A.B.E. (Always Be Evolving)

You might have noticed something about Art Biz Coach and me: we’re always changing.

I can’t help it. I am continually learning, so why should my services and offerings remain the same?

I always look for ways to offer more information in a fresh way that best serves my clients.

This is why there is no more Art Biz Bootcamp or Organize Your Art Biz – because I found ways to improve them.

©Nat Coalson, The Shark. Photograph. Used with permission.

©Nat Coalson, The Shark. Photograph. Used with permission.

Last year I introduced the Art Career Success System, a 5-month program to grow your art business. This year … Yep! It’s changing. It’s still around, but in a radically different format. (Stay tuned for that.)

Creative Evolution

I believe in personal and professional evolution. In fact, I may be addicted to it.

As an example, I expressed frustration with my coach recently about the fact that I seem to reinvent my programs every year. Won’t it ever calm down? I wondered.

She suggested, gently, that this is my nature. I have an artist’s soul and I like to create things.

Guilty!

There’s such joy for me in growing, planning, and improving. I’m guessin’ that you’re the same. You’re an artist, after all.

You’re all about making and creating. New! Next! Again!

New experiences add to your palette.
New visions force you to think differently.
New encounters ask you to question the same ole same ole.

Ignore these urges at your professional peril because the alternative is stagnation. Stuck-ness.

©Cherry Jeffs, The Ladder. Mixed media on canvas, 50 x 40 centimeters. Used with permission.

©Cherry Jeffs, The Ladder. Mixed media on canvas, 50 x 40 centimeters. Used with permission.

Yes, the creative process is incredibly frustrating. At times, it’s torture. Anyone who thinks it’s easy is doing something wrong.

But, golly, the rewards of completion make it worthwhile.

A.B.E. Always Be Evolving.

What Evolves and How

Evolution, by definition, is something that happens over time. It’s not a big bang!

You have to allow it to happen.

For starters, question the story you’ve been telling for ten years or that other people are saying about you and your art.

Likewise, fall madly out of love with the ideas that aren’t serving you.

Of course, the most important part of your artist evolution is in the quality of your work. This is achieved when you:

©James Harris, Girl With Butterfly. Basswood, 14 x 10 x 2 inches. Used with permission.

©James Harris, Girl With Butterfly. Basswood, 14 x 10 x 2 inches. Used with permission.

  • Test new materials. Eventually they either integrate into your offerings or your primary work changes in some way because of what you learned by using them.
  • Experiment with fresh subject matter.
  • Learn alternative techniques, perhaps by working with additional instructors.
  • Seek feedback from a critique group.
  • Challenge yourself with a painting a day or a color you’ve been avoiding.

It’s not just the art that can evolve. How you share it with the world should also evolve.

  • Seek progressively prestigious venues rather than sticking with what you know.
  • Incorporate creative marketing ideas that require you to get out of your comfort zone.
  • Make increasingly sophisticated connections.

And your business …

  • Hire people who can help you grow. You might be competent in certain areas of your business that aren’t your strengths, but other people are probably better at them. Turning over those aspects of your operations will free you up to focus on your genius.
  • Adopt new technology that can help you automate and add offerings that weren’t previously possible.
  • Tune in to your art as a business by knowing your numbers, testing your actions and decisions, and tracking results.

Your Turn

If you aren’t evolving, your business probably isn’t growing and you are likely unfulfilled.

How has your art career evolved over the past few years? Please share in a comment below.

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34 comments to A.B.E. (Always Be Evolving)

  • Fay

    I was just relating the other day on social media my feelings after completing an order. It takes something out of me each tome to create something new and different, but the joys are so much more rewarding! Ah, the birthing process!

