I finally had a breakthrough I probably should have had five years ago, but better late than never!
I’m the brand.
Everyone is talking about personal brands. I have listened to dozens of people speaking into the “personal brand” concept, and I still didn’t get it where it related to myself. I keep chasing the creative end product (a comic, a book, a story, a piece of art) as my identity, but it has never been that. And that is why this whole thing has never made sense to me. I don’t want to be a comic creator or a story teller (though I do want to do those things.) I want to be creative. To pursue ideas and make art that is constantly evolving and changing without worrying about what it means to the rest of the world. Which only works if I connect with people – not with a product, but with an honest connection to who I am.
So, I’m relaunching my youtube channel (you know…the one with nothing on it..?) and creating content there that connects to all the things I am and all the things I do. I am talking specifically to people who are like me – and I know you are out there, because I meet you every day. Come with me.
I made Hiccup’s Shield from How to Train Your Dragon (Hidden World) for a class to show how anyone can take junk and create costume pieces that are simple, quick, and cheap. I put it on youtube in case anyone else might benefit from the info for a Halloween costume or school project.
(Side note, I’ve been spending a lot of time revolving the “personal brand” stuff around in my head and I am at the point that I have decided I am just going to do and say and publish and create whatever I feel like doing and if anyone wants to get to know me, they have to deal with how random my stuff is. It is my “brand.”)
Lately I’ve been having conversations that all seem to go down the same trail. The effect toxic people have in our life.
The struggle is real to drown out the voices that echo in my head. Often their desire is to help, and the “worst-case-scenario,” the “reality-check” kind of thinking may be meant well, but can quickly send me into a negative spiral that is hard to recover from.
Negativity is the death of creativity. Creativity must be unfettered – it must be free to move to explore in unlikely directions. When you begin to question what someone else is going to think of your ideas, you are limiting what you are capable of. And trying something new is always going to get some negative backlash.
Yesterday I drew a different kind of bug fairy. This one was inspired by a beetle, so she’s got some defensive capability. She’s not going to be easily swiped up by some bird with sharp words that make her question her decision to throw caution to the wind and pursue an art career.
You choose who you let into your life, and especially who you let into your head. Only let the good in.
I am always overthinking everything. I lose focus because I stop walking and start looking ahead trying to figure out where I’m going. What’s the destination? What’s the point? Then I end up stopping entirely to fully give my attention to the big-picture questions. And…no big surprise, that means I stop accomplishing things. Does that happen to you?
I know I’m always going to be drawn to the “why” and I know it is important to figure it out, but I have to keep moving or the “why” doesn’t matter. I’ve already learned what happens when I stop to figure it out. I can go a whole decade without any creative progress.
So, I’m writing every day. I’m trying to finish a piece of art (at least a sketch) every day. I’m posting here, every day. I’m going to relaunch the comic when (or if) I get the buffer I’m supposed to have to make it work. I’m doing things that don’t make sense to other people simply because they make sense to me. I’m done looking for approval from people who are baffled by my creative choices.
Here’s a fairy I don’t think I’ve posted yet here. I’m loving these because to me they tell a little story, they are a creative exercise (interesting pose + interesting bug = interesting fairy… And I can play with watercolor and ink and finish one in a day if there’s nothing else I can finish.
I’m working on another little bug fairy, but I opted to do yard work today instead of finishing her. So, here’s something a little different if you’re new to the randomness that is my creative mess.
A long time ago (my files say 2008, but I feel like it was pre-kids, so 2007 maybe?) I did NaSoAlMo – like NaNoWriMo with fewer participants and less publicity. This is “a free annual creative challenge, wherein musicians are challenged to write, record, and release an entire album within the month of November.”
Seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve been going through my endless digital files of random creativity and came across the folder “Chapter Four” (the title of the album.) This is actually my favorite song off the album, because my friend Bill Counts loved the sad child’s accordion I played for it and thinking of his demand for more accordion in future music always makes me smile.
