Advice to the Art Graduate: I Have a Degree, Now What?

CONGRATS! You just graduated from art school (or with a degree in Art or Design)! First of all, give yourself a big pat in the back for pursing something and getting it done! Hopefully you’ve made the most out of it!

In 2015, I graduated with a degree in Entertainment Design and concentration in Comics and Sequential Art. I was happy, my family was happy, and life was good. I took a few months to reorganize my life and readjust back to the “real world.” I was no longer in school, which meant no more late nights, homework, and classes! Although this meant a ton of stress off my shoulders it didn’t mean everything was set and good. Unfortunately, being out of school meant that you were given “other responsibilities”—some of which you have to learn to manage and maintain over the years.

After graduation I had a mini postgraduate crisis about my next steps in life. What do I do next? Where was I going? Was this really it? Then I recalled some advice that were given to me from professors and peers about what to expect after college. Once in a while, I will remind myself of these to help make me feel not so bad about where I am in my art journey. And the truth is, I still don’t have everything figured out, and that’s okay!

So without further ado, here are 7 Suggestions for the Art Graduate:

1) Have a source (or sources) of income: As much as we’d like to stay in our rooms and make art for the rest of our lives, we know this won’t happen unless we pay for rent, food, our student loans, and other expenses. The truth is, adulting kind of sucks. When it comes to your income, it could be anything from a day job, to part-time job, to gigs or projects you do. If you decide to get a job, don’t be too hard on yourself if it initially isn’t your “dream job.” We all got to start somewhere. Also, don’t feel bad if it’s not even art/design-related; it doesn’t make you less of an artist. What matters is at the end of the day you don’t mind working there for now, and it pays you enough to live and still make art, or it gives you the flexibility you need to live the life you want! Everyone’s situation is different nowadays, so do what you have to do to make ends meet!

2) Make work: The only way to continue growing as an artist is to keep making work, but we can all agree that making work or having personal projects is much harder to manage outside of school for most people. If you decide to be a self-employed or freelance artist, YOU have to be the person planning your career, scheduling client meetings, and making business decisions. Plus, you might have to find time to make work around your day job (if you have one) and other daily obligations.

It’s going to be hard for a while trying to find a balance between life and art, but it’s not impossible. I would also like to note that there might be periods in your life where you cannot make art (maybe due to your health, financial situation, or other things), and that is OKAY too. Creating is a time-consuming process and taking breaks are often necessary. When you feel the time is right again, you can always continue where you left off.

3) Put your work out there: This could mean posting your work on social media, starting a mailing list, making a website, opening an online shop, going to conventions/craft fairs, applying for artist residencies, etc! Anything to get your awesome stuff out! Note that you don’t have to do all of these at once, just pick one or two to start off with and get really good at them. You can always add more ways to market your work along the way.

So why is it important to get your work out there? The truth is, nobody’s going to know about you or your work if you have nothing to show for. In an ideal world, it’ll be nice if a client or employer just found us one day and gave us our dream job, but that won’t even happen unless we have stuff to show, or show up for ourselves!

4) Stay connected: Being an artist can be a lonely occupation, so why not surround ourselves more with like-minded individuals? In college we had our art peers and professors there to support and guide us. If you can, try to stay connected with those who you’ve already made connections with; however, even if you didn’t made much connections in college, there are local and online communities out there nowadays to support individuals just like you. Find one that fits you. From my experience, surrounding yourself with supportive individuals will hopefully aid your growth and encourage you to keep making art because you are all in this together!

5) Continue learning: Be open to learning even after college! Chances are, you have not learned everything you need to continue your artist journey. Most likely you’ll experience many more things after college that’ll help aide your growth, but that’s only if you choose to learn and grow. All the great artists I know are always learning new skills, perfecting their craft, growing their network and learning from each other.

Continuing your growth could mean reading books from the library, taking online courses, going to conferences/events related to your profession, or watching movies or videos pertaining to your field. The hungrier you are for knowledge, the more well-rounded and regarded you become. Chances are, all of your knowledge can one day help someone who was once just like you!

6) Be patient: Maybe you’ve always wanted to be a children’s book illustrator, but is stuck flipping burgers 5 days a week. Keep in mind that “success” does not come immediately and that it’ll probably take time (maybe years) to get to where you want to be. It is also extremely difficult not trying to compare yourself with other artists on social media nowadays. I’ll admit, I still do that sometimes too, but I don’t try to let that upset me because I am reminded that you never know what that other person is really going through. Everyone’s life is different, and what may seem “successful” to you may not be the same to the other individual. Just focus on yourself and nourishing your path. Remind yourself of your purpose, and work on making it happen!

7) Enjoy life: Don’t forget to make time to enjoy life! Life is short, so we should cherish it. Making art is important, but also remember that the stuff we produce comes from our experiences and everyday life. Try not to spend your entire day in a room drawing. Take the time to go for a walk, go to the movies with your partner, catch up with friends, travel, and whatever else you want to do. Give yourself a break once in a while and be ready to go back to the studio refreshed!

That’s all I have for you. Hopefully you guys found this useful as it was for me after I graduated. Pass it on to someone who may be in need of some post-graduate advice, or advice in general. Until next time!

Duachaka Her

Modified: 05.15.2023