Friday, February 19, 2016

Recommendations for the New Year!

How are your resolutions going? 

Me? I didn’t make any. 

My new year starts with me avoiding all the hype of making lists and resolutions. February has always been the month when I finally get the ball rolling. It's a combination of a very relaxed state from the holidays and avoiding of all the New Year's imperative to quickly change everything.  

February gets a bad rap. Not much happens this time of the year except for some groundhogs messing with our spring and chocolate hearts on the sappiest day of the year. Plus here in Canada’s East Coast, it’s typically a very cold and stormy month. For me, February is the quiet cozy month and that's the way I like it. 

Getting back to those resolutions- don’t they feel like a pressure tactic? 

How about instead of resolutions, we come up with New Year's recommendations. I chose the word recommendation because it sounds like an open invite. It’s casual. It’s like some handy reference material for a happy start to the year. A little instruction here, a suggestion there, mixed with some helpful tips and advice.  

Here are some things I have focused on so far:

1. I have decided to shake up my morning routine-
I believe how you start the day sets the tone for the whole day. And if it’s Monday, it could potentially set the tone for the whole week. Todd Henry from Accidental Creative talks about his morning routine and how it works for him. 

2. I’m listening to more podcasts. Here are some of my faves: 

- The Tim Ferris Show- He wrote the book The Four Hour Work Week. He calls himself the human guinea pig. My favourite episode was the one he did with Whitney Cummings. Changed my life! 

- The Accidental Creative- inspiration in your ears from Todd Henry. 

- seanwes podcast- Fiery inspiration on creativity and business every single day. I could listen to this podcast all day! 

- The Music Makers- Aaron Francis reads content and offers his opinions on it. The content varies from blog posts, books, entrepreneurship and personal development.

- The Right Space- A podcast that explores the relationship between creatives and their workspaces. Fascinating stuff! 

3. I am reading more books about communication and writing-
If you work in the market of visual communication then you most likely spend a lot of time online. Instead of throwing ideas out there mindlessly, really pay attention to how you come across to your audience. Define who you want to speak to. So far these books are great at helping in this department: 

4.  I am taking more quick naps- 
If this is something you don't normally do, try it even if it’s only for 15 minutes. I now know my cat is on to something here. He is a professional napper. It can clear your head and help with mental alertness. If you are like me, it helps with information overload by giving the brain a much-needed rest. Plus as an added benefit, naps are really good for you.

5. I found better lighting to work in- 
My new office does not have a great lighting setup and the sun during the day isn’t any better so I had to invest in a better desk lamp. This one works well- the OttliteIt has 3 settings with a tap of the finger. It works like a daylight effect which means there are no shadows to distract me while I’m illustrating. Plus, this lamp is easier on the eyes and very reasonably priced. I bought mine at Costco for a whopping $35. 

6. I’m standing up while I work-
I recently acquired a hydraulic desk and it’s the best thing in my office right now. I can raise it if I want to stand or I can lower it if I choose to sit. There are benefits to standing while you work- experts suggest you should stand every 20 minutes. This supposedly helps to reduce your risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. Also, it gives your back a break from hunching over and increases circulation. Experts also claim this pleasant additional benefit-standing up every 20 to 30 minutes seems to prompt the body to burn calories, so you don’t gain as much weight from sitting at the office most of the day. Either way, I like standing while I work. It has helped my posture and helped alleviate a lot of neck pain I was experiencing.

7. I am waking up earlier-
Sleeping 8 hours is not something my body and brain want to do these days. So either I can stay up later or I can get up earlier. Since my working brain wants to shut off after supper it makes sense to get up around 5. I find my mind is clear and my ideas are more fluid. Also, I seem to get my best writing done before the kiddies get up.  

8. I'm eating more turmeric- 
Wait, how did a spice get on the list? Our overall health plays a role in our work life. Adding supplements, healthy eating and exercise are just as important as staying creative. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory that supposedly helps improve memory. It helps to boost levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which increases the growth of new neurons and fights various degenerative processes in the brain. Turmeric aids in cancer prevention and helps prevent arthritis- that helps to keep your hands nimble and strong. It's also a supplement that helps your mood- happy brain stuff that wards off downer days and helps in concentration. 

9. I'm exercising my eyes-
My eyes changed recently. Anything close is now a blur. It’s true, I need glasses. So, I have taken up the art of exercising my eyes. Yes, this is a thing. If you give your eyes a break every 10 to 20 min this will help cut down on eye strain. Also simple eye movements can exercise the eyes to keep them functioning well. It helps on the really busy days even though my kids say it's really funny to watch. 

