Why Artists Depend On Others to Guide Their Art

(And why they shouldn’t.)

If you have ever dreamed of making art, selling your art, or even if you have already successfully sold art, the question “What should I make?” will pop into your head. All creative people experience a loss or lack of direction at some point. Even after four years of making art full-time, I still have those moments. It’s part of the creative process, but trying to solve your lack of direction by asking others for guidance can be detrimental to your creative development.

It is far too easy to lose yourself when you open the door to any and all guidance, advice, critiques, etc.. Believe me, everyone has opinions, but not everyone has your artistic intentions and interests in mind when they share them.

Like today, my adorable six year old niece was watching me draw. I asked her “What do you think?” and she stood there with an unenthused look on her face and replied “Why do you only know how to draw swirls?” (Reasonable question, as my work has been swirly AF lately.)

“I can draw other things, but this is what I like drawing right now,” I said. She still wore a critical expression, and posed a slightly crushing followup question.

“When will you stop drawing swirls?” I couldn’t help but laugh, while pretending I wasn’t crying a little on the inside 😉

Clearly, my niece isn’t impressed, but that’s okay. Now imagine that conversation with an adult. I’ve had many conversations like this, and even though it’s not explicit verbal rejection, questions can be loaded, and all non-verbal cues can point to disapproval of your current direction. We’ve probably all been there in some way. Someone asks an innocent sounding question and suddenly your mind is filled with “OMG, you hate it! I suck! Why am I doing this?! Nobody is going to like this!”

I mean–no–I’ve never gone down that thought spiral before… *definite sarcasm*

We artists can be sensitive creatures. Any whiff of negative feedback can make us question everything we are doing, and accept guidance from outsiders. This guidance can sometimes result in losing touch with our own creative vision, and that’s where I have a problem.

Why do artists depend on outside opinions?

In order to prevent being swayed, or pushed away from your own creative authenticity, it’s important to look at why this happens in the first place.

1. You lack confidence in your art or abilities.

We all have to start somewhere, and in the beginning of creative explorations, few of us have built-in confidence that we know what we are doing. We ask our friends, families, and partners “Do you think this is good?” And we crave their validation as fuel to move us forward. This isn’t necessarily bad if you are talking to someone who knows how to provide the right feedback to keep you moving forward, but asking the wrong person can trigger the negative thought spiral above.

Over time, you will build internal confidence. (I wrote a blog post years ago on this matter.) Until then, be careful where you seek feedback on your art.

2. You are focused on selling art more than creating art.

I get it, you want to make a sale. This makes it tempting to look at artists around you who are selling a certain kind of art and think you should follow the same aesthetic. And it makes the suggestions from friends and family to paint what they saw on Pinterest or at a craft fair sound like a good idea–but you need to check in with yourself and determine what kind of art you actually want to make.

If you find yourself accepting guidance from others on what they think will sell, then you need to revisit why you are creating in the first place.

3. You haven’t found your style or direction yet.

Maybe you’re confident in your abilities, but you still don’t really know what kind of art you should focus on. Asking people around you what they want to see is okay if it encourages you to try new things and naturally find a style, but be careful that those ideas don’t override your own desires.

Whose opinions should you trust?

I want to be clear, I am not saying that you shouldn’t listen to anyone when it comes to your art. External feedback is really important when you are exploring your creativity. Instead of trusting everyone has valid input about your art, I just encourage you to select people who can understand how your mind works.

If you are looking to others to help assess your work, I suggest making them read this post about how to critique art. Critiquing doesn’t come naturally to people, but this post will help get artists and non-artists into the right mindset.

If you want to create art for others, then having someone tell you exactly what kind of art they want is welcomed. Let’s say you are doing contracting work, commissions, illustrations, or anything that involves bringing a client’s vision to life, then accepting guidance and giving up a good amount of control of the end product is expected.

When you just want to create, or find your own creative voice, then outside opinions will likely just distract you from your goal.

So–

What should you Make?

Make the art that you want to make. Other people cannot tell you what art is hiding inside of you. They don’t know, and sometimes even you don’t know, but that’s a journey you’ll have to take on your own. Finding your direction requires playfulness, time, and patience. Before you ask others for guidance, get your art supplies and try new things. See where that takes you. You don’t need anyone’s approval but your own.

