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Learning Leadership

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by Kim Goodwin

In the first two posts within this leadership series, we considered how leadership is a flexible concept that has changed over time, and explored reasons why creative practitioners may be reluctant leaders. This third post discusses how we can learn to be leaders when working in or running creative organisations.

When many of us consider “learning,” we immediately think of courses and programs facilitated by experts in the field. In recent years, there has been an explosion of leadership courses and books, both academic and professional, many of them aimed at those working in the creative sector.

But developmental programs, workshops, and tertiary education can be expensive and, for many in the arts and creative industries, out of reach. While there are professional development grants available from government funders such as the Australian Council for the Arts, they are few and far between, not to mention highly competitive.

How to learn leadership (on the cheap)
What alternatives, then, are there to formal development? Management research shows that on-the-job experience—such as jobs, work-based hardships, and special projects—is the most useful for leadership development. This correlates with my research, which shows that creative workers learn leadership primarily through practice. Importantly, however, it is our collaboration with others that builds the most effective leadership capacity and understanding. When we engage professionally with peers, we participate in a process known as “social learning.” Traditionally, learning was represented as the transfer of knowledge from experienced practitioner to novice learner. Social learning, however, explores how learning relates to the social environment. This approach sees learning as a collective activity, where knowledge is not acquired or passed on from one individual to another, but developed through participation in shared activity. Through collaboration we learn what it is to be a leader within our specific community.

Learning leadership through practice
Even if the most effective way to learn leadership is through social engagement, work, and practice, you can’t just sit back and let leadership "happen." To maximise your capacity to build leadership knowledge, understanding, and skills, you need to be aware of what social learning is and how it can benefit you. Here are a few strategies that might help:

Participate in social learning through professional work or individual creative practice. The number one way to learn creative leadership is to collaborate with other practitioners. For some, this comes with the job, working in teams to achieve mutually defined goals. (Yes, all that group work at Uni was for a reason!) If you are a solo practitioner, you can still get involved in collaborative projects in the creative community. Think about joining a co-working space, or getting involved in local groups that provide opportunities to learn from (and share with) your peers. Forums like Creative Women’s Circle are perfect for meeting like-minded people; be proactive and put out the call. Other examples include knitting groups and writing groups that share feedback or evening art sessions. Once in these environments, test out your leadership skills by sharing ideas, exploring group dynamics, and teaching others. You might not recognise it at first, but these environments will give you confidence to lead in more formal settings.

Explore different kinds of leadership and then embrace the style that supports your practice.
A key factor in the development of creative leadership is the ability to lead in a way that aligns with your creative practice. To do this, you must learn about leadership. Observe the leaders around you: the good and the not-so-good. Read books and, if you have a chance to participate in a program, go for it! But observe with a critical eye. Beneficial development expands the idea of leadership and adjusts for personal approaches rather than projecting an idealised set of behaviours.

Create space for personal reflection.
Leadership reflection is the ability to relate theory back to personal experience. Consideration of past experiences may offer new perspectives when coupled with an expanded idea of what leadership looks like. Take the time to consider your role as leader and how it relates to your work and creative practice. Think about key experiences—both positive and negative—and what you learned from them. Consider those around you who are role models and what makes them good at what they do. But refrain from personal judgement, understanding that there is no perfect leader.

Share your leadership stories and learn from others.
Through the sharing and co-construction of stories, and exposure to role models, emerging leaders are exposed to new leadership ideas that take creative leadership from the theoretical to the personal. This means we need to hear a diversity of voices speaking about creative leadership. Moreover, it is important for emerging cultural leaders to be exposed to more than just stories of success from established leaders. Hearing about struggles and failures paints a more realistic picture of what it is like to lead in the creative world. If you can tell your story, do so with gusto.

If you’re an organisational leader, understand your role in developing others.
Lastly, a tip for those who run their own creative organisations or manage others: just because you may not have the resources to send staff on training programs doesn’t mean you cannot contribute to their leadership development. Organisations have the power to create learning through job structure and a focus on learning through experience. In addition, organisational leaders can encourage social learning by creating space for dialogue in meetings, encouraging collaborative work through projects, and through physical workplace design. Developmentally oriented organisations focus on how learning helps achieve organisational goals without having to pay consultants for expensive training programs.

There’s so much more to learning leadership than understanding a set of requisite behaviours that will turn you into the perfect leader. For creative workers, learning leadership involves the melding of creative practice and leadership opportunity in a way that provides a safe, enjoyable space for learning.

Kim Goodwin is an academic researcher and arts manager with a background in leadership, human resources, and career development. Since leaving her corporate career, Kim has focused on building understanding in how creative leaders are developed while working in a variety of arts organisations and academic environments. She can be found on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter (@KimAroundTown).

Interview with Deb Hudson, illustrator

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by Jo Watson

Deb Hudson welcomed me into her home for a cup of tea at her rustic kitchen table, which doubles as an art table. Her pencils, organized in tins by colour, are spread out at one end of the table. The room is flooded with natural light. Sometimes, it’s a case of too much of a good thing and Deb has to draw under a brimmed hat, tilted askew to shade the midday sun. Her border collie chases sun shadows about the room and her canary chirrups in the background. Today, her seven-year old son, home from school sick, adds to the menagerie. Deb’s bright, intricate illustrations and daily posting have attracted thirteen thousand followers on Instagram. But as she explains, it took her a while to find her groove.

