Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Paul McCartney and Luigi’s Alcove

Big Mountain Face

I’m sure you know Paul McCartney as a singer and song-writer. But did you know the ex-Beatle also paints?

A few years ago, I got the book Paul McCartney: Paintings. He does these big, expressive, semi-abstract pieces that have a sort of visceral effect, with lots of drips and runs. Very much influenced by Willem de Kooning’s abstract expressionism.

With all his talent, even Paul McCartney can get stuck. In Paintings, he shares a fun, creative little strategy he has devised for dealing with stuckness. Read the rest of this entry »

Setting Goals

Goal-setting is nothing new in the world of productivity. However, very little has been said regarding goals in the world of art. While goal-setting is largely the same as it is with everything else, it can be a little different for artists. Artists aren’t usually very goal-oriented. They tend to live in the moment, thinking of neither the future or the past. This is great for making art and capturing moments. On the other hand, unfortunately this can lead to rash and regrettable decisions. Ever heard of 20/20 hindsight? Think of the times have you looked back and said to yourself: “Man, I should’ve followed up with that gallery,” or “I should’ve asked that potential patron to make an offer.”

Just the simple act of setting a goal can make a huge difference in your life. Write it down! It gives you something to refer back to later. Thomas Nelson CEO Michael Hyatt has written about how important goal-setting in his post Goal-Setting: The 90-Day Challenge citing how just writing down his goals has made a profound impact on his life.

Put your goal in concrete terms, with some sort of tangible result that’s just crazy enough that you’ll really go after it. That way you’ll know for sure when you’ve reached your goal. In Michael Hyatt’s case, it was to write a New York Times bestseller. Later that year, he got his book published, and the next year it made it to the Times bestseller list.

Example goals an artist can set:

  • Explore a certain theme
    Pick a theme and explore different ways to talk about it in your art.
  • Start a new series this year
    Similar to the prefious, try something new that you haven’t explored before.
  • Set aside x hours each week to work on art
    Just setting aside a set number of hours to work on your art each week is life-changing. It makes you much more serious and dedicated toward your art, signifiying that your art is less of a hobby and more of a career.
  • Draw a sketch daily to post to your sketchblog
    My friend Mitchell Breitweiser has been doing this for a while on his blog, Inky Fingers.
  • Participate in Nanowrimo this November
    Writing 1667 words each day to meet the goal of 50,000 words at the end of the month is sure to produce something good.

Break your goals down into doable steps. If have an upcoming art event, the Art Biz Blog has some excellent ideas in a three-part series for promoting your exhibit, breaking it down into a number of doable tasks, all in three posts. And here on Mysterious Flame, I’ve talked about breaking big projects down into smaller pieces.

Bottom line: write down your goals, and make them manageable, so that you don’t bite off more than you can chew. But don’t make it too manageable that you won’t be proud of your efforts. You appreciate more what you work hard to achieve.

Showing Up

Chuck Close at WorkWhen you’re creating things, you can’t rely on inspiration alone, only painting, writing, sculpting, whatever, when the mood strikes. You have to show up on a regular basis, day in and day out. Creative efforts require a lot of commitment and professionalism. When you do this, you will be “favored by the Muse(s),” if you follow a more mystical viewpoint a la Stephen Pressfield or Julia Cameron. I like how Chuck Close puts it:

“I always say that inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

In an interview with NPR, Chuck Close talks about how his modular marks (I think of them as hot dogs) wind up becoming massive nine-foot self-portraits just through hard work and dedication.

Put this practice into action by setting specific times to work, then stick to it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be 8:00 am to 5:00 PM, but it does need to be consistent and regular. (I know one artist who goes to bed at 8 or 9 PM and gets up at 3 AM to paint, and he does some pretty amazing stuff.) Personally, I try to set aside Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons to paint, since that’s what works best with my schedule.

Morning Pages are another form of showing up. (In fact, I think Julia Cameron uses the phrase “showing up at the page” in her book The Artist’s Way.) You show up and you write, dumping out everything that’s in your mind and on your chest, stream-of-conscious style. Showing up like this also gives you the benefit of figuring out what you really need to be doing.

So if you really want to bust creative block and “turn professional,” you have to show up on a regular basis.

