Feed Your Creative Brain

I once had a friend tell me that our thoughts are like water. We must direct them where we want them to go. Otherwise our thoughts will stagnate, or run down hill.

I believe that statement is true. As creatives, we need to be feeding our brains constantly with good things and reproducing our great ideas as well as absorbing the great thoughts of others into our creative DNA in order to produce new creative thought offspring.

So, I thought I'd share a few habits that I practice daily that have been a great benefit to me.

1. Listen to podcasts regularly
There are several podcasts I listen to regularly to develop myself as an artist and creative. Some examples of these are SeanWes Podcast, 3 Point Perspective, Merch Lifestyle, Creative Slide, and the Abundant Artist Podcast. If you prefer video, alot of podcasts also have video available on youtube.

The point here is to make sure that you are always learning.

2. Get a hobby that compliments your creative pursuits
Hobbies can be a great reset button to help us not get burned out on creativity. And if used correctly, they can also help inspire our creatity. I've always loved skateboarding and toys. And ironically, both of those interests lead right back into the process of me making art.

Often times there is a symbiotic relationship between your creativity and your other hobbies.

3. Spend time with other creatives who inspire you
There are a couple of people in my life who continue to pull me out of pits of despair. Being around them is like drinking water. So I try to be around them regularly. I am an introvert so being around people for long lengths of time usually exhausts me (no fault of their own). But spending time with other creatives who inspire me usually leaves me energized.

So get some creative encouragers around you. (I emphasize the word "encouragers.")

4. Read books
Your mind is hungry and you're going to fill it with something. It is helpful to choose the things you fill it with. A constant intake of daily world news is enough to extinguish the creative spirit. I'd encourage you to read about what fascinates you.

Right now I'm reading "Room to Dream" by David Lynch, and it is incredible. I relate alot to how Lynch's creative process, and the organic nature of ideas developing over time coming to you piece by piece. I love that. So reading his book tends to open up this place in my mind that I always love visiting. So I've spent alot of time listening to his interviews on youtube to try and get inside his brain.

If you're not a physical book reader, try audio books. Most can even check these audio books out from their library over their phone for free.

Currently I'm reading a book by Brennan Manning and listening to the audio book adaption of DUNE by Frank Herbert. Not sure if I like it yet, but it's painting a picture of worlds in my mind to visit and therefore expanding my mind and I dig that. I also have a Pocket Guide to Taking Action that I open up every couple days. And a great book on Stoicism by Ryan Holiday.

5. Get some virtual mentors
It's highly unlikely that you'll get a chance to study under all the artists and writers whose work you love. But there's still a way you can learn from them. If they're still alive, listen to their lectures on youtube, take their courses, and read their books.

Absorb what they have to say and let that guide you in your own creative journey.

6. Be a producer, not a consumer
My kids hear me say this all the time and it's a question I have to continually ask myself. Am I passively consuming content, OR am I producing content that others will see, read and learn from?

Are you producing or consuming?

Be part of the small crowd that is actively producing, not passively consuming.

7. Invest money into your own development
I recently signed up for Skillshare just to take a couple courses by Aaron Draplin on logos and type. I've also been part of paid mastermind groups. Don't be afraid to pay money to do that.

In fact, you will get more out of it if it costs you money. Investing in yourself is worth it and will set you apart. So invest in yourself.

8. Watch TV and movies selectively
I'm not against watching a good movie or TV show. I watch less than most because I'd rather have something to show for my time. In fact it's very rarely that I will sit down to watch something that I won't have a sketchbook or research materials by me.

There's nothing wrong with watching netflix. But what are you watching? Is it contributing to your development as a creative? OR are you just binge watching something to be binge watching something?

See if there's a way to make the media you're consuming serve the art you're making.

Friends, your brain is hungry and is going to eat something. Make sure you are intentional in what you  feed it. 

Was this article helpful? Have an idea you want me to cover? Let me know, I'd love to hear from you.

Feel free to join my mailing list.

Why Are You Doing What You Are Doing?

Anyone who knows me knows I place a high value on character shaping humiliation stories from my formative years. Last week a friend at work asked if I'd do a quick sketch for her adolescent son to encourage him in his baseball pursuits. I immediately had a flashback to one of my darkest, yet most epic and pivotal middle school moments of existential horror.

It was the Summer of 1987. I had just finished 5th grade. I had just discovered skateboarding the previous Fall.
While I took a strong liking to it, I was still trying to “date” things I was no good at.

Things like sports.

I seemed to do ok that year hitting the softball at recess. So I thought to myself, “I hit the softball a couple times at recess, therefore I will be great at Wildcats. I will show the alpha male jock kids how awesome I really am.”

My Wildcats stint barely lasted two weeks.

The crossroads of destiny converged one morning when I was riding my skateboard in the neighborhood before a Wildcats game. I had begun meeting some of the local skate kids.

I saw a posse of bros having a skate session, so I stopped to talk with them. I was wearing my official “Wildcats” t-shirt and talking with the bros. Scott Austin, one half of the infamous “Austin Twin” duo, took one look at my shirt and asked, “Why are you wearing a Wildcats Shirt?”

I paused, cleared my throat, and then uttered in my little pre-pubescent voice, “Because I’m in Wildcats.”

Scott Austin’s countenance seemed to transfix itself upon my soul when he asked his next question.

It was a question that would would hang in the air and linger.

Linger like the stench of roadkill in the middle of summer in 110 degree weather.

“Why are you in Wildcats?”

Scott asked with a sense of curiosity and perplexed bewilderment.

The world froze around me, like a scene from a movie where everything stops and you are suddenly hyper aware of your internal world while everything around you just becomes silent.

I finally answered Scott.

“I don’t know.”

I really didn’t know why I was in Wildcats.

I skated home. It was time for the Wildcats game. Up to this point, I hadn’t hit the ball once, and they always stuck me deep in the outfield.

And I mean DEEP in the outfield.

And once again that day, I was deep in the outfield. Something surreal happened.

Somehow innings changed, teams switched out and I hadn’t noticed. I was still in the outfield.

Deep in the outfield.

