Escape the Comfort Zone: Uncanny Creativity 41

Making art often means getting out of the comfort zone.

Alan Henry of Lifehacker explains the science of breaking out of your comfort zone:

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.

Optimal Anxiety

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.

Productive Discomfort

It gets easier to push boundaries the more you do it. Alina Tugend describes this effect of “Productive Discomfort” for the New York Times.

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.

When Creativity Feels Hard, Take Action

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.

How do you find your talents? Steal Like an Artist Book: Summary and Review

In large white reversed type spread across two undersized black pages, each chapter begins with a simple and often counter-intuitive thought. The square-shaped book isn’t quite pocket-sized, though it’s close. The book in this case is Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon.

Following the book’s lead, I’m going to … borrow … Austin’s 10 thing, letting you know how they’ve worked for me. Following the say “Yes, and…” maxim of improv, I’m also adding my own ideas for you to try.

1. Steal like an artist.

The first chapter begins with a minimalist and powerful diagram that asks “Is it worth stealing?” We borrow ideas. We aren’t the first to create with paper, canvas, clay, or even a computer. Even when those ideas seemed new, artists built work based on ideas that came before them. The idea here isn’t to plagiarise, if that’s what you’re thinking. It’s about giving up on worry. Stop worrying that it’s not good enough. We are our own worst critics.

Austin explains beautifully how we are all a unique remix of our parents. Our art is a unique mashup of our influences. Become a selective collector of influences. Concentrate on keeping what you love and throw out the rest. Studies show that a focus on love helps us generate new ideas. Look for who your favorite artists loved and who loved them and take from them what you like best.

Try this: Copy your role models and leaders. Thinking of leadership as an innate trait and not as a learned skill causes anxiety according to research reported by Psychology Today. The study concluded that people only benefit from role models when they acknowledge skills as learnable. Recognize that talents are learnable skills.

2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.

According to the American Psychological Association impostor phenomenon (or impostor syndrome) was first described in the 1970s. Unable to internalize and accept their success, we often attribute accomplishments to luck instead of ability. There exists a fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

In this chapter, Keon reminds us that we all fake it until you make it. This reminds me of a TED Talk where we’re told to fake it until you become it. Keep pretending to make something until you make something. Creative work is theatre.

Reverse engineer others work, take apart the pieces to see how it works. Learn their way of looking at the world. This reminds me of a (probably apocryphal) tale of composers George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel. When Gershwin asked Ravel to teach him about composition, Ravel alledgedly replied “Why be a second-rate Ravel when you’re already a first-rate Gershwin?”

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing” Salvador Dali

Try this: Recognize your accomplishments. Lack of confidence in your ability to succeed often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

3. Write the book you want to read.

Take your favorite parts and use them. Your own art is fan fiction combining the favorite characters and pieces from your favorite stories and images. Create based on the stories you like to read. Ask what would make this better. Think about versions of your favorite work and then what would it be like next. If all your favorite artists collaborated, what would that look like?

How am I writing my own book? I often joke with friends and strangers that when I’m nervous I just imagine I’m someone else. I’m the hero or the villain of the book. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do something. It’s beyond me or for someone else. I’ll be  afraid to act heroic fixing my problems. I’ll be afraid of being villainized and judged. I recognize these fears as imagination and try imagining different ways of looking at it.

Try this: Question your truth and story. Write out your fears and explore reasons they shouldn’t be accepted.

4. Use your hands.

Traditional art has power. Draw! Sketch! Computers are too perfectionist and bring out our inner perfectionist This chapter reminds me of a studies where paper money is psychologically different from using credit cards. Credit cards are abstract and our brain thinks of the money involved differently.

Try this: Sketch, doodle, and write by hand. The tactile experience can help you see and understand problems in new ways. The accidents created by hand movement can help you see new shapes and “feel” the energy of lines. Next time you have a problem, whether it’s an art problem or not, try a sheet of paper.

5. Side projects and hobbies are important.

Productive procrastination is putting off one thing by doing another productive thing. Even the stuff that’s play — messing around — can turn in to something else. Have a lot of projects. What Unifies your work is that you made it.  I always say the best way to procrastinate is to do something else on my “someday maybe list”. The gym, cleaning, a walk. This blog. The podcast. Don’t choose between your passions.

Try this: Find time every month for your side projects. Identify what you consider your side projects, the things you do just for the feel good benefit, and learn to diversify your time investments into happy tasks.

6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.

Obscurity allows you to explore and see what resonates with people . Make stuff, fail, get better, share it. Wonder at something. Invite others to wonder with you. Give away your secrets, your thought process. If you’re worried about sharing too many secrets, share small pieces and leave others to figure out how to connect them.

Try this: Whether it’s with your real life social friends or with established online connections such as this blog, feel more free to share your work.

