This one is for all the artists, creatives, and makers out there.
At some point or another, you’ve had to do one of the most uncomfortable things you can do as an artist: write about yourself. You’ve been asked to provide a bio. You put an about page on your website. You sent a press release or blurb or some other such bit of writing – about you.
You’re probably feeling a knot in your stomach just thinking about it.
I want to teach you a two-step process that will make the whole thing a whole lot easier. Are you familiar with the Two Step? It’s a dance – one of the easiest, actually, because it’s just like walking. You hardly even know you’re dancing until you’re just… doing it. It’s just one foot after the other that moves you forward.
The Artist Bio Two Step is like that. Two steps that move you forward – you’ll hardly even know you’re doing it.
Step 1: Decide on a Direction
When you’re dancing, you first have to decide where to go in order to get anywhere. Otherwise you’ll just spin around in circles. When it comes to bios, you have to decide what you want to convey – as in, how you want people to think or feel about you. Distill it down to just a few words.
In many cases, this will be based in part upon the reader. If you’re sending a bio to a museum, you may want to sound credentialed or experienced. If you’re sending it to a local paper, you may want to emphasize your homegrown roots. If you’re sending it to a website or podcast, you may want to connect with their unique audience or niche.
To give an example, I had to write an author bio recently. My artist bio wasn’t a good fit, because it didn’t really emphasize my writing. But I needed my artwork to be part of it because it’s what gave me the authority to write about the thing in the first place.
In short, I wanted it to say:
Hey, I’ve mastered this thing – and I can teach you how to do it, too.
I read a bunch of other author bios to get a sense of what that might sound like. Actually, I read a bunch of author bios from sourdough cookbooks. Why this particular niche? Partly because Alan has a lot of them, and partly because they’re kinda doing the same thing I am. They’re experts in their field now writing a book about it.
The bios sifted roughly into a handful of categories: the approachable. The quirky. The inspirational. The accredited. The master. These were not the only kinds, just a few I noticed. Within these categories, there was a bit of nuance: the approachable expert. The quirky experimental baker. The acclaimed master. You could get a feel for their approach just from their bio alone. If I was an intimidated beginner, I know which book I’d choose.
It helped me realize how I wanted my own bio to feel: like I was an approachable expert. I know my topic well, but I want to take the intimidation out of it.
Step 2: String it Together
A Two Step is about stringing movements together; a bio is about stringing phrases. Start with phrases like these, but fill in the blanks to fit your personal story:
<Name> is a <blank> who has been <doing a thing> since <date>.
With a background in <thing>, she approaches <her thing> with <blank>.
His work has been <viewed/ sold/ read/ eaten> throughout <location>.
When she’s not <doing her thing>, you can find her <doing another thing>.
Want more phrases? Take a quick look at bios of others in your field – or even those in a completely different field entirely. Create a sort of mad libs fill in the blank version, then add your stuff.
Mine ended up sounding something like this:
Chris Zielski is an artist, author, and educator. She began her artistic career 25 years ago in the classroom, encouraging and inspiring others while selling her own custom artwork on the side. She founded her company Copper Leaf Studios in 2007, where she creates meaningful artwork for corporate, residential, and nonprofit clients all over the world. She and her husband Alan live on a farm in rural Ohio where they built a beautiful studio together. When she’s not writing or cutting metal, you’ll find her in her favorite gray sweater surrounded by chickens and ducks.
Like any dance, a little practice softens the rough edges. Read through what you wrote out loud. How does it sound? Smooth things out as needed.
I’ll teach you a trick that was hugely helpful to me when it came to reading my own bio:
Change your name.
Like, literally. Take out your name and insert someone else’s. Someone you admire and respect. Then, read it again. It’s like magic, isn’t it? Suddenly it’s not awkward anymore. It takes the intimidation out.
My name? Feels weird and uncomfortable. Someone else’s name? Feels like meeting someone new.
I’ll admit I didn’t invent this last trick – Alan did. He read my bio as approachable expert sourdough baker Bonnie O’Hara. I could feel my shoulders lower as he read it. Suddenly I wasn’t scrutinizing my own writing – I was getting to know someone else.
And that person sounded pretty great.