Suddenly, a cacophony of laughter broke out around me as everyone at once realized I was out on the opposing team’s outfield. Everything becomes blurry after that except for biting my lip and holding back tears until I got in my Mom’s car. I do remember one other detail. Right before I got in the car, my friend's Dad chortled loudly, “Heh-Heh, got a little confused out there eh?”

I opened the car door, and the floodgate of tears opened broke open like a ruptured dam and consumed me.

Needless to say, I never went back to Wildcats.

BUT, that day was the day skateboarding seized my soul once for all, and beckoned me like a lover.

And so I followed skateboarding and never looked back.

Which brings me to the question we must all pause and ask ourselves at key intervals in our lives.

What are you doing? Why are you doing it?

To quote the great Tyler Durden, "This is your life and it's ending one minute at a time."

What is your calling?

What must you do to make that happen?

Start now.

 

The Art of Rest

It was Saturday. So I had to hustle. I had to get some work done.

I was recently accepted into Merch by Amazon, a program Amazon offers that will print and ship your T-shirts for you. So I was really trying to come up with some awesome T-shirt designs.

And it totally wasn’t happening.

I sat there for an hour fiddling, and the only thing I had to show for it was a grandiose a pile of excrement I was trying to turn into a T-shirt design on my monitor.

My mind was racing.

I couldn’t get anything done. I know this phenomenon.

I can only call it a constipated vexing of my creative soul. There’s only one thing you can do when you’ve tried to force it and it’s just not happening.

Nothing.

You do nothing.

You back away from your computer and go do something else. Something not even directly related to making art.

In my case I went and sat on the couch. I fell asleep while watching two hours of Thundarr the Barbarian.

It was amazing.

I woke up about 35 minutes later, drank a cup of tea, and then went outside and proceeded to do a chalk drawing of the Fisher-Price X-Ray man action figure on my driveway with my kids.

So this was my time of restoration.

I spent time with my family, and shared some moments with my kids, drew with chalk, watched cartoons and napped.

By 10 PM the empty bucket at the bottom of my soul had begun to refill itself. Later that night I would go on to produce three T-shirt designs which totally ruled.

There truly is an art to rest.

You could ask my wife and she would tell you I’m not very good at it. Rest is just as crucial to the creative process as sitting down and sketching.

Rest is necessary to be creative.

Try it, it works.

Photo May 05, 4 58 48 PM.jpg

How to Add More Emotion to Your Art

Over the years I’ve been told that my art has a lot of emotion to it. (As an aside, pay special attention when you get certain compliments or suggestions over and over again in relation to your work. Ignore the trolls of course, but when you see patterns emerge of what people like about the work you do, take special note because it can work in your favor in setting you apart from the competition.)
 
But I digress.

As an artist, introvert, and a man who scored a 97% on an “How neurotic am I?” quiz, I have a certain understanding how the internal world of artists can be a bit… turbulent.

I walk around way too much inside my head, and I think a lot with my emotions.  I process most of life through the grid of being an artist. Honestly I’m kind of a mess most days, but I want to share with you how I put that mess to good use.

So this article will address How to harness the power of your inner neurotic world  to add more emotion to your work.

But first a story.

It was the summer of 1990, right before my freshman year of high school. I was at the skate park with my bro, Jay, and two girls we'll call Amy, and Tiffany. I had spent the better part of the summer trying to win the affections of Tiffany. (My first mistake was making the “George Constanza error of allowing worlds to collide,” and introducing Jay to these girls.)

I was too young to know that at the time though.

It was the end of the summer. Everything was supposed to come together that night. At least in my mind it was supposed to.

Alas, there was a certain unsettling tension in the air that I felt. Things weren’t going as planned. In my mind,  Tiffany, the girl I was trying to win, would see me dominate the skate park, ollie onto the picnic table, realize what a freaking alpha skate stud I was, and come falling into my arms.

That was not happening.

At all.

Tiffany seemed a little too wide eyed and friendly with my boy, Jay.

“It’s all in my mind,” I kept telling myself.

So I skated harder, pulling out every trick I knew, attempting to capture the attention of that girl. I remember ollieing onto that picnic table, then riding off expecting to see said girl fawning at me.

Nope.

So I started hitting the launch ramp hard. I did a couple airs and then like an anvil falling out of the sky,  it hit me.

Where was Jay?

Where was Tiffany?

Where was the other girl?

Then I saw them.

Tiffany, Amy, and Jay were off in the distance, walking up a trail to  a nearby plaza. I hadn’t been invited.

Tiffany was walking next to Jay.

This 14 year old Tim Baron was having an internal meltdown. At that moment, I realized there was only one thing I could do.

Channel that rage into massive “balls out” skate session for the next 45 minutes.

Oh the agony and the ecstasy!

I skated harder than I had in my entire life. It was a rad session. I remember hitting that launch ramp super freaking hard. I remember going particularly fast and and getting the biggest air of my life. (At least that’s how I remember.)

I’m sure it’d look a lot different if I watched an old VHS of the night.

I learned something important that night. While I couldn’t do anything about what was going on (I found out later Jay had totally made out with Tiffany), I could take my emotions and channel them into something much more productive. In this case it was skateboarding. In the following year years I would have plenty of other existential crises.

I wasn't good with the ladies, I’m disorganized, ADHD, and overly sensitive. I have a massive, bleeding inferiority complex that flares up now and again, periodically struggle with depression and anxiety and I'm probably a pain in the neck to live with sometimes.

BUT

I don’t let them go to waste. If you’d open up my artist's gas tank, you’d find that it’s filled with all of the aforementioned baggage. But the visceral fecal matter of existential horror is combustible. When I harness it the right way, it helps add a layer of emotional depth and feeling to my art that I wouldn’t have without it.

So I try to use that baggage to my advantage and push my work as an artist to new heights and hurl myself into new skill levels. So the next time life hurls you in to a full blown existential crisis, put it in your gas tank, let it give your art new life. Let it affect your quality of line, your color pallet, the marks you make, how you handle your brush, how you handle your pen, how you splatter paint and ink on your paper or canvas.

Make art from your soul. Channel that morbidity to good use.

