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Olaf Willoughby

The Creative Space, Part One

Imagine yourself in a favourite photo location. Maybe for you that is Street shooting in Bangkok or Brooklyn. Or for this post I’ve chosen a beautifully backlit waterfall in Iceland. You excitedly pull out your camera and start shooting. You already know that you’ll get at least some good images. You smile inside at the expectation of processing, posting and printing. Right. Job done. Where to next?

This is a well trodden path which produces some great images and good friendships. But this time let’s not rush off. Instead let’s pause, rewind and consider some alternative scenarios. Consider that location as an empty ‘creative space’ waiting to be filled with an interpretation.

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Now imagine a painter walks into that scene. How would she see the light, the movement and the colours? She has the advantage of being able to add and subtract elements on the spot whereas photographers can mostly only do that in post processing. Which elements might she accentuate and how?

Now rewind and imagine a poet enters the same creative space. He has more leeway to convey the full sensory impressions; the deafening sound of the waterfall and the delicate touch of the spray. The poet might consider how in Iceland it is easy to feel a deep connection to the elemental forces of nature. How trolls might live in the rocky recesses of the mist covered mountains. Is there a photographic equivalent to this kind of inspiration?

Finally, rewind again and imagine you are a composer entering the space. What kind of mood could you conjure up with the full complement of musical instruments at your disposal, ? How do you capture the majesty of a landscape? As Gustav Mahler said when a colleague enthused about the view of the lake and mountains from his cabin at Attersee in Austria, ‘Don’t bother looking at the view – I have already composed it’. How can we approach a fuller sense of the potential of the scenes in front of our cameras?

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You get the point. When we are in our personal photographic creative spaces we are seeing only one small part of the creative whole. A good analogy would be our eyesight where visible light is only a small part of the total electromagnetic spectrum, only one version of reality. There is more to be seen.

Similarly each of the artists above will interpret the magic of that creative space in very different ways. Whilst this is a simple point to understand intellectually, very few of us are skilled in a variety of artistic disciplines. So to expand into any of these spaces seems in practice almost impossible.

And this is one of the much debated issues in photography as an art form. The instrument itself is quite limited. Yes we can stray into impressionism with camera movement, into the surreal with multiple exposures and blend modes and into metaphor with ‘equivalents’ (http://www.moma.org/ collection/works/44200?locale=en)

But these are ‘technical’ solutions and only slightly change how we think about and see our images. So how can we bring some of that artistic inspiration available to other disciplines, back into photography? How can we enlarge the creative spaces we inhabit to energise our work?

There is a way that Eileen McCarney Muldoon and I have developed and teach in our workshop, ‘Visual Conversations’. The principles are covered in part two of this post to be published next weekend.

Meantime if you’d like more information on the workshop please check here:

Visual Conversations

July 10th – 16th, Maine Media College, Rockport, USA

Aug 23rd – 25th, Leica Studio, London, UK 

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Refraction_XLI

You’re kidding yourself if you don’t think you have fears. Fear is useful. In certain situations, fear keeps us performing at our peak – it keeps us alive. But, if we let it go too far and panic, fear can kill us, literally or figuratively. This is just as true in our creative lives as it is in our daily lives. In their classic book Art & Fear Ted Orland and David Bayles address fear as a primary force to overcome in the creative process. In her new book Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert starts a list of fears – and then cuts it short. She started a creative exercise we would all benefit from engaging. Ask what fears have us in their grip, identify them, consider them, and start holding them (or not) instead.

Get started with this list of fears.

Does some of what’s on my list sound familiar to you? How can the voice inside your head be so similar to the voice inside my head? Is it really our voice? Is that voice of fear just the mind doing what it does? Is that voice of fear just the mind doing what it has been trained to do? What are the fears we all share? What are your personal fears? Which fears are strongest or most important for you?

This list of fears is incomplete.

Modify and expand this list of fears in any way that’s helpful to you. Get it all off your chest.

