How to Get Started: Artist and Designer Networking Guide Part 1

Artists and Designers Networking Guide: Part 1 in this series focuses on starting with connecting with other artists. Jump to the other posts about networking:

Networking is often a dirty word, yet it’s helpful for any professional to have others to look to for guidance, opportunities, and support. In that sense, what are network contacts? They are just friends with a common interest. With any friendship, we have a lot more that we share than just our interests. We look at each other as people we care about.

The New York Times reports that sociologists since the 1950s have whittled the likeliness of connections down to three principles: Proximity, Unplanned Interactions, and Privacy. How can you place yourself to be physically close, have unplanned interactions, and have others feel comfortable sharing with you? Focus on what you feel good about contributing to the people in your network. This will make the process so much easier. It’s not “work” if it’s something you genuinely enjoy, just like how you enjoy your other friendships, families, and relationships.

“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”

Dale Carnegie

If you’re like many artists, you might have a bit of social phobia about meeting other artists. We don’t want people to see us as users or opportunists. The key to this is to be a good and giving friend first. What are you willing to do for others without receiving anything in return? These are the kinds of acts that will make you a quality friend and networker while still protecting your interests.

How to Start Networking Online

Once you have begun practicing art and have work to share, having an online presence helps with connecting. Why? Because when you start making life friends who share a professional interest, you’ll want to have a place to send them.

You can start small just by opening a free account on Twitter, Pinterest, Google Plus, and a Facebook Like Page. Each of these sites is free. Pick your favorite of these sites. Start by exploring what others are doing and mimic what you like about their posts. As an artist, having even a simple yet beautiful website to display your work is a great tool. If you mention that you are an artist and anyone shows any curiosity, having a place to send them makes networking easy: “Hey what’s your number, I’ll text you my website and you can look at some time if you want!”

“When you act as though you like someone, you start to really like them.”
Leil Lowndes, How to Talk to Anyone

Focus first on helping others. How can others benefit from your work? When I started the Uncanny Creativity podcast and this blog, it was really because I often read articles and take notes. I started thinking that others can benefit from what I found. Working as a designer over the years, I’ve discovered that coworkers often haven’t found the information that I have. Every creative struggles to find and create ideas. This helps when we feel as if I’m the only one who worries about my creative abilities. Showing that to others has been a drive that keeps my content focused on the readers.

How to Start With Your Existing Network

How much do you interact with the people you already know? Let’s think of a few small ways we can adjust creatively every day when we have conversations. Do your friends, family, and coworkers know about your life as an artist? Tell them you’re interested in meeting other artists and even discussing seeing this article if it helps.

When I was younger, I rarely discussed my art much with my mom because I felt she didn’t seem to show much interest. Slowly over time, I started opening up and just saying I visited an art show, that I painted, and would give her art. Mentioning visiting a museum, art supplies, going to an art store, and just showing how it’s part of my day made us both comfortable. Her background is as an accountant, so she didn’t know much about art. Yet as my mom, she knows how to be supportive and to be a proud mom.

Let others offer their unique points of view without having any expectations. Even if they don’t know anyone to connect you with, they can still be there for support as you’re trying new things.

Since you’re an imaginative person, come up with ideas of something every day that you can use to encourage connections with others. Check-in with at least someone you already know. You might, for example, think of the people in your network who would benefit from knowing each other and offering to introduce them. If you were laid off, who are the first 5-10 people you’d contact? Make sure you regularly talk to them and not just when in need. Look at the people you spend the most time with. Make sure to invest in relationships that influence you positively.

How to Start Being Curious

Make it a habit to Google your interests, problems, and thoughts. Share the absolute best articles on these networks with some personal comments about why you love them. The other focus is to reply to your connections online to let them know you enjoyed what they share. Compliment them and share your thoughts on their posts. When I say share, I don’t mean just online. These are great topics to bring up in person too. “I saw a great article about that the other day!” Having your interests are great for conversation and for understanding other people’s interests.

“Curiosity benefits our social and romantic lives. Curious people are often considered good listeners and conversationalists. In the early stages of a relationship, we tend to talk about our interests or hobbies. One reason for this is that people tend to equate “having many interests” with “interesting,” and for good reason. Curious people tend to bring fun and novelty into relationships.”
Ben Dean Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania

I know this might sound mundane or obvious, and at the same time, it’s a great practice to say it out loud. Through reading articles, you’ll also have a lot more to talk about when you meet people in your industry. “Oh wow, you’re a sculptor? I was reading about new research on Michaelangelo’s David!” Friends online and off will start to see you as an expert, because you’ll be one. Part of making connections with others is stating what you feel is obvious. To your surprise, you’ll out much of what you think isn’t so obvious to others.

How to Make a Conversation

Being social isn’t just about trying to gain. We have to be willing to give to others. One of the rarest and yet most obvious gifts we all can give is to listen. Listening is a very engaged, dynamic, and energy-intensive action, showing our curiosity about what we hear, and reflecting on how we’ve heard it. All successful conversation requires two active participants. Listening is more about finding a balance comfortable between speaking and not. The ideal balance will depend on both people. An outgoing person much not need as much feedback or want to be asked as many questions. A shy person might need more attention. Ideally, neither of you will feel pressured to “carry” the conversation.

“The more you engage and connect, the more engagement and connections you will have.”
Loren Weisman

Keep in mind that listening benefits both of you. You’ll learn more about how they interact and have clues on how to create a good balance by taking their views and words into account. People will be more excited to hear about your ideas if they feel theirs are heard. We all fear that we might not be listened to as much and while you can’t force others to listen to you, you can give them that comfort as a listener. Listening is a tool for collaborating with others effectively.

One of the simplest and often effective strategies for listening is to share a short and similar story in response when others talk. Often automated responses like “uh huh”, “yeah” and even “tell me more about that” won’t convey that you are listening or willing to give. Follow up your story with a question that asks them if they want to continue, “Oh wow, I went to the Bahamas last year and it was beautiful! What did you like most about it?”

How to Start Talking About Your Art

Be ready with a few standard very brief introductions to your art to be explained to anyone you meet. Less is more and find the most natural places to mention it. Sometimes there won’t be a natural place, so you’ll have to allow yourself to delay or it might not be the right conversation or even eventually the right person. Match the level of conversation with the other person. If they seem super interested when you mention your work, follow the thread. If they are focused on other aspects. Follow them. This technique is similar to improv, where you agree with what was said and add your twist.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
Winston S. Churchill

Most of all, be ready to fail gracefully. You might just be so excited about a painting you’re working on and just have to say “I’m so passionate about my work sometimes, I get caught up. Anyway, tell me more about your trip?” Conversations can be tricky and don’t always go according to how we might practice. I’ve learned to laugh at that part. For other ideas on how to meet and connect with other artists, check out the podcast episode about meeting artists.

Next: Practical Tips: Artists and Designers Networking Guide Part 2

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.


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