Thoughts. Words. Action.

Completing an Art Project

Creative activities, such as painting or writing a book, should be treated like a project.  Why?  Because while we are driven to start them by a desire stronger than ourselves, it is very possible to not have enough time to finish them – life gets in the way.  To avoid this, I use a variation of Fergie’s catchy song from The Great Gatsby – ‘A little organized thinking never hurt nobody’.

What are the characteristics of a project?  Well, (i) it should be started with intent, (ii) it should be planned out, and (iii) it should be diligently executed to completion.  While this may sound more like doing an engineering project, I have found that if a writing or art project does not have a plan – even a loose one – around it, it could easily end up being that, half-finished canvas or almost complete manuscript, lying forgotten in the far corner of the basement or the garage.

Once I have taken the first step, which is also the easiest – deciding that I want to start an art project – I spend some time recognizing and internalizing that I have made this decision, this commitment.  I try to think about what this means, how much time each day or each week I expect it to take, and how much time I will realistically be able to give it.  This gives me a sense of how long the project may take.  Sometimes I do this all in my head, at others I record it more systematically with pen and paper.

When I have a sense of the scope of the project, I think about what kind of project this should be.  Most of my art projects end up being one of three categories.

  1. The ‘Just Pick up the Brush’ projects
  2. The ‘Planned’ projects
  3. The ‘Commissions’

While all art projects are great fun, the ‘Just Pick up the Brush’ projects are the most fun.  These usually start off as doodles and take a life of their own.  I never know where they are going to end up.  The primary excitement in these projects is the discovery, the joy of not knowing where this journey is going to take me.

When the art project is a ‘planned’ project, I usually have a pretty clear idea of what the completed piece will look like.  On these, I spend a fair amount of time at the beginning sketching out drafts that become more and more detailed with each iteration.  The satisfaction and excitement in these projects come from seeing your vision realized exactly as planned, or sometimes, close enough to it.

Finally, there are commissions.  They can be either of the above two categories.  Usually initiated by someone other than the artist – an admirer of an artist’s work, or someone who heard about the artist from a friend – these projects could be something the client specifically wants, they may have a vague idea of what they would like, or they may ask for ideas from the artist.  No matter how commissions come in, these projects can give me an extra dose of motivation, as my commitment to complete them is not only to myself, but to my clients as well.

At the end, no matter what kind of project I start, there is no substitute of starting AND completing a creative project.  The initial excitement of starting something new, that is not here today; the thrills that come with that perfect sequence of words, that brushstroke; the bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustration that comes with not finding the right sentence, not being able to make that perfect curve; and finally the joy and satisfaction of writing ‘The End.’ or standing back looking at that finished painting.

But to get to the end of that journey, I find it necessary to have the discipline and the structural framework that will remind me of what I wanted to complete, guides me through the project, and pushes me to complete it.

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