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5 Important Lessons on Being an Artist from The Artist

Lessons Artist Prince

Often, we don’t gain full appreciation of something or someone until it is gone. In the weeks since the death of Prince, I have realized something: “The Artist” was a rare advocate for and inspiration to someone like me: a young black female artist. Or anyone who is one or a combination of these things. There are some important lessons that Prince’s life exemplified. Lessons that can be useful to an aspiring, emerging, or maturing artist alike. Let me explain…

By Penner, Wikimedia Creative Commons.


When it comes to self-confidence, it seems that people either have too much or too little. Overconfidence makes you an egotistical asshole. Too little confidence means that you are soft and weak. Now, I didn’t know Prince personally, so maybe he was a jerk. I have no idea (although I’d like to think that he was the coolest guy ever). However, as a creative person, confidence was one of the things that made him great. Think about the first few well-known, self-made artists/designers/musicians that pop into your head. Chances are these people have/had a ton of faith in their abilities and really think/thought they were the shit. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t know as much about them.

“A strong spirit transcends rules.”

– Prince

The hard truth is that to “make it” as an artist or designer, you have to have faith in your abilities. Lack of confidence can not only lessen your chances of making a living from your work. It can also increase your chances of being taken advantage of by others. Prince knew—for much, if not all of his career—that he was an incredible musician. He didn’t necessarily say it publicly, but it was pretty evident in his music and the way he presented himself. His strong sense of character and talent permitted him to maintain creative freedom, control the rights to his work, and build a strong, loyal fanbase (of which I am proud to be a part).

LESSON 1 : Confidence in your abilities and knowledge is the first step to building a career as an artist and the key to maintaining that career.


Prince’s confidence made it much easier for him to be his crazy self and get away with it. Prince initially had some pretty obvious influences: James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Earth, Wind & Fire, just to name a few. His early hits strongly reflected these influences. Over time, he came more into his own, as most artists do. With the confidence in his ability to sing, play instruments, and write songs, Prince was better equipped to experiment with sound, developing a genre that was uniquely his. Although he changed his sound with each new album/identity/hairstyle/outfit, you can always pick out a Prince song from others in the bunch. He coined a way of being that drew others to him and his music.

When it comes to style development, artists should keep this in mind. You can emulate and replicate those you admire, but it is finding your own means of expression that will get you noticed and respected. Fill your “inspiration bucket” with a range of influences. Be patient as your research, ideas, and trials work themselves out over time. As you find your so-called style, you become more confident in yourself and your work. You start to care less and less about what the haters say. Instead, you focus more on constructive feedback and being true to yourself.

LESSON 2 : Your means of expression (a.k.a. “style”) is developed over time, by examining a range of influences, experimenting with many methods, and maintaining confidence in your abilities.

3 : Learning

In addition to recognizing your influences and exploring new ways of making, continuous learning is a big part of sustaining creativity. This doesn’t mean you need to go back to school or take classes. It simply requires being open to new ideas and experiences. Recognizing advances in your field and adjusting (or rebelling) accordingly. Studying history: what worked, what failed, and what is still developing. Really, Prince explains it pretty well:

“The key to longevity is to learn every aspect of music that you can.”

– Prince

For me, teaching has been a great way to ensure that I keep learning. Although I am tasked with teaching others, my students open my eyes to new perspectives. I am required to keep up with the latest technology and trends. It seems that Prince had much of the same approach. He worked with many other artists, many of whom were at the beginning or middle of their careers. As he helped establish these singers and musicians, his own music would evolve. Learning and growing never ceased.

LESSON 3 : Never stop learning (‘nuff said).


If you come up with a brilliant idea, there can be this limbo between wanting to share the idea with the world and to protect it from moochers. Prince has been known to adjust ticket prices and add shows to his tours to ensure that fans get the tickets—not scalpers or second-parties. In a similar vein, his history of name-changes—from “Prince” to “the Love Symbol” to “the Artist” to “Prince” again—was about control. Prince had concern for two things: the integrity of his music and loyalty to his fans. His choice to use a symbol rather than his name was his way of rebelling against his music label. He also gained control of when and how his music was released.

“Like books and black lives, albums matter.”

– Prince

I remember when Prince changed over to “the Love Symbol”: the female and male symbols melded together to form an undefined term. It was both cool and crazy. One minute, he had a name and the next, he had a mark. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned about Prince’s true reasons for the change. After giving several lectures on plagiarism and copyright law for artists and designers, I get it. No matter why you are producing work or who you are making it for, you should always maintain some type of control over the things you make. Prince took it to the extreme, but the premise of the action is a valuable lesson.

LESSON 4 : Keep control over your ideas and protect your work. Make sure you maintain some degree of rights over the work you produce.


