Routine and patterns minimize risk. Making something scares us. Creating something inherently feels risky. Who knows if it’ll be good?
The comfort zone feels happy with low anxiety and low stress. This is why most people never make anything.
Slight anxiety helps us. “Optimal Anxiety” increases performance. Too much stress and we do poorly. Comfort is the opposite of productivity. Volunteering as a designer helps me escape my routine. It can feel stressful, yet also I’m helping people.
Regularly facing fear in controlled ways prepares you better for out of control problems according to researcher Brene Brown:
Try this: Venture a new medium, performance art, visual arts, practice new tips. Small tweaks to normal ways of producing art involve exploring your curiosity.
It’s easier to brainstorm if you’re seeking new experiences, new skills. You get used to looking at the world in new ways and question confirmation bias. Old problems will seem new.
Try this: Do old things differently. New restaurants, drive a new route, switch out apps you normally use.
Take small steps
Avoid putting things off. Keep a list of “someday maybes”. Review it regularly to see if they match with your schedule. Always wanted to paint dogs or nudes? What’s the next small step to make that happen.
Take small steps. Set small actions. Weekly daily. Think big in the long-term and small in the short-term. If you want to have a huge gallery show, first you need to slowly make painting Try this: find clarity through action.
Remember to return to your comfort zone. Have rituals that you return to for comfort.
Try this: Slow down or speed up on decisions that you have to make. Be more spontaneous in areas where you’re usually very planned. Try being more calculated in the parts where you usually are carefree
The Sweet Spot Between Overconfidence and Anxiety
Optimal levels of anxiety tested as middle range by scientist, Business Insider explains. If we’re overconfident, there may not exist enough anxiety to focus and perform the task at hand. With too much anxiety, we’ll have trouble performing even basics of tasks. Self-described worriers tended to have “high levels of brain activity when they made mistakes”. The test became difficult compared to those with less anxiety.
Try this: Actively Practice worrying less. Actively practice worrying less. Working out. Meditate. Question and answer the facts behind your worry. Practice optimism. Seek help – friends, family, therapy.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
You might think being creative on demand is “hard”. Here’s what I’ve learned on the job.
I’m sad that society heavily sells this idea that creativity is “too hard” That we are constantly being indoctrinated into it. Adults spout tropes about the difficulty of creativity, sounding like children talking about monsters under their bed. No evidence of a monster, just fear. (See also: Face the Fear of Failure)
Hard is one of my least favorite words. Most of the time considering difficulty is impractical. When you catch yourself doing it, take it as a sign to practice. Pondering how easy or difficult a task manifests as a common procrastination habit. We place mental blocks in front of our own goals to protect us from imagined outcomes.
Anyone who got to the point where they could read this has already tackled countless difficult tasks.
Fairly early in my career, a more experienced designer told me starting with a blank page is the hardest part of the job.
So I’ve found to make it easy, at the beginning of a project I focus on the most practical parts of it. Break apart the project. Open a document. Get the size right. Put something on the page without judgment.
If it’s a particularly creatively challenge project, I name the file “Project Name Ideas”. Then it’s a super judgment-free space.
If you know any text or ideas for text, put it on the page. If it’s even more intimidating, scribble some messy thoughts on paper.
Sometimes just drawing boxes or grabbing a photo or texture works. Or make a list of steps.
Creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Look at inspiration and try using very specific parts of what you like in your own idea. Draw from a few inspirations and try getting them to mesh together
Try out the bad ideas too. Afraid of becoming unoriginal? Copy something and then try to fix it until it’s unique. Make something hideous and see if you can fix that too. Even at your worst, you’ll have some usable thoughts.
The important part I’ve found is to show your work. If someone could see you, could they describe an action? Thinking is not an action in itself.
Think through actions and through making.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
People who focus on what others think rather than their own concept self-value tend to be more stressed and angry with relationship conflicts and eating disorders, according to a study published in Journal of Social Issues which tested the impact of relying on external sources for self esteem. This may mean that for artists, focusing on internal ideals of morals and self standards will yield better results. In the study, there was a link between internal self-esteem and academic performance. Knowing that our creative voice has it’s own unique meaning is a powerful thought.
