Wednesday, February 03, 2016

be creative despite reality

I've been sharing my basic approach to managing my day as well as my philosophy around it which comes down to this: ritual and systems. I want to make my life as easy as possible so I can expend my energy into making art. So let's get down to the nitty gritty. How do I deal with the nasty, boring bits of running a creative business-- social media, admin, bookkeeping, email, etc?

These parts, which many of us see as a distraction from our real business of making art, is still part of our business. Every hour you put into it is part of your regular work week. I used to think that that part was "extra" and not really important to who I was as an artist-- going to the studio and making stuff was the most important part.

I have a quote on my wall in the studio from Lorne Michaels, who has gotten the best work out of some of the best comedy minds from the last 40 years. The quote says, "True creativity needs boundaries". What that means to me is that I have to rub up against the demands reality makes on me every day, and I have to figure out how to be creative despite reality. Taking care of the business end of things is me working within boundaries, and it makes me a better artist because I can get more of my work out there into the world. So don't think of managing your business as a limitation that cuts into your creativity, think of it as a boundary that you need to be creative.

Let's start with accounting and books since everyone hates that the most.

I set my calendar to remind me to do my books every month on or around the 15th. By then all of my statements from the last month have been issued and I can take a look at everything. I use Outright software for bookkeeping and I really like it. It's easy, takes no special technical knowledge, and while it's not free, it's not that expensive.  It grabs all of my income and expenses from all of my business accounts including PayPal, so with the push of a couple of buttons  I know exactly what is coming in and what is going out. I can also use it to issue online invoices. My monthly bookkeeping usually takes about an hour, and once I get over the dread of doing it, I actually enjoy it. It's fun.

Admin is a daily task, which is mostly managing orders and communicating with customers. I have a system with email:

  1.  Open email.
  2.  Delete as much as I can.
  3.  Answer every query as quickly as possible. 
  4. Close email.
 This will take me 1-2 hours. When I'm done with email in the morning, I'm pretty much done with it for the day. I will check it at lunch to see if there is something important, and same in the evening, but anything that can be put off for the next morning, I put off. I think answering a customer within 24 hours is a good goal rather than trying to answer emails as they come in. Checking and answering email throughout the day is pretty distracting, especially in the studio, so I keep a lock on it. My phone has most notifications turned off so I don't get pinged throughout the day.

Then there is social media, which for me is not only the public platforms many of us use like Instagram and FB, but also includes my monthly newsletter and things like this blog. I spend probably 3 hours a month getting my newsletter ready, and each post I write on the blog takes about 3-4 hours total. I think artists should incorporate social media into their routine and not just use it willy-nilly, because you end up spending way too much time on it. But... like many people, I love connecting with the world through social media, and it is hard keeping it in check. I know there are a lot of apps out there to help you schedule posts and send them out across platforms, but I am more plodding about it.  I try to post as often as I can about my work, but noodling around on it is something I try to use as a reward for myself and not just as a constant indulgence. I know that when I am going down a social media rabbit hole, I am bored, uninspired, and/or procrastinating. It's an awareness I had to develop over time, and it helps me manage myself.

All in all, I work anywhere from 6 to 9 hours a day (not including my 30-90 minute lunch), and I dedicate about 25% of that to the things that happen outside of the studio. I do not work weekends except for emergencies and holiday time.

I've said it before and I will say it again: it's never to early to start managing your business in a professional way, and it's never too late either.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

daily rituals

This is my second post in my series about how to manage the schedule of a creative business. If you missed my first post, read it!

 There has been a lot of interest lately in the daily ritual of artists and writers. I think it is a bit of a mystery how creative types manage to discipline themselves enough day after day to actually get their work done, while also indulging their creative whims that help fuel the work they do.  And making your way in the world as an artist, which means doing your own thing on your own terms, takes lots of discipline and self-control.

