Weekly Blog 1/14/19 | Stick With It: How To Stay Focused When Doing Long-Term Creative Works

So, I’m one of Those People. You know – the creative people who, even amongst the world of creative people, are pretty spacey, pretty all-over-the-place, and keep on starting new projects even though they  are currently writing a novel, designing three comic books, running a blog, selling on Etsy, and oh-by-the-way also majoring in fashion design at the local college.

One of Those. Yep, that’s me.

My dreams, though, are mostly long-term projects. I do comics, I’m illustrating a Tarot deck, and I’d love to draw graphic novels at some point. I love to tell stories and I intend to do more comics, comic series, and card decks.

The issue is that jumping from project to project like I tend to is pretty much the opposite of what I need to do in order to make these long-term projects work.

So how do I do it? I’ve published comic books, I’m most of the way through my debut fully-illustrated divination deck – but if my temperament is that of a typical flighty Gemini, how do I manage to do these big projects anyway?


The following are my tactics for dealing with that very issue.

Keep it steady. Most big projects are not a sprint – they’re a marathon. Meaning that through the course of it, you’re going to get bored, you’re going to get distracted, you’re gonna want to quit. That’s natural and normal and fine. What’s not fine is when you let boredom, distraction, or disillusionment drag you off your marathon course.

The success of a big project is centered less in doing “good” work, than in doing steady, consistent work. When it comes to comics and graphic novels, for example, the people who successfully complete them are not the people who can draw the best, the prettiest, the most accurate drawings – it’s the people who can churn out a page a day, or more, for months on end.

I’m not sure about slow, but steady definitely wins the race.

Focus on the finish line. We often daydream about our work, either consciously or unconsciously, and while we can’t control what our mind drifts to, we usually have at least some control over what we dwell on. So when you’re doing one project and find yourself dreaming about working on or starting another, don’t dwell on it – bring your focus back to the idea of working on, or finishing, your current project. Imagine its beauty, its significance, even theoretical success, if that’s what it takes to keep your focus on what you’re doing now.

This can be tricky, and please, don’t beat yourself up for getting distracted with other new ideas. And don’t disregard them – just don’t abandon your current project to jump to another! Take notes, make some rudimentary sketches, get your ideas down…and then save them for later. You can focus on them in the future, but for right now, your current project takes precedence.

As frustrating as it is, letting the future take care of the future projects and sticking to one or two in the moment is usually the best way to go.

Maintain your motivation – whatever that means. I know this seems incredibly obvious, but feeding your muse, feeding your motivation, is essential – no matter what that means! If what really inspires you is listening to My Chemical Romance and lip-syncing in your room, then do that. If what inspires you is drinking incredibly fancy specific tea and burning specific incense, do that. If you’re inspired by new art materials, treat yourself (within reason and budget) to a couple new things.

Try not to judge yourself when you’re doing your “refill the inspiration” activities. Try not to let others judge you, either. (Both are very difficult at times.) I personally am super inspired by watching (actually, listening to) YouTube videos of people doing art, in the background, while I paint; this means that I watch literally hours of YouTube every day, but I try not to judge myself or let anyone give me a hard time about my constant YouTubing.

Because in the end, this is YOUR art and YOUR inspiration. As long as you’re not harming yourself or anyone else, nobody else gets a vote on how you foster your inspiration.

Be accountable. Accountability has been an extremely helpful way for me to get myself to get the work done. I have daily check-boxes in my bullet journal that keep me on track for various tasks, like “work day job,” “paint a Tarot card,” “work on comics.” Deadlines as well as daily work  times have allowed even a Gemini like me to stick with these projects that sometimes last upwards of a year.

Accountability can take many forms. Sometimes it means checking in with a friend or partner regularly and having them ask you, “Did you work on x today?” Other times it’s just a bullet journal where you are held accountable to yourself. And still others use social media, and an upload schedule, to make sure they “at least make something.

