Look Honestly at Your Work
Get Honest Input
Try Something New
Make Something You Won't SellLook At Others' Work
Don't Look at Others' Work
Look at Art Outside Your Area
Admit Your Weaknesses
Build on Your Strengths
Make What You Love
Seth Godin's posts, my own attempts to improve my work, teaching my Izannah Walker Workshop online class, emails from two artists, and reading The Handmade Marketplace by Kari Chapin prompted me to write this post of ways to improve as an artist. See the list above? This is not exhaustive. There are probably 10 to 1000 more ways that are just as important. Please comment at the end if you have a way to improve to share.
Look Honestly at Your Work
Get Honest InputHow to get an honest outside opinion? This is tricky. Sometimes artist's online groups can do this, but I think people are cautious about typing up opinions of others' work and that becoming viral. Most online forums lean more toward an encouragement mode. So how can you get honest (but kind!) feedback about your work?
First of all, ask for it.
If you really want honest feedback, be ready to receive it. And maybe pay and work for it. Travel to get it in person. And if you ask for feedback, receive it with grace. The other person is giving you a tremendous gift by really looking at your work. It's a risk on their part.
Try Something NewStep outside of your usual artistic arena. If you're a painter, try sewing. If you're a quilter, try paper collage. If you're a doll maker, try printmaking. It will give you skills and a viewpoint to apply to present work.
Make Something You Won't SellIt's important to make works that are totally experimental. If you feel that you have to sell every little thing you make you will start to gear your creations to what you think will sell. This can cause you to avoid making mistakes which sometimes lead to discovering new techniques.
Look at Others' WorkThis is tricky. You have to approach it with honesty to understand why someone else's work is selling for $400 and your work sells for much less. There can be lots of reasons for this, and sometimes it might have nothing to do with the artwork. Usually I find it's because someone has really pushed to learn something that I have been lazy about. Sometimes it's because they've been at it longer and are better at marketing. But most of the time it's because they've put loads and loads of hours into honing their work. I remember once asking an artist dollmaker how she got her paperclay so smooth. I thought she had a secret paperclay smoothing tool that she could give me the link to. Guess what? Her secret tool was that she carefully fills all the little pockmarks by hand, sands afterwards, fills again, sands again....her secret is hard work, and not being satisfied with pockmarks.
From a selling point, if everyone is making blue potholders and you make a blue pot holder it's going to languish in the sea of blue pot holders. How can you make a pot holder with a different spin than the hundred out there already?
Don't Look at Others' WorkAs in don't copy it. Once I made a creation that sold for $200. "Whoo-hoo!" I said. I was so excited, even though I had put 70 hours of work into it. The next week someone listed a creation with the same hallmark features and practically the same copy in their listing description.
If others' work is selling high, and your work is similar, give them a mental high five if they do well. There are all kinds of forces at work that affect the pricing and selling point of works of art. Looking at what sells high will tempt you to do a copy of that particular work. And it won't have the same spirit, because it will read like a photocopy of a photocopy. Don't do it.
Look at Art Outside Your AreaThis relates to trying something new. Look at work outside your discipline. If you're a painter, look at a doll show. If you're a sculptor, go to a film festival. Broaden your horizons.
Admit Your WeaknessesIf you're weak in an area you can improve. Not a good sculptor? Take a class in that. Need help with sewing? Buy a sewing book. Improve the areas in your work that stick out in a bad way.
Build on Your StrengthsOn the other hand, you don't want to have a lot of strong weaknesses. I've found that painting can cover a multitude of sculpting sins. Or vice versa. Play to your strengths in what you create.
Make What You LoveIf you choose to do things you love, chances are you will get better at it, because you will enjoy doing it and put the time in to improve. If you hate something, that's what will come through. If you hate painting but love sewing fabric then what kinds of creative areas will be your best fit? Quilting and fabric arts come to mind. If you hate sewing but love gluing then maybe you will make paper quilts. Making what you love will give your work a kind of joy that will be irresistible to people.
Well, that's what's on my mind very early on a Sunday morning.
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