art

Inktober and the Creative Challenge

Look. I know it’s still September. But if Wal-Mart gets to put up the spiderwebs and skeletons, then so do I. 

IT’S HALLOWEEN TIME EVERYONE.

Today’s visuals brought to you by Chroma’s own,  Bee !

Today’s visuals brought to you by Chroma’s own, Bee!

Over the last few years, I’ve come to celebrate October more and more. The leading source of inspiration for me isn’t as much the holiday as it is a creative event that has sprung up thanks to the internet called Inktober. For the uninitiated, Inktober is a month-long creative challenge for visual artists who are given a one-word prompt daily, from which they are to conceptualize and draw in physical ink. It’s a huge hit on Twitter and Instagram, with a near-endless stream of archived work you can find via #inktober on the web. 

As the challenge has gained greater participation each year, many visual artists have come to adapt it to their own styles by removing the ink-based restrictions and changing the name to “Drawtober,” even going as far as to create an entirely different set of prompts (I like how this pays a sort of unspoken homage to Inktober’s legacy). Thus, Inktober’s explosion has set off a chain reaction of art challenges that I think will only grow greater in the near future.

bee double.jpg

Last year as I anticipated voraciously scrolling, gawking, and bookmarking throughout the upcoming ARTtober season, I wanted to be a part of the fun despite my inability to make any sort of visual art (I don’t count editing and arranging my own album art). The idea to work within one of my own mediums occurred to me, then a name came to me like a bolt from the blue: Scrawltober. That month I did my best to follow the Inktober prompts with my abilities as a creative writer. I wrote short stories, haikus, letters, I re-told dreams, all totaling to around 22 pieces, where I fell off at the end. It was a thrill and a confidence booster to see that I was capable of writing even without a mystical encounter with inspiration. It planted the seed in me for what would become a drive toward understanding the perfection of craft, now a common theme for my blog writing. 

The dog toy lay, slain

I heat up some leftovers

He gets a treat, too


“Exhausted” Scrawltober 2018, Day 6

Creative challenges are fantastic. They encourage you to do the most effective thing possible when striving to become a more prolific artist: get your hands dirty and make something. Sometimes the works born of these challenges become full-fledged works that people sell (see Chroma’s own Bee and her fantastic 2018 Inktober journal zine), other times the pieces are left incomplete or as a flawed, essential stepping stone in your creative journey. Whatever the case may be, if this sort of creative movement inspires you, if it challenges you, go for it. No matter what your creative medium might be, ARTober is for everyone. If you need a cool name, use Scrawltober, Dronetober (music), Sculptober, Knitober, Photober… whatever inspires/terrifies you the most.

Savoring Secrecy

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Consider today’s topic, embracing the personal nature of art, as an extension of my last post, Immersion in the Micro.

What happens to the secondhand exercise equipment that's never sold off at thrift stores? There's a tragic narrative in there: an optimistic person who's financially well-off enough to decide they need to focus on their health; they buy exercise equipment, maybe give it a few tries, but distractions come by or their initial enthusiasm waned. Thus, the equipment is placed in storage for years before being relinquished to a donation center where our once-lauded tool to fight lethargy and poor health sits defeated and unwanted until it is deemed a nuisance even at an extreme discount. It is eventually turned over to humanity's mass grave of good intentions: a landfill.

Take this as analogous to artistic ideas and I think we have a dead-on fit for those ambitions which are devoid of any spine for the creative process itself. We might get an incessant itch for a concept album, an experimental piece, or the fated "something no one's ever done before," and in a flash, we are dreaming up crowds of onlookers and reviews of high-esteem. It's only natural to get excited about these sorts of things, since as independent artists we often feel stuck on the side of the onlooker and not the awe-inspiring creators we admire. Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, and equally prone to being abandoned, forgotten, or short-lived.

How do we salvage our aspirations? Many ideas and desires arise within us without any attempt to foster them, sometimes to the point that we can feel burdened with having our dreams unfulfilled, or perhaps we feel guilty for being too lazy to bottle those lightning strikes. But like I said before, I think reaching for accomplishment in and of itself is where the trouble lies.

Look to the life of Emily Dickinson, who has forever shaped modern poetry not through a business-savvy spirit, but through dedication to her craft. Her work almost entirely composed in private, being shared only to a select few whom she trusted. Dickinson only ever published a couple poems and openly resented the process of piece submissions. She rejected conventional wisdom to seek mass approval and committed herself to writing the words she believed in.

Let us also take a look at Vincent Van Gogh's artistic journey in brief. A failed art dealer turned failed missionary who was afflicted heavily with mental and physical illness, Van Gogh was also an immensely prolific artist, producing over 2,000 pieces of art, only a few of which were received by the artistic community during his life. Like Dickinson, his work was posthumously discovered, and only then was it properly understood for the value it brought to humanity and the world of art.

