Tuesday, April 17, 2012

On Personal Projects

Hi friends! You will notice that this post contains no images. This is because I have so many good things I want to blog about, but I am deep into a huge book project, and don't have a ton of time to work on images that I feel like posting because I am concentrating all my time on finishing this project on time. But I would like to talk to you a little bit about something I have really been thinking about lately. And I would love feedback and comments!

The topic is working on personal project when you are bogged down with illustration jobs. This has been my big dilemma in the last couple of years. I think I have pretty much had non-stop projects for the last year and a half with out any breaks, sometimes more than one project at a time. This has been a blessing to our family because my husband does not make enough for our family on his own. But I have felt bogged down, always under deadlines and never getting the chance to work on any of my 25+ personal projects and ideas that have been building up and wanting to surface. I see friends around me fulfilling their dreams and illustrating things that they love. I find myself in tears sometimes because I wish that was me. My desire is to change and evolve my style and do more stylized things, but I never get the opportunity to do so because I always get the same type of jobs. So I recently discussed this very dilemma in a kidlit group I am part of. I got some great responses and ideas from other illustrators. I hope they don't mind me sharing those ideas here!

Will Terry said: "Hang in there - the projects you're working on are still helping you improve and formulate your theories. I know exactly how you feel because I've been there. Wealth is created in your spare time so it comes down to sacrifice. When I'm dealing with the same situation I try to channel Will Smith in "The Pursuit of Happiness" - the concept that every second counts - he took fewer bathroom breaks to increase productivity. You have to keep working on your own projects - even if you can only squeeze a half hour or 15 min/day...Imagine what you can accomplish in one year if you do? ....hope that helps."

Thank you Will! The 15 minutes a day is such a good idea. I bought myself a new sketchbook which I named "Shawna's Idea Book." I am going to set a goal to spend 15 minutes a day in my idea book. Each time I spend that 15 minutes, I get to color in a square. When I color in 50 squares, I get to buy myself a nice art book I have been wanting. (Yes, I am a mom and can also bribe myself). Baby steps and setting goals.

Hazel Mitchell said: "I have had to put aside my own work for most of the last 18 months, but am happy to have paying book work. I now realize I can't say 'I'll work on my story when I am through with this book', because then another project comes along. So I have to make the time and schedule to work on both ... It's hard ... I don't enjoy changing gears and like to work on a project constantly till it finished. But now I see this isn't how it's going to be ... So my only solution is a schedule. I'll let you know how it goes."

Such a good idea, Hazel. Schedule in your personal projects as if they have a deadline also. I always tell myself, "When this project is done, I will feel so much better and I will be able to have time to work on my own projects." Sometimes that does happen- for about a week- which only gives me enough time to catch up on sleep and laundry. So I guess scheduling it in may be what I need to do.

Andi Butler: Talked about how everything in life comes in cycles and seasons. She said, "You never know what life will throw your way. I think the hardest part though, is that being creative is sensitive to any stress in our lives, and we can get blocked so easily. Wills advice is perfect, 15 minutes a day, more if you can, but at least that. Even if it just gestures, because it will keep flexing your creative muscles and they won't atrophy under stagnant work we sometimes have to do. Hazel's schedule will work too if you treat your personal project with equal importance as a paying one! We need to take ourselves seriously if we expect others do too. My two cents: turn off the email. I don't mean hide it, quit out of it. I found it a bigger time suck than FB or Twitter, because all my notifications come through it. Even on my phone, it's unlaunched so I'm not distracted. It surprising how much time is used more wisely now! I check the email three times a day and that's it...

Such words of wisdom from Andi. I often feel like all my creativity is being sucked out of me and I am just a work machine trying to get the current project done and turned in on time- because of stress. Giving my own personal projects equal attention and priority is something I need to do or the love of art might just be sucked right out of me. And how can I do this when I feel like every extra minute I have is taken up by me trying to finish my projects? And this is on top of taking care of my family and church responsibilities. Well, spending less time in email and the Internet is a very good suggestion. As Will Terry put it, "go on an internet diet." 

I bought a program called Freedom for Mac which I bought in a bundle with a program called AntiSocial. I have started using these programs more to help me focus on my work and get more done (yes, you have to consciously make yourslef turn on the program). Freedom turns off the Internet access completely for any amount of time you decide, Antisocial turns off access to email, facebook and twitter (social media). 

