I’ve called this piece Number Three (for obvious reasons).
I wanted to play on the whole third child thing by using my wife’s preggo silhouette as the 3. That led to adding in the other kids, and then I felt left out so I added myself to it.
These three process shots, and the final image, show you some of my process. Redrawing, value studies and colour palette have become my standard for working, and usually come out successfully (it’s all relative).
Also – OMG!!!! NUMBER THREE!!!!!! I am so freaking excited and in love and happy-happy-happy. Life is amazing. 🙂 (Coming September 2018 – what is it about us and September? I’m the only one who wasn’t born in September!)
Every artist faces it. That elusive idea disappears, even for the most disciplined, practiced creative. Then what?
It’s impossible to think that a human being can sit everyday and create, pushing beyond the day before, every single day.
I have seasons – we all do. Seasons of writing, seasons of exploring and experimenting, seasons of making and refining, and seasons of letting ideas fester and pester.
If you were too look through conversations with my critique partner, you’d see surges of messages with process photos and questions and “Can you focus on XYZ while critiquing? I am really thinking that my (fill in the skill) is improving/needs work/help because I don’t know what the heck is going on and I think I might be the worst artist ever!” Followed by, “AM I EVEN AN ARTIST?” (You’ve thought it too – I know you have!) And then, you’d see stretches of time where nothing seems to be happening. Maybe we share some photos of art we like from other people, or that we are feeling a bit jealous of. Maybe we are just talking about our day or our kids, or work, or whatever – but it’s guaranteed that these conversations flip into something to do with art, and then we’re back on the hamster wheel again, chasing our dreams of working full time as artists. Of course, we work our butts off, but there are always going to be seasons of rest, reflection, and idea gathering.
I don’t like to get very comfortable in that.
In fact, if it’s been a week and I haven’t drawn, painted or written, I start to panic. Lately, if I don’t do one of those things every day (sometimes twice a day), I start to panic. This is the addiction of creativity. Can you relate?
So when I feel I’m out of ideas, lately I’ve been heading to Pinterest.
I do a search for something simple. It’s usually: “Faces.” Or, “Kid’s Faces.” If there’s something I want to be working on, but I can’t seem to figure out, I’ll search for something about that. For example, “Gypsy Kids.”
And then I am blasted with gorgeous photographs, so filled up with character that I set right to work sketching. I aim to fill a page with faces, not spending too long on any of them. I do my best to work directly from the screen into my sketchbook, filtering it into my preferred illustration style.
There are times I look through photos from my Facebook friends, too. Some of their kids are too hilarious and the perfect jumping off point for my sketch practice.
My end game here is to just be drawing. To be in the art. To not sit and stare and feel like an unproductive failure. Of course, there are times when sitting and staring is perfectly acceptable. But lately, I need a product to push me forward.
In progress …
The final render of Library Girl (as I am currently calling her).
The best part of this quick sketching is that there are the odd sketches which make their way into my subconscious, and I find myself thinking about them throughout the day. This turns into wonders, which turns into more sketching, and often times writing.
You can find me in the studio most mornings, from 5-6am, with a coffee and a candle and a hand toiling away on something that is just for me – my passion projects. And then, you can usually find me here at night, working on something for a client or for a big project or for my passion projects, when they just won’t let one hour a day be enough. (Side note: If you don’t know me, or anything about me, then you should know that I am a full time elementary school teacher and dad of 2! Read about my work habits here.)
This is discipline. This is practice, habit and routine.
What do you do when inspiration is lost? You keep going. (But … what do YOU do?)
How’s it going? I hope you’ve had a restful summer and that the elves let you get some sleep. I will be leaving you some treats by the stockings, assuming the dogs don’t get to them. I hope your travels are safe and that you don’t run into any issues, like kids who are awake or overprotective cats, or fire marshals claiming that sliding down a chimney is against code.
This year for Christmas, I would love some tools to help me with my writing. More specifically, I would like:
A lot more time. I know I talk about stealing time and finding time and getting up early, but what I wouldn’t give for a few hours during the normal daytime to just get things written down.
A vision of the novel from the tail-end – could I just skip that whole revision stage?
An agent who gets me and all of my vision, who wishes to represent an author who writes picture books and middle grade novels, and who makes art for his own work and for others.
A steady paycheck while writing and making art, without having to head off to a full time job every single day.
That old detached garage refinished into the finest, shabbiest-chicest studio and writing space ever. At least heated and mouse-free.
A tribe. A real-life, in the flesh, meet up with me and keep up with me, kind of tribe.
A quicker computer. I am so impatient.
More time to sit and watch and play with my family. This is where the inspiration lives. And the magic and the joy.
I suppose you could bring me all of that, but what would I do with it? Sure, a quicker computer would be great, but when would I be reminded to slow down?
A steady paycheck – I have that, though I go off to work, but in that space lies so many ideas and stories that work their way into my writing and art. I’d better keep that job.
More time? I’ll probably just get roped into bringing MORE ideas to life, and then I will be asking for even MORE time. Greed leads to greed, after all.