7. Geography is no longer our master.

Create your own world, surround yourself with objects you love. Enjoy solitude with a pen, notepad, a book. Leave home. Enjoy new surroundings. Enjoy people who don’t do what you do.

Try this: Add mastering the internet fearlessly to your life. Comment on the articles you love. Send thank you notes and appreciation to all the authors, web sites, even celebrities who you really love. Share your artwork and design on any site that has pictures. There are people out there who wish they were as daring as you

8. Be nice (The world is a small town.)

Make friends, ignore enemies. You are a here to make friends, life isn’t a reality show. Say nice things about people . Surround yourself with good people, the best people, who are smarter and better than you.  Be willing to look stupid. Hang out with the most talented people in the room. Channel the energy you’d use on enemies and embarrassment on your art. Keon tells us to keep a record of all the compliments you receive for when you need that. Save any nice emails, comments tweets in one place

Try this: Write fan letters. Not to get a response, just to express your kindness. Public fan letters. Write blog posts about people you admire and link to their site. Make art dedicated to your heroes. Do it for your own sense of gratitude and appreciation. If you’re a big fan of a Rihanna or Beyonce, why not just Tweet to them and let them know you’re a fan. Or handwrite fan mail. The idea that you did something out of appreciation will enrich your own life. You might not get validation. Many artists didn’t until after their lives. The guy who wrote the musical Rent was never able to see its success. Neither did Van Gogh. People usually wont see or understand your struggle, good artwork looks effortless.

9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)

Take care of yourself. Your personal finances, your family, and your friends all may need your attention. You need to sleep, eat right, exercise. This gives you energy to act creatively. Stay out of debt. Learn about money, make a budget, spend less than you make, save, get educated for as cheap as possible. Say no to take out and new things to replace things that work. Keep your day job for connection to the world and routine and control over your life. Limiting your time helps you schedule your creativity. “Work gets done when time is available.” Use your calendar and schedule more things until you have most things scheduled.

Try this: Keep a logbook, list what you’ve done every day. Not a diary, just lists, projects, a daily record of small details. Keep track of how far you traveled. What are the best things that happened today? Draw and sketch around your lists. Pick your friends, partner, and even family who you choose to have around you and how much.

10. Creativity is subtraction.

Choose what to leave out.  Place constraints on yourself. Painting with one color. Make things work with what you have. Do with less. Art is struggle against limitations.


If I have one major complaint about the book Steal Like An Artist it’s that it’s too short! However, I’m definitely going to pick up the authors next book: Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered. I love that the book ends with a spread of “deleted scenes” explaining how the book began its life on index cards and showing you what didn’t make the cut.

More book reviews

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

How to Be a Happy Artist: 3 Roles of Constructive Self-Criticism

There are ways to treat ourselves as a friend. We are often our biggest critics. How do we make our self-criticisms more constructive? We know that art can help with anxiety, stress and possibly even depressionTreat yourself positively  remembering that you are part of your support system. Treat yourself as a person and friend you like and admire. You are your own best mentor.

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
A teacher builds trust in a student’s ability to learn understands the frustration of the learning process. In his TED Talk “Trust, morality – and oxytocin?”, Paul Zak talks about how trust is an important chemical process for individual happiness.

Your script: Ask “Why?”

“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.

A study conducted by Ryan Howell, assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University and SF State graduate Graham Hill shows that if we spend our money on life experiences rather than objects, we tend to be happier because we aren’t bored of happy memories. Focusing on your role as a player means focusing on the immediate experience that you’ve “bought into” as an artist. You bought supplies, materials, and now it’s time to experience

Your script: Use “I want…” statements.

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

Changing just one small habit can set the tone for our exploration into having more creative ideas. A study shows that on average it may take 66 days for a complex habit to form, though a simple habit can form in as few as 20 days. The study also showed that immediate gratification and visible benefits is easier to make a new habit the easier the habit is to form.

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.

How Gratitude Maintains Connection: Artists and Designers Networking Guide Part 4

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.

In the first part, I talked about how our network is our friends and family. Introducing those connections to our art and design work is a key idea in networking. As artists we strive for creativity, authenticity, and a sense of sense. Understanding our role as a kind of friend to those at work and in more professonal contexts is key to become an amazing networker. In part two, the focus was learning how to talk to others no matter where we go. In part three, there were ten tips to following up with your existing or new friends. How does gratitude factor in at the point of maintaining a connection?

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.

Following Up: Artists and Designers Networking Guide Part 3

Artists and Designers Networking Guide: Part 3 in this series tells how important it is to continue being in contact. Too many of us don’t do it. Jump to the other posts about networking:

    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.”

    2. Be Thankful

    Gratitude is the foundation of relationships. A feeling of reciprocity helps create a sense of trust and connection.

    Try this: Send a thank you note 

    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.”

    4. Invite

    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.

    9. Calling

    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.

    Next: Part 4: How Gratitude Maintains Connection: Artists and Designers Networking Guide Part 4

    Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.