Show Your Work – part 10

Stick around

Don’t quit your show

Success is mostly about pushing through failure.
Keep producing work, without assumptions of success or failure, and be prepared to seize opportunities when they present themselves.

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”


You are only as good as your last piece; no one cares what you’ve done, nor what you’re going to do next. They care about what you’re doing now.
You can’t stalling if you keep up the momentum. Do the work in front of you, review it and start your next piece while you’re still fired up.

Go away so you can come back

Working without a break is exhausting and can lead to mental burnout.
A sabbatical can be a great opportunity to restock your mental and creative reserves. Obviously, the flipside of that is that a high-stress or overly demanding scenario can drain you, even if you aren’t creating at the time.
Although a multiple month- or year-long sabbatical isn’t practical for most people, but Kleon offers three somewhat more practical mini-sabbaticals, originally suggested by Gina Trapani:

  • Commute
  • Exercise
  • Spend time in nature

The important thing is to take a break.

Start over. Begin again

Related to “being an amateur”, never rest on your laurels or allow yourself to coast. Keep learning new things, techniques, media.
Stop trying to refine old material; junk it and build something new. It takes courage and commitment, but it makes you stronger, and better able to assess your weaknesses. Learn out loud.
Go back to chapter one.

Some advice can be a vice

Feel free to take what you can use and leave the rest

There are no rules

Show Your Work – part 9

Sell out

Even the Renaissance had to be funded

“An amateur is an artist who sports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint. A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.”

Ben Shahn

You’re not wrong for wanting to make money, or for wanting to eat, or to move out of your parents’ place; the ‘starving artist’ myth is nonsense, perpetrated by someone who wants your art but doesn’t care enough to pay you to make it.

Pass around the hat

Turning an audience into patrons is as easy as putting a link on a website and as hard as putting your audience in control of what you do with their money.

Charge what fairly reflects the time, effort and materials you put in, not what people tell you you’re worth.

Keep a mailing list

Give away great stuff, collect emails and, when you have something to share or sell or announce, send an email to the list.

The people who sign up want to be contacted, but be clear how often they can expect to hear from you and be sensible with it. Folks don’t need a voucher for 30% off custom t-shirts every 48 hours.

Make more work for yourself

People who call you a sellout are people who don’t want you to succeed. Drop those people immediately; nothing good can come from rotten seeds.
Keep working, keep expanding, keep connecting with people. Most importantly, keep saying yes to new opportunities to do more of what you want to do.

“The real risk is in not changing. I have to feel that I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving.”

John Coltrane

Pay it forward

“When you have success, it’s important to use any dough, clout, or platform you’ve acquired to help along to work of the people who’ve helped you get where you are.” (pp. 176)

At some point, you have to stop saying yes to everything and start to say no. At that point, instead of no, try “no, but I know someone you could talk to…”. With luck, and endurance, you may find yourself in a situation where you have to implement ‘office hours’ to deal with your correspondence. Don’t forget what you do for a living – it shouldn’t be answering correspondence.

Show Your Work – part 8

Learn to take a punch

Let ’em take their best shot

The more work you have put in the wild, the more criticism you’ll face. Don’t take it personally.

  1. Relax and breathe – anxiety lies to you
  2. Practice taking critique – exposure reduces fear, familiarity breeds contempt
  3. Keep going – criticism is what happens when you make an effort. Some critics just want you to stop making them look bad; prove them wrong.
  4. Protect yourself – keep work of a personal nature close, but remember: “Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a firm of suicide” (Colin Marshall).
  5. Keep out at arm’s length – work is what you do, not who you are.

Don’t feed the trolls

Trolls don’t care about you. They don’t care about making you a better artist, they just want you to shut up and stop trying to do stuff; they want you to be as uncreative and unproductive as they are.
The worst of them find, quite by accident, an echo in your own self-doubt. Block them – early and often – and delete their comments.
Trolls will cry “free speech” or claim you’re making an echo chamber by shutting them down, but you aren’t required to listen to everything everyone says, especially if they’re trying to hurt you, and your improvement as an artist depends on your ability to differentiate between people who want to see you improve and people who want to see you stop.

Turn off the comments on your portfolio site. You’ll just have to delete the spam anyway.