All of us want to be in the studio, but many of us have a hard time getting in there consistently and as I pointed out in my last post, consistency is key to running a successful creative business. So many things to do to prepare ourselves properly before we step into our creative space, so many cute cat pics to look at first.  The way to address this problem is with a daily ritual that will help you transition into your studio smoothly and without fuss, day after day.

The reason for the daily ritual is three fold:

  • One, it sets a daily pattern that alerts your brain to the fact that we are going to do some familiar and routine things, and then we are going to the studio. You're brain doesn't have as much of a chance to dream up exciting capers and out-of-studio adventures because you've given it notice that we are not doing that today, we're going to the studio and focusing on work. 

  • Two, a daily routine eliminates the need to make decisions about petty things and uses that brain power for more important things. It may seem silly, but it's well documented that humans only have the capacity to make so many good decisions in a day, and you don't want to use them up on mundane things, like what to eat for breakfast.

  • Three, the daily ritual is a weapon against procrastination. You're set with a routine that meets your needs, and over time it becomes a well-worn path that is easier and easier to follow. It's not difficult to dismiss the procrastinating actions that your brain tries to throw in your path because your ritual becomes more comfortable to execute than doing something else that you know is going to delay your entry into the studio. 

The daily ritual is all about transition-- transition from the your regular life to your creative life in the studio. You start developing your daily ritual by looking at what time of day and from what place you transition to your studio. For me, I'm transitioning from my home in the morning to my studio to work all day. So my daily ritual encompasses an everyday morning routine-- personal hygiene, exercise, meditation, breakfast, computer time, etc. I include all of these things in my daily ritual because once I'm in my studio, I don't want to be distracted by anything such as needing to get exercise, racing thoughts, anxiety about responding to a customer, or feeling hungry.  I've dealt with all of that stuff already and I don't have to think about it anymore.

If you are transitioning from a day job to your studio later in the day, you will have to take different factors into consideration. Or if you have a family to mange, even more components to evaluate. The only thing that matters is that you are taking a regular, repetitive action daily
that brings you comfort while addressing the things that may distract you once you are in the studio, so you can walk into the studio ready to focus. It must be something that you can look forward to so you don't mind doing it day after day. If your life is very chaotic with a lot of elements you can't always control, your daily ritual can be as simple as a cup of tea before doing your work. Or it can be very elaborate like mine, covering all of your basic needs.

I developed my daily ritual by making a detailed list of everything my most ideal self would do every day to make a perfect morning. It's true that things don't always go as planned and there are interruptions that throw my day off. But for the most part, my daily rituals sees to all of my needs and protects me from the chaos of my own mind. I would love to hear from you about your daily ritual, or struggles you have while trying to establish one.

My next post in this series will cover more of the nitty-gritty on how I divide my time up between all my tasks, how I streamline things, and how I keep a lid on the chaos.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

managing details

I got an email the other day asking how I schedule my work week, break down my days between home, studio time, bookwork, social media, administration, and everything else in my life. This is a question I get all the time, and I always skim over it because it's a really long answer, and it's not an easy answer. I promised this person I would write a blog post about it so I can give my answer once and for all, which I did, and the post is so long that you may find yourself skimming over my answer.

So I'm breaking it down into parts and fleshing it out in detail, which I hope will help some of you who are struggling with scheduling your days around your creative business.  I will publish all the parts over the next couple of weeks and tag it with "questions answered" so you can easily read through all the posts. This part is my basic philosophy of how I approach my work every day.

The main problem with running your own business is getting overwhelmed with the details. The details are relentless and constant, and someone who is trying to be diligent will attempt to address every detail with a daily to-do list that never gets done. And it doesn't get done because trust me, too much stuff gets put on that list to begin with. There is only so much time in a day to cope with the details that shore up your business, and there is absolutely no way to do everything that needs to be done every day. There just isn't. So if you are feeling like a failure because you don't get your list ticked through every day, stop it. You're not failing, you just have too much stuff on there.