Done is Better Than Perfect

If you’re a perfectionist, you’ll hate this article. But if you want to accomplish something awesome, please proceed.

In Greek mythology, Zeus had nine daughters known as the muses. Each muse was apparently responsible for inspiring one of the various arts. (that's where the term “music” comes from).

I’ve found over and over again, that inspiration and the creative process is very much like dealing with a muse. A very temperamental, sometimes fickle muse you don’t want to insult or ignore, and many times you're at the mercy of her schedule.

Consider Stephen Pressfield’s words:

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.”

― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles

If you’re like me, an idea may strike and take root in your imagination. Suddenly, you have a great idea for a drawing, painting, or story. It’s like small pieces of a puzzle, coming one at a time. As if your muse is in another room, slipping them through the underside of the door.

I treasure those moments. But let me tell you something you need to remember.

You MUST take action on these ideas. QUICKLY.

You have a small window of opportunity to get this idea to a place where it will survive and thrive. A brief time frame within which to execute. Do it before the fire burns out. The more you delay, the more your project will turn on you.

And piss your muse off.

Attack when your muse gives you the idea and the joyful passion by which to accomplish it. When inspiration strikes you must not tarry. At least write it down, or sketch it out in your sketchbook.

Do it ruthlessly, with passion, persistence, and fire.

Just Get Started

The puzzle pieces will begin to self-organize. It’s taking on a life of its own and is fleshing itself out with what it wants to be. The big idea is taking shape, but is in a vulnerable, unstable condition.

Critical mass.

So it’s imperative that you do your part, get started, stick with it until the work of art grows up, or dies.

Prolonging, procrastinating, and over analyzing your creative project until it’s “perfect,” will turn your project in to something joyless, and dead. It will never be perfect.

It will be a sick, over-analyzed, wretched bastardization of itself, an opportunity you have squandered.

Unnecessary over-analyzation of your creative project will rob it of its soul and make the project miserable.
Let me be clear. I’m not saying that getting something done justifies careless execution. Nor should you rely on feelings before you act.

There's a term I've learned recently called a "minimally viable product." This simply means that you get something to a point where it's not perfect, but it's good enough to get out there into people's hands.

Don't aim for perfection. Aim for a minimally viable product. Especially while you're learning something new.

In recent days I've been learning digital painting. I've posted things just two weeks ago on instagram that I'm already ashamed of and taken down.

As Pressfield rightly says, the more often we show up, the more our muse will show up. There are deadlines. There are people who want to see what you’re making. There is the need to maintain creative momentum. And there is that brief snapshot of time when all these things converge.

The Big Idea

If you only take away one thing from this article, let it be this...

It’s better for an artist to produce consistent output, and improve along the way, then meddle incessantly with a single piece day after day, night after night, and never put anything out. The goal is maintaining a certain level of quality while realizing that consistency is more important than perfection.

Momentum Builds Momentum

Consistency builds momentum and confidence. You can rob yourself of all three if you meddle with something with aspirations of achieving a perfection that will never arrive. People notice consistency not perfection, particularly in the realm of social media

You aren’t Leonardo da Vinci. You are learning. Become more comfortable sharing rough sketches, mistakes, and unfinished works of art.

It’s all part of the artist’s journey. Here are some benefits of having "done is better than perfect" standard:

  • You learn as you go realizing your work will become better in time
  • You keep your momentum
  • You learn quickly whether a project is worth your time
  • You learn quickly from your mistakes
  • You can fall forward and improve faster
  • People notice consistency
  • Feeling of accomplishment
  • Build confidence

Best of all, while others are just sitting around thinking and talking about creating, you will be taking action, and actually creating all kinds of freaking awesome stuff!

 Now, honor your muse's gift, and go make something rad!

 

How to be a More Confident Artist

This past two weeks I’ve been attempting to add the medium of digital painting to my art skill set. While I’ve done digital painting thing from time to time, my process (winging it) was way too time consuming.

It’s a harrowing thing to step out of your creative comfort zone in to the realm of the unknown. I’ve found that in most areas of life, the realm of the unfamiliar can kill my confidence and give me a massive inferiority complex.

Learning a new art skill is challenging. But I’ve done it enough times to know what to expect. So here are a few tips to help you build confidence along the journey.

Step 1: Cast a vision for yourself.

Somebody is doing something you like. You want to learn how to do that too. Find that person. For me it was a mix of several people that inspired me to want to paint digitally. My college buddy, Chris Swymeler, Josh Addessi, Caanan White, and of course, Jedi master Jason Edmiston.

Step 2. Be prepared to suck really bad for a while.

This is the part I hate the most. You’re in uncharted territory. You don’t know what you’re doing. It’s terrible to feel like a rookie again. So stay positive and watch what you’re telling yourself inside your head.

Keep your expectations low at the outset. Over the past two weeks, I’ve invested roughly 15 to 20 hours practicing digital painting. I produced seven images that were decent, and three that were so bad I hurled them in to my Mac's trash Bin and immediately hit delete, vanquishing them forever from the face of the Earth.

That’s just part of learning curve, so expect it.

Step 3. Practice. Practice. Practice.

The secret to getting better at anything is repetition. So get busy.

There will be times when you feel like you wasted several hours of your time that you’ll never get back. Don’t fall into that mind trap.

While it’s always a bummer, not having something to show for your time, you’re still several hours ahead with the hours you’ve invested practicing. So choose to see all of your practice and all of your failures as an investment of time. After all, you’re learning a new skill. You will make new mistakes.

Step 4: Develop a process.

This is probably the most important part to nail down. When you don’t know what you’re doing, you spend exorbitant amounts of time “fidgeting“ with your drawing or painting, attempting to get a desired result. Realize when you are doing this, step away, and recalibrate.

Stay focused. Pay attention to what works. Pay attention to what doesn’t work. Find a method that works for you.

For me, with painting it was answering the following questions:

  • How do people begin their paintings?
  • What level of opacity do they work in?
  • How did they build their image?
  • Do they use black first, or color first?

Watch YouTube videos. See how other people do what you want to do. Pay attention to their process. Try their methods. See what works for you.

Eventually certain things will stick and find their way into your process. Incorporate those things.

Step 5: Expect to turn a corner.

