Art School Boot Camp: Redefining Success as an Artist | Christine Nishiyama | Skillshare

Art School Boot Camp: Redefining Success as an Artist

Christine Nishiyama, Artist at Might Could Studios

Art School Boot Camp: Redefining Success as an Artist

Christine Nishiyama, Artist at Might Could Studios

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4 Lessons (13m)
    • 1. Introduction

    • 2. What Is Your Definition of Success?

    • 3. Changing Your Definition of Success

    • 4. But What If You Never Get There?

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About This Class

In this installment of Art School Boot Camp, we’re looking at what it means to be “successful” as an artist. There are many different ways to define success in a creative career, and they’re often not as straightforward as a typical career. Here are a few definitions I’ve heard from others and said to myself over the years: I’ll be successful when…

  • My art can provide me a full salary
  • I can focus on my art as my full time job
  • My work gets published/sold


Here’s the thing about creative careers: there are no guarantees. You can pour your heart and soul into your art and never get recognized for it, much less paid for it. But, there’s something we can do about all this stress: we can change our definition of success as artists.


This idea of redefining success was one of the most impactful changes in my artistic life. It’s led to a lot less stress in my life, and allows me to feel more confident in myself as an artist, so let's jump in and talk about what success really is!



You can see more about Christine and her work at

Get weekly essays on creativity and art making here!

Hope to see you in there! :D

Meet Your Teacher

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Christine Nishiyama

Artist at Might Could Studios

Top Teacher

Hallo! I'm Christine Nishiyama, artist + founder of Might Could Studios.

I make books and comics, and I draw a whoooole lot. I've taught over 70,000 aspiring and established artists, helping them explore their art, gain more confidence, and discover their unique artistic styles.

I've been drawing as my full-time career for over 7 years. My core belief is that art is good and we should all make more of it. Might Could is here to uplift and challenge artists in the exploration and evolution of our unique artistic styles and voices.


 Join #mightcoulddrawtoday, my free weekly drawing challenge for a creative kick in tha booty!