Making Large, Ambitious Projects More Manageable by Breaking Them Down

Cherry pie with a slice removedLet’s say you’ve gotten into a project you’re all excited about, and you’re brimming full of ideas and ambition. Your project gets bigger and bigger, and before you know it, you’re in over your head, completely overwhelmed by it. You know you have something good, but it’s just too big and unwieldy and it’s just become a monster, a nightmare of a project, and you are the one who cooked it up. What to do? It’s a bit like eating an elephant — you do it one bite at a time. Get out your mental Henckels steak knife, and start cutting your work down to make it more manageable.

Remember that Art & GTD series I did a while back when I first launched the site? Well, that started out as one big honkin’ post. I felt good about it, and I knew the content was worth writing. The problem was, it was just too big, and I knew it. I vetted it around to several people, including the guys at Black Belt Productivity and Alyson Stanfield at Art Biz Blog and Art Biz Coach. They liked it, but I think everyone agreed that it was way too long.

So I broke it down into separate posts where the topics changed and where the subheads came up. That one long article became five articles of sufficient length. In addition to these five posts being more easily read, they now formed a series that could last a whole week. Furthermore, they’re more search-engine optimized by default, since people searching the web are probably looking for one specific piece of information, not a lot of other extraneous information. Finally, it made me feel better since I wasn’t so overwhelmed by such a huge post. It was more organized in the end.

So the next time you find yourself in over your head by some really big project, especially if it’s written, try breaking it down into smaller, more contained pieces.

Here are some examples of projects you may need to break down:

  • A really long blog post like mine — break it down into smaller pieces and put them in a series
  • Elaborate story arc for a novel — focus on just one part of the story and make it a trilogy or something. It worked for Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. Conversely, I’ve heard it said that the Dune movie did too much by trying to put a whole trilogy in one film, and thoroughly confused people who hadn’t read the books. (I haven’t seen it yet, but I probably will this week as I’ve checked it out from the library.)
  • A very ambitious painting — Try doing multiple paintings on the same theme, focusing on different aspects of a concept, scene, or narrative. Or make a triptych.

Kevin Cornell on Staying Motivated

A few months ago Kevin Cornell, the staff illustrator for the highly acclaimed website A List Apart, wrote about staying motivated. He had some excellent things to say that I’d like to share here. Cornell says that there are two phases to creative work of any kind: starting out, and maintenance.

Phase I: Starting Out

When you’re starting out, stack the deck in your favor by giving yourself attainable goals, setting yourself up for more success than failure by being realistic in the goals you set. He suggests building a creative den, a place where you go and do your thing. I’ve found this particularly useful with my own studio:

… you need a place specifically set aside to be creative in. Once you’ve decided on that place, use it like the dickens. Each creative success you have in that location will train your mind to be creative within its boundaries. When I set foot inside my office, something clicks on in my brain, and I’m ready to work. Sure, it took about six months to turn into a den — but trust me, it’s time and effort well spent.

He also suggests figuring out what time of day you’re most creative, and take advantage of that. I think a lot of artists are (perhaps stereotypically) more active and creative in the late hours, but some aren’t. The point remains:

Find out when you’re at your creative best, and start using that time to your advantage; save your least creative time to do the mundane administrative aspects of your job.

Phase II: Maintenance

When you get to the maintenance level, you can take steps to ensure that you don’t fall off track by applying a few tricks here and there. Try getting out of your creative den and work somewhere else for a change. Changing your environment is a powerful thing, forcing you to think of things differently. You can be inspired from a cafe or a museum or something you see on a hiking trip. You can go from one extreme to another to keep yourself on your toes by doing things like studying your peers and then ignoring them completely so that you don’t become fixated on what they have done that you haven’t.

Cornell is definitely in agreement with me about carrying a sketchbook or a notebook:

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Ideas — good or bad — need to be recorded. No one can remember them all. Writing down an idea for long-term storage might just free up some room in your brain to tackle new problems. What’s more, you now have a library of ideas to lend a hand when a deadline is looming and you’re not feeling your most creative.

His article is a pretty good summary of a lot of the things we’ll be talking about in-depth here in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully a glance at this list will spur you on to do something great, whether you’re just getting started or trying to maintain your creative steam.