A Day in the Life of an Artist

artist

He has baby-blue eyes, a soothing voice, and a mind filled with detailed imagery of illustrations that evoke a sense of the uncanny. The young and charming David Griessel is an upcoming young artist who has found a way to break through South Africa’s highly competitive art industry.

Originally from Bloemfontein, the now Cape Town-based artist specialises in drawings of stygian beasts and depicting the grotesque. His inner artist was born when, as a 6-year old, he watched The Never Ending Story which captured his imagination. David says he doesn’t really remember what the movie was about, but he clearly recalls the crab-demon monsters and their terrifying appearance. It germinated his creations of nightmarish illustrations and drawings, and ever since he started with these drawings, he has become completely hooked.

At school – or as David describes it, at “the horrible crucible of domination, anxiety, and manipulation we call school,” he was what he calls “the slightly shy and creepy kid who could draw cool stuff, like aliens, dragons, knights, angels, and scantily clad women.” Art and the creative process got David through his bad experience with school and kept him sane. In honour of his muse, he decided to pursue a degree in Fine Art and graduated in 2012.

Not knowing where to exhibit his art at first, David started to showcase his work on the sidewalk outside a restaurant in Bloemfontein, and his art quickly started to see a growth in popularity. Since then, his exhibition spaces have improved and he now works as a full-time artist and illustrator in a Cape Town studio flat.

Please give us an idea of a typical day looks like in your arty life?

Time of Day Activity Comments
06: 30 Wake, eat breakfast, shower etc. Cereal and 2 cups of coffee
07: 30 Draw Usually a commission
12: 30 Lunch Usually has tuna in it.
13: 30 Draw Still working on the same commission or perhaps starting something new.
17: 00 Walk the dog or just get some fresh air at a coffee shop It’s important to get out of the studio at least once a day. Avoids madness.
18: 30 Dinner with girlfriend Always look forward to this!
20:00 Draw No comment…
22:30 Read story book to my girlfriend Currently working our way through Urusla le Guin’s Earthsea novels. Favorite time of day.
23: 30 Sleep Finally!
02:00 Dream of success and fame Yip, pretty sad.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The fact that I work for myself is immensely satisfying.  Nobody is breathing down my neck or regulating my activities. I have complete autonomy. I also enjoy seeing the positive impact my art has on people and the way art can break the mundanity of day-to-day life.   

What do you enjoy least?

To make ends meet, one often needs to draw stuff one isn’t keen on doing.  Only well-established artists never have to do commission work. I often design tattoos, posters or do commissions for which I have to draw stuff that doesn’t completely satisfy my artistic needs. But at least it’s easy money!

Is there a qualification required to perform this job? Where and what did you study?

Studying art is completely optional.  I studied for a BA Fine Art degree at the University of The Free State, but the more I think about it, the more I come to realise that I could have learned most of the techniques I use by myself.  Also most of the theoretical aspects, which are compulsory in a Fine Arts degrees, are a load of time-wasting crap. 

Is there any training provided by the organization once you come on board?

Since I am completely freelance-based I have to train myself. I read a lot of art books and follow artists’ blogs and websites on the Internet.

What type of person would be well suited to this job?

Broadly speaking one must have creativity, a strong work ethic, resilience and curiosity. Since I am a studio-based artist specialising in drawing techniques, I have to spend many hours working on my own, so a solitary disposition is quite important.

How long have you been in this position and how did you get there?

I have been an artist for 2 and half years now. I got here by saying to myself one day, “I am an artist now.” So I got here myself.

Do you have any additional advice for someone interested in pursuing this career?

The best advice I can give is to never give up. Being an artist isn’t easy, but if you keep on working hard and pursuing opportunities, things will probably get better… probably.

Is there anyone else in the industry that you would recommend a young artist to speak to?

Speak to as many local artists as possible. We love talking about ourselves, so you can get a lot of info this way.

What is a typical starting salary in this career field?

It really depends from artist to artist. Each career is quite unique. At the start (2013) I earned about R 5000 a month.  Since then my earnings have more than doubled. Some months I can earn up to R 25 000, but usually that is only if I have a solo exhibition, which sells well.

Any quirky advice for scholars looking to pursue a career in your field?

Do not expect to get rich and never compare your earnings and lifestyle with those of others – get satisfaction from the fact that you are following a career which is completely unique.

EduConnect 2cents

It really doesn’t matter what you set out to do – if you want to be successful, you need to be dedicated to your passion, your desire, and whatever it is that you want to achieve. You will face moments of defeat, insecurity, perhaps even doubt of whether you are following the right path – but those are tests you need to pass. The legacy of the famous Vincent van Gogh tells us, “If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

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