Emerging artists are typically consumed by making art. The thrill of creating is mesmerizing and intoxicating. Everything is new and absorbing.
You’ll go through alternating periods of exhilaration and frustration. You will produce work that pleases you one day and looks unfinished the next. That’s just how it works. It’s normal.
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When I work with emerging artists, one of my goals is to help them understand and refine their signature style, so they can move away from that constant up-and-down of exhilaration and frustration.
To do that, I always start by asking artists the following questions:
• What work can you make in the time, space and budget you presently have?
• What inspires your creativity to flower?
• When you lose track of time, what kind of work are you making?
• Which work does your audience like the best?
• If you have sold work, what sells the best, easiest and the most?
Whatever your answers are, those are your first clues.
But it doesn’t stop there. There is an old joke about a man who gets into a cab in New York City and asks the cab driver, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The cab driver replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”
The most effective way to develop a signature style is to work at it, constantly.
Here are six things you can do to make sure you’re always improving:
1. Make art daily
The better you are technically, the easier it will be to handle the production of your art and refine your style. So get into the studio and make art regularly. Develop production habits and create momentum for yourself.
The more you make, the better and faster you will make it. The better and faster you can make it, the more you will want to create.
2. Be your own cheerleader
Creativity can run out. You need to be able to motivate yourself even when you are tired, uninspired or mired in stuff to do that has nothing to do with art.
You are the only one in charge of your motivation. Whatever it takes to motivate you, make it a habit and keep moving forward.
3. Clear your mind of negativity
We all have days when things don’t work as well as on other days. Fussing about it tends to make things worse, though, so make space for better thoughts by doing some of the following:
Meditations and/or prayers—Meditate or pray daily to clear your mind of day-to-day distractions and build a clear space for your creativity to flourish.
Affirmations—Make positive statements of intent or accomplishments that you repeat often. Make sure that they are emotionally true and that you actually believe they are possible.
When self-doubt creeps in, remind yourself of what is working and what you do best. If you establish these habits, it makes it harder for doubt to take hold.
4. Turn your obstacles into opportunities to improve
If you keep doing what you have always done, you will get what you have always gotten.
Looking hard at your flaws is humbling—but it’s good practice. The first time I was able to look at a piece and say “Wow, that is really awful!” it was a freeing moment, because I realized that I was developing a critical eye for my own work.
In that particular case, I threw it in the trash, but in later cases I looked to see if there was anything I could do to save the piece. If there was, I tried it. After all, there was nothing to lose. In some cases, this helped me discover a whole new technique.
5. Get a buddy
Isolation is a big problem for artists. While you may need to be alone for some stages of your creative process, you also need input from others to grow beyond your own imagination.
Find a buddy and commit to inspire each other for as little as 10 minutes a day before either of you goes into the studio. Or decide to meet once a week for an hour or more.
However you choose to do it, what’s important is to connect with someone who is equally committed to a professional art career, is upbeat (a depressed buddy is no help), and is at a similar stage in their life.
6. Learn from established artists
Go to exhibits by other artists, take workshops, work with master teachers, or find a mentor.
These days you can even go online.
You can view videos, read and interact with blogs. . . All of this will expand your experience as an artist, and help define (to yourself first, and then to others through your art) who you want to be.