A lot of artists, new and experienced alike, get so excited by the next new shiny idea that they jump around with their art explorations. I get it. Right now I’m battling my desire to learn everything about weaving with the painted, gilded series I’ve committed myself to this year.
You enjoy the process, the art and get wrapped up in the making. But then, when you share it with others you read and hear about the importance of a consistent style and message in your art. This is usually offered as advice in situations where people assume you are then amateur or that you want to be a professional, full time artist.
Not only does this make you feel like your work is inadequate, it can feel like personal rejection and even make you consider stopping your art.
Today I want to talk to you about the benefits of creating a body of art. Why create work for a portfolio or in a series? What use is there in doing this for us creators?
Body of Art Versus a Series
Let’s first make sure we know the difference between a body of art and a series. Really, there isn’t much of a difference, it’s more of a nuance. A series of artworks usually have a very obvious investigation or tie. For example, someone might decide to create caricature portraits of political figures. Because they are all about political figures (perhaps even specific to one country, we’ll say the USA), this would be considered a series.
A body of art is more like a portfolio accumulation of artworks that share the same style and overall message. If our caricature artist continued to do portraits but of people other than political figures, or across different countries, the new work AND the political series could be considered a body of work together. In fact, multiple series together could be considered a body of art. Body of art has a more overarching view of artwork where similar use of color or mark making may be the tie that holds all of the works together.
Both terms are pertinent to this article so I use both throughout this post.
Ultimately, you can spend way too much time stressing about creating a specific style for your art rather than creating. The only way to develop a unique voice is by making a lot of art. That leads me to the first benefit of creating a body of art:
Challenge Your Skill and Work Ethic
Practice makes progress. This is so important I’ve included this idea in our community pledge, the pledge we all should make to our art.
When you develop a series of artworks that relate to one another you repeat formal decisions. (Art term alert: formal means related to the elements and principles of art. Formal decisions are then the artistic choices we make using line, color, pattern, etc.) This means you create opportunity not only to refine ideas, but your skill. Repetition and practice is what helps an artist build his or her skill.
Building a series of artworks also reflects a level of confidence: you believe in your work enough to keep at it and continue down the rabbit hole.
Many of you in this community tell me you find it difficult to make time for your art. Committing to a regular practice and making time is the beginning. Knowing what you are going to create, what you plan to work on each time you get to that canvas or paper also makes it easier to keep coming back (or get started!).
The more you work, the easier it is to work for longer (or shorter) periods of time. You can make work when you have the time instead of looking for “the right time.” Work ethic is so important for artists seeking to build skill and grow creatively.
Fully Investigate an Idea
Trying to do something once, say a portrait, and calling it quits after that artwork can actually hold you back as a creative. You are missing out on the opportunity to understand different angles of the face, skin tones, emotional expressions, etc. There is a lot to learn in every genre of art or style that we explore. How will you extend yourself and learn new ideas and techniques if you don’t keep exploring?
Digging deeper is usually when I get to a more interesting connection or unique approach that “up levels” my work.
While at Colgate University I had to create a body of work to display for my senior thesis. We had to be able to speak about the meaning and message behind the work and answer questions offered by the professors. I had the beginnings of an idea: my family existed well before I was born (my sister is 16 years older than I am, my brother 11). I remember looking through photos and feeling nostalgic and even jealous I wasn’t a part of the family for those memories.
I began working from those photos to connect with the story and history of my family before my birth. As a painted and sketched out ideas, my professor told me something was missing. I was one step short of making it to the finish line. I took her advice to heart and spent 4 days in the studio staring at my work: doodling, reading, journaling. I don’t remember painting much, instead I observed, reflected, and let my mind wander.
It was after I made this commitment to my art and fully investigated my idea that I made a new connection: that I should put myself into the paintings. This would be how viewers understand some of what I am feeling.
It’s easier in a school setting to keep digging when a professor has your back, but I’ll never forget the shift I felt when I finally figured it out. I was more proud of the work and more excited to follow through with the project because I stuck with it. The quality of the work reflected that staying power.
Note: sometimes you’ve created a body of art and didn’t even realize it. Perhaps you love landscapes and pastels and well, you never tire of it. If that’s all you’ve worked on for a while, you’ve already built yourself a body of art. Having a consistent curiosity about a single topic can lead to your series or body of art.
