Skillshare is a wonderful placewhere you can learn how to build skills without paying the high price of taking an in-person workshop or class elsewhere online. It’s also a great place for artists to launch courses teaching others how to hone artistic skills.
This article features 5 art instructors who share their top tips for launching your Skillshare art class!
1. What should you teach? Find something that you are good at and that others would want to know how to do. It should be something that balances useful and fun.
2. How should you structure the class? In my experience, classes that are centered around a clearly defined, shareable project are the most successful. The more accessible (easy to do for everybody at all levels) the better, but going more niche or pro is also good. Use the project to demonstrate the skills you are teaching. Avoid teaching skills that cannot be used in the project. Keep things as concrete and practical as possible. Provide clear, actionable steps, and easy to follow examples.
3. How should you engage your students? Be positive, encouraging and authentic in your videos. Look at the camera, sit upright, and use your face muscles (this is hard for me, since I have a bad case of RBF). Follow the Skillshare Class Guidelines and Class Publishing Checklist. Once you publish your class, respond ASAP to each and every class project. Encourage and praise all efforts. Don’t offer too much critique unless asked. I find most students want to share and celebrate, and often feel quite vulnerable. Share their work on your social media feeds if possible. Keep the overall class length to 30-60 minutes if possible.
4. How should you produce your class? While quality matters, and the better your A/V equipment the better the quality of your class, the absolute most important thing is the quality of your content/topic, the structure of your class, and the clarity in which you deliver that. Tabitha Park teaches this helpful class on using basic equipment to record and edit your class. You can also peruse the Skillshare Class Production AMA discussion I held in July 2018 for some tips.
5. How long will it take to produce a class? As long as it takes. Personally, I spend 100-300 hours each class, from early brainstorming, to writing, to recording, editing, and creating all the demo assets. As with most things, it takes a long time to craft something of high quality. Hopefully you can work faster than me, but be prepared to put in the time and do it right. You only get one chance to hit Publish on your class and make that first impression.
“Think about something you do in your art practice that people may find helpful or interesting. Maybe you do things a certain way, have developed techniques, shortcuts and systems, or use a particular program, app or art material. Maybe you have specialist knowledge in a certain field. Teach what you know and what you do.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the technical side. I had never even filmed a video on my phone before, but if you join in with Skillshare’s 30 Day Challenge for new teachers and look at the Teacher Handbook you will be armed with all the information and encouragement you need. You can get started without a huge outlay using minimal equipment.
Once you launch your class, be sure to market it on social media to let people know about it. Again, there is plenty of information about this in the Teacher Handbook. Consider making a short taster video about your class to share on social media, and mention that people can get a free trial of Skillshare Premiumusing your link. The sooner you market your class, the sooner you will get enough students to appear in the Trending section, which then means you will get even more students enrolling.”
Comic artist and illustrator Camilla d’Errico, who has done work for clients such as Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, Random House, Tokyopop, Hasbro, Disney, Sanrio, Neil Gaiman, and more, recently launched a course called “Imaginative Drawing: Developing Concept Art Characters” on Skillshare (take the class here). Camilla shares a brief comment on starting a Skillshare course:
“Starting up with Skillshare is a fantastic way to share what you know and connect with a knowledge-driven community. My pro-tip is to be prepared! Set out all your materials neatly in advance, and plan your lessons and steps ahead of filming. Then get ready to share share share your new lesson links on your social media! Promoting your new releases and where to find them is a huge part of being an independent artist!”
“My vocation goes beyond painting – I’m also passionate about using my experience and success to help other creatives reach their full potential. I believe in community over competition, and devote a large part of my brand to creating resources that allow fellow artists to thrive. I’ve published a series of video courses on Skillshare that educate fellow creative entrepreneurs in building their businesses. My classes cover a wide variety of topics, including finding your artistic niche, marketing through social media, selling artwork online, working with clients, and making a name for yourself in the online art world.
Your class doesn’t have to be 100% perfect to hit publish. You’ll learn as you go and get better as you become more familiar with the process. The first time I filmed an intro video, I had no idea what I was doing. I thought filming in a jungle cafe would be exotic and interesting, but I was dead wrong– the humidity blurred my camera lens and my voice was overshadowed by the background noise of chirping geckos. I can chalk that up to inexperience and learn from my mistakes.
Now, with several classes under my belt, I’m more familiar with the production process, including what works and what doesn’t. Teaching online is a constant learning curve; every time you publish a new class, it’ll be more polished than the one before.
Don’t forget to get involved with class discussions– this is a great opportunity for you to check in with your students and make sure they’re getting the most from your class. I’ll often answer questions in the discussion thread that give me bonus material for new class content as well.
Lastly, have fun with it! I choose my curriculum based on the things I wish I would have known when I was first getting started. I try to infuse my sense of humor into the content, especially in my more technical classes where it’s probably needed most. My classes are a mixture of art/technical content and business advice.
