Mary painting on Edisto Island

Mary painting on Edisto Island

Have you ever wondered what makes you an artist? How to know if you are one??

I”ve got a great free FB group ART+WORK+LIVING, and they shared some of their ideas on a post recently.

Some are external signs that the rest of the world notices like having a bit of paint on everything you own to a car full of equipment for plein air painting.

Others are internal ones about the way you see the world and the process of making art.

But several in the group, like Laura and Michelle, tapped into the single one thing that makes all the difference, your belief in yourself as an artist.

I’ll explain what I mean in this video and give you four steps to take to get yourself to that same spot.

If you’d like to read all the comments, or add your own answer to “You know you’re an artist when ____,” just click here to join my free FB group, ART+WORK+LIVING and go to the post.


Hey there, I want to ask y’all a question. I want you to think about how to know if you’re an artist. I asked this question in the past week in my free Facebook group, ART+WORK+LIVING, and got some really great answers. It turned into a super inspiring thread that had over 600 answers the last time I looked, there were so many fantastic ones.  

It’s a question that I think a lot of people get a little hung up on when they’re thinking about whether or not they’re creative, whether or not they’re an artist. Some people think that you have to sell artwork for you to really be an artist. That’s just not true. Some people think you have to go to school to study art before you’re an artist. Again, not true. But, I wanted to start with the external signs.

There were some really great comments that talked about some of the outside signs that you just might be a little creative, that you just might be an artist. This one from Elizabeth was great and I can relate to it. She said, “Pretty much everything in your house has a bit of paint on it.” That’s certainly true for me. I try to keep it off the walls and furniture, but it has a way of creeping onto almost every surface. I’ll never forget the time I was painting at night and went in to take makeup off in the bathroom, I looked in there 15 minutes later and there was phthalo blue all over the sink. I had it on my hands and didn’t even realize it, that’s one of the reasons I wear an apron when I paint. It has the tendency to go everywhere. 

Gabriel said, “The back of your car is always full with plenty of gear just because it’s not right when you don’t have it with you.” I can relate to that one, the back of my car usually has everything that goes into plein air painting, minus the paint, so I can just hop in and go because plein air painting is going to be one of the things at the top of my to do list most days. 

Another great comment was, “You’ll want the house to be built around your studio, not the other way around.” Can you imagine building or designing a house completely around a studio? Whereas most of us have to put a studio in a part of the house that already exists. So, you’re taking over part of the house as the studio rather than creating the house around the studio. It’s a really interesting concept. 

All of those are external signs. If you’ve got paint smears on your forehead when you go to the grocery store, or you look in the mirror in the morning and there’s blue on your nose, or if you realize you have paint under your fingernails, or if there’s permanent callous where your pencil or brush gets held, all of those are outside signs that you put in a lot of time into practicing your craft. You’re doing the work of being an artist.

There’s some internal signs as well and the comments from these three that I’m going to share next all talk abou internal stuff, the changes that happen inside you as you become more intune with your creativity. Sujata had a great one! She said, “When you look at the world around you and see colors, shapes, and values first, then you notice the object. So, you’re looking at the world in a whole different way.” Catherine said, “When everything you look at, you study for shadows, highlights, and color combinations you just can’t wait to paint.” Kathy said, “The creation means more than the outcome.” Did you notice how all three of them are talking about looking at the world and thinking about the process in a whole different way? 

So Sujata and Catherine are both talking about actually changing the way that you see color, value, lights and highlights before you see things and objects. That’s a crucial switch that you have to make in your brain as you learn how to paint or draw. The idea of the process being more important than the outcome is one of the key factors that makes it easier to become an artist, because it means you realize that you’re going to make some bad paintings, or whatever you’re creating, at times. And that’s okay, but you have to make the bad ones in order to make the good ones. It’s the process that you learn from, not the product or the outcome. 

all of those are really important at the end though. It doesn’t answer the question, “How do you know you’re an artist?” And ultimately the way you know you’re an artist is when you decide you are one. The great artist Marcel Duchamp declared that back in the beginning of the 20th century and I don’t think we’ve absorbed that idea yet. What makes you an artist? It’s you. It’s when you decide, you make the decision, that decision is what makes you an artist. It’s not some external outside stuff, it’s not about the paint on your nose or apron, or the degree that hangs on the wall, or the number of sales in the gallery. Those are all external signs. What makes you know you’re an artist is when you’ve decided that. 

