I’ve been hearing a lot of artists stressing lately about having too many different styles, working in too many different mediums, or having too many disparate series.
One artist contacted me because she had been doing freelance illustration for many years and her income had stagnated. She found herself working in a few different styles to match what each client wanted. And she was good at all of them, producing beautiful artwork that pleased each of her customers. But what she really wanted to do was scientific illustration.
Another artist had been telling her friend all about feeling overwhelmed in a “crisis of not knowing who I am or what art I want to make”. Her friend sent her my way and we had a great little discussion about her different styles (abstract painting, figurative painting, illustration, lettering, graphic design, etc) and what she should do moving forward.
One of my fulltime consulting clients is struggling with it too! She does digital illustration but has explored loads of different styles and knows how to design & code websites too.
With all of these stories recently, I feel like I have to address the worry and fear that surrounds starting a business for your art when you work in many different styles, mediums, or series.
First, I’ll give you a vocab word to help you out if you choose to research this concept further.
This word has been wafting around the internet the past couple years after Emilie Wapnick gave a fab TED Talk about creative people with many different interests and pursuits who feel they have no “one true calling” where she coined the term.
If you feel like I just described you, this article will give you direction and clarity. And definitely watch Emilie’s TED Talk.
The advice I find myself giving over and over again, because it fits 90% of artists’ businesses and lives, is:
YOU DON’T HAVE TO SELL EVERYTHING YOU MAKE.
Or another way of putting it – not everything you’re interested in, love to do, or are good at, has to become part of your business and make you money.
Hopefully this concept makes you feel a little freer.
Because in business, it’s really best to contain the different things you have for sale under one umbrella. So your business is likely to struggle if you’re trying to sell all the different styles, mediums, series, etc.
Now this umbrella doesn’t have to be any particular sort of umbrella.
For example, your umbrella might be a youthful, joyous feel like Mayi Carles. Or maybe your umbrella is quirky and cute like Amy Ng. Or maybe your umbrella is enchanted wandering like Amy Tan. Or slightly urban abstracts like Kent Youngstrom. Or colorful and painterly like Veronica Funk.
Or it could just be “abstract acrylic paintings” or “still life in oil” or “torn paper portraits” (like my newest client).
Or – see you have loads of options – you might have a different unifying characteristic like a color, shape (I prefer to work in the round personally), technique, subject matter, etc.
SO YOU HAVE TO GET COMFORTABLE WITH CURATING.
You want to start looking at your work with a business eye (after it’s finished of course!) to decide whether it’s something that really belongs under your umbrella.
This may take practice, but mostly because you have to take your emotional attachment to the piece out of the equation.
It doesn’t matter how much you love a piece when you’re deciding whether or not to sell it.
You should only sell things that fit under your umbrella (also known as your brand) because that helps people understand you, know when to recommend your art to other people, and sift through your work to find the piece that speaks to them (that’s much harder to do when there are too many different sorts of images to look at).
Artists who focus – on something, anything – with an ‘umbrella’ sell more art.
When you look at the most successful artists, especially those who have an online presence, you’ll see that they almost always have a focus.
Because it’s hard for someone to be an avid fan and buy your art over and over and over again if every piece you create feels completely different.
Now, the thing I hear most often after this advice sinks in is, “Does that mean I have to keep doing this style for the rest of my life?”
It’s usually accompanied by an expression of despair on the artist’s face.
Well, I’m happy to tell you that you don’t have to keep doing this style forever. You just can’t change it every week or every month. You need to stick to an ‘umbrella’ for enough time that you could conceivably become known for it.
But remember, that’s just in what you sell publicly.
That doesn’t mean you can’t explore and create outside of your umbrella to your heart’s content.
In fact, I encourage it.
With multipotentialite-ism, you merely have to adjust how you approach your business to accommodate all that awesome creativity.
You don’t have to stifle yourself.
You just have to use your creativity intelligently.