I’m definitely NOT posting all the songs – they’re “meh,” but I do like this one, titled “Fear of Me.” It seems to fit with the theme I’m on this week – all the ways I avoid facing my own issues. And since I’m trying to share something every day, here you go. Sorry for the terrible synth cello. If I had access to a cello during the month I recorded this – I would have certainly tried to learn it enough to make it work. I might actually rework this and re-record it. In all my spare time.
Yesterday I wrote about hiding in plain sight. How I seem brave and successful by crafting an image that allows me to share what people can support.
But since that’s not what I really want for myself, it doesn’t work. I don’t want to be defined by any of these choices – a comic artist, a watercolor painter – whatever. To put myself in a box that I have to stay in to maintain approval. So I have these emotional spasms that cause me to change course all the time. “Reinvent” myself.
I’m still hiding. I didn’t share that post yesterday on social media, knowing that if I don’t share something on social media, virtually no one checks my blog unless they are looking at my 9 doll. If I’m going to be real, I’m going to do it really, really quietly.
I have been putting my art (from terrible to mediocre to not-bad) out into the world for about a decade now. Posting on this blog, sharing a webcomic, social media, all that. I did it to stop hiding. To teach myself to let go. I couldn’t let go of ideas – and I couldn’t move on to new dreams because I was still hanging on to all the unfinished ones. I did that until I started posting work online. Even if no one was reading this blog, putting it out into the world forced me to acknowledge that I had done my best with whatever it was. Set it down. Move on to something new.
But all this time, when I have been sharing my work, I have been doing it for you, not me. Whoever you are – even if no one is paying attention – I think about what each thing says about me as an artist. A person. I am doing it so I can make sense to you. THIS is the kind of artist I am. THIS is what I’m doing with my life.
The truth is, I have no idea what kind of artist I am. I’m figuring that out. I’m all over the place. I draw, I paint, I do comics, I sculpt, I tell stories, I write music and songs and poetry, all the things. I worry that if I put out there all that I am, in all my bizarre, random creativity – I’ll look like a nut.
So, showing work that “make sense” makes me feel brave. It makes other people think I’m successful. But I’m still hiding. I’m still insecure. Because being truly authentic is terrifying.
Everyone says it. I say it all the time. It’s worth saying again. I learn when I show up. I grow and improve and figure things out more when I show up. That’s it. But all around me I hear “I can’t draw. I can’t this. I can’t learn that. I’m not creative. I have no talent.” etc.
Saying you just aren’t good at something, or “can’t” is just another thing you tell yourself when you’re afraid to show up for something you might want. I get it. I spent almost two decades finding really awesome reasons to not show up. But when you’re ready, it is the only way.
Show up when you’re scared.
Show up when you don’t have it all figured out.
Show up when you are showing up alone.
Show up when that small voice tells you to do it now.
Yep. Today’s the day. The day I finally gave in. I’ve been fighting to hold on to the past for a year now, and I can’t do it anymore.
I can’t paint or draw without them anymore.
My only alternative would be to work on really big art and get really long brushes I guess. But life is like that. You can’t really internalize the fact that how you see the world will be very different in a year, five years, a decade. You do have to recognize that your paradigms have shifted and adapt. Or be stuck remembering how you once saw things and refuse to put on the reading glasses.
Anyway, I’m still working small. Here’s another tiny fairy. She’s a little wobbly because I didn’t put the glasses on until I was halfway through.
I woke up yesterday in a particularly proactive mood, which means I finished a painting, wrote 2k words, mowed the yard, cleaned the house, and had seven new creative ideas.
The ideas are the problem for me. Which do I keep and which do I discard? I have some I am determined to follow through with just because they have been with me a decade…but are they really worth all that time? Is that a sunk cost I should walk away from?
I said yesterday I have accomplished many of the goals I set for myself, so I was going to enjoy that feeling for a little while. Well, I lied. Life is short.
