Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pros and Cons of Posting Work-in-Progress


There are a lot of ways to share your process online, especially after a painting is finished.

But what a lot of people do is show a work developing over time from its early stages to the finish. When artists do that, we can follow stages of their paintings or even their big book projects over a time scale of days, weeks, or months.

Is it a good idea to post unfinished work online? I can think of a few pros and cons, and would love to hear your thoughts.

Pros
1. It's a good way to involve followers in a work that you're doing. It's the essence of Kickstarter campaigns.
2. It's exciting for viewers to watch the ups and downs of the work in real time as it develops.
3. It's valuable for students, fans, and collectors to learn about your process.

Cons
1. You lose the impact of the first impression, something you can never get back. Movie companies never share their storyboards; they only tease with impressive finished clips. Unless there's something incredibly compelling about your process, don't take us behind the curtain until after we've seen the finished thing.

2. A painting goes through some pretty awful stages (at least mine do) and some finishes aren't fit to be shared. No reason to lower my average and clog everyone's feed by dumping all my intermediate stages onto social media.

3. If you put a lot of standalone JPEGs of unfinished works on your blog or Pinterest, they'll come up on a search, and the person searching may assume it's a finish (or just a bad painting). This is less of a problem with media that are more opaque to search, such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat.

38 comments:

Wouter Tulp said...

I would add another 'con'.
Posting a WIP can increase the pressure you put on yourself. A WIP creates expectation, and sometimes a painting fails. Not sharing can help you to explore more freely.

cherngzhi said...

I definitely agree with these points and I think there are times for both.
Personally, I feel that it is a whole lot harder to build up a following unless you are already established. When starting out, sharing everything isn't a bad idea. When you are established, you probably have to hold back more to secure that status.

Tom Hart said...

This is a great post. It's given me reason to consider the reasons for my current practice. I generally do no publicly share WIPs. That being said, I recently posted a drawing to Facebook which is preliminary to a painting I plan to do. Come to think of it, it could be argued that could be considered a finished drawing in its own right, and therefore not a work "in progress". I guess I consider the audience when deciding what to share and where. I don't particularly like to share a work in early or mid-stage with non-artists because they are less likely to understand that process - might offer unwanted and uninformed suggestions or corrections for example. While I can and do consider the source, sometimes the seed planted is unhelpful.

All that being said, I certainly gain immeasurably from your works in progress, James, and hope you won't consider limiting those - at least not on Gurney Journey. In my own humble opinion, I think WIPs might be less understood in other platforms like Facebook. But that may not be an accurate statement.

Five Fives said...

Con #2 is big. I've posted WIPs that people didn't even understand... Like "What is that?" level. I can see it because I have a plan for it, but only the most insightful fellow artist would actually be able to make it out.

seadit said...

Great post James. I think it boils down to knowing your audience and one's intentions. For better or worse I continue to think of myself a student in most aspects of life (does one ever really figure everything out?!), so when it comes to art seeing into someone's process and techniques is interesting and helpful most of the time and I'm grateful for such openness and willingness to share, even when done for profit (everyone needs to eat); yet I'm also reminded of the old saying that a magician never reveals his tricks - kind of a humility vs. ego thing. The ego approach can be fun or fascinating and other times a real turn off, while the humble approach rarely disappoints.

While invaluable in so many ways, I wonder how most renowned and respected artists throughout history would feel about the value and reverence shown their unfinished works or studies never meant to be sold or even seen.

Stephen Berry said...

Sharing WIPs has the most value only if you do so after you've finished the final painting. Then you can know that you're heading towards success and can build and control a narrative to share with readers. There are too many stutter steps creatively to share all my WIPs and ideas. I selectively do so only after the fact.

I would not share WIPs as they came about-- that's too freeform for me, and of less use to a reader... Unless the purpose is to only show them your working process, and having a successful painting at the end as a capstone isn't important to you. My take is that most people want to see how you made a successful painting, not a failure-- unless the failure is on the road to success. Thus, the value of waiting until the end to judge and then share WIPs.