By creating a series of video classes on Skillshare, I’ve been afforded the opportunity to become an educator and directly help thousands of fellow creatives– whether it’s helping my students learn new tricks in Photoshop or provide tips about running your own business successfully. I’ve found it empowering to be able to use my personal experience to help other creatives reach their full potential.
“After many years as a zoo educator, I was faced with needing to switch careers due to health complications, and so my journey as a self employed artist began. My relationship with art had ebbed and flowed through my life, but it was around this time when I first found watercolors. I immediately latched on and refused to let go. Taking hold of my background in education, I began creating content for YouTube which later expanded into Patreon tutorials, but I was missing a sense of the depth and professionalism that I used to experience in the classroom.
In addition to my love for animals and watercolor, I also found myself completely fascinated with the actual pigments that are used to make various paint colors. In watercolor, these characteristics are especially intriguing due to the transparent nature of the medium. Expanding on a few different series I had previously created on YouTube, I turned to Skillshare to make my first in depth online courseexploring watercolor mixing based on pigment properties in order to provide others with information I myself was so excited to learn. I believe that is a key component to creating engaging content on this platform: embracing your own passions.“
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The most difficult part about selling art online or otherwise is that there are so many strategies out there that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. I’ve found that learning how to promote my art on Pinterest specifically is one of those strategies that shouldn’t be ignored.
The reason I’m so excited about Pinterest is because I know it’s a gold mine – over the past few years, nearly all of my art sales have been the result of viral pins on Pinterest. I’ve found that sticking to the following rules and using Tailwind have improved my Pinterest views, engagement, and sales with my artwork on Etsy and my artist website.
When you confirm your art website with Pinterest, it allows you to see what people pin from your website, and adds your logo to any pins made from your site.
Once you have your Pinterest for Business account, you can start posting “Rich Pins“. Rich Pins are pins that contain important information, such as price, where to buy, and more. To learn more about how to set up Rich Pins for your business, click here.
Group boards have been integral to my success on Pinterest! When you post to a group board, your pin will be seen by a much wider audience, and possibly re-pinned more readily by others.
To find group boards, you can search Pinterest boards for a topic you’re interested in, with the word “group” as part of the search. To join, most group boards will have instructions for you to follow. You can also create your own group boards by inviting others to pin to a group you create.
Here are a few helpful art group boards that I’m a part of:
Tailwind is a magical app that lets you schedule your pins on a virtual calendar, and these pins are posted automatically and on schedule. So, why is Tailwind so great?
Tailwind is easy to use, as you can download a button to your browser and easily schedule pins directly from your blog posts, website, shop, and Pinterest itself.
You can create lists of boards for certain types of pins. For instance, I have a list called “Artwork” that contains 14 boards, and one called “Artwork and Etsy” which contains 28 boards, for those pins that fall in both categories. If I choose one of those lists and schedule my pins, that’s 28 pins scheduled to be pinned over about a week or two of time! This helps you schedule way in advance and not seem spammy.
Joining Tribesmeans that you’ll be part of Tailwind communities of people who will potentially re-pin your pins, and you theirs. Here is an overview of the stats from one of the tribes I’m in for creatives:
Tailwind now has a new feature for scheduling on Instagram and Instagram Stories! I haven’t tried this one yet, but looking forward to it.
Tailwind also has a hashtag finder!
When I first started withTailwind, my average monthly viewers were hovering around 42,000 – my profile had been around for awhile, and it hadn’t gone up or down for months.
Within one week of using rich pins and scheduling my pins in Tailwind, and using Tailwind Tribes, my Pinterest average monthly viewers increased by 16,000, and by the end of August it skyrocketed another 22,000, with a total of 38,000 average monthly viewer increase! My average daily viewers and people engaged with my pins increased dramatically and I made some sales on Etsy. By the end of 2018 I had gained an extra 100,000 average monthly viewers and a daily increase of around 5,000 viewers and impressions. My stats also spiked as I became more involved in Tailwind tribes after taking a couple months hiatus due to morning sickness.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
Art is something that I’ve always done, even before I knew what I was doing was considered art. It sort of just pours of my ears, even when I’m not really paying attention, I’ll find myself sketching or creating some random rearrangement of the things around me. I tell people a lot of my practice comes from not being able to sit still, and that is one hundred percent a true fact. My embroidery work began out of a desire to make my mark onto clothing but to also give my hands something to do while relaxing, (which sounds a little backwards) like watching a movie or talking on speakerphone to my mom. And before embroidery, it was doodling, and before doodling it was friendship bracelets and before that, it was making lanyards at camp. (It is no shock that I have given many homemade gifts over the years.) So armed with all of this energy and love for making, I entered college where I studied art, and was taught the importance of segregating art and craft, which just generally confused me. A lot of what I create in my art is based in my knowledge of crafting, as I think is pretty common for most artists, particularly female artists. Craft is an accessible form of art, in my opinion, so it seems pointless to exclude it from the conversation.