I am going to try to finish and post something daily, even if it is only a few words, because I need to get back into the habit of putting myself under pressure. So today you get some thoughts and a teeny tiny bug fairy I drew and painted yesterday.
I was pitching a new story idea to my husband the other night and his response was underwhelming. Which led to a discussion of why I don’t finish things and what success actually looks like for me.
Of course, I absorbed all of this in the most negative way possible and went off to do some soul searching as the big failure I am, and that meant listing all the personal goals I have not met. Down the list I mentally went.
But then a unexpected thing happened – I suddenly realized I have actually met many of the goals on that list. I do finish things now. Lots of things. I can finally say I am an artist who actually makes art. And I was so busy worrying about the things I hadn’t done I never stopped to celebrate my accomplishments.
It isn’t all the “success,” because success is a moving target – always a higher place to climb. For the moment, though, I am going to stop and rest and enjoy the view.
A week ago I was in the studio trying my hand at oil painting again. (I’m really really not the best of oil painters…) It was just the dreariest of days and soon I realized that the sky and ground base layer I was going for had turned to mud and I was just scraping the “mud” up and down on the canvas. I stepped back and looked at the painting. I looked out the window and back at the painting. I had somehow managed to capture how I felt in that moment, without really intending to. I was trying for something else entirely.
I most certainly did not create a “work of art” on what is probably now a ruined canvas, but it started me thinking about the definition of art. Most people see the tangible result of artistic expression, a painting or a novel, and call it “art,” but for me, the act of creating the art is the art. Anyone can learn the skills to follow steps and make something the same way someone else has. Artists create something new because they allow themselves to explore what is uncertain.
This idea is possibly why I struggle so much to come up with tangible results. I get pulled down trails of ideas and possibilities and find myself in completely unexpected places that I feel the need to explore. But if I’m being honest, that’s what I really want. I am not trying to become a successful marketer of stories or paintings. There are plenty of ways that I could actually make money without putting so much emotionally on the line.
No, I want to make art. I want to find myself in this short life I have been given, and that takes embracing the happy accidents.
Last night I posted on Facebook a quote from my four-year-old daughter, word for word, with the ironic hashtag, #contextmatters
Here’s the quote:
“When I read people’s minds I need to hold on to the table so I don’t fall down.”
I thought it was a hilarious soundbite from my life, out of context, so I shared. Didn’t get nearly as much positive response as a normal cute-kid quote does, and even earned one sad-faced emoji.
But what’s really interesting to me is this: no one asked for context.
PEOPLE. Context MATTERS.
It always matters! You want to know what’s wrong with the world? Especially in the current face of such an onslaught of constant information? #contextmatters
If you aren’t taking the time to understand the stories around you, you shouldn’t even have an opinion about them. The circumstances surrounding everything ARE everything. Why people do what they do. Why they say what they say, and believe what they believe. If you won’t take the time to understand before making a judgment, you are part of the problem.
I know this rant isn’t my usual type of post here, but indulge me. Go listen to some stories that are outside your own narrative. Stories that DON’T resonate because they have a completely different setting than the environment you understand. Try to see someone else’s context. It matters.
I am not awesome at decisions. Setting goals for yourself is all about deciding what you can, or should, accomplish. And by deciding what you are accomplishing, you are automatically eliminating a whole range of other possibilities. You are limiting yourself. I hate limitations. But the irony is, by dragging my feet and refusing to set clear goals, I am greatly limiting my success.
This may sound ridiculous if you’re decisive. I know my husband is baffled by it. So I have for this coming year, four goals. Two creative, one business, and one habit.
Creative Goal 1 – Finish my mid-grade novel, The Pumpkin Tree. I’m most of the way through a first draft, but I’ve been most of the way through a first draft for a while. I am going to start posting chapters here on the website soon.
Creative Goal 2 – Get Leap back on track. Complete storyboards and fully realized art. I plan to relaunch sometime in the summer.