The University of Waterloo found that self compassion toward ones flaws achieved a more positive self image. Those who accept imperfections were found to deal more easily with negative events, setbacks and life in general. In your tone and words with yourself, even if you are frustrated attempt to be positive and practice gratitude. There are three main roles we can take when guiding ourselves: teacher, coach, and lawmaker:
1. Be Your Own Teacher and Student
You are your best teacher. A teacher identifies a problem, explains why it is a problem, and then helps discover choices so that the student can decide which is best for them. You’ve heard the proverb “Teach a man to fish and you’ve helped him feed for life.” As your own teacher, you are focused on helping yourself learn rather than just doing what’s easy in the moment. A teacher also gives clear instructions. Rather than saying “Solve this math problem”, a teacher will explain to you how to add and subtract. This is the same method we can adapt as an artist.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” William Arthur Ward
“What is the specific problem I want to handle and why?” followed by “What are the steps involved in coming up with a solution?” Be specific with yourself as possible. We might want to be a great artist and make amazing work, and at the same time that’s very vague to tell ourselves to be great and amazing. What is great and what is amazing? How do you create work that you like? If you had a teacher to tell you what that means, how would they guide you? As your own teacher, look into what you can practice in drawing, review and grade your work, and then assign yourself new “homework” to improve your art.
2. Be Your Own Coach and Player
You are your own best coach. A great coach accepts a player’s strengths and abilities. What are you currently able to do? Achieving a win in today’s game means using each player’s strengths as they are now. Asking yourself to draw in ways you’ve never drawn before isn’t likely to be a very fun or successful venture. A new artist starts by learning to hold a pencil, observe how lines appear on the paper, see and draw simple objects. Building on this understanding, we slowly get better. Coach the player you already are rather than who you wish or imagine you’ll become.
“The person being coached is not lacking, they simply need someone to tap on their microphone and turn up the volume so they can hear their own sound.” Suzette Hinton
Being a coach also means that you’ll have to put your players in the game. Players struggle and encouter new situations. On the field in any team sport, both teams will have a unique set of strategies and players that create a new dynamic every game. No matter how much practice there is, you just have to go into the game and play your hardest. This is what makes sports exciting and less predictable. When you create your art, you’ll have your own unique challenges and struggle in completing them.
A coach puts a player on the field and let’s the game happen. So every day, find a way to put yourself in the game. Find ways to finish your art, your assignments, and share them with the world. Share unfinished pieces, share rough sketches, share random ideas. Coaches and players don’t wait until they are finished to show their score. They let people see their progress as they get wins and loses, play after play, and season after season.
Where am I and where do I want to be? How can I get there?” Rather than torture yourself with what results you wanted, you’ll want to be your own supporter. When you start telling yourself something like “This painting is terrible! The colors are all wrong”, you might reply to yourself with “Actually, I want to be able to paint better, here’s what isn’t working: the green is muddy and brown compared to my reference. What I want is a brighter green, which I can achieve by adding more yellow.” The coach role is focused on supporting our wants, then supporting us with realistic steps to take to move in that direction.
3. Be Your Own Lawmaker and Enforcer
You are your own best rule maker. Your limits aren’t value judgments. They’re not good or bad. They’re what you do for your own safety and protection. You make rules that limit negative consequences. Think about crossing the street. Do you look both ways because it’s “bad” not to? Or do we look both ways because we don’t want to be hit by a car?
Being our own rule maker means that we understand our own problems and how to deal with them. We don’t justify breaking rules when we already know the consequence is something we don’t want. When you justify your procrastination, it’s denying the negative impact we already know it’s had. Rather than worrying, threatening, or nagging ourselves we can just accept it is our responsibility to hold ourself accountable.
“It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one’s acts.” Mahatma Gandhi
Accountability is the opposite of perfectionism. This means that yes sometimes we will procrastinate, you’ll slip sometimes, and you’ll break your rules. When you break your rule, what is the consequence? Coming up with effective consequences can be tricky. You might decide if you procrastinate, you’ll have to delay watching your favorite television show the next night so you can make up for the time on your art. This reaction has to be reasonable as well, you probably would be foolish if you thought you’d give up television forever to force yourself never to procrastinate again. Being accountable also means beings flexible at times. You will have to take up the lawmaker role again and again, revising the “rules” that didn’t work and the reactions that didn’t help you feel happier and empowered.
