On Impact and Peace

General / 30 September 2021

While sharing a rooftop drink with a best friend, the topics of purpose, peace, and success were in deep dissection.  I lamented my recent frustration with how ambiguous purpose feels at times.  We questioned what metrics were in play beneath the surface; what would cause that sense of purpose to be so fleeting?  Then, my friend said the following:

"It makes sense...simply doing more isn't fulfilling; it's not about quantity of achievement, but quality.  Impact is personal."

I'd not thought about it that way before, and I'm still pretty shook.  So often I conflate my purpose with the tools used to actuate it.  Instead of making good on the fundamental purpose we all share—to love and be loved—I subconsciously make it about producing enough work, forwarding personal projects, etc.  

The problem is that when the tool becomes the purpose itself, success and peace hinge on producing "enough."  But because the tool has become both the means and end, there is nothing beyond it to inform when “enough” is met.

Instead, impact is personal and within relationships.  My creative ventures are just one means of expressing that purpose, but they're not the only way.  Every friend made, every person encouraged, every enlightening conversation has been as real of impact as I could ever hope to be a part of.

Anyway, those are the mental-swirlings of this week.  Lots of wonderful unlearning to do.  Hope you all are letting go of the things holding you back.

Is Originally Worth Even Worth It?

General / 30 September 2021

Some thoughts on the topic of "originality," after a recent conversation with a new friend.

We talked about how much pressure there is to innovate, to do something not done before, to be "original" within one's craft. And yet, when the conversation shifted toward the content we most enjoy, originality hardly seemed a thought. Curious.

It seems to me that originality hinges on unknowable metrics and impossible standards. Here's what I mean: whether something comes off as original to any given person is wholly dependent on the viewer's knowledge and experiences. What to me seems original may, to another more versed in the matter, come off as old-hat or even cliche. It's entirely subjective.

Nothing is created or expressed in a vacuum. We all create as a product of our influences, and add to the existing history of our field. Doing something that's never been done before has no inherent value, aside from fleeting novelty. And sure, there is something to be said about being overly derivative. In such a case, one seeks to pass off the work of another as their own contribution to history, without allowing the material to be translated through their own perspectives. That's no good, but is a bit tangential to the conversation at hand.

Rather, true originality comes from something having come from your unique hand or voice. What is more individual than your experiences? There exist millions of pieces similar to those I've created, and the same goes for a million love songs, poems, woodworking projects, or loaves of ciabatta (insert your own craft too). 

The value of these things comes not in them being solely original, but in them being meaningful acts by a person who, by nature, is original—it's something you are, not something you do.

Art, Anxiety, and Abandoning Outcomes

Article / 07 September 2021

There is an in-progress lesson the Lord is teaching me regarding art and anxiety.  Have you ever felt a strange resistance toward your passions?  Have you ever put off a personal project, doubted your abilities, or wondered if there were deeper levels of fulfillment for you?  Sweet, me too.  Let's talk about that.

I've been wondering what makes myself and others feel anxious, apathetic, or depressed about our creative passions.  Why do I feel such resistance to sit down and sketch or go to my studio to paint?  Shouldn't this anxiety negatively reinforce me to make art to feel better?  What driver is so powerful that my brain would rather remain apathetic than creating?

The answer is simple and unsurprising: fear.  We have been so conditioned by worldly metrics of success to think the point of creating is the outcome, end product, or impact it will have.  The fear of not measuring up can become so intense that we'd rather sit in apathy and anxiety if it means we don't have to engage that fear.   I'm learning there is another way.

What if, instead of creating despite fear, we could create without it, from a place of real peace and joy?  And if that place exists, how do we enter into it?

The solution (which I'm still very much working out), is to abandon our expectations over outcomes, that the end-product fade from our mind—if not entirely, then certainly most of the time.  Having goals can be helpful of course, but if they're rooted in worldly standards of success, then we're left chasing a bar always just out of reach.

A better goal has nothing to do with online reception or growing our careers.  Nothing to do with followers, likes, or revenue streams.  A better goal is to simply create from a place of peace, joy, and sustainability.  Motivation by fear alone is inherently unsustainable as it requires payment in the form of peace.  I don't want to create because there will be consequences if I'm not.  That's pressure, not passion.

I'm practicing how to unplug from prioritizing outcomes.  Because when it comes to these ventures, failure isn't a factor.  Most often, failure exists merely as worrisome thoughts of the future, rather than observations of a current reality.  It only serves to remove us from the present, which is where creation takes place.

The more real failure is embracing perspectives that keep me from creating—and enjoying it too!  So long as pencil is to paper, paint to canvas, or whatever it may be for you, victory is present and active.

I don't have all this figured out, but I hope this is an encouragement.  There is real hope for a better way.  Romans 7:15–8:7

Sometimes I Get Mad and Want to Quit

Article / 30 May 2021

I'm *beginning* to better understand the emotional rollercoaster within creative work. This ride used to turn my stomach in anxiety, but the inevitable dips are becoming easier to handle.  Here's what it sometimes looks like for me within illustration work:

1) The "ugly phase" of establishing the design.  I rarely share progress at this point.  Just working, reworking, and reworking again.  I'm frustrated often and tired always.  Then, a light begins to grow in the distance.  I feel a bit better with every session.

