Writing My Own Magnolia Story

I’ve been listening to The Magnolia Story audiobook lately, and Chip freaks me out. Not even kidding.

Most recently, I listened to a chapter where Chip describes how he would avoid getting “too comfortable”, and keep looking for ways to shake things up in his life. Personally, I’ve grown up with a different attitude: my approach is to always strive towards something steadfast and reliable. I actively try to get comfortable in life, and find ways to avoid change. Needless to say, while listening to this story, I spent a lot of time thinking “Chip, you’re crazy!!”

Of course, Joanna often voiced the same opinion, so it’s not like I’m abnormally clingy to comfort. Continue reading “Writing My Own Magnolia Story”

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How to Become the “Creative Type”

Whenever I tell people I’m an artist, there is one very common response I (almost) always hear: “Oh that’s so cool! I could never do that, I’m not really the creative type.” In the words of Dorothy Sayers, there’s nothing for me to do except “laugh deprecatingly”, so I do so and move on. At best, I felt sorry for the other person that they weren’t born as the “creative type.” But in recent years, I’ve started to reevaluate my belief in “types.” Maybe there aren’t creative/non-creative types… maybe some of us just haven’t found interesting problems yet.

I’m going to pull back the curtain real quick: creativity is another word for problem-solving. I know that doesn’t sound as romantic or grand, but basically that’s what us artistic people do. We solve problems. The only difference between us and, well, the rest of the world is that we found problems that are so engaging, so amazing, so consuming that we can’t stop. Not only can we not leave them unsolved, but we go out of our way to find new problems to solve.

For example: I’m an artist. What problem am I trying to solve? I’m trying to share abstract ideas, memories, and emotions with my audience. Not only that, but I’m specifically trying to spark similar reactions in my audience so I have to know how to communicate with them. Now, that’s a problem I love so much that I invested hours into education and study so that I could solve that problem for the rest of my life! Yay!

So how do you find the life-long problem that’s right for you?

So in order to become the “creative type” you need to find a type of problem that you love solving. It’s the challenge that you may gripe and groan over, but inwardly you’re excited: this is your turf. You got this. It might not be painting or writing, by the way. Maybe it’s fixing cars, or creating business connections. Maybe it’s home decor. Maybe it’s making the perfect cup of coffee (call me; I will be your audience.) How do you figure out what problem you want to solve more than anything else?

What challenges do you look forward to?
You know, the thing that genuinely makes you feel glad that you put that effort in, even if you didn’t succeed. It’s that thing where you don’t always have all the answers, but you can’t wait to look for them.

What do you take pride in?
It takes creativity to navigate a city when your usual route has been closed, and while you may feel kind of proud, you might not want to be a taxi driver. But what kind of success makes you feel really pleased? Is it calming a client? Matching shoes with a purse (and belt and necklace and hat)? Maybe it’s seeing the first buds in your garden. What makes you glow?

What do you want to be better at?
It takes creativity to move a piano up a flight of stairs, but I feel no interesting in becoming a better piano mover. But it matters to me if my drawings are any good. I need them to be good, to improve. It’s not enough to solve the original problem; what matters is solving the problem more efficiently and uniquely each time. You have to want to do that.

What teaches you the most about yourself?
Want to know what art taught me? That I wasn’t naturally artistic. You read that correctly: I have almost no natural talent. But what I learned was that I loved art, my innermost narratives clicked with an artistic medium, and that’s where I came alive the most. Painting may not matter to you at all. The important thing is to find something that helps you learn and grow. Maybe it’s providing excellent customer service. Maybe it’s writing a poem. Who knows?

There are all sorts of ways to answer these question. You may already be doing something creative (aka solving problems) and you don’t even realize how much you love it. Or perhaps you need to try something new to discover where your interest lies. Whatever the case may be, rest assured: we all have a good chunk of creativity inside us. It’s just a matter of sparking it to life.

 

The 5 Worst Excuses I Give Myself

As an artist, there are a lot of things that I say to myself (sometimes without noticing) that make it really hard to work. It’s a habit of psychological “nagging” that cuts down on my productivity, but also my confidence. While I’ve gotten a little bit better at it over the years (as I get more confident) there are still a few things that I think over and over that really slow me down. I’m hoping that making a deliberate list of them will help me ignore (or even not think) them.