Curiously, after making a list, just making a list, most people feel better – freer. Newfound clarity brings more choices.

After you make your list of fears give yourself a break. Later, consider the roots of your fears. Where are they coming from? What foundations do they have? What other thoughts, feelings, and memories are they connected to? Are they changing?

If you consider the roots of your fears, you’re sure to find valuable new personal insights. Don’t judge yourself for what you find. Is judgment useful? Only insight is, if it leads to action. If you do this, you may be better able to choose to change the way you think, feel, and/or act in valuable and significant ways. That’s useful!

Self Worth & Character

You’re afraid you’re not enough.
(Insert a word in this sentence, before “enough.” – good, deep, smart, emotional, significant, important, connected, talented, skilled, trained, educated, political, relevant, funded, supported, hurt, angry, wild, energetic, controlled, disciplined, persistent. serious …)

You’re afraid you’re too …
(Insert a word at the end of this sentence. – intellectual, emotional, insignificant, unimportant, unconnected, trained, educated, political, well-funded, supported, hurt, angry, wild, energetic, controlling, undisciplined, serious, light-hearted … )

You’re afraid that your life hasn’t been painful enough.
You’re afraid that your life has been too hard.
You’re afraid that your life has been too easy.
You’re afraid you’ll have to confront your inner demons.
You’re afraid you don’t have any inner demons.
You’re afraid you may encounter the divine within you.
You’re afraid you won’t encounter the divine within you.

Criticism

You’re afraid you’ll be criticized.
(Replace criticized with any other synonym – ridiculed, mocked, mimicked, embarrassed.)
You’re afraid you’ll lose the approval you’ve already won.
You’re afraid you’ll be called unskilled.
You’re afraid you’ll be called ignorant.
You’re afraid you’ll be called uninspired.
You’re afraid you’ll be called selfish.

You’re afraid other people’s pressures will take the fun out of it for you.
You’re afraid you should feel guilty for having so much fun.
You’re afraid other people will judge you for having so much fun.
You’re afraid that you having so much fun will be take as criticism of others for not having fun.

Significance

You’re afraid what you do won’t matter to anyone.
You’re afraid what you do won’t matter to you.
You’re afraid no one will preserve what you do when you’re gone.

Comparision

You’re afraid that what you do will be compared to something someone else has done.
You’re afraid that what you do won’t be compared to something someone else has done.
You’re afraid that when compared with someone else’s creation your creation will seem less … (Fill in the blank.)
You’re afraid that when compared with your creation someone else’s creation will seem less … (Fill in the blank.)
You’re afraid that when compared with someone else’s creation your creation will seem insignificant.
You’re afraid that when compared with your creation someone else’s creation will seem insignificant.

Money

You’re afraid what you produce won’t sell.
You’re afraid there will be no long-term market for what you produce.
You’re afraid the reward you receive won’t be worth the financial investment you make.
You’re afraid the investment you may now will take away from your family’s future financial success.

You’re afraid you don’t have enough space.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right space.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right tools.
You’re afraid you don’t have enough tools.

Skill

You’re afraid you’re not skilled enough.
You’re afraid skill alone is not enough.

Knowledge

You’re afraid you don’t know enough.
You’re afraid you’ll never know enough.
You’re afraid of what you don’t know.
You’re afraid you don’t know what you don’t know.

You’re afraid you don’t know what really right is.
You’re afraid your right isn’t someone else’s.
You’re afraid your right is someone else’s wrong.

You’re afraid somebody else already did it. (Maybe better.)
You’re afraid somebody will steal you ideas.

Time

You’re afraid you’re too young.
You’re afraid you’re not experienced enough.
You’re afraid you’re too old.
You’re afraid it’s not the right time.
You’re afraid if you do it now, it won’t turn out as good as it could.
You’re afraid that you should have done it long ago and now it won’t turn out as well.
You’re afraid it’s too late to do it really right.
You’re afraid you don’t have enough time.
You’re afraid you don’t know how to use the time you have.
You’re afraid the time you invest will be wasted.
You’re afraid the time you invest won’t be pleasurable.
You’re afraid you’ll give up before it’s over.
You’re afraid you’ll give up before you get started.
You’re afraid you’ll give up after it’s over.