“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour … If at my convenience I might break them, what would be their worth?” Charlotte Brontë
Once you’ve made a rule, you’re no longer the law maker. Your role is now the enforcer. Rather than be accountable strictly for results, be accountable to yourself for your decisions. This is often where we fall short. Even during the creative process, stopping to evaluate early on in our composition has huge benefits. Often enough I’ve reached the end of a painting only to realize I’ve worked very hard on a weak composition. It would have been better if I started over before putting in that much time.
Research suggests that we often continue working on projects that aren’t working. The studies suggest that when we set up criteria in advance, we are more likely to evaluate whether our original goals were viable and change course as needed. In my painting, I create a rule that I start with a rough thumbnail and five minute quick composition study. I might also commit to a rule of reevaluating my painting every half or hour of work to make sure I’m heading in the right direction. I evaluate every step and making any adjustments earlier in the process makes a huge difference. At this point, I have rules and just have to enforce them.
Your script: Use “If/then” statements.
“If I don’t work on my painting tonight while I’m free, then I won’t have time to work on it over the next week since I’m so busy. Therefore, I’ll work on it right now and take a raincheck on this last minute party invite.” Note that the “If/then” set by this limit is just a natural cause and effect, not a punishment. “If I stay up late tonight finishing this drawing, then I’ll be too tired tomorrow for my meeting. Therefore, I’ll go to bed at 11pm”. Setting positive limits for yourself and others is healthy and realistic. With each statement, you’ll find new ways to say “I can turn this situation into a positive moment.”
Being part of your own support system is essential for our overall happiness. Having a greater network is still a helpful tool, though the more we diversify our approaches to success and happiness, the more likely we are to achieve that kind of well being. In approaching ourselves and others, we can be a teacher, coach, and lawmaker. Most of all, we can be a happy artist. What scripts do you use to motivate your creative work?
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
Artists and Designers Networking Guide: Part 4 embraces the power of gratitude. Networking means connecting with other people. Everyone wants to be around grateful people. Jump to the other posts about networking:
Gratitude is the key for easily maintaining connections in all of your relationships. I was originally going to write this part of the guide focusing on “connection maintanence”. Not only does the idea of maintaining relationships like a car sound cold and fake, it’s not accurate. We don’t just fix and replace our relationships just so they’ll keep working for us. We help others because we care and want to contribute to others happiness.
Whether it’s with friends, family, coworkers, former coworkers, client or other professional contacts, the one easy way to connect, reconnect or reach out is to give thanks. Who doesn’t appreciate a simple thank you note? Even if it’s for something that was a long time ago.
Networking has a sleezy reputation that’s based in the realm of “I need something”. Sending a simple thank you note when you need nothing is not only the way to make your relationships more human, it’s also just a nice thing to do. Attach a thank you note to an invoice, and add sentence expressing thanks to more emails. When you express that you’re thinking about the other person’s point of view, they’re more likely to help you. When you don’t know what to say, there is always something to say thank you for.
Gratitude creates win-win situations
An article in Fortune titled “Why gratitude is good for business, year round” tells the story of how a limousine business held a lunch for the secretaries and coordinators who contact them for services. Usually they are the ones who get to watch their bosses and collegues attend events. A simple one-time event of gratitude became one of the biggest selling points for the business. Now by using this particular limousine company instead of others, their bosses were able to get the side effect of giving those who assistant them a cool event.
This also is a great reminder of how much more meaning we can give if we thank people who are never thanked. The actions we deem with an entitled notion that what was provided is not extraordinary. Therefore less worthy of thanks. Without their service, what would your life look like? If they all went on strike or vanished in the next rapture, what would you do?If you lived in a country or situation without them or were trapped alone on an island never to have help again, what would that feel like? If they were hit by a bus tomorrow, would you care even a little? When looked at it that way, showing appreciation for the existance of others is one powerful thought that too many people never allow to cross their minds.
Gratitude the opposite of expectation
Why say thanks to people for doing what they “should” be doing anyway? The real truth is that no one is obligated to help you. Inducing fear, obligation, and guilt are network killers. Even if you’re not inducing those qualities on purpose, if you don’t cultivate gratitude it can appear that you’re only connecting to cash in down the line. The goal is to provide emotional support, not just receive.Seperate messages and emails of appreciation from ones you are in need. Do you only send an email to your coworkers when you’re asking for something?