No, I want to do art
In high school, everyone said, “Don’t do art. You’ll never make any money.” So I studied teaching. Then I travelled. I lived in Japan. I taught English at an all-girls school and at an English conversation school. When I was approaching thirty, I was living in the Solomon Islands. I was doing office work. I wasn’t using my teaching degree, and I’d never even really liked teaching. The part I liked most was organising craft activities! I’m not sure—maybe it’s because I thought I hadn’t done anything with my life—but I realized, no, I want to do art.

A degree interrupted
I enrolled in fine art at Queensland College of Art. I knew right away I wanted to specialize in illustration. Two years into the three-year degree, I deferred to go overseas again. I had children and, when I wanted to go back to university to finish my degree, I was told I would have to start from the beginning. I didn’t want to do that.

eBay inspo
What got me started again was seeing people sell their artwork on eBay. My sister said, “You could do that.” I created a series of three paintings: a bee, a butterfly, and a beetle. I called it The Three Bs. I put them up on eBay. I had tracings of the designs and a stack of blank canvasses. When a set would sell, I’d go out to my workroom and paint them. It was a lot of work: executing, packing, and shipping the paintings. But it was exciting to see my work sell. Then I had my third child and the artwork sort of petered out.

A reboot, by way of adversity
I have rheumatoid arthritis. There was a period where I was unwell, and I was really unfit. I couldn’t close my fist for six months. When I got better, I was so happy to be able to hold a pencil that I couldn’t stop drawing. I like drawing birds because they’re a symbol of freedom. Also, you can decorate them however you like. I used to use Gerald, my canary, as a model. Now I’m inspired by folk art.

The pencil person
I’ve always used coloured pencils. At university, I was called the “pencil person.” I like them because they’re clean, colourful, and easy to transport.

Last Christmas, I did a series of cards in red and blue. That was good because I only had two tins of colours to pull out and pack up! Sometimes the drawing gets waxy and the white pencil won’t lay down. I spray it with fixative and that helps give it some tooth so the white will stick. People often ask what materials I use: Prismacolour (premier) pencils and plain old Kraft paper.

Online tribe
I first saw the 100 Day Project [#100dayproject] three years ago, and decided to try it. Now I’m addicted; I have to do a drawing every day. I also do [Lilla Rogers’s] Make Art That Sells Assignment Bootcamp, which is a five-month online program. I’ve made great friends through those online communities. I use Redbubble to sell my work on a variety of merchandise. I don’t do heaps of marketing. People don’t like it when you use Instagram for advertising. When the Redbubble site features me on their home page, I see an increase in activity. I recently created artwork for the swing tags on a friend’s clothing line. Next, I’d like to execute on the advice I was given by an agent: to design a new collection of greeting cards and refresh my website. With three kids, the challenge is finding the time. But I love it.

For more about Deb Hudson, visit her website or find her on Instragram (@debi_hudson).

 Jo Watson is a Melbourne-based screenwriter and artist. Visit her on Instagram (@diary_of_a_picture_book_maker).

 

 

 

 

Career change 101: Personal development

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by Bec Mackey

Are you thinking about changing careers? Perhaps you’ve been wanting to take up your creative pursuit full time and quit your day job, or maybe you’re taking the leap to start your own business, or doing further study to advance your career in a new direction. Whatever your situation, career change can be a minefield. Once you’ve made the decision to move onto something new, it can be difficult to know to where to start. Should you enrol in a course? Create a website? Ask around for advice and find a mentor? Or should you be networking like crazy to get your foot in the door?

All of these options are important when starting afresh in a new industry, job, or business, and it’s easy to concentrate on the practicalities and neglect to pause and look inward first. But career change, like any major life change, requires cultivating skills that we don’t always think of as relevant to our working lives. So take a look at the steps below before you touch that LinkedIn profile, CV, or website theme.

Reflect on your long-term goals (and not just the career ones)
When at a career crossroads, it can be useful to pause and reflect on the bigger picture of your life. This is your chance to plan your career and work around the life you want to create for yourself. What sort of hours do you hope to work? In what sort of environment would you like to spend your time? How much money do you want/need to earn to keep up your security and lifestyle? How much time would you like to dedicate to your family, social life, and volunteer or “passion projects” outside of work? In other words, it’s a good time to think about what sort of life you want, not just what sort of job/business you want. What is your ideal life, and what sort of working life will help you fulfil this in years to come?

Learn to back yourself
Let’s face it, it can be hard to tune out the voices of criticism when you’ve decided to go against the herd and start something new. There will be plenty of people who try to tell you that you can’t—or shouldn’t—do it. The quicker you learn to shut out those voices, the better. One of the biggest mistakes we all make when initiating a big change is to seek out advice…from anyone who will listen. This invariably leads to a melting pot of opinions that can be confusing at best and discouraging at worst. People project their own fears onto you if they feel threatened by your bravery (because you are taking a brave new step!).

Instead of asking anyone and everyone whether they think you should take the leap and how you should go about it, seek out people you know will champion you. They are the ones you want to hear from; simply tune out the rest. And then concentrate on building your confidence and reminding yourself of your strengths and how they can be applied to your new role.

