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.”

– Orson Welles

Chain-smoke

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.

Show Your Work – part 7

Don’t turn into human spam

Shut up and listen

Participate in the community you’re trying to join. Go to shows, read journals, and get to know what’s out there already.
Art without feedback is only half-done; if you want to get, you have to give.
Be thoughtful, be considerate, be open.
“The writing community is full of […] people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t even read the magazines they want to be published in. These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtedly receive.” – Dan Chaon

You want hearts, not eyeballs

As with many things, the quality of your followers is more important than the quantity. Accruing 10 people who talk with you and interact with your work is better than 100 or 1000 followers who might as well be bots or dead accounts.
Faffing about, following people you don’t care about, talking about things you don’t care about isn’t going to get you anywhere you want to go.
Be “interest-ing” – have interests, be curious, pay attention. Be interested.

The vampire test

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” – Derek Sivers
Get rid of anything – jobs, people, hobbies – that leave you feeling drained and tired. They don’t add anything of value to your life.

Identify your fellow knuckleballers

A knuckleball is a slow, awkward pitch that’s really hard to throw with any kind of consistency, and is equally unpredictable to the batter, the catcher and the pitcher. Given that it’s so hard to throw reliably, knuckleball pitchers get together and share tips and advice, even when they’re on opposing teams.
People who share your interests, your obsessions, your mission, are few and far between so, when you find them, hold them dear, collaborate often and keep them close.

Meet up in meatspace

Attend meetups, arrange meetups. If you’re travelling, let online friends know you’ll be in town. Ask them to show you around and try to convert online relationships into offline ones.

Show Your Work – part 6

Teach what you know

Share your trade secrets

Teaching doesn’t mean competition – having the knowledge doesn’t mean you can act on it.
To improve, emulate people you admire; what they do, when, how. Master studies aren’t limited just to the finished article, but can include schedules, training regimes, reading lists, and attitude.
Find the schedules of your idols (don’t be a creep about it) and see how
much time they spend studying, dealing with correspondence and
relaxing, and try to emulate that, at least for a while; check their reading lists and see what inspires them and where they learned their trade and check those resources. See what works
for you – then publish your reading lists and schedules and whatnot.

“The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others.”

Share materials, references, influences… Making tutorials, step-by-step walk-throughs and the like helps you refine your process, generate interest, build a relationship with your audience, and produce content.

Show Your Work! – part 5

Tell good stories

Work doesn’t speak for itself

Humans are great storytellers and people want to know what something is, where it came from, why it was made and by whom.
That information is key to how people react to your work and how much they value it; people’s assessment of a thing is affected by what they know about it.

Structure is everything

Well-structured stories are “tidy, sturdy, and logical”. Real life needs a lot of editing to even vaguely resemble a well-structured story!

John Gardner has a story formula: “A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose or draw” (pp99)

Every piece of work you produce has its own story – get the idea, do the work, succeed (or don’t).

Pitches follow a similar structure – where have you been, what do you want and why, what did you do to get it; where are you now?; where are you going, and how can your audience help you get there?
Speak directly, respect your audience, be brief, proof-read. Like any skill, story-telling gets better the more you do it.

Talk about yourself at parties

You should be able to explain your work to a five-year-old. Keep your audience in mind, but keep it simple, humble, true and brief. Two or three sentences should do it, and they should be as free of adjectives as possible (“aspiring”, “amazing”, even “critically-acclaimed” can go).

Recommended reading:

Significant objects, Glenn and Walker

Show Your Work! – part 4

Open up your cabinet of curiosities

Don’t be a hoarder

Even before you’re ready to share our work, you can share your appreciation for the work of others.
Things you read, watch, listen and subscribe to, sites you visit, artists you admire and are inspired by – things that humanise you, can help connect you with other fans, and lead people to find things that inspire them. Share, get other people interested in your interests and maybe they’ll share their interests.

No guilty pleasures

Inspiration can come from anywhere, no matter how ridiculous or lowbrow. Wear your heart on your sleeve and love your inspiration unashamedly and authentically.

