In the above photo, my friend, Chris, is playing a little Star Wars Battle Pod. Video games are a prime source these days for feeling accomplished—provided we have some sense of progression in skills and scores.
Making art has it built in. I just finished editing the 100th episode of my show (plug: available on Tunes and at itsjustcalledtwobrothers.com) and it seems impossible we produced even this simple podcast for a hundred straight weeks. But most of the things we make come embedded with some sense of accomplishment. This makes us proud, confident, and capable.
It can also make us anxious, wondering if we can pull off a thing in the future, thinking we’re hacks, and that what we’ve made isn’t as good as the stuff we admire. The only solid advice I’ve taken to heart that seems to work for getting past too much of either good or bad feelings is to eschew both extremes and start working on the next thing.
It’s a Zen or Taoist approach, to be sure. It’s nice to feel the good things. But if we indulge in them, it stops the work or leads us to second guessing ourselves. Humility is helpful. If we care less that the things we made aren’t pleasing everyone, we can keep moving to the next piece. And when we feel proud of the things we’ve made, it’s better if we simply move on sooner rather than later and let that feeling motivate us to make more.
Sometimes is failure. Sometimes is success. Usually more the former than the latter, but such is creation, maybe?
But one success you can count on is doing the work. Skipping out a day here and there is sometimes just life intervening in your best laid plans. But when we get lazy, hoo boy. Guilt and depression are my punishments, whatever my justifications.
But work now is a gift to future me. And motivation to push past anxiety and get something worked on is easier if I can remember how it feels to not do it. We remind ourselves what it felt like the last time we neglected the work.
On especially rough days, we can begin the Rule of 5: tricking monkey mind by promising we’ll just do 5 minutes on a project. The trick is that it’s never just 5 minutes, you feel the familiar pull of creation and the bliss of flow just a short reach away. Bam, you’re making again.
That’s him, lying in wait for an unsuspecting leg to pass by. He’s a curious boy, natural for a cat, of course.
But he does something with his curiosity. It’s easy for us to have whims, to imagine just checking something out on impulse, and sometimes it’s the real world around us, but now and then it’s a creative idea. Easy to imagine doing it, harder to get to work.
But for the cat, everything is potentially play. The closet seems mysterious when someone opens it unexpectedly, and even though he’s been in there before, he starts a game of it: the tiny room is rife with possibility. There could be anything in there, you never know. It’s brave to walk in and explore it, somehow.
Try approaching that creative curiosity the same way. It’s a game, it’s mysterious. Maybe others think it’s just a piece of paper. For you, it could be anything.
Above is my contribution to Inktober for yesterday. It brought back the genuine pleasure of drawing from reference, near to drawing from life, which itself is near and dear to my heart, close to the core of my artistic center. Because even though I’m not so much an observational painter in general, it’s where I learned how it feels to find the zen place that envelops you in a stasis field of no time and facilitates the process.
This is very cool. Because once you know how to drop into that sensation, you can get back to it easier the more you practice it.
The downside is that you know when you aren’t there. That’s a bit of what’s happened with the daily blog: I kept putting it off until it was past bedtime and therefore easy to put aside.
So. Here’s a renewal marker. It’s easier to keep going than to restart.
Work upside down, work with your left hand, or your right if you’re a lefty—with your feet if ambidextrous—with your whole face.
Try things. Work outside. In a window. On the floor. Do it differently. Even if you still think you aren’t going anywhere with this weirdness, you are. Because you’re still working, and you can’t stop for long.
The photo above was taken during a D&D session at a friend’s place. I’d been rolling fair to terrible results, and this combo—a 20 to hit and 6 for damage—meant an automatic kill and success for a fight. I wanted to document it, because it’s the first time I can remember such a gaming success in many years, and it’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon.
But then, it is a success, and was a delight and thrill to experience. Had I not played because I might fail, I wouldn’t have felt it. That’s worth it to me.
Art is a game, in a lot of ways. It’s often described as play, as good fun, and there are any number of possibilities within a given set of rules. Losing isn’t so bad, it’s not the end of the world. You can always play again. But winning is exciting and inspiring, and the chance is always there.
Every so often, the thing you’re doing loses steam. Sometimes you can work through it: just keep going and hope it’ll turn out okay by the end. It usually does.
But not always. For those times when inspiration is tumbling out of the mouths of friends and colleagues alike, I like to keep tabs on the next thing I’d like to do, future projects, and continually feed that cycle with new work.
It sounds like an oversimplification, I know. But I feel like this simplistic method is pretty solidly apt. Keep a space at the back of your mind as a workshop for poking around with the next project(s), and always have an incoming feed of other works by people you admire.
This article on Quartzy reviews D. B. Dowd’s new book, Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice. The article makes much of the idea that drawing is a kind of learning, which is somewhat true, but limited, I’d argue.Instead, I think there’sgreatvalue in championing the idea of drawing as a tool for many aspects of life, and not just the province of artists and fumbled attempts to imitate the pros.
Near the beginning, it says drawingshould t be limited to the artists. But I’d say that misses the point, at least for me. Drawing is for all of us because to make art is human. We are all artists by nature. Most of us just lack refinement and practice in becoming connected to our creative cores and in utilizing various techniques of creation.
It’s well worth reading, and I hope it’s another bit of inspiration to start or keepworking on your thing.
One of the benefits of art school is your fellow students. They can easily become your peer group, or better yet, your collective. There’s a moment of opportunity when you meet a few other creators who have a connected aesthetic. If you’re lucky, you can parlay that into a shared movement. It’s a chance to get attention for what you do, based on a packageable meme of some kind. It’s the equivalent of a “school,” i.e., the Bauhaus or—if you’re feeling really generous—the Impressionists.
But even if you’re not trying to form a movement or project what you do as something important, it’s good to have a lot of eyes on your work at any given time. Your fellow artists and your friends are cheerleaders and supporters as well as critics and sounding boards. You’ll have a better idea of what connect with other people the more you share your work. And connection is what you’re after. Making work for yourself alone is fine, but resonance with others is what makes art deeply important for us all.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.