Carrie Seid is an artist and high-performance coach for artists.
I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions.
They tend to be a recipe for shame, usually realized by February first.
But, I love how January gives me permission to hit the reset button, to give myself another chance to be organized and prolific, and buff from my new gym schedule. I can just picture those abs, as ripped in rows as my fresh (but not yet executed) filing system.
The best thing about the mental reset? It’s great for creativity. Picture for a moment that clean work surface, a new Arches watercolor block, and oooh, that new sketchbook smell …
If you’re a creative professional, you’re not only in the business of expressing yourself in ever more innovative ways, but you’re in the business of running a business.
This can be stressful and fatigue-inducing, just ask any sole proprietor. Hitting the reset button with some new approaches can renew your energy and help you see whole new avenues for your methods and your madness.
Here are some “re-Solutions” to get your creativity revving high this year.
Start each day with a proactive action or activity
Starting your day with social media “check-ins” is a total time suck. And worse, it’s a passive action that can leave you vulnerable to wasting time. We crave connection almost as much as food and oxygen, so we get in the habit of checking incoming feeds many times a day.
Our brains love the serotonin hit of feeling seen and acknowledged. And, because this is so intricately interwoven with our professional lives, ”checking-in” activity becomes even more insidious; reacting to incoming data can be easily excused as “work,” but these activities are passive, and put your precious time at the whims of others. As my dad once explained to me,”When someone calls you, it means they want to talk to you, it doesn’t mean you want to talk to them.”
How can you take back control of your time and start your day according to what’s best for your inner artist?
Impose a schedule you created. Be active by starting each morning with an activity engineered to keep your own ideas and goals uppermost. Spending just ten minutes on one of these activities at the start of your day can make you more focused and productive.
Try these tactics at the start of your day:
- Meditating for just a few minutes
- Writing a journal about last night’s dreams (an image library for most of us) or your intentions for the day
- Prioritizing your most important tasks
- Walking outside
- Take a few minutes to loosen up with stream-of-consciousness “drawing”— like doodling, sketching, or coloring like a happy five-year-old.
Let yourself “space out” on your work; be carried to foreign lands by the process.
Annie Liebowitz talked about her portrait of Agnes Martin “sitting and waiting to be inspired” in her studio. I’m not advocating endless sitting because I believe the most creative decisions come from movement. But it’s important to take time to stand back, take stock of what you’ve done so far, and get an objective view.
Then, consider what you do out of habit vs. what you might otherwise do.
We have so many habits — of thinking, of making marks, and of expecting. Identify your habits and try to break them with some new moves or materials.
Resolve to pick the low-hanging fruit first
Creative geniuses like you sometimes have a hard time prioritizing tasks between bursts of excitement about something new (like what happens when you discover a website that will print your artwork on just about anything).
The fruit that is lowest for you is the one hanging right in your face, such as opportunities and connections in your immediate community, projects you’ve already started, people who’ve expressed interest in your work. It’s a lot easier to follow up on an enthusiastic contact than to interest strangers from scratch.
This is also a good way to prioritize the “next best thing.”
Create a “low-hanging fruit tree” to organize your next best steps.
- Which community resources (local arts council, arts centers, guilds, Meetup groups) can I plumb for job opportunities, competitions, and shows?
- Who has already shown interest in my work?
- Who has offered to help me?
- What have I already started that I can finish?
- Do I need to follow up with anyone? Who are they?
- Who do I know that can introduce me to people I want to know?
- What relationships do I need to be nurturing now?
Resolve to take risks every day.
Let’s face it: being creative is the act of taking risks — of putting things in the world that weren’t there before. This takes guts and muscle.
Building creative muscle—just like other muscle—involves heavy lifting, boring reps, and some discomfort.
Good news: taking risks is not only good for creative muscle-building, but also for building immunity to rejection, to “failure", and to the fear of trying new things.
Awareness is key here. Knowing what you’re afraid of is the first step in taking risks despite your fears. This is the first step in taking responsibility for your fears and looking them in the face; once you know what they are, you can do something about them.
So make a “risk list:”
What are you most afraid to do?
Be specific! Here are some examples to get you started:
- Are you afraid to contact galleries and send out your portfolio?
- Are you afraid to quit your job?
- Are you afraid to end a relationship you don’t want to be in any longer?
- What are you afraid of creatively?
- Are you afraid of working much larger?
- Are you afraid of spending too much money on materials so that you can work on a larger scale?
- Are you afraid of breaking away from your usual techniques and doing something completely different?
Then ask yourself the following follow-up questions:
Why am I afraid of this? How long have I been afraid of this? How do I benefit by avoiding this?
How much longer am I willing to be afraid of this in a way that keeps me from taking action?
Here’s where it gets interesting. The more you are aware of what makes you afraid, the more you'll start to recognize your patterns of avoidance and how those lead to creative stagnation and procrastination.
But remember: taking creative risks is really exhilarating and resets your path on an energetic level. The whole game in leading a creative life is to see what you’re capable of doing, right?
Finally, expand your connectivity through community.
Art may be made of materials, but your art career is built on relationships.
Join your local guilds and associations. Reach out. Make sure you’re on the mailing lists of your local arts council, galleries, and museums. Opening receptions are a slam-dunk to rub elbows with your confrères and local collectors. If you need to, ask for help. Co-work with other creative people. Tell everyone you meet what you do, and invite them to see your work. When they say yes, offer them a bite to make them feel welcome.
How you run your creative practice is a creative act itself. This year, challenge yourself to focus more on what you love. Break your old habits. Bring in new materials and approaches. Give that genius a good workout, and see what happens!