ericamerylthomas [at] gmail [dot] com

Added on by Erica Thomas.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of visiting with a class of Portland State University undergrads as part of the Career Paths coLAB panel and lecture series. Taka Yamamoto, Walker Cahall and Kathryn Cellerini Moore are a stellar set of artists, the class was so generous with their questions and their energy. I was honored to be invited.

As part of our contribution, the facilitator asked us each to say what advice we have for students just entering into their practice. There were a lot of bits of advice thrown around, but a lot of it involved keeping a professional presence and following up. So, here I am! If any of you from class come poking around, I'm distilling my advice for you here. Feel free to reach out.




Relentlessly study what you are most excited about. Become an expert in something that isn’t art.

Meet people. Ask the ones you like to work together with you, or ask if you can work for them. Ask them for their opinions. Listen. Take their advice, when it feels right.

Practice the skills that you can get paid for. Use them for other activities that you love when you are not working.

Make trades with other artists, form alliances. Stay cooperative, not competitive.

Do work that aligns with your values. Revisit your values often and check to see if you still agree with them. Create a statement that you align with and do your best to us it as a filter when a project comes through.

Ask yourself what you are doing, who you are doing it for and what each person is getting out of the project. If you don't like the answers, look for ways to change them, or change the context. Ask yourself, who has the power? Pay attention to your answer.

Especially in the beginning, don’t be too hard on yourself for doing what you need to do to get by. (i.e. When you need to break your rules to pay the rent, break the rules. But pay attention to how often you're doing it. Work toward sticking to them more and more.)

Jobs are created to extrapolate your value. Working for yourself is hard, but working for other people is usually harder.

Document your work. Do it however you can. Write about it, photograph it, draw it, video record it. This will give you time to reflect on your practice. Look for opportunities to show/share it.

Practice writing about your work. Develop an artist statement. Write it again. Write it again.

Self-legitimize. If you want an opportunity give it to yourself. Decide you are the thing you want to be. Practice telling other people. 

Create the community you desire to be part of. Invite other people in. Bond with them. Help each other.

All jobs are temporary.

If you are doing all of these things, something will eventually happen for you that really gets you started working as an artist. So leave a little space in your schedule to say yes, or drop a project/job to make time, when that good thing comes through for you. 

Nobody is going to give you your dream job. You have to give it to yourself.