Friday, December 17, 2010

Making Your Stop-Doing List

While we all have our daily "to-do" lists, we sometimes advocate that people should come up with a "stop-doing" list. Just as important as getting the important work done is weaning oneself off of bad habits and reprogramming your brain to follow more productive habits.

While the occasional jaunt down the information superhighway is just fine and dandy, and thanks to Google a lot of reference is just a click away (although if at all possible, we recommend using your own reference), spending hours playing Zuma Blitz (*cough Monkey cough*) doesn't do anyone any good.

While we totally support fun little breaks and the like, we just want to address any major bad habits - and nowadays, many of these habits end up in the form of constant Facebook browsing or randomly selecting wikipedia articles to read.

Creating a stop-doing list is a good way to honestly evaluate what sort of behaviors and habits aren't working for you. If you're doing well and you're finding time to get everything done, then great. But if you aren't, it may be wise to evaluate how much time you're really putting into your work and how much time you're putting into reading Gawker or the Onion.

If you aren't sure what needs to go onto your Stop-Doing list, perhaps you should try to take notes on your day. How much time are you REALLY spending on your painting? How much time are you spending on marketing? Playing video games? Watching TV? Once you start taking notes of when you start and stop doing things, the picture becomes a lot clearer, especially when you figure out that your break has lasted for an hour and a half.

If you're doing everything that you want to be doing, maybe try making a Do-Less-Of list instead. That way you can more properly realign your priorities. Maybe take the comic book reading down from an hour to fifteen minutes a day. Maybe take out watching that extra TV show that you watch just because it's after your favorite crime drama. That's an extra hour and a half that you could spend working.

Alternatively, if you're hustling non-stop, maybe you might need to take it down a notch so you can actually enjoy life. Instead of spending that extra fifteen minutes writing an extra blog post, you could spend that time catching up with a friend.

We're not productivity fascists that want you to overwork yourself. The main point about budgeting your time and making evaluations about what you're spending your time on is to really think about what is necessary and focus on that. Whether you're overworked or overplayed, finding the right balance in your life is what it's all about.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Taking Advice for What It's Worth

It's sort of a funny thing to give people the advice to question advice, but that's what we're here to do today. So make sure you even take this with a grain of salt.

You see, Monkey + Seal are big fans of taking advice and well-meaning suggestions and that sort of thing in context. Why? Because no one knows you like you know yourself (in theory..sometimes Monkey thinks Seal knows him better than he knows himself). Often times Monkey + Seal will buy information products (ie. books or e-books or guides) to help further their knowledge base. However, we know that not everything everyone says will exactly apply to us.

While it might be nice to start up an e-business that can make us $30k a year in a few months of really hard work, it's not really what we do. We'd much rather go the arguably harder route of doing silly things like making pictures and selling them, and teaching other artists about how they can do the same. Sometimes business models just don't work for us or our plans, and we just learn from them and move on. Sometimes they will provide a valuable insight on how we can adapt our own plans in an innovative way - but either way, we have to evaluate the information for ourselves.

An example of "advice" that artists often hear which can be totally contradictory revolves around pricing. Many of us have heard the story of that one artist who "suddenly" raises their prices to astronomical rates and becomes the biggest thing around. If we take this at face value, then shouldn't we all start selling 16x20 paintings for $4000? Alternatively, we hear that we need to lower our prices as in a struggling economy, a "luxury" item like art needs to come down in price as people don't have as much money to spend. Faced with these conflicting pieces of information, do we raise or lower our prices?

Well, it depends. The artist who suddenly had the price jump in their paintings probably suddenly went from showing in a cafe to showing in a well-established gallery. The gallery wouldn't let you charge $200 for a 16x20 since it's not worth their wallspace, while if you're showing in a cafe you probably won't run into someone willing to drop $4000 on a painting (but then again it also depends where you are). Alternatively, if you're already selling work and you lower your price, suddenly collectors might think that you're devaluing your work and then people might stop buying altogether.

The correct answer is that it depends on you. We can't answer all the questions for you, but can only advice you really exploring and figuring out if any given piece of information is right for you and your situation. We can always (and will) let you know what has worked for us, but you have to take that information and figure out if it'll work for you in your situation.

