This week on art for all, I am bringing in an expert to discuss one of the most powerful productivity tools in the creative’s arsenal. How to give yourself assignments to focus your work, improve your skills, and really move things along.
Roz Stendahl is an old pal of mine and a teacher at Sketchbook Skool since Day One. She is a real treasure, full of knowledge on drawing, painting. bookbinding, and life.
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Roz on projects
DANNY: Welcome to Art for all, the Sketchbook Skool podcast. I’m your host Danny Gregory.
Sketchbook Skool is an online art school. But it’s actually a lot more than that. For tens of thousands of creative people around the world, Sketchbook Skool is a chance to start being creative again. To learn to draw and paint, but also to overcome the blocks and obstacles that have held them back. Besides classes and workshops, Sketchbook Skool is also a huge community of creative people. People like you who want to be inspired and get back to the pure joy of creativity they once had as children, It’s a wonderful place and I am so lucky to be a part of it. Stay tuned and I’ll tell you more.
Here’s what we say to ourselves: I should draw more. I should write more. I used to practice so much more. I don’t know what to paint. I have no time to write a novel. If I quit my job I could work on my screenplay. I just can’t focus.
We give ourselves huge unrealistic expectations and get depressed when we can’t get them done. Depressed and resigned to never achieving our dreams.
Or We have vague, amorphous ambitions. Id like to X. I ought to Y. I never Z.
We need to get to work making stuff and unachievable goals and fuzzy dreams won’t motivate us.
What we need is a project. Remember projects? Like building a model airplane or writing the story of the Unicorn or putting on a puppet show or building a cool machine that shot deathrays at the cat or making a movie with your brother and your neighbors about Cowboys and superheroes and Aliens.
Something we did just for the doing. With no client, no purchase order, no briefing documents, no price tag.
Just something that would be cool to do and that we could start right now.
You need a project.
A project is the answer to “What Should I make?”
“What should I do with that?”A project is a blueprint for your free time. A series of assignments that will add up to something grand when its done but more important will be great fun getting there.
I love projects. They’re basically all I do. This product is a project.
So’s my blog.
So’s Sketchbook Skool.
Projects start out a whim. But they can become your job, your career, the thing they chisel on on your headstone.
But they can also end up in the attic or the trash, It’s all good.
I love to talk about projects so I called up my pal, Roz Stendahl. She’s an artist, a designer, a bookbinder, a rubber stamp carver, a screenwriter, an editor, a scientist, and dog trainer, and a nut.
I asked her what projects she has going.
ROZ: well, there’s my correspondence project. There’s my daily dots there’s my birthday. There’s my carving a day. there’s my daily writing which I’ve done since I was five there’s my rocks project there are My natural, science projects where I devote time to studying a site over the course of three to five years and there’s my invasive species project and then chickens dogs and beards aren’t really projects. That’s just my life.
DANNY: I love duh they idea of a correspondence project. Roz write amazing letters and her emails are voluminous. And exhausting to read. She writes fast and clear, just like she talks.
ROZ: the correspondence project had noticed how my correspondence had really fallen off because email was taking over my life and I really missed the letters. I get in the mail. I was very heavily involved in the mail art movement in the 80s and the 90s and I missed getting all that bulk i’j in my mailbox.
as a graphic designer. Mind from letterhead stationary a really cool envelope with a guy in a lab coat bubbling test tubes and such and I called it correspondence labs
I think I started in the um spring. So for me, it’s never important. What day you start? I don’t think you should wait to start a project the first day of the month or the first day of the year. I think you should just start a project commit dive in and do it every day. From Den on and so that’s what I did with the correspondence project. I sat down and I started writing to all the people in my address book and every day I would write one hand written letter and then I would send it off to someone on my list over the course of the year. I never missed a day. Sometimes the letters were very short. Uh, sometimes they were longer creatively it helped me keep back in touch with people and to make me Define what Personal Touch was and how I wanted to have those aspects in my life where I was connected with people as opposed to just working independently in studio.
DANNY: A project can be. Great way to focus on a technical goal. Recently I wanted to learn how to use Procreate on the iPad so I started d project in which I drew a different dog every day on the iPad. Different breed, different style. Soon I had over a hundred. That’s the other benefit of a project. It is a great way to get a whole gang of work done, slitable spoon by tablespoon. Soon you have a whole heap made.