So those people who made that comment in the group nailed it, spot on. All those other things are important too, but what makes you an artist is when you decide it. Laura said, “If you’re wondering if you’re an artist, you probably already are. You just didn’t notice.” I think sometimes there’s a lot of truth in that becoming an artist creeps up on you. You may not even realize that you’ve gotten to the point that you’re there already.  Michelle said, “You’re an artist when you believe it.” That’s the part that’s hard for a lot of people, assuming enough authority within to believe yourself when you say I’m an artist. That’s what makes the decision, not the degree, not the materials, not the tools, and not the sales. It’s the decision you make internally. All those other things can help you make the decision, but the decision happens early on for a lot of people. 

You may decide when you’re five years old that you’re an artist. In fact, most five year olds believe they’re an artist because they are. We lose that somewhere along the road and decide that to be creative, to be an artist, you have to be something else… Fill in the blank. But I want to challenge everyone to rethink that. All of us are creative, all of us are born with a creative bone. It’s an aptitude, a tendency, not a talent, not a genius, but we’re all born with an aptitude for creativity. What makes us an artist is our decision to pursue it. So, everyone can be creative. It doesn’t mean everyone is going to be Michelangelo or Leonardo DaVinci, but everyone can create in some way, shape or form. Everyone can be an artist, in fact everyone actually already is, but you have to decide how you’re going to show up as an artist and how you’re going to be creative. 

There are four steps that I think are really important. 

The first step is to declare it.

It doesn’t have to be something you declare to your neighbors, your family, and your friends. You don’t have to put it on social media or Facebook, but it has to be something you have said to yourself. So, declare it, state it, write it somewhere where you can see it. 

Step number two, you have to believe it.

You have to really believe it.

Then you need to commit to it at step number three.

And by committing to it, that means you’ve got to do the work.

The work is showing up consistently, that’s step number four.

So, declare it, believe it, commit to it, and show up consistently. 

When you do that, it’ll answer a lot of the other questions that are out there. 

Now, there were some answers to that question when I made that post in the group that really broke my heart. They were the ones that were in line with the idea that if you’re an artist, you have to give up on the idea of making a living at it. That if you’re an artist you’re going to starve, if you’re an artist you’re going to be poor, or if you’re an artist you’re not going to make any money at it until you’re dead. I want to talk about those, not this time, but next time. Hang around, tune in again, I’m going to be back, but we’re going to talk about that in my next broadcast, because that’s not true. 

There are lots of ways that you can monetize being an artist and it’s not bad. It doesn’t mean you’re less of an artist. You do not have to starve and you don’t have to, as one of the members said, have a day job that you hate going to. I don’t want people to think that they can’t be happily creative. So, we’re going to talk about getting rid of that starving artist myth. It’s one of the things that I’m most passionate about, but in the meantime, I want you to think about following those four steps: declare it, believe it, commit to it, and then show up consistently. If you would like to share your ideas about how you know you’re an artist, I’d love for you to join my free Facebook Group, ART+WORK+LIVING. The post is there in the group, if you’d like to contribute your own answer to that or just read one of the other 600+ comments. We would be happy to have you in there and it would be lovely to talk with you more about it inside the group. 


Related posts:

What’s the Secret to Becoming a Successful Artist? 

Three Liberating Truths That Kill the Myth of the Starving Artist 

Creative Living: What’s Your Creative Purpose? 


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