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.