2) Refinements and details.  This feels wonderfully indulgent.  I've put in the foundational work and add that ~razzle-dazzle~. I excitedly share progress with friends.  Life is good.

3) Nearing completion.  I've pushed as far as I can and share progress with mentors/peers, asking for critiques.   I make a list of necessary corrections.  (Note to self: take a day to enjoy what you've done before seeking critique, otherwise you'll become sad and moody).  Usually, I become sad and moody.

4) Take a breath, realize critiques do not signal failure, but reveal potential for greatness.  Begin checking off corrections, repeat steps 3-4 as needed.  Grab the handlebar tight as your emotions settle out from this process.

5) True Completion.  Obtain ice cream.  Nap for a week straight. 

I'm discovering the key to finishing quality artwork is to stay humble when feeling high, and hopeful when feeling low.  Maybe you've felt this way too, and the "lows" make you too nauseous and sweaty to continue.  Realize there isn't anything wrong with you; this is inherent to the creative process.  If you feel this, it means you're growing!  Pause if need be, but don't quit.  Keep at it friends.


What It Takes – Part III

Article / 04 March 2021

What It Takes to Be an Artist: Purpose

So you’ve added some skills to your toolbox and there’s passion fueling your work – awesome!  For some time, those two elements alone will suffice to define your practice, especially if you’re just getting started.  However, as you take your artwork more and more seriously, the dreaded question ofSo what?” may inevitably surface. 

For many (myself included), this question can come suddenly and unexpectedly, paralyzing one’s passion and rendering their skills useless.  When I struggle with this, my mind spirals, thinking that I’m capable of creating pretty images, but they’ll have little impact upon the world.  Fear says that my art is futile, and it may try and convince you to feel similarly.

But all of this, of course, is a lie.  And I say we debunk it once and for all.

The question of “So what?” isn’t truly aimed at a single piece of art.  Rather, it aims to undermine the larger purpose for which you create in the first place.  Ask yourself:  What do you want your art to say?  What do you want it to accomplish?  Is your art meant to convey a certain idea or experience to the viewer?  Or is it purely cathartic and personal?  (All of which are perfectly viable; one way is not greater than another.)

How you answer these questions over the course of your life will define your purpose in making art.  It’s okay if you don’t have all answers now; to be an artist is to being willing to explore!  For myself, creating art is always an investigation into ideas that I want to know more about. 

All this is to say that finding purpose in your work will take time and an open, curious mind.  It often starts with what you’re passionate about, or a skillset you're confident in, and grows into something truly important.  Root your purpose in the truth of what matters to you, not in fear of whether or not you’ll make a difference.

Your journey in discovering and solidifying purpose may look very different from mine.  It may happen more immediately, or it could take years to form.  But to risk the cliche, it really does start with believing in yourself and knowing your worth.  Your artwork will follow the example of how you view yourself and your potential.

The three elements of skills, passion, and purpose are what I have found necessary in making art.  I would love to know your thoughts and talk with you about where you fall in regards to these—send me a message!  But most importantly, keep exploring and making what's most meaningful to you.

Peace~

What It Takes – Part II

Article / 04 March 2021

What It Takes to Be an Artist: Passion

If skills are the tools you use to make art, passion is the fuel you burn while using them.  Creating without passion merely becomes a job—a task to mark off—and can quickly lead to burnout.  Of course, becoming a professional artist includes a certain amount of menial work, as with any job.  But retaining and fostering a sense of curiosity is necessary to drive forward sustainably.  While there certainly are times when an artist makes work without passion, that should never define one’s practice.

For some, passion just seem intrinsic to their very DNA.  Other times it may feel like an elusive secret that you're grinding away to unlock.  In the case of the latter, frustration can abound, leading us to give up before we even get started.  Often, the question becomes “How do I find the passion to actually make something I care about?”  It’s a valid question, but not as hard as it may seem.

Because passion is inherently personal, it is difficult to be taught, but it can be caught!  Allow me to explain.  There is no guaranteed, formulaic way to accumulate passion.  There’s no equation to unlock feelings of motivation, nor is there a magic elixir you can drink to fill you with emotional energy (although caffeine makes a decent argument for itself).  However, there are ways to catch passion if you’re willing to chase it down.  I’ve found the following helpful in that pursuit:

  1. Become immersed in inspiration.  If your well of creativity is running dry, it's time to take a step back and fill up.  What is it that inspires you?  That fills you up?  That you enjoy learning about?  For me, it might be looking at other artists (if I'm feeling strong to not compare myself against them), hiking through nature, or recording a wild dream I had last night.  Set aside time to enjoy your interests, apart from the expectation of having to produce something from them.

  2. Be a passion parasite.  Okay, maybe that came out wrong; try not to suck the life out of other people if you can.  Rather, I mean that passion is contagious.  Seriously, it's wonderfully viral, never vaccinate against it (oof...I’m going to stop this metaphor now, please get your shots people).  If you’re feeling drained, spend time around other people who are walking in a season of passion.  Talk with those who are doing the things you want to be doing.  Ask them questions, and in return, answer their questions about what you do.  When you have to explain to someone else what you make, it causes you to remember why you found it interesting in the first place.  

