Going Fast

We live in a world that seems to accelerate with alarming regularity. Expectations of delivery and downloads is ever increasing, with every upgrade and iteration.

We can meet that expectation in our work. But there are advantages to going slowly: the pressure is lessened. We can gain perspective as we work, rather than in hindsight.

A daily habit, steady work, will always beat out frenetic flurries that require inspiration to kick them off.

Abandonment

Basically, it’s better to do than to not do. But there are exceptions.

Sometimes something just isn’t working. It’s sometimes better to stop that and do something else, start on a different idea. Finishing isn’t always the best option if it stops you moving to another project that flows.

But there’s always a paradox to resolve: do I need to stop working on this piece because it’s not working, or is it not working because I just want to start a new piece?

Continuing a little too long on something to be sure it isn’t going to work might be the only way to tell. But you’ll be able to.

Thoughtful Commentary

It’s in short supply. Social media is full of opinions, but a lot of it seems to be engaged in bashing others’ existing ones.

It can make me reluctant to express mine. I have been afraid of publishing sometimes because I could be wrong. It has stopped me from writing.

But, like anything you choose to present to the world, vulnerability goes with the territory. Artists of every kind trade their feelings for exposure of their work. Not knowing if you’ll be lauded or excoriated is frightening.

Perhaps those are our choices: stay silent and safe, or publish and expose ourselves. Staying safe, however, doesn’t necessarily help the work. What we miss by staying safe is the possibility of more easily shaping, honing, and sharpening our work. If our work is only ever for ourselves, I suppose that’s fine. But if we want to say something, if we want to make others feel something, it’s much harder.

Doing everything in solitary feels like I’m navigating a city blindfolded. We need to show our work. Public opinion isn’t always valuable, but enough is that it can allow us to steer a truer course, tack a different course, or pick another star to follow.

Creation is always a balance between how we feel about it and how others receive it. Maybe it will help to focus on that, the balance, rather than the fear. To do otherwise gets nothing done, and keeps us from growing.

It’s okay to be wrong. Say things—with words or brushes or cameras. Say more tomorrow.

Back to the Drawing

“I can’t draw!” Yes, well, even proficient artists feel like that, at times. There always seems another level to rise to, and never enough practice to get you up there.

Like most things art, though, it’s all about patience and regularity. Practice isn’t a temporary condition for students, it’s a lifetime habit. Whatever you cultivate will yield fruit, and that’s not just for real life stuff, it includes compelling abstract work.  But to sidestep frustration with our progress—and lack of it—in drawing any particular subject, it’s about two main things.

First, simple tenacity. Drawing is the foundation of all other visual art, and it feeds into everything else if you do it regularly to keep in practice. It’s like working out, you’ll never notice changes day-to-day, but every so often you notice you’re suddenly better—or fitter—than a few weeks ago, months ago, years ago.

Second, kindness. Not in general—but do that, too—but to ourselves. Be kind to you and try to avoid beating yourself up for any perceived lack of progress. There’s no end point, so there’s no race or rush, it’s just something you do. And it can be anything, not necessarily a high concept or grand scene. Simple lines. Circles. Cups. Leaves. Hills. Buildings. Faces. Figures. All worthy subjects along the way. Just the habit of working, as usual, is the most important thing.

Then, don’t stop.

The Quick, the Plodding

If the work goes fast, you’re in the zone. You’ve found the muse, and things are looking up. You finally know what you’re doing.

And if it doesn’t, if it’s a terrible slog and you have no idea how to continue, or even how this works, any more, the response is the same.

We show up the next day and still do the work. Because it isn’t going to matter in a hundred, or even a dozen days how you felt today. Either you made things, or you didn’t. Over time, it gets fuzzy whether it was a good or a bad day. But if there’s something you made, it stands on its own.

When It Goes Wrong

It’ll happen. Despair and work from the depths of your being go hand-in-hand. From time-to-time. What can you do?

The stark option is to quit, stop working. Do something else with your free time. It’s an easier way, at least at first. The itch will be there at the back of your consciousness unless you channel it into another pursuit of making things.

The obvious answer someone with a blog writing about creation and art will say is that you have to keep working. It’s obvious because the idea surrounds us, culturally. I’m a big fan of “JUST DO IT™” as it applies to life in general, don’t get me wrong. But try something else.

Stop.

Not forever. Just for now. Look at everything you’ve done, and everything you want to do outside your routine. Breathe deeply, steadily. Try to imagine you aren’t attached to any outcome. Remember that you’re just doing the work and the process is your discipline. Discipline has its own benefits, creation has its own benefits, regardless of how bad it is, or how wonderful it is.

Then start working again. Just do it.

Rejecting the Coast, Pt. 1: Green

“We were talking about heroes,” said Lynn. She was still standing in the water, small waves oscillating into her legs, making her sway every few seconds. Hakim didn’t look at her. He stared ahead, at the horizon, an imaginary line where sea met sky. The infinite, transparent above and the deep unknown below.

