Envisioning Your Creative Life

FRESH ART INTERNATIONAL 2013 = New Site + New Fresh Talk Series!

Fresh Rx

Solutions to Your Creative Dilemmas

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce
Subject Line: Fresh Rx

Fresh Rx.10

I’ve been a full-time artist for nearly 20 years now and I’ve worked hard to build a client list of people who are interested in my work. I work in my studio about 30 hours a week and I show and sell my work on a regular basis on the national level. My biggest problem is that at this point in my career I feel a bit stuck. I feel like I’ve lost that spirit of discovery and adventure I had as a young art student. Any ideas about how I can get it back?
Painter, Chicago, IL

Sometimes in my own studio practice, I find that I get to the end of one avenue of thought and there’s just nothing left there to go on. I’m done. Or I may find that an idea that I started out working on with absolute excitement, now just seems plain boring. When this happens, I have two solutions that always work for me:

Take a sharp left.
Stop everything and go in a completely different direction. In some cases, it may be as easy as switching mediums. Working with new materials, or restricting the materials you allow yourself to use is a great way to set up problems or obstacles that will force your brain to find a way to “work around.” Most of the time the work I produce when I’m creating in this mode never becomes finished artwork. But that’s never the point. The point is to get a fresh perspective. I like to think of it as Creative Research and Development. 

Stop and refuel.
It takes a lot of mental and physical energy to create great work. When I’m having a series of days where I find I’m super low on both energy and motivation, I wise up and realize that instead of forcing myself to move ahead at half mast, I really need to rest and refuel. I’m a big believer in the idea of artists and Creatives taking serious and planned “down time” in order to sustain themselves long-term. Too often we out-put all this creative energy and then we forget to refuel. We get so excited and busy working on projects and activities that when our creative “low fuel” warning light comes on, we don’t pay attention. Just because your creative inkwell has temporarily run dry doesn’t mean there aren’t any exciting new ideas left in there. Perhaps they just need more time to germinate.

In July 2009, Stefan Sagmeister gave a great TED talk about The Power of Time Off.

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


I'd really like to quit my full-time job so I could practice for a really important symphony audition that's coming up, but considering today's job market, I'm afraid to take the risk. What should I do?

The bigger question within your question seems to be: “How do I transition out of my day job, so I can work full time on my art?” This is a challenge to many Creatives.

Here are three really important factors to consider before you take the leap:

1. How much monthly/yearly income will you need to be able to sustain your lifestyle?
2. How long will it take you to get your career moving in the right direction so that you can sustain that comfortable lifestyle? 6 months, a year, longer?
3. Do you have enough funds saved to cover your basic living expenses while you’re making the transition?

So, let’s explore your options:

Option A: Quit your day job as soon as possible and throw yourself head first into becoming a full-time musician. This is what most Creatives dream of doing, but it’s not really feasible unless you’re willing to make huge lifestyle concessions and aren’t adverse to risk-taking. Likewise, you’ll need to live off your savings account (assuming you have one) until you start making regular income.

Option B: You stay at your day job, and continue working on you creative career on evenings and weekends. The biggest drawback to this option is that making progress in your creative career will take much, much longer. And unless you’re really disciplined and focused it’s easy for the other demands in your life to take-over. Also, you need to be realistic about how much you can get done in the space of a day. We all need sleep!

Option C: (My favorite option) Work your day job part-time and work on your Creative career part-time. As your Creative career develops and you begin to bring in more income on a consistent basis, completely phase out the day job. Note, you may have to leave your current day job and exchange it for another day job that allows for flexible hours. This may sound like a lateral move, but it’s actually quite clever. Think about it. You wouldn’t need to quit your day job in order to practice for that big upcoming audition if you could simply ask to be scheduled for a few less hours to accommodate your practice schedule. With this option, flexibility affords you a bit of the best of both worlds. You still have steady income while you build your creative career, but you also have the time and energy to do the work required to reach your career goals.

The final point I’d like to make is that it’s not enough to quit your day job and hope that everything works out. You need a plan. Leaving your job before you’ve taken the time to think everything through sets up a situation where even though you may have more time to focus on your craft, you end up being unproductive because you’re so stressed about making ends meet.

You need to be both optimistic and realistic when deciding how to transition into working on your art full-time. As with most things in life, having a solid plan is a key factor that will determine either success or failure.