ROZ: the bird of Day project was to finish a painting of a bird every day I had all these illustrations in my journals of birds and I turned them into full-blown acrylic paint. from going to the zoo and drawing the animals and from going to various farms and just from being out in the wilderness. I had enough raw material in my Sketchbook that I could turn that into finished paintings.
I could devote the two hours that I would need every day in order to finish this project whenever I do a project. I like to set parameters because I find that parameters not only focus you and make it more.
Um likely that you will achieve your goal of doing it every day, but they also help you discover more clearly what it is you’re looking for you can set a parameter that stops you from spending excessive so that going forward you may realize that you can create something substantial in a very brief time period so there’s a lot of learning that can happen even.
When you set up an intention to do one thing and you find out that you’re actually having other benefits that you didn’t think happen. I I wanted on on acrylic for 30 days every morning. I got up. I randomly picked one of the illustrations pulled it off the shelf opened it. transferred it to the canvas or directly on the canvas and then I was off and running painting and did that every day for a month and then when it was all done I mentioned it to someone.
And she happened to be curating for local gallery. And she said I’d like to show that in my gallery and so we did that and then it went to another place and another place and uh, it was quite fun. It was very well received and uh, it was a nice substantial body of work for a month and it set me up to do the stuff that I needed to do for my big show that was coming up.
DANNY: A project is also the answer to the question that has plagued us since were bored six year olds:I don’t know what to make. I can’t think of anything. It’s no use. Forget it. I suck. This sucks! Rather than whining and whimpering start a project. And let your work haul you out of that rut.
ROZ: I’m a very driven person. Um, so if I have a lot of projects for work, I want even more projects for my life. just my psychology someone else’s might be that they need to get out of a slump and so that might be a reason for them to do a project. For me besides the fact that I just enjoy doing them a reason for doing a project which I think would overlap with other peoples reasons is it’s a Time the duration of the project whether it’s two weeks four weeks a year. Whatever is to focus on something. Whether it’s a theme or a skill or uh tool or medium that will allow you to become more proficient in that. So for instance when I was doing the birds project I was able to focus on acrylic painting if I’d not done the daily project. I would think that it would be possible for daily life to interrupt and while I might have said to myself I’m going to paint acrylic paints every day for months I would have put it off on some days even though I’m very goal-driven. but by making it a project I really focused on that. That Medium,
I always tell my students if they’re interested in learning watercolor or they’re interested in working with the brush pen that they should really dive in and they should make it a project and they should do it every day for a month use that in some way so that it becomes something comfortable to use and so that they begin to find the nuances of that Medium.
They might find that they love or hate certain kinds of work that are related to the project. the negative things that you can learn are positives because what they tell you is.
You don’t want to be doing this type of project. You need to be using your Creative Energy somewhere else and well, that’s a negative that you don’t want to do. This project is a positive because you found out where you really should be putting your life and ultimately the benefit of the project is that you find out how you want to use your voice in the world and where you want to put your energy.
And you identify for yourself what things matter to you? What things are interesting to you?
DANNY: That’s a real interesting point. SO often, we think we want something without actually trying it. We have a vision of ourselves as writers or painters or restauranteurs or soulful singer songwriters but we haven’t gone beyond the day dreaming stage to see if we’ll actually like living our dreams. A project iOS a chance to do low risk dry run. To try out what it would be like to quit our jobs and just draw birds everyday.. Maybe we’ll love it. Maybe we’ll learn something about ourselves that’s really quite different. A project is ac chance to put on the role for an hour or a day and see if it’s truly what we want to devote our lives to doing.
ROZ: one of the primary things about the project is it gives you a clear creative space where money and reimbursement? Is not involved I think you should still put boundaries on it so your head just doesn’t fly out to the clouds, but it frees you from any kind of client expectations or other audience expectations and allows you to just generate what you personally want to do.
I think it’s it’s very, positive that when when you get up and you go to the studio you have something to do to start you off. I think that that is a plus that you can engineer into your daily practice. that there is that one thing that you can cross off your to-do list or that you can always look forward to as a reward after a busy day.
However, you want to play with it in your own life. whether you want to put it the beginning of your day the end of your day.
