NEWSLETTERS 101 #10: Share Your Process
Explain the “why” behind your “how”!
In last week’s article is this series, I encouraged you to share your sacred creative space with your audience. Today, let’s talk about how to share your process.
Sounds easy, right? It should be. Because most artists do this already. In addition to conflating bios/resumes/cv’s with our artist statement, the second biggest artist statement mistake I see artists doing is sharing their process as the focus.
I’ve mentioned before that this can go off-course pretty quickly. (As in the Newsletters 101 #8, when I shared that Bruce Baker quote about us focusing on glazes and firing at cone 10, when what our customers really want to know is, is there lead in the glaze, and can that dish go in the microwave.) And admittedly, “how” is probably the first question most people ask us when they visit our studio, or see our work at a show/exhibit/show/online.
So our usual “how” response is probably running on autopilot right now. Or worse, running on fumes.
Of course, other artists are always curious about our medium, our process, etc., especially those who use the same medium. Visitors who collect specific media probably also know much about it, as they’ve engaged with those artists over the years. Many (if not most) artists supplement their income by teaching their techniques. And regular people will be curious about the “how” behind your work.
But to make this a truly worthwhile topic for our email newsletter, we need dig deeper. Here is where it will help to think about our “why” behind our “how.”
Let’s explore a few of the whys:
Most artists talk about loving the “feel” of the medium/technique they use. This is a great start! Painting in oils is very different than painting in acrylics. The paint can be worked longer, while acrylics dry pretty quickly. Watercolor can mean transparency, liquid movement, layers. You have to know where you’re going ahead of time. Clay, an ancient medium, involves direct contact with the material, glass takes a lot of heat and fine timing, and despite the old jokes about taking ‘Basket-weaving 101’ for an easy college course, basket-weaving is pretty complex. Think about what keeps you going in your making, where the joy comes from, etc.
And yet, within all these media, there’s a lot of variation in technique, process, and aesthetics.
Clay can be hand-built, molded, mass-produced, or one-of-a-kind. It can be glazed or unglazed, and the chemistry required for understanding glazes can boggle the mind of the most experienced potter. My father-in-law tried for decades to recreate a unique glaze that was the result of an accident, and never did solve the mystery.
Watercolor can be intuitive, or deeply detailed, fluid or precise, depending on the artist. Fiber can range from a beautiful yet simple knit top to an intricately woven Navajo rug, from an Amish quilt made with repurposed old clothing to a room-size museum installation.
And don’t even get me started on polymer clay! It can imitate glass, ivory, metal, clay, shell, stone. It can be molded, sculpted, painted, layered, carved, and yes, woven. It’s been denigrated for years, mostly because though it was created as a medium for doll-making in Germany, when it was introduced to the United States, it was marketed as a clay for children. Google “polymer clay art” and see the possibilities!
So again, take a step back. Think about all the steps behind your artistic journey. Where did you start? With what? Where did it take you? Where are you now? And WHY???
Here’s the “why” being my medium: When I was first inspired to make something that looked like artifacts from ancient times, my first thought was to carve them from bone. My first efforts were not only horrible, I quickly realized that everything involved in the process was an anathema to me: Carving means know where to start, and when to stop. I’m a person who, when I cut my own bangs, the entire world knows. Short story: I don’t know when to stop. And that means I go too far, and can’t walk it back. Carving does not “fit” me. Shaping, sculpting, adding more clay, having the ability and the opportunity to make adjustments along the way, all this is what keeps me moving steadily forward with this medium.
Another why: I use polymer clay because I can create a block of material that resembles real ivory. And stone. And shells, buttons, sewing awls. I make my own “ancient” artifacts!
My most powerful “why” behind my process: Although ancient carvings are bone or ivory, that was a byproduct of how ancient people lived their everyday lives. We live differently today. Legally- and environmentally-sourced ivory is almost impossible to find, and prohibitively expensive. Plus my early research showed potential health issues connected with carving/sawing/drilling bone. (Mad cow disease, for starters.) Deep down, in so many ways, it just felt wrong, ethically and pragmatically.
When I discovered polymer clay shortly after, I was overjoyed to find a medium that allowed me to imitate the look and feel of real ivory, but involving no harm to animals. It was a major turning point in my journey.
That’s why most of my polymer work doesn’t resort to the aesthetics, processes, techniques, etc., used by so many polymer artists, in my wall hangings, jewelry, and shrines. If I need a bead/shell/rock of a certain size, color, shape, and I don’t have one that fits the bill, then I make one. I make many artifacts in a sitting, use the one that works best, and set the others aside to use another day. That’s part of my process, too.
When sharing your process in your email newsletters, you have many choices. If it’s extremely involved, and has evolved over time, add that as a page to your artist website. You can write a short(er) summary in your newsletter, and link to the longer article.
Or you can share your process journey in bits and pieces over the months. If your journey has been a long and varied one, you can share a stage at a time, and include examples of your earlier work. Our art evolves over time, just as we do, and that’s an aspect of your process that could be of interest to our audience.
You can share variations in your process, too. Are you are still exploring and experimenting in your art journey? First, good on you! Share your experiments, how you tried a new approach, what you found, whether it was a game-maker or a deal-breaker, and why. When people see that our paths weren’t always straight-and-narrow, it may inspired them to try their own dreams and passions, with less self-judgment. (Here’s how kick-boxing taught me about the four stages of competency, and gave me a powerful insight into my own art-making choices.)
If your journey has been a steady and focused one, share that! How do your preferred work habits reflect what’s important to you in life?
What did you dream of when you started this path, and what surprises you about where it’s taken you? What were your goals? Have you achieved them? Did they change along the way?
Another why: So many artists mention the other artists they’ve studied under, especially in their credentials. The problem is, someone who’s well-known in one part of the world may be totally unknown in another. Get specific: What was your intention in taking the class?
Was it to learn a certain technique? To get feedback and encouragement from an artist you respected? What did you learn? How did it help you move forward with your own style and technique? (A ‘how’ for the ‘how’!)
Sharing our process can feel a little dodgy sometimes. We’ve all encountered the studio visitor who may actually come out and say they want to make something that looks just like our work. It makes me cringe. So sharing it in detail in a newsletter may bring up that feeling.
To be clear: We are never obligated to share our entire process! I don’t mean, leave out a step so other people will never get it quite right. That’s just mean. But we aren’t a walking textbook, either. Point them in the direction to find more about how we do what we do. (Hint: This is a great time to tell them about your upcoming workshops and classes you offer! More on that next week.)
Step outside the copyright infringement feeling. Share enough that people understand how much work, effort, training, and experience go into the work we make. Refer them to sources where they can explore the techniques if they really want to do what we do. It puts the work on them!
Last, sometimes two mindsets get us in trouble when we talk about our process. The first is assuming we are the very best at what we do, and only we can do it. The second, and worst, is being too humble. Thinking that what we do is no big deal, that anyone could do it, and that we aren’t that special.
The first attitude is good for confidence as a teacher, but bad for our students. We have to understand how long it took us to get to our best practices, and encourage them to stick with it if they want to get better, too.
The second is dishonoring our creative heart. We got good at what we do because we kept doing it. We did the work, we learned from our mistakes, and we kept trying to get better. Honor your skills and aesthetic!
Be a good human. Have an open, loving heart, not only for our art, but for our journey along the way. Be willing to share it with others. It might be just the encouragement someone else needs to take up their own creative work, today.