“Learn how to be respectful to your friends, don’t just start arguments with them and don’t tell them the reason, always remember your friends will be there quicker than your family. Learn to remember you got great friends, don’t forget that and they will always care for you no matter what. Always remember to smile and look up at what you got in life.” Marilyn Monroe
How gratitude helps you feel good
Thinking about others can be a very positive experience. When you realize all that they’ve done to help you, you’ll realize how much support you have. When you’re having a bad day, write thank you notes for all of those who contributed to your success.
In the TED Talk “Remember to Say Thank You”, Laura Trice discusses how asking for praise is a form of vulnerability: ” I’m telling you where I’m insecure. I’m telling you where I need your help. And I’m treating you, my inner circle, like you’re the enemy. Because what can you do with that data? You could neglect me. You could abuse it. Or you could actually meet my need.” Letting others know that you will appreciate them can be scary!
We let them know we do our best to meet their wants as much as it works for. We often don’t show praise for the same reason, it is vulnerable to trust and desire from others. What we cultivate by being appreciative is a world where it is easy to give and receive. When we do need to say no, doing so graciously and with thankful kindness is still a powerful act.
“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.” Oprah Winfrey
You might even decide to write notes that you won’t even send or to people who are no longer living. Writing a note to your departed grandmother for teaching you about perserverence provides you with a role model who you would strive to be more like. Psychologists found that those who focus on gratitude felt better about their lives; they also exercised more, became physically healthier and had a healthier general sense of well-being.
Other studies found relationships built on appreciation are more positive and were more in working through concerns. Instead of showing your middle finger when a car honks, why not say to yourself “Thank you for being patient!” When you go through a crowd and say excuse me, why not add “Thank you for letting me by!”
How to respond to gratitude
When someone says thank you, we are taught to say “You’re weclome.” Other variants are “No problem”, “My pleasure” and “Of course.” In short form, the polite or common answers allow us to move on with our day. On Psychology Today, Adam Grant, PhD wrote about alternatives to “You’re welcome” providing a few reasons to give us a more thoughtful response. We can cultivate further gratitude rather saying that we’re happy to give. He suggests finding your own way to say “I know you’ll do the same for someone else.” That phrase let’s them know that you value appreciation as an idea in general. In the context of networking, friendship, and connection, we can imagine how we are more willing to do more for those who we know will appreciate it.
Thank people publically and privately. Sound grateful to people who aren’t even present and might not hear your words. One of my favorite things to do is when a friend or coworker comes up, I say a few things I like about them. Even if the person I’m speaking to doesn’t know my coworker, it shows that I think about how other people contribute. This tells my friend who is listening a powerful message that I will appreciate them too. They’ll imagine that I probably go around saying nice things about them too. It’s like positive gossip. Instead of social anxiety, this emphasizes social confidence.
Thank you for reading my post! I know you didn’t have to and I appreciate you giving these thoughts a chance.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
Why follow up? Whether you’re hoping for a new client, a job interview, or just a friendly connection, following up is a key skill to practice. We all want to be surrounded with positive, trustworthy, and responsible people. When people see your name in their inbox, caller id, or text message notifications what do you hope they will feel?
If we know that opening your message, there will be something useful, kind, or positive of course that will be something I’ll want to read! If when I see you on the street, I know that I’ll be greeted with a smile and generous words, then of course I’ll be happy to say hello! You might ask what’s in it for you? What if you say positive affirmations and don’t receive the response you hoped for? Personally, I’d rather know that I made an attempt at being giving. Other people may not want what I have to offer and that is okay! You have a lot to offer for those kindred spirits who want to receive what you have.
“Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say infinitely when you mean very; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.” C.S. Lewis
This is a key skill that we often don’t use to our advantage. When reading articles on job searching, have you noticed the inevitable quote about the job seeker who applied to 200 jobs a day and didn’t receive a single interview or job? One could guess that this person wouldn’t have time to follow up on every job lead. Asking a week or two later about the status of that application makes a difference. Even if you did get an interview and didn’t get the job, have you ever thought to contact them and ask them how their new hire is doing? If the answer is fantastic, they might still be expanding and you could now add yourself to be next on their list.If the answer is not as much, you could be the one they ask for next.
If you paint a picture and a friend says that it’s too big for their wall, you might ask them what they think of the next piece that is smaller. Think outside of the box when following up and staying connected. Remember, “networking” isn’t really a thing. It’s just a word that means making some really good friends who happen to have a professional interest in common.