What is life like in Portland, Oregon? Any favorite spots that get you inspired?
Portland is an awesome place to live for artists. The rainy times can make for some great introspective creative moments, especially in the winter because the rainy gray season does provide kind of a natural “hibernation” almost, where you can kind of hunker down and get really focused on your art. That may not sound super exciting but the best part about rain is that it literally makes Oregon so green. The trees, the grass, the flowers (the roses in particular) everything grows like crazy thanks to the rain. And once the winter is over, you can really see how beautiful this place is. Being born and raised in the Midwest, the most magical thing about living in Portland is that I can drive to the ocean in less than two hours. It’s magical, it’s healing and it’s very cold.
As far as in town, it’s so hard to pick a favorite place to get inspired because I find new exciting spots all of the time. The City of Portland has an amazing public art program, so there are murals and sculptures and interactive pieces of art all throughout the city, some of which are gigantic and hard to miss and others that are only three inches tall and only available to the most observant. Downtown Portland houses America’s seventh oldest art museum, the Portland Art Museum, which is filled with wonderful works and is always worth spending the afternoon in. I could keep going on about Portland, but I’ll stop myself there. It’s obviously an amazing place to live and I’m glad I’ve found it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your first solo show? What was the venue? How did it go?
My first solo show was super fun and definitely nontraditional as far as most art exhibitions. The venue was at an awesome vintage candy store here in Portland (Candy Babel on NE Alberta St), that features lots of different bright colors of candy in glass jars among cool unique vintage furniture pieces. And somewhat unsurprisingly my artwork fit in really well with the décor, since both are quirky and colorful. There was great feedback from friends and strangers on my art during the opening reception and throughout the entire month my show remained up. I can’t wait for more exhibitions, I definitely have plenty of ideas.
What are some of your go-to art products?
My favorite paint to use on fabric is Jacquard Fabric Paints, specifically:
Lumiere, a pretty metallic sheened fabric paint that covers dark backgrounds
Neopaque, a fabric paint like the Textile Color, but goes on dark backgrounds
What is your like process for creating your hand-painted t-shirts?
Each shirt is totally unique, since I hand paint every one. Currently, I’m choosing to paint a one of a kind set of images on each shirt, which is time intensive but very rewarding. The way I approach creating the designs is very similar to doodling out a train of thought. I’ll pick out maybe four or five colors of paint and then I stand over the shirt and think. Starting the piece is always difficult, since you need to come up with that first image to paint. I don’t like to begin with a specific idea or theme or train of thought in my head, because it doesn’t feel as organic as when I let my brain roam freely in my associations of different objects, just thinking about and picking one at a time. It is such a small difference, I know, but I really enjoy stepping back once I finish a shirt and finding the common thread or small narrative I created through my painted doodles. I think someday I may paint shirts that are not all one of a kind, and maybe focus on one image on many shirts, but for now I am enjoying my slow process!
It is my pleasure to welcome to the blog Australian painter Jaqueline Burgess! Originally born in South Africa and now living in Australia, Jaqueline’s paintings are inspired by a strong sense of place. You can see and buy Jaqueline’s work in her Etsyshop or on her website. You can also follower her on Facebook and Instagram.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I was born in South Africa, and at 19 decided to travel and see a bit of the world. For 9 years my love of drawing and painting led me to a variety of part-time work – I painted murals, decorated restaurant and bar menu boards, illustrated, painted commission pieces for private homes and ended up teaching art in a London school. I communicate through my art, It brings balance and grounding to my life and it encourages my children to always create.
What was life like living in South Africa? Can you talk about how living there has inspired your work?
South Africa is so unique and diverse in its culture that naturally a sense of creativity and adventure became an inherent part of my personality. Surrounded by the Zulu and Indian cultures brought about a colourful and somewhat decorative approach to my art. Through most of my works, reference to pattern and subtle ornamentation is present in the compositions.
What is the process like creating one of your wildlife portraits?
Painting something from nature is always a special process. I begin with sourcing photos online for inspiration, a couple of sketches later I sit down with paint and brush to bring the drawing to life – finishing with the animals eyes is the most exciting part.
What are some favorite materials you use in your work?
What have been some of your favorite exhibitions and projects over the years? Are there currently any upcoming or in-the works projects or exhibitions?
Each year I set myself the goal of painting a portrait for the Archibald Prize. In 2016 I submitted my entry of a portrait of my eldest daughter and her friend to the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize and was selected as a semi finalist. Last year I was asked by a gallery in Melbourne called Otomys to create a group of seascape paintings for their sister gallery in Sorentto.
