Interview With Joelle Steele

Photo of Carmel Beach by Joelle Steele

Career Dialogue with Joelle Steele
Commercial/Graphic Artist

Occupational Outlook and Training Directory for Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz Counties, 2001

You have to learn from your mistakes and accept criticism from others. You can't afford to be hurt every time someone doesn't publish your work or wants you to change it. -- Joelle Steele

OOTD: What do you say when someone asks you, "what do you do for a living?"
JS: I usually tell them that I am an artist and a writer.
OOTD: What are some of the jobs you've had throughout your career?
JS: I've had a lot of jobs, actually. I worked in an advertising agency as an illustrator, I've owned a recording studio, I've been a VP of marketing for a book publisher, and I've been self-employed as a publisher of books and periodicals. I've also been an interior designer and landscape designer, and I've done a lot of freelance writing and art.
OOTD: Is it feasible to consider art as a way of making a living? If so, why and what should one expect?
JS: Absolutely. Art is like any other job. You have to have the skills and the knowledge to do it. As far as what you expect, it has to do with what you put into it, just like anything else. You go to school, keep up on the latest things, have good people skills, and work on everything else you would normally do to be successful in other enterprises.
OOTD: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an artist?
JS: That would be up to the individual. I don't see it as having any particular advantages or disadvantages. I think that the work style of every person is going to be a little different. I like to work from home, and so since most of my work is done at home, it works for me. Of course, if you're not disciplined it could work against you. Also, if your job is a social center for you, or if you want benefits and what not, being a self-employed/freelance artist may not be for you.
OOTD: Describe the tools you use for your job and why they are important.
JS: There are so many tools! I'm usually painting in watercolors or acrylics, using pen and ink, or I'm doing pencil or charcoal. That means I have a wide variety of writing implements, brushes, paper, sharpeners, mat cutters, light tables (tracing tables), and I even use a small hair dryer. And nowadays, in order to be able to transmit my art to whoever wants it at any given time, I have a scanner, a computer, and the necessary software so that I can transmit it by E-mail to whoever wants it.
OOTD: What knowledge, skills, and abilities do you believe are the most important to succeed as an artist in your field?
JS: To me, to succeed in any field requires the same things. You have to be focused, disciplined, you have to know your craft, and you have to have good people skills. You cannot create art in a garret. That's a nonsensical, romantic notion. It's a business and especially so if you say you're a freelancer. You're self-employed. You need to keep records and stay on top of things like that. You can't leave it all to an agent or a representative to manage your business. You can have them help and guide you, but in the end, you are the one who has to make all of the decisions about what that person does for you. So learning some basic business skills is important. You have to be able to learn from your mistakes and to accept criticism from other people. You can't afford to go around and be hurt every time someone doesn't publish your work or wants you to change it. And, you also have to be tactful in dealing with people. You have to have a lot of people skills to explain, interpret what they want, be able to say "no" if they're asking for too much ... you have to be able to take control, but you have to do it in a kind and sensitive way.
OOTD: Can a person be taught to be a good artist?
JS: I think every person who wants to be an artist does have to be taught to be a good artist. You might be born or nurtured with an aesthetic sense, but to become an artist means that you have the training and techniques and the use of the materials of your choice to create your art. Otherwise, you may have an aesthetic sense but it's never developed. You might become a historian or a collector, but not an artist.
OOTD: How do you promote yourself and your art?
JS: Referrals, yellow pages, and about a third comes from direct mail marketing.
OOTD: What attracted you to this type of work? What keeps you wanting to do it?
JS: It's not like there's anything that originally attracted me to it; I've been doing art since I was about 5. But, I enjoy the materials themselves. I like the feel of the paper, the movement of the brush, the creaminess of the paint, the scratching of the pen on the paper, and the way a pencil goes against the tooth of a piece of paper. And I love the aesthetics of art; I could look at art all day and never be bored.
OOTD: How did you prepare yourself for this occupation? What is your advice for new or struggling artists?
JS: I've had a lot of private instruction, college courses, and workshops, and I read. I keep myself educated. The only magazines I subscribe to are art magazines. And I've been on a computer since 1983, so I've kept up on technology. The rest of it is practice. It's nice to have all the knowledge, but to really be prepared to do something you have to be constantly doing it and practicing. Art is like any other career. You learn things, you develop your skills, you practice, and you learn from your mistakes. I really don't like the term "struggling artist," because it gives an unfair image to artists in general. People then think artists are struggling on their way to get somewhere. But I think if you have to struggle, there's something wrong. There's no reason to be struggling at art or any other creative endeavor. If you are, you need to figure out what's wrong so you can focus on what it is you really want to do.