Artist Bio

5 Things I’ve Learned As A Working Artist

These last two years have been tough for a lot of people, but especially tough for creators. As we are just now shifting towards some degree of normalcy, I wanted to share 5 things I’ve learned as a creative over this strange journey.

Your reason for creating and metric for success needs to be something you can control.

Reasons that depend on the public’s reaction and choices that are completely out of our control, such as money and popularity, will ultimately lead to a whole lot of frustration and angst. Making money off of what you do is valid and necessary, we all have bills. However, it is nearly impossible to be happy if this is the core reason you are creating. Many people create for self expression or therapy. Not everyone creates for themselves, and that’s ok too. For some, just the act of creating itself doesn’t do it; their work is meant to be shared, seen, and heard in order for the process to be complete. Reasons for creating along this vein can be to inspire others to look at the world in a new way, to make other think about x, to connect with and speak to x group of people, to spread joy, to educate. Everyone’s reason is going to be different. My reason is a combination of public and private, which makes sense for me as a hybrid INTROextrovert. I create for self expression and as a form of communication, but also to share the joy of art with others. When I teach, I especially like reaching those who have previously felt limited. I love releasing untapped potential and work a lot with adults with disabilities and older adults beginning artistic journeys late in life. You can control outreach and expression by actively seeking opportunities. You can’t always control fame and fortune.

Don’t include others by limiting yourself.

In other words, don’t do less to make others comfortable – take them alongside you. Creating is so personal, it can be devastating when your work is getting overlooked. Creative fields are also so niche and not as prevalent as other pursuits, so that creators often feel like they are in constant competition with over creatives. It can get weird when a fellow artist starts having a ton of success and you feel like you’ve been working just as hard. I’ve been in both places. I’ve felt like a fool for devoting my life to the hard work I am doing to see things keep falling into place for everyone else. I’ve also recently been in the place where certain things finally began to come together, and I’ve felt some pushback. At times I’ve questioned whether I should move out of the way for other emerging creators. Especially if creating is life-giving for you, do not do less because someone else is asking why not me? Take them along for the ride, collaborate, invite them to share a space with you at shows or festivals. They may end up saying nah, and that’s ok, but don’t crush your own momentum that you’ve worked so hard for. Everything is an eb and flow, up and down like much of life. If you sense a jealous vibe, reach out as a mentor because you know how it is – you’ve been there. Don’t be inclusive by holding yourself back.

There’s nothing wrong with grabbing onto trends that are fun, but follow trends because you want to not because you think it will make your art better. It won’t.

The thing with trends is, the market ends up becoming oversaturated with copies. There is no guarantee your watercolor paintings of Pokémon will take off more than the other 5000 artist on Instagram doing the same thing. (As you can see, I tend to not be so great at following trends. I’m pretty sure Pokémon is over, but I just started playing Pokémon Go last year. Late to the party as always!) If it’s fun and makes you happy, then that’s reason enough to go for it. But, don’t struggle through trying to force your work into a shape it doesn’t fit just to be trend aligned.

Doing art you aren’t good at isn’t a waste of time.

As working creatives, it’s important to set aside time for art to be play as well as work. I recently took a clay hand building class after putting it off for the longest time because my head kept telling me, “In school clay was the only time you ever got Bs in art class, it’s not like you’re ever going to go buy a kiln and start doing this professionally so what’s the point”. The point is to play. For me, it is the same thing with piano. As I plunk along on my little keyboard learning the same song I started trying to play a year ago, do I ever think I’m going to play for a crowd or write my own music? Absolutely not. But in that moment, am I feeling relaxation, joy, and a sense of growth? Certainly.

Going digital isn’t all bad.

Social media and now especially Covid has changed how artists are expected to interact with the public. It can get tedious to constantly curate online media and feel like it is taking away from important time that could be spent creating. Virtual classes can feel impersonal and lacking an important social and experiential element. Virtual exhibits can flatten work and we all know viewing a tiny jpeg on a phone screen can’t compare with standing in front of a largescale work immersed in it. Neither is the experience being at a venue hearing live music the same as watching a livestream. Valid points, but all artists should be excited about the increased accessibility technology provides. I saw an artist I love post a discussion about how harmful it is to consider digital art to be just as valid as traditional art, because an important element of emotional connection with art is the artist physically touching the materials, moving their hands to create. As an advocate for creators with disabilities, the first thought that popped into my head is, what if an artist can’t move their hands the same way as everyone else? Why is art invalid because it uses a different process? What if a person doesn’t have access to transportation but would like to take an art class? What if a person gets anxiety in crowds but wants to experience a live concert or theatrical performance? What if a person can’t afford to travel to a big name art museum but wants to become inspired by some of the world’s most famous masterworks? I get it, change is hard for me too and I truly don’t enjoy creating digitally as much as I do traditionally. Creating video content doesn’t come naturally to me, and it’s not perfect. Inspiring others to create who live on the opposite side of the country and will never attend one of my in-person art classes? That’s amazing regardless.

Other creatives – what is something you’ve learned recently?

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Artist Bio

The Power Of Saying No

each-time-you-set-a-healthy-boundary-you-say-YES-to-more-freedom

I must start off by saying this is not one of those articles that was written because the author is an expert on the subject; I am actually writing because I am very bad at this thing myself.