All in all, the message to take home is that there are no easy answers. Without sitting down and talking one-on-one with you, most guides and books will only take you so far (although sometimes you'll find a writer who works perfect for you!). It's up to you to sift through the advice and get to what is your own personal answer. Good luck!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coaching Your Inner Artist

Illustration Friday Painting by Seal

On the days you want to quit most, there is a tiny voice inside of each of us that says, "You can still do this." "All is not lost." "What if we try this." or "That might be interesting." And on the days you succeed, it congratulates you. "Way to go!" "I knew you could do it." "That wasn't so bad."

If you have ever played a sport, cheering on your artistic endeavors is much like being a sports coach. Different challenges call for different tactics, and as the coach of your inner artist, you have to know your team and you have to know what you're up against. Are you a procrastinator? Timid artist who doesn't like to pitch their ideas in person? Do you have a great batting average, but only when you've had enough sleep? As artists, we need to be our own coach. We need to know what it is we need, what is holding us back, and the tips and game play we need to move forward with our art. If you are a procrastinator, find out why art is so painful for you, find ways to manage expectations and time for projects. If you are shy about selling your own art, hire an agent/manager, enroll in speech class, or practice in front of a friend or in the shower. If you are the type who can't do anything creative until you have that nap, then gosh darn it, take that nap and fully rest or decide to push through.

Every day, from the moment you wake up, there are many negative obstacles blocking you from creating that day. Your friend calls to have lunch, then lunch turns to an entire afternoon. Your painting is left un-touched. You finally wrote that novel and the publisher who promised you great advance on royalty, decided in the end that they had a "better candidate in mind." Your art rival is making headway and landing the job, that you applied for. The cat needed to be fed first before you craft. etc. etc. As artists, we tend to be very giving with our time. Too giving. But since we cannot build a wall around ourselves and we choose to live this life with the people in it, we must learn to center ourselves and coach ourselves back to focus "on the game," our love, that is art.

So how do we do this? First of all, as our own creative coach, we need to know our team. We must be very honest with ourselves and fess up to our biggest culprit. What is the most negative anti-creative force in your life right now? Do you spend too much time dilly dallying? To tell you the truth, Seal is a workaholic. She keeps herself very busy. Too busy, in fact, to work on her own personal art. Because, YES, it is much easier to work on everything else, except her personal art -- because it is personal. And personal means, we are invested, we must pour our hearts out. And that is scary!

What is your worst creative enemy? As your very own inner creative coach, how do you get yourself off the bench and into the game of creating?

Some coaches Coax: "C'mon, you can do it. Come out kitty kitty"
use Bribery: "If you paint today, I'll reward you with 1 hour reading time."
Pushing/Prodding: "You're almost at the finish line. Now push through it!" (You're almost finished with that novel!"
Tough Love: "No more excuses, you are going to create, right now."
Threats (doesn't work for Seal, but perhaps others might respond to this method): "Sew this plush toy now, or else (you'll get a late dinner, etc, etc.)
Compromise/ baby steps: "If you do this now, then I will . . . " "Okay, how about just 15 minutes of creativity today"

They all work to some degree, it's just about finding out which ones work for you best and for what circumstances. For example, Seal really hates being threatened. She will react in the opposite and shut down instead. "Then, fine. I won't create at all." And there are days when she needs to be pushed with tough love, rather than coaxed. Only you know, what you truly need.

As a coach, you are a dreamer ("the big game"), a realist (we are 5th in the league, but not dead last, nor the best team), a practitioner (you are also the artist that knows the game best). You must employ equip yourself with supportive resources and must be ready to pull up any number of repertoire of tricks up your sleeve to get you to play your best in your art.

Every day you will have to review your plan, chart your course, and create. Every day you will sit with rejection, disappointment, and successes. Every day you will re-evaluate and re-commit yourself to your craft. And never forget to always celebrate your successes, however big or small. Will you take on the meaningful task at hand?

We believe you will. After all, inside each one of us, is an artist and dreamer at heart.


For further reading: Eric Maisel's Coaching the Artist Within