Three keys to become a successful artist or illustrator.

At the close of a university art education, diligent students often find themselves with only a portfolio and foggy dreams of a successful future. Mindsets need to change, and actions taken, if the distant dream of illustrating and creating great stories is going to be realized. Let me walk with you through three of the most important changes in my mindset and why they are critical to success.


Patience is frustrating. As artists, we likely enjoy what we do in part because of the immediate results of paint on canvas or a drawing appearing on paper. We have put years into developing our talent and want the validation of work coming in and the security that time in learning was well spent. We don’t want to waste our time or work inefficiently, we have bills now, we want results now. But anger at current difficulties poisons the process of improvement.

Patience should not be confused with a lack of urgency or complacency.  It is not waiting for success inactively, working slowly, or forgetting short term goals. Patience is the realization that six months, one year, and five-year goals are no longer dreams on a piece of paper. If you want success as an artist you will need to create significant value, probably over an extended period. You will need better work, better contacts, and better industry knowledge. This is not a midterm assignment it is a process requiring years. Nothing will cost you more time than impatience because you will chase fast easy solutions that do not develop your business or your character.


Your work isn’t good enough. If you are not paying bills and reaching your ideal goals, one of the things holding you back is that your work could be better; stories can be funnier, emotions clearer, environments can always be designed and executed more deftly. If you think you have arrived and your portfolio can remain static, there is no hope for your business, because no great illustrator can afford to be complacent. Even if you are professional level you are still not good enough because prior improvement shows you can do better.


People getting along

Artist like making art. Often we focus totally on production and feel promotion and marketing activities are a drain on our energy.  Many of us are also introverted, and some think that they can’t connect with others. This mindset leads to isolation from the art community and more importantly isolation from clients. Every financially successful artist I have interacted with can navigate social situations, and speak with clients.

People are the only thing in business. People do all the buying and all the consuming of artwork. Unless your portfolio is truly better than the people already at the top of the field, and this is quite unlikely if you are on square 1, you will never succeed without connecting personally to people who like your work and can pay you.

All entrepreneurs must focus on sales! This is also the greatest struggle of artists at square 1, the first stage of sales success is prospecting. This is a process of research rejection and repetition. There are many great resources to build prospecting skills and strategies.

The first rule to understand is that the best prospects are the hardest to access. They are busy and in demand. Do not be content with lousy jobs and poor contacts, but realize the best contacts only come with patient improvement, diligent research, a superior portfolio, and a network of people you have treated well. Best of luck on this wild ride of an art career and feel free to reach out with any question.



Links to the best resources for artist/illustration entrepreneurs.

Will Terry is a children’s book author with generous free content related to the publishing industry. He is also cofounder of the educational website Society of Visual Storytellers Learn .com

This design focused channel has excellent content on the business aspects of an art related career.

This educational blog covers business and technical aspects of art making especially in the creature design/entertainment industry world.

This Brian Tracy video can begin your learning in complex and challenging field of sales


About the Author:

Stephen Wheeler is a painter Illustrator and storyteller.

He is a recent graduate from the BFA Painting program at Northern Kentucky University, and is a creative entrepreneur in Dover, DE He is learning faster than ever as he moves his own business beyond square 1.

Follow his work at