Getting On Task With A Chalkboard

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This post is part “How-To” and part “Creative Life Lessons.”
I had been talking about putting this chalkboard up since my studio-office was in the last studio-office (which is now our son’s room). I have been talking about ACTUALLY doing it since the summer, and even went so far as to buy the paint I’d need in September.

But you know – life happens. I’ve been writing and making art and raising kids and being a teacher, and somehow the chalkboard just never got up onto the wall.

Until it did. And now – I can’t believe I ever waited, or didn’t have it!

Putting it together was very simple and straightforward. These are the steps I followed:

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  1. Randomly block off a chunk of wall with masking tape, and judge it by eye, or as my
    wife calls it, “Patrick-style measuring.” Note: for the purpose of having the wood ready before hand, you may wish to actually measure it all first. I was not that well organized, and sort of lucked out that it even worked.
  2. Paint 2-3 coats of chalk paint. The beauty behind chalk paint is that it dries very quickly, so I was able to do all of the coats I needed in one night, and each coat only took about 5 minutes to put up onto the wall. The other beautiful thing is that since it will soon be marked up with chalk, the odd line of overlapping paint really does not matter.16996038_10101693858602301_1812734655181382082_n
  3. Let it dry overnight.
  4. Find some scrap wood. Okay, you may want to be more prepared than I was. I happened to have just enough pieces of 1x4x8 hanging around in the garage, leftover from another project. This stuff is rough, and I like that about it. It’s not meant to beautifully finish anything, but with the right stain, and in the right room, it’s perfect. It also costs a few dollars a piece at almost any lumber supplier or hardware store.
  5. 16939205_10101693858517471_4045315626190068656_nMeasure the wood to size and cut. I had measured the size that I’d painted, and then cut according to that. I opted not to worry about angling the corners. I prefer the blocked look.
  6. Stain the wood. I used Special Walnut from Minwax. It is my all time favourite stain – we use it for almost every project. It’s light, but brings out the rich darks in the wood, and is rustic without being overbearing. It’s like a just-right plaid shirt on a fall day.
  7. I used a nail gun to attach it to the wall – it’s the easiest way to do it, and you don’t need to worry about finding studs! But if you don’t have a nail gun accessible, you could glue (use construction adhesive), or screw, or nail it to the wall.
  8. This is maybe the most important step: cover your new board in chalk! I mean rub the chalk all over it – leave no space untouched. When you’ve done this, wash it off with a damp cloth. This allows the new chalk paint to take the chalk and not leave any “burns” – a burn with chalk is when your first drawing, doodle, mark, words, whatever – the first things you put on the board are permanently there, even after you wash it off. It’s a terrible ghost that will haunt you forever, so be sure to cover and wash.
  9. Use it.

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I’m using my chalkboard to help me with two specific areas of my work right now: my weekly accountability list, and my plotting for the second half of a novel I am working on. In the future, it may also be home to lists of clients and projects commissioned, orders made on prints, important dates, general ideas, picture book developments, and whatever else I need it for.

I love this board because of its flexibility, and because it brings importance to my ongoing work. It is a way of exploring ideas without having to save a file on a computer or track a piece of paper, and because it washes off so easily, there is a low commitment level. If I hate it, I can change it without any sweat.

I’m finding that seeing this when I walk into the space is inspiration in itself. There is a certain beauty in creative scratches on a chalkboard; in the lists and wonders and projects-in-motion. It keeps me on-task and motivated, inspired and excited. It feels importance because of its size, too.16999163_10101693858357791_7465253261281917625_n

This is really the next phase of my belief in having work ready to jump into at any time. I tend to keep lists on my phone and in a notebook on my desk, as well as in ongoing message and email format between myself and my critique partner, but this is in my face. I can’t lose it; it is the first thing I look at when I walk into the room.

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How To Get Organized (For Creatives)

I’m a highly organized and structured person. I’m also (even more) highly creative, abstract in thinking, and inspired every few minutes. I have millions – no, billions – of ideas, and I see things in pictures when I imagine them. My two year old walks around declaring, “I HAVE AN IDEA!” – I am much like him. I do the same thing. My wife even promised to listen to all of my ideas in her wedding vows.

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My latest acrylic piece, Educating The Heart.

These two sides of my brain (or maybe it’s my personality?) don’t always get along, but when they work together, future versions of myself are thankful.