Love the work itself. They say the people who are successful are not the ones who most love the art form or the ideas they’re working with – it’s the people who learn to love (or at least deal with) the everyday grind. It really doesn’t matter how much you want to be an artist, if you can’t tolerate daily painting and sketching, promoting yourself, re-doing work, and all the other practicalities of being an artist day to day.

That’s all I’ve got. I hope that some of it helps you. If you have any questions or comments, please do feel free to leave them down below.

And until next time, I hope you’re having a really excellent day – and I’ll talk you again very, very soon!

-Taylor

Weekly Blog 1/7/19: 7 Ways To Get (And Stay) In Creative Flow

Hey guys! Today I thought I’d talk a bit about the concept of flow, and share the techniques that help me get into flow and keep it going.

 

So what is flow, though? It’s hard to define, but like many things, “I can’t define it but I know when I’m there.” Flow is a state of being in which one is able to work (usually in an artistic way, such as drawing or painting, but not always) in a steady, productive, focused, and creative manner, without excessive breaks, distraction, or procrastination.

For me, being in flow is accompanied by a low-grade euphoria of “I’m doing it. I’m getting work done and creating things. Yes. YES!” I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of neurotransmitter rush, sort of like runner’s high. I also tend to lose track of time – for hours – while in flow, which is an unfortunate side effect, but is a small price to pay for the enjoyment and productivity of flow.

It’s taken literal years for me to figure out how to get into flow and how to stay there, so I wanted to share some tips-and-tricks so that maybe it won’t take 15 years of trial and error for YOU to get there. 🙂


1. Self Care and Basic Health

I know. You don’t want to hear it. But for me at least, I can tell you that if I don’t take basic care of my body, I CANNOT get into flow. I don’t mean that I’m in perfect health – HAH, far from it – but I have to be experiencing a basic level of acceptable wellness, or my sluggishness and general “blah” feeling gets in the way. Regular light exercise, scheduling adequate sleep time, and most of all eating healthy has become, for me, the baseline that allows me to build flow on top.

 

2. Organization and Scheduling

Another one nobody wants to hear or accept – but organization and regular work schedules have helped me form a framework in which I can really get into flow. Although I work from home (even for my day job), I have found that I really need to have scheduled “work hours” during which I work on certain projects. I usually spend a few minutes each morning just looking over what I need to do and figuring out what I’ll work on that day, and then work in one- to two-hour blocks on each project. This allows me not only to make sure that I get a good amount of work done on each project, but reinforces, in my subconscious mind, what my schedule is and when I need to be in “work mode.”

 

3. Preparation and Planning

This is less about planning out plots and storylines and more about being prepared to work logistically: Is the laptop charged? If not, is there a plug available for it? Do I have enough of that one paint that I was running out of? Did I clean those brushes yesterday, or are they still covered in Phthalo Blue? Do I have the paper I need in order to draw those next few comic pages? Did I order more G-pen nibs? I find it extremely helpful to keep a running shopping list of supplies and materials to replace, writing them down as I notice them running low; that way, at the end of the week (or, in my case, when a coupon comes up for the art store), I can do one shopping run on the weekend, rather than having to run out at 9:45am to replace something when I have to work at 10.

 

4. Environmental Management

Make your workplace a place you want to be. I realize this isn’t possible, but don’t assume I mean you have to lease a penthouse suite as your studio and have expensive aromatherapy oils and state-of-the-art ergonomic beanbag chairs. Really, I’m talking about the little things. Play music you really enjoy. Burn candles or incense that are appealing to you (but please be careful and use dishes/incense burners so that you don’t burn anything down while you’re in flow!). If you’re less a music person and prefer to have something slightly distracting, play a podcast, reruns of a TV show you’ve seen (new episodes not recommended, as you’ll focus on them more than your work), or even an ambient noise. YouTube has plenty of ambient noise mixes, and you can use them to place yourself anywhere from a trendy Pacific-Northwest Starbucks to the Gryffindor common room at Hogwarts. (I am not making this up.) My favorite is a mix by Magical Forest called “Library Study Session,” and it sounds like just that – and is extremely helpful in getting me to focus and feel like I’m ready for flow to happen.

