Today's Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for
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We've been hearing a lot lately about bringing our work to the next level of sophistication, but how do we artists catapult our abilities to excellence in a hurry? While I can't speak for every artist out there, I don't particularly want to take another 5 years to visibly improve the quality of my work.
Because I've had the opportunity to interview, write about, and work alongside some of this country's most renowned artists, I am well aware of how they rose, or rather, climbed to the top. While some of my friends have solidified their standing as master painters years ago, many of my fellow travelers are currently working their way up the proverbial ladder of artistic success. It's important to note that even those who are at the top of their game are still striving to make improvements.
Build A Cohesive Body of Work
While I'm not saying that artists must follow rules or paint one subject in order to find collectors, what I am suggesting is that the artists who enjoy the widest success – magazine articles, inclusion in books, and show in high visibility galleries -- have either a well developed unique style, or excel with a particular subject matter. For me, personally, I'm not intrinsically led to paint one subject with one medium. I love variety! But if my work is “all over the place”, It will be difficult to attract seasoned collectors.
If I want to get on the fast track to success, I need to get decisive and build a cohesive body of work that is recognizable as my own. In other words, a collector should recognize my work from across the room in a gallery or exhibition. It can, and usually does take a number of years to land a personal style, but here are some ways that my professional colleagues have consolidated their efforts, and if I'm smart, I'll follow their example.
Work in a Series
Now give me some slack here... I realize that working repetitively can be boring, but it's also true that we human beings tend to enjoy whatever we're good at. The sooner we become good at something, the sooner we learn to love it. There was a time when I did not enjoy English grammar, but when I finally got a high school teacher who drilled the basics into his students, I became proficient. Once, I knew what I was doing, I gained confidence and began to love writing.
If you build on top of the skills you already have, (what Clint calls recursively) you'll sooner master your subject and medium while building a new body of work. Do you see where even a smidgen of repetition might get you? Steve Doherty, the editor in chief of American Artist magazine, recently wrote a blog about an artist ( personal friend of his) whose career has been extremely successful. Steve relayed that his friend is tired of painting the Grand Canyon; however, Steve concludes his blog by saying that he doesn't feel very sorry for his friend, nor does he think his friend should be complaining.
My thought: Repetition of a theme, style or subject is often part of the recipe for success. It's a lot like "Branding".
Conquer Your Weaknesses
When you encounter a subject or technique that gives you difficulty, rather than avoiding or ignoring it, take it to task. Conquer that weakness once and for all! Wouldn't it be nice if you could approach your difficulties with confidence and understanding? Well, you can, if you track down and devour weaknesses until those very problems morph into strengths. We artists already realize that making great artwork is never easy. It takes tons of time and self-discipline. I often feel so harried by my obligations that I don't think I have time to spend on learning and solving problems, but the truth is... if I regularly take time to put my difficulties behind me, I'll get more work done in the long run, and enjoy the process more.
Practice and Experiment
This summer, I authored an article for Watercolor Magazine - showing how my taking time to practice at painting trees could increase my understanding and technical ability - skills I could later apply when painting larger, finished works. While practicing initially felt like wasting both time and materials, after having completed the exercises, I came to the conclusion that I could never get very good at anything without practice. Within a few weeks of practicing trees, my paintings were far better. It was well worth the investment, and now I no longer approach this subject with fear, but with relish.
Artists can get on the fast track to increasing collectors' interest or preparing for gallery representation, if they stay with one subject, style and medium long enough to master it -- meanwhile they'll develop a cohesive, high quality, recognizable body of work. Think it over, look at the artists you admire and see if these aspects are not true of their work.