In the previous post I mentioned that for artists, finding out what you want to be is another way of branding your work. In this second part, I’d like to think with you about distractions and how to avoid them. When I quit my day job and got serious about being an artist, I learned some very important things that had little or nothing to do with talent or technique. Here are a few that made the greatest impression on my life:
1. SET STRUCTURED WORK HABITS: When I first started doing this, I couldn’t even take off my pajamas or do dishes for fear of getting distracted. I’d set my alarm, get up, put the coffee on and start working. That’s how determined I was. Now I’m at work by 9 am and work till 5 pm at least five days a week and I wake up every morning excited about going to work. So perhaps coming to the place of that kind of determination is the first and MOST important thing one has to settle. As long as your dream is an optional hobby, it will continue to remain only a dream.
2. PROTECT YOUR TIME: Not only do we have to learn disciplined work habits, we also have to train our friends and family. It’s amazing how many people think that just because you’re home, you’re at their beck and call for chats, coffee or to help them with whatever. We have to protect our time and “train” others to do the same by not returning calls during our working hours. Then, when you do return the call, make a point of saying, “Sorry I couldn’t take your call. I’m off work now so I can talk to you.” It takes time, discipline and patience…. and you may lose a few friends!
3. SILENCING THE CRITIC IN YOUR HEAD: Early on I read “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. As I did the journaling exercises the book laid out, I learned to first expose and then silence “the critic in my head.” I had no idea how powerful those voices were and how deeply entrenched from childhood the negative comments were and their corresponding thoughts. Once I identified them, they became mere shadows that need only be flicked away like ants at a picnic.
4. SET REASONABLE GOALS: For years I have made it a practice to set “New Year’s Goals” rather than make “resolutions.” The way I do this is to evaluate the past year and search for a word or phrase that distills the essence of the goal; and for me it’s a spiritual process. Last year, the phrase was “spread a big net” and I interpreted that to mean market to the max and widen the line of products. Considering the economy, it was certainly the right move. This year my goal is to “focus and refine”, which leads me into the next topic.
5. FIND YOUR NICHE & MAKE IT YOUR FOCUS: Business 101 says, “Find a need and fill it.” It’s a little different in art, but not much. In art school I dabbled in everything; and school is a great place to dabble. Identify what you love and then find a way to do it better or differently from everyone else. I knew I was a painter but there are a million painters. I needed to find something that made my work stand out…for me, that was glass. But even within glass, there are so many options: you can caste it, make functional pieces, build it into sculptures, use additives in your glass to or fuse metals or micas into it……and on and on. These can be growth-giving departures or distractions. I am constantly tempted by new techniques but right now my mantra is “Do what you do well.”
The trick is to keep the work fresh and expand and refine within your niche without getting distracted. Following this recipe, I recently did a small project for a group I belonged to that led me to search through old photos and that led me to a new series I’m calling Remembered Spaces. Below is my favorite of those completed so far, along with the photo used.