I'm often asked for advice for young artists who want a career making art. I have miles of advice, not all of it good, but it's what I've got. I was asked this recently, and I was trying to remember some points I'd made in an email a while back. Here's that email, with a few edits to make it more universal...
First of all, let me say, even if your stuff isn't GREAT, you've got time and potential and you can go far. Don't give up before you've even started.
Don't let other artists' successes get you down and just as importantly, don't allow your successes get others down. We're all pretty much in this together. People you think are your competition often turn out to be your greatest friends and resources. They're probably going through the same struggles you are.
If you feel isolated where you are, move. Or use that Facebook page to connect and create a community. But don't just hide behind a desk, or a webpage, leave the house and meet people. No one – let me repeat, no one – is coming to beat your door down because they've heard of your epic, legendary reputation as an artist.
Make sure your spelling and grammar are tight, if some big shot emails you and they get a bad impression from your language skills, that's not good. The next email you get could be from someone at Nike that wants to you design sneakers. Make sure they know you are a total pro. Keep your emails short and proofread them before sending them.
Make art for your friends and family. Give it away to strangers, the good will and positive feedback feel great. And that feeling is a great motivator.
Do other stuff. Play music, write, do sports. These other activities relieve a lot of stress if you're turning an art-hobby into your main work. If you have success, this thing you love will grow into a thing that stresses you out. Have other outlets.
Find a pencil or pen or brush that you love, whether it's the brand, the style, or the actual tool. This is now your sword. Practice with it every day. If it's not serving you well, find a new, better sword! And when you are so comfortable with it that you could cut down a samurai (or draw one!) without so much as raising an eyebrow, you may discover that any new weapons you come across are a welcome fit in your skilled hand.
Make time every day to work at your craft. Work in a medium that you love so much that you enjoy looking at the surface even when it's not finished.
For a short while-- seek out and take every shitty art job that comes along, cd covers, t-shirts, small local businesses, bars, anything. You'll get used and abused, but you'll learn how to make do with your own resources; you'll learn what people want from you; you'll learn what you can offer; you'll see how people will try to take advantage of you. Don't let any of these jobs take over your life, they are a learning experience only.
Success in art is a two-way street. You can bust your ass making the "perfect" art, but if it's not what people want, then it's not going to meet with success. Only half of the job of "making it" is actually making the work look good. The other half is finding/creating your audience. Your audience, not just any audience. Yours.
The last thing is, if all else fails, it's no big deal. There's no shame in not "making it". I know plenty of great artists, who turned out to be even better dads, songwriters, glassblowers, writers, etc, etc. This is your one go-round on this planet – enjoy it.