  1. I don’t know if this will work… So I better not try it.
    This is a huge problem when I’m thinking about experimenting with my technique… I’m afraid that I’ll make something awful, so I just make nothing. Which is better than something “bad”? No.

  2. I don’t feel creative… So I’ll just sit and do nothing.
    This is certainly okay once in a while, but it very easily becomes a habit. I pretend that my lack of inspiration is totally “over-powering” me, and I’m helpless. What nonsense. You can make your hand move, even if you don’t have a reason to. So make it move!

  3. I’m not as good as that person… So why try to improve?
    That question should answer itself, but here’s the more detailed response: being intimidated can be paralyzing. However, recognizing the way in which someone has superior skills is a great way to teach yourself. Why is that person “better?” How do you think they got that way?

  4. It’s “just” a hobby. No big deal if I don’t take it seriously.
    Then don’t expect anything amazing to happen with it. Publisher don’t publish hobbies. They publish crafts. And don’t expect others to take it seriously. Carelessness shows.

  5. I’d be more dedicated/disciplined if I were getting paid.
    I have learned the (very) hard way that this is entirely untrue. You have to respect your work AS work before you start respecting it as a money maker. If you really make sure that Good Work is just as important Good Money, it’ll be much easier to work a job that a) sucks and b) doesn’t pay well. Not that you shouldn’t try to make more money, but try to always be satisfied with your handiwork.

I’m sitting at a Starbucks in Kansas City, MO as I finish this post up. Today I will be tested on my knowledge of typography and page layout. Tomorrow I will set up my computer and equipment, and Thursday I will compete to show off my design skills. Fasten your seatbelts, kids. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Best Mom Advice Ever

 

“It wouldn’t be so hard if you did it more often.”

My mom has said this about laundry, cleaning my room, doing dishes, dusting and sweeping, mowing and raking, and exercise. Do it more often, and it gets easier.

After writing about habit in a previous post, this bit of Mom Advice occurred to me, and I had one of those moments (everyone has them) where you realize that your mom was right. She knew! How did she know? It also applies to creating!

Towards the end of last semester, I realized that I went days without writing or drawing anything creative. Once in a while, okay, but days? It’s very much like exercise; the longer you spend not doing it, the harder it gets to start again. So I made a conscious decision to make sure I draw (even just a little bit) everyday. To this end, I toooootally rearranged my desk so that my computer AND my hard sketchbook both fit comfortably, and are constantly accessible. (I technically have two desks, to be honest… a cheap one from my school’s architecture surplus and a cheap one from Wal-Mart.) I moved my files, binders, and notebooks to another spot in my room, so just drawing and writing materials are around me (plus some books on Renoir, Cassatt, and Degas). It. Is. So. Marvelous.

In fact, it’s so great that it has me ignoring one of my other good habits, which is going to bed before midnight. I now stay up late to draw, even if I was drawing all day. I write several paragraphs, and each day, the amount that I write grows. Daily practices are super hard to start, and it takes something like 30-40 days for a new habit to form. So what if you made a goal to draw or write for X hours a day?

It would get easier.

The First Time a Drawing Made Me Cry

I’m taking part in a challenge to try and improve my writing skills but also (and more importantly) my discipline. Please enjoy (or at least tolerate!)

In an art history class I took a couple years ago, we discussed whether or not paintings could make people cry. Certainly movies could, and some music. Books (OMG AMY’S EYES) too. But paintings? Pictures? I didn’t really think so. They were too static. Too predictable. Too stiff. Too unreal. I had favorite paintings of course, and a short look around this site shows how much I love painting, drawing, and illustration. But crying?

Yes. Crying.

It happened when I was in England staying with my aunt, her husband, and her 7 amazing  kids. One day I got on a bus, and I went to the V&A (the Victoria and Albert Museum for you Yanks.) So many paintings and sculptures, so much to see. I didn’t cry, though. I just smiled like the happy American I was and walked around. Then I think I got coffee and some kind of pastry and I went back to my aunt’s house, loving the bus system way too much.

The next couple of days, I didn’t travel too far until my aunt told me to make sure I visited the London National Gallery. I did.