As Creatives, having organization systems in place are really the only way to stay on track. Realistically, I can only complete so many projects in any given amount of time. I’m a full time teacher, a fuller time parent and husband, and I no longer have the ability to forget about sleeping. When ideas and inspiration hit, I need some way of tracking all of this so that I can actually follow through on the better ideas.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve got it figured out. I don’t. But Past Patrick has definitely found some ways of helping out Present and Future Patricks.

Here are my top ten tips for getting, and staying organized, creatively:

  1. Use email. Don’t delete emails to yourself! I often begin looking in my email for something that I am vaguely aware of making. I often find an image or word file that I sent to myself, and when I fall out of control on keeping up with my submission tracking for books, I check my emails (because I never delete any) for dates and notes.
  2. Start using a cloud-based storage system for creative work. I love Google Drive. It’s easy, I can drag and drop and I can access it anywhere. This means, if I find 10 minutes that I steal on my lunch at work, I can open it up and work. It means I can organize everything into files that work for me and not only do that when I’m at my personal computer.

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    “I Can & I Will” – available in my shop now!
  3. Organize as you go. It’s a pain sometimes, yes, but future you will be grateful. You might say, “Okay, this manuscript is for a picture book … it will be the first thing I put in a Picture Book Manuscripts In Progress folder.” Then, begin placing all of those types of manuscripts in that file. Put a sticky note on your computer/desk/wall/wherever you work most, so that you can recall where on earth did I save that stuff? The more you use it, the more likely it is to become a habit.I’m not an expert – my files are generally pretty wild. But I’ve been slowly working at this.

    I decided to start with my 2016 Writing Files. I organized my Google Drive by making a folder called “Writing” (I know, I know, we all have 18 of those). Then, inside I had been just popping in every new version of every manuscript, it was loaded with picture book dummies and submission tracking pages and idea lists. I organized it by creating subfolders: Works in Progress, and within that, “Middle Grade,” “Young Adult,” and “Picture Books”; I also created subfolders called “Finished Manuscripts” and within that subfolder, another folder for each completed manuscript, with everything required for submitting.

    The main idea was to clean up the main folder so that when I click into, I’m not overwhelmed and/or more importantly distracted by all of the files I’m working on!

  4. Make a gosh darned list. PRINT IT OUT. And keep an electronic copy updated. I don’t do this every day. In fact, it was August when I printed out my “master list” of current picture book ideas that are writeable/publishable (by my standards). I’ve been scribbling notes and ideas on and around it since then. I recently opened the electronic file and updated it. I’ve reprinted and now I will work from there. Because I saved it in a logical spot – on my Google Drive, in the Writing folder, in the subfolder “Works in Progress”, I will be able to find it more easily. If I can’t find it later, I can use the search option – because Google Drive syncs with my desktop app, and it is easy to search just about anywhere.(Note: Google is not paying me to amp up their Drive app. I just love it. Google has way better reach than I do!)
  5. Keep one “to do” notebook near your workspace. I tend to jot ideas and notes anywhere and everywhere. I try to jot those down in my To Do notebook, so that when I’m stuck or uninspired, I can just flip through the book.
  6. how-to-get-organized-for-creatives-patrick-guindon-art-2Be intentional. Name your files something you’ll remember; something that is explicit and maybe even long, using descriptive words that you know you will probably think of to describe the project. “MGWIP” is not a great file name for your untitled middle grade work in progress. “Middle Grade WIP – MG WIP – Boy Gets Lost In Woods” might be better (uh, if it’s about that).Also be intentional with your time. See tip #8.
  7. Sync everything to the same email account. If you’re going to use gmail, then when emailing yourself, email to that account. Sync your notes in your phone to that email. Sync your calendars so that you can schedule for yourself, and the reminder will show up everywhere. It simply takes a lot of work out of your searches.
  8. Take the time. It means that sometimes, you have to set aside 30 minutes to go through files. It also means that you need to make a decision about what you’re going to do and when. Sometimes, we can leave it to inspiration and that “pull” to a certain project – but when you’ve got lots of projects on the go, you need to have a plan. Maybe you wake up early to get more time in, or maybe you schedule out a few nights a week. You have to do what works for you, but you also have to do the work.
  9. Have a partner. This is someone who will hold you accountable. For me, it’s my art critique partner. In November, we were both feeling overwhelmed with all the things we WANTED to do, but were never getting to. We agreed to email rather than message a weekly to-do list. We send this on Sundays, usually, and then at the end of the week, we also send a little reflection. This is where we talk about how we did and how we’re feeling about it. Did we take on too much? Too little? We also make a conscious effort to keep the stories out of it. No excuses – we either did the work, or we didn’t.We decided to email because we regularly are in contact through messaging. It would be impossible to find the list at the end of the week, and there is something about the not-immediate pace of email that pushes us to pause, think, and reflect more carefully.
  10. Change. When your system isn’t working – when you can’t find something, or anything; when you are constantly overwhelmed; when you have nothing to show for a month of work – then it is time to change your system.