10. I'm continually cleaning up my online social networking feeds- 
Do be careful about what is being flashed in front of you daily. Negative posts, headlines, hard sell tactics are draining on the eyes, the mood and your overall creative health. So much noise can dull the mind in my opinion. I find Facebook especially bad for hateful comments, arguing, unnerving posts that annoy many. If you cannot take one more picture of starving children, animal abuse or nasty comments then limit what you see. Unfollow the clutter on your wall and your mental health will thank you. 

What are your recommendations for a great year? Feel free to share your ideas and feel free to share this article too. 

Thursday, February 4, 2016

That moment when you really like your work

 “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” - William Shakespeare, Measure For Measure

There are several challenges that illustrators deal with so I’ll start with one that tops the list: self-doubt. 

The worst enemy for any illustrator is constant disbelief that our work is not good enough. This nagging skepticism kills more creative careers than failure ever will. It’s like a heavy anchor that can last a lifetime or present itself during our latest project. We all experience it at some point and we hate it when it comes knocking. 

Maybe we should stop answering the door when it comes to town.

Self-doubt comes from too many places. Social media, burnout, rejection and lack of support are typical things that challenge any illustrator. Nothing unusual but they all feel huge when while we are dealing with them. I think the real question is: what doesn’t cause doubt? We are human and we put ourselves out there every day to be judged and often times, ignored. Yeah, we all hate those crickets. It’s not easy because this career was never designed to be simple. 

I often tell my kids this: make sure your worst enemy is not living between your own two ears. As I say that, I’m also thinking we should all kick self-doubt in the ass and never look back. 

“Let go or be dragged.” - Zen proverb

Our work will always be challenged by others which make us challenge our ideas. It’s a fight. It’s a struggle to like what we create. It’s hard to let our work just float out there online without controlling how others see it. Since our ideas won’t stop, we can never let our guard down and succumb to the doubt that will inevitably creep in. 

When we decide to like our work, its like going to a party that you thought you’d never be invited too. It feels weird and suspicious at first. Once the initial shock wears off, this new feeling is like a rebellious stance against the perplexity and stereotyping we often face as artists. 

When I woke up one day and realized that I really liked my work, I knew I finally progressed to some odd new level. I have no idea where that level is or what it will lead to. I now have a higher standard for my work that I thought would never happen for me. Nice to know that I’m now getting out of my own way. 

Better now than never!  

We live in a free world of open and negative opinions. It’s so easy to let it get us down because these things are hard to ignore. Opinions are thrown around too easily and end up being nothing more than distractions without the meat to back them up. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I do not give “two figs” (I’m being polite here) about what others think. It does not mean I do not care about others. I do care very much. I have decided it's now time to care about my work and spend less time focused on the negative online junk that floats around daily. 

And still I stay and draw on. 

As I was working on this, I was also working on the illustration above and I ended up disliking it. What? This whole post is about liking the work we make! This is true. I didn’t say it would never happen again. Illustrations can still go wrong. I don’t expect all my work to be fabulous every single day. The important difference now - I focus on looking for the lesson, not the frustration. The lesson for me is to get better at what I make. I can honestly say that I cannot illustrate everything well but I am willing to learn as I go along.    

Shockabuku: A swift spiritual kick to the head which alters your reality forever.

Loving your work has nothing to do with ego or narcism and has everything to do with acceptance. Sometimes it’s just a much-needed kick in the head so you can change your mind about what you do. Liking your work isn’t something we always talk about. Typically we hear about what we are struggling with and the issues we face as illustrators. We cannot all go viral or follow all the trends either. Liking what we make is an unorthodox way of thinking. It all comes down to trusting our ideas and paying attention to the value our work has. 

Value is an overlooked subject when we educate upcoming visual communicators. Because it is not tangible; it is based on a perceived benefit. To confidently go about promoting our value starts with believing in what we do. Clients don’t care about how long you’ve been an illustrator. They do care about what you can offer them in a visual way. They care if you can deliver work on time and if you can communicate well while offering something you believe in. If you believe in your work, others will too. 

It’s not about getting big or breaking the internet. It comes down to appreciating your skills and abilities. Keep it simple. Focus on getting good at what you do instead of worrying about getting big.   

Google how many things utilize creative work from artists, illustrators, designers, animators, and writers. You will notice that everything we use, read, watch, sit on, wear and cook with is created from talented folks just like you and me. All of this is valuable and needed. 