Here are 10 ideas that might make follow up interactions more possible and comfortable for you and your friends:
1. Be Respectful
Give the benefit of the doubt. Be humble. There’s always the possibility that friends are caught up in other tasks. We all have a long enough list of things we’d love to do that will literally take us the rest of our lives. We’ll never be able to get everything done. Be mindful about that with others. Even if others wanted include you or benefit you, they won’t always be able to for reasons you may never know. If you haven’t heard from them, you might be helping them remember. Avoid anything thank can be read as “Why aren’t you answering me!?” Actions that consist of patience, trust, kindness, gentleness and support will be favorably received.
Try this: Ask about their wants and needs
They know they’re needs and wants better than you could. No matter how much experience you have or knowledge you attain, they will know their own lives best. Your personal scripts are kindess when they include questions such as “How does that work for you?” and “What would you want in this situation?” No matter what the response, show empathy and consideration by using the most supportive and trusting language. One useful response, especially if the answer is unexpected or not what you hoped, is “Thank you for sharing that with me.”
Every time I hang out with a friend, I send them a thank you text the next day. Be specific about what you enjoy. “Thanks for having dinner and telling me about your trip! You’re always so inspirational and have an exciting life!” Life is too short to not notice the good qualities in those around you and to express your appreciation. For bigger events, consider sending a hand written thank you note.
3. Be Generous
Generosity is giving with no expectation to receive. Many people are not generous because this leaves them vulnerable. To give without receiving can be scary. We don’t want to be taken advantage of. If we look at our lives with gratitude, we will notice that many people who impress us are the ones who do more than they could or have to. If we observe gratitude to the ones around us, we may even notice that no one owes us anything. None of our friends or family actually have to do anything for us. Even if we help them, they could choose not to help us anyway.
Why be generous then? It is for ourselves. To do something and know we can be charitible. If the person you are trying to connect with is genuinely someone who you appreciate or admire, then show appreciation for that inspiration.
A coworker inspired me to try going to the gym at 6am. She went every week before work and while I tend to be an evening person, I thought I’d give it a shot. I’d tell friends about how she inspired me even though they didn’t know my coworker. A week or so later, making conversation at work it felt natural to say “Oh by the way, I thought of you last week! You said you went to Bodypump at 6am so I tried it. I’m still not a morning person, though because it worked for you I tried something new.”
“You make all kinds of mistakes, but as long as you are generous and true and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her.” Winston S. Churchill
Try this: Show appreciation secretly
Think of how your skills can be used to help others or show appreciation. On The Uncanny Creativity Podcast I’ll often mention helpful tweets and thank them publically. With friends and coworkers, one of the most powerful things you can do is compliment them when they aren’t listening. “Oh wow, you worked with Samantha Roberts? She is an amazing writer! I worked with her on a project where she really did her homework and I learned a ton about Baltimore.”
Complimenting others when they may or may not hear tells the person you’re speaking with that you genuinely think about the people you meet. This also is a great way for you to feel like an appreciative person yourself. This also gives you a bit of conversation that you can share in future direct interactions. “Did I ever tell you how great that article is? I told John the other day that it really helped me understand.”
As I discussed in the practical tips article of this guide, there are many ways to be involved in your community and in the world including visiting art gallery receptions, volunteering, art organization events, and classes. If you’re attending events, then it often makes sense to invite others who might be interested. Make sure to invite them a few weeks ahead of time as they’re more likely to have less scheduled and will appreciate the notice Also be graceful if they decline. If you’ve given yourself a few weeks, you’ll still have time to invite someone else. If all else fails, go on your own as chances are you’ll see another loner who is interested. Great opportunity for at least a brief chat and maybe even a new contact.
Depending on the event, you may just invite one friend or contact or a few. Personally, I’d tend to keep my invites small and specific. I want to be able to talk with someone and create an experience together. Inviting a huge group of people and not having time or effort to invest in them can be both draining for you and less personal for them. Everyone loves an invite!
Try this: Follow up after the event
Whether they were able to attend or not, follow up on the conversation and letting them know how it went. It’s another opportunity to discuss and have a mindful conversation. You might say “I can totally see why it wasn’t for you! Though I did hear about this website which you might want to check out.” If they did attend, thanking them as described above, a bit of a recap and asking their opinion on key points is a good idea. Just be yourself, a friendly human with a soul.
5. Persistence Versus Annoyance
Give a reasonable amount of time before following up on something you haven’t heard about. A general rule of thumb is to connect weekly or even every other week. This keeps you in mind without being overly attached.