Business Goal – Break even as an artist. I know this is stunning, but I make very little money as an artist. I don’t need to support myself or my family through art, fortunately, but I would like to at least pay for my photoshop subscription and my watercolor habit…
New Habit Goal – blog (and vlog) more consistently. Like this.
Yes, that’s me. I’m one of the bullet journal enthusiasts. And the reason why is important. Your progress toward your goals (if you are like me) stops and starts and stops and starts again. You win, you lose, you lose focus, you wander off, you get super motivated, you forget what you walked into the room for. Today is a new day. A new page.
The bullet journal is a system of just writing things down, one after the other, in a journal. With bullets. You can get fancy with colors and patterns and pretty icons, but you shouldn’t. There should be no pressure to maintain. Because a really ugly bullet journal is really forgiving, unlike nearly any other planning system out there. (I probably have tried them all…)
I didn’t write a single thing in my journal for the entire month of December. I had a sinus infection that wouldn’t go away so I felt like crap all month. My dad had an unexpected triple bypass. A much anticipated family visit was almost called off. Unnecessary drama at church stirred up. The holidays are chaotic and usually not that much fun for me as I try to make sure they are fun for everyone around me. (Oh, motherhood.)
But today, I just turned to the next blank page and started a new line. I quickly summarized the wins of 2018, because this last year was one I want to celebrate. I am feeling more confident. I am actually selling art, prints & books. I have gotten into a better routine with my kids. I am growing as a writer. 2018 was good.
Next line. 2019. Awesome goal setting in progress.
I just got my first one star review on Amazon. It’s kind of a right of passage, I suppose as I’ve started to sell a lot more books. And actually, it’s been a rather brutal few months for criticism for me in various areas of my life. There seem to be quite a few people who really don’t approve of who I am and what I am doing.
But I am doing. And it feels really really good to do.
A few years ago, I probably would have deleted all my social accounts, taken down my website, stopped participating in the activities that are getting challenged, curled up and hidden from the world. Not that I’m a particularly sensitive person, but when you’re already dealing with crippling self-doubt, it’s hard to get negative input from outside sources.
But I feel different in this moment. Because of you. Because of the people I have connected with the more I put myself out into the world. I not only know there are people that care, I know that my efforts to improve myself while engaging honestly with the world around me often help people, at least in some small way. Why would I stop that?
A one star review from an adult snob on a book I wrote for toddlers is such a weird thing. Should I care? And criticism from people who don’t like what I am doing or saying when I am trying to do some good in the world – should it matter?
I’m inclined to think it does not.
So, go. Do. Do some more. Believe me. It feels great.
These are the questions I dread. I’m 45 years old and I can’t answer any of them yet. I think maybe I will be able to someday. I hope. But for now I just make up answers that seem likely to silence the person asking in the shortest amount of time. Because when I answer honestly, and try to explain what’s going on in my head, I rarely get nods of approval. Mild bewilderment is the best result I can hope for.
But this weekend I was not being asked these questions.
I was asking these questions.
Me. Asking these questions of a 25-year-old I know well enough to know he doesn’t have the answers. He’s going through some major life changes right now and even if he wasn’t – he’s a wanderer. Like me.
Here’s what I wish I had said:
“You may feel lost, but you are not lost. You are right where you are meant to be at this moment in your life. You may not have anything figured out, but don’t let the pressure around you to make socially acceptable decisions keep you from doing the important work you are doing. You are an explorer, delving into the greatest mystery you will ever encounter – your own soul. You might figure it all out someday. But not if you force yourself to commit to what is easy to explain to the people around you. You need to get moving. Do things. Stuff your backpack full of your talents and skills and prepare to get callouses on your feet. Visit goals and dreams you’ve always wanted to explore. But don’t pick a destination until you are sure that is where you truly want to live. It takes some of us longer to find that place. And that’s the way it should be.”