You won’t suck forever. At some point, it will click if you stick with it. In my experience, this happens once I begin answering some of my own questions and establishing a process that works for me.

Step 6: Stay at it!

Life will get busy. With any new habit, it’s tempting to let busyness cast your new skill by the wayside. Set little goals for yourself. I have determined to do one painting a day to stay in practice. (Or at least paint daily)

So there you go! As an artist you don’t want to stagnate. Be intentional and find new skills you want to learn.

So how do you become a more confident artist? Like so many other things in life, the answer is simple but not easy.

Here it is. Find something you suck at and do it over and over again until you get good at it.

That’s it.

Now go make something rad!

 

Case Study: X Games "Design a Skate Deck" Contest

I grew up reading Thrasher and Transworld Magazines. It was in the pages of those publications that I first discovered the epic Skate Art imagery of VC Johnson, Pushead, and Jim Phillips. The visceral nature of these artists' work made its way into my artist DNA and has been inspiring me ever since.

Every time I do a piece of skate art, (I’ve done close to nine for Creature Skateboards) I make it my goal to produce the same kind of visually arresting imagery that seized upon my imagination, as a middle school skate rat and made me want to skate.

 My final submission for the "Design a Skate Deck for the 2018 X Games Contest."

My final submission for the "Design a Skate Deck for the 2018 X Games Contest."

 

The X Games Design Contest

In February of 2018, my friend Stewart informed me of a contest Creative Allies was holding. The challenge was create a winning design for the X Games 2018 held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Game on!

I approached the challenge of designing a board for this X-Games with a great deal of forethought and strategy, as I would any other client project. My goal was fourfold:

Design Strategy

  1. The image must somehow be grounded with a strong tie to Minneapolis.
  2. This must be inextricably linked to the X Games brand: “Boundary pushing action sports, music and lifestyle!”
  3. The image must be visually arresting. It must read well from a
  4. distance. Up close, it must draw you in to study everything that is going on inside the image.It must have broad reaching appeal without being watered down.

Doing the Groundwork

I had less than a month to submit a design. So for a week of that, I studied Minneapolis culture, significant landmarks, and consulted with my longtime skate pal Tim who lives in Minneapolis. I also began sketching rough ideas, and made lists of possible image options. While many landmarks seemed relevant, I continued to return to the image of the Minneapolis skyline behind St. Anthony Falls.

That was the image I wanted grounding the concept. Now I could move on to the insane, creative part.

The Insane Creative Part

As I thought about tying this to the X Games, I considered several different ways of doing that. The strongest option that emerged was that of the X Games literally descending upon the great city of Minneapolis. But in order to do that I would have to imagine the X Games personified as a fantastic, mythological character.

What should that character look like?

Giant Pushead style skeleton in a hoodie?

No, too creepy.

Giant monster destroying Minneapolis?

No, we want to communicate the added VALUE of the X Games coming to Minneapolis.

What would the X Games look like personified?

I once again returned to the X Games brand, “Boundary pushing action sports, music and lifestyle!” Whatever the personification was to be, it would have to be massive. It would have to be EPIC.

That’s when a phrase entered my mind.

The phrase was “The Descent of the Gods.”

It was the title of chapter 15 in the novel, “That Hideous Strength” by CS Lewis.

That was it.

 This is where the different ideas finally converged. The skyline, the Celestial, and the X Games descending skaters.

This is where the different ideas finally converged. The skyline, the Celestial, and the X Games descending skaters.

 

Aesthetic Inspiration

My next move was consulting the work of comic book legend, Jack Kirby, aka “The King of Comics.” Kirby specialized in designing Pantheons of visually stunning beings of celestial origins. I studied his line work as well as his collages, and his color pallets. All of which are incredible.

 Stating the obvious here, but I referred heavily to the work of Jack Kirby for the look of the design.

Stating the obvious here, but I referred heavily to the work of Jack Kirby for the look of the design.

 

So in the course of the next two days I would create the image I am presenting to you.

Final Touches

Sometimes the best supporting ideas come to you in the final stages of a project. Probably because you are in the heart and soul of the project at that point. The piece of art has established itself and has told you what it once to be. Once I had the celestial X Game mascot in there, I determined there should be something very specific tying this to skateboarding.

That’s when the idea for the little skateboarders  on the nose of the board came to me.

The concept was complete. Yes, the X Games is descending on Minneapolis…

…and so are the planet’s greatest skateboarders.

 The black and white line art finished. I inked this digitally.

The black and white line art finished. I inked this digitally.

 

...But Did You Win?

After delivering the final design with at least 24 hours to spare, I had to settle myself. Winning this would be incredible. Now came the hardest part.

Waiting.

I didn't win.

The artist who won, MRW Creations totally crushed it and did an amazing job. The kind of design you feel good losing to.

At the end of the day, it was a privilege to enter the contest and an opportunity I'm grateful for. So it was good to experience the beautiful letdown of giving it my all and not winning as opposed to not trying and never knowing.

That's what we do as creatives.

 

Crash Course in Making Rad Stuff

I received a letter this week from a fellow artist who was seeking to take his game to the next level. I He said I gave him some helpful advice so we thought we'd share our discourse with you all. Our conversation went as follows...

Dear Tim,
I've been trying to figure out exactly where my art belongs and what is most marketable.

At the moment, I'm illustrating, making comics, t-shirts, and trying to sell my paintings. My goal is to begin making consistent income with my art.

What are good ways to really start consistently selling my work? I'm in my late 20s and it seems harder now to market to younger crowds. What would you advise?

Thad

Hey Thad, thanks for your questions.

Here’s a couple thoughts that come to mind. I would start by looking at your current body of work and asking yourself some questions.

Determine What is Already Working Well

Which pieces of my art have people responded to most enthusiastically? What specific things about those pieces connected so well? Subject matter? Color? Style? Mood?

Now seek to replicate that in more of your work.

Basically the rule here is find what’s working, and do more of that thing.

Another super relevant question is what are people asking for?

As an artist, we’d like to think that we exist within our own stratosphere of self-generating radness, exempt to keeping up with trends. Alas, we are not. So part of the challenge is also making things that people really want to hang on their walls.