A business is like a ship, and the ship will sail even if it's not perfectly tuned up. It just needs to float, it must be able to move through the water, it must avoid hidden icebergs and shoals, and it must be regularly maintained so it doesn't sink. Yes, we want it to have pretty sails and scrubbed decks and a fresh coat of paint and a completely sober captain, but we can't do all of that every day. Keep that in mind as you write up your daily to-do.

I keep things manageable by systematically addressing the details every work day. Almost 100% of this is on the computer, so I get it out of the way first thing in the morning. I allow at least an hour and up to 4 hours for this part, and it will fluctuate depending on what's on the agenda. It will usually be in the 1-2 hour range, and the longer days happen when I need to deal with more deep maintenance items like marketing.

You've heard that prioritizing is important. The best way for me to mess up my day is to treat everything equally and just dive in willy-nilly. You. Must. Prioritize. It comes down to defining what is urgent, what is important, and what can be held over for another day. Knowing how to prioritize is a skill that is learned by practicing, it doesn't come naturally to most of us, and we usually have to put ourselves in a pickle any number of times before we figure it out. Every time you have a complete breakdown because you got overwhelmed is another tick on your learning curve.

The way I prioritize is before I turn on the computer, I make my list. It doesn't have to be in order. I can put a number by items to order them, or star the them to alert me to their importance.

The things that are the hardest and are nagging me the most are usually the most important, and I deal with those things first, such as a communicating with  an unhappy customer or printing out tags for items that will ship that day. Next I deal with details that come up every day, like social media postings and answering email. Then I look at irregular details that pop up like ordering supplies, updating my website, writing my newsletter, or paying bills. The goal is to avoid having to bail water out of my ship, which would be things like poor communication, missing deadlines, or making mistakes because I let things get away from me and I am now in a hurry.

Obviously the thing that can really trip you up here is the distraction of the internet. My personal weakness is Instagram, cat videos,  and the many newsletters I subscribe to. I have no magic here, it takes a will of steel to resist the pull of the rabbit hole. If you managed to get through that last sentence without clicking a single link, you have the potential for a will of steel. If you clicked, you're just like the rest of us. I tend to give myself a little goof-off time before I get started on the computer, and then reward myself with a little more goof-off time at the end. 

The key is consistency, which is such a nice word and so easy to say, but it is so hard to be consistent, especially when it is only yourself to hold you accountable for your actions. And many artists types are not necessarily consistent by nature, that is what makes us artistic... right? My next post will be about developing consistency through daily routine and how you can create a workable and fun routine for yourself that will help you run your creative business. Meanwhile, if you have questions about this post, please feel free to comment below and I will answer.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the way of the half-ass

I've mentioned before that I am a recovering perfectionist. One of the ideas that I've embraced since going into recovery is the idea of half-assing it.  The mantra that goes with half-assing it is: "Half-ass is better than no ass". 

The idea first came to me around how I exercise. I'm one of those people who decides I'm going to get in shape and then sets up a whole regimen: daily routines, a DVD workout set from Jillian Michaels, a little notebook to mark my progress, etc. And I'm good with that for a few weeks or a month or whatever. But then... I get lazy, and I miss a day. Missing a single day is as good as driving the train off the tracks and into the gully, and I know it. I know that as soon as I am achieving at less-than-optimal standards, I give up. It's a symptom of my perfectionism.

But one day I was floundering with my exercise routine, and I decided that rather than skip the whole thing, which was my inclination because I was short on time that day, it would be better if I just took the 10 minutes I had a do some squats and some pushing around of the arm weights and that would be okay. It was half-assed compared to my usual effort, but also literally better than nothing, and the easiest and least I could do while still doing something. It also kept the train on the tracks. Since I came to the Way of the Half Ass, I've been getting more regular exercise.

