You can post all the paintings you want on your website and send links to your friends, but it will only get you so far. Unless you are famous chances are you don’t have a huge following of fans all fighting each other to be the highest bidder of your latest artwork.
In order to be found, you have to be findable.
Austin Kleon aims to change your situation in his book Show Your Work: 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. The book is about how to self promote yourself and your products in perhaps what can be seen as a more humble way. By sharing their own work they can in turn ask for fellowship, feedback or patronage.
Chapter 1: You Don’t Have To Be A Genius
This chapter explores the basic but necessary concept of just “getting started”. One of the biggest reasons people don’t have fans is because they never share their work, so often for fear of criticism. But how can you be found when there are SO many better artists out there? Kleon explains how our fast-paced society has made us all amateurs, constantly learning and improving. The best way to get started is to
think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.
Successfully creative people aren’t rare and isolated, but are in fact are strongly influenced by their social networks. They spend their time with other like-minds in forums, email networks, blogs and social media networks. You aren’t alone. We all start somewhere, and now you just have to start.
Chapter 2: Think Process, Not Product
Starting sound easy, but what if you don’t have anything to share yet? You might be only days into an art degree, or years into self-paced study, but not have a full portfolio ready to showcase your talents (or even lack thereof). Your process, such as practicing the same technique again and again, might not even lead to tangible results. Don’t only interesting people with interesting artworks get found? Having a resume or a fancy degree means nothing in the art world, unless you have something to show for it. So start showing it. If you don’t have finished products to showcase, then keep track of what you do on a daily basis and share that; film yourself working, take photographs of your artwork at different stages, keep a journal full of notes.
Chapter 3: Share Something Small Everyday
The more you post, the bigger your “portfolio” will get. As it increases over time you can then filter out the old or undesirable, leaving only the best. But even this takes time. You also don’t want to post everything online; you need to be comfortable with the world – and your mum – being able to see what you post for years to come. You want to post content that is interesting today, but also in years to come. Social media are great since they can act like notebooks, allowing your followers to “flip” through your posts to see what you were working on and how you have progressed over time. Having one location that all your content can be found is ideal, if not necessary. In our modern world that’s a domain name of your own. You don’t even need to know how to set up your own website; there are millions of people online who can help you do this, and thankfully there are plenty of guides for those willing to learn. Your name is your brand, even if its an psudoname.
Chapter 4: Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities
When you share things by your, or of yourself, be honest about it. If you are sharing someone else’s work, be honest about that too; mention who made it and where you got it from.
Chapter 5: Tell Good Stories
Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.
Sharing your work online is more than just posting a couple photos; you need to explain what it is and how it fits in.The idea of explaining something also comes down to explaining what we do. What do you tell someone when they ask the dreaded question “and what do you do?”
Chapter 6: Teach What You Know
We are so often told not to share our secrets, especially trade secrets that will define our future income. Knowing something doesn’t mean you are capable of replicating the results just like that; think of all the amazing drawings you gazed and wished you could reproduce. Even watching an artist making the drawing doesn’t mean you can replicate it. It takes years of practice.
Chapter 7: Don’t Turn Into Human Spam
In order to get engagement from others you need to actually engage. Don’t just talk about yourself all the time, it gets boring. Be interested in others and what they are doing; being genuinely interested in others may lead to future opportunities and collaborations. Interactions with others doesn’t necessarily need to be online, you can meet “in real life” and go to mutually beneficial venues – or just out to lunch for a bit of rest and relaxation.
Chapter 8: Learn To Take A Punch
The problem with imaginative people is that we are good at picturing the worst that could happen to us.
The more people that see your work, the more likely you are to receive a negative review or critique. Not everyone will fall in love with you, and in some cases might down-right hate you for no apparent reason. It can be helpful to figure out why they don’t like your work; maybe it is something to improve upon. Just sometimes you were so successful that you got an emotional response from them, perhaps without them even realising it. It is a matter of figuring out what to share and evaluating the feedback you receive.
Some people just set out to upset you. Online, these people are known as “trolls”. They are just negative people, frustrated and upset at how their life isn’t the same as yours. Dealing with trolls can be impossible; they can twist your own words out of context and will often lack common sense or decency. In some cases its best to just not deal with them; blocking the trouble makers on social media and deleting their comments.
Chapter 9: Sell Out
We all have to get over our “starting artist” romanticism and the idea that touching money inherently corrupts creativity. Some of our most meaningful and cherished cultural were made for money.
Once you have got a bit of an audience gathering, its okay to sell your products. We all need money to pay the rent. It’s okay to ask someone to donate, sponsor or purchase your products.
Keeping your fans in the loop that a new product is launched is a great way to encourage sales. If they don’t get the memo, they wouldn’t even know. Email lists are a great way to force potential customers to interact; even if they aren’t interested in your product and don’t open the email, chances are they still read the sender’s name as they hit “delete”.
Chapter 10: Stick Around
Even when you do everything “correctly”, things can move slowly. It’s a matter of keeping at it. You got the ball rolling, and now you just have to wait for the ball to speed up.
Of course sticking to the same routine can lead to burn out. It’s important to recognise the signs and keep yourself sane.
This is a very influential book; reading it will make you want to get up and go! It’s a perfect read for anyone who is needing inspiration in showing their artwork and gaining some fans. However if you are looking for specific advice, then this book does not fit the bill. The tips aren’t always so clear. For example, Kleon doesn’t define what social media platforms to post on, or even what “tags” to use to advertise; you need to determine your own target audience and how to reach them yourself.
I bought this book hoping to get some specific tips on what to post, when to post and where to post. People writing reviews said it was life changing… I was disappointed. If you have ever posted to Instagram or Facebook, many of the tips provided in this book were somewhat common sense – “post only what you want others to see and read as it represents you”.
The chapters are short reads, even if you are stressed for time you should be able to read a chapter or so a day.