Cultivate self-discipline
Particularly if you’re looking to leave the world of nine-to-five and pursue your own freelance career or business, you’ll need to recalibrate your working style to ensure you can self-motivate when external deadlines are not present. Even if you’re just looking to move from one industry to another, you’ll need self-discipline to get yourself up to speed on developments in that area, market yourself properly, and get out and meet people who can help you succeed in your new field. Develop a singular focus (eyes on the prize!) and remember why you set out to do this when there are a million other tasks and fun plans vying for your attention.

Get used to being uncomfortable
You probably already know that this career change business is uncomfortable. From the very beginning, even before you’ve made the change, planning to take this sort of leap requires stepping out of your comfort zone. You’ll have to learn new things, develop networks, and put yourself out there in a way you may not have had to do for years (if ever). The good news is that being uncomfortable equals growth, which is exactly what you want: to grow into your new career. Not to mention the fact that once you get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you will find this serves you for years to come as you continue to learn and grow and take on challenges in your new role. Discomfort may not be our preference, but when it comes to creating the career you want, it will be worth it.

Bec Mackey is a writer, teacher, and producer of screen-related things. She uses a decade of experience in the business sides of media and arts to help creative people fund and promote their work in ways that work for them. Bec writes about funding, promotion, creative careers, and life on her website, Brightside Creatives.

The reluctant creative leader

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by Kim Goodwin

What would you say if someone asked you, “Are you a leader?” Would you stand a bit taller and give an authoritative “Yes!”? Or would you hesitate, not wanting to seem a bit, well, pompous?

For those who work in large organisations, leadership is a hot topic and something staff are expected to aspire toward. The Centre for Workplace Leadership found that sixty percent of the Australian organisations they surveyed offered some form of organisational leadership training. The ability to lead and manage others is not only something employees are prepared for; in many companies, staff are told “we are all leaders” regardless of position or title. Leadership: it’s a vibe.

Is it different, however, for those in the creative sector? Leadership, as outlined in my post published in April, is a fluid concept. We talk about it a lot, but we don’t have a solid idea of what it actually is. With this in mind, do creative practitioners aspire to be leaders?

I’ve spent the past four years talking to creative practitioners about leadership across four states and nine different disciplines, from visual arts to digital design and theatre. The vast majority of those I spoke to were undertaking leadership roles: running organisations, managing staff and volunteers, influencing cultural debate, and representing their communities. However, when I asked them, “Do you consider yourself a leader?” I discovered that their relationships with leadership were complex.

Emerging leaders were often hesitant to embrace the title of “leader.” Some worried that it made them seem “up themselves” (a very Australian concern); others didn’t recognise themselves in the media portrayals of successful leaders.

My research considers how we define ourselves as leaders—not only through our internal thoughts and feelings toward leadership, but also how outside forces shape our leadership identity. Some of them may be familiar to you.

Leaders are often held up as an ideal. “Good” leaders are those who win awards, make a lot of money, inspire praise, and receive attention in the media. Think of the late Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and even Sophia Amoruso, whose book #Girlboss inspired the new Netflix series of the same name. Emerging leaders have a tendency to compare themselves to these ideals, which are often highly constructed and marketed versions of leadership. We also compare ourselves as leaders with those around us. For those who work in organisations, you may look at your managers and peers and consider your skills, knowledge, and experience in light of theirs. Many creative practioners with whom I spoke saw being a leader as something they were not yet equipped to do. They believed they needed more skills, more experience, more recognition.

But being a leader is also something bestowed upon us by others—for example, by being promoted from team member to team leader, or by having “supervisor” or “manager” added to your job title. Many creative practitioners felt the weight of organisational expectation when it comes to leadership, especially when a new role or organisational progression meant moving away from individual creative practice to the management and organisation of others to achieve creative goals. Creative practitioners often felt comfortable being recognised as a leader in their discipline, but were resistant to the idea of managing other people.

There were also personal identity factors that influenced creative workers’ relationships to leadership. Australians like to see themselves as egalitarian in nature, especially in the arts, and have a tendency to shoot down “tall poppies.” Creative leaders are concerned about remaining humble, wanting to be seen as one of their peers rather than putting their hands up to lead.

Gender is also an inescapable topic when considering leadership. Many of the women I spoke to were uncomfortable calling themselves leaders, while these feelings of inadequacy were less likely to be expressed by their male counterparts. Participants in my study—of both genders—also noted that there is an (incorrect) perception that female leaders in the arts are bitchy, catty, and not supportive of their peers. In a number of sectors, leadership was closely associated with competition. Those in positions of power did not have a sense of generosity toward the development of others; their focus was more often organisational survival and gaining access to scarce resources or opportunities.

The result of all these pressures felt by emerging leaders in the creative sector is that they are less likely to identify personally as leaders. We might ask, “So what?” As long as they keep acting as leaders, as many are, who cares if they don’t proudly wear the “leader” label?

If the next generation of cultural innovators, pioneers, and trailblazers are reticent to call themselves “leaders,” they may also be unwilling to apply for leadership opportunities, development, and positions. Leaders require confidence to reach out and grasp what the future offers.

In addition, Australia needs strong, vocal, creative, and cultural leadership. The economic challenges facing creative industries, cuts to funding and arts education, culture wars—all of these all require leaders in the community to be strong not only for their organisations and individual businesses, but for the sector as a whole.

When a leadership opportunity arises, will you be ready to step up to the challenge? Or are you a reluctant creative leader?

