Why You Need a Great Creator Bio
In my mid-20s, when I was still tending bar at a fancy Williamsburg, Brooklyn restaurant, there was one wine I had a particularly easy time selling from a woman-owned and operated winery out of Italy.
The story goes that after WWII, three Italian sisters were left with little more than a couple of dead parents and a winery in total disuse and disrepair. They taught themselves how to farm and run a winery. In time, against all odds, they won awards and became standout winemakers in the country that invented standout wine.
It happened more than once that I would pour this wine for a guest, who’d later be joined by friends, and they would either ask me to tell the story again or they’d retell it themselves.
While the wine was good, I couldn’t sell any other glass or bottle as effortlessly. I realized that wine doesn’t sell wine; stories sell wine.
NB: I last sold this wine 10+ years ago, and it’s the only bottle I remember. There’s the power of story for you.
In a world of millions of artists who got their first taste of sustenance in the great bull market of 2021, few stand out. While it certainly makes sense that an artist would want their work to stand on its own merits, that attitude neither serves the collector nor the work. Without the winery’s founding story, it not only would’ve been more difficult to sell — it would’ve been more difficult to appreciate.
Consider your Creator Bio to be a complementary artwork to the primary pieces, just as the story of the winery is just a layer of meaning over the experience of tasting the wine. You can make your bio work subtly, creating a deeper appreciation for your work and making it something collectors want to talk about.
How to Trick Your Brain into Writing
Having worked with probably 100+ artists, I can testify that the only ones who’ve created compelling bios are those with staff — which leads me to believe that either:
- They didn’t write it themselves, or
- They had a fantastic enough story to stand out from the crowd and eventually hire staff.
It’s understandable if a visual artist would hold back when using writing — writing isn’t their medium. Even if it is, personal biography writing rarely comes naturally. That’s why the following instructions are pretty unorthodox — we’re getting around your defenses.
Your bio doesn’t have to be any one thing. It doesn’t require an exhaustive list of accomplishments or bona fides. You needn’t worry about listing your educational background or a paragraph about how you were drawing since you could pick up a pencil. (Please, artists, understand this: Everyone started drawing between 2 and 4 years old. It’s never interesting.)
The essential thing that your Creator Bio must do is speak to an underlying truth about you and your art to the kinds of people who are open to that truth.
So let’s get into some exercises to help you find that truth.
If I were to simply give advice like “Write an attention-grabbing opener!” that wouldn’t help much. Instead, we’re going to take the long way ‘round. This is an exercise in storytelling and creative expression. Don’t rush it. Have fun. Stay loose. And iterate. Think of what follows as preparatory sketches.
There’s no one way to go about this, but I’ll try to provide a few ways to generate the base material. The point of these exercises is to freely create without yet committing to any single line of thought. Just as with any piece of art, sometimes you just need a way in.
Describe your work from all angles
Set yourself a timer. Give yourself 5–10 minutes (preferably 10) for each of the following exercises. Don’t overthink it. Sometimes the best stuff comes in the ninth minute after you’ve exhausted all your stock answers.
NB: The biggest mistake non-writers make when writing is thinking they should start at the beginning and finish at the end. Writing is never that linear. We’re going to use the output of the exercises below to collage a bio, so don’t worry about getting anything “right.”
The Visual Description: Describe your work to a sight-impaired person with no art background. You needn’t describe every piece individually; give yourself some time to describe a few specific pieces and your overall body of work.
The Historical Description: Describe your work to a recently blinded art historian. Give them as much context as possible to convey your work through words using comparisons to other artists and artworks.
The Technical Description: Describe your work to a recently blinded art teacher. Give them as much context as possible to convey your work by describing your medium, techniques, and style.
The Thematic Description: Describe your work to a literary scholar. Describe the narrative, and philosophical themes, the setting, the characters, and the parallels to real life explored in your work.
BONUS: Think up a few more fictional (or non-fictional!) people to whom you can describe your work.
Like what you’re reading? Check out How to Stand Out in the NFT World next.
Adapt your descriptions into bios
Next, we’re going to adapt your descriptions into bios. You can start from scratch or copy and paste your descriptions into a new document.
This is where you get to relate each facet of your work to biographically relevant details. When someone wants to talk about your work, they should be able to connect it back to you as a person.
Unfortunately, being 100% anon and without a story might seem sexy, but it rarely creates an emotional connection. (It worked for writers like Salinger and Pynchon because being a recluse was strange and mysterious then. Now that it’s easy to be a mystery, it’s rarely a mystery anyone cares enough to be interested in.)
Again, give yourself four 10-minute writing sprints to relate each description of the work back to a personal biography. If you think the time expense is a bummer, remind yourself that this is a mission-critical sales document that could last you a lifetime. Then get to work.
PRO TIP: Try writing the different bios without mentioning art or art-making, and you’ll get much more exciting results.
Pull it all together
If you did all of the above, you have eight chunks of raw material with which to work.
From here, build your Slab Draft. The term “Slab Draft” (c/o screenwriter Doryen Chin, @HeyDoryen on Twitter) is the totality of what you’re working with — like the slab with which a sculptor starts. You’re not committing to anything at this point, so you’re leaving it all in.
Simply put it all together and order the information in whatever way feels right. But don’t cut anything yet!
Now save that and start a new document. Copy and paste your Slab Draft and start refining things.
Read through the Slab Draft and ask yourself: If this draft were a movie, what would I have to cut to get the trailer? You want to give the reader a singular takeaway experience. For instance, the winery’s story in the intro is about overcoming adversity. If your bio is about more than one thing, it’s not about anything.
Now, cut everything that won’t fit into that narrative. This is your official First Draft.
Moving into the Second Draft and later iterations is where you can think about grabbing attention with the first sentence, simplifying the language, keeping it short, and all of the more common writing advice you probably expected to get when you arrived at this blog.
But if you followed the exercises — or similar exercises that awaken your creative spirit — you’re 80% of the way there.
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