Welcome to the Startup Artist, my weekly blog where I attempt to give aspiring artists the kick in the pants they need. So I hope you brought your pants, because I’ve got my foot all warmed up.
This week, I’m bringing a thimble-full of science and a boatload of reality to bare on your perfectionism. It’s time to get over yourselves and start making progress, people. There is an age old battle being waged across the spectrum of our culture. I’m not talking about racial inequality or the glass ceiling. And I’m not talking about Chicago Deep Dish vs. New York style.
I’m talking about Quantity vs. Quality.
I can’t speak for other places around the world, but in the good ‘ole U S of A people who pump out Quantity have gotten a bad rap. Words like “Selling Out” or “Made in China Crap” come to mind. Yeah, nobody likes going to Walmart, even though most of us can’t afford not to. There’s a line the size of an interstate, however, between that thinking and the positive outcomes that quantity can (and should) bring to your art.
As artists, we let the world get in our heads. And it feels right, laboring over that one piece. Because we’re perfectionists. Because we’re obsessive. Because Da Vinci took 4 years to paint the Mona Lisa. But the thing that many of us either don’t know or tend to forget is that Quality comes from Quantity.
While there’s still much to be learned, it’s widely accepted by science that repetition builds and strengthens neural pathways to related tasks. This includes the speed at which your brain connects these activities. The more you do something, the better you get at it. It’s like, a law of the universe. I think God created it on the second day. Right after gravity, maybe.
“And thou shalt practice a lot!” – God
But Nick, I’m working on my Super Great Magnum Opus Epic and it needs to be PERFECT!” – You
No. It doesn’t. And no matter how hard you try, you can’t determine your Magnum Opus anyways. Presuming you can even actually create one, you’ll probably be long dead before it’s accepted as such. The real fact is, by laboring over that one piece, that one project or that one pen stroke for so long, you’re robbing yourself of the opportunity to learn from your failures, which is how most people succeed in the first place.
We’re all trying to fake it until we make it. And those of us that have made it usually feel like someone is going to bust down the door at any minute and shut them down. Neil Gaiman has this issue and his wife titled it the Fraud Police.
I’m saying this now: Screw That Noise.
Cast off the ideas of whether you’re a “Pro” or not. Accept that you are a student. Just be you. Be the best gall darned you that you can be. That’s probably the only way you’re going to get to the top of the mountain anyways. There’s pizza at the top of that mountain, my friends.
So how do we make the change? (And get the pizza.)
First things first. You have to mentally commit yourself to the idea of producing greater quantities before you can begin to improve your skills and make the most out of this brain changing activity. But let’s also narrow down this whole quantity thing a smidge. Practice doesn’t make perfect if it’s not done right. What’s that mean? The real key to leveraging quantity into better quality is through the fundamentals. You don’t become a professional golfer simply by focusing on playing as many holes of golf as possible but rather by focusing on your swing. A better swing = better golf. As artists, we need to follow this same model. You need to establish parameters for your work. Whether you focus on technique, composition or perspective and form, choosing one and working at it will help you level up in a great way.
There’s a really great example of implementing quantity for your work’s benefit and it doubles as something you can do right now. In 2009 Jake Parker created Inktober “as a challenge to improve (his) inking skills and develop positive drawing habits.” October starts tomorrow and this is a great time to jump into the arena of developing your skills through quantity. I encourage you to participate in this event. You can find out more about Inktober HERE.
Talking about Inktober also rolls me over into my final point. Quantity builds consistency and it takes consistency, not quality to build an audience. This is also something Inktober can help with. Doing an ink drawing every day, hashtagging it and posting it to Instagram is going to help your reach as an artist. There will be hundreds of thousands of people out there searching for #Inktober work for the next month. Don’t miss out on the chance to farm some followers from it. Because if you don’t, you’ll regret it.
Just remember folks, it’s not selfish to share your art with the world. In fact, if being an artist is your calling, then you’re doing the world a disservice by NOT sharing it. So until next time, why don’t you make up a tray of peanut butter and havoc sandwiches? Then, serve those babies up right between peoples teeth. And leave me some comments. Because I like them.