Last year was also a huge step in opening a joint family business which comprises a coffee shop and art gallery /gift store called Sketch Coffee & Art in Towradgi NSW (follow us on Instagram and Facebook!). The concept of the store is to serve local and fresh produce, with local roasted coffee. Customers enjoy the gallery space and peruse the gift store whilst enjoying breakfast and lunch.
Sketch Coffee & Art houses only Australian and locally made artworks, textiles, ceramics, stationary, jewellery, photography, and homewares, to name a few, alongside a rotation of my own large artworks on canvas. Its a very special corner of Wollongong that encourages the locals to get creative with monthly sketch competitions. Sip coffee whilst you sketch- people love it. I have also just recently released a textile range of beach Sarongs and scarves called WEAR THE ART as well as soft furnishings for the home.
It is my pleasure to feature artist and graphic designer Rachel Roe on the blog! Rachel is a St. Louis based artist and you can check out her Etsy shop, her website, and follow her on Instagramand Facebook.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
My name is Rachel Roe. I am an artist and graphic designer based in St. Louis, MO. I work from my backyard art studio — a space my husband built for me to encourage my career as a full-time artist.
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in graphic design. So out of college, and for 4 years after, I was a full-time graphic designer (doing art on the side) working for a company that wasn’t fulfilling or pushing my creative limits.
I’ve always had an interest in art but I never thought I could do it as a career — partly because of the sheer logistics of it but also partly because it was a scary transition from my comfortable job as a designer. But after a few encouraging voices and a leap of faith, I quit my 9-5, and started my career as a full-time artist.
What is life like in Missouri? Any places in the area that inspire you or that you generally like to hang out?
I live in the outskirts of St. Louis so I get the hustle of the city but also the serenity of hiking trails, rivers and lakes all around me.
I’m lucky to live close to some pretty amazing/inspiring art museums. However, lately I’ve been trying to rely less on inspiration and more on discipline. Inspiration and motivation can be oh so fleeting. I’m learning I may not always be motivated but I can always be disciplined.
Can you tell me a little bit about your vintage uniform series? What was the impetus behind the people being faceless?
The vintage inspired pieces were initially created around my admiration for vintage uniforms. By abstracting the faces and settings, the piece becomes more about the uniform and the type of persona it creates rather than focusing on a specific individual. The fluid/abstracted brushstrokes compliment the piece making it feel like a faded memory.
What are some of your favorite art products/materials?
I love painting on birch wood panels. Being able to see the grain beneath the paint adds a natural element to the overall composition.
What have been some of your favorite projects and/or commissions? Any exciting paintings, projects or upcoming events in the works?
I’m always honored when people ask me to paint a commissioned piece of their loved one. I’ve done faces, families, dogs and buildings. It’s always crazy for me to be painting, painting, painting and all of a sudden… I stand back and there’s a personality staring back at me. Faces aren’t always the easiest things to paint but they sure are rewarding.
I’m currently preparing for my first big art show. I’m producing tons of new works so it’s been so exciting watching my studio fill up with art.
I’m so excited to introduce everyone to painter Elizabeth Boudreau! You can find Elizabeth’s work in her Etsy shop, Whimsical Weasels. You can also follow her on Instagram.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
Sure! My name is Elizabeth Boudreau. I’m a working artist in Athens, GA, creating illustrative wildlife paintings. I graduated in 2017 from the University of Georgia with my BFA in Drawing and Painting. Since my childhood growing up on a farm in the state of Washington, I have always held a special relationship with animals. In my adult life, that relationship has turned into one of creativity and compassion.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is travel. I love to see the world, visit obscure corners of the globe and experience the wildlife and culture. Many of my travels have resulted in projects during and after the trip. An example that comes to mind is my Costa Rican field guide book, created almost entirely during my stay and displaying the creatures observed in person. This past summer I had the joy of visiting South Africa, where I was spoiled with wildlife! The result: 72 art cards to result in one large composite poster.
You see, I love drawing and I love animals. It’s heartwarming to have the chance to pursue my passion.
What is life like in Athens, Georgia? Any favorite spots that inspire you?
Life after graduation here is a creative journey! I spend most of my days in my studio, creating personal and custom pieces. The area has many artist-friendly venues that showcase and bolster the careers of young artists. I recently developed a great relationship with Trio Athens, a gallery that shows and prints for local creatives. It’s also fun to see quirky art projects pop up around town, like knitted gnome trees that hide around unknown corners. It’s the spunk like this that keeps my love for Athens burning strong!
What is the process like behind creating your animal paintings – do you sketch, then paint? How do you go about finding references?
Typically, I begin by lightly sketching out the basic shapes of my subject, creating a composition that feels right. After the main sketch is laid down, I boldly delineate the subject in preparation for my favorite part…COLOR! My primary medium is gouache, sometimes layered with watercolor or marker.
