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Myths & Truths About Creative Consistency
Wish you were more like those laser-focused creatives who have a consistent style? Here’s a secret about what they’re doing, and why it might not be for you.
Let’s talk about creatives who have a singular focus.
We can call them specialist creatives.
Painters who make the same type of work over and over again. Small business owners who run their own shows. Creative folks who seem to have mastered that elusive art of consistency.
If you’re anything like me – a multifaceted creative with countless interests and practices – you experience this weird reaction whenever you catch sight of one of those specialists.
You’re learning about their life’s work as it's rattled off in a podcast bio or neatly laid out in a completely harmonious social media feed. And here’s what happens: You feel this wonderful and miserable mix of appreciation, admiration, and yearning, finished off with a pang of envy and a lingering sense that you’re lost in your own sea of creative confusion.
Even though you and this other person are both highly creative people, the specialist’s journey is not your journey; their goals are not your goals.
After spending lots of time listening to (and lamenting over) specialist creatives as they discuss what they do, I finally realized what’s actually driving their consistent output – and why it’s not at all what motivates me.
Let me tell you the secret about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and why you shouldn’t sit yourself down in the comparison trap and panic.
Myth: You can force yourself to become a specialist creative (when you’re not)
At one point last year, I got it into my head that abstract painting could be my way in. If only I could crack the code and figure out how to produce work that I actually liked – and how to do it consistently – I’d be all set.
That would be my “one thing.”
I enrolled myself in a few online workshops and in-person courses all about abstract art. I followed approximately one billion abstract painters on Instagram and absorbed as much as I could from art podcasts.
I didn’t crack any codes and emerge triumphant as an abstract painting genius myself.
But, I did demystify the whole creative consistency mystery.
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Myth: Specialist creatives have unlocked some big secret the rest of us can’t figure out
My assumption had always been that people who create the same type of work – in the same style, with admirable consistency – did so because they had discovered some secret to the creative universe.
Once they “unlocked” that level, that’s where they stayed. They had something I could never seem to reach.
As it turns out, that’s not the case at all!
Truth: Repeating the same creative style and process just makes it easier to jump in and do the work
Here’s why specialist creatives are so consistent: When they return to a familiar style and format each time, it frees them up to just create.
Think of a painter who sits down at her art table. Does she pick up the watercolors and hot-pressed paper? Or maybe cold-pressed? But what about the other paints over there… is it an oil-on-canvas kind of day? Maybe acrylics? Ok, acrylics. Is she painting them on paper, board, or canvas? Should the piece emerge from a careful sketch or an abstract splash of color? Where should it start? Where should it end?
How much time does she even have left to actually paint after scrambling through this circus of decision-making steps?
For someone who wants to sit down and paint, it’s a major time and energy saver to have most of these decisions made up before the creative session even starts.
If, over months or years of exploring and experimenting, our painter friend has finally tinkered her way into a style and format she likes, all of that hard decision-making work is done. She can mosey on into her studio and all the materials and processes she’s grown familiar with are ready for her. She can launch right into flow state today, then rinse and repeat tomorrow.
If creating in the same style and format is a shortcut to creating, it’s a helpful life hack for anyone who enjoys having a singular focus. But it doesn’t necessarily satisfy the multifaceted creative – the curious spirit who craves novelty and exploration.
There’s another motivating factor behind consistent creative output, too. This one has to do with money.
Truth: Consistency isn’t inherently more valuable, but it sure is easier to capitalize on
How many times have you bought a “mystery box”? For some low-low price, you can be the proud owner of a surprise set of books, cosmetics, trinkets, or whatever the product du jour may be.
Probably not too many times, right? I’m guessing you’ve spent a lot more money on predictable products.
After all, it’s nice to know what you’re buying and what its quality will be. If you can see a history of happy customers who had good experiences with similar products, you’ll be even more confident in your purchase.
In the same way, the market tends to reward predictable creators. Musicians who stick to one instrument and play in the same genre. Crafters who make the same types of products in neat little batches.
The word “product” here is key. Many of these highly-visible specialist creatives are selling their works as products. Some teach or consult, too, but they use their portfolio of same-looking stuff to convince customers that they’ve mastered their craft.
It’s a lot easier to rack up testimonials and a track record of success when you’ve been creating the same thing in the same way for some time.
It’s also easier to scale what you’re doing if you stick to one thing. The more you work through the same process, the more you’ll be able to weed out inefficiencies and identify ways to create your products faster, more cheaply, and at a higher volume.
Consistent output is good business.
But when you’re not in business, it doesn’t really matter, does it?
Myth: Commodifying your work leads to creative fulfillment
An unfortunate thing can happen to people who commodify their creativity. Consistency turns into a cage. People expect this person to make this type of product. As soon as they start veering off into some new iteration, the market no longer gets it.
Some established artists will hear folks saying, “I liked your older work better.” Others will shy away from sharing their latest experiments or their new direction.
One abstract painter I took online classes from spoke about how her licensing agent wanted her to keep painting works for an ongoing series. Its style was refined and orderly. Meanwhile, the painter was working very hard to branch out into looser and more raw ways of expression.
Would the licensing opportunities still be there to support her evolving art business? Would the agent really cast aside the commercially viable, familiar style and risk something new?
Talk about feeling boxed in!
It’s certainly possible to pivot into a new style with commercial success. But once a product and process have been refined, scaled, and perfected, it can be easier to stick with whatever pays the bills.
But if it’s not supposed to be paying the bills, and you’re in the process of exploring, then that model just gets really boring, really fast. It even gets boring for creatives who want to grow and develop within their own specialization, like that abstract painter.
Is consistency really all that essential to your creative journey right now?
The creator who follows the same format and style does what they do for a host of different reasons. And they’re probably very different reasons from the ones you might have for creating your work in all its various forms.
If you’re a multifaceted creative like me, it doesn’t do you any favors to fixate on the specialist’s journey. They’re in a completely different lane – and it’s not a faster or better one than yours.
Stay the course in your own creative journey and you’re likely to find a lot more fulfillment and satisfaction along the way.