Staring at blank spaces

For me, and I assume many of us, the hardest part of creating is just getting started. And I find there are two parts to that getting started business: deciding and doing. I have to make the decision to start a project or whatever, which is overcoming inertia. Difficult in physics and life. If I conquer committing to start then there’s a second hill to get over. After the tools and materials are brought out and it’s all just sitting there blank I usually hit hesitation round two. At this point I’m often fighting the urge to peel off and do something that doesn’t require thinking too much.

Sometimes that happens. There’s always something strange or wonderful to find on Instagram. But most of the time I get started and accomplish at least something. And there are practices that help.

A few years ago – due date for a show looming – I got good at going into the studio at regular hours each day. It wasn’t a revelation, just the practical response to my situation borrowed from my office gig. I’d go in and see where I was on my paintings and figure out something to work on. Some days were good, others not so much. Soon bargaining was happening. I’d let myself leave early under two conditions: A) really, truly not caring at all, and B) really, really hating something to the point where I might destroy it. Even then I’d make myself stay a few minutes more, usually to tidy things up.

The new system served me well and evolved into discipline. I showed up (mostly on time) and either got working or my studio got a little cleaner. Sometimes both.

Another thing started happening too. Pieces thrown to the side in previous sessions started being picked back up and figured out. These had been dead ends but now they were opportunities unbound to the fear of failure. The failure had already happened and so they were immune. By making a practice of showing up consistently, I was occasionally having breakthroughs. Pieces I wanted to set fire to weeks ago were instead forged into some of my best work.

This isn’t something I can keep up forever of course. I take vacations from creative work. There’s plenty to do elsewhere -- I do have to maintain myself and my home.

The paycheck gig

Starting another new small business has me thinking about how we represent our occupations in everyday conversations. All of those “So, what do you do” questions in small talk. Working with a business partner and partner companies has made for some interesting observations recently. And for me, they’re a good remind of the work I’ve done to be better about how I frame my work as an artist.

A few years ago I started answering the “what do you do” question with some form of “I’m an artist.” It was less a single formal declaration and more of a process. Wading in, not diving. At first I was ridiculously timid about it, only uttering the words in certain artsy contexts. These days I almost always lead with it, and I’m working on doing so with more casual confidence. I’m also happy to talk about my daytime office job, but I’m using the term gig. That took some practice. I take my 8-5 job very seriously, so making it a more casual mention took some getting used to.

I did this for at least one important reason though. It’s less for others and more for myself. By framing my employment as another gig in my portfolio I wasn’t diminishing it. Rather, I was elevating all my streams of revenue to more or less equal footing. While this is an ongoing exercise, I’ve found it to have a very real impact on how I mentally frame things for myself. The effect is powerful.

Externally it also helps contextualize things for others. I was never a fan of the idea that  creative types are stuck in offices all day, only able to pursue their “real” pursuits late at night. That’s just not how it worked for me. By framing my office job as any other in my lineup of gigs, it reversed the expectations. Looked at this way, I’m a free agent choosing to include employment in my revenue portfolio.

I’m fortunate in that I have a very creative gig in which to spend 40(+) hours a week, but I think the same framing would work for any occupation. No one thing defines us.

Starting things

I’m kicking off the blog for 2018 a little early, just to get some practice of habit in. Starting a blog was a goal I set for myself for the coming year, but as many new endeavors go, I wasn't sure exactly where it was going. There are multiple right answers, of course. For me, I think the smart thing is to simply take my process of journal writing for myself and make public posts focused on creative practices.

I’ve been writing more and more for own reflection and mental health these last few years. Advise I wish I could give a much younger self. Around 2012 I started writing with real consistency in my personal journal. The rise of note taking apps made the difference. Before then I’d occasionally make an entry in a paper notebook. Always short, they’d start off in neat block script but quickly devolve into barely legible scribbles.

Typing meant I actually got my thoughts down before my hand cramped up or I stopped caring. Either way it was text entropy before. Also, not using a word processor meant I wasn’t distracted by features or the confines of 8.5x11" formats. Good stuff.

Around that time I also made a change in my main gig. I moved from IT where all my writing was technical and procedural to a marketing department. Writing copy for brochures and the web is a whole different business from how-to guides. Before I answered how, now I was answering why. Totally different and it made me a better writer.

So, thinking about the coming year for a moment. My friend Marc Barker suggested less planning, more goal making. In the simple words, my goal for 2018 is to diversify my creative practice. I need to expand my creative output to include things well beyond a few painting styles.

To be even more specific: I need to make merchandise. I have a number of assumptions to push aside: that my designs aren't a fit for prints, that you need a trademark character to make t-shirts, that my work is too... I don't know, whatever. I've been trawling the interwebs recently meditating on these (unfounded) worries. I've found plenty of other artists doing similar abstract, geometric work making all kinds of beautiful everyday objects from their work. As always, obvious things aren't so obvious until you get there.