  • Hi, Alyson! I’ve recently started experimenting with intuitive abstract art, and I am loving the process! It’s definitely an evolution for me, as I am NOT an abstract thinker at all; I like things nice and orderly, and neat, small mixed media collage is what I’m best at; however, in 2016 I gave myself a goal to delve more into abstract art for an entire year, not to master it, just to get out of my comfort zone and try something new, because it was driving me crazy that I couldn’t seem to “get” abstract art. I did it, and felt myself evolve quite a bit. So, at the start of this year, I started painting more intuitively, just for me, without any goal of selling anything. I’m throwing paint on the canvas to see where it takes me, making marks and symbols, mixing rad colors, and painting on BIG canvases. I’ve had so much fun and have learned that I CAN make abstract art, and now, as it turns out, I’ve gotten exposure and will be showing my work in my first exhibit in April – beyond thrilled! My next step is to take your Art Biz Lift Off course, which I plan to enroll in soon, to further help me define what I want and how to get there, and then eventually take the other, more in-depth courses. Can’t wait to get started! Thanks for being such an inspirational and accessible guide!

  • I’ve finally found a style of abstraction that suits me. I’ve been reading a book on new techniques and I’ve bought some of the materials to try some of them out. I really struggle with finding new venues. I’m still doing group shows and not selling. I’m in Australia, I’ve thought about sending some of mine to the US but I expect the political situation to turn into a bad economic one.

  • “Always Be Evolving”–Wow I love it! This is how my art career has been evolving: Instead of painting on canvas only, I decided to experiment with a 3-D effect. By doing a drawing or a painting on paper, I cut it out and glue it to foam board. Then I create a background that adds a little more interest to the design. To finish it off I glue the 3-D piece to the background. Voila!
    Many of the painters I know want to continue the way they have been painting all their life. And that’s okay! But I am constantly looking for fresh approaches. Lisa who has been helping me organize my studio told me that she wants to be just like me when she reaches my age. She’s impressed because I paint, draw, keep up with my journal (including sketches). She’s amazed and I feel happy to be a role model. One more thing: I am noticing that my 3-D mixed media pieces sell better or they get into national competitions.

  • My sense, both as a practicing artist and as what I like to call a ‘helping person,’ a mentor for people who are going through an emotional healing, is that the only way to assess progress is to simply make a space for it, to not deny anything that wants to come through. Mistakes and missteps can bring small eureka moments. If you don’t allow yourself room to screw up, you’re not allowing yourself enough room.

    Somewhat similarly to Terry Edwards (above) I’ve spent the last year and two months trying to get my mind out of the way of my paintbrush. Once I figured out that it was the ‘trying’ that was getting in my way, I stopped trying, turned everything over to what happens during sleep, and went on to put the first thing that came into my head next morning down on a surface. Turns out that it’s almost never wrong… and, actually, it’s never wrong, I’m thinking. The process takes care of itself; all I need to do is see that I don’t get in the way.

  • Yes, Victoria! I love how you put that: “Trying to get my mind out of the way of my paintbrush.” That’s exactly what I was doing but, once I stopped, the paint AND ideas flowed.

  • I am evolving so much, I still can’t find my signature art form? Galleries want that.. “Oh- that’s Sue’s style”.. I don’t think I have one since I’m always experimenting. I suppose the things I like to draw/paint is my style, but the materials are always changing. I’m thinking gold leaf next? Thanks for the tips and supporting my constant shift in materials and content.

    • Suzanne, I totally understand what you mean. I get bored easily, and have tried and enjoyed so many styles and techniques, that it’s hard to find one to make into your “brand.” I’ve still got a love of mixed media and playing with paper and paint, so I guess that would be my signature style. However, I love abstract art, and have been wondering if I can do both successfully. I read recently that it’s okay to have different styles, subject matter, and even different mediums, if you don’t over do it and have at least one element in common in every medium or style you work in. For example, a particular color that you know how to use well, or a symbol that shows up somewhere in all of your pieces. I’ve been exploring my common thread recently to see how I can work it into the different styles I enjoy. Good luck!

  • Just yesterday I began experimenting with layered colored under glazes and I’m so excited to see where it leads. This year is all about exploration & evolution! Thank you Alyson.

  • Marsha Anderson

    Hi Alyson,
    I read all the replies and, everyone sounds happy with what they are doing.
    I put art off for a while last year to do some music. Even while I am doing the music,
    I still get ideas for painting, even when I am gardening. I am wishing everyone all the best.

    Enjoy the process!!

