Friday, 12 August 2011

Illustration 101 - Motivation

From time to time we all lose our steam. Things that should be simple are impossible and things that we love seem to lose interest. Apologies for the stereotype, but a lot of artists (and other creatives) tend to procrastinate. So how do you get that motivation back? How do we get our brains back into the game?

Erica - Finding motivation can be a huge challenge when you don't have it. It seems that half the time I'm at the top of my game and the other half I'm in a lull, sometimes completely incapacitated from creative thought or the ability to produce. Sometimes we (as I assume I am not the only one) get so caught up in  this lull that we end up consumed by it, extending the reach of that lethargy into a seemingly infinite space. Just because we love what we do, doesn't mean we are always able to do it the way we hope, or in the time we hope.
In the attempts to confront my own creative block or lethargy I have been experimenting with several methods:
1.) Leave, just leave get away. For fifteen minutes, a day, a week (hopefully not this long) but to go and come back to it later.
2.) Work through it. Push on as much as possible and hope it turns out the way you want or need it to be. Perseverance goes a long way, so they say.
3.) Walk away. Completely. If it really was that important... I wouldn't be having the issue.
4.) Change direction. Maybe changing direction will ignite a new flame and add a new vibrancy to myself and the work
5.) Research. Maybe I'm just not looking at something the right way. Maybe if I learn more it will bring me back to where I really need to be
6.) The internet. It has cats. Nuff' said.
While on occasion one, or more, of these may work I have to be honest and point out that perhaps this isn't a great idea.
Say you employ method 1, maybe you just needed a break. That cup of tea was delicious. Now you can resume work. But if it didn't you have potentially lost time. In 30 minutes I can get VERY distracted. If longer, I could easily convince myself to completely abandon a project that didn't actually need to be abandoned. If I had continued, maybe It would have been spectacular.
Method 2, more likely than anything you are subconsciously settling for less and weakening your work. Just like if you run a race with a hurt knee you aren't going to perform as well, if you push through on something that is mentally exhausting because you have less than stellar appreciation for what you are doing, the overall outcome could be seriously compromised.
Method 3, while I firmly believe that this is a great idea some of the time, not so great if you have a deadline or a client is waiting for a project. Now you are basically... screwed.
Method 4, I haven't really had a lot of negative effects from this method. Keep what you are working on already, or take a photo, and start working on it with a new outlook, new direction. Maybe it is slow going at first, but you are more likely to expand the possibilities of the work and experiment with a new technique. And if you don't like it, go back to the photo or to the original and try again.
Method 5, while research can often lead to pig-trails on the internet with non-subject related content or spark new ideas, you are learning and looking at new things. Really this is all it takes sometimes. Books do this really well. Sit down and read an essay or a chapter of a book and you'll probably think of something and learn something in the process.
Method 6, laughter is the greatest cure. I have many silly images strewn about my work space so if I am feeling a little less than hyped at what I'm doing, I walk around the room, peruse my internet derived landscape of laughter, giggle or smile, and sit myself down to work again. Just don't get too caught up in "wow, what other amazingly cute baby animals can i find on the internet" or you could waste a lot more time than you really need to.

All of these methods aside, the one I have had the best luck with is this: talk to people. Constantly. It's always nice to talk to people and communicate. They have new ideas and different perspectives. Infinite possibilities are available when people come together. But don't just practice social interaction for fun. Keep in mind that we ideally are doing this to pay bills. Set up business meetings, appointments, whatever. Having a deadline of meeting with a new potential client, buyer, gallery, always puts a little extra flare in the fire. I consistently try to show my portfolio to new people, and because I always want to improve and avoid rejection at all costs, I employ the "every new person I meet needs to see something that no one else has seen" philosophy. This way I am constantly creating new things, and hopefully they are better than some older work, but if nothing else it's new and potentially exciting in comparison to older work. With the pressure of this being professionally driven, rather than chatting about recent work with a friend, you are more likely to work a little harder and maybe faster in order to get things done for that meeting, and at a higher quality.

Every once in a while stumbling into a motivational lull is going to happen. We aren't robots, thought it would be cool sometimes, and creativity is hard to maintain at times. Recently I watched a documentary (about Joe Strummer) and a comment near the end struck a certain cord. I don't remember the exact quote but here is the gist of it, "When someone is burning so brightly for that long, we get used to it, and we expect it to continue forever. But it's selfish of us to expect that forever. Things that burn that brilliantly can only last so long." While we aren't all Joe Strummers rocking pens and brushes instead of microphones, we expect ourselves to operate at peak performance all the time. We want to, but we just can't. All we can do is find our  own way to recoup and recover, and then get back to business.

Lastly, we love what we do. Illustration, art, design... it's amazing. We live and breath it because we love it. Think about why you love it and what you really love. Sometimes we lose steam because we are caught up in life, which does suck sometimes (not going to lie), and maybe illustration is our way of paying the bills, but it's not life. It is our chance to escape, or it is our escape. It is our chance to say what we don't otherwise know how to, or our way of working through something. And other people want to see that. How cool is that? It's pretty rad, right? What you have to say, or what you have to show, matters to other people and inspires them or makes them happy. Not everyone can say that about what they do. So even if are wandering without purpose, you, by simply being you, will get it back. Until we die we will continue to experience, discuss, grow, and a really long list of other things. All of those things will create new things to say and share. Motivation will be there, is, it's just waiting till your eyes are closed to throw you a surprise party and put pictures of you in silly hats on the internet. (;

Jo- I work from home so the major distraction for me is the Internet, well, Twitter to be exact. And Facebook.... I'm aware that I consciously do it like every 5 minutes. I find that I procrastinate a lot when I have a creative blockage so doing random things fills the day up/ keeps me busy. Oh and I make loads of tea too and snack a lot... I sound really bad don't I?!

For me, motivation is about finding a solution to tackle that difficult brief/ starting a new project/ sorting out the paper work etc. Whatever you're doing it needs to be fulfilling, interesting and not simply a mindless chore you have to do by the end of the day. Ultimately it should make you feel good about yourself, right? To see the end result, no matter how big or small, plus the time you've spent on it should make it worthwhile. And seeing through it may be the first challenge you face especially when you have to help yourself.

I learnt that the only way to keep me motivated was firstly to have a tidy desk space and to keep as much free space as possible. Why? Because the majority of that time finding the right paper or pencil sucks up your time. I feel at the end of it I really can't be bothered to even get started because I spent all that time getting worked up on finding that pencil. Well that's me anyway! Having a clean desk space feel more refreshing than a cluttered one. I admit I do like to leave things lying around from time to time but all my equipment has a place so I know where to look for it.

Secondly, I like to get advice and opinions from my friends (I mostly have a good rant!) Or even chat to them about illustration or exhibitions we've seen when we're in the pub. As I've said previously I work mostly from home so it's good to talk to someone face to face.

This might be an odd one but I always think to myself I can do better. I hope I don't sound competitive or a right old meat head (only when I'm playing computer games I will shout at the screen!) But you need to have a mind set where you have to and need push yourself in order for your work to grow and develop. I believe that being strong spirited, persistent and that drive will keep you going particularly when being a freelance illustrator is hard. Don't know if it's something psychological.

Keeping a to do list is another good thing. Having structure and a deadline means you need to do it. Unless you manage to talk your way out of it... then reward yourself with a tea break!

With experience and time you learn what your strengths are and go along with it. It's not easy but every day is a new day.


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