After creating 14 pieces in 3 months, I was accepted into the MFA program I wanted to get into. Photo credit: Jessica Libor
As an artist, your primary job is creating work: work that you feel proud of, that would be thought provoking or inspiring to others in some way. You are a thought leader, someone who creates cultural ripples, no matter how small. But as an artist, you also can get caught up in the hundred other activities involved with being an artist: the organizing of work, the going to shows, taking classes, reading books, and perfecting your masterpieces slowly. Or, perhaps you have fallen into making pieces for the sake of making pieces to sell: work that you know is not your highest quality that you can make.
If you are not an artist, but are in a creative profession as well such as writing, publishing, graphic design or the like, please forgive me as I write from the perspective of being a painter. However, you can use these same ideas to create a body of your own work in your own field.
I would like to propose a two step process for creating a body of work that you are proud of in 3 months or less.
The first step is deciding on a goal. For most artists, a solid body of work is 10 to 20 pieces. Decide how many pieces that you would like to make within your time frame. When I did this, I decided on 14 pieces within 3 months. This was because 14 pieces were needed for the program that I was trying to submit to by the deadline (I did it, by the way, and got into the program! If I can do it, so can you.)
What will your goal entail? Your goal should include a) the number of pieces you want to make by a certain date and b) the external reason. For example, your reason could be, wanting to go to New York or California and take a week to show your new body of work to galleries. For a reason like that, make it real by booking the flights three months in advance, and reserving your hotel. Now, you are invested. If you don’t make your work by that date, then you will be embarrassed to show galleries an empty portfolio, and you will have wasted your money on the trip—or just have a nice vacation! Another sample goal is getting into a residency, or an MFA program. This is also a strong incentive, because you know that if you don’t make the deadline, you’ll have to wait an entire year to submit again. Another goal could be, setting up a show with a gallery you are involved in, so that you have to make the work in time for opening night. If you don’t yet have gallery representation, then perhaps going in on a space with another artist or two, and making the deposit on the space three months in advance, so that you are locked into the exhibition. Better yet, start telling family and friends, and create an invitation page online so that people can RSVP. This creates momentum in your mind—and a good kind of pressure!
Perhaps this sounds stressful to you. I’m not going to lie—it can be stressful! Stretching yourself to a higher potential than you are currently at always involves a little stress. But I have found that by imposing an external goal, it lifts your abilities, and you are able to make work faster and better than you have ever before. Your mind goes into problem solving mode. You start making more work, faster, and yet with more precision and skill, because you know that you will be showing the work publicly. It is a different energy than creating one piece a month when you have time. It is goal driven: you must get X amount of pieces done by a certain date, or you will lose money, time, or good face.
The next step is to divide your time and energy. Let’s say you decide on 15 pieces in 3 months. That means you need to create 5 pieces per month. Weekly, that’s about 1.5 pieces per week. Woah! All of a sudden the deadline becomes less fuzzy—a large amount of pieces due at some point in the future. It becomes at least one piece per week in order to reach your goal. It becomes more urgent.
As you go through this process, you’ll notice that you begin to take yourself more seriously—and therefore others will take you more seriously, as well. So many times as creatives and artists we can get a bad rap for not being professional, or being haphazard in how we make our work, meet deadlines, and do business. When you have a tangible plan with an external goal, it forces you to be professional with your time, and manage it like you run a business—which you do! You’ll find that because you have a more structured timeline, ideas will flow more easily, and you will grow more skilled, because you’ll be painting more. And when the time comes to submit your work, take that trip to the big apple, or host an exhibition for family and friends, there isn’t a better feeling than knowing that you accomplished much more than you ever thought possible. As Clive Gillison and Robert Rimm write in Better to Speak of It: Fostering Relationships and Results through Creativity: “. . . I always ask them what they’re passionate about, and suggest they allow that to be their guide, giving it everything they’ve got whilst keeping a completely open mind. Then their talent and passion will lead them.”
Thanks so much for reading! Let me know your your thoughts. What is your external goal? How many pieces would you like to make? What is YOUR deadline? Stay creative! Until next time,