Try this: Stay in touch
For ccontacts you haven’t heard about in a while or for former coworkers, check in and ask how they’re doing. If you’re a freelance designer, use all of the tips in this guide to stay connected with clients. For artists, we can stil connect with former buyers. If we befriend our clients and buyers, we gain friends. Our friends love to support us. The better you know them, the better you can offer your generous support as well.
6. Give space to decline
If you are getting responses that seem uninterested or if you are getting no responses at all after two or three attampts, give a longer period of a few weeks. Most people will appreciate not being pressured. Disengaging helps others know that you understand their not obligated to respond. If at this point you decide to send another follow up message, you can say something like “It’s okay if you’re too busy for this right now!”
Most people know how it feels to be rejected and don’t want to put you in a place to feel that way. Let your new and old friends know that it’s not a big deal if they don’t respond. The timing may be off or the task or conversation may not be a good fit. Craft a message that is polite and understanding as possible as you don’t want to burn any bridges. They may still think of you as a good friend when their schedule clears up. A new project may come along. They may have another friend who would be better served.
Try this: Believe them
If they decline or you have any sense of interest, drop it. This might mean talking about something else. It may mean less contact. It may mean discontinuing contact completely. Ask directly about their interests and then proceed as if you believe them.
7. Add Value
Show excitement about their new project. Adding value means that think you know something they might be interested in. With all of the above in mind, if you’re reading through articles and find one they may be interested in, pass it along. “Hey, this reminded me of a conversation we had about classical music!” Passing on an article is a great way to show that you don’t require a response.
8. Prepare for the worst
If you’re looking for a job and you know you would be great at that job, sometimes that company may want someone who is different from you. They may just feel better about hiring someone with certain experience that you don’t have. If you’re looking for a client, they may want to spend that money on a different product. If you’re looking for a friend, they may just want a different kind of friend or just don’t want to deal with the basic stages of anew friendship right now.
When it comes to our art and designwork especially, it’s purely subjective. Your work may be the most amazing, it’s just not what that person likes. A certain green that you love may remind them of their mean babysitter’s ugly wallpaper. Nothing personal. The analogy I often to to is my dislike for coffee and mushrooms. The most amazing coffeeshop or the most wonderful restaurant still wouldn’t be able to make me enjoy those tastes.
Try this: Hope for the best
Yes, if someone tells me they’ve cooked mushrooms then I’m not going to enjoy that dish. This doesn’t mean that every attempt to have a meal means being offered mushrooms.
There are a few phrases for a phone call that you need to know and use. Always always always ask “Hey, is this a good time to talk for 10 minutes about X?” This communicates that you have something specific to ask about and at the same time are mindful of their time. If you would like more than five or ten minutes, then you can arrange a mutually beneficial time to speak longer.
Few people enjoy cold calls. If you want your call to be greeted warmly, the next question in a phone call has to be “Are you interested in X?” or some variation. If they aren’t interested in connecting or discussing this topic, it’s a waste of time for both or you. You’d prefer a conversation with someone who wants to talk with you.
Try this: Make your cold calls warmer
The final question is the next step. Stick to your 10 minute time limit. If the conversation has dragged on past that, you might ask “Is it still a good time to continue talking, maybe we can set up a calll or hang out to talk more about this later?” Giving them space to decline often creates a more comfortable environment and conversation. The next step could also be an e-mail or another type of meeting. Let them know what you’re guess is if you have one, “I’ll e-mail you with that information and a bit of detail about what we’re talking about.” Then you can continue following up via email or address the continued steps at in the e-mail.
10. Send Snail Mail
Postcards, cards and letters are an underused way to stay connected. If you’re traveling and see your friend’s favorite artist why not send them a post card? Since you’re an artist yourself, you can also make your own post cards. If you have better handwriting than me, you can write a special sentence or two just for them. Have your postcards printed with a note that them know they could frame it if they like it. People will often ask me about framing options for my post cards. I point them to the dollar star where they have some really nice frames for a dollar. One of my friends since high school often sends me postcards. They’re just sweet little images that remind her of me.
Try this: Mail something, anything
You could also deisgn a flyer or newsletter and mail that to your contacts. It’s a less personal way to use snail mail and yet could be effective. Use your artistic abilities to make your own holiday cards. This is a time of year when you’re already feeling generous.