 

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Finding Your Style

Call it style or call it your look or the feel or whatever you want – we are talking about Voice. Writing or art, it doesn’t matter.


Your voice is the bit of you that is scientifically undetectable, until you have found it. It’s the little curls of lines and the way you turn a phrase. It grows and shifts and evolves over time. It’s the innate YOUness that radiates through your work.

To find out what your voice is:

1. Take a selection of the pieces (words or art) you just love from the last few years and look at them together.

2. Ask: Which are the ones I’m proud of? Which excite me?

3. Look for: commonalities between 3-4 pieces (or more – you’re looking for a pattern, be it color or line work or how that line curves, or a general vibe that you can’t name but you can see; you’re looking for how you weave a sentence together and how that works with its neighbours to become a paragraph and a page or a chapter; you’re looking for how you whittle words stylistically and when it works and when it doesn’t).

4. Consider: what don’t I like and how do I address that? Remember to give it some breathing room: do not analyze the thing you made or wrote last night.

5. Forget it all and just keep working. Your youness can’t be nailed down and it shouldn’t be caged. You need to keep working and it will show itself more and more. The issue is when you focus on style or voice over the practice of writing. Just make and let the voice rise up.

6. When you have stopped trying to “find your style”, your style will somehow find you. 

7. Enjoy the process. 

8. Repeat every few months or years. 

9. Remember to show up.

The Ultimate Secret To Creativity

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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.

Show up.

That’s it.

drawplaywriteJust 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.

And 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.

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Want more strategies to increase and improve your creative time? Check out these other posts:

Create To Create

How (& Why) I Became a Morning Person

Making Art: On Stolen Time

Exploring & Unlearning – Making Art Like a Toddler

Don’t forget to check out my new Etsy shop, too! There are 10 different prints, with more coming soon!

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Making Art: On Stolen Time

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These canvasses were prepped in 5-10 minute chunks of time that I found during the kid’s naps, after their bedtime, and while I was waiting for my computer to update itself. Now they are ready when it is time for the actual work of painting.

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.
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This wolf was designed in 5 minute chunks of crazy sketching over a few months. He isn’t the final version, but is a closer render to the “final” one. 5 minutes here and there add up, and they add up fast.
  • 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.
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I did the wolf, after the sketches, in Photoshop. I started by opening and saving a new file. Another time, I sketched in the form. Another time, I worked on different fur treatements. It took about 5-6 different “stolen time” sittings to move the sketches to the (sort of) final version.
  • 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!

Did you know that I’m on Instagram? I’m also on Facebook and have a website – you can even sign up for my newsletter there! You can email me at patrick@patrickg.ca. Please like, follow and share my posts if you’re feeling them, and have a creative day!

New Stuff I Want To Tell You About!

NEW STUFF! I am writing this blog today to tell you about some new/recent stuff!

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Photo by Valerie Miles.

New Baby: Magnus joined our family at the end of September! He’s a beautiful baby boy and is keeping us busy!

New Instagram: I’m on Instagram! Maybe you already know and maybe you don’t – but a few weeks ago I created an Instagram account for my creative work. You can follow me there @patrickguindonart.

New business cards: I am SO EXCITED about these! They’re sort of like trading cards – I have five different designs for the fronts, and the backs are all the same. They are thick and beautiful. I’ll be including these with purchases and giving them away at events, shows, and to people who love art and need to get in touch with me.

I got them at Moo.com. You can get some there with a DISCOUNT ($15 off the first order!) if you let me refer you. Will you let me refer you? Click here.

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New stickers:
So, very soon I am going to start printing prints and selling them in my currently-empty Easy shop (hey, I’ve got a new baby, give me a month!) I got some new stickers, also from Moo, to stick on the prints before I ship them. THEY ARE SO AWESOME, but my 2 year old son did not think they were awesome. He said, “NO, DADDY! NO!” and shoved them away. I guess in his world, stickers are supposed to feature rabbits and squirrels, and NOT his dad.

