Artists are often hailed for their creativity. If you’ve put many hours into making art, you’ve no doubt experimented with different mediums, explored new subject matter, and possibly tried out a few different styles. You may be able to go from painting realistic portraits to expressive collages in a single day, depending on your mood.
Is there a time, however, to be wary of that ability? Yes—because if you want to reach your artistic goals, there will be times when you’ll need to rein in your range.
Here are three times when it might be wisest to pull back just a little:
1. Building your online portfolio
If you’re planning to present your work as a collection of pieces, think about what viewers are seeing as they browse your pieces.
Do you have 200 pieces of varied subjects and mediums, none of which stand out as being a particular style, or do you have 20 pieces that work together as a group? When someone takes a minute to click through your work, what will that person remember about your portfolio?
Sticking to a limited amount of mediums and focusing on identifiable subject matter gives your viewer something to remember later. Although it may sound limiting, a viewer is more likely to connect the name on your profile with a standout style or subject, which is much easier to remember than a large collection of varied work.
If you’re a prolific artist who posts new work regularly, take some time to organize your work into collections either by medium or subject matter, so that your viewer has a key phrase or group of pieces to remember you by. You can even set up a couple of separate profiles with different user names, if your work is so varied as to be confusing to consumers when displayed together.
2. Submitting your artwork to a jury
One thing I didn’t understand when I first began submitting work to juried panels was how important it was to stick to a unified style, preferably in the same medium, and to stay focused on a consistent subject matter.
Looking at it from a juror’s point of view helped me realize that it’s much easier to judge an artist’s skill level when all of their submitted pieces go together. If you’re looking at hundreds of submitted applications, each with five pieces of art, how much time can you give to judging each individual piece?
It’s much easier for a juror to answer the question, “How well does this oil painter depict a realistic series of horses?” than, “How well does this artist use oil, watercolor, and/or collage techniques to paint florals, portraits, plein air landscapes, and/or inspiring collages?”
See what I mean? All those options are just confusing!
If you consistently create in more than one medium, try organizing your work into a themed collection that shows a cohesive style, or a similar subject matter (such as one that emphasizes light, or a similar color palette). Or, just edit your work down to one medium, then jury in additional mediums at another time.
3. Displaying your art for sale
This is a tough one, because when packing for a festival (or organizing work for a show) it’s tempting to want to bring a wide range of choices. What if a buyer who likes cat paintings comes into your booth or the gallery, and you miss out on a sale because you didn’t bring the one cat painting you did?
Again, thinking about this from the customer’s point of view may help ease your mind. For example, how do you feel after strolling through a gallery, taking in all of the different works for sale that were offered? When you walk away from the gallery, do you remember individual paintings, or do you remember seeing groups of paintings that all seemed to go together?
You might not like boat paintings, but you probably might know someone who does—and it’s easier to recommend the name of an artist who is known for painting a lot of boats than to try and remember the name of the artist who painted a lot of different things, one of which might have been a boat.
As an artist selling at a festival, you’re up against even more outside stimuli—your booth visitors are likely to be taking in all of the sights, sounds, and smells that come with a festival, along with conversations they’re having with their companions, or distractions such as children or pets. Bringing a collection of work that showcases your strongest technique and most recognizable style will help you stand out in the minds of visitors, and makes it easier for your customers to quickly decide whether or not they connect with your work.
Does all this mean you have to stick to painting one thing in the same way all the time? Of course not! Paint what you want, as you’re moved to. But don’t forget your artistic goals and what it will take to get there.
Remember, we live in a world of instant access to a variety of images (and a limited amount of attention span to remember those images). Arming yourself with a cohesive body of work will give you a better opportunity to stand out in the minds of those who view your art.
Even when viewers don’t personally like your work, it’s a “win” if they remember you—just by remembering you, they are much more likely to recommend your art to someone who will connect with it!