On keeping a record of ideas for personal project:

Sherry Meidell: "Write down your ideas that pop into your head that you want to work on. Then when you have the time you can look at your notes and sketch books and run with your own ideas. It might be years but when you check back to your notes, you can run with your own ideas.

I like this. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that our ideas may take time to take flight. But it's good to keep a record so you can always come back to your ideas later.

Hazel Mitchel: "I like to write things down on post-it notes as they occur, even random thoughts. I slap them round a window frame in my studio and look at them from time to time. Then they get moved into different positions and new things happen."

Thank you everyone for all these wonderful suggestions and inspiration. I am going to have the courage to work on my own ideas even if it is 15 minutes a day.


Amber's Illustrations said...

I can feel your pain, but at the same time, you are truly blessed because there are some of us artists out there who wish we could be slammed with those payed gigs, instead of spending our time doing just personal work. On the other hand, as a Graphic Artist, I've had experience working with clients who want things done in such a specific way, that it leaves no room to explore creativity, so I guess I should feel blessed that I can do some personal work on the side. The goal here is to get exposure, and the right kind of exposure. I agree with Sherry, because the more you can find time to work on what you love, the more you can share it with others, and hopefully it will get you to do what you really love. Keep up the good work. :).

Andi Butler said...

Fantastic post Shawna! I understand the tears, where you're so fatigued and burned out from bringing someone else's vision to light. I used to picture myself curling up under a house like the Wicked Witch of the East without my creative Ruby Slippers. You'll get to your projects, make time for them even if that 15 minutes is at the start of end of the day (I need to take my own advice too). We'll bring that much more to our paying projects. Tomorrow, I'm only checking email twice! ; )

a : )

Shawna said...

Thanks both of you for your comments! I don't think I really pointed out in my post that I really am thankful for the paid work I have been getting. It really is a blessing, and I really am grateful.

Abigail said...

Oh, I hear you. I totally hear you. Similarly, I'm incredibly blessed to have a full plate of book projects I love, but am struggling to find time to work on my own ideas.

All the advice offered is so true. One random thing that did help me though was using time tracking software (I use a free program, Tickspot). Sometimes I'll input five minutes of personal project time one day or ten another day. At the end of the month when I can look at my tallies, it helps to see that, hey, I actually did get in two hours on that dummy. Maybe it's just mind over matter, but it kind of helps me to see I'm actually getting there, albeit real slowly :-)

Best of luck with everything!

Joanne Roberts said...

I can hardly give better advice than you've already been given, but I do have a bit to add. First, though not a morning person, I resolved to get my day stared 10 minutes earlier five days a week. In addition, somewhere in your schedule, there is an extra 10 minutes (getting a cup of tea, folding clothes, reading the mail). Find it: rearrange so the two bits of stolen time equal 20 solid minutes. Put those twenty minutes before your work. Really! But stick to your allotted time. I have found my client work is reinvigorated when I have personal creative time first. I actually get more done faster. Next, vow to do this daily. It's very motivational. In addition, I set goals for myself so that after, say, 6 weeks I have ten hours invested in a specific project(like a new portfolio piece, or a pb manuscript). That's the reward I look forward to. If you need more motivation, remember it's only 6 weeks. Tell yourself you'll take a break after the six week period if you have to. I hope that's helpful; it has worked for me. You are definitely not alone. We all struggle with allotting the time we're given to the right things. We all struggle to be creative and productive while avoiding sacrificing family time. Best wishes. We can't wait to see the results. Thanks for devoting time for your readers.

Shawna said...

Thank you all! Great add-on suggestions and comments!

Alisa Haggard said...


Really good post and excellent suggestions. I have also felt torn between wanting to have more freedom to explore and develop creatively and feeling all my energy has to go elsewhere. When I read this post, the first thing that came to mind was an article I read years ago: "How to Be Creative" by cartoonist Hugh MacLeod. Have you ever read it? I pulled it out again and I find it very motivating and inspiring.

I specifically thought of the part where he talks about the balance between paying jobs and what he calls sexy, creative jobs. (section 5) You can find it here. http://changethis.com/manifesto/show/6.HowToBeCreative

Best of luck. Hope you can carve out that personal time you are hoping for.