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Christine Fleming, illustrator, [inaudible] Studios. In this installment of Art School Boot Camp, we're looking at what it means to be successful as an artist. There are many different ways to define success in a creative career and they're often not as straightforward as a typical career. Here are few definitions I've heard from others and said to myself over the years, "I'll be successful when my art can provide my full salary." "I'll be successful when I can focus on my art as my full-time job." Or, "I'll be successful when my work gets published or sold." Here's the thing about creative careers, there are no guarantees. You can pour your heart and soul into your art and never get recognized for it, much less, paid for it but there's something we can do about all this stress. We can change our definition of success as artists. This class may not seem like the most interesting topic but this idea of redefining success, has had a huge impact on my life as an artist. It's reduced a lot of stress in my career and also given me more confidence as an artist. For our class project, we're going to be sharing our old definitions of success and then writing new definitions of success based on the concepts covered here. Let's jump right in and start first by looking at all terrible mistakes and maybe a few breakthroughs, that I've met along the way. 2. What Is Your Definition of Success?: What is your definition of success? To give you a very basic synapses, my basic career timeline has gone like this over a period of about six years. First, I held multiple internships during college. After graduating, I worked as the lead graphic designer in a studio for a while. Then I went out on my own to become a freelance graphic designer. Then I decided I actually wanted to be an illustrator. Then I decided I actually wanted to write and illustrate children's books. From there, I decided that my definition of success was getting my book published. I had my definition of success and I set about achieving it. Fiction picture books seemed like where all the Illustrators I admired went, so that's what I focused on. I wrote and illustrated one picture book and thought it was the best thing that I had ever made. I sent it out to agents and publishers naively expecting to have so much interest that I would have to choose which publisher would get to win my book, and then nothing. No one even responded. It wasn't even good enough to get a, no thank you, not for us email. Of course, I spiraled out into an emotional wreck. This book was amazing, why could no one else see that? Was it actually terrible? Was I a terrible writer? A terrible illustrator? Should I just quit now and go back to graphic design? To be quite honest, this wallowing self-pity party went on for far too long. I was struggling internally to find my place as an artist, and the emotional and financial stress began to affect my personal life and relationships. I fought with my boyfriend a lot. My bank account dropped down to about a $100. I was making art but it wasn't any good. I was keeping everything to myself and wasn't sharing any of my art with anyone, and I cried a lot. I felt like I was a failure, that I had no purpose in life and that I was a completely unsuccessful illustrator because I hadn't fulfilled my soul definition of success, getting my book published. Here's the thing about a creative career, there are no guarantees. Most careers are made by the amount of time and effort you put into them. Work hard and do a good job, and you'll most likely be relatively successful. But a creative career does not follow the same rules, you can work harder than anyone else, pour your heart and soul into your books and never be published. Then at the same time, some random 20 year old from Oklahoma can pop out a novel and, she's on the bestseller list with her debut book. You really have no control over whether you will be successful as a creative person or not. It's a weird mix of discipline and luck, and it doesn't always make sense. But there is a solution to all of this, we can change our definition of success. 3. Changing Your Definition of Success: Changing your definition of success. There are a few different ways to define success. Here are a few that I've heard from others and said to myself over the years, I'll be successful when my art can provide my full salary, I'll be successful when I can focus on my art as my full-time job, and I'll be successful when I can get my work published or sold. First of all, you don't have to quit your day job to follow your dream and I don't recommend being financially dependent on your passion especially in the beginning stages of that passion. Maybe you'll be lucky and sell your screenplay, but most likely following your passion will be a lifelong affair that may or may not ever amount too much financially. Trust me, I went through that stage and it's not pretty. Something changes when you go from making art because you enjoy it to making art because it's how you pay for groceries. It goes from a hobby to a job, and making that transition too early can be fatal. When you're beginning your journey as an artist, your artwork needs room to breathe. So you have the freedom to explore and find out who you are as an artist. I went too fast into, I need this passion to provide for me mindset and jump straight into fiction picture books, thinking that devoting myself full time to my art from the get-go was the fastest route to getting my book published. But I was so narrowly focused on getting published that I wasn't exploring and experimenting as I should have been to find out where I belonged. When I received zero responses from publishers on my book, I could have very easily call myself a failure and given up all art-making just because I hadn't achieved my narrow definition of success, and I nearly did just that. But here's what I did instead. I stopped sending out my work to publishers. I started picking up freelance graphic design jobs and teaching on Skillshare, and I began making and saving money to build my bank account backup. Simultaneously, I put my beloved book in a drawer and forgot about it. I found comics and read every graphic novel I could get my hands on. I found non-fiction children's books and poured over them at the bookstore studying there every nuance. I began writing and illustrating new stories and exploring and experimenting with subjects, types of stories, and different ways to tell those stories. At the same time, I mentally changed my idea of success. I realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity to even explore all of this at all. I was able to read, and write, and draw almost every day while providing for myself through graphic design and Skillshare. What was so wrong with that? I wasn't any less of an artist because I made my income through graphic design and not picture books, and I wasn't any less of an artist because I was unpublished. I was an artist because I was making art. My definition of success changed from, "I will be successful as an artist when I get published, " to instead, "I will be successful as an artist when I can create art consistently." Guess what? That's exactly what I was doing. I was turning out more work than I ever had before. Even though I had to balance it with freelancing and teaching, and therefore, actually had less hours to make art. The time constraint made me value that time more and be more proactive in making art. A mental wall in my head had fallen, and I began creating art because I wanted to create art, not because I wanted to financially live off of it or be perceived as a real artist. The art was better. It was better than ever before, and I was finding out who I was, finding my style and my voice and getting more and more confident in every way. I was defining my success by things I could control like my dedication, instead of things I will never be able to control like being published. I was making tons of art and I was sharing that art with no expectations. I started posting my stories, illustrations, and comics online instead of hiding them away in my desk, and lo and behold, things began to happen. My stories began feeling more like me and improving with each and everyone. I began getting big editorial illustration jobs, my work started getting recognized and talked about, and finally, after three years of this, I revisited that old original book and realized how horrible it really was. Then with my new skills, new confidence, and a better grasp of who I was as an artist, I rewrote the entire book, changing it completely from a picture book to a middle grade graphic novel, from mostly fiction to mostly non-fiction, and from a poorly drawn confused book to a refined, true to my style book and that book is what landed me my agent, who's currently pitching that and other books to publishers. I still have the dream to be published, and I still work very hard to achieve that dream. But the difference is that now I have the long view instead of the short view, myself worth as an artist and as a person no longer hinges on getting published. My definition of success now is to be able to spend my whole life drawing and writing. If I can do that, then I will be a successful artist, and by that definition, I'm already successful. I'm able to write, and draw, and read every day, and I couldn't say that five years ago. I'm able to create art and explore and experiment with my art while being financially independent and secure. I no longer think that all of my income has to come directly from my art, and I no longer think that I have to be published to be a true writer, or that I have to win the Caldecott Medal to be a true children's book illustrator. My success comes from my devotion and dedication, not from external recognition by publishers or awards. 4. But What If You Never Get There?: But what if you never get there? Wait a minute, what if I don't ever get published? Won't I have wasted my whole life writing and illustrating stories that no one ever read or cared about? In Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, she tells this wonderful short story. I have a friend, an aspiring musician, whose sister said to her one day quite reasonably, ''What happens if you never get anything out of this? What happens if you pursue your passion forever, but success never comes? How will you feel then having wasted your entire life for nothing?" My friend with equal reason replied, ''If you can't see what I'm already getting out of this, then I will never be able to explain it to you." When something is really your passion and it really brings you so much joy and satisfaction and enhances your life the way real passions do, then you do it no matter what, and you do what you had to do to be able to keep doing it. I believe in myself and in my dream that one day my books will be published, but in the end, if I live to be an old lady who spent the bulk of her life making lots of stuff that no one ever bought, I'd still be happy with that life, a life full of making things that meant something to me. Making things that brought me joy, making things that constantly taught me about myself and the world, making things that fed my curiosity and helped me grow, and making things that allowed me to live in that transcendent flow state of mind for as much as possible while still providing for myself, I'd say that would be a pretty successful life.