Art, Writing

Monstress: Objectives & Current State

This is the first part of a series of articles I am writing to revamp Monstress Productions. This is all in an effort to create a full-fledged case study for my summer workshop. I hope this will give you insight you can use to reinvigorate your art practice and online strategy.

I have helped others get their cultural producing practices back in shape, now I am trying to apply all I have learned over the years to my own. I had to take a long hard look at Monstress Productions, which represents my longest running art project. This meant looking at Monstress.com as well, which was actually my very first website and online portfolio.

What I do with others is sit down for some conversations about history, mindset, and workable goals. I try to get people to see what would really fit their lives, which does involve some delving questions. My goal is to get people to see the value and patterns in what they have already so they don’t feel helpless–amazing how I did not do this for my own art practice until now!

Current state of my art practice (and online presence)

I have been very busy the last several years and for a variety of reasons, my art practice has gotten shoved into the background again and again. Motherhood, switching careers, recessions? I’ve weathered them all, but my art practice not so much. I happen to know from experience that a properly implemented digital strategy (website, social media presence, etc.) can be an enormous aid in maintaining a practice of any sort. In order for me to rework my approach, I need to look at why things are in the state they have reached. Once I get my mindset straightened out, I can start reorienting my practice so that I am making art, documenting my work, promoting my career, and finding opportunities to show (and sell) the fruits of all that labor.

I shifted my priorities due to significant pressures.

Becoming a mom at 41 was no small leap. Switching careers to become a college professor meant a complete shift in workload and a big drop in income. I managed to patch together a few regular gigs, but it is really hard to get 3 jobs to fit in the time of one, so yeah. No art. Or at least very, very little. My daughter is now two and my career is stabilizing again, so it is time to bring my art back into full play.

My online presence has encompassed loads of unfocused, earnest effort over the years.

I have had Monstress.com since 1999 as a repository for my artistic meanderings. I was trying to figure out who and what I wanted to be and my site reflected this, over and over again. As I was also scraping away trying to find money for food and rent, my plans changed constantly. One thing I have done over and over is to promise great things publicly in order to motivate myself. That has not been  a great tactic. I failed at some key things in fron t of the people who were paying attention, more than once. I have nothing against failure at all, in fact I consider it a very useful tool, but it is better to not set yourself up for it if you can help it. I also could never really solidify the brand of Monstress, as I was having way too much fun goofing on the sidelines of a career in advertising and web design. I think it may be time to lock it all down, in the style of Lawrence Weiner or any major brand.

What is my current art practice?

I go to my studio a lot but I use it almost exclusively as a place to do academic work and freelance. I have had to really take on a lot to make enough money for my family. Because I had never really focused on my art as my full time career (having to earn money for student loans made sure I could never really take that risk), it became my sometimes hobby.

How does my art making relate to the rest of my life?

Being Monstress has made so much possible for me. Making these pieces taught me to be the designer and teacher I am, the parent I am becoming. I want it back in my life as a daily practice. I want it to be part of the way I make my living. I want it to be part of the person my daughter witnesses as a mom.

What am I prepared to change?

I am prepared to change myself and my habits in key ways in order to make room for my art. I am willing to scale back ambitions and obligations in other areas (not family life, but everywhere else). Having a vivid digital strategy is enormously helpful, so my changes have to include the habits and skills needed for that side of my work. This will take time and I have to be dedicated for a long term plan to lead to a life-long practice.

I sat down after a long walk and wrote out as succinct a list of what is and what I want to be, which I attach below. From here I will solidify a workable list of matching orders to begin to implement,

Current State of Affairs Objectives
Not much work being made. Steady stream of projects: not a lot of different stuff, but I want to always have something cooking.
No way to fund projects directly at this time. Running Kickstarters are too harrowing, so I want to have a body of work I can use for grants and sales. I also will look for speaking and workshop opportunities, so I need to be ready to present myself in that light.
Visitors to the websites over the last year: just over 4,000. I have lost a lot of people due to inactivity. 50,000? I don’t know, I just want my work to sell. I want this line of work to be in demand and to grow in popularity
No sales. None. I showed a lot but no online sales or contacts for them. I want to sell all but display copies of everything from original editions.A range of lines, high end and low. I need to be prepared to make a sale. Run second editions, on better materials?
Responsive website, no real store. Responsive blog is fine, but I need a store with real capability and scalability.
No content update since 2013 Steady, project-drive research and content
Format: bloggish and straight up portfolio. Blog with full store with social media links, automated as much as possible
No press kit Press and social media kits: make it easy for others to promote my work
Links to old/dead projects All live content/projects
Social Media: Facebook page: not much used. Instagram: personal account thriving, not much for my art. Clarified social media stream: change all of the existing ones to indicate they are me, not MP. Add new one named for my practice. Specific missions, driving people to projects. Tweet useful stuff, research stuff. Instagram and Pinterest used to greatest effect. Dedicated Youtube MP channel?
Monstress origins never explained, I lost the point of the project over the years Play up the whole company-ish-ness, bring back the original intention. Goofy commercials?
I never really fulfilled the point of the Monstress blog as I had wanted. Once again, I lost my vision in the midst to huge life changes. Ended up just about abandoning the project. How can I make this abandonment-free? What in the structure can be changed to make it workable for the long term?
No way to get commissions. Product Portraits: submit an idea and I may choose to make a product in your honor, you get one for free?

What do I do next?

I will write up the next phase in the coming week: I will develop a preliminary set of actions and clarified goals to take based on the nascent goals I find here. I will also have to work out more about my mindset and habits. As I am working on myself, I will try to keep everything as transparent as possible. It’s hard to expose the bits and pieces of my fractured process, but I’d do anything to be of service to others in a similar pickle.

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Libby Clarke is an artist, designer, and educator living in Brooklyn, NY. She received her BFA in Printmaking from James Madison University and her MFA in 2D Design from Cranbrook Academy of Art. Professionally, Libby has worked as an interaction art director for over 12 years for such companies as Agency.com and Scholastic.com. Currently, she serves as an Assistant Professor at the New York College of Technology in Brooklyn, New York. As an artist, Libby has produced a series of multi-media conceptual products under the name Monstress Productions since 1996. She gives workshops and lectures across the United States on the intersection of art, activism, and technology, and her pieces are exhibited and collected internationally.