Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

The Importance of Clear Definitions

The act of definition is where everything begins — how you define things determines everything else. Everything that follows an initial definition is dependent upon that first definition. Take philosophy, for example: the fundamental question (and subsequent definition) of “What is good?” is the foundation of philosophy. Furthermore, your answer or definition of that very question establishes a framework for your own philosophy, and gives great insight into your own psychology (what makes you tick).

Clear definitions are important no matter what your discipline is. Whether you’re a physicist, a financier, or a construction worker — it is imperative to have clearly defined standards that ensure that everyone is on the same page. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a thousand people or just outlining something for yourself. When things are well-defined, goals and actions are clear to everyone involved.

I think everyone agrees that clear definitions are important in communicating with other people. But what about communicating with yourself? Elsewhere, I’ve talked about how important it is to write down your goals, to plan things out. Defining your goals, tasks, dreams, and standards keeps you on track. It gives you a road map. It’s useful for people like me who are easily distracted by the path of least resistance.

Build a framework

So as an artist, what sort of things should you define? Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

  • What is art?
    What is my definition of art? What’s my definition of my art?
  • What makes a piece of art good?
    It all boils down to Plato’s original question.
  • When is a piece finished?
    At what point do I generally quit working on a piece and declare it finished?
  • Do I want to sell my art?
  • How much money should I ask for when selling a piece?
    What will cover expenses, time, and profit?
  • What are my materials?
    Will I limit myself to one particular medium or tool or technique, or will I experiment with a variety of materials?
  • What is the scope of my market?
    Should my aim be broader or narrower? More local or national, or international?
  • What are my career goals as an artist?
    What does success look like to me?

Of course, a lot of these are answered along the way, but keep in mind that the clearer these things become, the better you’re able to set goals and meet them. Try to steer clear of jargon, but be as concrete and concise as you can. If you can explain it to a child or someone who doesn’t know anything about art, you’ve done your job. And remember to be flexible in your definitions, as they will surely change over time. In fact, it’s probably a good idea to evaluate these definitions at least once a year as part of a personal annual review, where you get the 30,000-foot perspective of things.

What are your definitions?

So here’s your homework: Set aside some disruption-free time to sit down and define these things. It may take a day or two to think everything through. Define whatever else you feel needs defining. You may have a successful career and life without defining these things, but you’re likely to do things haphazardly and sloppily, wasting time pursuing dead ends. Just remember: creating definition creates clarity and focus, and clarity and focus create tangible results.

In Brief: Idea Seeds

Today as I was reviewing my RSS feeds, I came across a post on Freelance Folder that talks about different idea seeds that can later bloom into full-fledged blog posts. These same idea seeds can germinate into things other than blog posts, of course, such as painting or photography ideas, or other written forms. As always, be sure to capture and document these idea seeds in some form, whether it’s on ordinary 3 x 5 cards like Anne Lamott does, or if it’s in a special Moleskine notebook you have.

See also: Ten Ways to Jump-Start Your Creativity and A Few Inspiration Sources, Culled from

Tips for Survival, According to Michael Shane Neal

Michael Shane Neal is an amazing and prolific artist and a fantastic guy. If you ever meet him, you’ll find him to be extremely personable and gregarious. He’s received many honors and accolades. In the midst of teaching numerous workshops and painting many commissioned works and going on plein aire painting trips, he finds time to write on his new blog, The Spectator.

In two recent posts (Tips on Survival! and Tips on Survival 2, Neal shared some tips for survival he mentioned in an article he wrote for a newsletter for the Portrait Society of America a few years ago. While all ten tips are pretty important, I’ll highlight/paraphrase/condense most of them (since I don’t wanna copy him outright):

  • Set goals and write them down! List things you would like to accomplish both in the short term and in the long term. … Setting goals is the first step to accomplishing them. Hang them near your easel as a constant reminder of what you will achieve.
  • Work hard. Whether you have the opportunity to devote your entire day, or just a portion of the day to your art, work hard! I have worked 12-18 hours a day for more than 15 years. It is important to devote as much time as possible to your growth as an artist, but you must work smart as well. An hour of painting free from distraction is worth 3 when the phone is ringing and the kids are home from school.
  • Study. Spend quality time developing your skills by reading and studying each day.
  • Tenacity! Don’t take “NO” for an answer! … Commit yourself to growth from every experience. Remind yourself constantly that you will succeed, that you will grow as an artist, and your decision to follow your dreams to become an artist will become or remain a reality.
  • Thrift. For nearly the first 10 years of my life as a full time artist I painted every painting on a $2 easel bought second hand, mostly held together by duct tape and a prayer! … Survival is your main goal. Living frugally whether by choice or not, is important. Getting to the next painting is your ultimate goal.
  • Identify your market. Recognize “who” can purchase your work.
  • Diversification. Not only does diversification help you grow as an artist, but it provides other opportunities for you to show your work and advertise your name as well as provide alternative income!
  • Dependability. Unfortunately artists are not known for keeping schedules, arriving on time for appointments, or generally running their affairs in an orderly and responsive manner. Go the extra mile and remain dependable at all costs. Be responsive and provide the best customer service possible.
  • Develop a support system. Develop relationships with other artists and friends you can trust.

Links Roundup for March 29, 2008

Not enough to qualify for me to use to write complete posts (although one or two have the potential for me to expand upon at some future date), here are some links I’ve come across recently that you might find useful in your creative efforts.

FFFFOUND! A great source of inspiration

FFFFOUND logoLooking for a good online source of inspiration for your images? Enter FFFFOUND!, a website that lets you bookmark images (as opposed to pages like using a bookmarklet to install in your browser. I recently discovered it and for now it’s invitation only. (I managed to get an invite from someone on Twitter.)

Once you have added images to your bookmarks, other users on the FFFFOUND! site can add your images to their profiles as well, thus making them one of your followers. Your images are then recommended to them in a big pool. It’s a little confusing at first since it’s pretty organic and doesn’t have a whole lot of immediate structure, but looking at the cool images is addictive. It’s like the early days of the internet, only with beautiful and bizarre images. I don’t like that I can’t search for anything, and tagging isn’t available. Maybe we’ll be able to do that when it gets out of beta?

At any rate, it’s a good source for ideas and inspiration, with what seems to be an emphasis in advertisements and commercial photography, the kind of stuff that might turn up in Communication Arts if it were less conservative.

Naturally, I bookmarked some really cool images of bridges and Modernist typography.