10 Insights from an Attendee
Last year I had the pleasure of attending The Fantastic Workshop as an attendee. I brought a notebook and a list of questions with me and left with over 30 pages of incredibly insightful notes and answers to questions I didn’t know I had. It’s hard to summarize such a rich personal experience but I can say that it was revitalizing, informative, and I’m incredibly excited to be joining as an instructor this year to share that experience with you from the other side.
So how about a peek into my experience as an attendee last year? Here are 10 things from the workshop that got me thinking, resonated with me, or is advice that my fellow artists should consider:
Take care of yourself! It’s okay to ask for help! So many artists neglect themselves for so many reasons. I hear artists make excuses for not taking the time to take care of themselves and it was no exception at the workshop. Your body and mind are your most important art tools - keep them healthy and it’ll show in your work and in your life. When I talked to last year’s instructors about the business advice that they consider indispensable, almost every one of them mentioned some health practice.
Winona Nelson gave an amazing lecture about finding your voice. She talked about Mucha, Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Boris Vallejo, and Julie Bell and how their voices changed over time and often they felt like they were just beginning to find their voice late in life. It was so encouraging to hear. Have you ever looked back at your work to see how you’ve evolved over the years... then wondered how much more your art might grow in the future? That thought always inspires me.
“It’s not that I didn’t want to be a woman, I just didn’t want to be treated like one” -Winona Nelson. Nonie also spoke about her personal journey to find her voice and I can’t possibly do her story justice, but it was the most powerful and relatable experience of the weekend and I ugly cried a lot. Being able to hear the journeys of artists you admire and have discussions with them in an intimate setting is, to me, one of the most valuable things that a workshop can offer.
Many artists have difficulty assessing their value even when they have no reason to lack confidence. It’s hard to get a clear perspective on your own work so if you’re feeling stuck ask your audience for feedback to better understand your value. Since realizing this at the workshop I’ve been creating surveys for my Patreon supporters every few months. The feedback has been useful in helping me decide what sort of posts I should create and what people admire in my own work.
Don’t act surprised when someone wants to buy something from you or support you, and don’t degrade your own work when someone compliments it. When you reject your art, you’re also rejecting your fans’ artistic taste. People value your work, allow them to show you your worth.
“Manage your expectations and realize that you can’t appeal to everyone, nor should you.” - Kelly McKernan. As a people pleaser, this is advice I need to repeat to myself on a regular basis to keep from being overwhelmed. Do what you love, do the best you can to the best of your ability at any given time, and know that not everyone will give you praise… but that doesn’t make you a failure.
Plan plan plan. A common thread between successful artists is that they have thoroughly planned what they’re going to do, whether it be social media posts and marketing, Patreon content, Kickstarters, etc. They think through the details, predict the best outcomes and plan for potential failure. Several of us shared our bullet journals, spreadsheets, and detailed schedules. Being organized also frees up your mind to create more art or relax instead of scrambling to figure out what you’re going to do. (Want to talk about bullet journaling? Come talk to me at any time during the workshop!)
In worldbuilding what you chose to include is as important as what you chose not to include. For example, if your characters create a map - what places and details have they included? What do they not include? Why? What does this tell you about the character’s beliefs about the world? I loved David Petersen’s lecture about worldbuilding, it was full of juicy bits of knowledge that only come from experience. (And he’ll be here again this year!)
If you’re not sure how to talk about yourself and your work, start with facts: “I’ve been painting for 8 years” … and then your personal feelings “I feel this is my best work so far.”
Cultivating an attitude that helps us confidently navigate being an artist and helps us to avoid burnout is important. Nen Chang talked about “not giving a fuck” and that it doesn’t indicate indifference, but is about giving your energy to things that actually matter instead of getting caught up on every small thing and becoming mentally exhausted. I think it’s also important to figure out your social boundaries as someone who is a semi-public figure and making personal work - it’s also important to maintain those boundaries.
And finally, as someone who often attends events and loves learning, here are 3 tips to consider as an attendee:
Keep notes and/or a journal. You’re going to be overwhelmed with the amount of information being thrown at you during the workshop and you’ll want to be able to remember it all - so take notes! I still revisit my notes from the workshop. I also recommend journaling to aid with introspection and growth. I like to take moments to think of questions to ask instructors, and then take time to sit with their answers and think of how they pertain to my experiences. It also allows me time to process my emotions and ideas in little chunks instead of being overwhelmed and then forgetting my thoughts later in the day.
Be brave, there’s no reason to be afraid of talking to the instructors. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard attendees at events say that they’re too anxious or afraid to approach an instructor for feedback or with questions but that’s what they’re there for. Say hello! Share your work! Come with a list of questions for them so you don’t forget in the moment. And if you’re still feeling anxious? Ask someone to introduce you! (I will always be happy to introduce you to someone if you feel nervous.)
Connect with the other attendees. Bring some business cards if you can and don’t be shy about sharing them. Business cards make it easy for other people to remember you, find your work, and follow you on social media. It’s not just the instructors who are valuable at events like this, but the other attendees as well. You’ll meet people at all different levels with a variety of approaches to their work. Get involved with the community, you never know where those connections might take you.
I hope these insights give you something to think about and provide some good ideas for how to get the most out of The Fantasitc Workshop.
Sam Guay is an artist focused on work that explores our inner, emotional worlds. Her intention with her work, whether it be a single painting, a story, or a large project is to invite quiet conversations with those private worlds where we can find ourselves most readily and connect more meaningfully to the world around us.