People question a lot of things about Prince. Was he gay? Why did he straighten his hair? Why did he sing about sex all the time? There are many questions that will be left unanswered. I feel like Prince would want it to stay that way. Despite all this, Prince had pretty clear convictions for the respect and uplifting of others. In particular, Prince was an advocate for women and people of color.

Much of Prince’s music describes his love and elevation of the feminine. He worked with and was surrounded by talented women, his latest being the all-female band, 3rd Eye Girl. He wrote for and launched the careers of many impressive female singers and musicians. Outside the spotlight, Prince started, promoted, and maintained initiatives to help those in his community, particularly black youth. As Jason Johnson of The Root explains, “He played up his ambiguity when it came to sexuality and race, but he loved his blackness and black people.”

All of this to say that, despite what others thought of him, Prince addressed and fought for the things he believed in. He allowed his convictions to be exposed in his work. I would argue that this was key to his longevity as an artist. I know from my own experiences that having a purpose to my work drives my motivation, allows me to create more interesting work, and builds stronger connections to my audience. The work becomes more than just making something that looks pretty; it has a reason for existing.

LESSON 5 : Having a cause or purpose behind your work increases the meaning behind it and sustains your motivation to continue making impactful work.

Lessons from a Life well-lived

I hate that I will never get to see Prince perform in person. But then again, I didn’t need to see him in concert to know how much of an impact he had on people, myself included. I not only love his music—I am inspired by his passion for life and his craft. All of us creatives can benefit from these lessons Prince left behind.

Your turn

Have you found inspiration in the life of your favorite artist? What lessons have your learned from your idol?

The Best Logo Designs are Not Cheap (and here’s why)

Logo Design Not Cheap

I get asked about logo designs all the time, both at my full-time job and on a freelance basis. Last year, I wrote thoughtful, beautifully-designed proposals for three different branding projects. In all three cases, the potential clients flaked out after seeing the numbers. SO. FRUSTRATING.

Now, I will admit that I raised my rates last year. But that was after I realized that I had been charging way too little for logo and identity designs. A tough lesson, but live and learn, right?1

Whether you are a designer or a potential client, understanding the value in graphic design will take you very far. Designers: you will get paid what your designs are worth. Clients: you will receive an identity that is completely tailored to your business model, industry, and goals. It’s a win-win, people (I hate that phrase, but it’s actually appropriate here).

So gather ‘round, y’all. Let us count down the top 5 reasons why logo designs should NOT be cheap.

5 : A designer’s gotta eat.

Design supplies
Photo by Jo Szczepanska (Unsplash.com).

I hear it so often: “I wish I were creative like you. I can barely draw a stick figure!” First off, everyone is creative in their own way (i.e. you don’t have to be “artistic” to be creative).2 Secondly, as much as designers like making stuff, most of us aren’t making logos because it’s our life’s passion. We’re smart. We’re talented. We know what what the f*** we’re talking about. Most importantly, we are doing a job. Rent, car payments, student loans, FOOD. The cost of daily living adds up fast. Yes, designers are fortunate in that we get to use our talents as part of our occupation. But graphic design is just that: an occupation. #FreelanceIsntFree, y’all.

4 : You get what you pay for.

Get the best you can afford.
Photo by Alejandroes Camilla (Unsplash.com).

There are several articles already on the interwebs that explain why Fiverr and other design bidding sites are the devil (I suggest reading this article by the AIGA and this one from The Logo Factory.) Therefore, I won’t go into too much detail about those sites and the type of “business” they perform. Instead, I will offer an analogy:

  • You go to a low-price shoe store that always has a sale and buy a pair of shoes. The shoes look nice, but they don’t hold up very well; they begin to fall apart after a couple of months. Plus, since they were on sale, you see TONS of other people wearing the exact same shoes.
  • Next, you go to a department store and decide to spend a bit more on some shoes. You like the style—they are more unique than your previous kicks. Still, they are super-trendy and you see a lot of people with shoes that aren’t exactly like yours, but close. Nonetheless, the shoes are comfortable and fairly well-made, so they fit the bill for a year or so.
  • Finally, you say, “Enough of this mess! I need some REAL shoes!” You decide to splurge on some custom shoes. The shoe maker carefully measures your feet and gauges the type of look you are going for. You explain to them that you love walking, so you need something comfortable and sturdy. Material and color are also considered. It takes several months, but the shoe maker presents to you a wonderfully-crafted pair of shoes. These shoes define your look, and also fit your lifestyle. Best of all, NO ONE ELSE HAS SHOES LIKE THESE. YAS!3

Logo designs—and most aspects of commercial graphic design—work very much like this analogy. You can pay a little to get something that falls apart quickly and isn’t really authentic (perhaps even a knock-off). You can pay a bit more to be on trend, but the item still looks like other stuff already out there. You can pay a premium and get a product that is strong, attractive, and unique—completely tailored to you. Which would you rather have?