Success

You’re afraid you won’t succeed.
You’re afraid that once you succeed, you’ll never have another success.
You’re afraid your success will make someone else look less.
You’re afraid your success will make someone else’s success look less.
You’re afraid it will bring out the worst in you.
You’re afraid that the worst in you will be the thing most focused on.
You’re afraid the best in you will bring out the worst in others.
You’re afraid success will go to your head.
You’re afraid success will go to other people’s heads.
You’re afraid your new successes will undo your past successes.
You’re afraid your old successes will prevent your new successes.

Sacrifice

You’re afraid you’ll have to give up something.
You’re afraid you’ll have to give someone up.
You’re afraid you’ll have to give up a part of yourself.
You’re afraid what you get won’t equal what you give up.
You’re afraid that the process will change you. (And you don’t know what that change will be.)

Conclusion

And this list continues to grow! Clearly, there’s no end to fear – unless you put a stop to it.

When you say things to yourself, ask yourself, “Would say the same things to anyone else?” If not, why would you say them to yourself? Ask yourself one more very important question. Is it useful to say these things? If so, how and how much and how often? When it’s not useful, stop doing it.

Acknowledging our fears can be quite useful. Pace yourself. You may find it useful to do this in several smaller sessions rather than all at once. Past a certain point, dwelling on fear can become counterproductive. It can keep us from living the lives we want to live. It can be a form of procrastination. Taken too far, catharsis can quickly become reinforcement. Taken to an extreme it can become a matter of fear feeding fear. Don’t feed fear. Look at fear clearly. Learn what you can from fear. And then move forward. Take the steps you need to take to live the life you want. Make the move you need to make to be the person you want to be.

While you can make some pretty good guesses and make some pretty good plans for things to do to ensure things go the way you want them to go and contingency plans for getting things back on track if things don’t go the way you want them to go … The truth is you don’t know what will happen. The truth is you won’t know until you do it.

Creativity is a process of discovery. It’s worth the risk. Dream. Dare. Jump.

Read more on Creativity here.

Explore The Essential Collection Of Creativity Quotes here.

View The Essential Collection Of Creativity Videos here.

These are two book covers for projects I’m currently developing.

I create visual reminders for projects I’m currently working on. Then I place them in my working environment. They constantly prompt me to consider the work I’m developing at many times and in many moods. I sleep on it. I collect sketches and notes. I plan trips to make new exposures and list what I kind of material I’m looking for. I assemble relevant finished images in the series. I look for connections between images currently being made and images made in the past. I list many ways to develop the work.

What projects are you developing?
What kinds of visual reminders would be helpful to you?
What other things can you do to develop the work you want to do right now?

Learn more about creative planning and goal setting here.

Learn more in my creativity and digital photography workshops.

ArrangingPDF

How you present your work may be almost as important as what work you present. It’s the art of sequencing or arranging. And it is an art, which involves specific techniques that can be learned. What are some of the guiding principles involved? Here are a few.

Sequence matters. Start strong. Finish strong. Make getting there interesting. Whether it’s a symphony, a novel, or an exhibit. It’s good advice for arranging any creative product. To sequence a project, you can use the metaphor of building a fence. The strongest pieces can be thought of as posts. The less strong pieces can be thought of as rails. You want to start and end with very strongest pieces to create a strong structure. You want to periodically reinforce runs of less strong units with one or more stronger units. You don’t want long runs of rails without posts or the structure may fail. A fence made only of posts becomes something else entirely, a wall with no variation or grace. The number of strong pieces you include determines how long a fence will be, though the number of other images you include may modify length somewhat.

