082. "Consistency is Key!" - Why I hate this statement.

I can't even count how many times I've been told "the key to success as an artist is consistency."

"Consistency" here means:

  1. The work that you share should show a consistent vision or style.
  2. Even if you experiment and alternate between mediums, the work you present to the public should be more or less ONE medium within your familiar style.

There are many thousands of artists who are making a living by following these guidelines. And with good reason. It is a formula that has been tested and proven to lead to sales. Why? 

Think of one of your favorite artists - perhaps you follow their Instagram account. You scroll through their feed, seeing a grid of beautiful work, usually all created using the same medium and in the same consistent style.

If you follow them for long enough, you can quickly recognize their art as you scroll through hundreds of photos. Their consistency is part of their "brand." Their consistent body of work makes them more memorable. 

This is the same way it works in galleries. Gallery owners need to be sure you can provide them with a consistent stream of work, since they are spending money to promote you and help you build a following. If you are constantly changing your style and medium, it becomes extremely difficult for people to recognize your work, and to promote you as an artist.

So, for artists who use several different mediums and/or do many styles of art, this realization can be very disheartening (which is why I say I hate the phrase "Consistency is Key!" I'm a stubborn creator who loves all mediums)

A lot of people say "choose one medium and become an expert" or "figure out what you love early on, and do it well."
But what if you love using watercolor one day, and pastels the next? What if you don't really KNOW what you love the most, because you love it all? What if you're afraid of getting pigeon-holed into one style and you don't want to get bored?

I'd like to present some food for thought. These are two competing views on this topic, and both have VERY valid points!

  1. Insight from Kyle Webster, world-renowned illustrator who works in several styles. 
    The Style Problem for Artists by Kyle Webster.
  2. Insight from a gallery owner's view on the topic. (read the comments too)
    Artists: Are you Consistent? A Gallery Owner’s Perspective by Jason Horejs.

These views represent both ends of the spectrum, and both have seen success by following their own rules. So what is right for you? Which direction do you lean?

Art is so personal, that in the end you have to do what fulfills YOU, not just what people say you should do.

My Struggles

I am currently going through something similar, however I am at the tail-end of this internal battle, as I've recently devoted a lot of time behind-the-scenes to figuring out what I want to say as an artist.

My biggest struggles are:

  1. I frequently use several mediums: acrylic, watercolor, gouache, ink, graphite, pastel and even photography. My Instagram feed is a grid full of mixed up creations. My website and shop are a hodgepodge of subjects. Therefore I do not provide a clear "style" or vision for my followers to get used to. I have no clear "brand" yet. The most common way people describe my work is "landscapes with pretty colors." While I am not opposed to that, I want to achieve much more.
  2. Since I paint/draw for many hours a day, it's easy for me to post work online frequently, BUT very difficult to choose what to share. Since my joy is found within the experimentation/the process of creation, I don't really focus on the final outcome as the prize. Sharing final images is less interesting to me than sharing the process or works in progress. However this makes it difficult for viewers to get a good idea of an over-arching theme in my work. My follower-growth is slow.

I know I could be doing better, especially financially, if I followed the proven formula of consistency. But I struggle with this so much, due to how much I love to experiment. 

So, how do I take ALL of these mediums and styles and ideas and process-love and distill it into a body of work that could potentially lead to a more sustainable future as an artist?

What I've realized is that no matter what, the most important thing should be "What do I want to say" as an artist.
What do I want to share with the world?? What will I leave behind?

This is one of the hardest questions to answer, and it has taken me almost a year of very slow, tortured reflection and awareness to uncover it. Mostly because as I started to explore this question, I realized my skill was not up to the task yet - and it will be a long time before it is. That wasn't an easy thing to accept, but it also empowered me. Over the last several months I ramped up my practice and studies in order to build my skill, and I've started seeing results that give me hope that SOME DAY I'll achieve my vision. Again... it will be a while before I get there.

But in the meantime, I have a goal to work towards. 

It does however mean that as I begin to share my true vision and style with the world, I will alienate many of my current followers, because it won't match what they've come to expect of me. That needs to happen, and in the long run I have to believe it will be for the best.

So, what is this new direction I'm going in? I don't really want to delve too deeply into it (YET) publicly, because it is still revealing itself to me. Actions speak louder than words and in the next few months I'm sure you'll notice a shift in my work. 

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I'd love to hear your thoughts, and if you've struggled with this too! Please leave a comment below!