As a West Coast abstract artist, I am, by default, also a small business owner. Even when my gut is telling me the answers, I find that I yearn for outside approval before making decisions regarding my business. It's time to stop.
I am a well-supported individual. I always have been. I have the love and support from a team of people who want nothing else than to see me succeed. I have always felt this support, especially from my parents, my entire life. They supported me when I wanted to go to art school, switched majors to business, became a yoga teacher, a stock broker, when we decided to move 2500 miles away… I am a well-loved person. I am so grateful.
But now that I'm 8 months in since I quitting my day job to focus on my art, I am asking myself the question “Am I listening to too many voices?”. Feeling so supported is a wonderful thing, but I wonder, does it change the way I listen to myself? The past couple of weeks I have felt a bit stuck. Like, in every way. It has been difficult to make decisions and therefore, my forward momentum has been like moving through molasses.
Now, I am fully aware that my idea of “productive” is probably way beyond a normal level of productivity. My Mom and I were joking the other day that the reason that I didn’t cry when I was born, but instead lifted myself up with my arms to get a good look around, was because I was trying to figure out where to start multitasking. I have always been a “doer”.
For the past twenty years or so, I have had jobs where my checklist was clear and straight forward and I spent my days with a great sense of satisfaction as I moved from one task to the next, checking the items off my list. Five years ago, I brought my art practice and business development into my routine and every day I checked off items. Make art, check. Build a website, check. Set up Instagram and Facebook business, check. Incorporate mailing list and send eblasts, check. Write blog, check. Attend business webinars, check. Setting everything up was not hard for me. It was just another to do list.
I made a decision to make smaller pieces in order to create a lower price point rather than reproductions because it felt right for me, despite advise from loved ones saying otherwise.
But then I quit my day job to work on my art business full time. Suddenly, the check list items became more ambiguous. Like, Revise Bio and Artist Statement…ok, with what changes? Grow social media following…sounds good…how? Start working on different series of art work…uh…won’t I confuse what I’ve already done?
Then there is my support team. They are awesome and each bring something different to the table in the ways of life and career experiences. But what happens when I try to talk things through with the people who are closest to me and they don’t say what I hope to hear? Or suggestions are made that are simply not in line with the business model that I’ve been investing in. Do I go and change everything around based on their advice?
I’d like to focus on a fragment from the above paragraph: “…and they don’t say what I hope to hear”. Basically, by admitting that I’m hoping for certain advice to come out of their mouths, I am acknowledging that I already know what I think the answer is and I am just simply passing it by another to reinforce what I have already decided. When the opinion is different, it just confuses and frustrates me.
I think I’m at a point in this process where I know what is best for my art and business. The problem is that I have always had such an amazing and enthusiastic cheer squad, that I have become habitually reliant on passing things by my support team. It’s almost like it’s not real until I talk to one of them about it, whatever the “it” might be.
Even at this point in my process, just finishing the under paintings, this choice felt right for me.
It is because I’m scared. I’m scared of making the wrong choices. Of spending my time and focus on the wrong items. Of failing. Of letting them all down.
Maybe, in a way, I feel the need to pass every little detail by them because it takes some of the burden away. If they give me advice, and it turns out to be the wrong choice, then part of the responsibility is taken off of me and put on them. Just typing that makes me feel like a coward.
Recently, I’ve been feeling as though maybe I need to keep things a little bit closer. Maybe I need to proceed with actions based on the instincts within me. For example, I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for “entry level art” and the idea of reproductions keeps coming up from one of my support team. The problem is that I have wanted to build a business making only originals. The idea of creating cheaper reproductions is not attractive to me. I can’t finish the paintings the way I want. I can’t wrap the paint around the sides of the canvas. I can’t hand sign the back. It’s just not the ideal model for me.
I’m not throwing the idea completely under the bus, but I know that I need to try to build my ideal business and right now, I’m not sure I want to invest the time and energy it would take to get high quality photos taken of the pieces for reproduction. To research all the different print on demand companies. To test each one by ordering the reproductions…and on and on…
I would rather invest that time in creating small originals. And so that is what I’ve been doing all week. Now, I will say that I did have an hour-long conversation with my Mom (the Head of my Cheer Squad) about this that enabled me to make this final decision. She asked good questions and at the end of it, I had clarity. So, I’m not saying that should become an island.
I am so glad that I put energy into this project. Not only do I have a new series of work in the form of visual meditation paintings, but I also have a great price point for the holidays and for "introductory level" art.
What I do think is that when it comes to my art and business, that my instincts are usually correct and that I need to learn to trust them more. Because of that, I think it may be time to talk less and act more. I need to trust my artistic voice and my business gut.
It’s difficult because in the past, I haven’t always made the best decisions. But in looking back, most of those decisions were based on what I thought other people would want me to do. As Polonius says “To thine own self be true.” How can I be true to myself when I am constantly reaching outward for approval? It’s a bad habit.
Going forward, I am going to only ask about things that I have actual confusion about. Not things that I know the answer to and I’m just hoping that someone else will agree with me so I’m sure it’s right. I already knew the solution. What I risk is confusing what is already clear, and that is just a waste of valuable time.
If I wouldn't have made the decision to do this, I wouldn't have my Seagulls painting. (Detail of Seagulls can be seen at top of this blog post.)
I am my own CEO, CFO, Creative Director, Marketing Manager, PR Executive and Board of Directors. I also have an Advisory Council. Not every decision must be passed by them. They are there for support and guidance, when needed.
It’s intimidating being my own boss. If I fail, I don’t have anyone to blame but myself. But failure is just an outcome of being ballsy enough to try, so what’s the big deal? Faith in my own abilities is a muscle that I need to exercise. I have a feeling it’s one of those things that will get easier and easier the more I do it. So today, I begin.
The detail at top is Seagulls 36x36 Acryllic and Paper on Canvas.
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