Remember the golden rules of marketing; primacy (the first thing you see), recency (the last thing you see ), and frequency (the number of times you see the same or similar things). Frequency is rated first. Primacy is rated second. Recency is rated third. They’re all important. It’s all about effective memorable communication. So, the most important thing is to have a consistent body of work (frequency). The next most important thing is to start with your strongest work (primacy). The next most important thing is to finish strong (recency).

You can use classic story telling devices (like structure, proximity, pace, length, etc) to strengthen any image presentation and bring to light subtext in and connections between images that give work added depth and dimension.

In short, arranging matters.

Learn more about the art of Arranging in this free PDF.

Subscribe to Insights enews and download it free.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

10MinsADay copy

Do you want more time for your creative life? (Or anything in your life … reading, music, yoga, meditation … ) Steal the time. Get up early and pay yourself first. Instead of thinking in big lots, think in little chunks. (Don’t think of these little chunks as substitutes for big lots of time; instead think of them as meaningful additions.

Look at how the minutes add up.

Day      Week       Month      Year        Hrs        Work Weeks

5           35          150          1825        30         1

10         70          300          3650         61         1.5

15          105       450          5,475        91         2

20          140       600          7,300        122        3

30          210       900          10,950      183        4.5

60          420       1800         21,900      365        9.5

Right now you’re probably making excuses. Here are the most common excuses. Sound familiar? I made them for decades.

“The time I can make isn’t at my peak performance time.”

“The first few minutes are spent preparing workspace and materials.”

“The first few minutes are spent getting into a mindset.”

“There are days when I’m away from my workspace and materials.”

Do everything you can to eliminate these barriers. You’re resourceful.

Then, stop making excuses and just do it – consistently.

Your time will add up and you’ll see real results.

If you don’t start, you’ll be left with excuses.

Go for it!

Read more resources for your creative life here.

Every voyage I’ve made to Antarctica has revealed new dimensions in the subject – weather, light, seasonal changes, annual variations, and my growing understanding of the region have all contributed to this.

With so many wonderful places to go, why would you return to the same location more than once?

Let me count the ways.

1    You’ll see more of and learn more about a place.
Increase your understanding of the places you photograph and your photographs will become more interesting.

2    You’ll have an opportunity to get the images you missed.
Try making a short list of the shots you missed when you shoot. Even if you never return this activity will prompt you to be clearer about why you missed the shots and you can take steps towards remedying this in the future. If you do return, you’ll have the beginnings of a working plan that will greatly increase your productivity and success rate.

3    You’ll have an opportunity to refine the images you made.
You may have made images that barely made the cut but would shine if they were reframed or made with different equipment or in different conditions. For this reason I recommend you review not only the images that worked on your previous trip(s) but also the ones that didn’t asking yourself why they didn’t and what you could do differently.

4    You’ll see new things as your vision matures.
Having first found the images that come to you more naturally, you’ll later find yourself challenged to look for other kinds of images, which will stimulate your creativity and increase your visual versatility.

5    You’ll see changes in the place.
Time reveals. Weather, time of day, seasons, and the accumulation of years change a place. They change us too. These changes can become a wellspring for many images.

6    You’ll learn more about yourself.
While it’s true that you can learn more about yourself when you experience new things, it’s equally true that you’ll learn more about yourself when you re-experience them. You’ll find that your relationship with a location will change over time, as you experience more and mature. You’ll see not only how a place has changed but also how you’ve changed – and how the place has contributed to your growth. These types of insights are harder to achieve in new locations. Because the perspective with which you look at thing is different, the types of things you learn are different.

7    You’ll get to spend more time in your favorite places.
Just as you can’t go everywhere, you can’t return to every place. Return to the places that call you. Passion kindles the fires within, which will be visible in your images. Passion energizes and recharges us. A large part of the reason we do the things we do is because we enjoy them.

Unfamiliar locations challenge you to see new things in new ways, familiar locations challenge you to see the same things in new ways.
Just because we see new things doesn’t mean we will see in new ways, in fact the times when we are grappling with so many new variables are often the times when we fall back on our habits. When we see the same things again we are forced to see in new ways and/or deepen the ways we see them.