 

5. Just Do It

The best way to get something done is to start doing it. Even if you start small, start. Even if you’re writing random lines instead of a novel, write. Even if you’re drawing in a sketchbook rather than painting your incredible mural, draw. Even if you are messing around with chords on guitar rather than composing a symphony…okay, you get the idea. You will never get into flow with your work if you never work. “The easiest way to guarantee you won’t succeed is to never try.” It’s tempting to wait until everything is perfect, but to be perfectly honest, it never will be – and it doesn’t need to be for you to create your work. If your goal is to be able to “flow” your work for 6 hours straight, start with 60 minutes. Or 16. Or 6. Flow, like anything, takes practice to be able to do consistently, and there is no way around that practice.

 

6. Mindfulness: Bring It Back To Center

One of the most devious ways our brains keep us from creating our great works is distraction. And the worst part of distraction is that, quite often, it happens not only without our approval, but without our knowledge. Have you ever found yourself surfing through social media and realized it’s been 2 hours since work started and you’ve done nothing but…you aren’t even sure what? Been there. It’s frustrating, but the best thing to do is to put down the phone or close the browser and get back to work. Don’t beat yourself up, don’t overanalyze it, don’t waste time being morose or self-pitying. Just bring your attention back to your actual work and get back to it.

In meditation, it can take years of practice to “quiet the monkey mind” and be able to just sit and not get distracted with trains of thought – and creativity and flow are, in a way, meditative practices. So do your best not to get too frustrated if, even after reading this article and even trying for a while, you can’t seem to focus or get into flow. Beating ourselves up only wastes time and energy and makes us mentally associate work with feeling guilty, which makes us avoid it even more. Don’t waste your time kicking yourself. Breathe, shift your attention, and do the next work task you can find.

 

7. Feed The Inspiration

We all have muses, I believe – even if that muse is an amorphous cloud of ideas we draw from, rather than a beautiful damsel for whom we would lasso the sun and the moon and the stars – and those muses need offerings if we are to expect them to provide us with ideas. For me, my inspiration, my muse, seems to like the stuff I liked when I was a teenager – when I was really “coming into my own” creatively – so when I need to get inspired, I tend to listen to goth and alt-rock albums from the mid-late 2000’s, watch horror movies from the same era, and read a lot (and I mean a LOT) of manga. Even if what I’m making is not dark, horrific, or anime-styled, this stuff inspires me.

I suspect it has something to do with my inner child (inner teenager?) and the incredible, intense, almost volatile creativity she had. Although less consistent in my work and less skilled than I am now, that teenager was incredibly creative and prolific and just loved coming up with ideas. She was in love with art, the process of making art, and the idea of being an artist, and so she is what I tap into when I really need to get myself creating.

My point is this: Try to pin down the time (or place, or mood) in your life when/where you felt most creative, and feed your creativity on things that connect you with that time/place/mood. If you’ve ever been in flow, try to recall where you were, what you were listening to, what you were watching around that time…If nothing else, it’ll be a blast of nostalgia – and with any luck, it could tip you over into flow.

That’s my top 7 tips, but I have a bonus one that is more important than any of the others: PLEASE don’t destroy your health with your work, or mistake overburdening yourself for flow. If you are unwilling to pause, even to eat or sleep, that’s not flow, that’s overwork – and it’s going to result in burnout, not prolific creativity. Ideally, anxiety, anger, and stress are NOT part of flow (at least, they’re not its main results), and long-term, these things can literally shorten your lifespan as well as your quality of life.

And, if you find yourself unable to stop working, even when you want to or know you need to, or if you are skipping consecutive days of sleep, please talk to a trusted person (doctor, therapist, friend) as soon as possible. These can be signs of mental health issues, but if addressed promptly and properly, they can definitely be treated. (I just mention this because I have a mood disorder that, on occasion, takes over my creativity and makes me work for days straight. It’s not healthy for me to do that, but these days I’m able to balance pretty well and get into flow rather than hypomania.)