Van Gogh died in sickness and poverty, and suffered a great deal more consequence for not selling his art when compared to Dickinson (who lived a quiet, secluded life through her family's wealth). For our purposes though, we can look to these artists and see that their great works and influence came not from chasing praise from the world or even from their somewhat extreme life circumstances, but from sincerity and dedication to their work.

I talk a lot about the creative process because I want people to focus on the actual act of creating; publicity, patron engagement, even performance comes later (with some exceptions regarding improvised art or performance art). Sometimes jokes do become successful artistic expression and sometimes entrepreneurial genius is a matter of capitalizing on a bolt from the blue, but we can't make that our foundation if we want our art to yield any depth of expression or substantial creative contribution to the lives of others.

You don't have to throw away your unsubstantiated ideas (I even suggest making a list to keep track of them), but be mindful of your attitude regarding them. When you actually try seeing one of your ideas through once in a while, relieve yourself the pressure of success/failure; see where it goes and enjoy it!

Taking Back Your Craft

“How did I come to dread the thing I once loved?”

No matter your motive for creative activity, it is a valuable aspect to your life. And yet, there are times when creating can be difficult or stressful. For many this can look like writer’s block, coming up short for a deadline, getting sick of a project, being dissatisfied with a final product, etc. My soapbox for today isn’t aiming to serve as cure-all advice for complex and situational dilemma, but to instead shift focus toward creating a healthy long-term attitudes toward creating, which may, in turn, free you up a bit from those times of frustration.

As children (before the era of tablets and Fortnite), we are often encouraged to draw or color when we get bored. The implication here is not necessarily to build a skill, but to have fun. When we get older and more practiced, we often trade enjoyment for other goals, citing this as the matured or more fulfilling progression of creative activity. Here’s my question:


both

It may be argued that the point of creating with productive intentions in mind makes our innate need for productivity also fun, but I think it’s an entirely separate goal that requires our attention and practice to accomplish.

The most effective way of injecting fun back into creativity is by making it a habit of enjoyment. If the only time you pick up a guitar or a paintbrush is to “do work” you’ll only be reinforcing the idea that your efforts are just work. This kind of mentality makes routine practice grueling and result-oriented, and more often than not, results fluctuate throughout long-term practice and mastery. Try incorporating subject matter you’re excited about into your practice (e.g. a cover song, fan art, a short story about your favorite mythology). It may even help to replace your time reserved for entertainment (don’t worry, social media will be there for you before you go to bed) and treat your practice time as if it were the thing to relax your mind. If you find it takes too much effort in your practice to replace that passive sort of entertainment, remember that as you change your habits it may take time to let your practice be something natural to you.

It’s also important that you specifically try, at first, to keep your relaxing/fun practice time separate from any practice which you’d typically consider “work.” Work will still be there for you when you come back to it (“We’re eating dinner, can we not talk about work?”). You’ve cleared out this time to not work, serving the end goal of having refreshing “play” interactions as opposed to that which is prone to burnout.

Let’s address the subject of productivity, which up to this point we’ve somewhat tried to forsake. Perhaps you’re not satisfied, particularly if you, like myself, are still seeking the union of work and play (or, more specifically, integrating as much productivity as you can into your every free moment). The benefits of dedicated time toward play is not only going to improve your relationship with creativity, but because it is something you intentionally engage with, you can be certain its contents will stick with you. Our very own Chroma blogger Patrick Quigley suggested the idea of a band who records their jam sessions returning to those sessions and picking out the moments that really shine amid the carefree experimentation. You can also look to most any inspiration found in a given work, like how Pendleton Ward integrated his experience with Dungeons & Dragons into the writing process of Adventure Time. Visual artists use their experience of drawing particular references repeatedly so that they can replicate that similar shape or subject in a new context. In this way, you hopefully might justify play to yourself as a vital part of your productivity spectrum.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build habits, and even longer to establish comfortability within your medium. If you’re already in a strong place regarding this subject, remember a balanced creative life is not a given to everyone. We all have our own reasons for creating, and with that comes a unique journey and creative process. If these ideas relieve or challenge you in some way, take them and start in on your new routine of play. Now, if you can!

Know Your Audience

Last week, Dave said something very poignant that settles the anxiety of seeking validation for one’s creative works. “Look, there's nothing wrong with making things and wanting people to like them. That's human nature. But that should never EVER be the primary reason you make something.

What subsequently sprang up in my mind is a two-part question: why and when does intended audience matter? For the purpose of today’s exploration, let’s presume the place we create from is healthy and self-confident, meaning we’d create even if it weren’t feasible to share or profit from it beyond satisfying the urge that we simply must create.

Goals. The #1 aspiration people peg for artists is to make a living doing it. While that may be true for plenty of hard-working creatives, it may not always be the case, and hardly ever is it the entire picture. What’s important is to define these goals for yourself before deciding the best way to share with others.