Newt said...

Speaking from the audience side - I really enjoy seeing the process of creation, and it is invaluable to me as a learner not only to see the stages a work goes through, but to see that some of those stages look like a hot mess yet still yield a fine finished work. It can be hard sometimes to push through the awkward stages of my own work, so it's a real help to see a more accomplished artist do the same. Even watching an artist pull the plug on a failing piece can be instructive.

jeff jordan said...

I see way too much overreaction to works in all stages of completion. A quick sketch and people come back with "Awesome" or "Genius!" or whatever else. So there can be a false assumption in there. Same with WIPs. I'm leaning toward waiting until a piece is done before sharing, although I do WIPs frequently. I've moved away from the fear of failure, at least, but throughout the years I notice most people have no idea if a work of art is even finished, much less where it is within the process to completion.

I remember reading that Andrew Wyeth would never show anybody a work in progress, and his reasoning was as good as it gets. No matter what someone might say, it could send you down a false trail. Too much praise and you get a big head. too little and you question how "good" it is. Either way could lead an artist to an incorrect conclusion. I'm GREAT!! Or, I really SUCK. Better to wait until it's finished. Maybe then the reactions might be more accurate……..

David Webb said...

I occasionally post WIP's on my blog. However, there are times, for me at least, when a painting which had a promising start, doesn't quite deliver in the final stage. For this reason, I tend to take photos, from start to finish, before I post a single stage. If I think it's good enough, then I'll post it in stages.
Every artist produces paintings, which may be less successful, visually, than others but I wouldn't put them in an exhibition so, for the same reasons, I wouldn't post them as WIP's.

Paul Sullivan said...

James, this is a great post. You should be commended for "con point 2". "A painting goes through some pretty awful stages (at least mine do) and some finishes aren't fit to be shared." It is rare and refreshing to encounter a touch of humility in this business!

I think unfinished work can be a helpful means of communication, especially for students and those of us who know your work. However, I think preliminary work is even more helpful—and interesting.

DA Best said...

PRO: As a developing artist, I learn a great deal from works in progress. I also learn a lot from quick studies that are posted, like those you post of your sketchbooks. It particularly helps me to see how established artists deal with changes they want or need to make to their artwork. It is encouraging to know that even highly accomplished artists wipe out passages, make corrections, or change directions in their work. In fact, this is such an integral part of the artistic process that it would be a shame if all artists hid their process from public view.

CON: In regard to a viewer coming across a work in progress separated from its context and the viewer not understanding and maybe judging harshly, could a watermark be embedded that says, "This is a work in progress?"

QUESTION: What do you think is the difference in impact between showing quick sketches or paintings and showing longer works "in progress?" Are viewers more tolerant of imperfections when they think it's a journal entry or a quick study, rather than a step in a finished studio work?

Steven Thor Johanneson said...

Con #3 is the big one. If it's out there and seen independently from the finished work, that's a problem. Over the years I have realized how difficult it is for most visitors to my studio to understand works in progress. I might show other artists or students, but out there on line is a different matter. Da best's suggestion of watermarking is food for thought, and might be the way to go. I think I would take that line in showing the steps in the process after the work is complete, but will most likely continue to stay away from exposing work in progress, as seems to be the case with most of us commenters here.

Steven Thor Johanneson said...

Con #3 is the big one. If it's out there and seen independently from the finished work, that's a problem. Over the years I have realized how difficult it is for most visitors to my studio to understand works in progress. I might show other artists or students, but out there on line is a different matter. Da best's suggestion of watermarking is food for thought, and might be the way to go. I think I would take that line in showing the steps in the process after the work is complete, but will most likely continue to stay away from exposing work in progress, as seems to be the case with most of us commenters here.

Steven Thor Johanneson said...