DANNY: I asked Roz if the idea of doing personal projects had grown out of her career as a graphic designer. IMaybet it was an extension of her professional process and that she was just adding it onto the list of her assignments. Client, client, Roz, client, client, Roz.
ROZ: my father and mother are both very hard-working. but I also saw with the people that worked with my father they had special projects. So you go into the ad department and the illustrator there would be very quick to show you that besides drawing pictures of Speedy the little logo for Alka-Seltzer. He was also doing a series of cars cars that he grew up with in the 40s and 50s and that was his side project.
My childhood prepared me for being a designer as opposed to a designer preparing me to do side projects.
DANNY: SO where do you get the time? That’s really the question we’re asking ourselves. How can we find the time an energy to add on one more thing to our work load, a thing that no one is paying us for. And what’s the pay off isf we do?
ROZ: I see in my friends who are working as designers and illustrators and other people in Creative field, they are constantly chasing the notion of. What’s the payoff in what I’m doing anytime that we aren’t working.
Is time we aren’t getting paid so there’s a trap that the creative freelance professional can fall into which is that I have to use all of my billable hours as billable hours. So I’ve seen a lot of creative people they show up at the State Fair sketch out and stuff like that. And that’s the first creative personal thing.
They’ve done in five years is show up and just sketch out with a bunch of different people when I feel you should be doing it every day because it feeds the Creative Energy you and I both know that momentum feeds momentum and so for me a daily project is just something that keeps momentum going and momentum doesn’t know where.
Should be used. if you create momentum in your private project and then you go back to your desk momentum is going to say okay. Now, I’m going to put it into this computer project that I’m working on and it just keeps going. So you have a whole day of momentum, whereas, um, you can also have the negative effect of that which is if you don’t do projects, it can go into the flip side of that where you you lose your momentum, but I think it’s very important.
to realize that momentum is going to go where you you point it at any given moment. But the first thing is to get that head of steam going I think back when you were um, Doing your one of your books and you were writing in the morning before breakfast and and and doing some drawing and other things before breakfast.
Will you still went in every day to work but I think that and we’ve not talked about this but I bet if we had you would have told me that when you got into work, you didn’t feel tired or drained you felt energized you were you were already revved up and ready to go. That’s the way that kind of project helps us.
It creates that momentum now. For someone who’s not a creative, you don’t have to worry about being uh paid so you don’t have that sort of uh handicap in your head worrying about your billable hours. But what you do have is the lack of momentum because you are already doing it as a job. And so you have to get up a head of steam artificially and the best way I tell people to do it artificially is to borrow a phrase from Nike and say just do it.
you don’t say I’m going to write the Great American novel in the next month. you say I’m going to write five pages of crap every day for the next month. And if any of those pages are great. I’m going to cherish it.
All I’m setting out to do is write those five pages. Then you get up and every day whether you feel like it or not, whether you have a cold whether you um have family emergencies you get that work done. That’s how you build momentum. For a creative project when you don’t already have creative momentum running in your life.
DANNY: What project would you like to embark on? Maybe that question is your first project. When I get stuck , I’ll spend my personal project time making uplifts of of ideas. I’ll take half nah our, early in the morning to just shut and brainstorm. Write down ten ideas and then have breakfast. In a week I have seventy ideas. The following week I’ll have lottos things to start with.
if you’d like to learn more from Roz, Join the course that she teaches at Sketchbook Skool. It’s called Beginning. She is one of six artists who teach you how to begin turning your Sketchbook into an idea Factory a Daily Journal place to draw and study animals and people and Street Scenes and so much more.
.It;s one of our most popular kourse and it’s inspired tens of thousands of people to turn their creative dreams into projects they can work on in their spare time and change thir creative lives. I’m proud to say I’m one of the teachers too . and I’d love to see you join us. ENroll today, use the coupon code ARTFORALL, and get a sweet discount. Then you’ll have lifetime access to a creative resource that will start your engines and get your momentum going.
Thanks for joining me and Roz here for art for all I’ll see you again next time with more inspiration and creative problem solving and don’t procrastinate. Sign up for beginning or one of our other courses at Sketchbook, and don’t forget that coupon code “art for all”. Thanks. Bye.