Only you know what kind of art you should make. If you don’t have the answers now, you will find them over time.

If I internalized my little niece’s displeasure at my repetitive swirls, I’d probably be drawing rainbow unicorns and dancing donuts with sprinkles on them right now to make her happy. As fun as that would be, it’s a bit of a departure from what I love doing. (Though, outside of my work day, I will rainbow unicorn the sh*t out of my art. Maybe even add some glitter!)

Next time someone tells you to draw a barn near a wheat field instead of naked lady with a body full of tattoos, or a poured abstract acrylic piece–ask yourself if they are trying to help you find your authentic creative voice, or if they want you to make art that conforms to their personal ideals.

Trust the guidance of those who want to nurture the creativity that’s already within you.

***

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope this was helpful. You probably know by now that I am here to help artist’s with these posts. And, if you need help with your online branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.

Read more about my consulting services and book an appointment today.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every week (kind of). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

@messyeverafter


Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

How Creative Limitations Can Inspire You

A few days ago, I lived in California. Life has changed drastically, and it still feels a little surreal that I’ve closed a chapter in my life that was full of palm trees and a short drive to the Pacific ocean.  As I write this, I am sitting at my brother’s dining room table in Minnesota, impatiently waiting for my moving pod to arrive with all of my art supplies.

Last week, it was easy for me to do art when I had a full studio set up. I had shelves of supplies, and everything I could need to flex my creativity. Watercolor paper, mixed media paper, watercolors, canvases, every size paint brush, acrylics, a variety of inks, pens, markers, varnishes, and more.

Right now, I only have a black pen, a handful of precut watercolor paper with watercolor designs I applied before moving, and gold ink. My carry-on was filled with clothes and essentials, so I could only bring a few items to create with while I wait for the rest of my stuff.

Even though I would love to have my complete studio set up, I’m okay with this for the moment, because I’ve learned that limitations aren’t a bad thing.

Limitations can set you free

It sounds counterintuitive, but applying limitations to a situation can kickstart creativity. When we have too many choices before us, we can become paralyzed with indecision. An abundance of choice can keep us stuck in place as we evaluate every option before us. We waste energy imagining what we could have instead of deciding how to use what we already have.

When you are given limitations, you no longer have to look at what else is available. You can focus all of your energy on what is directly before you.

The limited art supplies I currently have for the next few days prevent me from getting distracted by anything else. There is power in narrowing your focus.

You don’t NEED to buy new art supplies

Have you ever experienced art supply boredom? If you’re like me, you probably have a bunch of art supplies that you have accumulated that maybe don’t excite you anymore. It’s like going grocery shopping but having no idea what to make for dinner after, so you order take out instead.

With a little discipline, that boredom can be transformed.

Challenge yourself, and pick out a few supplies you haven’t used in awhile. Sit down and give yourself 15-30 minutes to explore and play with the materials. You never know what will come of it.

***

Of course, I’m itching to use my other supplies right now, and I know how exciting it can be splurge at Dick Blick–but when your budget is tight, or all of your stuff is on a truck somewhere, you have to make the most of what you already have. You never know what will send you down a new creative path.

While I get settled in Minnesota, my store is closed and I will be focusing on consulting sessions with all you lovely artists out there for the next couple of weeks. If you need help with your branding, Instagram account, or just want a creative accountability coach, then check out my consulting services. You can easily add a session to my online calendar now.

Read more about my consulting services and book an appointment today.

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every week (kind of). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

@messyeverafter


Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Further Reading:

How to Grow Your Instagram Following

2020 Edition for Artists

I don’t know how many times I’ve written about this topic, but it is always worth revisiting as the platform continues to change. I always approach Instagram from a creative business perspective, but this advice applies to anyone looking to grow their following.

Now, I don’t want to repeat too much of the same information that I’ve gone over in previous posts, but some of you may not have read any of those posts before seeing this one, so you’ll get a little bit of new info and a little bit of old info that is still relevant.

Instagram–How can it help artists?

