I miss Kel! I would love to come back around to his quiet steadfastness. I’d also love to explore Nissa/Moya riverboat adventures, Faris’ distant past stories, and more Dibs and Livy all the time always!
Wow- good question. And a hard one to answer- I can’t give much more than my own anecdotal experience, and that’s all from the perspective of having attended an art school and benefitted from it.
I do truly believe that the most important aspects of your ability to “make it” as an artist are skill (I wouldn’t say talent, because I believe a lot of it is learned and practiced), drive, and the ability to network.
If your skills are up to snuff, then your portfolio will speak for itself. This field is, unfortunately, not a meritocracy- I wish I could say only the most qualified land jobs- but sometimes they don’t, and it’s baffling. What I will say is that honing your skill and having a killer portfolio is the single biggest thing you can do to control your chances.
That said, drive and networking are important. Drive, because you will need it on the days you don’t feel inspired. You will need to want this hard enough to keep at it despite discouragements from others.
Networking is a bigger piece than most people talk about- for me, the art school experience was a huge boon, but it’s not the only way to do it well. You have to be personable; have a mind to market yourself and put your work in front of people and be approachable and pleasant while you do. People will respond to how you make them feel- and that will determine a lot of whether you do or don’t land work in the long run- you can have all the talent and the drive in the world, but if you are an unpleasant person then you will have a hard time connecting with work (no matter what field you’re in). My experience at RISD was formative for me, but so was my experience at comic cons- many of the best jobs I’ve landed have been the result of bringing my portfolio and some snazzy business cards with me to cons and shopping it around. There are ways to build a network of creative friends and coworkers without having to pay for art school. Even the internet is a HUGE tool and a gamechanger- tumblr, twitter, deviantart, and behance have all contributed in one way or another to any success I have had. We’re actually part of an age where, more than ever, the ability to get your work and name out there is in your hands with a minimum of gatekeepers preventing you from doing so.
I think it’s really important to talk about that last piece, because it’s a huge part of an artist’s career and you don’t actually have to shell out a college tuition to make it happen.
Don’t despair- if you want this and you have the skills you can actually make this thing happen. I can’t promise that it will all work out (hell, you guys remember 38 Studios? Sometimes things just go sour), but it is far from hopeless. Art on!