The Tough Love Plea: Be Honest
As you know, I am a member of the Polymer Clay Artists Guild of Etsy. One of the membership benefits is a private forum space where we can offer constructive criticism when someone asks for help.
Recently there was a great thread called "Be Honest" posted in the Tough Love section of the forum by a well-established clay artist lamenting a drop in her sales. I found the advice that people gave to her so helpful that I would like to share a bit of the thread here while still respecting the privacy of the forum.
This artist sensed that there may be something keeping her from competing with similar items that can be found at better prices. She asked people to be brutally honest, and in the spirit of learning that is part of this forum, people offered help.
Find your Artistic Voice
Another woman shared a story from her own past where a teacher helped her see that her work was "nicely done and attractive individually, but it had no voice." She added that when artists are starting out they need to be all over the place for a while learning techniques and developing skills, but there needs to be a "turning point" where your artistry develops its own voice.
So how do you find your voice?
Here is a round-up of some of the advice that came out of the discussion. I can't take credit for any of this, but it was too good not to share. Keep in mind, the advice is geared to polymer clay artists, but I'm sure you can find ways to translate it to your own medium.
1. Master Color Theory:
"Play with color. Give yourself an assignment such as for one month, use NOTHING straight from the package. Do some exercises to play with values. If you don't have the color book, get it and grind through some of the exercises and hit Maggie Maggio's web site. Honestly, actually doing the exercises (piano scales, anyone?) will make you very dissatisfied with colors straight from the package and you will find your own niche in terms of color. It will change the way your eye sees color, when you get the value range of lights and darks, it looks more deliberate and it reads better. It's more pleasing."2. Be Advanced
Don't do the simplest version of a technique. For example, if everyone else is doing a basic cane style, go for the more advanced style.3. Avoid Scraps
"Resist using scrap materials for new projects UNLESS they are worthy of being used. Clayers often have pieces of scrap patterns that are too nice to throw away, but they may not be the right choice for new piece. 'Close enough' isn't a good artistic choice."4. Move from Pattern to Design
A piece may have a lot of pattern, but no design. One artist suggested the book "Design! : A Lively Guide to Design Basics for Artists & Craftspeople" to find inspiration to stretch your work. Design is very difficult to teach via a book but this one, she noted, actually has exercises in composition, color (hue, value, contrast, etc), focal point, etc.5. Unify your work
"Experimentation is good, but find a way to make your shop look unified. Color and style statements go along way in this department. Having a style or a voice doesn't mean that all your stuff needs to look the same, nor does it mean you will keep repeating a narrow range of "tricks". What is DOES mean is that you will have an artistic home base from which you can then branch out on exploratory adventures, and then touch back there as needed."6. Create what YOU love.
"A couple years ago I didn't do well anywhere. I got tons of compliments but few sales even though I was trying to design for the markets I was selling in. Well, it got to a point where I realized that I was trying too hard to make things based on what others might like and what sold before and I wasn't enjoying it. So, my new rule is I won't make/put on sale anything I wouldn't want to wear or own myself. Seems a little backwards but my sales have rocketed since I did that and only then did I start winning awards as well."
"You can't let "what will sell" be your only criteria for deciding what to infuse into your creative process. Your PURPOSE is to make things that are lovely to look at and to satisfy your crave to create. Yes, when you stumble on things that sell well, let those be your bread and butter, your production pieces that fund the habit. But don't waste time trying to guess what people want to buy and what price they will pay. If your work is a lot like everyone elses' it is commoditized and you feel like you need to compete on price. When you find your voice you will have more pricing power."
" I actually don't wear my own jewelry much and it bothers me that I don't. The ideal me does...feminine, pretty outfits, etc. OK, maybe that's the fantasy I have of myself. The way I see myself in dreams. I'm actually more of a t-shirt, jeans and boots girl, earthy, country, rustic, simple. Shouldn't my art that is coming from me exude that a bit? I think it should. Maybe my artistic slump is my subconscious telling me to change."
Wrapping it up:
This forum conversation fascinated me on so many levels. Even though the advice was for another polymer clay artist, they could have easily been talking to me. I was also impressed that these artists cared enough to share their honest opinions to help each other be more successful. Threads like this one make the $20 annual dues a real steal.