Kim Goodwin is an academic researcher and arts manager with a background in leadership, human resources, and career development. Since leaving her corporate career, Kim has focused on building understanding in how creative leaders are developed while working in a variety of arts organisations and academic environments. She can be found on LinkedIn, or follow her on Twitter (@KimAroundTown).

 

 

 

Your creative personality type

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by Bronya Wilkins

Have you ever wondered how your personality type impacts your creativity? You’ve probably heard of the Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)—it’s a widely used psychometric tool for assessing personality. I sometimes use it in my coaching practice to help clients make sense of their personality preferences in the context of their creative lives.

About the MBTI
The MBTI has been used for decades as a tool for enhancing self-awareness and development in business and personal life. It’s based on four dichotomies (pairings) that interact with each other to produce a total of sixteen possible personality types. The preference dichotomies are:

  • Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E)
  • Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
  • Perceiving (P) vs. Judging (J)

A person’s preferences will fall on one side of each dichotomy; across the four pairings this results in a “type.” For example, my type is an INFJ: Introversion/Intuition/Feeling/Judging.

While the complexity of personality can’t be explained by any single assessment, and there are some validity issues with the MBTI, I still find it a useful tool if the results are considered within a broader life context. In my experience, the MBTI genuinely helps people make greater sense of how they interact with the world and how they perceive and process information.

MBTI3

The MBTI's sixteen personality types

How does your type impact your creativity?
The realm of creativity isn’t “owned” by any one type, although some preferences may help or hinder creativity in different ways. Let’s explore some of these below.

Introversion (I) vs. Extraversion (E)
Contrary to popular belief, “introvert” doesn’t refer to a quiet, shy wallflower, but instead a person who recharges and gains energy from time alone, regardless of how outgoing or friendly she is.

When it comes to building a dedicated creative practice—something that requires a lot of focused, solitary time—introverts may have a head start. The challenge for creative extraverts is to balance social and creative time to meet both needs. Conversely, when it comes to promoting one’s creativity, extraverts’ social ease and larger networks offer more opportunities for connecting with potential collaborators and supporters, a task introverts often find daunting.

Tips:

  • If you’re an extrovert, determine how much time per week to spend on your creativity and block it out in your calendar, so social events don’t creep in over the top.
  • If you’re an introvert, learn ways to promote your creative practice that are more aligned with introversion, such as blogging. Also, challenge yourself to get out there as the face of your practice.

Intuition (N) vs. Sensing (S)
The N/S dichotomy describes how we perceive and gather information. People with N preferences are described as big-picture people, abstract thinkers, people who make gut decisions. S people are more concrete and focus on details, data, and evidence; they are the “seeing is believing” type of people.

When it comes to artistic creativity, Ns are all about the expression of ideas, while Ss tend to focus on execution and craftsmanship. In coaching, N clients often need guidance with choosing ideas and implementing them consistently, whereas Ss need more help thinking “outside of the box” and “connecting the dots.”

Tips:

  • If you’re an intuitive person, remember that sometimes, the devil is in the details. You may have a great idea, but if it’s executed poorly then will it be appreciated? Take time to learn your craft and hone your technique.
  • If you’re a sensing person, be sure to regularly expose yourself to new and interesting people, places, and events to feed your senses and expand your creative ideas.

Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)
Thinkers make decisions based on logic and facts, as opposed to feelers, who tend to decide based on feelings and perceived impacts on other people.

Because feelers perceive their art as extensions of themselves, they often get caught up in beliefs of how the world will perceive them, which can lead to fear, self-doubt, and creative blocks. Thinkers, on the other hand, tend to dissociate a little from their work and treat it like a project to be delivered, rather than an aspect of themselves. This emotional distance may make it difficult to connect with audiences—something that comes far more naturally to feelers, who are in tune with themselves and the feelings and drives of others.

Tips:

  • If you’re a thinker, consider the impact your creativity and work have on other people—asking them is a good start! When sharing your work, notice how people respond to it and use that knowledge in your future projects.
  • If you’re a feeler, remind yourself that creative failure doesn’t equal human failure. We all need mistakes and failures to learn and grow. Creating a bit of psychological distance between yourself and a creative work can be healthy.

Perceiving (P) vs. Judging (J)
Another common misconception is the J label, which doesn’t mean that a person is judgmental. Instead, “judging” refers to the preference for closure, certainty, and organisation. Perceiving, at the opposite end, is a preference for flexibility, open-endedness, and spontaneity.

When implementing creative projects, judgers prefer a structured approach; they set goals, manage timeframes, and follow through to closure. Perceivers, on the other hand, often feel confined by plans. They tend to procrastinate and go off on tangents (albeit sometimes very interesting ones!), which can lead to half-finished projects. Because judgers are so focused on following through, however, they often fail to notice (or even dismiss) opportunities that open up along the way but feel disruptive to the original plan. Perceivers, on the other hand, are quick to recognise new sources of inspiration and information—and take advantage of them.

Tips:

  • If you are a perceiver, keep in mind that while it’d be nice to use all your ideas, is it actually doable? Figure out your best ideas, focus on one thing at a time, and follow through even when you’re tempted to jump ship. Hire a coach or get a friend to support you in reaching your milestones.
  • If you’re a judger, remember the John Lennon quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” The best plan in the world doesn’t make a project a success, so learn to tolerate more uncertainty and take advantage of new opportunities.