Even with a lifetime of adventuring, you can’t see it all. Your question is do you want to see a lot or do you want to see deeply? You’ll want to strike a balance between the two, surveying the many opportunities before you and choosing to return to one or a few of the places that call you the most. Exactly what balance you strike at any given moment is up to you.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Find out about my next digital photography workshop in Antarctica.

Outliers

May 30, 2012 | Leave a Comment |

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The image highlighted is an outlier. While the rest of the images are shot aerially looking down, it’s shot at ground level looking up. It won’t fit with the rest of the images until more images like it are completed to balance the set within the set.

Outliers. They’re the images that don’t fit neatly in a body of work. Outliers test the code of a style or body of work.

Widely divergent outliers, if they’re good but not great, often indicate a failure to move beyond conventional to more personal ways of seeing. If they’re great, they may represent a valuable new area for discovery or even a breakthrough.

Moderately divergent outliers may be just what you need to advance a body of work by providing one or more valuable variations on a theme, adding new energy and content into the mix. This is particularly true if just one thing is changed from the characteristics of the larger set (angle of view, range, duration, etc), as what changes calls attention to itself and questions are asked about how this change expands our understanding of the subject or artist’s intent.

If outliers are included for the wrong reasons (like you can’t put the image aside for now or find another context for it), they often disrupt the tone and continuity of a collection of images. This weakens the overall effect. This is the jack-of-all-trades master of none syndrome.

If outliers are included for the right reasons (they display a different but related theme or way of seeing the same subject and provide new avenues for going deeper with your subject and your relationship to it), they strengthen both other specific images within a set and the group as a whole as well.

On occasion one (rarely more) outlier can work within a body of work, when presented as a prelude (before), turning point (middle) or after thought (end), to suggest other as yet not fully resolved dimensions within a body of work. Use this strategy carefully, as outliers draw a lot of attention to themselves.

Pay attention to outliers. They’re your worst enemies. They’re your best friends.

See more images in this series on Google+.

Read more about Bodies Of Work and Developing Personal Projects here.

Learn more in my digital photography and digital printing workshops.

Personal Projects
Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you focus, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.
Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

Create a mission and set goals.
Define the purpose of your project and what you’d like to achieve through it. Many times, people adopt the mission and goals of others without first checking if those goals are personally beneficial. Some have professional aspirations, others don’t. Your goals will help you determine projects and timelines that are appropriate for you. The few moments (or hours) you spend clarifying why you’re doing what you’re doing and what you’d like to see come of it will save you hours, months, even years by ensuring that you’re going in the right direction – a direction of your own choosing. When you take control of your personal projects, you also take control of your life.

Make a plan to achieve your goals.
A plan will help make your project a reality. A simple action plan is all you need to get started. Action plans define the steps that are required to achieve completion. Action plans should be clear and practical. Action plans should be flexible; odds are, things will not go exactly according to plan and you’ll need to modify your plan to accommodate surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. Reality happens. Grace happens too. Having defined what you need to accomplish, your unconscious will go to work on the task, generating many ideas. You’ll find yourself ready to make the most of unexpected opportunities as they arise.

Set a timeline.
A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.

Identify where and when you’ll need and who will help you.
While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project. Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. People with different perspectives may identify ways to improve, expand, or extend the reach of your project. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel. In the end, all final decisions are your decisions; it’s your project.

Stay focused and follow through.
You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. Make sure you’re working on the best project. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria, focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you. Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and circumstances develop. Look for a common theme among projects. Often your projects will be related. Focus your efforts in related areas. It’s very likely those areas have greater relevance for you than others. Your work will be perceived as stronger and more cohesive if your projects relate to one another, implying evolution.