Vision from the tail-end? I think I’d miss the magic and the journey. I care more about the process, anyway. It is more fun to be in a project, rather than trying to get it started.
More quiet? I’ve got enough of it. Maybe I need more noise.
An agent who gets all of my vision? I’m working on it. If you brought the agent, I’d be worried that they were only doing you a favour, instead of working with me for me and my vision.
The renovated studio would be awfully nice, but I already have a great space. I can wait for that one.
A tribe would be great, but right now I have all the tribe I need in my online critique friends and creative groups. I’m sure I’ll get there.
More time to sit and watch and play with my family – okay, you can bring me that.
Thanks, Santa – bring me that time with the family and I’ll have all I need.
PS: Tell Rudolph I said hi, and I am greatly concerned that his reindeer friends are using him for his nose.
I’m always thinking about, and talking about, “staying the art.” This is my tried and true method for keeping the gremlins at bay and my soul full.
There are ebbs and flows with art, as with anything, and so it is with the holiday season. It is so, so, so easy to say “Fugheddaboutit!” – drop the pencils and pens and markers and paintbrushes and notebooks and ideas, and just take in the holidays for all of their wonder.
But then … that’s too difficult.
It’s too difficult to let those things go without losing momentum, calling forth the wolves of fear and the creativity-killing gremlins. Lord knows, I am busy and it would be very easy to sleep in until 6am in order to catch up on lost sleep, to focus my time solely on family gatherings and food and fun, to channel all of my energy into these last two weeks at work before a two week vacation, and to say “Hey, I get 2 weeks off, so I will just MEGA MAKE then!”
But if I just stop because of those reasons?
I’ll be super sad
I’ll be very easily irritated (just ask my wife)
I’ll have a tired soul
The ideas bursting in my head that can’t come forth in the tangible world will make me feel excited, then sad, then mad, then guilty, then lost and uninspired
So it isn’t worth it to drop everything, but I also know that I can’t continue to work at the same pace as I do the rest of the year, without losing my mind. And I am getting close … this morning on the way to school, I looked at the passenger seat and noticed my drill sitting there. Why did I bring a drill to school?! Losing. It.
It’s now about a shift in perspective.
I am doing the following in order to feel successful, to feel growth, to honour my need and desire to create, and to stay in the art while stepping back a bit:
I’ve focused my “to do” list on things that will bring me creative freedom: exploration, the things that have been tugging at my heart but I haven’t been fitting in (for me, right now, that is a few traditionally painted pieces over the prints I’ve been making for my shop, commissions and some writing/illustrating passion projects)
Continue to carve out some time. It just may be less. Be okay with that. Last week, I worked from 5am-6am on my picture book dummy, and then at night, I worked on a commission. I was filling every little space with making art, and by the end of the week, I was exhausted. This week and next, I’m finding that time, acknowledging it, and then only choosing to fill it with art for some of the time. I need to remember to breathe.
Get lost. Light a candle and play some great music. I love discovering new music with Youtube’s autoplay – I start with something that I like and a few songs in I am usually discovering something new. With the candle on the table, I’m breathing and experiencing the moment. It is a bit of a ritual, and I love getting lost in those moments.
I’ve given myself permission to explore and fail. I always have this in the back of my mind, but I am REALLY focused on it right now. Frankly, I think I am trying to fail and rule out what isn’t working for me. While I’m painting, I keep saying to myself, “Self, if this sucks, just don’t show anyone. If this is a failure, you can paint over it.” I’m trying to remind my deepest self that it is NOT wasting time to make failed art – just making it is a success.
I’m journalling. I always WANT to journal and talk about it, but I have yet to make this practice stick. I usually don’t know what to say or write about, and feel awkward telling things to myself, so instead I have recently been making a page per week that I add to over time. I ask myself a question and I look for answers in my every day experiences. Which brings me to the next point, because this has been the focus of my journalling …
These last couple of weeks – which, by the way, lead up to me realizing that it was
time to step back and just make – I’ve been intentionally seeking out beauty. The little things. THAT is inspiring – when you notice the nuance of the light or the way the snow lilts in the air; the inflection of a two year old’s voice or the whole-body-smile of a ten week old human being. Finding this beauty will shift perspectives, big time.
I don’t have a massive list of projects or goals. My list is more about being in the art, making stuff, and being present. Listening. It’s about taking some time to think about it, without a big product at the end. In essence, this is what all making is about, but of course, at some point we want to have something to show for our process. The next two weeks, though, aren’t about product, but are most certainly about process.
Find some little fun projects that relate to the holidays. My wife and I have, for the last ten years, been making each other an ornament for Christmas. We go to the art store and we each have 5 minutes and $10, and we secretly race around the store looking for what we need and stealthily purchase the materials, then make-make-make in our alone time and give the gift on Christmas Eve. This fun activity keeps me thinking creatively, but isn’t about something I will post or share or sell.
Make something with someone else – like a kid. I painted last night with my 2 year old, and he mostly directed me. We painted on a hardboard canvas with watercolor over crayon scribbled, and then he suggested that we add salt. The results were really quite pretty, and since I was making with him, there was no pressure – it was just about being together. But, my soul was filled.
