In a world of growing content saturation, it is hard to find your direction and unique niche as an artist. It takes time, trial, and error to determine where you want to focus your time and energy, and what style compliments your skills and talents best.
Personally, I’ve found the best way to maintain forward motion in growth and deciding how I want to focus my art, has been talking to a lot of people. Offering to buy someone coffee who is more experienced than you is always worth the $4. Surrounding yourself with individuals who make your work look amatuer as hell, is always worth it.
When looking for a mentor, or professionals in your field that you want to learn from, here are four pieces of advice that I’ve learned along my journey:
- Make Sure You Find A Match
When reaching out to photographers, models, or creators of any kind that could potentially serve as mentors, make sure to keep an open mind, but also look for a match. When looking for a match, the channel of work matters far less than the artist themselves. No matter how successful someone is, or who they know, you can only have a fruitful mentorship if you get along and understand each other.
You can assist or shadow whoever offers you an opportunity and you respect the work of, but in mentorship you need a connection. Grab coffee, and if you immediately hit it off, great! Maybe you aren’t sure after one conversation but you agree to assist or meet again, but don’t commit to anything long term until you know it’s a match.
- You Can Have More Than One
We are all busy people, especially artists and freelancers. A photographer or mentor that highly respects you as a student and mentee may only have time to meet with you once a month, or even less. A mentorship is not a monogamous relationship, you can learn from more than one professional.
One of the many incredible things about the artistic community is the seemingly, never-ending web of artists connected to each other, collaborating and learning together. You will, no doubt, come across artists that have no interest in supporting younger artists or mentoring. However, many established artists have been supported along their journey, and wish to give back to someone younger as well. All you have to do is ask. What is the worst that could happen? They could say no, probably on email, and you move on!
- Ask Why
I’m not sure if this is a habit of mine, or if other artists do this too: I have a tendency to assume asking why, is annoying. It can be, but I’ve learned that mentors love answering why. You don’t just have to observe and support, you can ask why! For a long time I was afraid to ask why, but everytime I do, I get way more information than I originally asked for.
Another great way to learn from mentors is by writing down questions in the moment so you don’t forget, and speaking with them after, or another time when an event is over so they can give you a full answer. So much of the creative world is self-taught, or learned, by watching and doing, so watch a lot and do a lot!
- Follow Your Instincts
I saved the best for last here. This one small piece of advice will change your world if you learn to use it. This applies to how you work, what work you take, what work you don’t, and who you decide to trust.
Having mentors and artists that you trust in you desired field is important, but this does not go to say you should be volunteering all of your time and working for free just to have experiences. Learning to balance paid and unpaid work is something that comes with time. There definitely are times where shadowing or assisting a professional is worth your time. I like to think of these experiences as free courses, not unpaid work.
Who has taken a job they didn’t want to take, or didn’t feel right about, and regretted it? I HAVE! The best thing you can do for yourself is to do what feels right to you. If you feel like being unpaid for a certain experience is unfair, don’t do it. If a certain job gives you a funny feeling in your stomach, don’t take it. If someone tells you you shouldn’t be working with someone for free, but you feel valued and nurtured by the relationship, make your own decisions. Following your instincts will take you farther than a lot of other advice will.
Written by Lizzie Steimer.