PK 012: Michael Grills on Why Chasing Fame Won’t Make You a Better Artist

PK 012: Michael Grills on Why Chasing Fame Won’t Make You a Better Artist 2 podcast mike grills 01

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One of the unique portraits created by Michael Grills

Artist Michael Grills has developed a unique portrait style and has an endless list of glowing testimonials from happy clients. Yet, he’s never tried to chase fame and puts his success down to hard work and staying true to doing what he loves.

His story begins back in high school, when he got his first gig painting a mural aged just 16. After that, he went on to art school before becoming a video games artist for Bioware and working on a wide range of best-selling titles.
Everything was going well, but it took the birth of his children to make Michael re-asses his life and his art career. Having decided to make the move back to his native Calgary, he set himself up as a freelance illustrator and began developing the unique style of work that you see today.

Although he’s since gone back into the workplace, he still maintains a balance between producing work for other people and his own projects. His story is an inspiring one, which reflects the very real struggles most artists face when trying to market their work and generate a decent income from their creativity.

How Did Michael Develop His Unique Portrait Style?

While working as a video games artist, Michael devoted his time to mastering rendering and composition. At the time, not many other artists were doing this, so Michael saw this as his chance to establish himself as one of the best in this field.

However, despite throwing himself into this challenge and enjoying it, there was a nagging feeling in the back of Michael’s mind: He’d never be truly happy until he broke out of his comfort zone, developed his own unique style and started producing the work he really wanted to make.

Luckily, some downtime at work meant he was able to start work on achieving his dream. When Adobe made huge changes to Illustrator, its industry-standard vector drawing software, Michael found a new and exciting outlet for his creativity. He discovered he could combine his Photoshop working methods (such as layers and rendering), with the precision of geometric shapes and subtle color transitions.

He began working on a sketch which eventually turned into his first finished painting in this new style. Michael worked on this piece constantly; obsessing over the marks he was making and putting everything he could into it. However, instead of feeling drained by this intensive process, Michael felt revitalized and eager to start the next painting. It was at this moment that he knew he was onto something big.

He proceeded to start work on some large-scale portraits of his family, putting his new-found direction into practice and loving every minute of it. Rather than feeling forced to create something, he was now liberated and producing the work he loved. And it showed. The subsequent exhibition was a huge success, and Michael knew he’d made the right decision.

What’s Michael’s Advice For Artists?

In Michael’s opinion, too many up-and-coming artists think more about fame and recognition than their own art. He feels that every artist needs to think more about the reasons behind why they make art and concentrate instead on how to market themselves effectively.

He explains: “Fame isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. If all you’re concerned about is winning awards and becoming famous, you’ll lose sight of what really matters to you as an artist. And, it’s important to remember that you’ll still have to hustle just as hard to find work.”

Michael’s speaking from experience, because he’s had first-hand knowledge of what can happen when those dreams of fame get in the way of carving out a sustainable career as a successful artist. His dad is an accomplished guitarist who joined in a band in the 60s.

His band started to take off and it looked like the big time was calling. Michael’s dad hung out with rockstars and started to think seriously about living the dream. However, it was only when his band was on the verge of signing a record deal that he was brought back down to Earth with a bump. His bandmates had joined for fun and didn’t want to take it any further. They jumped ship, leaving him to abandon his dream of fame and go back to being a regular guy.

Michael’s father could have become a professional musician. He could have gone to college, learned how to read music, and form the foundations of a lasting career. However, his early thirst for fame caused him to run before he could walk. He had the big dreams, but he hadn’t thought about how he could use his natural talent for a more enduring career in music.

Treat Every Gig as Your Number 1 Priority

Michael says: “No matter how big or small the project, your current client is the most important thing. You need to blow their minds with the work you produce for them, so get on the phone and promote it to people. Remember to keep your career moving!”

“Don’t worry about winning awards or getting into Spectrum at first. Instead, worry about getting into art school and perfecting your skills!”

Michael is a huge believer in treating your art career as a business. He loves to read about art continuously, but every second book he reads is a business title about marketing yourself. He explains: “I think about art and business every day, but I never think about fame!”

He re-entered the workplace because he says the time and stress associated with looking for new projects was starting to get in the way of making art. Now, he does his regular work in the week and balances this by producing his own work at weekends.

Although he seems to have found the perfect formula, Michael says there’s still one area of art he’d love to pursue. He’s a huge fan of street art and Banksy, and says he’d love to work on a mural in the near future. Let’s hope he gets to do this real soon!

Listen to this week’s show and learn:

  • Why it’s more important to focus on your skills rather than fame
  • How to find the right balance and make the art you really want to
  • Why making it as an artist isn’t about winning awards

People on this Episode:


Mentioned in the episode:

Michael’s Website
Michael on Twitter
Michael on Google +
Michael on LinkedIn

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