You mentioned you had a T-shirt company. What were your best sellers? Consider what worked for you in the past and what is currently working for you.

Do Few Things, but Do Them Well

It seems like right now you’ve got a shotgun approach with comics, illustration, paintings, and T-shirts.

I would recommend narrowing your focus a bit. What seems to be the most productive use of your art making time right now. Where are you getting the most return?

Start with that.

If you try to do too many things, you will spread yourself too thin and you won’t get anywhere. At least not very fast.

Working the Trifecta

There’s a podcast called the SeanWes podcast you should definitely check out. (Honestly I listen to a lot of podcasts and his is by far the most relevant to creatives such as yourself)

Sean talks about “working the Trifecta”.

The Trifecta is basically three primary ways to make money as an artist.

  1. Client work
  2. Selling products
  3. Teaching.

According to Sean, working the trifecta is the most effective way to make a money with their creativity.

I would look at each of these three categories in your work. Try to find one money making endeavor within each of those categories to focus on and experiment with. Get a plan going within each of those categories and see what works.

About Comics

I don’t want to discourage you in making comics. In my experience self-publishing my graphic novels and indie comics, I was always stoked just to break even. You could always shoot for the stars and seek to get work from Marvel DC, Boom Studios, Image. Just remember if you do your own indie comics, it will likely be because you love making comics, not because you’re pulling in the big bucks from them.

That is my experience at least.

The Lightning Round

Here’s some more questions to ask yourself…

  • How can I notch up my current level of professionalism as an artist? 
  • How can I begin to move my art out of the realm of “hobby” and into the realm of “serious professional pursuit”?
  • How good is my presence on social media? Do I have a primary social media platform?
  • What kind of message am I projecting with my work?
  • What kind of client work do I want to do?
  • What kind of industries does my art style lend itself to?
  • How could I take my current drawing/painting style to the next level?
  • How could I use my abilities and styles to accommodate clients from completely different industries?

Have you considered taking commission work? That might be an easy place to start if you’re already making comics and setting up at comic cons.

Figure Out Who Your Audience is

Spend some time thinking about who your target demographic is. Who will be buying your art? Why will they be buying it? What do they connect with?

Think about where those people are at, in real life and on the internet. Start posting and engaging on Instagram if that’s your social media platform of choice. Comment on other people’s posts. Start conversations with artists whose work you like.

Honestly so much of it is meeting people, helping people without expecting anything in return, and experimenting with a lot of trial and error.

Some things will work, others won’t. And everybody’s art journey is slightly different.

Ask yourself What is your ultimate goal with your art? Then consider all the ways to reverse engineer that.

Make weekly goals for yourself. Do something every day to get there. Hope this helps!

P.S. Check out the book "Real Artists Don't Starve" by Jeff Goins.

How to Steal Great Ideas… from Yourself!

One great reason to hold onto your old sketchbooks and art is the opportunity to steal great ideas from yourself. Let’s talk about how.

Your Old Sketchbooks are a Reminder

One great tactic I’ve used to catch good ideas (a David Lynch term) is to comb through my old sketchbooks. Each of your old sketchbooks is a snapshot in time. A visual reminder of a temporary creative period of your life. Each was filled up during a specific time, framed by your mood, your interests, your life experiences, your subject matter, and a myriad of other forces all converging on your life at that moment.

There is a certain magic in opening up your old sketchbooks and looking at them years later from a different vantage point. It can kindle, or rekindle a great idea that, because of your skill level at the time, made you unable to execute on.

Maybe you drew something out of your subconscious you didn't understand at the time, but is now made eerily clear through hindsight.

Or maybe the idea was just in seed form when you scribbled it down.

Your Old Sketchbooks are a Time Machine

Inspiration is a great time traveler.

One awesome thing about old sketchbooks is that they carry within them the seeds of great ideas.  Even if you didn’t know it at the time you drew them. A chicken scratch you scribbled on a scrap piece of paper seven, seventeen, or twenty seven years ago can trigger a great idea right now.

My freshman year of high school was one of raw creativity and an imagination that was firing on all levels. Maybe it’s because of my friends, or skateboarding, or discovering tons of new music (Any Operation Ivy fans out there?), or the fact that I became a raging action figure collector and frequented Children’s Palace and Circus World toy stores while they were still around.

Honestly, it was all of these things and more.

I frequently revisit the work I produced that year. I was untrained and undisciplined at the time. But this haphazard, unbridled year of creativity is still very much alive out there in the meta verse. 

Out of control imagination 15 year old death metal skater Tim Baron is still sending me messages from 1991!

Sometimes when you sketch, it’s random. Sometimes these passing thoughts, or illuminated moments seem throw-away. Later, (sometimes much later) a random chicken scratch you did 15 years ago may have grown up while you weren’t looking.  Now it’s presenting itself to you as a full grown concept.

Your Old Sketchbooks are a Garden

Consider your old sketchbooks a garden. You planted a lot of things over the years. Life goes in seasons and some seasons are like a long winter. While many of the things you’ve planted in your sketchbooks died during that winter the really strong ideas will have survived the brutal arctic tundras of life.

Sketchbooks are a fertile seedbed of inspiration filled with the ripe fruit of ideas inviting you to pluck them. Those great ideas want to make themselves known to you.

Your Old Sketchbooks are calling you

It was the Summer of 2003. I had been married for three years and we’d just had my amazing second daughter. I'd been working in a cubicle for three years. I didn't have much direction with my art at the time.

That night, I sat down at the kitchen table with a stack of decade old sketchbooks and drawings. I looked at the multitude of insane characters I had effortlessly created. I was naive, untrained, and cocky when I drew them. But these drawings and characters were impregnated with inspiration and energy.  

That humid night in June, 2003, at the kitchen table, (with an inexcusably bad haircut) my love for making comics was reborn. Destiny brought 15 year old Tim into the present. There we stood face to face.

I told him he was undisciplined, messy, and untrained.

He told me I had no direction, lacked passion and inspiration, that he could outdraw me, reminded me that I used to ollie down flights of stairs, and told me to grow balls.

We shook hands and decided to work together. 

