Top tips for early career artists

From personal values to professional bios, Sky Academy arts scholars past and present share their steps to career success

  • Share your insights and tips below the line

Ollie Howell, drummer, composer and recording artist

Creative blocks
There will always be times when you have to deal with some sort of creative block (and it usually comes when there’s a looming deadline). Developing your own way to deal with it will become crucial to your career.

There’s a park I walk to, to get out of my head for a bit. I just sit there and listen to music. I’m always amazed at the difference that can make, especially being outdoors. Yours could be sport, video games, cooking or something else. It’s a cold and lonely place feeling that creative block, so figure out what works for you early on.

Comfortable collaboration
Being comfortable with collaboration is important, even if your core practice is just you. There will be times when you need to stick to your guns and be uncompromising – and there will be times when working with someone else can lead to something amazing and unexpected. It also keeps you on your toes and on the edge of your comfort zone.

Kevin Gaffney, visual artist

Working nose to tail
It can be overwhelming to learn everything about the disciplines of film and photography if that’s your core practice (camera technicalities, sound production and so on), but learning how to make a piece from start to finish frees you up creatively. It will also help you communicate with crews on bigger productions.

Take a moment
I try to leave a buffer period after my project is finished and before I show it to people. In that time I become less sensitive to the process of making it and can go back with fresh eyes to see if I’m really happy with the final cut. Every so often you will spot something that would have made you cringe in a screening. There’s not always time for this, so make the most of it when it’s available.

Make do
If your practice is film or photography, don’t become obsessed with kit you can’t afford. Work with what you can get your hands on and do your best with it.

Sarah Maple, visual artist

Put yourself out there
Sign up to sites that tell you the opportunities coming up in your area of work and apply. Even if you don’t get through, people will still see your work. Don’t be afraid to get knocked back. I’ve applied for countless things and had many rejections, but I always throw my hat into the ring.

Show your work to people you trust
Even if you don’t follow their advice, at least it will strengthen your choices in your own mind.

James Lomax, artist

Trade on your skills
I started when I was 18 by trying to curate shows with a friend. I’d offer to hang other exhibitions for free at a cafe/bar with a gallery in the back and it would let us use the space for nothing for our own shows. I then went to art school and got involved in similar projects elsewhere. I used whatever skills I had to offer (in my case, practical) to bargain for exhibition space. One community art space, for example, had just acquired a warehouse. A few friends and I made the building safe and secure for them and we had the first exhibition there.

I then worked in bigger public galleries using those skills. It opened my eyes to the way things work and gave me a real taste of what a career as an artist could be like. I still use those skills today as technical manager at Ikon to support my practice as an artist.

Anisa Haghdadi, creative producer

Consider the short game
Have short-term goals rather than a five-year plan. Apply for as much as you possibly can in that time. Don’t knock yourself out of the running before you’ve even had a go; a “no” is better than a “will never know”.

Settle on a clear bio
This can be scary to commit to, but you need a succinct way of talking about yourself and your work. Someone suggested to me that having 300-, 150- and 50-word versions is ideal.

Know your values
Start with your personal values and be clear on what your ethos is. This will help when deciding your next steps or making those tough decisions. Integrity is everything.

Applications for this year’s Sky Academy Arts Scholarship programme close on 10 March

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