I’m going to start with the very basic reason why you should want to grow your online following: To make money.

I am an introvert. I hate crowds and I really dislike doing events to sell my work. Many of you know all of this about me–which is why I focus most of my energy on building an online following. Instagram connects me directly to buyers and prevents me from having to leave the house until I have art to ship.

A large following can also connect you to other businesses where you can work to promote their products and receive payment and/or free products. And when you use location tags and location based hashtags on your posts, you can build relationships with you local community and find offline opportunities, regardless of your account size.

My main point is that Instagram can be a really powerful tool to help your business and I urge literally every type of business or creative person to have some sort of social presence.

But you must always be ready for change.

Instagram continues to evolve and tweak their algorithm and app features. Last year, they rolled out a change that affected a lot of accounts’ engagement. My account, and many other artist accounts suffered, and my steady organic 100+ new followers a day turned into a trickle–and then my following actually started to drop for the first time in two years. It was a real bummer and I admit I took it harder than I wanted to, but that’s the reality of depending on any third party to connect you to your audience and buyers.

Things change, but when they do, this can push you to try new approaches. You can adapt. I took a few months to step away from social media (mostly for other mental health reasons) and just maintained my following, but this last month, I have been pushing hard and my account is starting to move forward again.

Every piece of advice I give you in my blog posts is based on my experiences. I don’t just regurgitate the information I find on the internet. I test things, and then I share what has worked.

So let’s get to it:

Instagram is a visual platform. Your content needs to look good.

1. Make sure your account is visually cohesive and branded.

If you want to sell your art online, you need to create an account that has a clear style and brand. If you want to have an art account where you just share all of the random, disconnected art you’ve been making, and you don’t care if more than friends and family see it, that is totally fine! But, if you want to grow your following and connect with art buyers, then all of your posts need to feel like they fit together in some way. You can do this by having a consistent style within all of your art, or you keep a consistent photo staging aesthetic.

Basically, your followers should recognize a post came from your account just by looking at a single photo or video you post.

2.Create attractive content–not just attractive art.

Every photo you take and video you record needs to become a new piece of art on its own. You have to be mindful of all the art principles you use within your art for your photos and videos. Negative space, contrast, balance, variety, color, texture, etc..

Stage your photos and use good lighting. Use negative space within your photos so that your profile doesn’t look cluttered. Use a variety of photo angles and staging to keep things interesting (close ups, wide shots, angled shots, photos of you with your art, etc.).

Instagram caters to a short attention span. Your content needs to pull people in.

You need to make your posts stand out and convince people to spend more time looking at your posts.

1.Focus on creating videos.

This is still my number one piece of advice to get recognized on social media. MAKE VIDEOS! Make time lapse videos, real time process videos, make short videos for stories, make long videos for IGTV. Just make videos and make them often. If you don’t want to share your techniques, then get crafty with your editing and only show small, but satisfying aspects of your process.

Videos force people to spend more time looking at your post, which then shows Instagram that your content is interesting and should be shown to a wider audience.

Recently, Instagram has given people the option to create a longer IGTV post through their normal posting process, and I have found that my recent explorations with longer IGTV posts have yielded great results. The post stays active for a longer period of time and more people have been funneled to my account. I highly recommend playing with IGTV videos.

This is how I make my videos.

2.Create carousel posts.

Carousel posts have been a feature for a while on Instagram. If you post more than one photo at a time, that post is a carousel post. You can include up to ten photos/videos on a post, and depending on the product you are selling or how you want to engage with your audience, carousel posts can force people to look through each slide and spend more time than average on that post. This can show Instagram that the post is more interesting than usual, and potentially boost it to a larger audience.

Consider showing individual videos for each part of your process, doing informative slides with text, or do closeups and wide shots of a new piece of art you just created.

3.Write engaging captions.

I have a whole post on this here, but basically, you need to offer more than “Here is a new piece of art.” or “18”x24″ acrylic on canvas, DM to purchase.”

You need to let people get to know you in your captions. Tell stories, share tips and tricks, explain what inspires you. Look at captions like the start of a conversation. You need people to comment on your posts for Instagram to see your content is interesting, so even try asking questions for your audience to respond to.