There are great ideas lurking in your old sketch books. They are calling out to you to be rediscovered.

They are beckoning you.

Right now, I want you to pause. I want you to think about the most creative times of your life. The times when making art and being creative was the most fun to you.

Go dig out your old sketchbooks and art from that time period and see what happens when you revisit that particularly creative period of life.

Now, go make something rad!

 

How to Stay Motivated with Your Art

Lack of motivation. Every artist has experienced it. The necessities of daily life weigh your creative soul down like an anchor. You have nothing left to give your art that day. So you surrender to the despair in your soul and proceed to binge-watch three episodes of "Pretty Little Liars" on Netflix or mindlessly burn time on social media.

Other times you DO feel motivated to be artistically productive. Maybe you captured a great idea and the motivation to draw or paint flows like pure water from the nourishing river of your soul. Art is born effortlessly.

What is the happy medium between these two polar opposite experiences in the life of the artist?

It’s a lot more simple than you think.

It’s not easy, but it's simple.

The common factor between those two opposite experiences is your feelings.

Today that changes. From here on out,  you won't look to your emotions for motivation.

So what's your new secret to staying creatively motivated? Ready?

Here it is.

You set aside time daily where you choose to work on your art.

Sometimes you’ll feel like it. Other times you won’t. But the good news is that the emotional component is now entirely irrelevant to you.

What you’re doing now is looking to the future. What goals do you want to accomplish with your art? Keep that in mind. Because you’re going to refer back to those again and again every day when you sit down to make art.

Choose to be Consistent

I’ve heard that Jerry Seinfeld, as a young comedian, had a large calendar on his wall. Every day he sat down to write new material, he put an X on that day. His goal was to have an unbroken chain of X’s on this calendar.

What Jerry Seinfeld learned is that the simple act of sitting down daily to write will itself bear the fruit of productivity.

Schedule a Time

So the next question is when?

And that my friends is totally up to you, your work schedule and whether you’re a morning person or a night owl.

I’ve always been a night owl, but I’m now learning there is a advantage to getting up early and working on your art first thing.

That is of secondary importance at this point. The important thing is that you find some quiet,  uninterrupted time to focus and work on your art.

While a few minutes here or there sketching is better than nothing, what you want is a good solid block of 1 to 2 hours of “deep work time." That's the state where time disappears and you are the most productive because you’re the most focused. Focus is key here.

Have a Plan

Plan your art goals weeks in advance. For instance, if you’re going to do a series of drawings or paintings inspired by something like Star Wars, have the next project in mind for what you will work on next.

Keep your pipeline full. Having commissions and freelance projects also helps maintain momentum.

Let’s review.

Sometimes you feel like working on your art. Sometimes you don’t feel like working on your art. That doesn’t matter now.

What matters is that you’re going to choose to make time daily to work on your art.

The next thing you’re going to do is look ahead. What will you work on after you’re done with this project? Keep your pipeline full.

So, the next time you come home from work and feel like doing nothing but sitting in front of the TV and watch binge watching Netflix; you’re going to give the middle finger to Netflix, your phone, and social media.

You will politely, but firmly tell them,“I love you, but I’m seeing somebody else tonight.”

You’re going to go over to your drawing table, open up your sketchbook and draw. You’re going to do this every day. Whether you feel like it or not.

There’s a lot of things you do every day because you have to. You might not feel like getting out of bed in the morning to go to your job. But you do, because you have bills to pay and you also like to eat.

From now on, you’re going to approach your art like it’s not an option. Because it's not an option. An artist must make art. You must make art.

Now, go make something RAD!

5 Ways to Punch Through Artist Block: Part 2

In my last article, I offered five ways to punch through artist’s block. This week I’m going to give you five more ways to decimate the thing that stands between you and creative productivity!

Let’s get started.

Step 1. Draw from life.

The easiest solution to not knowing what to draw? Draw what’s in front of you. Draw your friends. Draw your pet. Draw something in the room you’re in. Draw your reflection in the mirror.

This is an easy go to and it’s always a great practice to go back to the basics.

Step 2. Choose a long-term background project.

In 2007 I started my first graphic novel, “Julius Destructus”. I had no idea what I was doing. It was a huge goal that literally took me about four years to accomplish. All I knew was that I had to make a graphic novel.

There was always work to do on it. Sometimes I would put it down for months at a time and then come back to it. Eventually, I made enough headway that it propelled me to the finish line on it.

I figured it out as I went along. Don’t be afraid to do that! It’s how you learn.
So choose a big project. Not overwhelmingly big, but big enough that it stretches you, and takes you to the next rung of your skill and knowledge ladder.

Here are a couple ideas:

1. Pick a theme and do a series of five drawings or paintings about that theme.
2. Write a short children’s book and illustrate it.
3. Recount five of your most vivid life experiences and to a series of drawings based on those.
4. Pick a public domain story and illustrate it.
5. Create your own world and characters that inhabit it.

Whatever you do, make sure it’s fun. And make sure it challenges you.

Step 3. Sit down every single day and draw.

Consistency is key to breaking though artist’s block. Even if it’s for a few minutes every day.

Consistency can train artist’s block to stay away. Momentum begets momentum. The more often you do something, the more it becomes a habit, the more it becomes a habit, the more automatically you will do it.

Step 4. Keep several projects going at one time.

While I don’t recommend overloading yourself, having a couple projects to bounce between can keep your creativity and art drive burning strong.

I typically have at least two freelance projects in the works and about two “fun projects” that I do for fun or to build my brand.

Step 5. Give yourself Grace.

There are times when you just won’t be super productive. The point is that you showed up and did what you could. Sometimes you need to relax and spend the day doing nothing.

Remember the most important things in life.

Your family. Your spouse. Your kids. Your friends. Maintain balance.

In closing, artist’s block is common. All serious artists face it. This is frustrating at the least and cantankerously ego smashing to your already overly delicate artist’s ego at the worst.

The good news is that with persistence of the will and strategy of the mind you can, and WILL punch  through it.

Now, go make something RAD!