Before I actually walked through the museum, I got a cup of coffee and a croissant. I sent a picture to my mom (despite the time difference), and then finally entered the rest of the museum. I think it had marble floors, but I don’t even remember. I know the ceilings were high, higher than I’d ever seen before. The windows were so tall and narrow, and everything made me feel tiny. I guess that’s what started the feeling of “I’m really in another world.” New accents, new bus system, new buildings. New rivers.

When I walked into the first room that actually had paintings, I know I sucked in a breath, in that kind of “inside-out sigh.” They were just so big. Books and Google can only give you so many inches and pixels. But here they were, several square feet of history and skill coming together to say something. I know that it was a little noisy, but after the first couple minutes, I didn’t even notice. I was surrounded by images that spelled out the narrative of my craft.

I saw a drawing by da Vinci. That. Got. Me. I was staring at marks from so long ago. I saw how he worked at understanding the muscles, the facial expressions, the hair, the fabric. I saw the architecture of a painting by one of the most famous painters of all. I just stared at it. I didn’t want to move. Whenever someone else walked through, I wanted to whisper to them, “I’m studying what he studied… My craft is his craft.”

Leonardo_da_Vinci_-_Virgin_and_Child_with_Ss_Anne_and_John_the_BaptistI’m not sure if I actually cried, meaning, I don’t know if tears actually fell. But it certainly felt like my heart was bursting. I’m so glad I was alone, because I didn’t want someone to ask me about it, about how I felt. Then I definitely would have cried. But instead, I simply stared and tried not to touch.

Touching it probably would’ve truly killed me, if the security guards didn’t do so first.

Ever since then, I truly believed that a painting can make a person cry. But I guess I sometimes forget that seeing a picture of a painting and an actual painting are not the same. Google Images don’t make me cry.

This drawing broke my heart in the most beautiful, joyful way.

3 Things I Learned from Working

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A study I’m working on for my comic!

Everybody loves lists! And I’m still working, so don’t think that this is entirely retrospective or anything. Because it isn’t.

A lot of people treat work like some kind of inevitable hurdle that we have to get past in order to be happy. Work is treated like an unfortunate by-product of being human, something that we have to treat and cure.

As much as I love my couch and Netflix, I’m starting to develop a different attitude towards “work” in general. I think it’s an area of life that can really benefit people more than they ever know. Having a job isn’t just a chance to bring in money, it’s a chance to build a positive relationship with work. Even if the job is crap, even if the pay is low (or non-existent), there are 3 benefits that I think work can provide everyone, but especially anyone who wants to freelance.

  1. Skill – I’m not just talking about the ability to run a cash register, or deep-fry donuts, or toss a pizza crust. Workplace behavior is a skill, and it transfers into the rest of your life. Recognizing (and respecting) superiors, helping team members, concern for quality, and attention to detail; these are skills, and they’re AMAZING. I was a cashier for years, and the main skill I took away wasn’t scanning bar codes: it was the ability to learn a craft and be good at it. Interestingly, I wish I had thought about this sooner… what if I trained my writing and drawing the way I was trained on the register and managerial duties?
  2. Discipline – My definition of “discipline” is “strength of character.” Being disciplined means being very much in control of yourself, and making sure you’re doing what’s in your best interest (most/some of time, anyway.) In all of my jobs, I showed up on time, I did honest work, and I left when all of my work was done, and not a second before. I’ve gotten better about treating my personal work the same way, but I’m not quite there yet. Start at a regular time? Maybe for a week… Work a full day? Whaaaaat? It’s hard when you’re your own boss, but I’m getting there. And the benefits are already starting to show: when I draw and write regularly, I miss it when I can’t draw or write. When I work a full day, I have visible proof of my effort and I feel encouraged. Being disciplined is a great way to show yourself respect for your occupation, and it feels better than totally not caring and watching Continuum all day.
    And since you could potentially do both at the same time, why not?
  3. Habit – “I cannot tell you what I suffer for the want of seeing a good picture…” says Mary Cassatt, regarding her lack of work. This quote (from Mary Cassatt and Her Circle) really struck me last night. She later says, “Oh how wild I am to get to work…” Do I regret it when I miss an opportunity to work? Not just because I don’t like it when I’m lazy, but because a chance to create was missed. Habit means that something is ingrained, subconscious, practically natural. When I miss a phone call from a friend, when a favorite band came to town and I didn’t know, when I missed an invitation to coffee… these things make me sad. I want to feel the same way about work. My work should be so deeply set in my day-to-day routine that I feel honest (not just guilty) regret when I miss it.

