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5 Questions I asked a mentor 5 years ago

August 24, 2022

Whilst perusing the glorious dump-heap that is my catch-all notebook in Evernote, I came across a note I made for a coaching session I purchased from my then-mentor – a list of questions that I felt I simply could not move forward without getting their all-knowing input. Here’s what I was asking, and here’s what I would tell my younger self today:

What makes a collection cohesive?

“Are art directors looking for fabrics that employ similar line weights, graphic styles, and colors, and would therefore shy away from something that isn’t more obviously coordinated, or are they able to see the collection as more of a curation from the designer? Think, a pile of vintage sheets that weren’t designed together but would make a beautiful quilt together.”

At the time I was gearing up to go to Quilt Market to get my first fabric deal, and what I was really asking my mentor here was this: am I allowed to make the art I like or should I strip myself down and stay safe? Should I do what feels correct to me or bend for the mold I think I see?

My answer now:

I know you want to get a fabric deal, I know you want that ‘yes’, but you will not be satisfied creating work that doesn’t excite or ‘click’ for you. A ‘yes’ for work that bores you is not more successful than a ‘no’ for work that you’re proud of, or took a creative chance on. If you love fabric collections that are more loosely connected, go for it.

P.S. I did create those loosely connected curations and now have 4 fabric collections out in the world.

Have you ever dealt with dissonance between the work you make and the work you use? 

“For example, what does it mean when you fill a portfolio with work that took great time, effort, and learned skill, and other people really like it, including people who pay you money for it, and you enjoyed the time spent working on it (for the most part), but at the end of the day, wouldn’t buy it for your own home?”

What I’m really asking is: am I fraud for creating this work?

My answer now:

Nah. You’re not a fraud, there’s two things happening here, not one. One thing is what you’re creating, and the other is what you like to bring into your home/life, and one is bigger than the other. As an artist I think it’s perfectly healthy that the circle I draw around my art is huge. It encompasses vintage letterforms, blustery oil-painted landscapes, funny felt dolls, hand-stitched quilts, bold swaths of CMYK inks, and cartoons of animals that say foul and truthful things, etc etc. The circle I draw around what I bring into my home is tiny, I am what’s known as a PICKY BITCH, it basically encompasses neutrals, moody darks, and very rich, bold, tones. That’s it.

To the heart of your question, what’s the real problem here? If you find yourself progressing as an artist, if you experience some joy during the process, if you make art that you feel proud to stand by (even sometimes!), if someone wants to give you money because they love what you’ve created – what’s bad here? Your creativity is a gift, and if you’ve found a way to tap into it, please try not to waste too much time questioning the results, just go make more. You’re doing it right.

How do you resolve your creative style when it seems to be moving in different directions?

“Is more time just needed to flesh out your style? Do I just need to make a decision and stick with it? “

My answer now:

Do you trust me? Because now’s the time to lean in and really let my words soak in, dear artist: You do not need to ‘resolve’ your creative style. You do not need to be an elevator pitch, a recognizable brand palette, or a set of keywords. If you don’t trust me, would you trust my agent, Jennifer? (Jennifer has sold and licensed thousands of works of art, so..). Jennifer would say the same thing, she would gently suggest you forget the distraction and go make something you’re excited about. And it makes sense if you think of it practically:

Companies that buy and license artwork are usually turning over products every single quarter, if not more. Which means at least four times a year these companies are looking for fresh new work to enliven their product lines – in what way would it benefit them to continually buy from a consistent style? It wouldn’t! Especially if that consistent style has smartly licensed their work to myriad industries. I don’t bring in healthy income by making artwork that stays in the same place – art buyers keep coming back to me because they know whatever styles I’m into at the time, whatever subject matter or medium, that I will be creating high quality artwork that dances to my ever-changing beat. (and my files will be clean <3)

Might I suggest we instead go practice? Practice whatever’s calling to you today, pick anything. Five minutes spent with your art in your hands is better than a day spent ‘researching’ or ‘narrowing down’ your ‘style’. Promise. (yes, even if it’s totally different than what you were into yesterday. Your creativity is BIG and it is powerful)

