Monday, November 7, 2016

Small Distractions: Scattered Wastes of Time or Essential Creative Excursions?

I've been thinking. (hehe - really!) I've been thinking about the small - - and sometimes not so small -  - excursions that we artists often take when exploring our creativity and artistic skills and knowledge. Side projects. New ventures. Big ideas. 

Are these mini road trips of imagination and creative exploration sidetracking us and doing more harm than good? Do they impede the bigger picture, or do they lend to it? 

One of my favorite sayings is, "Don't major in minor things." I've always considered these words of advice to be an essential truth. Focus on the bigger picture, keep your eye on the ball, don't be distracted by smaller, insignificant things. Seek out the essence and hold tight to that vision! Don't stray from the path! 

I believe all of these things to be true. As a matter of fact, I grew up with this mindset subliminally repeated to me every day of my childhood life when I would run into my father's den and on the wall next to his desk attached to a large bulletin board was a small 5 x 7" framed light blue index card with dark red metallic sticker letters (made from the same sticker material as the classic gold stars that teachers used to stick on spelling tests) that in all caps read, 

It's weird thinking about it now, but as a child I read that little sign nearly every day of my life. And I remember back to the time when I was so young that I could read it, but I didn't know what it meant. For real. But it was there on the wall, in my father's den, next to his giant desk, with shiny red letters, and in a frame, so it must have been very important. 

Fast-forward a few years and again the words played within my head, turning and becoming more comfortable -  - they began to shape into an idea and began to make sense. Dad must have some pretty important things to do, I remember thinking. And, what exactly did OBJECTIVE mean? 

By the time that I was old enough to understand what the sentence meant, I figured that dad simply liked to use that saying as a daily reminder to not procrastinate. But no. I read it again. Not procrastinate, but more to stay on task. I had solved the mystery. Dad got sidetracked. So did I! I guess I was my father's daughter after all. You know what they say: The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. 

I'll admit it, I don't just multi-task, I take it to a whole new level. Between designing and creating all the jewelry for my Dishfunctional Designs jewelry shop, maintaining this blog, writing design books and thinking up new tutorials for print and video, as well as being a single mom to two girls and taking care of all of the workings of a household single-handedly, my hands are full. But...I'm currently studying Natural History Illustration through Newcastle University AU through a distance course, and I've gotten bitten by the illustration bug...which has led me to now experimenting with designing and creating my first collection of clothing and home decor featuring my artwork. 

All of those things are parts of what I do, and all of those things help with the directions that I want my career to travel. But what about other, small excursions of creativity? How can you tell whether something is going to be a useful addition to your career aspirations, or just a waste of time, effort, and maybe even a waste of money?

Years ago after every busy holiday season of producing and selling jewelry I used to get excited for January to roll around. This is when I would take a mini vacation - a few weeks "off" where I would often pursue a completely new craft or jewelry venture. One year (2006 to be exact) I bought a small tabletop kiln and all the supplies needed to do basic powdered glass enameling. I bought loads of silver heart charms (the type that you would attach to a charm bracelet) and I enameled them. Some I even painted after they were enameled. To paint on them, I had to use a magnifying glass. And of course to do this I needed special enamel paints and the finest (smallest) brushes possible... 

Heart charm that I enameled and painted (shown enlarged. actual size: 1/2") 2006

Silver spoon bracelet with heart charm that I enameled and painted 2006

...So I painstakingly made a batch of these little hearts, attached them to bracelets and sold them. But they just weren't my thing. I spent a lot of money on the kiln combined with all of the enameling supplies, the paints and brushes - and the time that I invested. That was the biggest loss. The trial and error, the uglies that got tossed somewhere in a box to be forgotten... I am glad I bought the kiln, and I've been thinking about pulling it out again this winter to play with again, but I regret investing so much of myself, my time, and my money into something that had so little return to me both artistically and financially. But those are the breaks. That is what we risk when we try something new.  

By all means, experiment. Try new things. It will open your mind to new possibilities and it will help you to expand your creativity. You will learn new skills and techniques. But sometimes it can be like buying home exercise equipment: the world is filled with good intentions. 

Before you invest (both money and time) think long and hard about what your goal is. What is it that you want to learn from what you are going to do? How will you use that newfound knowledge to further your main objective? There's that word! Objective!

On one hand, I believe part of my success has been my willingness to experiment and try new things. Those who know me know that I don't give up on things easily. To be successful you must be focused, and have a concrete goal to work towards. You must be motivated and have the drive to direct yourself towards that goal. And you must be open to constant learning and self-improvement. And maybe even most importantly, you must be willing and able to fail. To pick yourself back up, dust yourself off, give it another go, and maybe even have the courage to change direction.

Think about these things: What good is a random project? To what degree will you execute it? (read: how much are you going to get into this?) How will it benefit you? How will it benefit your career ambitions? And maybe even most importantly: Will doing this random project keep you away from what you are supposed to be doing?

Is what you are doing getting you closer to your objective?

What random projects have you done? How have they helped you? Have you done any that turned out to be a waste of time? Any that had surprising benifits? Leave me a comment below!

Have a great week!

article and images ©Laura Beth Love 2016 all rights reserved