rejected. You are also going to have people say that either your work, or you suck. You’ll have thousands more praise you, but if you can’t handle the few that will reject your work, it may keep you from moving forward.

See if there is any genuine feedback and learn from it, but if not, just delete it. The biggest tool an artist has in his, or her arsenal is confidence, and confidence is something you can develop.

Be unique and be successful. So, copying what’s popular in art may bring success, but it’s only short term and really not worth it. Doing things your own way may take longer to gain success, but man is it worth it. Trust me, if you are creating what is popular, chances are you are doing something just for the money… That’s not going to help you grow, and you’ll stagnate as an artist.

Either way, choose what you love and stick with it, because what’s popular won’t last, but your uniqueness will.

Let me know what you guys think, or if you have anything to add.

Thank you guys! You are awesome!