Being a visual artist

 21 June 2013

Kristian Evju has successfully built a career as an artist. He is best known for his collectible pencil drawings. He shares his experience and offers 5 tips to fellow artists on improving their craft.

"I asked a lot of questions. You must ‘persist’ in your own way." Image: Kristian Evju.

Becoming an artist

Kristian Evju has learned key lessons from his time as a student at the Edinburgh College of Art, as well as from his experience working as a freelance artist.

“A lot of students think that they are not an artist until they graduate. I believe that even as a student, you’re an artist. Your education only helps you to refine your style.

"Place a value on your artwork and understand that art exists within an art market.”

“I would encourage students to take advantage of opportunities while they study. You don’t need to wait for your end of year showcase to meet people, collaborate and get involved in the art scene.”

Kristian followed his own advice and, in his second year of university, he curated a show in Norway featuring 12 new artists.

“I felt that I was empowering myself by doing the show. I approached businesses, colleges and the Norwegian Embassy for sponsorship to make it happen. If you don’t try, you won’t succeed.”

Getting inspiration to make art

When it comes to creating ideas for artistic pieces, Kristian believes that the process of inspiration is a circular one. The artist creates the art, and the art inspires the artist to create.

“I might start a project by looking at concepts. This could mean I use other artistic sources to inspire me. For example, I’ve used free association to gather meaningful words.

“Then there’s the slow process of finding images to compliment these words. The overall idea evolves as I discover more information. In the end, I’ll have the complete foundation for my series.

“But this process can work the other way around, where I’ll get the idea first. For example, I decided that my ‘memoirs’ series should show my interpretation of dreams entering into visual reality.

“I started with that title, and I went through hundreds of images before I found the right ones. It started as something from nothing.”

Creating a piece of art

"The most important contacts you can have are other artists and technicians."

Kristian’s artwork is made up of collaging images, from existing images that he collects through different media sources, and incorporating them in new unique compositions.

"By combining different media sources in my work, such as magazine clippings and digital images, I can make something that hasn't been created before.

“I use something that already exists, break it down and reconstruct it differently. In this way, the final piece originates from society, but the artist can own the idea by shaping the broken parts.”

However, Kristian didn’t originally like collage, beliveing cutting and pasting images was impersonal. He recommends finding a way that works for you.

“I’m doing my work by pencil and paper, so I can show more of my passion in the end result. Make your work more challenging, and you’ll be more stimulated to work."

Using space in artwork

Kristian compares the way an artist deals with space to the way a curator works with space.

“A curator makes choices about how to set up 3D objects in an empty space. An artist figures out how to set up 2D objects on a page.

“They both want to show the different elements in the best possible light. They may choose to show different angles, highlight key pieces prominently or remove things from the scene.

“For me, it feels like the paper is bright white space. Be bold with your dark shadows. There are no rules – it’s more about finding a balance between light and dark.

“There’s always a risk of adding too much and crowding the drawing. Absence is a powerful tool. It contrasts against what is present, and makes you think about what is missing.”

Appealing to the art market

“You should place a value on your artwork and understand that art exists within an art market,” Kristian says, “otherwise you deny the financial side of being an artist.

"Even a viewer misunderstanding your work could lead to an interesting conversation.”

“Saying that, don’t lose sight of why you started making artwork in the first place. Make art that you’re interested in. If you’re not interested in it, why would anybody else be? 

"For me, the real value comes from being able to communicate this to other people. "

Artists also need to consider how they price their art. Kristian says that pricing should be a reflective process, based on your experience.

“After I curated the Norway show, I did my degree show and I sold all of my drawings at £250 per piece. The attractiveness of my work increased as I participated in more shows, won more awards and got more recognition.

“Three months later, I decided to triple the price for the same pieces. I believe that you should only increase your prices if your CV has improved.”

The artist is as important as the art

Kristian finds that some people are scared to approach the artist at their own show.

“This shows me that artists are still seen as otherworldly beings, who can't be questioned. Being polite and open about your work helps to encourage conversations.

“Don’t worry about trying to get media coverage. Focus on communicating your ideas through your work. If your work is good and you're passionate, your conversation may lead to further opportunities or a sale.

"I would never explain my work. I am much happier if the work triggers something in the viewer and activates their own thoughts.

"Even a viewer misunderstanding your work could lead to an interesting conversation.”

How can artists improve their craft?

1. Invite feedback

"Get your friends to comment on your work, and any critics you know to write about your work. It gives you feedback about what viewers' reactions are like."

2. Take a leap of faith

"When I finished my BA, I didn’t have money or shows to help me. I chose to believe that if I made good work, it would sell."

3. Take advantage of artist awards

"Make opportunities for yourself by applying to art competitions and awards. Some to look out for are the Jerwood Drawing Prize and the Threadneedle Prize."

4. Build your network

"The most important contacts you can have are other artists and technicians. They know people that you could meet or who want to collaborate. Artists need to get over the idea that other artists are competition and trust that their work is good."

5. Ask questions

"I asked a lot of questions. You must persist in your own way. It’s key to keep making work."


What's your most useful piece of advice to an artist?

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