Getting Your Schtick Together: How Cohesive is Your Work
In this column, I frequently talk about the importance of exploring new paths in both your personal life and work. Trying new things is a viable antidote to stress, career burnout, or creative blocks. This can be especially effective for established artists who want to learn new techniques or check out a new medium. But, if you make a living selling work that is in your style, you can't afford the time for too much exploration.
Another reason to not steer too far off course is that most artists who've been in the business a while have an identifiable, distinctive style, or a "body of work." But what about emerging artists who are trying to define a cohesive tone or style for work? Shouldn't they experiment and try to find their niche?
||A million years ago, as a freshman fine-arts major, I had so many diverse assignments in my classes that my roommates and friends were amazed. One quarter, I had to design a board game, do a 6-foot by 6-foot self-portrait on cardboard, and crochet food(!). Seriously, the assignment was to use various materials to crochet food. It also couldn't be to scale; it had to be very small or very large. I crocheted a giant hors d'oeuvre. I put balsa wood inside my cracker for crunch and got an "A." What can I say? It was the 1970s.
Attempting all those media helped me decide what I wanted to do--printmaking, but I didn't stay with it. The only thing that stuck was the crocheting; decades later, I became a professional fiber artist. Although I had talent in other areas, this became my focus and niche. I did use elements I took from other media, like my color sense, textural aspects, and overall design approaches, and applied them to my work.
If you're still searching for the consistency that makes your work readily identifiable, you might need to get out of your own way like I did. Some different things to consider and try are:
Finding Your Style
My take on finding that cohesive factor in your art is that it can occur in several categories that are recognizable in your work, such as themes, design similarities, and techniques.
A jewelry artist, Jane Font (www.janefont.com), whose work I've recently discovered, illustrates how defining your style comes together. She's an emerging artist and relatively new to selling her jewelry. Her work is comprised of several distinctive lines. One has a very industrial, distressed look, and she calls the pieces her Beauty in Decay series. Another line, Relic, is more medieval in style, but also incorporates the "decay" themes/designs.
Recently, Font began creating and selling work in a totally different medium--small "abandoned" houses constructed of paper. Because her jewelry is so distinctive, I was concerned the houses would detract from her style/body of work. But the designs and themes and even techniques echo each other, so it appears to be working.
Gaining Your Confidence
I relate the cohesive aspect to my writing as "finding my voice." When I first began writing professionally, I didn't have the confidence in my style/tone that I do now after several years. Finding a voice that was true to me while still meeting the client's or audience's needs was a challenge. I went down some weird paths until I figured it out. But, early in my career, I couldn't define what felt "off" and uncomfortable; the writing felt forced and was difficult to complete. Some good editors and writing colleagues helped me figure out that I was throwing barriers in my own way.
One of the most important factors in keeping your work cohesive is that customers begin to identify you with your style. That doesn't mean you can't try new techniques or designs, but don't stray too far out there!
Ask for feedback from people whose opinions you value, especially other artists.
Spend time looking at the artist's body of work. Ask them how they found their "voice."
Pay attention to the emotional and psychological components of your work process. Is it feeling forced, phony, or are you unhappy with the results?
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