New hope: I’m feeling blissfully hopeful these days. Maybe it’s the early mornings (also

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This print will be available in my Etsy shop very soon! Subscribe to the blog & my newsletter to find out when everything opens up and the sales start!

new), maybe it’s the amount of creating that I am squeezing into my jam-packed days, or maybe it is because I have finally accepted myself wholly as a Creator. As a Maker. Whatever the reason, I’m feeling hopeful and joyful and productive and a good-tired that means I’m filling my day with love and purpose and passion. And I want you to be part of that journey! If you haven’t subscribed to my blog, please click the link on the side to get an email update! You can also subscribe to my newsletter at http://www.patrickg.ca, and while you’re there you can check out my illustration portfolio, process photos, and see what my current favourite books are. I’m also on Facebook daily! Follow me there, too!

And send me a message or an email and tell me what you think. If you’re a Creative too, or a Creative Parent, or a Fan, or an Anyone who GETS me and what I’m doing, then send me a note and let’s be friends! We all need a Tribe.

Being a Growing Person: On Creative Gremlins & Staying In The Art

It can be hard to be a Growing Person in this world.

We think of people in terms of what they present; in terms of their products and actions in snapshots of time. We look at a piece of art and think, “This is what the artist makes.” We read a type of writing and think, “This is what the writer writes.”

These are but minute pieces of an ever-growing, ever-changing puzzle.

It becomes overwhelming sometimes: “I must find my style, my voice – and stick to it!”

I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t need to stick to anything. I need to create.

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A Growing Person respects the storm of creativity – for all of its beauty and all of the mess. On the other side of the storm lies something amazing.

This is why I bother, isn’t it? To explore expression, to explore my mind, to wonder and experiment.

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A Growing Person says: “I’m here! I’m THIS. But I can change, and I will grow. Watch my journey!”

Yet, this pressure appears, and I don’t know where it comes from. Pretend timelines, a race against myself: complete this manuscript by March, or you’ll never be published! If you don’t get it submitted in TWO WEEKS, you can kiss a career as an author-illustrator goodbye. Meanwhile, I know the work isn’t ready, and I never make the deadline because it was based on nothing but a whim; it was based on a panicked part of my brain that had a nasty little gremlin whispering to it.

Oh, those gremlins are the worst. This is okay … but have you seen THAT writers work? You think this is decent? Come on, don’t be ridiculous. You suck. You are the worst. No one ever says anything because they don’t want to make you sad, but me? I don’t care! You. Suck. Stop making art! Stop writing! The world doesn’t need your ideas. 

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A Growing Person’s art can shift and flux. This art isn’t what I’m making right NOW – but it’s a piece of my story.

But as a Growing Person, I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing my passions. I’ve committed to making things, for no bigger purpose than creation itself. Do I want a career in it? Absolutely! But, as a Growing Person, I know that growth takes time, effort and practice. I know that I need to keep working.

For me, staying in the art works. This means that I am actively making stuff (up) on an almost daily basis. When I turn that tap on, and the work begins flowing more quickly over time, it becomes easier to say to my gremlins: “Shut the heck up and leave me alone – I’m MAKING stuff over here! Some of it sucks and some of it doesn’t, so go bug someone else!” Of course, they are MY gremlins and they live in my brain with Fear. Don’t get me started on that fickle monster.

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The process is messy. The results? Beautiful.

When I stay in the art, I am okay. I can approach my work from a Growing Artist/Writer perspective. I can say, “Hey, this isn’t the best, but this part is good and I could adjust that part by doing this.” When I’m out of the art? “This blows.”

I try to stay in the art by writing, sketching, and reflecting DAILY. I’ve recently started getting up earlier than everyone else in the house in order to give myself a dedicated 30-60 minutes of time to make. The stakes are low – this time is for me. I don’t have a deadline, I don’t have to tell anyone what I made, and I don’t have to do anything but show up and work.

This seems to keep the Gremlins, and Fear, a little bit quieter. It makes it easier to be a Growing Person who lives in a world of products, when I know that the most important part of the Art is the process.

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A Growing Person reflects & honours their history.

(Note: I talked about staying In The Art in my November Newsletter. Didn’t get your copy? You can subscribe to my newsletter by visiting my website: www.patrickg.ca)

Did you know that I’m on Instagram? I’m also on Facebook and have a website! You can email at patrick@patrickg.ca. Please like, follow and share my posts if you’re feeling them, and have a creative day!