P.S. I do not know why my comments seem to be published twice!!!

Karen Robinson said...

A brill post, thank you James, and I am so happy to hear that even for you, not all of work is suitable to share. On my blog, I often share photos of what I describe as WiPs, but they are only stage photos of an already finished piece. When I first started accepting commissions, I offered to show customers their work as it progressed, an extremely stupid idea I very rapidly dumped because either (a) the customer would freak out and say "that doesn't look anything like my darling Alfie" - or whatever or (b) it would become clear to me that the painting was going to suck and I needed to start again with a different composition/colour harmony/whatever but couldn't because the customer was committed to it and I was trapped in the web of my own WiP. Yikes.

Tom Hart said...

Karen Robinson's "con" for showing works in progress for commissioned works makes sense to me, but a friend of mine, a successful artist by my standards, regularly shows WIPs to clients and that seems to work out well for him. I suppose he sees it as a form of "damage control": better to find out now that something is way off relative to the patrons expectations - than when the piece is complete. I guess one size does not fit all. This makes me wonder if many folks use contracts that spell out an additional charge for modifications. At one time, at least, that was considered a good practice.

Sesco said...

Great topic! For myself, I agree with the sentiment that 'impact' is of paramount importance. I always attempt to arrange complete secrecy until the unveiling. I want to 'build' impact, especially for collectors and newsletter subscribers. Showing WIP after the work is finished, or even in real time, is fine for students, teaching, sharing, but for paying customers I want impact. I personally find that the moment I even breathe to someone what I PLAN TO DO I lose a large portion of my energy FOR that project. When I work, I solve problems also, and I am uncomfortable solving problems with someone looking over my shoulder. I do not feel free to experiment to solve a problem, and sometimes that is the only way I CAN solve a problem. The illusion loses all of its energy once you know the slight of hand.

Roberto said...

As a muralist, a large part, if not all of the painting process is done in the public space, or at least in the client’s space, for all to see… and the process can be messy and go thru some pretty ugly stages. I try to prepare the client for this as best I can, and to put on a good show whenever possible. This execution phase can be very interesting and fun, so I document it with photos whenever possible. Part of my reasoning for posting some of these ‘In Progress’ images as part of my presentation on my web site portfolio is to show ‘before’ and ‘after’ images, and the process or steps required to get there. Most people rarely get a chance to see a painting in progress, and I’ve found that many people will not even realize that a finished piece is an original work of art or is even hand-painted. They think it is somehow mass produced (a ‘Painting in a Can’) or a print-out, or a Vinyl-sticker (as many photo-murals or billboards now are), so I see posting these images as an educational tool. In addition, when I am working ‘on site’ I always have a print-out of the working-drawing or the finished illustration that I am working from so I can show what the final piece will look like.

All that being said… This is much different than posting or showing all the many preliminary thumbnails, sketches, design layouts and color comps it takes to get to those ‘working-drawings’ or finished illustrations. Sometimes the client will see some of this process, as is necessary to move the design phase forward, but certainly not the ‘horror-show’ of my many failed and aborted attempts at making the ‘guy riding the horse’ not look like ‘a scare-crow falling off a dog’. (…and I usually hide all of the clip-art, google-search images, and my copies of ‘Color & Light’ and ‘Imaginative Realism’, on the rare occasions when the client comes to my private studio.)

The only reason I can see for posting WIP images is as an educational tool, (as James has so generously done on this blog) or as pure entertainment or comic-relief. (how about ‘The 24/7 Art-Flambow Channel’? ;) -RQ

Rich said...

I always enjoy looking at WIP's. Especially from accomplished artists (or should I say VIP's?) as Yours truly.
I look at them as sort of abstract art.

I certainly would appreciate your telephone-doodles presented in the internet (if you have any;o)

And sometimes, if things get too tight; won't it be the right time to loosen up a bit, and paint/draw/play some utter nonsense and get over it?