Create From a Place of Freedom
A big objection I hear from artists who start to share their work is they are afraid of being boxed in… that if they share their art and have “tried on” one idea, that is all they are allowed to do or be known for. Bah. This is completely false. It’s also an excuse that could be keeping you from making art.
Countless famous artists investigated many ideas, techniques, and styles over time. Picasso is a great example of this. Look up Picasso cubism versus Picasso blue period and you will see what I mean.
Creating a series of artworks actually builds freedom into your creative process. Yes, you heard me. FREEDOM. Let’s say you have one idea or style you play around with in your art. By the end you have 8 paintings. You now feel bored by the idea of continuing so you stop and start something new, which investigates textiles and painting.
You still have 8 paintings in the first style you explored. And you worked at it for a while, spending time to “figure it out” before the boredom set in.
Each series can have it’s own unique style, message, voice. You are not limited by one idea and your voice and style will even display connections between series, but let the art historian sort that out for you, because you have a new idea to explore!!
Not only can you develop your skill and explore a wide range of topics when you create a body of art or work in a series, you can also build your credibility as an artist. When you post to your Facebook wall a mishmash of artworks you’ve created over time it can actually make people feel like you are all over the place.
If you wish to promote your art or engage in marketing to reach more people, sharing a body of art or a series makes your message and style clearer to your viewers. There is a harmony across the artworks that makes it more pleasing to click through and “like.”
A lot of people see buying art as an investment. When you consider financial investments, do you think you’d feel “safer” buying an investment that shows consistent growth or would you rather buy an investment that appears to have no history for you to make your decision? Having a body of art is kind of like creating a financial history for an investment. People see where your work has been and where it is going over a time period.
More Paintings, More Purchases
This argument is short and sweet.
1 painting on one topic = 1 buyer (yes you could do prints, but those are not originals).
12 paintings on one topic = 12 buyers?
People (that’s plural) will like your art. If you post one artwork at a time for sale, you aren’t making space or room for people who like a particular exploration of yours to purchase your original. Create multiple choices for your current customer base. Similarly, creating different sizes of work also opens the door to multiple price points. This can also open the door to more buyers.
Show Your Art
Artist can often feel like showing their artwork in a gallery is a sign of success. If this is you, galleries want to see consistency in art and work ethic, both of which I’ve noted earlier in this article.
If you want a solo show, you must create a body of art or a series to share with the gallery. They can’t sign an artist or develop a relationship with an artist unless you have a body of art to showcase. Especially when it comes to new artists, galleries will rarely sign a deal or accept art that is a promise. They need your art to be able to invest in you.
So Should You Create a Body of Art?
Ultimately, part of what you must consider is what you want from your art. Some people in this community have a desire for creative play and explore for the pure joy of exploring. If art is a tool for stress relief or is about fun, that is an awesome and important focus that does not need the pressure of a body of art.
If you have a desire to show your work, a huge motivation to improve and build upon your skill, or sell your art, you really need to consider creating a body of art.
Be Creatively Courageous: Have you worked on idea for a while but deep down know you need to take it to the next level? What’s next? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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I’m currently working on a series of 100 watercolor paintings featuring symbols. I’m one of those who will never stick to one thing only because I need variety. Working in series is ok, but I won’t do one of 100 again. The next one I’m planning will be 15.
Linda, 100 is super ambitious and I think I would find that very limiting and I’m a super structured person. I think 15 is a great idea, but I love that you have challenged yourself with 100 artworks! I did a project of 52 artworks in 52 weeks and that was sometimes limiting and sometimes gave me the push I needed to get into the studio. It started as only portraiture but I got bored. So I let myself make other things.
I like a good challenge 🙂 After a while, it does feel limiting and finding new symbols has become more difficult. I’m only using old or pagan symbols, so there’s less to choose from. Right now I’ve finished 75/100, so I’m nearing the end of it. The inspiration came from Kellee Wynne Conrad’s challenge to do 100. It’s an ongoing thing she’s running in a facebook group. I do create other artworks outside this series otherwise, I’d go nuts.
Good for you Linda!
