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.

 

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#WIPWednesday – Course Correcting Your Week

12794432_459798287536598_6311087460547566445_n It’s Wednesday, which means we’re half-way through the week! Wednesday is also a good time to look back at the first couple of days and reflect on what we’d like to do differently before the week is over.

For me, I constantly need to evaluate how productive I actually am, and compare it to how productive I want to be. I’m very susceptible to the Monday resolution fervor which (much like New Year’s resolutions) fills me with an all-too-brief burst of determination that quickly fizzles into almost nothing. Using Wednesday as a checkpoint helps me adjust, correct, and continue on my merry way!

Here are 3 questions I ask myself to see if I’m on the right track:

  1. Do I have deadlines to meet?
    I work extremely well under pressure (probably better than I do without it.) Deadlines give me a bit of an adrenaline rush that motivates (scares?) me into action. This rush tends to carry over into non-deadline tasks, giving me the motivation and determination to carry on. Give yourself some deadlines, and find a partner to hold you accountable!
  2. Do I feel regret?
    Probably connected to my love of ‘pressure’, I work hard to avoid regret than I do to earn reward. If I fail to earn a good thing, I can easily shrug and say “oh well, maybe next time”, whereas the fear of something negative happening (regret, frustration, etc) is harder to ignore. There’s no need to go overboard and terrorize yourself, but keep the consequences in mind as well as the benefits.
  3. Have I pursued my personal goals?
    In the busy day-to-day business of client work, professional development, a day job, and basic living-ness, it’s easy to feel like I don’t have time for personal projects. At the same time, however, setting aside time to work on my own goals helps me feel less like I’m simply drudging through the week and more like I’m actually making progress. Setting aside time for yourself gives meaning to the rest of your day!

How is your week going? More importantly: how do you want the rest of your week to go?

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?

The Case for Storytelling

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Virtually all of us have a natural instinct for telling stories, and it comes out in day-to-day conversation. When your car breaks down and you’re telling your friends about it, you don’t simply say, “I ran out of gas this morning. But my mom picked me up, and nothing else really happened, so I’m fine.” How does that story go?

You talk about your panic when the car lurches and suddenly halts. You talk about frustration when you finally notice the gas gauge. You describe the tone of your voice when you desperately call your mom, and you imitate her voice when you talk about her response. You describe the agony of waaaaaiiiitttting for her to show up, then the mini-lecture you get when she arrives, and then you might laugh dryly at how horrible your morning was. Possibly, you throw in a “And then…” and move on to parking issues, clocking in late, forgetting breakfast, etc. Your audience nods, sighs, groans, and laughs with empathy, and they ask “What did you do?” “What did she say?” “How did you get here?”

This is storytelling at its absolute finest. An animated narrator, and an enthralled audience.

But I think storytelling as an art is severely underrated. We all use it everyday, but when we think about pursuing it professionally (as a writer, artist, musician, singer, whatever), we tend to shy away from it, thinking either 1) we aren’t worthy or 2) it’s not worth it. I saw “we” because this is still my Achilles’ Heel. Calling myself a storyteller still takes quite a bit of a conscious effort, but actually trying to BE  a storyteller… how do you even do that? How do you go about this mysterious art that we all do so effortlessly in our routine dialogue?

I usually call myself an artist/writer or writer/illustrator, trying to get all of my media into some kind of  “slashed” or hyphenated title, when “storyteller” would basically cover everything I do, and everything I’ll ever want to do. Comics. Prose. Music. It all comes from storytelling. But I personally have a really hard time treating it that way. It feels like I’m trivializing what I do by simplifying the title. But in reality, I thinking calling it “storytelling” is really opening up a much bigger and (potentially) more complex field of study. It isn’t just drawing… it’s drawing a story. It’s not just writing… it’s writing a story.

So basically I’ve figured out what I’m doing, and it’s way more complicated, but I also kind of get it now.

Incidentally, here’s a GREAT blog/journal entry about how story can improve a portfolio: PascalCampion’s DeviantART Journal

How does storytelling influence your art and work?

Inspiring Inspiration Manually

yayInspiration: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something creative.

Here’s my theory: Inspiration is the state of being when the desire to create something specific is greater than any apprehension of possible failure. Just wanting to create isn’t enough, because you can still be paralyzed by the blank canvas/page.

Inspiration is just not caring about messing up, because you really want to make that thing. So how do you harness that? How do you make inspiration appear?

For me lately, I treat inspiration as pure happenstance. Something that is great when it happens, but non-essential when it doesn’t. I treat inspiration as a luxury.

And weirdly enough, this seems to make inspiration appear. Not caring about inspiration makes it happen.

Inspiration is when you just make and not care, which means if you just don’t care, it’ll come. What.

I’ve spent a lot of time on my comic, René, trying to come to grips with it/her, and to figure out why I’m even making that world. Why bother? Why do I bother coming back to it? And no, “Because Amadeo” is not a good reason. It’s a reason. But not a good one.

Then I started asking different questions: What else would I do? What other story would I draw? Would it be any better? Would it go more smoothly?

The fact of the matter is that I tend to treat all projects the same. If I’m not super hyped to work on it, I just don’t and I’ve gotten burned so many times by that attitude. My worst fault in art is that I really want to make it, but the work/effort of making it even when I don’t feel like it… that’s what puts me off.

So I’ve been stepping back from René, and my other self-published works-in-progress. It doesn’t just take time and effort. It takes self-made inspiration, and that inspiration only comes when you work without inspiration. Is René worth that massive amount of “trying”? I think so. At least… she will be worth it when I get ‘er done.

 

24 Hours Without Facebook

sketches1My Facebook has apparently broken, everyone. I can’t even get to the home page. My Windows 8 Facebook app won’t even load. This has been going on since yesterday.

What has the last 24 hours been like? Well… I want to document it very clearly because if/when Facebook starts working again, I want to remember my surprise Facebook-Free Day.

I laid down the flats for 4 comics pages. I cleaned up and started inking another comic page. I read the first 3 chapters of Liar’s Club. I did character and figure studies. I outlined all of my major tasks, and started plugging them into Google Calendar. I went to class. I answered emails. I ate spaghetti and realized how brilliant pasta bowls are, and how stupid plastic containers are.

I don’t really miss Facebook at all. I like being productive, actually. I really like being busy, and knowing that my busyness is paying off.

I know Facebook is useful for promoting my work/comics, and I like seeing what my family is up to. I wouldn’t totally swear off Facebook. But in the last 24 hours, I’ve been a better artist than I have been in a week.

Heck, I even wrote a blog post.