Karen Robinson said...

Wow, I am very struck by Roberto's comment. This would scare me - I am not even brave enough to work in the wild unless it is uninhabited (by humans). More power to you, Roberto. I am going to reflect on how to be a braver artist.

Jakey Sommers said...

Hey James, I have been in awe of your works for a little under a year now and have been inspired to start my own blog! I've also acquired Colour and Light and Imaginative Realism recently, and look forward to making notes. Thank you for sharing your knowledge sir!

Now back to your post. My opinion is that posting WIPs is a PRO is most scenarios, if not all. I have been posting a sketch/doodle/drawing on my personal Fb for 458 consecutive days now, these can constitute thumbnail sketches or even truly half-arsed doodles. After all, the goal of this for me is to draw and create more - I am posting for me and my self-improvement. While I have picked 'nicer' sketches out of a full A3 page, I also look for the 'worst' and I usually caption with what could have been done better. I think it's more encouraging to see my bad work now is better than my bad work in the past - I know that I can and have improved. However, I cannot relate to CON #1. I have never sold any artwork and to me art is a journey not a stage - there is no grand reveal. To me watching Karl Gnass draw a 5 minute pose is greater than any finished illustration. To conclude, a WIP is a PRO, because it is the artwork it's foundation all the way through to it's completion. I hope that makes sense.

Marque Todd said...

Excellent topic! As an emerging artist I have been posting WIPs on FB because I paint very slowly and sometimes it can take me several months to get to a finished painting. I only post them if I think they look decent and not at the ugly duckling stage. There is so much info out there on marketing yourself as an artist and building a list of followers. Many sources/coaches say that you need to be posting a lot of stuff to "build" followers to sell more paintings since more people find your art that way.

I agree, though, that if you publish too many WIPs of the same painting at different stages - this really can take the "aha" moment away from the finished painting. I also agree that once the work is finished it can sometimes be a disadvantage to have the WIPs out there or even in the FB historical feed.

Reading this post and everyone's comments makes me think I may reconsider posting WIPs. I still like the idea of having a blog post after a work is completed that shows the stages to completion but then those early stages are put into context.

A Colonel of Truth said...

A painting is never finished - it simply stops in interesting places. - Paul Gardner

dkatiepowellart.me said...

There is an easy way around the cons, which is to take pics as you go, post the final and the blog about the process underneath.

mdmattin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mdmattin said...

Coincidentally, an interesting article came out today on the general topic of "finished" and "unfinished" in art on The Nation's website:
http://www.thenation.com/article/completely-unfinished/
It covers the way attitudes have changed historically and in contemporary art, but is more concerned with "unfinishedness" as a stylistic statement than the arguably more interesting sense discussed here, of unfinishedness as a look into the artist's struggles on the way to actually finishing. He also mentions artists who never finish, or who take a very long time. He might have mentioned Giacometti, who erased more than he drew, and Bonnard, who is said to have sneaked a paint box into galleries to add little touches to his hanging paintings.

James Gurney said...

Great comments, everyone. Read through them all, and you brought up aspects I hadn't thought of. I'm in my hotel room at the Portrait Society conference. Big day here. More later!

JG

Roberto said...

@ Karen. Don’t get intimidated by the process. Find your own way and move at your own pace, but be confident that every ‘mistake’ is a learning experience and an opportunity for growth. Find the ‘sweet-spot’ in the wave and through yourself in! You won’t regret it. Being braver doesn’t mean ‘not-being-scared’. (By the way, I like your Pet-Portraits, they have a playfulness that is fun!) -RQ

Bobby La said...

Yes I do like to follow WIPS on this here interwebby thingy, (James work in particular - something achingly honest and good about it), and since my real identity is obscured and confused by my long time partners blog "Bobby La" and her awful drawings and etchings from the nineties, then clearly I couldn't be sausaged about posting my work at any kind of stage. Don't see the see the point. Don't give a fat rats about why it should matter, because what I do is not intended to be instructional or geared towards profit. It is done for me and my family and maybe a few friends to delight in. Or not.

