Posts in master class
Master Class | Finding Your Voice
Design House Prep School - Creative Business Workshops

Something that new artists struggle with above so many other struggles is finding their own voice. I feel like new artists expect art to pop out of their fingertips like magic onto a page; that they'll immediately produce wonderful, unique and sellable work.  

 

Most often, an artist begins their journey by being drawn to the work of others around them.  They've curated a community that they follow, wether it be on instagram, youtube, other students at school, etc. and that will be the work that most strongly influences their own.  We all begin by mimicking the work that we're most drawn to, but this creates a few problems down the road that we don't anticipate at this stage.

 

The first is that the work we're copying is the work of someone who has found their voice and practiced speaking in the voice for some time now.  Our mimicry will fall flat, looking like a sad amateur copy, resulting in disappointment and discouragement.  

 

The second is when we continue to pursue perfecting another persons voice, we only end up sounding or looking like them rather than coming into our own voice. 

 

So how do you do it? How do you find your own voice?  The first step is to start speaking. 

 

Again, most artists begin by mimicking the work they're drawn to, but so many of those newer artists continue the same copying procedure in their pursuit of their craft.  

 

Rather than continuing to copy (aka "being inspired by") someone else's work, view that work as a jumping off point for your own voice.  It's like learning to sing...you begin by singing along with other songs in the car, learning the melodies and lyrics, moving on to karaoke, learning a cappella, exploring your own sounds and understanding what note ranges work well for you.  

 

In order to develop the same unique voice with artwork, we have to go though a similar process. 

Design House Prep School | Creative Workshops.jpg

 

Produce work, produce shitty work, produce it again. 

 

Evaluate your work (evaluate is different that criticize).  Identify the details you like and dislike about what you produce and produce something focusing on the detail you liked from your previous work.  Evaluate and produce again.  And again, and again and again.  Continue this process for a month, creating and evaluating something every day.  At the end of the month, line up your pieces with a few from the beginning, a few from the middle and a few from the end and see how your style developed, evolved and became more distinctive to you and less of the copy you started with.  

 

Identify what makes your work unique.  Are you drawn to unusual color combinations?  Odd scale combinations?  Unique medium combinations?  As you evaluate your work, watch out for the things that stand out to you and continue to build on them and embrace them. 

 

It's those things that you identify as being unique that will become your voice.  Own them.  Be proud of them.  Have the courage to stand up for them.  

 

Being an artist is like being a dumpster diver - we're looking for things that others have discarded or dismissed.  We're always hunting for the shinny object poking out of the bottom of the trash heap that everyone else has missed.  We shift through the debris of every day life, culture, influence and we pay attention to the things everyone else is ignoring.  Find inspiration in those things, develop them, evolve and evaluate and then own the shit of it as you develop and evolve with it.

 

Now you have a voice.  

Master Class | Scarcity Mentality

Sometimes there just isn't enough to go around...

When we feel like there isn't enough work to go around, we end up jumping on any and everything that comes our way.  We live with the feeling that we just don't know when or how or from where our next job is coming from, so we better take what we can get while we can get it.  It doesn't matter if the work isn't what we want to be doing, isn't our style or our ideal budget, we still have to take it.  

So we take it all.  We're overwhelmed, our dream job is making us miserable, we're working insane hours (night and weekends included), we're anxious, we're working with terrible clients, we have no idea why we decided to take on this crazy idea of owning a business.  

...and the worst part?  We're still not really making any money. 

Most creative business owners answer the same...we just have to take on more clients and work more hours. 

Design House Prep School

 

...short term

When living with scarcity mentality, we focus only on the short term and what we think is available right this very second without any thought to how it will affect us in the long run.

...ignore the long term options

It's extremely difficult to plan for the long term when our short term scarcity mentality has us scrounging for every little penny every day and unable to focus on the long game.

...jealousy and sadness

When we are struggling so hard to make ends meet and dread getting up every day, we end up becoming envious of others around us who seem to be experiencing successes and happiness. The comparison to our own lives breeds sadness and jealousy. 

 

So how do we overcome living like this??

- We can start by defining the work we want to be doing and why.

- Taking a good look at our target market and making sure our aesthetic and work has a market to sell to

- Building a brand that stands for our aesthetic and price point

- Market to your target market

- Building strong industry relationships
 
- Define your ideal client and seeking only to work with them

- Learn to say no

- Learn to set boundaries

 

We go into detail in our Pricing for Creatives I course if you're interested in learning more! 