  • Always be evolving…excellent advice. Each January during my relatively quiet period I now set myself a challenge to learn new skills with a view to changing direction. It’s now become a habit to do so and a time I look forward to. Sometimes the skills are studio based, and sometimes they’ll also be sales based – Like my current task of setting up a new website. I agree with Terri, above, it’s good to experiment and explore without any expectation of selling the work. It allows you to do things you wouldn’t usually and often creates ‘happy accidents’.

  • I’m evolving my painting hobby into a more serious pursuit. This means a disciplined studio practice. I’m starting to feel a little pressure…and then I read in Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert that we should let art love us as much as we love our art. So, I’m evolving my mindset from ‘Master The Art’ to ‘Let the art fill you with happy’. I am Art’s playmate rather than dominatrix. It makes me really excited to get out to the paint now.

  • I’ve evolved from a “let’s enjoy and have fun” painter to selling commissioned paintings of clients’ dogs, cats and horses. And I love every minute. Whether it’s networking and “selling”, or painting beloved pets, I’m living the life I want.

    There is no greater joy than when a client expresses true gratitude to me for having captured their pet in a painting that will become an heirloom. I am blessed that my art is appreciated in people’s homes and will be for years to come.

    However, I’m also delving into Expressionist art of running horses against Southwestern mountain backgrounds. Those are not commissions and the painting style is totally different than the highly realistic and detailed portraits. And I’m struggling with how to sell those pieces. I have already created three of them and am wanting to do more, but it seems that in the area I live (Charlotte, NC area) there’s no demand for Southwestern art.

  • This year in pursuit of my mission of empathy and compassion I’ve delved into making an “art app” which is an app that pursues these goals and makes people think about their behavior toward others. It’s terrifying but reminds me that being terrified means I’m probably on the right track. Here we go….

  • I like the idea of “Let the art fill you with happy”! Even as a “senior citizen”, I find my art is still evolving and I’m currently playing with “sparkle” – light reflections at night, light on water, light dazzling… Although far from rich, (pensions are my survival ), art is the cream of life in many ways. I am a part of a supportive group- and we all are constantly improving. One person is very concerned about what to do with his stack of paintings so I told him to consider that if you died tomorrow, would you want that to represent you? Then it is easy to destroy, paint over and generally clear things out. A grand clear-out seems to make way for newer ideas and happenings. A.B.E. – I like that.

  • Sheri Hoeger

    I started out as a decorative painter and finisher which led to mural painting, which led to canvas. Most of my work was pre-commissioned and creating in a variety of styles with a wide range of techniques and materials was an advantage. My work was very much in demand and I earned a national reputation in my field for techniques I developed and taught. I have struggled with the “fine art” world where there is an expectation that you present work that is cohesive in style and subject. I enjoy painting just about anything but was not finding much commercial success when I painted things just because they were pretty. I have recently found deeper meaning in working on a series of heart-based works exploring relationships through the common act of a touch of hands. This makes me feel more truly an artist and they seem to resonate with people. I usually gift these to the subjects depicted and hope to sell prints and cards and other items with the images. I started an interactive piece by establishing a Facebook page where people are invited to share their own photos and stories. It has helped me artistically to not be attached to monetizing them. Whatever else I do, I plan to continue with these, though I still like to experiment with different mediums. Always evolving! Still, as an artist with nearly 30 years of experience, it would be nice to achieve a higher level of recognition and for that to also lead to greater commercial success. Admittedly, the marketing end of this feels like a brick wall I continually bang my head against. I test different bricks but most of them don’t give or provide very moderate success. I’m sure that is partially due to my not making a consistent or broader effort. It is all so overwhelming. Hence, my attention to your newsletters! Thank you for sharing so many tips.

  • Amen to this post. I’ve known artists who keep producing the same work for as long as I’ve known them and had several reactions:
    I’d be so bored!
    If I were more like that (consistent), would it help sales?
    How do they do it? (related to I’d be so bored!) and
    Why do their sales (at shows) seem to be so much better than mine?
    What do people see in that work? (Sorry, that’s not so charitable.)

    Oh well, I am who I am, I love the work, and I won’t reach my goal for sales / getting into the best shows if I don’t keep evolving. Long process, sometimes discouraging, but exciting.