Ruth Squitieri said...

Great points. I personally LOVE seeing WIPs from artists, and like posting my own. In regards to Con 3, when do a progression, I put all the stages (usually 2-3) into one photo, so when that is posted, it becomes clear right away that it's a progression collage. Maybe that helps.

Steven Thor Johanneson said...

2 or 3 stages into one photo ... good point.

Steven Thor Johanneson said...

2 or 3 stages into one photo ... good point.

Rubysboy said...

Depends on style and philosophy. I like to see signs of construction even in "finished" works. A painting with every square inch finished to the same degree feels closed off to me as a viewer, shiny, commercial, and overly fussy, whereas paintings with earlier stages still showing feel open, human, and inviting. Given my aesthetic, seeing work "in progress' is always a plus and often I wish the artist had put a halt to the "progress" sooner!

Sandro Duarte said...

If it's not a commission, most wip's after posted online end up dying as wip's, maybe it's just the false feeling of gratification of "likes" and whatnot.
Now, it's a simple matter of discipline I know, but still I prefer to only post after it's done, because I'm able to tell the story skipping the boring parts.
The number 3 (cons) will always be true, even if the final image it's just a few clicks away, I don't know how to escape it.

Rich said...

"boring parts"?

Probably better to skip them and start the whole thing anew.

(Was just wondering if James Gurney's got boring moments in his preliminaries)
...don't think so - won't look so;-)

Amy Williams Dapice said...

A few days late to the conversation, but this discussion is of interest to me. I've made it my mission of late, as I prepare for a solo exhibit this Fall, to share my WIP on the internet, both in images and writing. It's been my experience that artists and non-artists alike are grateful for insight into the inner workings of the art process and all the more interested to see the final results in person.

Many of the cons discussed here seem to be about fear of negative exposure and/or keeping "the mystery," but I honestly feel that if my work is good enough, I don't need that. As a educator, I've gone out of my way to debunk the idea that art is magic anyway. Mostly hard work people, so feel free to take a peek behind the curtain.

Furthermore, when my process isn't interesting, my product isn't either. Maybe it's the performer in me, or a way to feel less isolated in the studio, but all the good stuff is in the making. I've been to so many exhibits that feel after the fact.

In the final analysis, perhaps it's a trade off. For me, the pros far outweigh the cons.

PS: The original question was about "posting" WIP, so the discussion about how to handle commissions is another topic altogether. For what it's worth, I think that's pretty much always a bad idea.

Woman Artist With Pencil said...

I use it as a tool! When I finish my work, after I have looked at it upside down,sideways, took photos (both black/white and in color), have my art friends critique my work, and made corrections....then I post my work! That is when my mistakes scream out at me, because I'm looking at my work again another way! Then I make corrections again, but I don't repost.

Clara Lieu said...

Excellent topic, and I'm sure a concern that all artists struggle with today now that technology has made it increasingly easier to share images with just a few quick taps. Since I'm a teacher, I decided many years ago when I started blogging that I was going to show almost every part of my process. I agree that there are definitely many cons, as you stated in your post to showing works in progress, but what convinced me to show my bad work in addition to work I consider to be more accomplished is for the benefit of my students. I think in some ways, students can easily misinterpret what it means to work as a professional artist when they see professional artists magically appear out of nowhere with amazing work. I am well aware that when I make my artwork, progress is never linear, packed with failure, and often times gets much worse before it gets better-but if my students don't actually get to see someone doing that, they get this idea that incredible artwork is effortless and just comes pouring out of you. So yes, there are many cons for me for taking this approach, but I've found that my students have really appreciated seeing that professional artists fall on their face too, and that it's okay to not always make great work. For many students, it's liberating to see that and frees them up to take risks and experiment without being seen as a failure.