Click HERE to watch a great YouTube video/podcast by guitarist Tom Hess on how to move from working your day job to a full-time music career.

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


How do I cultivate a unique/notable/fresh brand at the beginning of my mid-career?

Branding is a catch-phrase that has trickled down from corporate culture. In a very basic way, branding is really about your reputation and how you actively present yourself to the world. But unlike a corporation, as an artist, you are your brand. With that in mind, when it comes to cultivating your personal brand it’s important to start from the inside. This is true for artists at every stage of their careers.

To build your personal brand you’ll need more than a logo and a slickly designed website. You need to be clear about who you are and what you have to offer. I’m not just talking about displaying the type of artwork you have available for sale. I’m talking about how you present yourself and your personality.

What three or four adjectives best describe you and what you have to offer? What words would you use to define your personality? What are you passionate about? What emotions do you want to generate when people come into contact with you and your work? Are these values being expressed on your website, blog, your social media outlets, and every other piece of content or information you put out into the world?

Click over to your website and have a quick look at your “About” page. Are you communicating enough information about what you stand for that a new-to-you person could easily and quickly figure out whether or not they want to hang around long enough to get to know you even better? People who visit your website, blog, or even your twitter bio are going to judge you, in a matter of seconds, based on what they see. These people can’t feel attached to your brand if they don’t know what you stand for. So step up and tell them who you are.

Just like building your artistic skill, personal brand building takes a bit of hard work and practice, but the rewards are well worth the effort.By taking the time to define who you are and choosing the best way to communicate those ideas, you can better position yourself to make connections with potential art buyers who would be most interested in exactly the type of artwork you have to offer.

More on Personal Branding: How To Make It: Building Your Personal Brand

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


I'm one of those people that never got a visual arts degree, I decided to focus on art history/theory instead.  Now, I'm realizing that one crucial thing I missed was connecting with other artists. So now, I'm in a situation where I'd like to connect more with other artists to share ideas, discuss work, etc. but I don't know where to start. Artist residencies? Workshops? If so, which ones are best for emerging artists? Can you recommend anyways to connect with artists locally and internationally?
Charisse, Normandy, France

Congratulations on realizing the benefits of being a member of a community of artists. I’ve said this once and I’ll say it a thousand times: Other artists are your greatest asset. They are your most valuable source of support, information, and resources.

I would definitely encourage you to enroll in a local class or, if you’re short on time, take a weekend workshop. Even if the other students in the class aren’t professional artists, you’ll find yourself in a supportive environment surrounded by other creative people who are interested in learning. Also, the person teaching the class will likely be a local artist that you can connect with long after the class has finished.

Another great way to meet artists is to go on your local artist open studio tour. Meeting other artists in their studios will give you a chance to not only see their most current work, but really have the chance to talk and connect with them. They may even have suggestions for other local artist groups or organizations they’re part of that might be of interest to you.

And let’s not forget the plethora of opportunities for meeting and connecting with other artists on-line.Facebook and LinkedIn offer hundreds of micro artist communities that you can tap into.

A few of my Favorites:

By using the Facebook search tool you can easily find a group called Art Bloggers. Even if you aren’t a blogger it’s a great group of artists who are usually having some very useful discussions about contemporary art. As an added bonus, if you find certain posts interesting you can then click over to their individual blogs, learn more about their work, and make connections and start conversations there too.

If you click on the LinkedIn Groups tab you’ll see that, like Facebook, LinkedIn offers thousands of art groups for almost every professional field. The two groups I find most useful are Contemporary Art Network and Art Business. These are my two “go to” groups when I need a question answered or I’m looking for a very specific resource. Information I’ve gained from these group members have been an incredible asset to both my studio practice and my art business.

Even if you never end up meeting these people face to face, although that too is a possibility, you can definitely benefit from the ideas and resources other artists in on-line groups will be able to offer you. Whether the group you find is on-line or off, the most important step is to join and start taking part in whatever community you choose to engage.

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


I started offering online encaustic classes and they've been very popular, but I know I should be thinking bigger. I share the info on FB, Twitter and LinkedIn and also list on SeekYourCourse.com. Where and how can I get more exposure? 
Sarah, Bridgeport, ME

You’re definitely on the right track.