5 Ways to Punch Through Artist’s Block: Part I

One of the most confidence draining experiences as an artist is hitting that dreaded wall we call artist’s block. Similar to the phenomenon of writer’s block, Artist’s block is an experience where (for one reason or another) your imagination runs dry, all inspiration disappears, and you can’t produce great art.

You try, but there’s nothing. If you’re like me, that’s when things get dark. The super negative self-talk/impostor syndrome blows up across your already overly sensitive artist’s psyche and before you know it you’re in the middle of a full blown existential crisis.

“I suck. I’m horrible. I can’t draw my way out of a paper bag. I'm so worthless I'm not even fit to die and be eaten by worms.”

Your whole internal world comes crashing down.

I totally get it. I’ve been there. (I was actually there this afternoon.)

Thankfully this phenomenon is temporary. All artists experience these dry spots.

You can and will push through it.

A little intentionality and strategy can really help.

In this article, I’m going to give you five tips on how to punch your way through the stubborn edifice that is obstructing your art flow.

Let’s get started.

Step 1: Get off your damn phone.

That’s right. Put it away. Put it on airplane mode, put it in another room, give it to someone else and tell them not to give it back to you until after a certain time.

Do it for yourself.

I can’t emphasize this enough. (And I say this because I’m a guilty offender!) Constantly unlocking that thing and looking at your snap chat, Instagram, whatever, is jacking with your attention span and ability to focus.

While you’re at it, TURN OFF YOUR NOTIFICATIONS. All those things are giving you ADHD. (Or in my case making my ADHD 10X worse)

Got it?

Serious, just put it away.

It will be there for you later and nothing of epic proportions will have happened.


Step 2: Get “Un-bored”:

I have noticed that I tend to only like to draw the subject matter I am comfortable with and already draw super well. Chances are you’re a little like that too.

But you have to challenge yourself.

Maintaining a creative comfort zone of only those things you’ve mastered will cause you to stagnate as an artist.  

Look at your recent work. What have you been drawing or painting? How can you take what you’ve already accomplished at and push yourself even more? How do you make what you’re doing even better?

What do you suck at drawing?

OK, now go draw that thing 10 times in your sketch book until you don’t suck at drawing it any more.

Continually ask yourself:
What can I do to make this drawing even better?

What can I do to push myself?

How could I add more emotion?

How can I improve my draftsmanship?

How can I be more professional in how I approach art?

Consider the affliction of “artist’s block” a friend who just wants to heighten your skill level and take it to new heights.

Step 3: Keep Moving

Where are you stuck?

Bounce to another part of your creative process.

If you’re painting, bounce to do doing preliminary drawings for future projects. If you’re doing sketches, jump to begin working on the final product.

Whatever you are working on, switch to some other part of your creative workflow. Find where the inspiration is moving.

If that fails then jump to writing or journaling.

Whatever you do, KEEP MOVING.


Step 4: Seek Inspiration:

We stand on the shoulders of creative giants, and thousands of years of art history.

Ask yourself:

What makes me want to draw?

Who makes me want to draw?

What do I watch that makes me want to draw?

What do I read that makes me want to draw?

What music makes me want to draw?

What concepts or ideas make me want to draw?

One thing I do to help foster great ideas is keep a robust armory of visual inspiration.

I have plastic boxes filled with a vintage action figure packaging. I also keep a big binder of cut out images that I frequently peruse. Not to mention a library of great literary and visual books.

This tip is especially crucial at the brainstorming phase. I break open the binder and I start looking and let my mind wander. I sift through the things that naturally inspire me.

Vintage toy pictures, monster images, Creepy typography, and anything random I think may speak to me at some point in the future.

In addition to that, I have a folder on my dropbox just called “inspiration” with lots of little sub folders in it called things like, “vintage Halloween costumes,” “Retro sci-fi book covers,” “Pushead,” or “Planet of the Apes cartoon intro.”

Whatever seems to give you ideas or motivate you to make art, start saving those items.

Pinterest and Google images are also very helpful in this regard.

Always be open to new sources of inspiration as well.

Step 5: Go Do Something Else

Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’ve hit a creative wall is to put everything down, and go do something else.

Go exercise.

Go spend time with your family.

Go read.

Go take a shower.

Go take a nap.

Go watch cartoons.

Go play with your action figures.

Find something you enjoy. It will make it easier for the good ideas to find you later.

Whatever you do just keep your creative lights on and try to relax. You are merely disengaging from the “active” state of creation and switching to the “passive” state of creation.

Last summer I started riding my skateboard through the neighborhood I grew up in. I’m 41, so I’m sure I look crazy. But I love it so much, and it’s great exercise. It clears my mind and which then leaves room for the great ideas to begin to pour back in.

The basic idea here is this.

Catch your brain off guard! Use your artist’s block as an opportunity to grow yourself in a new direction.

Remember, every artist faces this. Next time you hit a roadblock, try using one or more of these art hacks.

Next week we’ll tackle five more ways on how to push through artist’s block!

Now, go make something RAD!

What My "Creative Process" Looks Like

The creative process is different for every creative. At times, it’s ecstatic and otherworldly.

Other times it is not.

Inspiration is fickle and very much has a  life of its own. The successful outcome of a big project requires the careful cultivation of the fertile seed bed of inspiration in its early stages.

For some, inspiration is as easy as putting on a magical gauntlet, rending the heavens and pulling down a golden bag of ideas. It's usually not like that for me.

I was once asked what my creative process looked like. I thought long and hard about it.

Let me tell you what it is like.

It is much more like going into the wilderness. I hope it’s not for that long, but I never know. While in exile, I am hunting ideas. I am turning over rocks, unearthing relics and artifacts, digging ditches, cutting down underbrush. All the while this crazed hellhound called a deadline is hunting me.

Haunting me.

Time goes by.

The Darkness sets in.

It’s night now. It’s cold.

I’ve been cast into the wilderness. The dead of night.

There I crouch in a fetal position.

Vulnerable. Exposed. Desperate.

Suddenly, I hear something. I hear something vile. Like an insane, mocking chortle coming from an unseen direction.

I’m frozen. Paralyzed with fear. I feel a single bead of nervous sweat trickle from my right armpit down to the small of my back.

