How to create anything (even if you don’t know where to begin)

The struggle to constantly create new things, is very real.

Do you ever find that you’re so much more inspired when you get out of your normal daily routine? I do. When I went to that conference in Berlin last year, my neurons were firing around in my brain like it was the fourth of July. I was inspired. I want to do more. I want to be better.

It’s all very subjective of course, how listening, talking and interacting with other people can have an impact on us. For me personally, it’s validating to talk to and discuss about an artist’s personal projects, and to see how it all comes together in their work. That’s what drives me. Learning about instructional design and how I can make learning better for my students – both online and offline – compels me to push myself out of my comfort zone.

Stepping out

When people struggle to write or draw, but never do, it’s because they don’t have enough input. They might not have read or seen anything new that day. Or they may not talked to anyone or seen the way others do things. They didn’t encounter people or situations that would help them form and connect ideas into something new. They might not have someone to discuss their ideas with, or to play around with.

So what happens then? Your brain and mind remains in a constant dormant state. There’s no doubt that it’s alive and well, doing all the things a brain is supposed to do; but it’s just going through the motions – until you can inject something new in it a little (whether by accident or on purpose). So how do you spur it into action? Or at the very least, make it tingle with excitement – even if just a little?

Sparking… things.

We don’t live in a vacuum.

We respond to things, to stimuli. Whether it’s touch, news, emotions, etc – all of it is stimuli. When you’re used to the things that you encounter daily, it becomes a part of your life, and your brain accepts it as a normal state of being. Imagine if every stimuli that you encounter daily is a novelty instead – you’d be exhausted from being in a state of peak awareness! And so our brain adapts to the everyday, and becomes comfortable. It expects routine, because routine is good.

There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable, of course. But in order for us to break out of our shell, to think out of the box, or, in my case – to finally get off my arse and get over my internal fears – one has to spark a reaction. Because I would be willing to wager with you, is that you’re not reacting to anything right now. If you’ve been stuck in some kind of creative limbo/rut, where you can’t think of anything or are frustrated with whatever you’re doing, and yet you’re not sure why; it’s because you’ve become a little too comfortable. At least your brain is.

So how do you spark something? Anything?

Get out of your usual routine. Read things that has nothing to do with what you’re used to, but something that you’d like to try. Go to a conference. Go for a class. Dance (especially if you’ve never done it before). Talk to a friend, a mentor, or just a stranger. Disagree with things, or agree with something. There’s no right way or wrong way of doing it. All you need to do is to shake things up a little.

It explains why we often come away from a conference with hope and a renewed fervour for tackling that assignment that you’ve spent weeks procrastinating. You’ll find that you’re also a lot more focused after attending a short class; where you learn new skills and new ways of seeing. Your brain is abuzz with ideas and excitement, because you’ve just given it a jolt of new spark.

What’s the one thing you can do today? Doing things like what I mentioned above, can be a bit difficult. Meeting people, talking to them and engaging with them can be even harder – especially if you’re not used to it. The easiest and fastest route, is to bury yourself in other people’s words. Read a book, flip through the newspaper, or even find articles online. Find one topic that you’re interested in. What if you’re not sure that it interests you? Here’s how to tell: you’ll have a strong reaction to it – whether you agree or disagree with what’s being presented. You’ll find that you’re spurred on by what you love and hate. And if you don’t feel anything (if it it’s more of a meh than a yay!), move on and find another topic. Come back and let me know – did you find one? What is it?

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If you’re also ready to challenge yourself, then you might want to consider joining the Portfolio with Personality online workshop that I’ll be teaching from 30th March 2020 for 5 weeks. Registration opens on March 2nd, and is limited to a maximum of 16 students, so that I can dedicate my time and attention to each individual student. You’ll benefit from a structured curriculum that will challenge and stretch you creatively from the inside out! I’ll be there to guide you at every step of the way, to find and express what you want to say, as well as how you can say it through your personal project, so that you can stay true to yourself as an artist.

You can read more about the class by clicking this link (where you can sign up to be notified when registration begins), and I hope to see you there!

[Illustration by Rebecca Green, source]

Celebrating diversity through new creative directories

https://www.womenwhodraw.com/

Illustration directories (or any other sort of creative directories, for that matter) have come a long way since the boom of the internet. It used to be that they were run by companies who would charge a sum for you to be included in their roster, along with other options such as appearing in their printed catalog/annuals, mailers, promotional items, etc. However, with the advent and freedom that the internet offers, anyone can be a part of (or even start up!) a directory on their own, for very little.

That’s all well and good, but what does this mean, then?

It means that the barrier to entry; of being listed in a collective space online, has reduced significantly. You’re no longer bound by expenses, or gatekeepers that were previously the domain of huge, existing directory companies. They would still have their merits, having existed in the industry way before anyone else. But unlike before, you now have a choice. If someone turned you down, or if the cost of listing your profile/work was prohibitive, you can now list your work elsewhere. For free, even.

http://www.panimation.tv/

Will it work? Will you get more work from it?