Creative self-development and the MBTI
When developing your creative self, it’s sometimes useful to tap into one of your preferences more deeply. Other times, it’s beneficial to challenge them and try the opposite. For example, on the J/P dichotomy, I’m very strongly a J. This is great when working solo, because I know how to balance my need for structure with idea exploration, but when collaborating with others my judging tendency can stifle the creative process. I’ve learnt over time to let go and step in as the structure queen only when necessary.

What next?

  • Take the MBTI
  • Consider whether you’re taking full advantage of your preferences. Tap into the preferences that are working well for your creativity.
  • Think about where your preferences are holding you back. Be brave and challenge yourself to move out of your comfort zone.

Bronya Wilkins is a creativity coach and founder of Creative Cocoon, a coaching practice dedicated to helping people connect with their creativity. Bronya is passionate about psychology, self-development, and creative expression. Some of her hobbies include dance, graphic design, music composition, and photography. You can find her Facebook and Twitter, or follow her on Instagram (@creativecocoon).

How to future-proof your business

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by Jes Egan

Anticipating what will happen in the future is difficult, however, it is something you may want to consider doing to protect and grow your creative business. By considering what future possibilities lie ahead, you might be able to minimise the effects. It may seem like an overwhelming thing to tackle when you’re in the throes of running a creative business, but a little thought and planning can go a long way toward keeping your business running and possibly helping it grow.

Plan
Having a business plan is a great place to start, but it isn’t something to “set and forget.” Your plan may need to change as your business grows, markets move, and audience evolve. In your business plan, set goals and don’t forget to track your progress.

Review
Don’t get complacent; always keep an eye on what you are offering. Can it be improved upon? What is the market doing? Where are trends going? What and where are opportunities for improvement? You may be onto a good thing now—and hopefully still will be in the future—but markets, trends, and audiences can change, so make sure what you are offering remains relevant and meets the demands of your customers and the market.

Ask your customers regularly what they think. You may think what you are offering is great, but does your audience still think so? Listen to them and watch their behaviour. Is there anything you can do better? Is there something they’d like that you are not currently offering? Ask them face to face, put a survey on your website, do follow-up calls, and so on, to get this information. You’ll gain great insights and can then apply those learnings to your business.

There may be situations when your customers cannot tell you what they want, especially if you are in the innovation space. Think about the iPhone. We didn’t know we needed a device we could use to make a phone call, take photos, play games, and do our banking, but now we need to do all of these things on our phone. Innovating a product that your customers don’t yet know they need is a great way to grow your business and open new market spaces. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I asked people what they wanted, they’d tell me a faster horse.”

Rethink your acquisition strategy regularly. Ways in which you’ve gained new customers in the past may not work for you in the future. Review this often so you can keep adapting.

Watch
Observe competitors and your marketplace, watching what is happening around you. Do this by following competitors’ social media feeds (both locally and internationally), reading blogs and industry publications, setting up Google alerts, and so on. If you already have your eye on your own competitive space, start looking at other industries, too, as learning from one industry can be adapted to another. Having an understanding of what is happening around you will keep you and your business on its toes.

Depending on what business you are in (but especially for creative industries), following trends can also be important—even more so if you are riding on them. Watch trend forecasts, keep in touch, and, if needed, adapt your offerings to keep riding that wave.

Experience
What can you do when others are offering something similar? How do you stand out from the crowd? Don’t just sell a product or service, make sure to give your audience an experience to remember. It doesn’t have to be elaborate; perhaps it’s the packaging for your product, or how you call the client after delivery to see if everything was okay. Customers are more likely come back if they had a good experience, and repeat business is always good.

Diversify
Don’t depend on one section of your business to account for all of your revenue and growth. Find ways to diversify your product folio. If you manage to diversify your offerings, the additional revenue streams can help support your business.

Consider risks
Identify and manage risks, both for now and in the future. You can’t predict all future problems, but consider potential risks and map a way to manage them if they do happen. Not sure how? Start with a simple “SWOT” analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) and go from there.

Your day-to-day creative business may keep you incredibly busy, but take some time to think about the future so you’re equally busy—if not more so—down the track.

Jes Egan is a “practical creative” and very busy lady, doing the business in a digital agency, being an artist and a university lecturer. Follow Jes on Instagram (@paper_chap).

Creative women at work: Rachel Devine, visual storyteller

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Rachel Devine is an award-winning photoblogger and professional children’s and lifestyle photographer. Her blog, SesameEllis.com, and Instagram feed attract fans from around the world with candid, compelling images of family life. She has authored and co-authored three books on photography, and last year, her project Within the Keep, featuring portraits of tween girls paired with words each girl chose to define herself, won both an Olympus Vision grant and a 2016 Bupa Blog Award. A native of Los Angeles, Rachel moved to Melbourne nine years ago and calls Australia home.

image 2 Can you tell us about your background and how you fell in love with photography?

I started when I was a teenager—self-taught, on film. I couldn’t draw well, so photography was my creative outlet. In 1995, I opened my business in Los Angeles, photographing kid modeling portfolios and headshots. My claim to fame was photographing Miley Cyrus! After moving to Melbourne, I met a woman named Simone Ryan, who represents kids’ clothing brands. That was my entry into the kids’ clothing world in Melbourne.

How would you describe your work and creative inspiration?