What’s your project?
A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Pick your projects well. They define not only how other people see you but also what you become. You are what you do. Take the first step today; make a commitment to create a personal project. (Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)

Plan to plan.
Many people refuse to plan, especially in creative fields where discovery is desired. They say, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Everyone needs a plan. Often, when you start a project, knowing you need to learn more as you go forward, you feel like you don’t have enough of the pieces to make a plan or you don’t have all of the pieces to make a complete plan. My recommendation is to start with a rough plan and continue to refine it as you go.

Stay flexible.
The best plans aren’t written in stone. The best plans remain flexible. Flexible plans allow you to make course corrections along the way as you learn more about your subject, your medium, yourself, and your audience. Expect to update your plan. I find that, if I don’t update my plan during the development of a project, this a clear indicator that I haven’t found the insight(s) necessary to complete it. I expect to be changed, for the better, by the projects I engage in. I expect to grow.

It helps to have a mission.
You have so many options before you, and so many more will soon present themselves to you, that you’ll find it challenging to choose which project(s) to move forward on or which path(s) to choose during project development. Defining a mission for your creative efforts in general will help ensure that you stay on track.

Be prepared to be surprised.
You don’t have to know all the answers before you begin to work. You just have to know the most important questions. Creating is a matter of solving mysteries, of finding answers. You don’t have to solve a mystery completely; you just have to find a few answers that you can stand by. If you’re lucky, you’ll find new questions and new mysteries along the way.

Find your groove. Find your message.
Doing things consciously, repeatedly, and consistently brings mastery. Repeat your successes … and find meaningful variations on them. When you do this you give your work a theme and style, which communicate a message. When does a groove become a rut? Don’t worry about the rut too soon, most people don’t stick with one thing long enough to find a groove. They go off road, traveling anywhere and everywhere, by any and all means, and ultimately don’t end up anywhere in particular, much less a place to return to, a place they can call their own.

Past projects lead to new projects.
Often the seeds of future work lie in present work. Themes that were unclear or latent, at the beginning of a personal project, once developed, lead to new lines of inquiry and more work. A creative life is never truly over. The best creative lives evolve; growing deeper, more complex and more sophisticated.

Prepare to make your work effective.
Even the best images will go unnoticed if they’re not presented and promoted properly. If you’ve spent a significant amount of time and resources to develop a personal project, you own it to yourself to see it presented well. This may be as simple as presenting your images well to yourself or as complex as promoting a publication and or exhibit, physically and/or virtually.

Make visible touchstones to guide your progress.
If you’ve got a personal project you want to complete, make a visible touchstone and keep it in one or more places where you can see it frequently. By doing this, you’ll be directing your conscious mind to focus on it and suggesting to your unconscious mind that this is a matter of importance – both will start to work on the challenge, even when you’re unaware of it. You will literally be sleeping on it. Many of the best ideas come during this period of gestation and incubation.

Projects take time.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to finish a project in a day. Projects can take weeks, months, or even years to complete. Some projects are ongoing and never end, producing many milestones along the way (publications, exhibitions, commissions, etc). Some projects lie dormant for a period of time and then suddenly come to life again. Projects have a life of their own. Personal projects require commitment, but the depth of your commitment will be reflected in both you and your work and in the achievements you make with it.

Read more and see specific examples on scottkelby.com.

Read more in my free creativity ebooks.

Discover and develop your personal projects in my digital photography workshops.

Define A Personal Project

January 5, 2012 | 1 Comment |

Defining a project is one of the single best ways to develop your body of work. When you define a project you make a commitment, set goals, set quotas, set timelines, create a useful structure for your images, collect accompanying materials, and polish the presentation of your efforts so that they will be well received.

Make a commitment. Making a commitment is perhaps the single best thing you can do to advance your work. You’ve already made a commitment to make images. Now make a commitment to present your images in the very best light. You deserve it. Your work deserves it. Once you make a commitment the chances that your work will improve grow exponentially.

The type of project you pick will set a quota for a minimum number of images – and in some cases an upper limit. Pick a project and you’ll instantly know how many images you need to collect/produce – and in some cases a maximum number you can include.