Half-assing it also goes hand-in-hand with doing the easiest thing that is available to you rather than not doing it because you can't trust or value something that's too easy. This is another aspect of perfectionism: one must unduly suffer. If it's easy, it ain't worth doing. I really believed for years that I was not expressing my deepest artistic self unless it was hard and I was suffering in some way. But really, I think it was a finely tuned fear and procrastination system. I have been so much more creative in the past 18 months because I don't care as much about making "perfect" things anymore. I don't even care about finishing if I don't feel like it.

I think a lot of people out there who are running art-based businesses flounder with things like marketing and creative development because they think they can't do it unless they do it 100% "right", locked in with a beginning-to-end plan, executed with perfection. I say fuck that. Floundering around and doing things whether or not it's "the right way" or shows you at your very best creates its own forward momentum that is more valuable than sitting around in your studio thinking about all the things you're going to do as soon as the time is "right".

It's the things that I don't half-ass that haunt me more than the half-assed things I do. Right now I'm feeling overwhelmed by putting together a new marketing and promotion plan. I have to reach into new areas to get my work out there because my old way of doing things is not working anymore. The fact that I'm overwhelmed is my own little clue that I'm struggling with my perfectionism, and then nothing gets done because the whole thing makes me uncomfortable and I would rather procrastinate. It would be a far better thing to think of a few of the easiest things I could do right now-- send off a few emails to showrooms, ask for help-- than to sit alone in my head.

The bottom line of half-assing-- so to speak-- is not about lowering your standards, but about being kinder to yourself.  Stop with the lashing of the whip, stop with the impossible ideals, stop with the procrastination. Half-ass it. You'll feel better.

Monday, November 16, 2015

sharing the work

I'm posting pictures of some of my new paintings on the blog today. Here they are:

Sharing art work can be weird. Last weekend, when I had a party and sale at my studio, I put all the paintings I've been doing on the wall.  I didn't put prices on them because I told myself that I just wanted to show them. But the truth is I didn't want to put prices on them because I was afraid if I did that, people would feel sorry for me because obviously the paintings are awful and it's just a little pathetic that I actually thought I could sell them.

I don't think the paintings are awful and I like them quite a bit, actually. And I had fun making them which was the most important thing to me while I was creating them. And it's not like I lack confidence. It's just that showing your art is weird and it puts you in a vulnerable spot, and I was doing my best to dodge that.

As it turns out, people did want to buy them, and I wasn't prepared with a price. It was awkward, and people had to come back later after I made up my mind. Note to self: don't do that again, unless you truly have no intention of selling something. It's annoying to everyone concerned.

I'm a firm believer in not sharing work until you are ready. Showing work too soon can backfire if the work is still in some kind of process or you are not emotionally prepared yet. But I don't know where that line is between "not being ready" and "fear".

There are amazing artists out there who never show their work to anyone, ever. Part of me thinks there is a strange nobility in that, to just do the work for the sake of the work. But when it comes down to it, I have to change my mind about thinking it's noble. It's not noble. It's just fear. It's okay to have fear, but I don't think fear should be the decider about important things, like whether or not to share your work.

Sharing is part of the artistic process. I believe art is there to give something to humanity-- something to think about, a new idea, a connection, a moment of beauty, even a moment of transcendence. If the art isn't shown, it can't do its final job of changing people's hearts and minds. If your art is just for one person-- for yourself-- maybe there is a good reason for that. But I don't know what that would be.

Selling is another thing. I don't think art has to be sold, but there is something to be said for moving it along. I really like these paintings, but I can see that I will quickly be drowning under a pile of canvas if I don't find homes for these pieces. So, that being said, I will be posting paintings on my website within the next week or so, and I'll be announcing it through my newsletter and Facebook. You can also contact me if you are interested in any of them.

Friday, October 30, 2015

a tiny lesson in creativity

I've been painting with acrylics for the last couple of months. I used to paint all the time, and in fact there was a time when I thought I would be a painter when I grew up, but then I met pottery and I dropped painting immediately. I literally have not picked up a paintbrush since 1993.

