December is a month of introspection. To me, it has always been a month to make balance, think of changes and consider which ideas worked, which ones should I toss and what new things should I try for the upcomoming year.
Two years ago, I decided that making commissions had become unsustainable since I moved back to Barcelona. Being these my first source of income, though, I was scared to stop making them to put instead my time and effort in growing my own online shop. That summer I read a book that really helped me take these decisions - it helped me decide a path for my work and how to share it on social media. I am recommeding this book to you because I wish I had read it sooner.
"Show Your Work!" is an easy read book by Austin Kleon. You can go through it in a couple of hours. Nevertheless, it is not a book to read once and abandon it in a book shelve, but a book to always keep within your reach and revisit often. Despite you'll probably know many of the things that this book has to tell you, you will need to read it every so often as a reminder to yourself. In a way, it could be like reading the voice of your own conscience.
This book is divided into 10 chapters, again subdivided into subchapters - I love tidy, organised books like this. Sharing your work on social media can be terribly overwhelming, specially if you make a living out of it. "Show Your Work!" takes a that weight off your shoulders and reduces the odyssey to a few clear advices that will make the job attainable. It doesn't offer a magic formula - you won't grow online over night - but it does offer a path to follow that will turn out to be better or worse, but that most likely, it won't fail you.
This book offers many advices and the ones that will stick to you will depend on the moment you're reading the book and the conundrums your work is inmersed into at that present time. I think maybe you'll stick with that advice that you needed/wanted to hear. Personally, "Show Your Work!" helped me improve my website's design, add a blog, organise my content and stand firmly on my decisions. I got many valuable advices from this book, but there were two that made the difference to me. Since then, all my ideas get through these two filters:
I have always believed in vampires. Not the kind that bite you or suck out your blood, but the ones that drain you from all energy and creativity. I always thought of them as persons though, and never before reading this book I considered that there could be "vampire things" too. What are the things you're making that have currently become a burden? What is it that you feel obliged to do, but really, you don't want to do it?
Making commissions allowed me to build a solid customer base that made me grow and let me live as an artist, and for this I am forever grateful to these customers for their trust. However, there was a moment when I was only making commissions and I felt they were starting to bite my jugular. People expected commissions to be a certain way and ,soon enough, I found there was no room for improvisation or even for improvement. I saw myself stuck as an artist. Commissions left me no time to experiment and I started feeling that I had transformed what I loved making the most into something I made for thirds, without it having any real meaning to me anymore. There wasn't a story behing the piece, there were no mistakes and no learning curve. The joy of having a regular income was crushed by having to spend my time making only commissions. I had definitely made too many by then -hundreds, since I started-. I progressively reduced the amount of commissions I was taking but I was scared to say the first NO. Commissions became my personal vampire and I had to find my garlic to protect my creativity. That summer after reading Kleon, I took the leap and I stopped making commissions, completely. I spent time on my online shop, my abilities and skills developped and my business grew.
What are your own personal vampires?
After a break of two years not making any commissions at all, last week somebody asked me to make a very cool one, and I decided to say yes. I actually missed making fan art and, being well rested from the commission burn out, I was finally able to see they have a bright side too - not only money wise but in the sense that often, commissions can get you out of your comfort zone. I have decided I will only make those that allow me to try new things and that are meaningful to me, from those customers that give me creative freedom. If a commission feels like a vampire, I will toss it without looking back at it. If instead it feels like a learning opportunity, I'll go for it!
This many seem excesive or in poor taste, but Kleon refers himself to something that we take for granted for being too obvious, without contemplating its transcendency. He writes about people that changed their life after a near death experience. He asserts not to be brave enough to ever want such an experience, therefore, he reads the obituaries instead. Obituaries, he says, don't speak about death, but about the lifes of people: who were they, what did they do. Our time here is finite; it is irrevocably true that you and I, and everybody else, will one day die.
I don't read obituaries myself, but I do live under this same principle Kleon describes here. I try to bear in mind that one day I will die, not in a pessimistic, catastrophic way of thinking, but just to remind myself that I am alive. That the time is now. I don't need to read obituaries because sadly, a friend of mine passed away a few years ago, at young age. We have discussed his plans in endless conversations. He had dreams, he had imagined a future that never came true. From that moment on, life became precious and fragile and I told myself that whatever you want to do, it's better not to postpone it. Just do it now. Whenever being an artist becomes a real struggle, I reming myself how much my work means to me and how lucky I am to be able to make it, and I get back to work without further hesitation.
Once I was talking to my cousin Cristina and she gave me an advice that meets Kleon's. She told me we often hear people say we'll have time to make this and that, but the truth is that you don't have that certainty and if you're lucky enough to indeed dispose of that time, there's no doubt that your energy will slowly diminish as you grow older.
Whenever I feel I take things for granted or that I accept the little unhappiness of the every day life, I look at this plant in my apartment that Eric got me and everything shakes inside me. Do whatever you have to do, take risks if you have to. That's it.
When possibilities seem infinite and you don't know where to start, start step by step. Start by reading Kleon! I hope this book will serve you as a guide as much as it has served me. I wonder which of Kleon's advices will stick with you the most :)