(P.S. This week a company licensed five (!!) of my portfolio pieces for boxed greeting cards. I’ll share the images below so you can see how different they are, though they all fall under the Dylan wheelhouse in some, loose way. From left to right: a fully digital birthday card with silly, retro-shaded illustrations; a flatly painted (meaning it’s scanned in as a single layer) bathtub scene in acryla gouache from my sketchbook; a hybrid piece of gouache painted florals (single layer) + digital lettering; a hybrid piece of painted ink birds + lettering, finished digitally; a fully digital scene of bold flowers and a snake)

Pantone books, what in the what? 

My answer now:

You already bought them and spent your money, but in five years you will have only used them once or twice, and they weren’t even necessary then. Pantone books are really helpful for people who print OFTEN in spot colors and/or in CMYK on common and predictable paper stocks. Most of the time I set the colors to look nice on my monitor, and maybe even a print test too, but other than that the companies buying the artwork will handle color management, or in the case of fabric, we’ve communicated color in other, more accessible ways (like sending in paint chips from the store, or mailing any physical representation of the color that they can match to).

Have you ever been pulled in a thousand directions? Pattern making, stationery, doing things with fabric? Illustrating for other things? Selling products?

My answer now:

Yes. Every day! For instance today I want to:

  • peruse Pinch of Yum for new recipes to make
  • go to the library and walk up and down each and every non-fiction aisle
  • cross-stitch a mini work of fine art for Peggy’s birthday
  • paint and/or draw in my sketchbook
  • paint and/or draw on my iPad
  • rip out pages from my magazines and cut them up for my color journal
  • make a huge list of every art supply I have in my studio
  • paint the downstairs den
  • collect new letter forms
  • create new pieces for my portfolio
  • design slides for my next skillshare class
  • buy a canvas and easel and try my hand at landscapes
  • try out collage
  • get out my printmaking kit

I didn’t even have to stop and think to type that list above, and I could probably keep going too. The truth is being creative can sometimes be a small, quiet thing, but for me it’s this wide, vast, rainbow-churning, always-lit-up fun room with endless things to do. I also have ADHD and a wide open head center (if you’re into human design please reach out because I’m obsessed), so I’m pretty used to the swirl of it all.

If you read my answer above re: style, then this is similar. My creativity is big so I let it be big. I accept I can’t do it all, so I try to at least choose something to do today to enjoy, because it’s all connected, and it all feeds each other. I’ve used this imagery before, but imagine every single creative endeavor you take on (like all the items in my list above) as a pearl or bead that gets strung onto a big necklace. It doesn’t matter if there’s years between two beads or two hours, it doesn’t matter if one bead represents a meal cooked or a painting finished. Imagine your creative journey as a collection of beads, and suddenly you see it just doesn’t make sense to waste any time lamenting about ‘what’ – just go! String your beautiful necklace of beads and pearls.

Lastly, for when you really would like to quiet the swirl so you can work towards a chosen goal, I recommend bullet journaling! I’ve been doing it for four months and I feel like I can keep an eye on my swirl without it pulling me into the chaos. I read this book by Ryder Carroll to get going (and actually, am working on a class to share my bullet journal method, stay tuned!). For example, right now I’m really into cooking, have some client work on my plate, have been enjoying casually drawing in my sketchbook, and am trying to focus on progressing my lettering skills. I’ve decided my lettering practice is what I’d like to put the most focused/intentional attention on, while the other things can fill in the gaps and be enjoyed when I feel like it, without pressure. To keep an eye on my creative time spent I have a log in my bullet journal that helps me see the breakdown of my time between painting, drawing, and digital work, and notes to inform me of when I’ve been focusing on lettering vs other things.

In closing

Sometimes we indulge in the confusion and chaos of this big thing we call creativity – sometimes we fall into the rabbit hole of business and marketing and we look around at what others are doing. That’s fine, but is it helping? My guess is no 🙂 let’s go practice.

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Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

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