I have always struggled with saying no both personally and professionally. Yet, at the same time I’ve always been pretty sure of who I am and what I want … talk about some pretty serious dissonance! Let me tell you a bit more about myself… at this point in my life, I eat mainly plant based (aside from the occasional raw fish in sushi maybe twice a month), I seldom drink, I have no interest in smoking or drugs of any type (I don’t even take an Excedrin when I get a migraine!), and though I like being social I am one of those people who needs more quiet time than the average person to recharge so I have to strategically plan the amount of ‘going out’ I want to do each week and who I want to give my time and energy to … Oh, and I also am not interested in birthing children. You see where I’m going with this? Though there are a whole lot more things I say yes to, I find myself constantly apologizing, “Oh, I don’t ___________, I’m so sorry!” as if I should feel guilty for crafting a way of living my life that I’ve found makes me feel the most happy and healthy. I recently started going to counseling again, and I’m discovering that a lot of struggles in my personal life have been caused by my feeling like I always have to be the hero, and tying my performance and how I can please others to my worth and value.

Unfortunately, this is a trap that creatives can fall into professionally as well. Especially when we maybe aren’t the wealthiest, it is easy to feel incredibly guilty for saying no to a project or opportunity no matter how poor a fit it may be. The perception is often that we should be grabbing onto every piece of money or exposure we can get our hands on, and be eternally grateful for every opportunity that comes our way regardless of whether it really makes sense to take it or not. This whole “beggars can’t be choosers” mentality is not the way to build a life worth living, because the power is always in our hands regardless of our current status.

So, here is your daily reminder that you actually are allowed to say no! Trust me, I am reminding myself just as much as I am reminding all of you!

  • You are allowed to say no to projects that don’t align with your mission and values. 
    • Some projects are going to end up selling something you don’t support, whether that’s an idea or mindset or a person or product. You are not being judgmental or impolite by simply saying, “You know, this really just isn’t for me, I’d suggest you find another artist.” I found myself in a situation once where a longtime client asked me to create a small political piece. It wasn’t anything hateful, but it was celebrating a political figure that I really did not agree with. I was so concerned with offending a client that I’d developed a great rapport with that I accepted, even though inside my unease was through the roof. I told myself I do art to make people happy and if this was going to make someone happy, it was ok. Still, the discomfort just kept ramping up every time I sat down to get started. I ended up having to be honest and tell my client that because of my own personal opinions and beliefs I would not feel comfortable taking on this commission. It was a long, awkward conversation and they were a bit offended at first, but at the end of the day any tension blew over and we still were able to maintain a working relationship. Say a client wasn’t willing to work through something like this, do you really want to work with someone who treats you like a machine and is willing to force you to take on work that you don’t feel comfortable with? As a creative, you are your own brand and you do have to think about what your body of work, including commissions, says to the rest of the world.
  • You are allowed to say no if taking on a project would exceed your preferred workload.
    • No one else is allowed to tell you how to structure your life. You know how much you can handle at once in your business. Everyone functions at different capacities, and that’s ok. Just because you have the time, doesn’t mean you have to give it. I have had to reach the point of complete burnout to learn that I need to create margin in my life, which can be hard to do as someone who is partially or fully freelance. When you don’t have a “clock-in/clock-out” sort of job your life can easily become 24/7 work to the expense of your relationships, hobbies, and own mental health. Actively think about how many free hours you want to have each week, and make sure you get them. You are not lazy for wanting time to yourself to relax and enjoy life, and don’t need to play the comparison game. Some people need a bigger margin of downtime than others to function well, and you know your brain better than anyone else.
  • You are allowed to say no to projects that are outside of your preferred skill set or area of interest.
    • A lot of times people assume that when someone is an artist, they can do anything and everything related to art and creativity. While many creatives do dabble in a variety of artistic pursuits, no one is good at everything. It doesn’t do you or your potential client any good for you to force yourself to bumble through a project that is outside your area of interest and/or expertise. Trust me, I’ve tried. If you have a network of other creative friends or acquaintances with different skill sets than you, this is a great opportunity to throw them some work by recommending them to the client as an alternate option. Chances are, they’ll do the same for you in the future!
  • You are allowed to say no to projects or opportunities that put you in an environment you aren’t comfortable with. 
    • Toxic work environments are the worst, and unfortunately they can happen in any field including creative work. There is something to be said for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone every once in awhile, but if the people and environment a current project or opportunity requires you to be around is becoming soul crushing and making you hate doing something you once enjoyed, then it’s time to go. Any job that crushes your passion for your craft is not worth it; know when to say, “Well, I tried it!” and move on.
  • You are allowed to say no to projects that don’t have an equitable payout.
    • Art is very personal to me so I hate talking about money in relation to creating. However, if art is part of how you make a living then you have to view it through the lens of, every other field gets compensated for their time and expertise. Being compensated at all can’t be the only goal though, you also need to be compensated fairly. If you don’t really think about how you price out your work, you could end up working for less than minimum wage. I often will give friends and family a deal, and enjoy donating my time and skills to charitable efforts that enhance my community. However, I have had to sadly turn down potential clients whose amount they were willing to pay would not near cover the cost of my time and materials even with giving them a deal. I want art to be accessible to all, but I also have bills to pay like anyone else. I’ve gotten burned in the past accepting $50 for about 10-12 hours of work, and quite honestly that’s just not ok. Be generous, but also know your worth.

Closing doors can have such negative connotations, but by closing the doors that you weren’t meant to walk through you free up your time for the doors that are going to open up a vibrant new world. None of us can do it all, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Set boundaries, create how you want to create, and love yourself.

 

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