Finding an artistic mentor can be a tricky thing, especially if you’re new to selling work online or fresh to creating illustration and design. Often mentors appear out of no where, as if they were always there in your life, and you can’t imagine a time without them. More frequently however mentors are a rare gem, and incredibly hard to find.
Find mentors at your alma mater or university, through artistic peers, at work, by networking on social media, by attending meet ups and events or conference.
Here at Redbubble we have a number of ways to meet fellow artists who can possibly provide you guidance — from our groups to our forums to this very blog. Many of our Open Discussions and other posts feature lively discussions from excellent and super experienced artists.
If you have someone specific in mind, don’t be afraid to write them a polite, private letter asking to meet up for coffee, and be prepared for a polite no. Most artists I know feel their mentor kind of chose them, so keep your eyes peeled for older, wiser artists who you get along with famously.
Below are some tips on what to look for in a mentor and please do let us know in the comments below your experience with finding someone slightly wiser, slightly further along professionally, that has helped change your artwork for the better.
When looking for someone to help guide your professional-art-making life for the foreseeable future, it’s best to find someone that when speaking to them, makes you feel like they extend your knowledge base and clarity of thinking of the subjects you make art about. Seek someone who will push your thinking beyond the parameters you’ve been developing within, perhaps this means they have a huge knowledge in an area you’d like to move into (digital design, character animation, comic styling, etc.) or their approach is entirely different from your own. Either way you’ll probably know the feeling of being intellectually and artistically stimulated when you come across it, so cherish the relationship when you do.
Another thing to consider when trying to find an ally in creative industries is someone who has been around the block, or at least sitting on your general artistic stoop for a few years longer than you. Find someone who is ideally around a decade ahead of you in professional development, as this will give you a plethora of areas in which to gain advice; from networking to financial strategy to discussing trends to forecasting your own artistic goals. Find someone who is developmentally mature. If you find someone who knows a thing or two about a thing or two, take them home in your backpack immediately.
If you come across another who can be sharply insightful about the flaws and tribulations of working in creative industries, try and listen to them as much as possible. Even if you don’t agree with everything they say, hearing someone a bit older speak of their frustrations can help you feel less alone, more street smart, and more switched on about things to avoid over the next few years. Ask lots of questions and don’t be afraid to voice your own opinions, as this opens the space for an honest dialogue. Criticality in art is a sign of a healthy, thriving civilization, and passionate and opinionated people aren’t as common as Internet comments suggest. In short, if you find a professional ally willing to have an engaged conversation about your shared work, pick your ears up and chime in.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, find someone who challenges you to be the best damn version of yourself everyday. My mentor never let’s me get away with saying, “I don’t know,” she always quickly follows up with a swift, “c’mon, try, know it” in an attempt to get me to articulate my thoughts and verbalize vague feelings, which are usually coherent thoughts I do know. Being pushed professionally is rare, and it’s even rarer to find a kind, older voice to crack the whip. Find someone who won’t tolerate your crap that you can have a conversation with and you’re in a good place to develop great artistic habits early on.