The true delight in painting for me comes from troubleshooting. I adore the feeling of satisfaction when a troublesome area suddenly resolves with a resonating ‘ding’ from the light bulb in my mind. It is a constant process of layer, step back, observe, tweak, move on. It is so satisfying to see a piece come to fruition.
References for me are a staple, helping me create anatomy and structure in my figures. Most of my reference material comes from photos during travel.
What are some of your favorite art products/materials?
Oh, there are many great materials floating around! I will list below some staples in my studio, materials I heavily trust:
Any exciting paintings, projects or upcoming events in the works?
Yes! The studio is in full swing right now preparing for the DragonCon art show! This is my first year participating and I am very excited. A few commissioned pieces are in the works and always ready for more. I love to create and see the joy my art gives others.
It’s my pleasure to introduce painter Anne Ward! Please enjoy the interview and leave a comment at the end to let us know your thoughts. I encourage you to check out her website and subscribe to her email list.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your journey with art?
I’d always dreamed of being a painter. I remember hours spent sitting and looking at Time Life books with paintings by Impressionists. When I was about 11 years old I had a paper route so that I could earn money to buy the items needed for sketching that I read about in books I checked out from the library. I filled the walls of the room I shared with my sister with my endeavors. I was so lucky to have family and friends who championed my work. My Aunt Peg gave me my first set of oil paints when I was 15. I was beside myself with glee. To this day she still has my earliest paintings up in her home. I have 5 brothers and sisters and when we were growing up we didn’t have a lot of spare income, but my father worked at an airline which allowed us all to fly for free. My parents really valued travel and exposure to museums so I was incredibly fortunate to have seen so much of the world at a young age. I studied art in high school and continued on to UCLA where I chose to get a degree in history…but I was always drawing and painting whenever I had spare time.
After college I was so lucky to get a job working for a movie writer/director named Lawrence Kasdan. I was responsible for running his office, reading scripts, being on the set and being a gatekeeper to the busy demands on his creative time. I worked on a few movies in my time there and lived for nearly a year in Santa Fe working on a movie called Wyatt Earp and a year in Paris working on a movie called French Kiss. It was an incredible opportunity to deeply understand what goes into the creative process on a large scale. I taught my boss to learn to use a computer (this was indeed a LONG time ago!) so that he no longer wrote his scripts in longhand form on legal pads. I learned so much about focus and creative dedication and fun from him. All the while I worked there, I was saving money to support my dream of taking time off to finally learn to paint. I was still reading art instruction books and after 6 day work weeks on location, I would spend my Sundays studying art and painting. I sold my very first painting to a film coworker in Santa Fe and I was so thrilled.
After being in Paris for over a year I left my film production job to begin my dream of taking time off to paint. My parents had given me an outdoor easel and my boyfriend at the time urged me to bring it along on a weekend trip. We were in a small village in France. I must have worked easily 15 hours on that tiny attempt to capture light! By the end of the weekend it was pouring raining and a man with one arm held an umbrella for me to finish, people had brought me food and welcomed me into their homes, children had helped me with my clumsy attempts at speaking in French. I was hooked. The way an easel connects you to people and nature and the environment is such a special privilege! I realized that if I could do this I would live the happiest life ever. I quit my job in Paris, I returned to LA and within two weeks I had magically met a group of painters who had dedicated their lives to this ‘plein air’ thing. It was a somewhat unusual pursuit at the time to find people devoted specifically to plein air and I spent hundreds of hours outdoors learning from these generous artists.
So while I’m mostly self taught, I was so lucky to have been exposed to incredible painters who taught me exacting ways of seeing light. I began showing paintings and was fortunate to gain a following of collectors who supported me. I went through a divorce and painting was my anchor. With two children I realized that I had to figure out how to squeeze in painting. One of my mentors and a painter I greatly admire is Dan McCaw. He suggested that I should ‘always paint in my head’ when there wasn’t time to actually paint. Such good advice. I could be mentally prepping for the moment when I actually had time to paint. I read an article by another art hero of mine who eventually became a dear friend, Peggi Kroll Roberts. She described raising her kids and painting and setting up still lifes and painting small between loads of laundry. I began setting up my easel in the kitchen at night after the kids were asleep. While I didn’t have time to chase the light outdoors in true plein air fashion, I could grab whatever was in the fridge and set up ‘problems’…impossible color combinations or green on green, pink on pink etc. It forced me to see/question assumptions about colors and figure out where the actual chroma belonged. I was obsessed with taking the same objects and painting them indoors and then outdoors at various times of day to understand how light can transform even ordinary objects. Doing this allowed me to better understand color.
Now I am happily remarried to painter and author Ian Roberts. We share a studio and I am always inspired by his approach and patient allowing of a painting to progress. He is an amazing painter. Before anything heads out the door we discuss what might be popping out or distracting from the whole of the picture plane. I am dyslexic…so when I see a painting I see an abstract pattern of shape and color…Ian sees the ‘underneath’ of painting in the form of composition so I really am blessed to have that influence.