3 : The logo is yours… FOREVER.

It’s yours FOREVER!
Photo by Florian Klauer (Unsplash.com).

When you pay for a design, you are not buying a physical product. Rather, you are purchasing a license to use the design for specific purposes and for a specific length of time. The designer retains the rights to the actual artwork and, at the very least, maintains the right to use the work for self-promotion (More about licensing at a later time).

HOWEVER, typically a client is given exclusive rights to their finished logo design, meaning no one else can use it and the designer cannot resell it or license it to other companies. There is usually no time limit on how long the logo design can be used. It is meant to be yours to use for the identity and promotion of your business.

So think about it. You get to use this logo for as long as you own your business. You will [hopefully] make thousands of dollars off of your brand. The amazing designer who came up with your logo does not get royalties (a percentage of sales/profits) each time you ring the cash register. Instead, the designer can (and should) charge an amount upfront that is based on several things:

  • The amount of time, work, and resources required
  • The type of company you run
  • How much you are projected to make
  • How widely the design will be used

That is why small, local businesses can get great logos and identities for a couple thousand dollars (less R&D, less potential revenue, smaller audience), while multi-million-dollar corporations will pay tens of thousands for their branding (lots of R&D, great potential revenue, very large audience).

Really, it’s about paying what the logo is worth. Carolyn Davidson, the designer of the Nike “swoosh,” only got paid $35 when she created it in the 1970s. Today, Nike still uses that mark and is worth several BILLION dollars. Now, does that seem fair? By the way, Nike eventually compensated Davidson with shares in Nike stock.4 👏🏾

2 : Work together. Stick together.

Let’s be friends!
Photo by Krista Mangulsone (Unsplash.com).

You’ve found a designer who “gets you.” She understands the nature of your business and your target audience. The logo and branding she created are spot on. You feel a special connection—this was meant to be!

Alright. Slow down there, cowboy. My point here is that once you’ve found a great designer, it’s typically a good idea to stick with that designer. In essence, this is a relationship. If you like the work your designer has done and you feel comfortable working with her, it only makes sense to continue working with that designer. Who will know the visual aspects of your brand better than the person who created them?

Plus, if you pay a random designer on Fiverr $5 for a logo, do you really think they give a sh** about “building a relationship” with you? Hell no! They’re out looking for the next chump who’ll buy one of their lousy designs (IMO).

1 : It’s an investment!

Consider it an investment.
Photo by Dietmar Becker (Unsplash.com).

There’s a reason why it is called an “identity system.” Your logo and visual brand are the identity of your business. You already have a personal identity that has developed over time. It defines who you are, what you care about, and how you view the world. Likewise, the identity of your business should not be taken lightly. A well-designed logo and brand will:

  • Support your mission and business model
  • Attract and retain your target demographic
  • Adapt to changes and trends over time
  • Flex to be used on various materials, media, and products

How much is your personal identity worth to you? A few hundred? Several thousand? My bet is that you see your identity as priceless (or at least worth that million-dollar guarantee from LifeLock). With that in mind, how much are you willing to put into your company’s identity—which in a way, is likely an extension of yourself?

You want to represent yourself and your business in the best light. Invest in a great identity by hiring a designer who not only fits your budget, but also wants what is best for you. It is an investment that could spark a return much greater than what you initially spend on the design.


  1. If you are a designer and want more insight into pricing your projects, I highly recommend NuSchool’s pricing calculator and Pricing class. The calculator is free; the class is pricey, but soooo worth it if you can swing it!
  2. “A lot of people do things they don’t like, but they do them because they think it’s the only way that they can make a living. What I really hope is that people take away the enthusiasm and the love that I have for making things, and will not interpret it as, ‘Oh this is just something he can do.’ No. It’s something that each individual has within them. The creativity is within you, and it’s one of your responsibilities to allow that creativity to blossom.”Amos Kennedy
  3. If you really do want nice some custom shoes, I have a friend that makes some gorgeous ones!
  4. Designers, unless you are contracted to work for a specific entity and therefore do not have a choice (i.e. you are an in-house designer), NEVER EVER HAND OVER ALL RIGHTS TO YOUR WORK. When you are doing “work for hire,” you revoke all rights to the designs you create; the company you work for owns the designs (although, you should hold onto those sketches and keep copies of the work for your personal portfolio, if possible). For more about this, Jessica Hische has a great article about pricing and licensing.