I take pride in the fact that you can look back at images I shot twenty years ago, even on film, and it’s hard to date them. With the clean lighting, true colours, and classic style, you would think I shot them yesterday. I love that.

Light inspires me. I am such a fan of light—and dark. When the light comes into my bedroom in the afternoon—especially fall light, the stripes of light through the blinds on the white wall—it’s just so pretty. I can see a photo just by looking at the light. That’s how I’m constantly looking at the world.

Do you have any simple advice about taking better photos, whether for social media or to sell products?

Learn how to photograph in balanced, flat light without it being dull, and also avoid “hot spots,” which are overly bright areas (as opposed to dark areas). You can find flat, filtered light in a doorway, just underneath a porch, or by placing your items next to a window with a sheer white curtain. Or, coat your windows with yogurt! If you use a roller to paint your windows with sugar-free low-fat yogurt (not no-fat, which is too milky), it becomes sort of a frosted window. You get light through it but you can’t see out. It’s amazing. When you don’t want the yogurt on there anymore, spray the window with water and wipe it down.

If you want to show something simply and beautifully on Instagram, there’s that slightly unsaturated look with lots of white—white backgrounds with one simple object in the photo—that works well. Just keep everything simple and have a clean, consistent look, whether it’s slightly unsaturated or neon coloured.

image 4Which social media channel has been the most effective for you, and why?

Instagram. For me, it has been about interacting with people. It’s not just putting my stuff up there and hoping they’ll show up. I find hashtags that I like and then click on them and “like” pictures that appeal to me. I just like what I like and engage as if nobody was looking. If you think of it as a community and not an audience, you build respect by actually interacting as a human being with other people in the community.

Do you have help running your business?

I don’t have physical assistants, but I have upgraded to systems. I pay for a program called Studio Ninja that I highly recommend. It’s a Melbourne-based customer management back-end service that does quotes and invoices, job tracking, all that. It makes my life so much easier. I also use CoSchedule for my blogging stuff.

Like many of us, you are juggling a creative business and a family. What is your favourite tip for “making it work”?

The best decision I made was saying that I work from 10–2, drawing the line at school hours. I’m lucky in that I can do the school run and be here in the evenings. I don’t feel that I’m working all the time when the kids are around.

Have you ever taken a risk or tried a strategy that didn’t turn out as you’d hoped? If so, what did you learn from the experience?

There are tons. Everything has a learning curve. What I try to remember is that every bad thing will pass—and the good stuff will as well. When something goes wrong, I take those moments in just as I do when something’s going awesome; I know it won’t last and I want to get everything I can from it. As painful as some of it might be, I can still learn from it and absorb life lessons.

headshotYou’re American but have lived in Australia for nine years. Has being an ex-pat shaped your art?

Being an ex-pat has had a huge impact on my art. While everyone here speaks English, it’s a different world. It’s similar to home but it’s not home. I’m always looking at things slightly left of center. Also, I have a slight sense of longing all the time, being far from friends. There’s a Japanese word for that bittersweet appreciation of time passing, and I’m constantly aware of that. It seeps into my images.

Probably the biggest issue I struggle with is that I’m not considered an Australian blogger photographer, but I’m not an American one, either. I consider myself more Australian than American—at least politically. I enjoy and celebrate the opportunities people have here.

What are you looking forward to doing in your business this year?

I’d like to take my Within the Keep project to a larger audience. I’m also working on a visual storytelling journal for kids to help them tell their own stories. I love how photography crosses nationalities, language barriers, intellectual barriers—all those things. It’s universal.

Rachel’s Quick Picks:

  • Favorite read: the Brain Pickings e-newsletter and the book A Man Called Ove
  • Favorite podcast: I have yet to find a podcast I can listen to!
  • Favorite Instagram feeds: Recent finds are @EstherHollywood and @Adele_Miranda
  • Designers, creatives, or brands: the kids’ clothing brand Minti; illustrator Bianca Cash; the landscapes of photographer Bill Henson
  • Favorite place to go for inspiration: the beach
  • Most inspiring friend or family member: My father, who passed away in 1999. He was the one who said, “Photograph. I’ll pay for the lab bills”—and look what he’s done. I think about him all the time, every time I pick up a camera.

Photographs by Rachel Devine

For more about Rachel, visit her blog, Facebook feed, or follow her on Instagram at @sesameellis. To join Rachel’s Photographing Happiness group, where she helps members document their daily moments of happiness, visit the group’s Facebook page.

Julie Mazur Tribe is an editor and book publishing consultant who loves working with authors, books, and creative ideas. She can be found at BrooklynBookStudio.com or on Instagram at @brooklynbookstudio.

Art commissions: basic tips

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by Júlia Both

As an artist, in addition to creating work for exhibitions and your own projects, you may often be commissioned by businesses or individuals to make something just for them. Whether it is a piece of fine art, a mural, or a digital illustration, a commission gives you an opportunity to practice your skills, create new work, and reach new audiences.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings can sometimes come up along the way that cost you time and impact your client’s satisfaction. I’ve found that most problems arise from a lack of clarity in communication, and from not being on the same page about the expected result, timeline, or cost of the piece. Many clients will have never commissioned an artist before and may know little about art and the creative process, and it’s essential to keep that in mind.

Here are a few basic things to remember while doing an art commission to avoid most issues.