Life is too short to be constantly fighting with your work. It reminds me of the old fashioned thing that parents used to say to their kids, “You’re going to eat it and you’re going to like it!” Sounds pretty harsh but those were different times. I can do you one better, “You’re going to illustrate it and you’re going to like something about it.” And maybe that’s all it takes. Maybe we need to stand back and look at what we made and force ourselves to find one good thing we like about it. Does it have value? Does it communicate the message? Does it inspire? Does it make others feel good? Does it tell a story? Does it make people laugh in a good way? Maybe if we do this enough, in time, we might eventually like the whole picture. 

Saturday, October 24, 2015

I'll always share ideas (even if no one notices)

"Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality." - Dalai Lama 

Tell me if you've heard these before: 
"Aren't you afraid that someone is going to steal your ideas?" 
"Doesn't it bother you that they could make money doing that?"

No, I am not worried about the ideas that I share for several reasons:

• I'm not the only one sharing-

There are many people such as myself who write and talk about illustration, creativity and the business side of things. Sharing is good for illustrators. The more we chat, the better it is for everyone. There once was a time when the Internet was not there to close the gap and help the world feel a little smaller. We created alone with little interaction. We lived in the freelance bubble. Now we can interact, mentor, discuss all the aspects of illustration freely and openly.

• It has nothing to do with being an expert-
I'm not an expert and I've been sharing ideas since I graduated from Art school. There is no written code that you have to be the best this or that or have million followers. Just jump into the idea pool. The water is just fine.

• Ideas are everywhere-

We are a resource. Believe it not,  as illustrators we are equipped with immense knowledge on skill, ideas, good creative habits and experience. Our trials, errors, screw-ups and successes are totally interesting. These experiences are so vitally rich to share that it's the number one question during interviews and spotlights. Questions that highlight your advice to newcomers is always a big focus.

• There are no new ideas-

Let's break this down by starting with how ideas happen. Ideas are random and what rocks your imagination will be different for someone else. Most of the time, ideas come from the TV, books, music or something we saw online. If you're like me, ideas come to you in vividly rich dreams. We think so many thoughts in a run of a day. Our ideas as illustrators do stretch beyond the average day to day thinking. We are hyper in tuned with gathering information as a way of exploring our world. It really is part of the job. The ideas may not be new, but they are new to us. From there we can put our own personal spin on it in our own personal style. In essence, we twist and reshape ideas as needed. The original idea is still there, it just took an interesting creative turn.

• We live in a sharing society-

We can thank the Internet for a very tight knit sharing community. Never before has knowledge sharing been so easy. I'm pretty certain this is the general purpose of Pinterest- to share everything. It's all there online 24/7. Need a hand reference? Google it. Need advice? Email a pro. Can't get your ideas across to a client? Skype them. Can't afford to go back to school? Grab a class on skillshare. The only problem we face is fitting all this great stuff into our already tight-knit schedules.

• It's not about awards, credit or accolades-

For me, there is no need for awards or labels suggesting this or that is the best or most respected. That's not for me to decide. If my ideas help, then I have done something positive. Quite simply, I'm a contributor in this fast-paced energy idea driven society we live in. Say that ten times and there might be an award in it for you. But seriously, we all want to be appreciated and discovered while leaving our mark. Do the work and be present in your career. Forget the trends and just do what you do best. Believe it or not, there's an audience for you. If there is an audience for reality TV then we'll be just fine. I think this quote sells it- "Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours." -Jane Kenyon

• It's just the way it is!

I'm hardwired to help. I once read that as tourists (because we are always exploring) on this planet, it's our duty to help, to lift up others and to spread knowledge. 
Sharing has an interesting integrity to it. 

"Integrity is doing the right thing even if no one is watching." - C. S. Lewis

Ideas are always contagious because one idea leads to many. An idea becomes something with many actions and cups of coffee. We can have all sorts of ideas in our heads, in our notebooks, sketchbooks but if we don't do something with them then they are just floating in limbo. 

"Ideas won't keep. Something must be done about them." - Alfred North Whitehead

In a way, ideas are like a type of farming. In order for them to grow they need attention, appreciation and constant nurturing. Ideas take time and work. It's like Picasso said, 
"I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else." This is true and this why we need to talk about them and share them more often. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

18 journeys towards an illustration career!