Master Class | Let's stop being proud of being a perfectionist
Design House Prep School | Master Class | Perfection | Dene Is Better Than Perfect

Something interesting happened the other day.  One of our students had posted a question on a facebook board she and I are both member of, and her question was similar to this: 

 

Any Type A perfectionists out there?  Who is so OCD that you have a really difficult time finishing a project?  I do a project, I'm unhappy with it, so I'll do it over and over and still end up hating it.  I've spent a ton of time, money and trouble stressing over wether or not I should even proceed with this as a business.  Does anyone else struggle with this?  How long did it take you to gain the confidence to know your work is up to par with your pricing?  (paraphrased) 

 

As creatives, we've all struggled with this.  We like to have control, we aim for perfection, and strive for excellence in everything we do.  Her question was absolutely relevant, but what was interesting was peoples responses (there were a lot of really wonderful responses as well).  

People jumped on the bandwagon of proud.  Proud to be so anal retentive that they never are happy with a project and will redo it 10 times.  Proud that it takes them 5x as long as it should because they see a tiny mistake.  Proud that they won't relinquish control, won't alter their process, and won't settle for less than perfect. 

Sound familiar? 

In my opinion, this is the dividing line between running a business and running a hobby: understanding the value of your time.  When running a business, we have to understand that done is better than perfect.  

I know the thought of turning over an non-perfect project to a client is unbelievable; how could you possible charge money for something that isn't perfect??  Oh the horror!  It's easy, and that's how we are able to make money. 

First, let's look at that illusive word: perfect.  How do you define perfect?  Without smudges? That you completed it at all?  Or are you comparing your level of work to the other artists that you stalk on instagram who have a decade of experience behind them and striving for their level of perfection?  Are you comparing yourself to someone's work who has more followers that you, more work than you and more clients?  That's not how we define perfect.

As artists, we have to define perfection closer to the definition of completion.  We know we prepared ourselves for the project well, that we gave it that time we had available, it meets the clients expectations and that we did our best under the circumstances we found ourselves in. 

We don't have all the time in the world.  There is a concept that we're going to be discussing further in next semesters Time Management course:  every decision we make is a sacrifice.  Meaning, every single choice we make in our daily lives is a sacrifice of something else we could be accomplishing.  When we redo work over and over, we're choosing to sacrifice the time we would otherwise have to: complete other projects, start a new fictitious project for our portfolio, create something for the holidays, educate ourselves, read a book, cook dinner, prepare the week's menu, run errands, spend time with our husbands and kids, etc. and most importantly, to work on other client work.  In addition to that sacrifice, we're also driving ourselves mad.  In the end, we find ourselves frustrated, tired, and with no more time. 

This is where that dividing line comes in.  Someone running a business knows they need to keep moving, because one client project overrunning it's time pushes off another client's project, and so and and so forth.  You can't get paid if you can't finish work in a reasonable amount of time.  

Your time also has a price tag on it.  Say you're billing $100 for a custom project.  The cost of materials is $10 in non-reusable (like paper).  It should take you two hours to layout the project and complete it, so on that project, you're billing a bit shy of $50/hour.  But instead, you take two days to do it, totaling 10 hours and you've gone through 4x as much paper.  Once you take that initial $100 and take out the cost of all the wasted paper (100-40=60) and then divide that number by the hours it took (60/10) you're making $6 an hour.  You'd do better working at Starbucks.  

When we're running a business, we understand that our time is the most valuable thing we have and it's definitely NOT worth $6/hour.  Understanding this idea makes it much easier to step away from a project and know when done is better than perfect.  

 

Here are some ways to break out of this mentality: 

Prepare yourself for your project:  I wrote the above quote twice (well, kinda.  the first try I only got through one word).  I wrote it twice because I didn't do this step.  I didn't prepare myself for the project.  Preparation saves us a ton of time redoing something.  Warm up your hand, layout your project in pencil, do a sketch, etc.  know what you're going to do before you do it.  Don't just expect to create something earth shattering by putting pen to paper and expecting magic to come shooting out the end of your pen.   I mean, I could have spent more time editing the calligraphy above as well.  The p and f are a bit shaking, but I didn't have the time in my day to spend 30+ minutes editing something that I know you wouldn't notice unless I pointed it out and isn't for a paying client. 

Never throw things away:  If you don't like something, don't toss it.  I first heard of this idea in an art class (and someone mentioned it on this facebook conversation as well) that the best art someone creates is very often in the trash.   A little perspective and time very often changes how we view a project. 

Finish it: if you don't like it half way through, finish it anyway.  Just keep going.  I do this with watercolor quite often, and if you follow me on periscope, you've seen me do this.  I'll be working on something, not happy with where it's going, but push through anyhow.  It challenges me to narrow down what exactly I don't like and then correct it.  For me, it's very often a color balance thing, and by continuing to work on it, it allows me the time to grow the depth of the art and color and bring in the balance I want to see.  I've learned that I prefer a look of layers, lots of pale, some medium and then some super dark on top.  Without finishing pieces I didn't like, I wouldn't know this. 