Always start with a brief
No matter how simple or straightforward the project, always develop a basic brief at the start. Talk to your client about what she wants from the art piece and what role it will fulfil in her home or business.

Assess the client’s expectations
When someone commissions you for the first time, talk to her extensively about what she expects from the art piece. Be skeptical of people who tell you that they have no expectations and that you can do anything you like. Usually, clients have seen a particular style of art that you do and want something similar. Show them pieces of your work and discuss what they like the most.

Get a deposit before you start sketching
A lot of people will ask to see ideas or sketches on the piece before they commit to working with you. However, they should be able to decide whether you are a good fit for their project based on your portfolio and past experience, without asking you to work for free. It can be frustrating if you spend a long time working on a design only to have a potential client cancel the project. Before you do any creative work, get them to pay a small percentage of the quote as a financial commitment.

Show your client a sketch before you start the piece
Once the client has paid a deposit, get approval of a basic design before you start the piece. This can be as simple as a rough sketch or as detailed as a presentation with colour palette, mood boards, and finalised drawings. The important thing is to agree on the main elements of your piece before you spend a lot of effort on it. If the client is unhappy with the final result, you can refer back to this stage to justify your choices.

Don’t rely on words when talking about art
The people commissioning you will rarely be artists, so you need to illustrate what they mean when using creative terms. When they use words such as “abstract” or “modern” to describe their preferences, ask for examples of what they mean. Similarly, when you describe your ideas, don’t trust that they’ll understand your description: show them. This will ensure everyone is on the same page.

Keep them updated on progress
This doesn’t mean you have to regularly send photos of the piece, but make an effort to keep your client posted on how it’s coming along and when you plan to finish. If you are running behind schedule, be honest about it.

Don’t forget to document your work
Get good photos or videos of each piece you create. A solid portfolio is the best way to quickly convey to future clients the type of work you do and what they can expect from you.

Júlia Both is a Brazilian artist based in Melbourne. Her work explores duality and the relationships between the macro and microcosmos, inspired by plants, nebulae, sex, and dreams. For more about Júlia’s work, visit her at artofboth.com or follow her on Instagram (@artofboth).

 

Book review: The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

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by Kate Shannon

Described on the cover as “A Course in Discovering and Recovering Your Creative Self,” Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way is regarded by many as a way of life. The book, which turns twenty-five years old this year, is known as the creative person’s bible, helping us tap into our creative desires and ignite—or reignite—our artistic spark.

The Artist’s Way is presented as a twelve-week course, working through the steps of “creative recovery.” Each chapter outlines an area to address in our artistic unblocking, with exercises such as affirmations, lists, check-ins to challenge core beliefs about being an artist, and ways to override the internal censor that so often sabotages our creative pursuits.

Cameron, a prolific author, poet, playwright, and artist, shares her experiences finding her creative mojo and overcoming barriers in her creative career. She encourages readers to open themselves up to inspiration by being playful, ignoring the quest for perfection, and simply showing up.

Cameron reckons the acts of coming up with ideas, being inspired, and creativity itself, are all the influence of a higher power. References to God’s input into the creative process are peppered throughout the book, but you don’t have to be religious to find it helpful or to complete the program.

Here are a few of the key insights I took from the book:

The morning pages
The practice of writing daily “morning pages” is at the heart of The Artist’s Way, and is one part of this book that I use regularly. Every morning, you write three full pages of whatever comes to mind as a way to clear out negative, superfluous “clutter” and make room for positivity, clarity, and creativity. These pages aren’t designed to be kept or shown to anyone else, let alone published, but the idea is that if you do them daily, creative gems will eventually show up. Cameron says that she’s been doing them every day for years, and thousands of her devotees swear by them.

The artist date
Another of Cameron’s essential tools is the “artist date.” This is the act of spending an hour or two alone each week pursuing something that piques your interest. A date could be a visit to a museum, a walk around an unfamiliar neighborhood, a browse in a bookshop, or simply time collecting and arranging shells at the beach. Artist dates are designed to feed our inspiration; Cameron describes them as “assigned play” and “more mischief than mastery.”

Surround yourself with those who encourage your creative practice
Cameron encourages us to safeguard our artist within by avoiding the people in our lives who are negative influences when it comes to making art; she calls them “crazymakers.” “Do not expect your blocked friends to applaud your recovery,” she writes. “That’s like expecting your best friends from the bar to celebrate your sobriety.”

The importance of noticing
Cameron shares a lot of herself and her experiences in this book. One anecdote about her late grandmother particularly resonated with me. She tells of her grandmother’s ability to pay attention to the details of life, describing the letters her grandmother wrote detailing her surroundings, which she called “flora and fauna reports.” For example: “the roses are holding even in this heat… My Christmas cactus is getting ready…the little Shetland looks like she’ll drop her foal early.” Her grandmother noticed the beautiful details of life, even when life wasn’t so cheery.

Cameron describes her grandmother as “standing knee-deep in the flow of life and paying close attention,” and prods us to do the same, as this is where we find inspiration, connection, and sanity.

 The Artist’s Way has a knack of either strongly binding or dividing its readers. My dog-eared copy has been a constant companion on my creative journey, as well as the journeys of many, many others.

 Kate Shannon is a Brisbane-based freelance writer. She spends much of her time in the garden with her two little girls, and loves writing and learning about flowers, plants, and creative people. Follow her on Instagram at @thehanburys.