  3. If all else fails, just take a break. I've found it essential as a professional artist to have other creative outlets besides art.  I often turn to playing guitar, video games, or getting in the kitchen.  There’s no shame in giving yourself some space, and it can allow you to return with fresher perspectives.  The key is that you must return!  Take a break, but make plans to come back.  

Passion can be nebulous and hard to hold onto, but I hope these tips spur you on to chase it down.  Of course, there are times when you may need to push through making without passion, and we'll talk more on beating “art block” another time.  But for now, see what inspires you, talk about it with others, and don’t beat yourself up as passion comes in waves~

What It Takes – Part I

Article / 03 March 2021

What It Takes to Be an Artist: Skills

“But I can’t even draw stick people!

Oof.  If I had a dime for every time I heard this, no one would ever worry about me being a “starving artist.”  Usually, this is said by those who don’t consider themselves artists, when viewing impressive work.  And believe me, I get the feeling of seeing art that is beyond your current capacity to make; that’s something I face on the daily.  But you and I both know you can make a stick person, and probably a mighty fine one at that!

Of course, this phrase isn’t really coming from someone’s inability to draw a circle with a few lines.  Roughly translated, “I can’t even draw stick people” means “I’m not sure I have what it takes to make art.”  And while those feelings are real, art is built on learnable skillsets.  Whether you have never considered making art, you want to start but don’t know how, or have been making art for years, I hope this encourages you to take a leap and try something new.

So what does it take to make art then?  For me, it comes down to three elements: skill, passion, and purpose.  If this sounds intimidating, don’t worry.  I guarantee you can do more than you think.  For now, let’s take these one at a time.

Skill

This is the element that tends the get the most attention.  Skill can be a bit flashy sometimes, as it receives the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd.  But when it comes down to it, it may be the least important of the three, and here’s why: skill is a tool, not the product.  As a kid taking art classes, this isn’t something I understood.  The “best” art was always the piece that looked the most realistic, the one with the crispest lines, the most smoothly shaded values, etc.  I thought skill and the art were one and the same; the tool was the product in my mind.

As my practice developed though, a distinction made itself known.  Gradually, I realized that skills are useful to convey an idea clearly, but they do little to actually make that idea worth while.  The value of an idea is often subjective, but the point remains; I would take a crudely drawn picture made from the heart over a finely crafted image that means nothing to the artist.

Pursue skill not to give value to your work, but to clearly illustrate your valuable ideas.  This may mean painting realistically, it may not.  Amassing various skills serves as a tool box to effectively convey different ideas, but having these skills is not what solely makes me one an artist.

Maybe he’s born with it.  Maybe it’s...

Another misconception to clear is that you have to be born with skill in order to make art.  No person came out the womb with a paintbrush in hand, nor is an artist’s first piece ever their best.  It may be true that some have the ability to learn skills faster than others, but don't let that deter you!  I firmly believe that every person has the capacity to create in some way that is meaningful to them.  The trick is to explore and to give yourself the grace (i.e. embrace frustration and resistance as an inherent part of the process!).  

Take time to notice what type of art you enjoy viewing and/or making.  Especially note art forms you haven’t tried before; there is so much more to art than drawing and painting. Some people get up-in-arms about what is or isn’t art, but I’m not into squahin’ anyone's dreams.  Just make stuff that you care about.  Express and enjoy yourself, ya know?  Think about important things and form educated opinions about them. 

Taking another step

With this understanding of where skill lies in making art, you may be wondering where to start.  I often begin with a bit of research.  Interested in wood carving?  Google it up!  Want to do digital painting?  Check YouTube!  Don’t let the sea of information scare you, pick up your oar and start paddling.  And of course, the value in putting pencil to paper cannot be overstated.  Keeping a sketchbook filled with scrawlings that you don’t share with anyone is especially helpful.

And beyond it all, know that it’s okay for what you make to not be “perfect,” if ever something could be.   As this blog develops, I will post various tips and tutorials to add to your box of skills (and tell me what's been helpful for you too!).  Keep exploring.  You've got more in you than you know.

Introduction – Let's Talk Art

Article / 03 March 2021

Let’s Talk Art

Welcome to my new website and blog!  I’ll keep this intro short and to the point.  Do you like making, viewing, or interacting with art?  Awesome!  This will be a place to learn tips and techniques to take your work to the next level, or to just have a greater understanding of what goes into making artwork itself.

Do you like looking at my artwork? *Blushes intensely* Aw, that’s awesome!  This blog will also be a place where I share how I got to where I am within art, what I’m currently up to, and where I aim to go.  I've got a lot to learn still, so why not grow together?

So whether you consider yourself an artist or not, I hope to make this blog all things engaging and informative for you to take part in.  I’ve got a lot of topics I can’t wait to get into with all you, and I want your input too!  If there are specific questions you have or topics you would like me to touch on, ranging from tutorials, to my studio practice, or anything else at all, let me know.

Thanks for stopping by, it means a lot!  God bless ya~ 

-Cameron