1. As a kid, Ed Emberly helped me learn to draw. He was my childhood hero! 
2. I became obsessed with Where The Wild Things Are when I was a kid. Wild rumpus imagination is a good thing. It's now an everyday thing! 
3. I was allowed to paint on walls. When I was in elementary, I was asked to paint 4 murals on the walls of my school. Breaking the rules felt good! 
4. When I was in grade 10, I worked on props for Paramount Pictures for an 80's movie called Children Of Lesser God. I met and had lunch with William Hurt. The world felt a lot smaller that day.  
5. I had the best art teacher in High school. Mr. Murphy had the biggest open mind and helped me get into University. Asking for what I wanted was a good thing.  
6. I took a leap and went to art school for 5 years. Independence was both exciting and terrifying. 
7. I used to annoy one of my design teachers with my idea choices for projects. That's when I knew I was onto something BIG! 
8. One summer I designed sardine cans at a design studio. I realized I did not really want to be a designer. I didn't want to settle.
9. After I graduated from art school I went back to get my BFA for another year and focused on illustration. Making a decision felt like progress. I was that much closer to growing up.  
10. I took b/w darkroom photography the whole time at art school as an elective. This taught me both patience and attention to detail. The idea od organizing imagery within a frame is important as well as wearing dark clothing to hide spills. 
11. When I started illustrating, I tried using gouache. I disliked it so much I had to master it. Now it's my favourite material to create with. Persistence won!
12. I dared myself to send out a book idea. I got a publishing deal in less than a month. Taking a chance and believing in myself was both surprising and exhilarating. 
13. I worked as a veterinarian's assistant and helped animals. This taught me the customer has a heart that needs to be taken seriously. Listening became a good skill. 
14. I worked part time at a Health food store while freelancing and this taught me that everything is connected to everything. Now I understand the concept that you get what you give.
15. I served coffee. I worked at a coffee shop and learned coffee is much more than caffeinated liquid in a cup. I learned how to make a perfect cup. My love for coffee and I have been going steady for over 20 years!  
16. Having kids taught me to get back in touch with the original idea of creating. My girls reignited the making process which helped me to stop over thinking everything every minute of the day. Making a mess is not just for kids and I'm perfectly okay with all the imperfections.   
17. Being asked to share my knowledge was another surprise for me. As a shy kid, this was never something I'd thought I'd be doing. Standing in front of an audience, although nerve racking, proved to me that I could change the way I perceived myself. Luckily, I didn't die and the earth did not swallow me whole. I even made them laugh even though I was shaking in my shoes! 
18. Illustrating my first children's book taught me that storytelling is the best! It also steered me in a new direction which has been a much-needed shot in the creative arm. We really shouldn't put away child like things. 

Let's continue the conversation: What are yours? 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Creative Goosebumps!

© Holly DeWolf 

“The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses.” -Edith Sodergran 

Think back when you were younger when you had a deep love for someone or something. It's all you thought about, focused on and wanted to be part of. Your mind went there freely. There was no way you could be distracted from what was clouding your brain. Eating was  optional and sleeping wasn’t necessary. Your heart felt like a separate entity. You were consumed inside your personal happy bubble… and you're not even paying attention right now, are you?

Creative goosebumps are like an inspired light that never goes out. On the bad days it can feel hidden. On the good days, we go large and make things happen. Illustration offers the chance to stretch ideas and notions we have about ourselves and the world we live in. We really cannot be micromanaged or controlled because we are the business and what we make is the product. We are our own bosses and some days we’re cooperative and some days we can be real jerks!

Illustration is different from other careers because the work we do is personal. Just like your signature and the way we dress, our work is our own unique fingerprint on this planet. It’s the centre of everything. Your mind starts the day with ideas and ends the same way. If your lucky, you’ll even dream about it like an illustration crush. 

When I say an illustration crush, I mean it lightly. Like most crushes there is a HUGE love however it doesn’t always treat you fairly back. The creative drive is a tipsy relationship. We can get lost in flow one day and then want to tear our hair out the next. Sneaky things like perfectionism and comparison can step in and wreak havoc on your visual environment. For some of us we love it but we can feel uneasy and often scared of it. 

Then there is this funny little thing that happens when we love something-fear of success. We want it all but we fear not being able to follow through or keep it up. Remember (write this down): No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you go, you are still ahead of everyone who isn’t trying!  

Typically most people do not love their work. They punch in and log out. Many tolerate a career for many reasons and many hardly find a career they love that supports their lifestyle. Either they love it and it pays peanuts or the pay is great but it’s sucking the life out of them. 

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” -Vincent Van Gogh

Even with illustration, there are downsides. However, if you cannot love the whole career then try a section of it. Love the illustration career you're in or love the way you do it or both! It will make EVERY JOB much more enjoyable and rewarding. Shift the idea of how you perform in your work this way: 

1. Try focusing on creative challenges you can give yourself. 

2. Create something to look forward to daily, weekly and monthly. 

3. Take more chances. Say yes more to opportunities that scare you and say no to the things that drain your time and energy. 