Challenge yourself:  do a 60 second sketching challenge, or three minute writing challenge.  Time yourself, give yourself a limit and complete a series of 10 things in one or three minute intervals. Learn to work quickly and efficiently and then move on to the next item.  

Walk away:  walking away from a project is often the best thing we can do.  Leave it over night.  I still do this - you walk away, come back later and your project magically looks WAY better than it did a few hours ago.  

Have an accountability partner:  some of the concern we generate is wether or not something is actually good enough to be selling.  Having an accountability partner is a great way of testing this - have someone else who has a great creative eye, even better if they're in the same industry, and it MUST be someone you trust.  Use this person to gauge your work and you theirs.  If something you do really does need to be worked on a bit more, trust them to tell you (and you to tell them).  If they tell you it's amazing and stop messing with it, you MUST trust their judgement.  

 

Understanding and embracing this idea is incredibly liberating and satisfying, and hopefully this brings you just a small step closer to accomplishing it. 

 

 

 

Master Class | Scarcity Mindset

It comes in different degrees and different manifestations.  It affects our work, our decision making abilities and our sanity.  We've all been there, and we'll all be there at some point.  

 

Scarcity Mindset.  

 

This is the mindset you fall into when you don't know when or where your next dollar is coming from.   The fear of not knowing this causes us to make very poor short term decisions that have a massive impact on our future self.  Scarcity mindset is our current self screwing over our future self.  

 

Living in the middle of scarcity mindset is a terrifying place to be.  It's a dark, frantic place.  I know this place very well, I've been there and the likelihood is that you've been there or are currently there.  

 

This is how it happens:  you have a passion, a dream.  Your dream is to quit the daily grind and have a job you're excited to get up to in the morning.  This dream job may be as a fine artist, it may be as a singer, dancer, calligrapher, photographer, programer, or designer.  It could be anything you suspect will bring you joy.  So in an epic fashion, you quit your day job to pursue your passion. 

 

However, you still have to make money.  If you haven't given yourself any overlap cash reserves, you're basically screwed.  Everyone wants to follow their dream, but no one bothers telling you how hard it will be.  

 

So you take whatever work comes your way, you're not picky.  When a client tell you have they have a budget of $500, you work your ass off creating a project that you're happy with and shows your work, regardless of how deep of a discount it took to make that budget work.   Your dedication and desire to succeed means that you spend too much time, effort and money completing projects so that they're up to your standard regardless of what the client can pay you. 

 

You discount your work, you do work for free to "build your portfolio," or "exposure," you do work for friends, family, and free work for clients.  You're working 50 or 60+ hours a week, nights and weekends, you're stressed, tired, frustrated and still not making any money.  Your house is a wreck, your life is a mess, and you have no time.  This type of erratic and frantic behavior also trains your clients to demand more of you, ask for more discounts, and expect a better product from you.  Every single one of them will take advantage of you, your generosity and your desperation.  Clients are like dogs, the can smell fear and desperation.  Now you're taking whatever work comes along, even though it's not really the "dream work" you had in mind.  You're not even proud of half of it because it's just not your style or aesthetic, but you "need" to take it because you "need" the money (need is in quotes because working like this generates so little profit that you don't really "need" that money because there isn't any).

Now you have demanding clients, you're working crazy hours, you're terrified and stressed about money, you're trying to build your portfolio with work that you don't like, but you also don't have time to create work you love, you're exhausted, and you think you're alone in this.  

 

You're not.  This is scarcity mindset.  

 

Scarcity mindset can be avoided and corrected.  Here are some of the ways we talk about avoiding it this semester:

 

- making sure you have some overlap cash from quitting your day job to going full time with your passion

- or make sure your passion covers your bills (and then some) BEFORE you quite your day/part time job

- go through the entire process of your passion BEFORE making it a business.  you have to not only love the passion, but love the process

- say no to work that isnt your idea aesthetic

- say no to work that isnt your ideal budget

- dont give discounts

- know and understand the value of your work and price accordingly

- stop being a perfectionists - done is better than perfect 

 

allowing yourself some overlap time and cash between your day job and passion job (this could also come in the form of a part time job) or making sure your passion covers all your bills before you quit allows you time to grow and curate your business slowly and wisely, and gives you the time to have your long term goals in mind rather than having them overshadowed by scarcity.   Creating a goal road map, understanding how much money you actually need, and choosing the projects that align with those goals builds value in your work in the long term and keeps you sane in the short term. 

Want to learn more about how to avoid it?  We go into great detail with scarcity mindset, getting your money right, when to quit your day job and what it really means to "follow your passion" in our Finding and Exploring Your Passion course.