4 soft skills every artist should know

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Ignacio, Art Lead at The Workshop

I was five when I discovered what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

At the time I didn't realise that I'd found my passion. All I knew was that I loved combining shapes and colours, translating my imagination into drawings. I could spend hours in my room with a pencil and a notebook, creating. Nowadays, every time I direct or execute a new art project, it still makes me as happy as it did all those years ago.

I recently joined The Workshop as an Art Lead and, if I allow myself a little nostalgia, I would say that my journey began back when I was a kid – sitting in my room, materialising my ideas. 

Over the last 20 years, I’ve worked and learned from some of the best in the industry. Colleagues and artists have been very open to sharing what they've learned along the way. Here are some of the most important lessons I've learned throughout my career – I’m excited to bring them to my role at The Workshop.

1. Be patient

Regardless of the craft you’re pursuing, it takes time to improve your skills. But while you’re doing this, it’s almost impossible to avoid comparing yourself to others.

This doesn’t always have to be a negative, since the talent and skills of those around you can inspire and motivate you. But on the flipside, it can also be discouraging and trigger a sense of hopelessness as you recognise the long road ahead of you. So, patience is key. 

Be aware that there are no shortcuts to levelling up your skills – the only road is investing time in your craft, daily. With time and effort, you’ll eventually get there. And when you do, you’ll soon discover you’ve opened many doors leading to new learning experiences.

Never forget that with every new door you open, you become a stronger individual – both personally and professionally.

2. Be humble

Imagine you’ve spent the last 10 years of your life improving your artistic skills. You’ve mastered the art of inking and colouring and you’re one of the best in your field. Your latest illustration is sublime. You’re proud of it and you think it's ready to submit it to your client, a publisher based in Japan.

But just before you’re about to send it through, you receive an email from Phil, one of the account managers for your illustration project. “Try blue tones,” he casually states above his signature. You’re surprised. Isn’t Phil in the Client Services department? Why is he providing feedback? What does he know about colour theory? My illustration is just what the clients want, and the colour is perfect as it is. 

So, you disregard his advice and decide to send the illustration to your client.

Two days later, the client replies. They politely but firmly request a different colour palette. They explain that the colours you went for are visually appealing, but they’re the exact choices made by a competitor in their recent campaign. Some quick research on your part confirms this.

It turns out that while you've spent the past decade expanding your artistic skills, your colleague Phil has expanded different skill sets while working for your client. His strength might not be colour theory, but he can expand provide valuable feedback based on his extensive work with clients. You can expand your own knowledge base by remaining open and humble. 

I’ve encountered too many situations in which artists disregard feedback just because it’s coming from a person who they assume to have limited knowledge related to either the theory of colour, composition, volume or lighting. In my opinion, this is simply a waste of potential learning. My advice is to embrace feedback, no matter who it’s coming from. You never know what ideas it might spark. And isn’t that the key to learning? 

3. Be respectful

Unless you’re producing work for a personal exhibition, your audience will pre-determine certain parameters. Every successful artist I’ve met is very aware of this.

Leaning into audience-focused projects doesn’t mean leaving behind the creative aspect of your work, rather, it means being creative within a set of rules established by a brief or based on what’s culturally appropriate in the region where your work will be published.

Being respectful of your audience is an important part of any creative job. And they will thank you for it by connecting with your work.

4. Be curious

Curiosity can take you a long way towards feeling fulfilled as an artist (or in any field you might find yourself in). A curious person will always want to learn new things, regardless of age and experience. Likewise, a curious artist will always be compelled to attend courses to expand their skill set — for example, sketching human anatomy, cars, buildings or natural environments. Every new lesson and every hour spent with a pencil in hand, new habits and learnings slowly but surely embed themselves into their souls.

As an artist, fulfilment is also established partially by the environment you decided to invest in. So, it’s important you choose your client or employer wisely.

If you allow yourself the opportunity to work on projects that will encourage you to learn new things and challenge you on a regular basis, you can’t go wrong.

Creativity is at the heart of invention, so why not see how far you can go at The Workshop?

Start here and let’s see if we can set your artistic mind alight!

– Ignacio, Art Lead at The Workshop

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