Advice for Young Artists from Steve Sherrell

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Painter and Retired JJC Professor, Steve Sherrel’s “Chimera.” (Photo Courtesy of Steve Sherrell)

Madelynn Prieboy, Phoenix Staff Writer

Success is different for everybody, but typically wealth and a career in one’s field of study is an image of success. For aspiring artists this is a source of concern, as finding a job with an art degree can prove difficult. Last Wednesday, Nov. 25,  Steve Sherrell, a Chicago artist who has been creating since the 1970s, gave GSU art students some helpful tips in a virtual lecture. Having a BFA, an MFA, and being Professor Emeritus at Joliet Junior College, Sherrell was a wealth of encouraging knowledge. 

Sherell began by reminding students of the most important aspect of art: the creation. Artists must have a space for making their works and “the studio is where you make your art,” said Sherrell. “The studio is a place for work so it needs to be set up for you to work.”  

 Though the struggle of have a temporary studio, such as in the living room or the kitchen, was not unknown to him, he urged students to understand the importance of space. As a career painter who fused traditional work with digital work, Sherell uses a hefty amount of work and computer space in his own studio.  

 “Artists are always needing storage space,” Sherell noted, a truth any artist can attest to. Organizing and dedicating a small area to storing and creating can make a world of a difference in a living space, especially for artists who do not have access to a separate studio. This will give creators comfort and order to help them consistently create their works.  

Sherrell explained that having a website and active social media are great for networking with other artists and gallery owners in the art world. “Websites are really critical for you as an artist,” he said. “You can control what is in it, and it is concise and finished so that people can easily access your work.”  

Sherell volunteers as the art director for Water Street Studios, a nonprofit art center in Batavia. As an artist, he has also had the experience of working to get his art into galleries. Sherell explained that when art directors and gallery owners look for artists to feature, they will scope out artists’ websites.  

“A lot of commercial galleries don’t want you to contact them and reach out to enter their gallery in a show,” he said. “They want to find you. So young artists need to network.” Sherell mentioned getting involved in the local art scene by visiting galleries and art museums and socializing with the people there is a great way to be seen by art directors and galleries. 

 Because this may not be possible because of the current pandemic, Sherrell suggested that artists become active on social media. “Friend artists on social media and friend their friends,” he said.  

Sherrell also explained that establishing oneself in the art world is a task that takes time and hard work. “I was in school ‘til I was almost 30,” Sherell said. “You get out of school and then you don’t have a place to go. I cleaned restaurants, was a bus driver, a hotel clerk.” After years of work and patience Sherrell got his first adjunct teaching job, and then later became a full time professor.  

The fear of having to work outside of an art degree is pretty much the reality for most artists. It is not a degree chosen because it would yield great wealth, but success is self-defined. Working hard to get into that show, making sure where you make is a place where creativity can flourish, and having confidence that what you do brings you joy is what might be artists’ idea of success.  

More information on Steve Sherrell and his artworks can be viewed on his website, stevesherrell.com