You may, or you may not. But with self-promotion, I like to go with the analogy of idea of throwing out as many balls as you can out into the world, to see who throws it back to you. Sometimes it comes back immediately, and sometimes, it takes weeks, months and even years before someone sees your profile and decides to reach out. In addition to the kind of work you produce, luck and timing plays a very big part for every artist that gets discovered online, and by putting yourself out there through various channels, you’re increasing your odds, even if by a little bit.

https://queerdesign.club/

Getting yourself on a list

The biggest difference that we see in the new directories is that it’s more niche. Instead of merely having filters that readers and potential clients could sift through, the entire directory itself is more specific, catering to clients who are looking to add diversity into their hires. There’s a directory for women illustrators. Latin designers. Queer/LGBT designers. Women, trans and non-binary animators. Black designers. Most of them are free, and many more creative industries are following suit, so take your pick and go from there!

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Share with me: What do you think of these directories? Do you like them, or would you prefer a different solution? Do you have more to share? Or what if you have happy stories of being found by clients or fans on them? I’d love it if you would share your thoughts with me!

On starting over

You know how when you start drawing on a sheet of paper and you’re happy that everything is going well? You’re in the flow of things – swish, stroke, draw, paint. This is the best thing ever! 

But then, oh crap. A slip up. No biggie. Let’s deal with that.

Ctrl-Z.

Swish, stroke, draw, paint. Hmmmm.

You erase, move on. Re-do. Undo. Paint over. Undo again.

Undo. Undo. Undo. Argh.

There’s a nagging thought at the back of your mind. This isn’t turning out so well. But it’s half done! It’s almost there! I can almost see it, I just can’t feel it… yet.

So you continue to throw more at it. Layers and layers of lines, paint, and paper. Until you don’t know how you got here. Everything looks like a hot mess. Crap.

Since it took you this long to flesh out the whole thing you decide to keep at it. More. Undo. More. Undo.

GAHHH.

At this point you start to sweat. You’ve done something alright, but you’re not happy. It doesn’t feel right. Or for that split second when you rationalise with yourself that hey, that’s pretty decent. Not great, but just okay. Nothing wrong with it being just okay, right? Right? Plus, look at all this time you’ve put into it! 3 hours! 10! What about the time you lost sleep over it? Surely it means you’re onto something worthwhile? No? What? No?

Listen, you’re not getting that time back. What you can do is to not sink more time and energy into something that you know deep down won’t work.

We can’t turn back time, but we can learn from it. Take your finger off the CTRL-Z button. No more undos.

Take a deep breath.

You know what you have to do.

You’ve got to start over.

It’s hard. Look, I totally get it.

But shittier things have happened. Natural disasters wiping away cities down to nothing. Earthquakes that swallow up whole postcodes. Families get torn apart. People divorce. But people rebuild. That’s what they do. They start from scratch again. Things will and can collapse, but we have a choice to rebuild. It’s not a question of do or don’t. It’s a question of when. When you fall down, you dust yourself off, and get back up.

Sure, you’ll mourn what could have been. You’ll stumble along the way. That piece of paper could have turned out great. Your time, effort and energy didn’t have to be wasted.

The same could be said of every disaster, hardship or challenge faced by people everyday. That accident could have been avoided. They looked so happy. No one predicted that the storm would be that devastating.

Today, it’s between you and that sheet of paper.

Starting again is scary. But so is holding on to something that you know can be so much better.

It’s natural to worry about the what if’s when you put aside that mangled piece of paper. It’s the fear that your work will never be the same again. Or that you couldn’t possibly recreate it again. It may not be a bad thing though. Let’s face it – your new work could go bad. Really bad. Or, it may very well be amazing. You could even outdo yourself. You could discover a completely new side to your work. Serendipity could pay dividends – but only if you’re willing to take the chance to walk through that door.

The point is, you’ll never know what will happen until you start fresh, without all the baggage that came with the old.

When we put so much expectation onto that one sheet of paper, it’s hard to move beyond the sunk costs. Darn it, I invested time and effort into this piece – it should pay off! I should be able to finish what I started on this sheet itself! It should look great!

But life doesn’t always work that way does it?

I’ve recently learned the hard way how true this is. The act of holding on to something that you’ve poured your heart, sweat and tears into, one that no longer fits – is painful. Learning to let go, to set it free and to try again takes a lot more courage than we dare to admit. But that’s what we have to do, even if it feels like conquering Mount Everest. Even if it’s letting go of a piece of paper.

So do yourself a favour – take one small step today.

Time to take out a fresh sheet of paper.

White. Empty. Fresh. New. The possibilities are endless.

Ready? Go on, make your mark.

Again.

And again. And again.

Pretty soon, you’ll realise that starting over gets a little easier everyday.

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As I write about starting over, I’m hitting the reset button myself. I’m launching a new online class in September (based on the feedback you lovely readers have generously shared with me!) More details will be afoot in a couple of weeks, so watch this space!

Illustration by Ryo Takemasa
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