Be About It
Four Steps For Loving What You Do
An experiential look at finding balance in artistic creation. What path can we follow today to bring fulfillment in the present and prepare for compelling innovation in the future?
Might & Mischief is the result of 4 steps that, to be completely honest, I’ve enjoyed just about every minute of. It has challenged me, increased my skill, improved observation and has become a vehicle that keeps me growing in and enjoying what I do.
These steps aren’t perfect, but they’re also not theory. I’ve been designing and writing extensively for 3 years, and have fortunately had wits-enough to learn where I was failing, and how I thrive. I still follow – and am learning from – this course of action.
The goal of this article is to provide you with simple steps you can take to enjoy your creative work more. For that reason, I’ve included an action item at the end of each section. Here’s to innovation and creative fulfillment…
Four Steps For Loving What You Do
1. 80% Doing, 20% Researching
Most people are more creative than they believe themselves to be. Ideas aren’t exclusive to established artists, designers or writers. Everyone has a stroke of genius wide enough to make an impact.
Why doesn’t it happen, then? My personal experience is this: executing creativity is entirely dependent on skill. And skill comes from one thing: a whole lot of doing. Mastering the basics of any craft is important, but your unique mark is found in mastering the nuances, small tweaks, adjustments and alterations of the common. And you will only get there when the basics are like breathing air. Regarding art: do more to become more.
The 20% piece is important because creating in a vacuum limits your progress. Inspiration moves you along, even if it’s adjusting a 5% piece of your next creative. But too much research can undo your progress.
A most clear example can be found in the book Art & Fear in the approach of a certain ceramics teacher:
The ceramics teacher announced that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A,“ forty pounds a “B,” and so on. Those being graded on “quality," however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, grading time came and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work — and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat around theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
action Create and finish something every week. It’s okay if it’s small. It’s okay if it’s large. As long as you do it, from start to finish, it counts. If you don’t finish it, it doesn’t count.
2. Venture Into The Unfamiliar
If doing more hones your style, tackling what you don’t know boosts your creative abilities. This should be obvious, yet it’s uncommon because it doesn’t feel safe. That safety is an enemy of both improvement and creativity.
Exercising these creative muscles is a brilliant way to find creative satisfaction. It’s a misconception that doing something aesthetically different, but just as easy, will satisfy you creatively. Ultimately, it won’t. It might feel that way after 3 or 4 pieces, but you’ll soon find yourself stuck and unsure why you aren’t growing. A constant challenge is a sure path to personal enjoyment.
action Attack something you don’t know how to do once a month. Pick it, get the skills and tools you need to accomplish it, and execute.
3. Delight In The Process And The End Result
The majority of time in any project is spent in the creative process – actually making the thing. But a lot of folks only work on the project to see the end result. Particularly in business, this approach is common and often praised. The massive, egregious problem here is that when this is the case, you’ll spend 90% of your life or more not enjoying your craft. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know if you don’t enjoy something, you won’t want to do it more, or do it better.
“Ship it.” Delivering is the other side. You know – completing your work. Perpetual tweaking syndrome is damaging, and while an artist might say they’re ‘perfecting their art’ or ‘getting it just right,’ the more realistic truth is they’re afraid of imperfection, afraid of what’s next or afraid that the end result won’t match the amount of time they’ve already exhausted in it. In business, a project is worth nothing until it ships (engages the public). In personal work, see it the same way. Learn to enjoy the completion of a project. The more you complete, the more you’ll enjoy both the process and the end result.
action Acknowledge what you don’t like about a process. Then, if possible, get the tools you need to automate that piece, or change your environment to include other things you enjoy, like good music, good lighting, or a different location altogether.
action Work in timelines. Seriously. If you paint, set up a show on date X and get your work done before then. If you’re a graphic designer, create X posters by X date. Or even simpler, do X pieces per week or month.
4. Garner Creativity From Outside Your Industry
We’ve all heard that the greatest breakthroughs come when combining different industries. That doesn’t only apply to business. When you’ve established a consistent creative cycle and are routinely increasing your skill, your eyes open in a dynamic way. Correlation and opportunity show up where it never was before.
Video can take cues from acrylics, photography can benefit from comic books, books can gain from music tours and so on.
The most fulfilling expression for any artist is innovation, yet few functionally reach for it. Instead of systematically expanding a skill to match wild and audacious ideas, the tendency has been to wait for a big idea to de-vaporize and hope for a magical alignment of resource, people and tools to execute the idea. As you grow as an artist, watch for opportunity around you. Pay attention to breakthroughs in other fields. And when you see the opportunity to converge ideas, you’ll have the skill and know-how to go for it.
action Get outside your art. Engage with creatives from other industries, explore their approach, observe their craft and adapt what makes sense – and every now and then, test what isn’t obvious.
While each step builds on the last, any single application will benefit your craft. Do what you can do, and if it’s worth your while, revisit the list after a few months. Observe your progress, and re-challenge it at the same time. I’ll leave you with a final quote from William Pollard.
Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.