“I thought this would be the catalyst for me, I thought it’d be where I did my work and played with my friends. It doesn’t feel like a place for me, any more. Maybe it’s too big and I need something small to figure things out from. Maybe I can only figure out those answers away from here.”

She went on. “My favorite ones were all ordinary people who felt something. Maybe they’d always felt it. They didn’t necessarily want to answer the call, they just had to.”

“So, this makes you a hero?” He was smiling just a little as he said it.

She grinned, but then stood up straight in the water. “Yes,” she said. “You’re damn right it does.”

They laughed, and looked at each other, and walked back out of the water.

The Wars of Stars

There’s something magnetic about a richly detailed universe, full of adventure and magic. And history. After 40 years, George Lucas’s original gift to geekdom has no end of stories, art, technical specs, and lore attached, both in- and out-of-canon. So, yeah, no shit—why point out the obvious?

Maybe to say you never know how your ideas are going to be received, and sometimes they take over the zeitgeist. That is a tantalizing possibility, but it’s also a pretty long shot. I’m thinking past that, however.

There’s nothing obvious about the bare idea. It’s even silly in many respects: an advanced technological society of humans (and non-) “a long time ago,” and “far, far away” doesn’t make much sense, biologically, without much hand-waving. Never mind that the title has only the vaguest oblique connection to the story. That some people have figured out a way to have magic powers is a stretch further. But it wasn’t just the idea that mattered. It isn’t now your ideas that matter. Ideas are a dime a dozen, or cheaper than that. What makes possible the capturing of an audience’s imagination is the execution, the crafting, the details. It’s the seed versus the spreading tree.

Unless your ideas take over your consciousness, fill up your world view, and become another universe, they don’t even have the chance.

It doesn’t have to be big, some seeds are a dandelion, and some are baobabs. It can be a glimpse or an epic. Either way, plant that thing and cultivate.

Quick Work

Working to deadlines is often necessary. Time is the one luxury we can’t invoke more of with greater resources, it just gets reallocated.

But, as in every other aspect of creating that requires shoving other things and obligations aside in order to do the work, even a short time is better than none. Here’s where the habit comes in: it takes over when stress and lack of motivation are high.

And, sometimes, we can only produce a small amount of something. Some times are filled with despair and uncertainty. We can only trust that these are transitory. Everything passes by. What might make a difference is that it’s rare something has to be finished in one day. Mostly, work is done in stages, building on things that were done on previous days.

We trust that the pile we’re throwing today’s work upon is going to look better, eventually. It isn’t about today, nor tomorrow. And that holds true even during times we feel good about the shovelful we’ve made in any one day. When there’s flow and inspiration and a sense of insight, it’s still only a passing day’s work to throw on the heap, and it’s little different whether it’s hours’ worth or a few minutes. You won’t be able to tell when you got a little done or a lot, it’s still one big, lumpy pile of work. Consistency is always better. And the rest is editing.

Knowing It When You See It

What’s bad writing? It came up after I saw quite a lot of comments about the upcoming Ready Player One movie. I said at the time to a couple other Generation X geek friends that I was liking the book, but also that I felt it impossible to separate my assessment of its quality from the onslaught of nostalgia porn. Every reference didn’t resonate with good memories, but enough of them did that the rest just helped keep me in the time period. Which, as those who lived through it (specifically, the 1980s) can attest, was often a scary, chaotic whirl, musically, fashion-wise, and politically. I was at least half-sure we’d immolated in a fiery holocaust of hastily-lobbed ICBMs at any moment. My feeling didn’t change after I’d finished, either—I liked it, but was it good, or just pushing my vanished adolescent buttons?

And it’s very, very hard to define “bad writing” objectively, without using specific works upon which one has ground one’s axe in the definition. As a friend said, “maybe it’s like obscenity.” You just know it when you see it. It’s necessarily vague and subjective, because we like such different things about various mediums. Beyond the obvious, like grammar and typos/spelling, there’s a lot of room for style and being idiosyncratic. Analysis ranges widely. Some think abstract painting is abominable trash, others think it’s more essentially artistic than any other style.

Applied to our own work, sometimes we worry about people trashing it, dismissing it. If we’ve worked honestly, with a goal of being our most essential selves, I believe it’s our truest expression, and what we should strive for. If what you’re offering is different than most or all others, there’s an audience for it who likes the thing you’re doing and  possibly you, as well. It’s just a matter of finding the right means of exposure, having persistence, and some luck after that. Or, sometimes if you’re doing a thing lots of others are, if you’re a different enough personality, you draw them by being who you are.

What do you get out of the artists, writers, and musicians you follow? How much is really cool evaluation of its worth and how much because you just like the way their things are made? Or, simply, the people doing it?