For every creative, the two biggest challenges are communicating value, i.e. making it clear to potential clients/students/collectors exactly how they will benefit from what you have to offer, and most importantly, establishing yourself as a trust-worthy, expert authority in your particular field.

You should definitely enlist the help of other artists who blog.Ask former students to write about their experience and include images of the work they created using your teaching techniques.

Chances are, most of your enrollment will come by word of mouth. This is why getting other artists to write about your classes is so important. In fancy marketing terms, it’s called “third-party validation.”

It’s also the reason you should be including testimonials by past students on your website, complete with photos of the artists who wrote them and links back to their websites. Not only does this help build your credibility as an artist and a teacher, it’s a great way to connect and give back to artists who have supported you by taking your classes.

While running a contest or listing your classes on other on-line course websites isn’t necessarily a bad idea, offering the class to targeted art bloggers in exchange for a review on their blog would likely be a more worthwhile step. In fact, why not go one step further and organize a “blog tour,” where you appear as a guest blogger on several blogs over the course of several weeks, sharing a specific technique from each of your course offerings?

And last, but not least, how are you using your own blog as a platform to establish yourself as an authority in your field? Are you creating free content in the form of videos, tutorials, or advice about the technique on a regular basis? What can you create and distribute—for free—that sets you apart and establishes you as a “go to” person for this specific technique?

It might seem counter intuitive to give away information for free, but in fact this goes a long way towards gaining the trust of your readers and marketing your expertise. Try not to think of the gesture as giving away your best secrets. Instead, think of it as a way to gain trust, which is ultimately what you’ll need to rely on to gain new students.

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


 A colleague suggested that to advance my career, I should consider going back to school for an MFA degree.

My full time job would make it hard to go for an MFA at the school I'd like to attend, but my big picture goals include being internationally known and exhibited, and lecturing about my work. Should I invest time and money in an MFA?

I get asked this question so often that I actually have a pre-written response that I cut and paste as my email reply.

I’ll be honest with you. I hate the idea of artists going into debt to get an MFA. Inevitably, the debt forces them to get one or more "day jobs" to cover their student loans and pay their bills. They end up never making art. Unless you have a clear solid plan for how you will pay for a home, studio, health care, AND pay your students loans after you graduate, you could find yourself in a desperate situation.

I speak from experience here. By the time I finished grad school, I had amassed $60,000 worth of student loan debt. Even worse, I had no concrete plan for how to get out from under that debt while still making art. In retrospect, I understand this was a very, very stupid move on my part.I had to work 3 jobs to pay off my debts. Ultimately, it was my health and my art career that suffered. Ironic, no?

If you really feel an MFA would help you improve your craft, I say go for it! But also understand that simply having the degree isn’t a short cut to more credibility, legitimacy, or opportunity.

A very good article on this exact subject: MFA: Is It Necessary? The Debate

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


Fresh Rx.4 is an excerpt from Cathy Byrd Talks Art Talk
with Kesha Bruce.
Click here to listen to the skype podcast posted on February 10, 2012.

How am I going to get everything done?
An emerging artist, Chicago

This is one of my favorite topics, something that I cover often with consulting clients. It’s not easy. You have to make, market and sell your work. Unless you are very careful, it gets overwhelming really quickly. You have only a certain amount of time in the day to allot to all these activities.

I’m really a big fan of sitting down and writing out a formal structure. That’s part of my personal strategy. But this is not just about when you make art. It’s about how you will fit your creative practice into the rest of your life.You need to establish a schedule and a structure for each day and have routines that then become a habit. Setting parameters is how you begin to build your career.

Here’s a model scheduling strategy from my blog. You can tailor it to fit your life.

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


The gallery that represents me doesn't show or sell much of my work. 
Should I look for a new space? 
A sculptor, Montreal

Galleries have a tough job.  They generally represent a large group of artists in an already very crowded market place.  And in this “new economy,” their work isn’t getting any easier. So, before you jump ship, why not have a sit down with your gallery’s director and discuss the problem? Try to leave emotion out of the equation and figure out a better way to market “the product.”  After all, the Artist/Gallery relationship is a business arrangement, pure and simple.  Why not find out if there is a way that the two of you could work together to increase your profit? That’s what business partners do.