  • Hi Alyson. My business evolves every year, but the biggest and most rewarding change is going to happen this year. All because I took your Art Career Success System course. I have stepped into the art world and am learning all I can about it, meeting totally new groups of people, making new friends (including ACSS pals), having Open Studios, and Applying to Art Exhibitions. Your course brought me full circle back to where I started, creating my art. I continually evolve, but this time I’m removing that which does not serve me. I’ve yet to discover where this all will take me but because of you and ACSS I’m excited about my new journey and self discovery as a textile pillow artist. Thank you! Wishing you a fabulous new year!! ❤

  • Thanks so much for featuring my art, Alyson – what a thrill! Is it fitting that I am now not painting on canvas but making artist’s books? (Redesigning my website now to put these front and centre.)
    It’s a delicate balance isn’t it? I love to A.B.E. but I have felt that in my case it’s always been at the expense of creating a consolidated body of work. Happily, that seems to have changed and I’m very focussed now. I know which materials and subject matter I love and I’m so enjoying exploring all the ways I can use them within the context of artist’s books. It feels like the balance of the 7 Chakras in Yoga: My feet are grounded but my head is flying free!

    • Hi Cherry,

      I made my first artist books this year.

      They were great, and also, strangely terrified me, such a different way of thinking from painting. I love their accessibility. Also, I put my book online through Amazon and iBooks. There is a learning curve for doing that, but its not that hard. I use InDesign, then you can easily export as an ebook. I made mine available for free, but you can also charge for them.

      https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/artwork-for-airplanes/id1164791947?mt=11

      And, rather than being a distraction from painting, the images I have produced for the book are changing the way I paint.

      Good luck

      • Congratulations Patty for moving your work into another medium! I love your installations by the way 🙂 I’m afraid my artist’s books won’t lend themselves to the eBook medium as they fold out and/or pop up and have strong tactile qualities but one day I’d like to see some of them as multiples…

  • Well, this is a BIG question. I’ve really enjoyed reading how others have been evolving their art practices.

    The main evolutionary processes I’ve been working on in the last year have been in the area of creating an online presence through developing a website, taking a course in selling art on online, learning to use Facebook, and exploring Instagram (ugh!). I also joined some artist groups and revived a local creativity-focused group. These really helped. One area I really want to develop for a variety of reasons is blogging or maybe some other format to write about living an artful life ( much work needed there, so I am currently taking a course called “Becoming a Great Essayist”. It’s fun!),

    I’ve also been working to perfect some new techniques in my art work. Last year I did 53 pastel paintings (12′ x 12″). And some others that I threw in the “not great, but a good learning experience heap”. I sold some, too, though no where near as many as I would like to. And this year I hope to learn a new medium.

    A big step forward was connecting with you. I am very interested in the November Break Through event and also the Table Talks (will contact you separately about that). And now, after creating 12 pieces for a group show in February, I realize I have to redo my Artist Statement (I used your book and process) and my bio and the way I have things categorized on my site because my focus has significantly shifted. YIKES! Not to mention, I am always redoing my schedule to fit in studio time, exercise, family time etc, etc…

    I am excited to hear about your new ideas to help us all along. What have you got up your sleeve?

  • Alyson…I completely agree. I think artists get frozen sometimes in not wanting to progress away from their “look.” I found myself in this state the past year. Instead of growing, I stagnated, not wanting to venture too far away from my existing body of work.

    Ironically, looking at some early work of my own broke me out of this rut. Before I had my ‘body of work’ I was more spontaneous and explored new ideas. I’ve picked up some of those ideas and combined them with some of my usual stylistic techniques and am now working on a new on a whole pile of new paintings! It’s different but still very me. My followers have reacted very positively to this new direction and my ideas are over flowing!

