It's all well and good to talk about bringing more of yourself into your business (and we'll be talking about it tons in today's workshop), but what about the other side of the equation? What about what your people want? How do you balance the two day after day? How do you decide what to make? What you love? Or what sells like hotcakes? We're always talking about this in the Starship, so I invited artist (and Starship member) Amy Crook to share her thoughts with us: 


When I go to galleries, the pieces I really connect with are often abstracts. Online, it's usually adorably clever fan art. Sometimes I'm fascinated by technique or quite humanly envious of talent, skill, and “I wish I'd thought of that”-ness. Sometimes I just want to stand and stare at the piece for a while, especially with in-person art.

When I'm making art, I'm often inspired by my own materials and techniques. I want to play, to try this or that and see how it comes out. I want to create a piece of art that gives the same sense of connection to the viewer as those pieces I see in the gallery.

Or I want to draw something clever and adorable that connects with the fannish awww (different from fannish awe) in my audience. I want my characters to be recognizable but still a cute parody, and for the concept to be clever and original.


But what I'm really hoping for, sometimes, is that pull of DO WANT in my audience.

The problems arise when these two things come into conflict. When the art that makes my soul sing and my fingers fly, my brush swoop and heart soar, is art no one seems to want to take into their home and love and keep (naming it George: totally optional). When the idea that makes me grin like a loon goes over like a lead balloon with my audience.

When I put up what I think people want, or what I would want, and the crickets chirp and dollars totally fail to roll in.

The problem is, no matter how much pure inspiration goes into a piece, I'm not the “create for yourself” sort. Perhaps it's a flaw in my character, but I want someone else to appreciate my art, otherwise, what is really the point? I could imagine my art all by myself without ever having to lift a brush or pen, and save a lot of time and effort to put into accountancy or something.

The other problem shows up when the art that people want more of isn't something I want to make again and again, as an artist. If it's something that I've lost interest in, or was just trying as a one-off and don't want to pursue. Or worse, if it's something that I didn't actually like that much, but went ahead and shared because I needed to post something and sometimes someone still likes the ones that are too orange or too busy or too squidgy for me.

It's easy to say “be true to yourself” when you're not worried about making next months rent (spoiler: freelancers are always worried about this). Nothing about this issue is black and white, except maybe some of the art.

So how do you balance the things people want with the things you want to create? Does inspiration dry up or move on when a series or style gets no love or no sales? Or do you keep on trucking through the wastelands of commercially unviable creations, trying to find your way out the other side without giving up on the ideas that excite you?

I don't really have answers here, just questions. Thinky thoughts. Quandaries. What do *you* think?



(All of the images in the post are Amy's art. Click through to see details or buy it.)

6 Comments on Follow your bliss? Or make what they want?

  1. Ruben Brito
    September 26, 2012 at 11:32 am (10 years ago)

    Great post! I’m about to go to a craft fair next week (1st time in 5 or 6 years) and I’ve run into this issue when choosing what I will sell.

    I don’t think we should choose between what we are moved to make and what moves others. Both together are totally valid and often can be mixed together. I used to focus more on creating thing that interested me in my twenties, but now that i’m a little older I blatantly ask my customers what interests them and do a few variations on that. Including customer inspired items with organically inspired creations helps with product diversity and acknowledges a common truth: similar people can be inspired by different things. The creative work isn’t less “you” if someone else dictates the subject, color, or medium.

  2. Beka Buckley
    September 26, 2012 at 12:14 pm (10 years ago)

    …from my, somewhat limited, experience I have found that to keep doing only what others ‘want’ eventually wears your creative spirit down and you feel like chucking the whole shebang in and going back to a ‘proper’ day job. But that is killer too in other ways. It sucks when what you create from a truly inspired and need is not greeted with the same enthusiasm in others (again, throw it all in and back to the day job, syndrome), but I am finding you have to for your soul’s need.
    My ‘solution’ or rather the approach I am coming around to and now planning for is that I shall do both: the things people demand (for a limited time only), and those things that my soul needs to share. Hopefully by continuing to share those things my soul wants, eventually my ‘tribe’ will evolve (through expansion/change) to want those things too.
    Someone once said that as creatives bringing these soul children into existence, it is also our responsibility to go seek those people who will appreciate them also. Just because we haven’t found them yet, does not mean they don’t exist and aren’t needed. So my thoughts are: do what is demanded for as long as it satisfies you, but alongside with that do those things that you personally want to bring into being. By ‘educating’ your ‘tribe’ in the things you want to do, what sings to your soul, those people that want/need it will find you.

  3. Beka Buckley
    September 26, 2012 at 12:24 pm (10 years ago)

    …for how will people know that they need it until it is shown to them?

  4. Tara Swiger
    September 26, 2012 at 5:43 pm (10 years ago)

    I totally agree, Ruben! It’s not really a choice between two options, it’s finding the stuff in between.

  5. Tara Swiger
    September 26, 2012 at 5:44 pm (10 years ago)

    Exactly, Beka!
    “Just because we haven’t found them yet, does not mean they don’t exist and aren’t needed.”
    That is so true!

  6. DaffodilCorner
    September 27, 2012 at 12:34 pm (10 years ago)

    While we need to support ourselves by making things that sell, we also need to keep creating new and additional offerings. Successful businesses are always looking to release that next new and improved version of their more popular items. Maybe you try something new, and you really love it, and had a great creating it, but no one seems to want to buy it. It could be you are trying to sell it to the wrong audiance. Or it could be that it needs some tweaking to appeal to more people. In the long run, as an artist/crafter, you have to enjoy what you doing or it will show in what you are making (IMHO)