4. Socialize more with real live folks! 

5. Ask for what you want and need more of.  

6. Remember opinions are relative. Good advice is gold. 
Criticism is like rain. It should be gentle enough to nourish your growth without destroying the roots.

7. Make more time to let ideas incubate. Daydreaming and random moments of silence lets the good stuff come out.   

8. Put in 150%. What else would you be doing? You’re going to be making something anyway. 

9. Consider it all a great big experiment!

Most important: Treat your career like a best friend. Always be kind to your work, your ideas and to yourself. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

Why self-directed work is important!

Photo ©Holly DeWolf

Remember drawing for hours as a kid? Remember what it felt like to make things your own way? There wasn't a time limit. There wasn’t a client waiting. There were no contracts or a heaping pile of paper work to go with making an illustration. Once you were done, you cleaned up your crayons (sometimes), stuck your art work on the fridge before going out to ride your bike. 

All of this sounds like freedom. 

Self-directed work is the freedom to make things on your time, your own way however you choose. It’s an exercise we should consider making time to do. Having creative spare time is probably what got you into art in the first place: the chance to make something!  

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s lethal.” -Paulo Coelho

Self-directed work is a promise to yourself to keep making work everyday. It’s your own creative downtime in your already busy schedule. Think of it as practice. Think of it a break away from routine. 

Getting into the right frame of mind has to have the right setting. Good music, lots of paper, freshly sharpened pencils, glue, scissors, inspiring books, a thesaurus plus a hot beverage is a good start! It can be scheduled or completely unplanned. This is also the time to relinquish control. As hard as it is, put your harsh critic in the corner for a while and make something anyway. 

Instead of interrupting the creative flow with your own personal judgments, allow yourself to be fully engaged in the process. Create when you are inspired and save the technicalities for later.” - Marie Wilson. 

Reasons to make random art:   

1. A good time to make a mess.
No plan? No problem. Letting go of control can be one of the most freeing things you can do. As Tobias van Schneider says, let yourself be stupid

"The only way a side project will work is if people give themselves permission to think simple, to change their minds, to fail--basically, to not take them too seriously," says van Schneider. "When you treat something like it’s stupid, you have fun with it, you don’t put too much structure around it. You can enjoy different types of success."

2. A good time to make more mistakes.
Mistakes are what we all have in common. Its part of the human experience of growing up and moving forward. I often think making mistakes is how we really get in touch with ourselves. Neil Gaiman says it best: 

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

3. A good time to work things out! 
This creative downtime is the perfect time to practice and hone drawing skills. Not good with representing hands? Do your backgrounds in your illustrations need a new approach? Always working in the same colour schemes? I always call it the time to get weird. It’s unstructured, it’s random but you are making time to learn and create something that will be useful later on. There’s a definite method to the madness. 

Another way to work things out is by breaking through bad days, burnout, illness or other disruptions. As they say, crap happens. These things can sideline your productivity or stop it completely. Treat it as a Plan B approach to work it out creatively. 

4. A good time to enjoy the process again.
The biggest part of illustration that I love is the process. I love grabbing that idea and doodling. I love the words and narratives that come out of certain themes. I love setting up my desk to get the ball rolling. Client work can often feel rushed with too many revisions. If it's a tight deadline, we could lose the energy for the project along the way. With self-directed work, you get to take the time to get to know your process, your habits and your natural way of creating. The more you know about how you work, your process, your peak times and your creative habits, this will all help with future client work. 

5. A good time to get off the computer to be old school.
As I always say, “Sorry, out to live. Be back soon.” Being online needs to be part time for some of us. Just because we need to social network and make computer art doesn’t mean we should stop buying and playing with old school materials. Load up on oil paint, gouache, watercolour, pencils, tape, glue, pastels, sticky notes, pens, rulers and whatever else you find. Throw some crayons into the mix, make a mess and cut loose. 

5. A good time to make something new.
This creative mess making can be a good time to begin a series, a theme, a promotion, a book idea, a gallery show, handmade work to sell in a gallery, add collage bits to your work, textures, or experiment with hand drawn lettering. All of this will benefit your work and your online portfolio too. 

6. A good time to develop a new way of working.
We are always told to focus on the importance of style. We need to develop one and maintain it. However, as we go along, our style will change and grow and then one day we could discover we want our work to look differently. This is the prefect time to experiment. 

Lastly, remember to look for the magic in your daily routine. Happy creating!