Carrie…the thought of doing a body of work is so appealing to me. I’ve been all over in my art…a little lost and confused…but I think that a focused piece of work over a dozen projects is something I feel I truly need to accomplish. I’m brainstorming as I’m writing this. Thanks girl for this post.
Woohoo Cheryl! Can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve 🙂
Great article, Carrie…and something that has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been organizing and putting together a concise and consistent inventory of my work for the last several months and have realized that not only do I have 160 pieces of work thus far (and still more to go through) that I have record of but I also have several series, and didn’t think I’d done any! But…I still can agonize over the consistency of my work, and think I’m too ‘all over the place’, so it’s been on my mind a lot, this question of where do I want to focus? My intention that I’m putting out to the Universe lately is: finding my unique artistic voice and expression. I’ve been saving paintings that I absolutely love to a folder so I can look at them and ask myself: why do I love this so much? What about it speaks to me? These answers will guide me in my painting. Maybe I’m there more than I realize, I don’t know…thanks for this article and thanks for listening!!
Hi Becky! I’m so pleased this article resonates with you. I’m sure you do have series and don’t even know it! I have to say, from the work I see from you, I am a bit surprised you worry that your work is all over the place. I totally see connections between all your work. Maybe that is something we can discuss and investigate further in The Circle! Your strategy of noting your favorites and why is a great idea, I will think on that for myself, too.
Thank you. This us a really helpful and convincing and clarifying ariticle for me. I started painting abstract work 2 years ago and have only now started to create a proper body of work with a set of two series, which I work on in parallel. Each series will be between six and nine paintings.
That sounds wonderful David. Happy painting!
I really enjoyed reading this article. I am an elementary school teacher close to retirement, and have always wanted to put together a body of work. My real passion is doing pointillism drawings in black and white. I love the process as it is meditative. As I am getting on in age, and have come from a large family (7 siblings!), I am planning to do a body of work around my family. All of it will be done in pointillism. Is this marketable? Thanks for a great article. I found it very inspiring. Take care.
Hi Paul! I’m so glad you found the article helpful. Congratulations on your almost retirement! We are lucky to have people like you who teach ES. It takes a special person. (I taught ES for a year and came home falling asleep (drooling!!) on the couch at 4 pm I was so tired from those kids haha!)
If you have a passion for this style of art and want to use pointillism as a way to tell story or share imagery about your family DO IT.
I’m concerned sometimes that people feel that they have to justify their desire to make something by “making it marketable.” People have all kinds of interests. I don’t have to make my desire to watch netflix or make cookies marketable. People who golf don’t have to become pro? So first, if that is why you ask if this is marketable, I want to assure you the desire to create is valuable enough to JUST make.
That being said, if you have a genuine interest in marketing or promoting the art you create, EVERYTHING has a market. The issue is finding it. So. If you absolutely want to sell locally, you will only know by making a few pieces (like a small series of works) and testing their sale at local events.
If you want to sell online, you need to have an online presence, share the process and story of your art and seek to build relationships with people who would like your art. And you figure out who those people are with time, patience, and trial and error!
Best wishes to you Paul.
I’ve been painting seascapes for quiet a while now, l never tire of painting the sea. I am retiring in next couple of months and will have more time to put a body of work together, at the moment l am undecided if l should continue to use oils and paint as l have been doing, or explore more. I’m not sure how to begin! It’s always been a dream of mine to do a body of work.
Hi Mary Clare. What a GREAT question and topic. Thank you for asking it. I’m going to talk about it on Instagram, too because I think it’s so valuable. I’ll link that video here when I finish it for your reference, but for now:
if you have anywhere from 5-20 paintings of seascapes in oils, you likely have a body of art <3
Now. Other things to consider...
Even though you used oils for all of them, your approach, your colors, etc. could all be really different. Could you choose one seascape you LOVE and then make 5-20 more in the same vein?
OR, if you tier of seascapes, what other media and ideas do you want to explore? What about digging in and committing to at least 5 works in a single style?
I currently have one body of work that showcases white women from the 40s training for traditionally male job roles because the men were at war. I'm also now painting a group of women who are tattoo artists today. These works will look nothing alike because my models are very different, but there is still overlap in theme and artistic choices. But they are separate bodies of art.
YOU CAN make a body of art. You may have already. So what will you decide, starting today, to realize that dream of yours? <3 <3 Cheering you on. Carrie