  • Gary Black

    Kia Ora Alyson,
    I am a Kiwi (New Zealander) currently living in Bundaberg, Queensland, Australia. When I retired nearly five years ago I returned to oil painting with a vengeance. I studied a lot of artists work on Youtube and tried out a several wet in wet techniques. Entered a local art festival at Moore Park Beach in 2013 and sold one painting. Since then exhibited work at a local monthly art and craft market. Found out people like my work but have short arms and deep pockets (they can’t reach their wallets). I had a 3×3 metre tent setup with my work displayed around the sides and on a table top so people could walk around and have a good look. Had business cards printed and on display. Never left my site and spoke to everyone who walked past. This approach made many people stop and look at my work with many of them entering the setup to look at specific paintings.
    So have decided to enter into as many sections of the Bundaberg Arts Festival in March this year to get my “name” out there. The top prize is $5,000.00 for a big and bold painting (1.5x 1.0 metre up to 2.0×3.0 metres). There is prize money of $13,000.00 in the oil painting section alone.
    So my focus this year is to enter as many art competitions as I can and get my name promoted through this type of exposure; where people who appreciate art come to view.
    I have also extended my range of painting styles from landscape to realistic (mainly World War two aircraft) and modern art to appeal to a big potential market.
    Will let you know middle of March how the Art Festival pans out.
    Kai pai tou ra
    (have a great day)
    Gary

  • Hi! Thanks for that A.B.E. For thirty years I pursued painting on silk… if I say so myself, got pretty good t it. BUT! surely there is something MORE?? so I am now looking at digital printing experiments .. one-off pieces printed from my designs. Very entertaining, to say the least. Me and the printers go round and round about resolution, sizes, fabrics to print on, etc. etc. I may even branch out and do limited yardage for some custom sewn creations!

  • Thank you so much! As much as I fight it, and like to stay in my comfort zone, great things ALWAYS happen with change and growth!!!

  • Oh man! 2016 was huge for my evolution. A year ago, I knew I should think about creating a new website as I was muddling along trying to update my old one using an HTML format that I really didn’t understand. During the year, I created an entirely new website that allows me so much freedom. From that, I started a newsletter every other week and I have faithfully stuck to that schedule. With that, I started a blog that I thought would be every month, but that has also become an every other week posting.
    As for my art, the past several years have added abstraction to my typical realism. I sit here and wonder what the new year will bring. I could not have seen the changes that last year brought, so I can only look forward to what lies on the horizon.

  • Hey Alyson…

    LOVE YOUR BLOG! My art business is evolving, albeit snail mode, but this past year I did get my art into a gallery. I have yet to sell an original painting, but I have sold a few prints and postcards. I also recently started attending a weekly live figure drawing class, which is a definite challenge for me as I haven’t been interested in figure drawing at all. I had such a good time with this new group of people, that I’ve invested in colored papers, charcoals, pastel pencils, and a French easel as tools for these sessions.

    My goal for 2017 is to set up a better studio. Currently, I have a room in the lower level of our home, but the lighting is not good. So I plan to move my studio to a spare bedroom on the main floor. My husband also plans to build me a studio shop on the end of our backyard with in-floor heat so that I can “go to work” regardless of weather. Until that’s done, I need a “better” studio that is more accessible so that I have no excuses not to work my art daily.

  • Thank you for this post. I have been stuck. I had a drawing I was supposed to be working on but I have been doing anything but.
    After considering what you had written, Alyson, I suddenly realised there is a painting I passionately want to do that is completely different from my regular subject. I went out and took reference photos while my inspiration was still in existence. I no longer feel stuck even if I have to wait a while before I have time to do the new paintings.

  • Provocative questions.
    My business is 18 years old. I’ve always followed my intuitive ideas. I have done A.B.E. without being aware of it. It’s amazing how all of our experiences build on each other.
    Last year I was ready to take my business to the next level (more $$$) and NO day job! I found Alyson a month ago. I get an A++++ and 2 gold stars for all the progress I’m making. I’ve learned to be intentional in doing 60 to 70 percent studio time – in my case most of it is done on the couch and breaks & lunch time at work- and 30 to 40% marketing. In my artwork, I want to do 80 percent spiritual work and 20 percent design to see if I can sell for textiles. The design work is grounded in spirituality. I’m called to not force anything in my work. I’m curious to see what happens this year.

  • Oh how I love this post. Why SHOULD you not change with your own evolution. I am so happy to see that there are others who believes this. I applaud you!!! Thanks for this share.

  • My main evolution is to begin to incorporate business practices into my art business. I am making lists and getting in touch with those lists. I am learning about seo and how to drive traffic to a web site. I am really enjoying the learning process. I love the idea that my list is the real asset in my business. This is really starting to snowball. I have already recieved new commissions. I’m really fired up.

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