Do you want to make money doing it? Don’t worry about how right this second, just answer yes or no! Do you have an action-oriented purpose behind your work, like social justice or spiritual contemplation? Do you want to have fun? Do you plan to devote a half-hour every day to practice? Is this all just an excuse to meet people and make friends?

The list could go on forever, which is both overwhelming and exciting. As the artist, you get to determine these goals for yourself, which also means analyzing your capabilities and limitations. It is important to be realistic, but that shouldn’t mean forsaking your values if you can help it. Be patient with yourself and your collaborators so you can all grow and do your best!

Alright, so you’ve considered what you wish to accomplish. If none of those things involve sharing your creations with others, consider continuing along with the article so that you can assist others you know who value sharing their work.

It is typically expected of artists to share their work with as many people as possible (i.e. being “paid” in “exposure”, getting a label deal, playing festivals, etc.). Let’s consider the possibility that this may not be the most effective approach in accomplishing your goals, especially if you are not financially driven. There’s nothing wrong with increasing the accessibility of art, but let’s consider what it looks like when attention is sought in the wrong places.

Imagine showing a painting to everyone in your downtown area by carrying it around and sticking it in their face (a price tag, conveniently marked on the corner of the frame). While yes, you would be showing it to the greatest number of people you could in a short moment, they are probably going to be annoyed and without space to properly appreciate what you’re sharing. (There are lucky people who could probably get this to work for them, in which case I say more power to ya.)

The people you share your work with are going to have goals regarding what they engage with, including how they engage with it. Having a fundamental of respect for patron (viewers, listeners, attendees, etc.) needs and desires the only avenue to start a mutual creative discourse. Once you figure out the demographic you are creating for, that’s when you search for mediums and compromises to connect with them in. The hopeless, disgruntled kids in a basement want to hear from a voice who genuinely understands them; the critic wants to be shocked by the skill and creativity in a composition; grandma is happy hearing you tap out “Moonlight Sonata” note-by-note.

Whether you are a beginner or a lifetime creative, there is always room to grow in our consideration of others while also esteeming our personal values. We aren’t capable of perfect empathy, which is what makes art and interactions so interesting. So often are we challenged by the fresh perspective of people who share our biases in part. We will never have all the bases covered, and it is because of this we must be deliberate in conveying our passions. Be true to yourself and give people a chance to clearly see who that is.

A Thought on Process

What is the point of all of this?

That's a question I find myself asking a lot these days. Not just in this space, but in a lot of the areas I'm finding myself, lately. And the truth of it is, in the moment, sometimes I don't have an answer. Sometimes I just feel lost. In some cases, really lost.

I recently took a trip to a film festival that is known for being one of the top in the country- constantly on shortlists. I'd never been to a film festival like that before. One of the only touchstones I had were the images in my mind of that episode of Entourage where the boys go to Sundance (that should have been my first red flag, let me tell you). I was there because I had the opportunity to score a short film that was being shown at this festival. So I flew out with delusions of grandeur. I had scored a film! I was very proud of my work. And it was being shown around the country at film festivals! I got so wrapped up in the presumed glamour of it all that I forgot that film is just like any other art medium: it's hard!

To make a long story short, the showing was plagued with technical difficulties, and the already small audience didn't feel like sticking around for the crew to get them sorted, so we (the director, producer, and I) ended up showing the film in a less than stellar setting, and then doing a Q&A for four people. This was not what I had imagined.

But it was also not altogether unfamiliar territory for me. Not at all. I constantly play music in less-than-ideal venues for small numbers of people. That doesn't bother me anymore. So why did this?

I think in the moment I really just wanted the validation that the thing we had been working on was good, and would be liked by people. First mistake. I think I also wanted to have my ego padded a little bit. Second mistake.

Look, there's nothing wrong with making things and wanting people to like them. That's human nature. But that should never EVER be the primary reason you make something. Which, in the age of feeding off of the dopamine releases we get from social media likes and retweets and hearts and shares and virality and whatever else... It's hard. It's hard to readjust your mind to the idea of creating just to create. Making something because you HAVE to. Because it's inescapable. Because there's something inside of you that needs to come out.

After the showing we all talked together about the experience for a long time. And frankly, as much as I was talking with my friends and partners in the creation of this film, I was reassuring myself. I had to remind myself that the thing that I loved I had already done. We had already made the film. And it was good. We were proud of it. We had so much fun making it, and it was a huge learning process for all of us. We came out better for having made it. All of this other stuff- the festivals and the PR and marketing and all that stuff- that was fine, but it was not the point. I had to remind myself that if I was not enjoying the process while I was making something- if I was making something just to reap the likes or downloads or whatever after it was done, then it was a wasted effort because none of that stuff is guaranteed. The only thing that is guaranteed is what we're doing right now. The process. And if you lose sight of that, you're bound to be let down later.


-Dave