Fertilizer is to plants what community is to creative professionals. With enough time, water, and sunlight, they grow themselves. But sprinkle on some peer feedback and support, and they grow faster and bigger than ever.
Not long ago, finding that community was no easy task. To spot one that specialized in your medium, you had to check the paper, pick up fliers, and haunt the local library. Now, it’s as easy as pulling up your internet browser.
Most online creative communities are medium-specific. Join as many as you can that align with your work and interests, and you’ll see your personal brand take on a new sparkle.
Skill-Building Creative Communities
There’s not a single personal brand that can’t be helped by boosted skills — and not a single one can be hurt by bringing stronger processes and craft to the table. Here are a few to consider as you build your skill set and portfolio:
Instagram may be having its moment in the sun, but the social image site isn’t necessarily the best community for serious creatives. Not only are many of its posts intended to impress friends rather than push artistic boundaries, but most users are there to follow their favorite influencers rather than give photographers feedback.
Classes, contests, and photography challenges make ViewBug a more constructive photo community. Much like Instagram, ViewBug’s more than 2 million members “like” and comment on each others’ photos. Unlike Instagram, however, ViewBug users typically post details about their camera, the time when the photo was shot, and settings like focal length. By adding tags, such as “night” or “transportation,” they can see how it compares to shots of similar subjects.
If drawing is more to you than a way to kill time in meetings, check out Doodle Addicts. Featuring illustrations done with pen, pencil, charcoal, and paint, Doodle Addicts welcomes an enormous range of art styles. Some canvases are as small as Post-it notes, while others cover whole walls. Although its community is smaller than ViewBug’s, at 25,000 individuals, it does provide users many of the same features.
Artists on Doodle Addicts can “like” and comment on each others’ work. They can use tags like “urban sketching” to see how others approach similar spaces and styles. Also like ViewBug, Doodle Addicts has a “Learn” section, which features tips on techniques and monetization. Doodle Addicts spotlights leading artists, but it invites everyone to participate in challenges in which winners receive gift cards or art supplies.
Freelance opportunities for graphic designers are everywhere, but sites like 99designs are more about doing work for brands than actually building skills. Especially if you’re just getting started as a digital artist, check out Dribble. The platform does have “Designers” and “Jobs” sections, which help brands and artists find each other, but the heart of the site is its “Shots” page.
Dribble claims that tens of millions of people view the site, though it’s not clear how many are actually members. Dribble also hosts meetups in major metro areas, which are great networking opportunities. Best of all, Dribble has a huge selection of discounts and deals. Designers can get everything from free business cards to automatic self-employment tax withholding.
Although it doesn’t have the most beautiful interface, Absolute Write doesn’t need one. The site features a “Water Cooler” section with stories from more than 68,000 members. Content runs the gamut in terms of genre, from sci-fi to historical nonfiction, as well as length. Some posts qualify as flash fiction, while others approach the length of a novel.
One of Absolute Write’s best features is its interviews with professional writers. It recently published an interview with Peter McLean, author of Priest of Bones, and another with Suzanne Palmer, who wrote the Hugo Award-winning novelette The Secret Life of Bots. For those new to the industry, Absolute Write provides tips for navigating the publishing industry, writing exercises, and Q&As with freelance writers.
For the same reason Instagram shouldn’t be photographers’ go-to creative community, YouTube isn’t necessarily the best place for budding videographers. Although it might be the go-to site for posting and viewing others’ videos, YouTube comments can be downright toxic. Rarely do they provide meaningful feedback on elements like lighting, perspective, or acting.
Although Filmmaker Forum’s “Articles” section isn’t particularly active, its actual forums have threads with hundreds and thousands of posts. Participants can get legal advice, chat about indie films, develop editing skills, and discuss distribution. Because Filmmaker Forum doesn’t actually host videos, users have to look elsewhere for feedback on their content specifically.
Whatever your artistic medium, the internet has a home for you. Contribute regularly, make connections, and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Online or not, that’s how creatives go from good to great.