If, at the end of the day, the gallery doesn’t seem enthusiastic about trying new tactics, or they don’t take your work or your concerns seriously, then by all means consider moving your work to another gallery.  Sometimes a gallery’s focus changes, the artist’s work changes, or the gallery’s audience and collector base changes.  No one is at fault. It’s just the natural evolution of things.  There’s no reason you can’t end a professional relationship with a gallery on good terms and make a positive move to show your work in a new setting.

Note: For a gallerist's view on the subject, consider reading this blog by Ed Winkleman, owner, director of Winkleman Gallery, New York. He offers advice to artists seeking and changing galleries

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


I'd really like to be represented by a gallery. How can I make that happen?
A printmaker, Paris

There’s no one formula that will guarantee your entry into any gallery, but there are a few steps you can take to make the path a bit easier.

The first step is to do your research. Take a look at galleries that interest you. Does your work fit in with their current roster of artists?  Do you have anything in common with their other artists in terms of style, medium, career stage, and price range? If the answer to all of the above is 'yes,' then you can move on to the next step where you visit the gallery website, find out their submission policy, and send your beautifully designed informational packet.

That said, in my experience, the easiest way to get your work into a gallery is to be introduced to the gallery's director by one of the artists that’s already working with that space. Get on the gallery mailing list and start going to their openings. Add the gallery to your mailing list (This means your snail mail, postcard invite mailing list. Never add a gallery to your e-mail list without permission!) Introduce yourself—not only to the gallery director, but also to the other artists who work with the gallery. Once you’ve spent time getting to know the workings of the gallery, the director, and the gallery's artists, then you might go about asking the director if they’d be interested in looking at your work.

If this whole process sounds a bit like a dating ritual, that’s because in some ways, it is. Essentially, when you sign a contract with a gallery, you’re entering into a complex business relationship that involves plenty of risks for both parties.  When viewed from this perspective, clearly, a bit of “courting” is in order. 

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx


When do I need a web presence, 
and how should it look?
Unknown poet, Prince Edward Island

If you have a body of work to promote and you’re ready to begin the process of getting it in front of people, then this is the perfect time to start thinking about building a website.  But the when isn’t nearly as important as the how.  Above all, your web presence—whether it be a full website or a blog—absolutely needs to be professional and well designed.  Too many Creatives make the mistake of spending time, energy and money on sites that not only display their work poorly, but also aren’t designed to promote and market their work.

The basics:

An About or Bio page—This is not the time to hide behind your work. Introduce yourself in a way that gives website visitors the chance to get to know the person behind the work. Your well-crafted bio and professional portrait go a long way towards building a connection to on-line visitors.

Contact Information—If, after viewing your work, a website visitor wants to contact you, but can’t easily find your e-mail address, or phone number, they’ll likely leave and never come back. Make it easy for people to get in contact with you. If you get this part wrong, all of your other hard work will have been in vain.

Portfolio—This is the place to show a small selection of your best and most current work.  You don’t need to include everything you’ve ever created here. You only need to show enough work to give a viewer an entryway into your work.

Sign-Up Form—What do you want a website visitor to actually do once they’ve finished viewing your site? How to do you intend to get back in touch with them once they click away? A sign-up form of some sort is a simple and easy means to collecting visitors' contact information so that you can invite them back to your website or to an actual event long after they’ve wandered off to another part of the cyber world.
No matter what your field or medium, a website can and should be more than an on-line portfolio. The entire purpose of the website is to introduce yourself, present your work in the best way possible, and most importantly, to begin building relationships with the people that visit your site.

On-line Resources:
Easy and Affordable websites: OtherPeoplesPixels
Sign-up form and mailing list software: Mailchimp

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce: freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx

Because Fresh Art International believes that fresh thinking is essential to building a sustainable professional future, we’ve introduced Fresh Rx, an advice column designed for creative people like you. Fresh Rx is here help you visualize AND actualize your potential. 

Kesha Bruce, a dynamic art consultant and one of FAI's Fresh People, is ready to dispense the answers.

Tell us about the kinks in your practice.

Proposes straightforward advice, with links to professional resources that will help you address the challenges that seem to keep you from reaching your goals.

Send your questions to Kesha Bruce:  freshartinternational@gmail.com
Subject Line: Fresh Rx

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