Don’t neglect captions!

4.Post frequently.

I recommended posting 1-3 times a day, 7 days a week in the past and I still stand by that. You’re not going to burn out your audience if you keep your content interesting. You are a business and people need to see your content often to remind them that you exist. You also need to keep feeding content into the Instagram machine to increase your odds of being seen by a new audience.

Read: How to create more content for social media.

5. Post at your peak time.

If you switch your account to a business or creator profile, you will be able to access insights into your posts and audience behavior. You’ll be able to see a handy bar graph that shows when your followers are most active on your posts. My current peak window is 6am-12am Pacific Time. Which means, I need to post as close to the beginning of that window as possible to maximize exposure to my following at one time.

Post when your audience is most active, and you increase the odds of getting engagement on your posts, which then increases the odds of being boosted by Instagram.

6. Use strategic hashtags.

I still research new hashtags every few months, and I still recommend using smaller niche tags when are trying to grow your following. I have a whole blog post on researching tags here.

Don’t Waste your time on these things

These are all things that I have tried and found to be way too much work for very little reward. Do yourself a favor and focus on creating good content and posting frequently instead of the following:

  1. Follows for follows: Only follow accounts that you actually want to see in your feed. Don’t follow a bunch of randos to guilt them into following you. It’s not how a business should behave.
  2. Likes for likes: Only like the content you enjoy. Again, don’t guilt people into liking your posts.
  3. Comment pods: I’ve been invited to so many of these lately. They are great if you want to connect with other artists, and they might help you grow your following a little bit, but it is a huge time commitment. I had recommended pods in the past, but I didn’t see my following change, I’m honestly too lazy for that now.
  4. Follow pods/chains: Have you seen the group messages that say “follow these 10 accounts, then add your name to the list and send to a bunch of other people”? Sure, it might help boost your following a little, but these people aren’t your target sales audience and again, it’s a lot of time spent on the app with little reward.
  5. Commenting on a bunch of posts to get people to look at your account: again, a lot of work, and little reward. Plus it’s really annoying to have “hey, check out my account for more art,” comments show up on your own posts.
  6. Giveaways: You don’t need to give your art away to grow a following. New followers gained during a giveaway will likely unfollow you after it’s done. Use a giveaway to reward existing followers only.
  7. Bots: I hate bots. Don’t pay for followers and don’t pay for bot services if you actually want your followers to be meaningful and eventually convert to sales.

I know a lot of this is content that I’ve posted before, except for utilizing carousel posts and IGTV, but honestly there will never really be a new quick trick to growing a following. Just like developing your own art style, growing a genuine, organic audience takes time and hard work, but it’s worth it to me.

I hope this post has been helpful to you, but I can help in more ways if you still need guidance. For one, I have a whole bunch of other blog posts that elaborate on this post even further. I’ve copied some of them below. Second, I offer one-on-one help through coaching and consulting services.

My Consulting Services: Instagram Assessment and Branding Assessment

I don’t advertise this often, but I love working with other artists to help them improve their Instagram accounts and refine their brand and message. As of 5/3/2020, I offer a 90 minute Instagram Assessment session where you and I can go through everything you need to know to improve your online presence and kick start your following. And, you can easily add a session to my online calendar now.

Read more about my consulting services and book an appointment today.

I try to keep my services affordable, but include the code 25OFF in your booking notes and I’ll give you $25 off a 90 minute branding or Instagram session.

I look forward to working with you! And if this post gave you everything you need, I wish you the best of luck on your social media journey!

Please leave questions and comments below while commenting is open or reach out to me directly through Instagram or email. I’d love to hear from you! Make sure to sign up for my email list below to never miss a blog post. New posts are published every week (kind of). And if you’d like to see more content like this in the future, consider becoming a Patron of mine! (See details below.)

-Kelly

@messyeverafter


Do want to help me create more blog content? I want to keep providing content like this for free, but I need your help. If you enjoy my blog posts and gain any inspiration from the content I put out there, please consider becoming a Patron of Messy Ever After on Patreon. Pledging just $1 a month enables me to keep helping artists like you. Plus, you get extra little perks!

Past Instagram Posts: