I'm going to tell you a secret that I took far too long to realize: not all artists are created equal. This isn't a matter of talent, or even a matter of training, but it comes down to something as simple as style. One artist can be cultured, another crafty, and those characteristics become your identity. Preserving that identity can be difficult, however, if you're in an environment that opposes it.
One of the easiest ways to grow as an artist is to find out what makes you unique, and then finding people who embrace that; rather than fighting to go against the grain, you can find yourself lifted and validated. An audience is a lifeblood for a growing artist, and it isn't something that should be taken lightly. Not all artists are created equal, and as such, not all audience will be ideal for them.
Escaping the Mold
When I was in college, I spent a lot of time in galleries. We had art shows once a semester, and I knew how to mat and frame my artwork like a pro. But it didn't always mean I felt like one. Oh, I could make the little nameplate, wear a fancy dress, but most of the time, that world was a little foreign to me. I wasn't a landscape painter. I didn't really love doing still life drawings, and abstract art seemed, well, abstract. In my heart, I was a nerd to the core, and my art reflected that. Most of the strangers that visited our galleries weren't looking for my style of art.
Enter a comic con. I was in my sophomore year of college when I first displayed in an artist alley, and my world was changed. Here was an audience that spoke the same language I did. My art didn't need to feel polished, and I could be a little rough around the edges. As I displayed at these shows and sold my artwork, I felt validated. My professors tried to mold me into a professional artist, but I was already a professional nerd. Until I took my style to the right place, I was just trying to squish into a mold that wasn't me.
Now, finding an artist alley wasn't the end to my journey. In fact, it was just the start. I found an audience I could build off of, but I was still experimenting to find my own voice. I attended Renaissance Faires, craft shows, and bought vendor booths to display in. Sometimes I did well, sometimes I didn't, but each time, I learned a little more about who I was. At a Renaissance Faire, I was an entertainer. I painted live, created my art at the tent, and people enjoyed what they saw. At a craft show, other artists connected with me and we talked about techniques. With a vendor booth, I was seen as a professional, and my art was valued more. I learned with each event what mattered to me in an audience. I was still in school, but it was out in the real world attending events and selling my wares.
I learned a lot about these different shows though, and what made them unique.
If you want to find an audience, don't stop at the first sign of success. Just like art, mastering one technique isn't the end of the journey. Try something new, find people who understand you, and maintain your identity wherever you go.