My children are older but I still set up still life on the back porch so that I can paint from life while also preparing meals. I am SUPER inspired by our beautiful garden and the vegetables and flowers we grow. My second love is pattern. So I have been making patterns to accompany my paintings and experimenting with putting them on bags, totes and fabric to use in my still life paintings. I love the idea of art being useful in the world so that even if someone can’t afford an original painting they could have something beautiful like a coffee mug that makes their day happy. I also have a few images that are reproduced and available online at Pottery Barn. Also, as a means of using my art to be of service in the world, I made an app that pairs my paintings which an intention for the day. It is free and has a simple meditation included to create more calm in a topsy turvy world. Its called i-intend on iTunes and has been downloaded by thousands of people around the world.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
I’m SO inspired by pattern, light and color. I’m obsessed with infusing my work with the the joy and wonder I feel in our garden. I think that beauty is such a stabilizing force and I am always in pursuit of it. I find there is truth, integrity and absolute joy to witness things growing. It is humbling and powerful to feel connected to the growing cycle of things in the yard. A tiny seed becomes a carrot in 120 days. Amazing! A grasshopper that perfectly matches the color of a leaf on a lemon tree. That’s magical! Things that could easily be missed given the ‘important’ distractions of my phone. I’m inspired by bringing that experience of how I feel in nature to the walls of someone’s home. I’m using our daughters and the arrangement of light in our dining room as the backdrop for a painting I’m working on now. I think its important to use the truth of the things I love in my life as elements in paintings. I’m going to be incorporating more of my patterns into my paintings. I’m also inspired by painting on the Ipad and using it as a tool on days that I don’t have time to be in the studio. A daily practice of creating is so critical to my work.
What have been some of your favorite exhibitions that you’ve been featured in and why?
I once had a solo show based on a line in a book by Eckhardt Tolle about ‘spacious stillness’. That really is how painting feels to me. Its a wordless expansive feeling. The show was a series of outdoor still life paintings and some landscapes and moments where I had felt spacious stillness. An elderly neighbor who was no longer able to travel remarked ‘Thank you for taking me on that journey’. I was so moved by that. I’m always honored to show work at Marcia Burtt Gallery in Santa Barbara. Marcia has been one of my art heroes and part of me still can’t believe that I get to show my work alongside hers there! It’s also an honor when I have shown work with the California Art Club at their juried show. So many amazing painters.
What has been your experience with art associations? How can they be helpful for artists and their businesses?
I have been involved with the California Art Club which was founded in 1909. There are wonderful opportunities to go on paint outs and gain exposure to new ways of thinking and approaching work. When I was very new to painting, the club offered so many opportunities for exposure and submitting to shows. I think clubs and art associations are so valuable because making art can be a solitary endeavor. Its so important to find the people who inspire you along the way. I used to keep a binder of paintings I’d seen in magazines as ‘reminders’ of what made me really excited about painting. It helped me to figure out what and how I wanted to paint.
What have been a couple of your favorite projects and commissions over the years?
One of my favorite experiences was getting to help chef and restauranteur Suzanne Goin choose some of my paintings for her house. I love having the opportunity to do that and find images that resonate for people in their homes! I really admire Suzanne and all that she has created so that was a special experience. I also did a commission for my friend Laurie David of some of my kitchen counter/garden paintings. A lemon, an avocado and a radish…it was so fun to paint things I love for her beautiful home. Recently a dear friend and collector bought a large number of paintings of mine and Ian’s for her home. That made me so happy to imagine all those little snapshots of my life together in one environment.
So you’re scrolling through Facebook or Instagram at the beginning of your day, maybe you’re sipping your tea or eating your breakfast, and the first thing you see are just a bunch of posts where artists are showing off their sold commissions or paintings from their shops. Their posts are flawless. Even though they don’t have a ton of followers, for some reason the engagement on their posts are ridiculous. They seem to be so good at what they do, but you start to compare yourself to them and wonder what the big difference is between you and them – why didn’t you sell that piece you wanted to sell, or why haven’t you landed at least one commission this week, this month, or maybe even this year despite all of the hard work you’ve done?! Here are some points to keep you focused on your own business and creative output:
❤That artist is not you. You don’t know them, their business, or what their finances really look like. Their customers are not your customers.
❤Most of the artists that are crushing it in their art businesses have likely been in it for a bit longer than you and probably started in a similar place you did. Perhaps you can connect with that person – send them an email or a DM and ask for advice in the area/s you’re struggling with, or learn from them just by following them closely on social media.
❤Stop worrying so much! It doesn’t matter how much that person is making or that they seem to have a higher level of engagement with their social media posts – your work and journey are your own!