“Being a geek is all about being honest about what you enjoy and not being afraid to demonstrate that affection. It means never having to play it cool about how much you like something. It’s basically a license to proudly emote on a somewhat childish level rather than behave like a supposed adult. Being a geek is extremely liberating.”
– Simon Pegg

Credit is always due

When you share work, credit the artist.
What is it, who made it, when and where? Why are you sharing it, where can people see more of it, and where did you get it from?
Attribution without a link is pointless; people have better things to do than go hunting for information on a whim, but they’ll click a link if there is one.

Show Your Work! – part 3

Share something small every day

Send out a daily dispatch

Share something every day, based on where you are in your process. It shows people that you’re alive and producing work on a regular basis, and complements a portfolio (especially a sparse one).
The other benefit from the daily digest is the quantity of work – 90% of output is junk; accept that and make enough that it doesn’t matter.
“One day at a time […] is simple but it isn’t easy: out requires incredible support and fastidious structuring” – Russell Brand

The “so what?” test

Be open; share unfinished work, finished work, upcoming events – not personal stuff. Share because it can help or entertain (preferably both). Every time you share something, ask what it contributes – why should anyone care?
“Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.” – Lauren Cerand

Turn your flow into stock

Flow is your daily digest – posts, tweets and daily updates.
Stock is durable content – stuff that’s still relevant or interesting months or years later.
The balance is to maintain flow, while building stock.
The best way to generate stock is to collect, organise and expand on your flow. Revisit old ideas to find patterns (in ideas as well as behaviour), and turn those into larger works.

Build a good (domain) name

Depending on other people’s services is always a calculated risk. A personal website and domain gives you a stable base that won’t disappear overnight.
Blogs turn flow into stock – they build up into a professional autobiography, documenting your development across years.

Show Your Work! – part 2

Think process not product

Take people behind the scenes

Artwork vs. art work
By using social media, an artist can share as much or as little with their audience as they like with no cost.

“By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows then to see the person behind the products.” (It Will Be Exhilarating, Provost and Gerhardt, quoted in Show Your Work! pp38)

Become a documentarian of what you do

There are people who would be interested in what you do, if you present it in the right way.
In terms of building an audience, the process can more valuable than the product, and especially if your products aren’t readily shared.
By taking the hidden and discarded bits of art work and making them visible, you can build a parallel body of work that functions as a development sketchbook.

Document:

  • Research
  • Reference
  • Drawings
  • Plans
  • Sketches
  • Interviews
  • Audio (playlists, notes to self, thoughts)
  • Photographs
  • Video (livestream, process videos)
  • Pinboards (Pinterest)
  • Journals
  • Drafts
  • Prototypes
  • Demos
  • Diagrams
  • Notes
  • Inspiration
  • Scrapbooks
  • Stories
  • Collections

Recommended reading

Art and Fear, Bayles and Orland
It will be Exhilarating, Provost and Gerhardt

Show Your Work – part 1

Show Your Work, by Austin Kleon

You don’t have to be  a genius

Find a scenius

“Lone genius” is a dangerous myth, actively detrimental to success. Being part of a community (a “scenius”) is far more valuable than going alone – sharing ideas freely creates more ideas and each contribution, however small, is worthwhile. Shared resources, networking and an “ecology of talent” will get you further than you’ll get alone.

Internet communities, blogs, email division lists, chat servers – all sceniuses (scenii?).

“Stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.” (pp12)

Be an amateur

Amateur – an enthusiast who pursues their passion regardless of the potential for fame, money or carer.

Unconstrained by the need to perform, amateurs are free to experiment with new things, follow ideas and whims share, geek out and celebrate their passions. They aren’t afraid of looking foolish if something doesn’t work out because they love engaging in their passion. The hallmark of an amateur is ‘learning out loud’ – succeeding and failing publicly and unashamedly.

Find a scenius, look at what others are sharing and – more importantly – what they aren’t sharing, and look at how toy can fill that vacancy. Do what you love and people will come to you.

You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it

Your voice is an intrinsic part of how you think about the world, informing what medium you use and how you use it, but the only way to find your voice is to talk about the things you love and that inspire you and why.

“If your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” (pp23)

If you want people to know who you are and what you do, speak up.

Read obituaries

One day, you will die.

Staying mindful of that unassailable fact keeps you focused on the importance of every single day. Kleon calls obituaries “near-death experiences for cowards”. Seeing the sum of a person’s life in print, thinking about death every morning, makes them want to go out and live.

Recommended reading:

Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirkey

We Learn Nothing, Tim Kreider