Shop Talk

The Perks of Having a Peer Group

You may be able to take better advantage of connections you already have. Look around and ask yourself who of your most trusted companions give you the best support in your art business.

Being an independent artist is tough. Finding ways to sell your art is an ongoing struggle. One way to ease the burden of an art business is to take advantage of the support of a peer group. A peer group is exactly what it sounds like. Simply stated, it’s a bunch of similarly-minded people, including artists, art professionals, art collectors, etc., who support each other in many ways, especially in business.

To quote award-winning illustrator Zelda Devon, “[To succeed, you need to] Surround yourself with peers who have similar goals and motivations.” It’s pretty much the same in any industry, really. Your close peers can recommend you, offer clear feedback, give you stamps of credibility and trustworthiness, and provide direct connections to clients. They can also help enliven and focus your art practice.

Members of a peer group should come together organically. A peer group doesn’t have to be like a club that meets up at an appointed time once every week or month…although it could be. It also doesn’t require a formal membership. You can know the participants well, but this doesn’t have to be a group of inseparable BFFs or anything. They should have a lot in common, especially with their art aesthetic or style, be comfortable with referring and supporting each other, and, most importantly, be able to trust and rely upon each other.

"The Flock" (Tote Bag) by tracieandrews

The art world runs on trust, and a peer group will provide a supportive network filled with it. Can an artist trust a gallery to ship their art safely to its next destination? Can an art journalist rely upon an artist to answer questions for an interview in a timely fashion? Can an art rep trust that they will get paid their commission from a gallery on time? With a peer group, the old adage, “it’s who you know” rings a bit true, but without its usual negative connotations. Word of mouth within a group of people you trust bears a lot of weight.

How do you grow a peer group? Some of you are probably thinking that you’d prefer to stick needles in your eye than do any networking, an activity that can seem smarmy or make you feel needy. This peer group thing turns networking on its head by offering you real, honest connections to people you relate to and trust. It should help you leave your cave in a comfortable way.

There are a number of ways to become part of a peer group or even start one. Attend events that have common traits with the kind of work you do or have similar goals and markets. There are, as you probably already know, gallery openings, street fairs, conventions, etc. where you can meet buyers, agents, other artists, and the like. These are your typical networking events where it’s hard to strike a conversation that feels honest. They’re not without value, but they’re not for everyone.

There are alternatives. Find events where the need to do business is put aside; those that are for art and socializing, where the cold pressure to make a sale is not present. Are there artist studios you can visit in your area? Open studio walks, like Bushwick’s Open Studio event in Brooklyn, NY, would allow you to meet your colleagues directly in settings where all of you would feel comfortable. What about taking an art class? You could get to know your teacher and classmates. You might also want to start your own event. You could convince a local bar or cafe to hold a drink-n-draw, such as the ones listed here, on one of their quiet evenings.

"Rumple Fest" (Throw Pillow) by Mike Cressy

If you’re really not into meeting people in person, or you live in an exceptionally isolated area, jump online where opportunities abound. In addition to groups here on Redbubble,  Flickr groups are great online venues for artists of all kinds of art styles and brands to connect with – it goes beyond photography. You can also get into conversations and consequently meet other like-minded individuals via blog post comments such as what you see here on RedBubble. Also, take part in Facebook groups, and online artist forums such as those on Wet Canvas. It goes without saying that social networking can boost your involvement in a peer group. On Instagram, you can regram things by other artists who you admire, tagging them in your post. You can take part in hashtag conversations on Twitter such as artist Chet Zar’s Friday Night Art Dorks event. Search the hashtag #FridayNightArtDorks on Twitter to see how others have posted their works to the conversations.

You may be able to take better advantage of connections you already have. Look around and ask yourself who of your most trusted companions give you the best support in your art business. Your mom or spouse might be the most positive, but do they give you the constructive criticism you need, or do they just love everything you do no matter what? That latter sentiment is lovely, but won’t help you grow. Maybe your old art schoolmate acts negative when talking to you about the art world. That’s not an attitude you want to invest your time in at all. Can you turn them around?

Ask yourself what situation would be most comfortable for you to connect with your colleagues? You need real and positive interactions that encourage you to grow and find new connections. Did someone give you some solid advice in an online forum? Send them a direct message and explore developing an art relationship with them. What can you offer back? Don’t force anything, but it’s always worth a shot to try to connect.

No matter where you are in your art career, finding earnest connections to people you can trust is key to your growth as a professional artist. Whether your peer group is small or large, it guarantees to extend your reach or strengthen your focus. Likely, it’s probably something you’ve got at your fingertips without realizing it…so how can you make it work for you even more?

Share your tips and thoughts about creating a peer group in the comments below.