Real Artists’ Thoughts on This Topic
“On the pros and cons of comparing myself to other artists… On the one hand, a lot may be learned from studying the careers of people we admire in our industry. We can read their bios and CVs, see where they went school, their exhibition history, etc. This can give us ideas of what we can do to improve our own careers. On the other hand, there is the potential to compare ourselves to them. Doubt will creep in… How did they get a solo show five months out of school? This person has over a hundred thousand followers and they never smile in their photos, should I stop smiling? This artist is selling out all their shows and every painting has blue in it; should I only paint with blue? As Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s crucial to remember to stay in your lane, run your race, have faith, trust the process, and keep moving forward.”
You can buy or commission work from Chloé on her website and follow her on Instagram.
“These days it seems like social media is the key to being a successful artist, and it does help me connect with potential clients and see what other artists are doing out there. But then it becomes far too easy to compare myself to these amazing, established artists! I’m constantly comparing my amount of followers and likes to theirs, and some days it makes me wonder why I do art at all.
But then I have to remember that I did not choose an easy career. All of these artists that I look up to had beginnings just like me, and as long as I’m putting everything I have into my pieces, then I will be successful. Between my painting and embroidery, I get to work on something I love everyday. And honestly, the massive student loan debt is a great reminder to keep going and stay focused—can’t waste that degree!”
“Here are a few things I have learned on those days when I feel overwhelmed, unfocused, and just plain stuck (which for me happen fairly often since I juggle running my small business with working as a part time substitute teacher and being a single mom to my 3 and 5 year old!). I have to constantly remind myself that baby steps really do add up and big things happen because of small steps over time. The second thing is lists, lists, lists! They help me stay focused and crossing stuff off gives me a sense of accomplishment. Lastly, on days when I feel too tired or uninspired I give myself small rewards as I get things done. For example, monthly bookkeeping done, time for my favorite snack, website and store update done, relax and read a chapter of whatever book I’m reading. The main thing to remember is that it happens to all of us and to just keep going!”
You can buy or commission work from Danielle on her website and follow her on Instagram.
I pursue my art in the hours when I’m not at my day job as a marketer/graphic designer, so staying focused and motivated is key! With my background in graphic design, I am used to working with clients and really enjoy it. In a way, clients can be a great motivator. I want to make my client happy so I strive to meet deadlines and communicate clearly. This has really translated well for me when working on custom pieces. However, a lot of the art related to my business is not client focused so I like to imagine myself as a client. I try to set goals and deadlines for myself and constantly keep a list of future painting ideas to help keep myself on task. When I decided to go all in and get my business license, I also wanted to share my work online to hold myself accountable and push myself to keep creating. A huge positive about sharing my work is that I’ve found that people from all over are really supportive and I love getting feedback and messages that keep me motivated every day.
I really enjoy following the work of other artists – it helps me break out of my bubble or leads to me trying new techniques. I really try to adapt anything that inspires me to keep my own stamp on whatever it is. I think everyone suffers from maybe feeling like you’re not moving or advancing fast enough and it appears like everyone else is doing more…for me I mainly struggle with time. Since I do this in my “free time” I have tried to go easy on myself but still make creating a priority a few times a week.
Setting aside small windows to paint at least means I’m moving forward even if it’s little by little. If I really feel unfocused it’s helpful for me to get outside and go for a run or a hike – I almost always come back with new inspiration. I like to take random photos of the sky or anything I find interesting outdoors so a shuffle through my phone’s photo gallery sometimes helps too. I also try to mix up my subject matter and go back and forth from a more formal piece to my sketchbook. Sometimes being uninspired – or even the odd feeling of anxiousness after of not painting for a certain stretch of time – is an invisible hurdle I imagine in my head and usually I can push through the “stuck” feeling once I start putting brush to paper.
Personally I think comparing yourself to other artists can be really daunting but at the same time I love seeing what other artists create and as soon as I start getting upset (the cons) I turn it all around by switching off the “self-judging” me and switching on the “how beautiful this work is!” me and then I want to start creating more.
So, to draw the line: Cons: Doubts about how good you are or how talented you are. Pros: Get inspired and motivated to create more and better! It’s a challenge that makes you work harder, gradually bringing your art to another level. And that’s what we need!
When I feel that I’m not getting anywhere or I just feel low and unfocused I always try to listen to my body and, perhaps, at that moment it just needs something else – so you need to do some other activity, e.g. clean the house, go for a walk, read a book or simply cook and listen to some music.
Sometimes our brain just needs to be unfocused so that it can take a break. It’s sort of a scream-for-mediation act.
In this case I get myself out of the this “I can’t get anything done!” box and stop torturing myself by focusing on other activities. Amazingly, my body and brain get their refreshment and then I sit down and create something in one go!
Sometimes it happens during longer periods, like several days or even a week, then I scream for help – but as my friend put it – just let it go. If you can’t focus on this work, don’t force it. Distract yourself and do whatever you want and then you are going to be back in shape when you just don’t expect it! So – let it go and listen to your body 🙂
Can you tell me about yourself, your journey with weaving, and the story behind your shop? What’s life like in Manitoba, Canada and the balance between being an artist/crafter and a mother?