I smell the dank, nauseating halitosis emanating from some unholy creature preparing to take my life. It’s the moist, warm stench of some subhuman animal of ages past breathing down my neck and there’s no escape.

It’s the deadline.

I take what I believe to be my last breath. I turn around slowly expecting to meet my untimely demise.

I exhale and my body goes limp with solace and other worldly joy. To my amazement, it’s not a salivating, blood thirsty, unholy archfiend preparing to murder me after all.

The night is gone. The sun has risen and there before me stands a backlit baby unicorn inviting me to love him.

Inspiration has come.

Let the day burst forth.

Now.

You.

Go forth. Take up your mantle, and make RAD stuff.

 

 

How to Make More Time for Your Art

I recently posted an open-ended question to my Instagram page which asked, "What problems do you encounter most while pursuing your creative dreams”?

I was surprised at the amount of responses. I was even more surprised that almost every single response boiled down to one common factor: lack of time.

We all have exactly 24 hours in a day. By the time we sleep, eat, work, spend time with our families, we seem to have precious little time to pursue our creative passions.

I totally get it. I’ve worked a day job for over 15 years, all while married, and with four offspring. I’ve learned that I have to make every minute count if I wanted to make time for my art.

In this article, I’m going to give you three tips that can help you make more time for you to pursue your creative passions.  So, let’s get started.

Step ONE: Inventory your day.

Look at your day. Where you’re not sleeping, what are you doing? Where are you “leaking” time? 

Identifying your time wasters is crucial at this point. Here are some common ones (Trust me I’m preaching to myself at this point also):

·      Netflix binge watching

·      Habitually looking at your phone

·      Surfing The internet aimlessly

·      EBay or Amazon window shopping

·      Movies you don’t really need to see

Fill in the blanks. You know what they are. While you’re at it, also ask yourself, “What am I doing that I can pay someone else to do in order to give me more time?”

I pay a guy to do my lawn for this very reason. For me, I almost can’t think of a more titanic waste of my time. I HATE mowing my lawn. I’d rather pay someone $30 to do it and save myself two hours all while making money on a client job to more than pay for it.

Step TWO: Break your projects into smaller, obtainable goals.

Most artists and writers won’t be able to finish a massive project in a single setting. Whether your project is a novel, a painting, a drawing, or a comic book, it will take you some focused hours. And while you won’t be able to accomplish the whole thing at once, breaking it down into smaller incremental stages, and tackling those one at a time, will bring you that feeling of creative satisfaction because you will be able to see the progress.

Breaking projects down into smaller goals will help you keep your momentum and help you to accomplish your big goals, one incremental step at a time.

I’m an illustrator, and when I’m doing work for a client, I usually break my projects down like this:

1.     Brainstorm and inspiration hunt

2.     Thumbnail sketches

3.     Rough sketches

4.     Tight sketches

5.     Final art

Tackle each of these steps on different days and you will begin to eat your metaphorical creative elephants one bite at a time.

It is worth noting that finishing a project like this will also build your creative confidence. You will surprise yourself with what you discover you are capable of once you have a couple projects like this under your belt.

For instance, I didn’t realize I was capable of completing an entire graphic novel until AFTER I finished a smaller comic book project for an INSURANCE COMPANY!

Breaking your project down into smaller goals helps you maintain creative momentum and prevent time constraint discouragement/depression to set in. (Trust me I get that part)

Step THREE: Take Your Art With You

When you are going someplace where you KNOW you will be waiting, take a sketchbook and a small arsenal of art tools with you (or a journal or laptop or whatever you write with). This can be any place you’ll be waiting like the Doctor’s office, the car line at school, or God have mercy on your soul…the DMV.

Another possibility is taking it to your day job and making time to work on it over lunch break. A lot of times I will use these lunches to work on existing client projects, or start a fun side project just to keep my creative wheels turning. I recently did a retro style Dracula and Frankenstein that I started over my lunch just for fun.

And you will surprise yourself to see how working within a relatively short time period can help you to think, draw, or write more that you though you could.

One final note on this.

Remember to keep your “inner artist” on throughout the day. One dilemma creatives face is the feeling that once they walk through the doors to their day job they have to turn that creativity off until they get home at night. But I’m telling you that whatever your creative project is, keep it on “simmer” throughout the course of your day. Keep that on in the back of your mind.

Don't let it distract you form your responsibilities at work or home. But, do remind yourself about that creative project and consider that time between deep work sessions as the “passive” state of creativity. So, nudge your inner artist from time to time and make sure it’s awake.

In closing, yes, your creative time may be limited. But be strategic in how you eliminate time wasters, break your project down in to smaller goals and taking it with you.

Now, go make something RAD.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passion Projects: How to Keep the Fire Burning

For artists and designers who make their living off their craft, burnout is inevitable. Thankfully most burnouts are temporary. But how do you pull through those "dark nights of the artist/designer soul"?

One way to rekindle the fire is the concept of "Passion Projects." A Passion Project is simply a non-commissioned side project, an artist does for themselves, possibly for their portfolio that is just plain FUN.

Many artists/designers at this point may protest, "But I don't have time!"

My response is that for your own sanity, and for the quality of work you want to maintain for your clients, you need to make time.

How to choose a Passion Project for yourself:

  1. Challenge yourself with something you want to learn. In my case I wanted to learn to paint digitally.
  2. Choose something you love no matter how crazy it is. For me, I often do a mash-up of crazies. For my project, I worked from my obsession with the G.I. Joe-A Real American Hero action figure card art of the 1980's and the timeless music of the punk rock band, The Misfits. I'm a huge fan of the Misfits brand as well as their music and absolutely love their "Fiend" mascot.
  3. Take your time. Think marathon, not sprint. Many of my passion projects are accomplished over a period of weeks and even months.
  4. Have fun. There's no pressure here. If it becomes burdensome and stressful, it's probably not a Passion Project. (Unless of course you're just experiencing the growing pains of learning a new medium.) Feel free to put it down for a while and come back to it. In fact sometimes you have to because life gets in the way. But the important thing is that you are staying creatively active and challenged in between client projects.

So there you go. Stay inspired. Stay creative. Stay challenged. Go start a Passion Project.