We caught up with Rob Woodcox, a surreal portrait and fine art photographer and asked him what 12 things he thinks were critical to go from beginning taking photos, to becoming a worldly acclaimed artist.
1) Find and focus on what makes you thrive
Before I ever touched a camera, I always loved people and hearing their stories. I cared deeply about the struggles of the world and had an optimistic outlook for the future.
When I found photography, none of that changed. Early on in my journey to become a photographer I fell in love with elaborately constructed images. People like Tim Walker and Gregory Crewdson filled me with awe and a yearning to create on their level and tell complex and meaningful visual stories. Like a Lisa Frank rainbow meeting a unicorn, my love for people and photography exploded into something beautiful and I made a decision early to stick to a style that would satisfy my artistic cravings for the long haul.
2) Heighten your self awareness and value
It seems like no matter how long I do something I occasionally question whether I’m doing it right. Is my style really that great? Do people really like me? Is this decision going to set the perfect path for my future?
I find its good to annually re-evaluate what you desire out of an artistic journey. Make a list of goals or stick a visual reminder on your wall that reminds you how exciting your future will be and how badass your journey so far has been. Remind yourself daily that you’re qualified, and don’t forget to smile and enjoy the “you” side of what you do. Art is subjective, so if you can believe in it, others will too!
3) Promote passion over judgment
Too often I see people succumb to the fear associated with judgment. Everyone has something to say about everything and unfortunately that applies to our personal goals and attempts to succeed. When I was first learning my craft, important people in my life discouraged me from pursuing a career in photography. I was told I would never make money and that I’d never “succeed”.
Fortunately the most powerful organ in my body is my heart, and I don’t let much get in the way of what I dream for and believe in. Not to mention that success isn’t only measured in gold. As Winston Churchill once said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”. Before I had any audience online I decided I would rather starve doing what I loved than get rich mindlessly furthering someone else’s dream. That dedication to embracing passion has not only provided so much fulfilment and adventure, but it has helped me find my own definition of success in life.
On the other side of the coin don’t be a contributor to the judgment culture. Be constructive if you voice your opinion, and be kind and encouraging in all interactions.
4) OH NO, THE R WORD
RESPONSIBILITY! Doing anything of importance, for others or yourself, doesn’t come easily. Although self-employment provides a sense of freedom, it does not provide overwhelmingly large paychecks and company benefits right from the start (unless you’re Willow Smith or Justin Bieber).
Giving your all to an artist life may require settling for a used car, living in a small apartment, moving away from home to a place of greater opportunity, skipping a few music festivals, or postponing the American dream of a white picket fence and babies. All of these may be uncomfortable to accept but are important in exchange for having proper resources to develop your art. You are your own responsible adult, so what you prioritise will ultimately become your own success.
5) Embrace the brown bag lifestyle
On a more daily decision level, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to find more affordable routes of sustaining everyday needs. Choosing groceries over restaurants and thrift shops over designer boutiques will help provide a more balanced budget.
Small expenses add up, especially when they’re daily. I moved out when I was 18 and initially spent all my money on expensive food and entertainment. Just by cutting out restaurant food I was able to save up and fund my first roadtrips across America and Canada, and I was healthier for it! I’ve now been to 48 US states and 15 countries and I’d take those experiences any day over a $70 meal or $500 shirt (although I don’t mind those occaaaasionally!).
6) Get down to business
The best thing my college professor pointed out to me early on was that I couldn’t just be an artist, I had to also be a networker, marketer and ultimately a businessman.
The biggest crime of the American education system is that we don’t get taught how to survive in our own economy unless we somehow choose or receive guidance to do so at a college level. I never learned about accounting or taxes in high school, and yet I was expected to know how those things work when I got my first job.
Don’t get blindsided like many do and think that you can just make art without any additional efforts to survive. Study online or in school or by looking to more established artists, but whatever you do, spend time learning how to run a business and how to make money as an artist- you’ll be way ahead of the game if you do!
7) Fight for your right
Once you’re gaining a sense of establishment through finances, clients, and online audiences, know that it’s okay to stick up for yourself. Like I said before, you are qualified and valuable, people want what you have to offer the world.
I would never walk into a store and expect a product for free, and I certainly couldn’t imagine going to a hospital in America expecting the doctor to hand out free examinations! You are a professional artist- your time, expertise, knowledge, charisma, services, and products are in high demand and worth a fair industry price. Determine what you want to earn each year and price your time accordingly. A fun little formula that might help you with pricing for every day clients:
Total Desired Annual Wage (Lets say $100,000)
÷# working weeks per year (Lets say 40)
÷# working hours per week (Lets say 10 shooting hours)
Resulting total: $250/hour
Obviously everyone has a different lifestyle and there are more factors to consider like higher level clients, but whatever you do, never ever ever undersell yourself. You’re worth it.
8) Never settle for less in your work
Though you may make some sacrifices in your personal life, push yourself not to settle on lower quality within your work. If you have a clear vision, do everything in your power to make it come true.
Spend an extra day location scouting, sacrifice a meal to buy smoke bombs instead, ask that stranger to model even if you’re nervous. If for whatever reason you can’t quite reach your vision, definitely don’t let that stop you from creating, but always strive for the highest bar.
9) Remember your roots
So far I’ve said a lot about pushing your boundaries and embracing the new, but as often as you have a chance- remember your roots. Never stop thanking the people who help you.
Don’t forget your humble days of childhood, living at home, and trying your craft for the first time. These memories can often recycle into inspiration for bigger and better concepts that build off your creations from the past. Our lives are like a massive living monument- everything we do gets etched into the face of history forever, but we can’t build up without the base that elevated us in the first place.
10) Know when to slow down
On the note of remembering roots, don’t forget to take time for yourself. I have developed a pattern of “Me Time” that looks a bit like this:
1 hour a day
1 day a week
1 weekend a month
1 month a year
As much as I can, I build this precious time of reflection and spiritual development into my life to ensure that I’m remaining grounded and focused. I define “Me Time” as anything benefitting my emotional, physical and spiritual health.
Reading, yoga, hiking, cooking, meditating, longboarding, talking and traveling are common activities for me. Addressing the 1 month a year, that sounds like a lot of time, but I truly believe we need periods of complete detachment to completely reinvigorate our senses and inspiration.
11) Surround yourself with supporters
Nothing keeps me going as much as the people who encourage and support me on a regular basis. The world is full of both negativity and love. It doesn’t take long to determine which source a person is basing a relationship off of.
Identify the people who are loyal, even through hard times, and make efforts to spend your quality time with them. If you’re surrounded by vibrant, positive, loving energy, you’ll be much more likely to be in a healthy mental state to produce art. Still embrace all people- just be wary of the ones who don’t have your best interests at heart.
12) Own your awesomeness and celebrate victories
I’ll say it again, YOU ARE VALUABLE and YOU ARE AWESOME! It’s ok to be confident in your life and abilities. With a little self-assurance each day and with every success it gets easier, you have the power.
The world doesn’t hesitate for you to blossom, you have to dazzle with your actions each passing day. Make each move courageously and treat yo-self when the victories occur. Ask for help when you need it and don’t be afraid to act a fool here and there. Most importantly, always keep an open heart and mind, and place kindness over pride.
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