Finally I’d like to personally wish you good luck in your creative journey, whatever that may look like, and offer that if you ever need advice on creativity or getting into flow, I’m here. Drop me a line! My contact form is here and you can contact me there any time.

Thank you for reading. If you’d like to support this whole operation, please head over to my Etsy shop and  check out what I’ve got for sale there. And for more of my thoughts on art and more, here’s my YouTube channel. Maybe you’ll find yourself listening to me ramble about art while you get yourself into a good creative flow. 🙂

All the best,

Taylor

New Year’s Blog 2018-2019: Glancing Back, Gazing Forward

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

2018 was far and away the best year of my life thus far, and I’m not afraid to say that. (After all, the year is over, I can’t jinx it now.) It brought into my life hope, empowerment, courage, confidence, and a level of creativity that I had not experienced ever before. I don’t just mean that I got better at drawing, at anatomy or perspective or style; I mean I got better at art, the War of Art, the Art-Life, the Artist’s Way, whatever you want to call it – the very process of being creative grew in my life far more than it ever has before.

I made and published comics and zines, designed and inked an entire tarot deck (and have painted half the cards!), honed my skills, developed a paper planning system that works for me, and generally got better at being an artist. Morning Pages and a regular meditation practice have helped me to calm my mind on a daily basis, enough that I can concentrate much better and just generally get a lot more done. Having my mind clear is like having my paints well-organized: it doesn’t make the art happen, but it makes the process far more streamlined and eliminates some of the delays involved with disarray.

My online presence went from occasional blog posts, even-more-occasional videos, and a tiny, quiet Instagram, to…well, perhaps not massive success, but certainly enough popularity that my Etsy shop was able to grow by 900% (that is, making nearly 10x as much revenue as the previous year). It’s still not a huge amount – not nearly enough to quit my day job – but enough that I managed to invest in some supplies I needed, and enough that my shop has become a profitable side gig rather than a

I also grew spiritually, becoming more secure in my identity (nonidentity?) as a “spiritual seeker not otherwise specified.” I don’t identify as Pagan or Christian or New Age (though all those apply in their own ways) – I just identify as a spiritual seeker who loves Tarot and oracle cards, is fascinated by angels, and may very well be an old soul, but doesn’t claim to be any kind of guru.

I started offering card readings on my Etsy shop, something I’d wanted to do for years upon years, and am still offering about a dozen different spreads at reasonable rates. (If you’d like a reading with me, please click here to browse them.) I am thrilled to be able to offer these readings. I didn’t do it lightly: I’ve been considering for about a year and practicing and preparing, and have been reading for over 15 years, but didn’t list them until near the New Year…and I’m glad I waited until it was truly the right time.

I also started working in the conventional workplace this year, first as a receptionist, and then shifting into the world of 3D models and virtual reality design, with a focus on artistic environment creation and model texturing. My journey there has been wild. As someone who was on disability and did not work in a conventional workplace (even part-time) for 5 years, going from no job to dream job in under 12 months is nothing short of miraculous. I worked hard for it, yes, but I am very fortunate to be where I am today, in such a short period of time.

Of course, there have been challenges. Depression and anxiety plagued me for months at a time, and nearly drove me into the hospital in August. I managed to pull through without needing hospitalization, though, and other than that, I haven’t had many mental health “blips.” Most of my real struggles have centered around money management (difficult thing, when shifting from fully on disability to working part time) and time management. However, having a paper planning system that really works for me has been an absolute lifesaver: I got into bullet journaling this year, and while I do not do the incredibly elaborate beautiful stuff you see on Instagram, my bullet journal has been very helpful.

Before I close, I do want to take a moment to thank all of YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for being with me on this journey, for following my work, for clicking all those Like and Subscribe and Favorite buttons, and for allowing me to do what I do and share my interests with you. You have my eternal gratitude, and I wish you all an incredible, nurturing, creative 2019.

All the best,

Taylor