I’ve just come in from thinning the fruit on one of our apple trees. This is a task I don’t enjoy. Every time I pull off a small unripe apple, I’m disappointed about the loss of the big apple it could have become. (Clearly, I was never meant to be a farmer.)
But thinning the fruit is a necessary task. It supports the health of the tree. And it allows the remaining fruit to grow larger and sweeter.
I bet you can see where I’m going with this…
Our artistic projects, our businesses, our products, our lives as a whole… they’re all like that tree. If we spread our energies thin across too many commitments, the whole endeavour suffers.
Not only that, but each individual commitment suffers. It suffers from the lack of focus, lack of energy, and insufficient resources.
When is an Opportunity Not an Opportunity?
Commitments usually come in the guise of opportunity. We see the possibility of growing something juicy and sweet. We envision the ripe apple. And we add another unripe apple to a tree that is already burdened with too much fruit. We add another element that there isn’t room, time, or energy for, or that isn’t a good fit in the overall scheme of things.
Maybe you’re an artist in front of a large painting, staring at a really stunning corner that just doesn’t work in the overall composition.
Or a small business trying to juggle too many product offerings.
Or a working parent trying to launch a side hustle at night after the kids are asleep.
Sometimes we need to prune things out so that the overall tree thrives, and the remaining fruit reaches its full potential.
Thoughts on Pruning Out Commitments
We’re not always going to get it right. Sometimes, after twisting off an apple from my tree, the other apple in that cluster falls off as well. Ooops! I made the wrong choice. Sometimes the whole cluster breaks off the tree because the twig it was on wasn’t strong enough to survive the twisting.
But I know I have to thin anyways. Even if I get it wrong. The health of the tree benefits. The remaining fruit is improved.
When thinning apples, I look for which apples are doing better than their companions. I keep the larger apples, the least blemished apples, the apples that are likely to get the most sun, the apples that have the least competition from neighbouring apples.
In our other endeavours, that means looking at the big picture to see what is bringing the most reward. Which elements of your artwork make it particularly successful? What areas of your business produce the most income? What hobbies bring the most satisfaction?
‘Thinning your Fruit’ for Artists
Those of us who are artists have the opportunity to prune at several levels:
Working on an artwork, we usually need to edit out things to achieve a compelling final piece.We might paint over an area that pleases us, but that didn’t work with the overall composition. Or decide to reduce our colour palette. Or choose to use only straight lines, no curves.
Within our art practice, we might choose to focus on just one medium – to become proficient and/or known for that medium – even though we enjoy working with a variety of media.
In my case, I gave up ceramics – which I loved – in favour of painting. I was far from being a natural on the potter’s wheel, I was suffering skin problems on my hands from working with clay, and I came to realize that work by some superbly accomplished ceramic artists was commanding (low) prices that didn’t reflect the skill and artistry demonstrated in the work. I didn’t see how I could make a go of it financially working with clay.
We may decide to focus on a particular genre (abstract, landscape, portrait, still life) or subject matter (fruit, dogs, flowers), either because it is more saleable, or because we want to become known for a particular body of work.
Years ago, I remember buying a watercolour painting of some oranges and orange pieces from an artist, as a gift for a friend. The artist told me that her fruit paintings were not her passion, but they were her “bread and butter”. They paid the bills, allowing her to focus on more personal, less saleable, art in her remaining time. Some of us are the fortunate position where we can create only what we want. But others need to make concessions – as she did – to make financial ends meet and pursue their art practice.
We may review our income sources (creating, teaching, jurying, curating, productizing) and discover that we need to drop some activities which don’t bring in enough money, so we can free up more time for other activities that allow us to achieve our financial needs or goals.
When to Thin your Fruit
Thinning the tree is time sensitive. It’s no use waiting till the fruit is all quite large before thinning. Then the tree has wasted its water and energy growing fruit that is just going to be discarded. But if you thin too soon, you can’t evaluate which fruit to keep. It takes practice and experience to learn when it’s the right time to prune.
When it is, grit your teeth… and start pruning!
ArtistClerk has reports that help you identify which works are producing most of your income: by either size, medium, subject matter, style or series.