Last month I attempted my first plein air painting in Montrose Park in Washington, DC. I was very nervous and had a lot of doubt: “I’m supposed to be an artist! I have a degree in art! I work as an art director and I’m a good painter. Why is this scary?!”
Whenever we’re doing something new, it’s still a test of wills. The same lessons come back to us every time. No one tells you it’ll be easy, yet they don’t exactly proclaim to you how hard being an artist can be. Here’s the final painting which is no masterpiece and at the same time I learned a ton and felt proud about it:
A photo posted by – Brian E. Young (@sketcheeguy) on
1. It’s okay to procrastinate
Prolific artists procrastinate. Procrastinating is a form of thinking. You’re doing one thing like watching tv or playing video games, and you’re distracted thinking you could be painting or drawing. It is okay to procrastinate. You’re still thinking about your art. Use whatever you’re doing to find inspiration. Write down any thoughts you might have.
I thought about plein air painting for years. Even had planned to last fall at a plein air painting event. It started to become a big deal in my head. I thought I needed the right supplies, the absolutely right event, the right motivation, and the right place. It turns out all I needed to do was go outside.
Try this: Write down your goals and ideas. While you’re procrastinating, while you’re in the super market, while you’re at work just stop for a split second and jot down the note such as “I want to paint trees.” “I want to sketch people.” You can use a cellphone app or tweet it or text it to all of your friends. Next time you’re finding yourself free and tempted to reach for your television remote, you’ll be more likely to know that you really would rather sketch and paint.
“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.” Bill Watterson
2. It’s okay to be be messy
Prolific artists make messy sketches and thumbnails. I use stick figures in my thumbnails to quickly get ideas down. Stick figures are a cute and fun way to draw out an idea and not care if it’s a masterpiece. Even though I’m a trained artist with a degree in art and a job in art, I still use stick figures. These poses can be further developed into bigger and better drawings later. Once I see an idea as a concrete thumbnail, it really helps me to get excited about it.
When I worked on my first plein air painting, I quickly was disheartened by the composition I chose. I didn’t really think about it much. I didn’t do any planning. I just looked in a direction and started making marks with paint. That’s okay! I learned something from that! Next time, it would have been smart to take 60-seconds to scribble down a few different compositions. There is no mistake if we can’t learn from it.
Try this: Take 60 seconds to create 3 thumbnails before making anything “real”. You’ve heard this and yet you still don’t do it. I preach this for years and I still didn’t do it. Practice it, make it routine. It’s just a fun way to break the ice. Don’t look at it as a must, an obligation, or as pressure. This is the fun part where you get to be a child and not care about the result. Make them and ignore them. Make them and learn from them.
“We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better.” Walt Stanchfield
3. It’s okay to fail
Prolific artists are persistent when facing failure. It’s only a failure if you give up without learning anything. Don’t give into your fear and doubt. Be persistent and decide on the next step. Be nicer to yourself.
After a night of painting, I often will feel discouraged. The painting didn’t look exactly how I imagined it could. The next morning, in the light of day I will look at it and say wow that actually looks pretty cool. It’s different yet something about it works. I’m ready to take last nights failure and make the adjustments needed to get the painting finished.
There is a lot I didn’t like about my first plein air painting. The composition is centered and uninteresting, the colors are brighter than I wanted, and I wish it had more depth. How do I know this? I know it because I tried. I tried and now have something physical to look at. Through those experiences, I’ll have a better idea when I try this again. And I will try it again.
Try this: Fail at something you’re afraid of. If you’re afraid to paint, then paint. I used to be afraid of asking for help at the grocery store. I know it’s silly, there are people there to help you and they’re friendly. Still I was afraid of it. Then I just learned to ask anyway. Whenever you’re afraid and you have all of the reasons that failure is possible, just do it anyway.
“First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” Octavia E. Butler
4. It’s okay to take breaks
Prolific artists take breaks and then just pick up where they left off. We retain information better when we have space away from it. Ever have trouble remembering something? The best thing to do is to stop focusing on that thought and return to it. What happens is that we focus on the idea that we can’t remember so much that we can’t actually process the memory. We often find things when we aren’t looking for them.
When we’re focused on the thought “I forgot”, “I feel guilty for forgetting”, or some variation, it just makes it that much harder to remember and reinforces our “I have a bad memory” persona. Let go of that! You walk away from that guy at the gym who’s name you forgot, then remember it that night while doing dishes. Yes, this has happened to me.