My name is Rebecca Riel, but most people call me Becca. I have degrees in Political Science and Social Work, but after having my son two years ago, I decided not to go back to work. At the time we were living in a very small town in rural Manitoba and childcare was limited. While on my extended mat leave, I became a little stir crazy and got really into DIY projects. I actually started with woodworking and re-finishing furniture. Until that time (like many other people I’m sure!), I had always said “I’m not the creative type.” I now realize it’s not that I wasn’t creative – it’s that I had never given myself the opportunity to BE creative.
I had always excelled in academia, but never explored my artistic side. As I got further down the DIY rabbit hole, I started signing up for some workshops – one of which was weaving. I have to tell you that I was a disaster at my first workshop! I tangled my warp thread so bad, even the teacher was surprised (haha)! In any event, I fell in love that day – despite the fact that it didn’t come naturally to me at first. So I took my loom home and slowly traded my woodworking projects for fiber projects. I had the idea to try to weave a map in the shape of my home province of Manitoba and suddenly people were asking to buy them. It started with friends and family but sort of organically grew into something else. Last fall, after much encouragement from loved ones, I gathered up the courage to open up an Etsy shop and haven’t looked back. That’s how Riel Finishings was born. It’s pretty much the ideal job for me! I’m someone who has struggled a lot with anxiety in my life, and I find weaving so therapeutic. The fact that I get to do it as my job now is just unreal to me!
How do I balance being a mother and an artist? In short, not very well! I am so grateful for how busy I have been since my shop opened. That said, sometimes it gets a little overwhelming. We have had to seek some childcare for my son, just so I can keep up – and most of the time I still feel way behind. My house is usually messy and I don’t cook as often as I’d like. That said, I wake up every day being so grateful for this opportunity and the growth I’ve experienced!
Can you tell me a little bit about your ‘mapestries’? How did you term that awesome phrase?!
The most popular items I sell at the moment are “mapestries” (map + tapestry). While I began weaving maps of my own province of Manitoba, gradually I started getting requests for other states and provinces. The term “mapestry” came to me one night at 3am when I was up with my son. It literally just popped into my head, in a rare moment of genius!
What kinds of yarn and looms do you use and recommend?
Yarns: I love using a variety of textures in my tapestries. My favourite yarns to work with are hand spun and hand dyed, which I source from other small shops around the world. I’m also passionate about using recycled and reclaimed fiber in my work. You can frequently find denim, mudcloth, and recycled wool in my tapestries. They look unreal, and are also better for the environment. In terms of yarn I would recommend, it really depends on your textural preferences. I would caution against using anything acrylic, because it totally messes with your tension. Some of my favourite yarns to weave with are from: Knit Collage, Fly Yarns, Love Fest Fibers, Divinity Fibers, and Silk Divine.
Looms: I have a LOT of looms! Some of them are handmade, but my favourites are from Lost Pond Looms and Funem Studio. Both companies make excellent looms in a variety of sizes – really perfect if you’re just starting out.
What have been some of your favorite projects and commissions?
I was recently commissioned by a resort in Manitoba to weave some tapestries for their suites. This commission was the first larger-scale order I’ve ever received, which was a huge milestone for my business. The catch is that they wanted me to weave a buffalo. Yes, I said buffalo and I’m not talking about the place, I’m talking about the animal! When I read the request, I instantly panicked! If you have some familiarity with weaving, you know that some shapes are more difficult than others. I figured there was no way I could do this tastefully, but I challenged myself to give it a try. To my complete surprise, it turned out really well and I’m proud I was able to push through that challenge. I’m somebody who has always been a little insecure. I worry about failure and about what others think of me, and the thing about art is that there’s no room for those fears. You have to push through them. I try a lot of different things and they don’t always work out, but that’s okay, because sometimes they do and it’s magic!
Do you have any advice for artists and crafters just getting into weaving?
I don’t have much in the way of advice for new artists, because, well, I myself am still so new! I would have to say that it’s really important to find your own voice as an artist/weaver, which sometimes means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. When I put on my artist hat, I try not to let the rational/analytical side of my brain rule, and instead follow my heart and my gut. Sometimes that is the scariest feeling, it means being totally vulnerable and putting yourself out there, but you will never know what’s possible until you take risks. If you would have told me when I first opened my shop that by April I would have a waiting list of commissions, I would have laughed in your face. So I suppose at the end of the day, it’s really important to believe in yourself and just keep weaving. Oh, and never take yourself too seriously! Weaving is all about exploring different fibers and textures – it’s as much about the journey as it is about the final tapestry.
*Some photos featured in this post were taken by talented photographer Janique Fortier, see her website here.