What have you learned from work?

10 Good Habits for Artists and Writers

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These first 5 are day-to-day practices that I want to implement/get better at.

  1. Warm ups – I typically don’t do warm-up sketches or writing, but over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to do better… and it really works. My brain starts working, my hands start moving, and everything falls into an effective flow. Generally, I wait until I know exactly what I want to draw and then start. But that’s really hugely ineffective, not to mention stressful if you’re having trouble coming up with ideas.
  2. Studies – This goes for writing and drawing, I think. Trying to “render” (in pictures or words) something that really exists is great practice, but once again, I usually just sit around waiting for my muse to speak. (Muses don’t exist, btw. Sorry for bursting any bubbles.)
  3. Regular Work Sessions (and actually observe them) – Setting a regular time to write and draw helps your brain know when it’s time to get into a productive mode. Proof of this is when you wake up and know the difference between a day when you have to go to work/school, and a day when you have nothing to do. Your brain and your body act differently. With writing and drawing, it’s super helpful to give yourself some supportive structure for directing your process.
  4. Consider Audience – This is a big one and it means a lot of things… but for the most part, I forget about audience when I write and draw. It’s not so much a demographic that I’m concerned with, but am I giving my audience a story? Am I giving them something to remember? I always enjoy creating, but are other people going to understand why? Giving my audience enough narrative is really hard, but I think it’s really important.
  5. Be A Business Person – Freelancing is super awesome, if it works, but it only works if you make it work. Learning a bit about marketing and business-ing is HUGE, and a great deal of it can be done for free online. What blogs/comics are successful? Which ones have lots of interaction? What kind of Facebook posts get lots of attention? This may not be the fun part, but it’s important and it can potentially allow you to make more moneyz from the “fun part.”

These second 5 are attitude/emotional states I want to keep in mind.

  1. Love What You Do (No Matter What) – I was a cashier for a few years, and I know it’s hard to be passionate about something that isn’t in-sync with what you want to do with your life. But I think it’s important to develop an attitude of wanting to do things well, no matter what. Even if you love writing and drawing in general, there will always be days when you don’t love it. During that time, it’s important to want to do it properly. Whether you’re a cashier, a dishwasher, a janitor, a waitress, whatever: teach yourself to be passionate about a job well done, instead of just waiting for the ideal job to make you happy.
  2. Learn to CONSTRUCTIVELY Criticize Yourself – As a creative, I’m generally pretty hard on myself. It’s easy to point out my own mistakes and failings, and it’s easy to believe that everyone else is better. But that attitude can be turned into something positive, if I make it constructive. Looking at the work of others in an active way, really analyzing the work, I can learn about how and why those other artists are successful, and those skills can be implemented in my own work
  3. Be Your Own Advocate – Your family and friends will probably tell people you’re a great artist, when what they might really mean is that they love you and you happen to do art. But there is no one better than yourself for advocating your work. You’re the sole representative of your ideas, and it’s up to you to give them the presentation they deserve. Don’t treat your art based on how much other people love it: treat your art based on how much you love it.
  4. Immerse Yourself in Your Craft – This has been my biggest change over the last few months. I was generally a casual reader of comics until recently. Now I make it part of my schedule. Now I buy hardcopies, not just digital. I write down the names of writers and artists I like. I look them up later. Really immersing yourself in your art means just that: finding related material that will enhance your internal library.
  5. Find Your Watson (Since Muses Don’t Exist) – If you’re a writer or artist, you’re probably a bit crazy, and every crazy person needs a sane person who will be honest and kind at the same time. You’re Sherlock, and you need a Watson. The best part about Watsons is that they take the place of the non-existent muse. Watsons tell you (gently but firmly) that you need to work. They encourage you to do your best, and they call you out when you slack. They help identify good ideas from bad. Watsons also defend your reputation, no matter how dicey it may be, so that’s nice.

 

What are some good habits/practices you’d like to share?