My favourite collaborator.
Our combined effort to make something.
In order to stay creative and in the art over the busy holidays, we need to focus on the art – not on skills, not on techniques, not even on the finished thing that we made, but simply being in the moment, being in the art, and being a creator.
I’ve often thought about what the ultimate strategy for creating might be – you know, like it is some magic bit of alchemy. I thought that knowing this secret would mean I could just make great stuff without even trying.
I thought, if I tell everyone I’m an artist and a writer, then when I finally sit down to make said art and words, they will just flow.
But it’s not a faucet. It takes work.
I’ll let you in on THE biggest, best-kept, hiding-in-plain-sight secret to it all.
Just show up. When you show up, you’re not really just showing up. If you do it regularly enough, it becomes a practice, and that takes discipline, and that is what happily creating is all about.
You show up. You arrive with an intention: to create. Whether it is for five minutes, half an hour, an hour, or if you have the luxury of a half day (or, gasp, a day?!): you arrive intentionally and you create.
And then you do it again.
Until you can proudly, confidently say: I am creative. I make things. I make things up. I tell stories, I sing songs, I make the world beautiful and thoughtful.
Want more strategies to increase and improve your creative time? Check out these other posts:
I stand for kindness, respect, love, hope, and kindness. Above all else – above math concepts and spelling, above scores on standardized testing – I stand for these things.
I stand with all indigenous people, muslims, LGBTQ, immigrants, alter-abled, women, the disenfranchised, refugees, all people of colour, veterans, survivors, and anyone feeling alone and scared.
If you would like to join in, then create your own and share it for free with the hashtag #artistsforlove. You don’t even need to be an artist. You can just be someone who feels called to stand with the world, and all of the people who live within it.
Stolen Time is probably the only way to get stuff done if you are busy – busy at work, living a full family life, busy with a million hobbies. Because that is how we do.
Stealing time has been my only strategy to get creative work done. It forces me to be efficient, to spend time on the projects that matter to my heart and soul, and to focus on doing things that I truly, desperately want to do.
Here is how I do it:
I check blog data and share promo stuff when I get into the car, before I put on a Podcast for the drive to/from work. This takes me about 2 minutes and then it’s done. I also do this during lunch breaks, while in waiting rooms, or any other moment that seems too long sit and twiddle my thumbs, but too short (and not the right spot) to get into something big. As I write this, in fact, I am waiting for my students to come in; the gap between when everything is prepped and the bell ringing (about 2 minutes – this post has taken me five different sessions of stolen time, including prolonged bathroom visits, waiting time, and student arrival time).
I jot ideas for new blogs in my drafts section, on my phone app for WordPress – this saves me a lot of think-time when I sit to write, and I can do it in any stolen moment I can find.
I schedule blog posts, Facebook posts and prepare Instagram posts in my camera roll, so that I am not needing to stop and do it throughout the day. You know, having a full time job means you probably shouldn’t be doing that all day long.
I sketch on my lunches (when I can), in the morning while I eat breakfast or before anyone else is up, and in the few quiet moments of a longer-than-expected nap that a kid is having. I try to keep sketch work to medium amounts of time, unless I’m in a sketching season. It’s all very fluid.
I keep a sketchbook nearby so I can jot down ideas and rough thumbnails for when they come. Otherwise, I don’t remember. This helps with momentum, and motivates me to follow up during a bigger chunk of time. I find notebooks are too limiting for my creativity these days, but I keep those around too, for when my ideas become more formal and I want to scratch out sample lines and proes by hand.
I don’t make excuses. I know that if I can sit and watch six episodes of The Gilmore Girls on Friday night, I can steal some of that time and get something done. It might be while I watch, or I might turn off the TV after only two episodes. But no excuses – if I don’t get something done because I was vegging out, then that’s what I did. I realize this tip isn’t in particular about stealing time, but the more time we spend telling stories, the less time we spend making. So – no more stories.
I get up earlier. More on HOW to do this in a future post, but I have found getting up 30-60 minutes earlier than usual (and before everyone else), EVERY DAY, has made my creative work flow, feel more productive, feel more sacred. I am stealing this time from my Sleeping Self, and as a non-morning person, I am so happy that I do this every single day.
I go to bed later. Okay, I am not talking about staying up til midnight if you have to get up at 5. I’m talking about taking the last 30-60 minutes of your normal evening and using that time for something other than TV, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, or whatever else, and use it for good. Read. Sketch. Write. Breathe. But steal that time back.
Stealing time should not include stealing time from family, relationships and yourself. I need to give my whole self to my kids and my wife. I need to give myself a break sometimes. I need to binge-watch GG, mindlessly scroll through Facebook and see what’s up on Twitter. Just not all the time. And again, stealing time doesn’t mean “My kid is playing over there so I can write a blog post while he plays because he isn’t talking to me right now.”
Stolen time has been when my greatest, weirdest, most exciting ideas have surfaced. I highly encourage you to steal a bit of time, too.
How do you steal time? Let me know in the comments, by email or on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter!
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