The Artist’s Life: The Power of Creative Community

I’ve had a growing awareness recently of how much influence and power the relationships I’ve developed with others have over my ambitions and dreams. Not surprisingly, I find my overall sense of well being changes when I am surrounded by people who are positive in nature, seek genuine connection, ask well-intended questions about my goals, and cheer me on when my confidence is lagging. I have begun to understand even more that, for better or for worse, other people can and do affect my thinking, mood, and ability to take courageous steps in my career.

This awareness started with an unusual number of studio moves and working environments I’ve had in recent years. Those environments include a master bedroom of a home in a close-knit little lakeside community, a small cottage-turned-studio a few doors down that I shared with another artist, a brief interlude in the family room addition of a rented house after moving back to my home town, a large loft warehouse apartment I secured after deciding to find a space more like me, and finally, a warehouse studio separate from my living space that’s part of a community of nearly 60 other artists. In all of these experiences, I found I am happiest and most productive in the last situation, surrounded by other creatives who are working mere steps away from my own studio.

"More Precious" by Crystal Neubauer
“More Precious” by Crystal Neubauer

While having my workspace in the same place as my living environment had its perks—short commute, working in pajamas, easy access when the creative urge hit in the middle of the night—not always having human contact could be detrimental to my work flow. Introvert that I am, the need for face-to-face interaction, especially with other artists, is as vital to my process as paper and glue.

Like any person with a nine-to-five job, a consistent morning routine serves to prepare me for the workday ahead, but maintaining relationships with other artists as part of my daily ritual has made the difference between dreaming something and achieving it. It isn’t just being in a space where other creative people work that helps me to stay the course when my energy or ideas are running short, it is in the intentional interaction, the discussion of goals, the accountability to showing up, and knowing others are working in a creative capacity nearby that help fuel my artistic energy.

In his new book, The Power of The Other, author and psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud states, “Without the help of others, or with negative dynamics from destructive others, we will usually fail. There is no standing still. We are either thriving in relational energy and growth, or we are going backward, slowly or quickly.”

How do you find this type of interaction when your budget or life circumstances don’t allow the luxury of having a working studio away from your home? Do artists who need or desire to work in solitude or a less social environment miss out on the benefits of working in community? There is no one right way for everyone. Like my own career path, yours may unfold in stages, resulting in many different working environments. Here are several ways you can stay connected to others to maximize your productivity and achievements:

Online Art Communities: When I was just beginning to develop my artistic voice, I networked with other artists through online art groups on eBay. We eventually migrated to Etsy and finally on to Facebook, where there are dozens, if not hundreds, of open art groups to choose from. My involvement in these groups gave me the support and courage I needed to start exploring different styles and mediums. We hosted round robin art activities through the mail, shared marketing and sales ideas, and encouraged each other to begin blogging. My first opportunity to be published in magazines and write a book came as a direct result of my active participation in these forums. If you’re not able to meet other artists in person, don’t underestimate the value of making connections online.

"Odd Girl Out" by Crystal Neubauer
“Odd Girl Out” by Crystal Neubauer

Art Organizations and Critique Groups: One of the best ways to find like-minded people in your area is to look for a professional art organization or critique group. When I first began to get serious about my career as a collage artist, I joined a group in my area called the Midwest Collage Society. Not only does this type of affiliation enable you to make vital connections with other artists, but a good arts organization will bring group exhibit and show opportunities, emphasizing professional development as well.

One-on-One Coaching Sessions: Working with a career coach can be a wise investment and provide the positive connection needed for growth. Look for someone who specializes in working with artists and can share valuable insight into the industry while guiding you toward specific goals. Don’t be discouraged if you find money or time to be in short supply and can’t take on this type of coaching—there are alternatives. I have benefited from low cost, one-time sessions with two gallery owners over the course of my career. The first focused on helping me develop a professional website, and the second critiqued my body of work, which resulted in an invitation to be represented by that gallery.

Accountability Partners and Believing Mirrors: I paired up with another artist about seven years ago with the intent of helping each other stay focused on our weekly goals. Though we have very similar interests and like each other’s work, our artistic styles are different. I think this has helped both of us develop the ability to cheer the other on without stepping on toes or feeling competitive. Over the years we have stopped outlining our weekly lists and have become good friends and each others “Believing Mirrors,” a term artist and author Julia Cameron uses to describe people who “mirror us back to ourselves as powerful, strong, and in our most positive light.”

When choosing an accountability partner, it is helpful to partner with someone you know and trust. This person should have your best interests at heart, and be willing to stay connected and act as a sounding board and cheerleader. No one achieves goals in a vacuum. Surrounding ourselves with people we aspire to be like can make or break our ability to move through difficult challenges on the road to success.

In each blog I share the work of one artist whose work inspires me and challenges me to grow.

This month I’d like to introduce you to my accountability partner and good friend, artist and designer Jan Avellana. Jan has a whimsical, relevant style, sense of wonder, and artistic voice. Jan has licensing deals for her illustrations with companies such as Trader Joe’s, and has her own fabric line with Windham Fabrics. She has been featured on the cover of Uppercase Magazine and was a finalist in Lilla Rogers’ worldwide talent search. Jan has a wonderful way with words; her heartfelt series of posts about both parents going into hospice care at the same time, and the subsequent loss of her father, became a one-woman solo show and established her as one of my favorite writers. See more of Jan’s work on her website and blog.

"There I Am True" by Jan Avellana
“There I Am True” by Jan Avellana

Jan Avellana website

Jan Avellana blog

About Crystal Neubauer

Crystal Neubauer

From obtaining gallery representation to writing the book The Art of Expressive Collage: Techniques for Creating with Paper and Glue (North Light Books) to teaching workshops nationwide and opening my studio, learning to tune in to the voice within has led me on a journey of learning “I can.” Join me for an “I can” experience of your own as you learn to tune in to the creative flow while identifying the negative messages and fears that stop you. Find my work on my website, and more about the process, techniques, and my life on the blog.


Crystal Neubauer

About Crystal Neubauer

Gallery represented artist. Author of The Art Of Expressive Collage; Techniques With Paper and Glue. Blogger. National workshop instructor.


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