Interview with Dawn Tan, illustrator and teacher

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by Jenni Mazaraki

One of the greatest gifts that illustrator, teacher, and soapmaker Dawn Tan gives her students is the permission to make mistakes. Having taught art since she was seventeen, as well as working as an illustrator, Dawn embraces the art process as changeable. “If you make a mistake, just go for it,” she said. “Change it up a bit. See how you can do something new out of that mistake that you’ve made.”

Dawn’s “Making Space”
Dawn welcomes me into her Yarraville home in Melbourne’s inner west. We can feel it is going to be a warm day, but for the moment we are both thankful for the coolness of her kitchen and dining room.

Dawn’s studio space has a gentle filtered light. The Victorian terrace she shares with her husband, Darren, is filled with art by friends and by artists she admires—such as good friend Madeline Stamer—as well as objects collected on the couple’s travels. A recent trip to the U.S. and India has prompted new designs featuring images and patterns inspired by the American desert and India’s magical colours and spices.

The long wooden table in her dining room is where Dawn creates her illustrations. On the day I visit, the table is neatly arranged with resources for a work in progress. The watercolour painting she shows me is of her client’s grandparent’s home, which Dawn carefully paints with fine detail as a precious memory for her client.

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One of Dawn's detailed custom house portraits

A Creative Life
Along with working as a freelance illustrator and having her work published by such clients as Frankie and Hooray magazines, Dawn teaches workshops for adults in her home, and for children as a school art teacher.

In the last six months, Dawn has also discovered a love of making handmade soaps—enticing in both looks and aroma. The packaging for her soaps bears Dawn’s signature watercolour drawings, and the scents include apple cider, Joshua tree cactus, and chai milk tea. “I started making soaps not only because I wanted soap for myself, but because I was going through quite a rough patch when I was teaching and working in my previous school,” she explained. “I found that I needed a way to relax and not think about anything else, to do something different for a change.”

In high school, Dawn had great support from teachers who recognised her natural artistic ability and encouraged her to pursue an artistic career. Her friends and family have also encouraged her to keep going with her art, in part by ordering prints and custom house portraits, buying soaps, and sharing her posts on social media. “A lot of my colleagues were amazing, super troopers, cheering me on,” said Dawn.

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Dawn in her living room

The Little Art Yurt
In June 2017, Dawn will fulfill her dream of opening her very own art school: The Little Art Yurt. “I’ve always known that I wanted to teach,” she said.

As Dawn awaits delivery of a large round tent, which will fill the entire outdoor space in her courtyard, she prepares for the school—planning, designing brochures, and adding students’ names to the ever-growing waitlist. She already has the most elegantly made aprons ready and waiting for the first class, hung on a plywood rack made by her father-in-law. The Hedley & Bennett aprons are examples of Dawn’s attention to detail: she is sensitive not only to the ways children engage with art, but also to how they feel physically while creating art. The aprons let children move freely without being hampered by stiff, bulky art smocks.

Dawn possesses a true joy of teaching, describing it as something that feeds her creativity. “I find that, especially working with children, they have this sort of crazy, fun energy about them. It makes you learn how to let go and just relax,” she said. “I see it as an exchange of knowledge. I see kids as teachers as well.”

Dawn comes from a family of teachers. “Being able to share what I love—which is art—helps me be inspired. I enjoy having conversations with people, sharing experiences, food, laughs. All these things help me create better as a maker.”

Being an Artist
At the end of each day, Dawn makes a deliberate effort to pack all of her work away onto her shelves, a method she has recently adopted. “I used to leave everything out lying on the table,” she said. “I used to have a separate table in a little corner, but then we bought this bigger table and I realised that having this big kitchen table forces me to put everything away. It actually helps me think better and work better because every day is a new fresh start.”

Dawn’s watercolour illustrations are distinctive, with their use of fineliner and watercolour. Layers of watercolour in elegant tones capture doughnuts, cakes, food, plants, houses, and packaged goods. Dawn decided a while ago that drawing people was not for her, preferring to draw inanimate objects. Her style brings the subjects she paints to life, as if we are experiencing them through her eyes. “One word that’s kept coming up over the years is ‘raw’: how my work is so raw, almost like reading through someone’s journal. I like that,” she said.

Dawn is open and honest in the way she shares her life and work online. “When you have a very personal voice—when you’re just you and when you don’t hide, when you don’t make it all look nice and fancy—I find that people actually appreciate it more,” she said. “I always wanted to be the sort of artist where there’s no hiding, so, yeah, I think I’ve achieved that.”

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A favourite quote

Dawn’s Tip
Dawn encourages women who want to start their own creative business, or who struggle to juggle their business with other demands, to believe in themselves. “Don’t doubt yourself,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years that if you’re going to sit there and hesitate and doubt yourself and think, ‘What if? What if?’ then it’s never going to happen. Just do it. If you fail, you fail. Dream big; go do it. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.”

To find out more about Dawn and her work, visit her website or follow her on Instagram (@handmadelove).

Photos and podcast audio production by Jenni Mazaraki

Jenni Mazaraki is an artist, designer, writer, and podcaster who helps women tell their stories. She is particularly interested in the ways women make time and space for creativity. You can see more of Jenni’s work at localstoryspace.com, on Instagram (@localstoryspace), or on Facebook.