Show only your best work. It’s easy to be tempted to finish hastily, including lesser works amid stronger works in order to reach completion. Resist this temptation. When assembling a collection, lesser works dilute the strengths of better works.

In addition to producing, editing, and sequencing images, projects often need to be packaged in appropriate forms with accompanying materials, typically text, that make them ready for presentation and distribution. These finishing touches communicate additional useful information to a viewer.

While many artists define and produce projects themselves, some artists engage a curator, gallery director, publisher, editor, agent, writer, or designer to help them realize a project, in part or in whole. Finding the right collaborator(s) can improve any project.

Above all, seek feedback. Seek feedback from people with diverse perspectives whose opinions you value and trust. One thing you can always use, that you can never provide for yourself, is an outside perspective. Remember, feedback is food for thought, not gospel.

Set a timeline. A timeline can be used to combat procrastination and/or distraction and encourage you to produce work. Set realistic timelines. Unrealistic timelines simply produce frustration.

Focusing your efforts into a project will help you produce a useful product. A project gives your work a definite, presentable structure. A finished project makes work more useful and accessible. Once your project is done, your work will have a significantly greater likelihood of seeing the light of day. Who knows, public acclaim may follow. Come what may, your satisfaction is guaranteed.

You can work on multiple projects at a time. Be careful that you don’t get scattered. Starting projects is easy. Finishing them is hard. List all your possible projects and identify the ones that are most important and the ones that are easiest to finish. If you’re lucky enough that the same project fits both criteria focus all of your efforts there. Otherwise, you’ll have to strike a balance between what’s practical and what’s most important to you.

Only you can decide this and the balance is likely to shift as time passes and
A project is a wonderful thing. It gives direction. It brings clarity. It increases productivity. It produces tangible results. It brings personal growth. It presents your work in the very best light. You and your work deserve this. Take the first step today; make a commitment to create a personal project.

(Write something right now – put your words somewhere where you’ll constantly be reminded of them and can continue refining them!)

Find an extended version of this article here.

Learn more about creative planning and goal setting here.

Learn more in my creativity workshops here.

One of the things I do at the beginning of every year is review the accomplishments of the past year.

I take my projects list from the last year and color code it, assigning one color for done, one color for soon to be done, and another color for not done.

I want to know what happened. It feels great to see a list of everything that got done, especially when you get a significant surprise windfall. It can also be disappointing to see what didn’t get done, especially when the items that weren’t accomplished are important. Seeing it the items collected in one place is always revealing.

I want to do more than just see clearly what happened. I also want to know why things happened.

I find the vast majority of things that got done were things I identified as important and scheduled time for – wishing won’t make things happen. If something great and unexpected happened, I want to know why it happened, so I can make similar things happen again. If at the end of the year, I’ve completely rewritten my plan for the year, but it’s been substantially improved, I’m delighted.

If something important didn’t happen, I want to know why. I want to learn from my failures.  How many items are close to being done? (A calendar date can sometimes be arbitrary.)  Was something delayed for an important reason? Will the delay make it more successful? Did I not see the problem clearly? Were my expectations unreasonable? Did I not perform at peak? Did I overextend myself, taking on too many projects? Did I not allocate enough resources? Did I have the wrong team? Was the timing not right?  Did I get distracted? What I can do to avoid this in the future? How can this apply what I learned on one project to my other projects?

This yearly review helps me mentally consolidate everything I’ve accomplished and everything I’ve learned. Often, while I’m doing this review, I learn more things and find more ideas. At the end of the review, learn from my failures and repeat my successes. I want to know if I’m on track and moving forward toward my long term goals.

With those insights fresh on my mind, I make a new projects list for the next year.  (I copy last year’s list and delete everything that got done or is no longer relevant, add new items but be careful not to add an unrealistic number, and prioritize them.)

What plans will you make for your creative life now?

Learn more about creative planning and goal setting here.

Learn more in my creativity workshops.


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