When I was painting outside in the beautiful park in Washington, DC, it turned out to be insanely helpful to just say to myself “Wow, this is a beautiful day and I’m lucky to be here.” See all that was around me and know that I’m inspired by it all. The memory of that is a good one. Practicing a bit of gratitude can help fix any situation or problem. There’s always a lot to be thankful for, don’t miss it!
Try this: Focus on one task for a block of time. Then take a break. One study shows the best in their field only practice for 90-minute blocks (PDF link). If you are going to return to the task after the break, try to take at least 20 minutes focused on anything else. Do your best to focus on your new task. If your mind wanders back to work, be nice to yourself and bring your attention back to what you’re doing now. If you’re taking your lunch break, you might just focus on the taste, sound, and look of your meal. If your break is another type of work, try to give it your full attention.
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” Maya Angelou
5. It’s okay to have hope
Prolific artists are positive. Optimism boosts creativity. One of the easiest ways to find a silver lining is to understand what we are grateful for. Yeah somethings in life suck and you’re okay for feeling that way. At the same time, those bad things don’t have to outweigh the good things. A realistic approach is ultimately healthy and positive. Reaching an understanding on how to balance the good and bad thoughts you might have will put you into a better place to make decisions and not cave under pressure.
Now I have a better understanding of how my thoughts and feelings play out when I’m painting in a more public situation. I’m used to painting at home, by myself. The only critic I deal with there is me. Now I understand that the critic even when there are others in the park asking about my work is still just me. Only I give their words any meaning. Most onlookers in a park are probably wishing they were bold enough to be there. By painting, I’m already brave enough to do something that many people never tried. By even reading this article, you’re contemplating ideas that many people would be too afraid to even consider.
Try this: Learn something new. Look at a situation or experience you found challenging and use this as a chance to learn something new. Next time you’re in a similar situation, what will you do differently? The past can’t be changed and the future can.
“Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible.” – Albert Einstein
6. It’s okay to have bad ideas
Prolific artists create first and judge second. Put an idea down, try it out, see what happens. It’s okay to be average. Your first idea is rarely your best. This is why we sketch (see number 2) so that we can work out the best idea. Even if your best idea was your first one, creating a few bad concepts can solidify your choice and help you feel stronger about your final drawing.
Try this: Brainstorm without judgement. Write down all of your thoughts as a quick list before starting on an intimidating or time-consuming task. The thoughts might be completely related or really stupid. Make a point to include the ones that usually feel very uncomfortable. Facing that discomfort and writing it down is part of the fun. It’s now just words on paper without any meaning.
“The way to get good ideas is to get lots of ideas and throw the bad ones away.” Linus Pauling (Nobel Peace Prize winner)
7. It’s okay to improvise
Prolific artists make it up as they go along. We give up the idea of how we once thought it “should” be and move on to how to make things work. Every brush stroke is a fresh start.
I painted my trees, even as I realized the composition didn’t work. I could have left or just started over. Those would have been great ways to improvise too. I just chose to continue and that made all the difference.
Try this: Finish what you start. No matter how you are feeling about a project, rather than give up find a way to complete it. It might be as simple as signing your name and calling it done. Your usual next step doesn’t have to be the next step you take. Do something that isn’t obvious.
“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” Charles Darwin
8. It’s okay to ask for help
Prolific artists are part of a team. You have a support system, friends, family, coworkers, and a professional network who you can rely on. They may not even be part of your art, they just may help you be a whole person. The people in our lives help us by inspiring us, by helping us with conversations, by showing us love and affection. Having confidence in more parts of life helps us realize our abilities. Be prepared to not get the help you want and still be happy that there is someone who will listen to the question. Ask for exactly what you want and need.
By now you’re probably tired of hearing about how I created that painting. I didn’t do it alone, I am lucky enough to have someone in my life who enjoys painting as much as I do. We went to the park together and created very different work. It’s really nice to just spend time with the people you care about. At the end of the day, it wasn’t about painting at all. That day was about a new experience. Create experiences, not just things and not just images.
Try this: Reach out to someone you love. Provide help, a listening ear, or a fun night out and give them everything they might need. You’ll see how much others love your help and create friendships that will be there when you’re in need too. The idea of reciprocity isn’t to just trade, it’s to give. Create a generous experience together with those you care about. When you’re genuinely interested in others, there is a beautiful impact on those around you.