I started painting again because I realized I make too big of a deal about creativity in general and there is no reason why I can't make pottery and paint. I can paint, and it can suck and be awful, and that's okay, because it's not important and nobody cares. I don't have to sell it and it doesn't have to make me famous. But I can still have fun while making terrible paintings. When I came to this important realization around late August, I ran to the art supply store, bought everything I needed, and started painting immediately. I mean like, right away, that day.

My approach to painting has completely changed. When I was younger, I would start in on a canvas with a very clear idea of what I wanted to paint. It was never as good as I wanted to be, and that was always a frustration to me. I think part of the reason why I was so willing to move on with pottery is because with pottery, I was quickly able to make pretty much what I had in mind. It was way easier and more satisfying and the reward of having something useful when it came out of the kiln was even better.

Now when I stand in front of a canvas, I have only the vaguest sense of what I want to do, and I usually just start with color. When I'm about 30 minutes in, this voice always starts up: "Oooooh... I don't like this very much. I don't know about this.... It kind of sucks, don't you think? Please... make it better before you kill me with your bad taste." This voice used to totally throw me off track, because I used to believe that it knew what it was talking about. Now I understand that it knows nothing  and I just ignore it. I keep ignoring it and after about 2 minutes it fades away. I call this "the hump". I have to just get past that first hump and then I'm fine. I can just keep painting away until I feel like I'm done, and I'm usually pretty happy with what I've made. If the hump comes again, I know it will last about 2 minutes so I just wait it out.

This exercise has totally been helping me with my pottery too. I had this piece, a really big piece that I threw in two parts, and when I put it together, it wasn't matching up in the way I envisioned. I wanted it to be a smooth bullet shape, but it had a little curve where there two piece met and I didn't have enough clay to trim it into shape. I did not like it. But it was so damn tall-- 22 inches!-- and I had put so much work into making it that tall that I wasn't going trash it. I decided to approach it like a painting, not give a shit if the surface decoration was good or not, and just have fun with it in the exact same way I am having fun painting.

As it turned out, this piece ended up being one of the strongest in this collection of vases of tall vases I made for a gallery, and it sold for over $1000 within a couple of weeks.

So what is the lesson? The lesson is to have fun with your creative work, of course, and not to focus on the outcome but on the process. But it's also about taking the time to notice your own process and pay attention to its hills and valleys. I think with pottery I am so used to my process that I don't necessarily take note of some of the negativity I bring to it. But painting is feeling so fresh to me at the moment that I really notice all the feelings I am having with it, and then when I immediately move on to making some pottery that action of noticing myself and my feelings is still there. It's very helpful. On difficult mornings when I feel like I don't know what the hell I'm doing, which is really all the time, I just whip out 30 minutes of painting just to get things going, and to prime the pump of not being too attached to any particular outcome.

If you are looking for an assignment today, here's one: go get some supplies and make something that is out of your wheelhouse but you think will be fun. Go get some fimo, some shrinky dinks, some watercolors, some styrofoam and spray paint. Whatever. And make something just purely for fun. Notice what is happening in your head while you're making it. Let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

I'm havin' a party

I'm having a pre-holiday studio party sale thing on November 7. I always want to have a party at my studio around the holidays, but it is really hard to get people to do anything around the holidays. So I'm scheduling it before the holidays, and I'm going to see if that works.

The studio will open at 5, and my vision is that people who want in on the sale part of the party will come early. All my regular priced items will be 15% off between 5-7 PM. I will also have every last second on a special table, along with randoms, orphans, one-offs, and prototypes. It's a space clearing exercise too.

Around 7 PM I will turn up the music, and perhaps dim the lights a bit. I will have food and drinks and that kind of thing. You can still buy stuff, but you will have to find me to give me money. Perhaps I will have some kind of special bell you can ding or a balloon you can pop to alert me.

If you are in the Bay Area, by all means, please show up. Here are all the details you need. If you are shy about parties, come early before there are too many strangers to interact with, slip in and out, or bring a friend.