MANW Week 29 Check In: When Art Isn’t Solitary

July MANW 2017 Challenge

This month’s theme is MOVEMENT, and I want to talk about what that means for you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen and heard artists perceive themselves to be failures when the words aren’t flowing or when projects stall. Success and failure isn’t that black and white, but more than that I think we often forget that we can’t do this job alone. Often, we may make a thing but we wind up working with a proofreader, editor, agent, etc. to ensure that piece of art is not only amazing it is published and distributed, too. Then, there’s the other side of the equation, the finding fans, readers, etc. who’ll pay you for your work. Sometimes, to get your projects moving you need to rely on other people to help. Doing so isn’t a sign of failure, it’s a means of making sure your art is getting traction. Why is it perceived as failure? Because there’s a myth that the runaway success stories “did it all themselves”. That’s marketing, talking. That’s often not the reality.

I know this might come as a shock, but part of your artistic process will involve dealing with other people if you plan on doing this job professionally. (This is also true if you are making art or interacting as part of any community, whether that’s within a fandom or not. And yes, I include cosplay as part of this.) The act of making art can be solitary at times, but it doesn’t have to be. I personally feel it’s better for your overall process if it’s not, because sometimes other people give you invaluable perspectives that help you and your work. Editors, agents, publishers, beta readers…they are not the enemy. They exist to help you tell the best story in the hopes of reaching more readers and, just as you are, they’re doing the best they can too. Unfortunately, other people are sometimes seen as a threat to our artistic process; when those relationships don’t work, we hear the horror stories and think it’ll never work. This is an unrealistic view, for sure.

I’m going to tell you another truth: you won’t get along with everyone you meet. It sucks. It’s hard as hell. Sometimes (especially if you’re me and have a larger-than-life personality), you will rub someone the wrong way. Maybe a project will have impossible deadlines, a former peer will get a “big head”, a former peer will think you’re “nobody” and abandon you, a casual acquaintance will expect/demand you teach them your ways or give them all your contacts, etc. There are a thousand ways a relationship can go wrong, and just as many ways it can go better than expected, too.

So how do you find the right people? How do you know when someone is paying lip service? How can you tell who you’ll connect with and who you won’t? Here’s a secret: how you deal with people when you’re an artist isn’t any different than how you approach them in other aspects of your life. You may have a professional “face”, but how you put yourself out there in the world isn’t as important as what you think of others. If you treat other artists as business cards to collect, as trophies to put on pedestals, or as any other type of object? I would not be surprised if your relationships fail. Artists may make the thing you love, but they’re still people with their own friends and families, needs and desires, joys and fears–just like you. That’s why competition in this business doesn’t work and can be incredibly harmful. It’s not a zero sum game. Or, as my friend Lucien Soulban put it: “Someone else’s success is not a sign of your failure.”

I want to come back to conflict resolution in a later post, because it’s a crucial aspect of the collaborative process that speaks to power dynamics and interpersonal relationships. Need more room to dive into that, though! So stay tuned.

Mood: Huh. It’s Wednesday? Okay then!
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Yeah. It’s “ashamed to admit” levels.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Went for a short walk in the blistering heat.
In My Ears: Air conditioner
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The 6th Day. Eerie predictions!
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




July’s MANW Theme and New Creative Prompt

Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge July

As announced on Twitter and Facebook, July’s Make Art Not War theme is MOVEMENT. The idea behind this month’s theme is moving forward at your own pace. I’ve had this on my mind, because I’ve had some personal goals in addition to the professional milestones I want to achieve. Sometimes, we want to get to that finish line and forget that going a million miles an hour is not “the” way to achieve success. Speed, or producing art quickly, can be “a” method, but it’s not the only one. Your path, your rules! But… Sometimes you need a gentle nudge in the right direction. That’s what this month is all about!

Creative Prompt: Mapping Your Artistic Journey

If you’ve been following my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge from the beginning, you know that I’m a big fan of visualizations. I think they can be a very powerful tool to help you see, in your mind’s eye, where you are headed. To figure out your next destination, sometimes it’s helpful to know where you’ve been. This creative prompt is designed to illustrate your artistic path in a fun and tangible way, by making a map.

Here’s an example of how this prompt works, if you decide to create an aerial (or bird’s eye) view. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

1.) Grab a large sheet of paper. Then, create a grid of squares; you should be able to draw in each one. Each square represents an increment of time (six months, a year, etc.).

2.) Mark your starting point by drawing something memorable; it could be a statue, dragon, rainbow, etc. This point is the date, year, or phase in your life when you began to make art. If you desire, you might further customize your illustration by focusing on when you began to submit your art for consideration or when you started to sell it.

3.) Using the units of time you’ve assigned, mark your milestones and achievements. These are the memorable moments, good and bad, that you’ve experienced as an artist. You could apply a fantastical bestiary motif to your memories, or illustrate characters.

4.) Then, from there, start drawing the path and filling in details. Flat ground, bright green foliage, and flowers are great for productive periods and easy paths, while thorns, rocks, and mud illustrate darker moments along the way.

When you’re done mapping the route, you can add finishing touches like the addition of punny country and landmark names. Rivers, streams, and mountains can also be used to reflect changes that happened outside of your control. Trolls might literally be trolls, while bridges could reflect those times when you had a helping hand.

Variations

If drawing doesn’t work for you, here are some variations on this theme:

  • Write a story about your path in the genre of your choice.
  • Make your path with Legos or building blocks.
  • Record your memoirs, in the guise of a fictional narrator.

The point of this exercise is not necessarily reflection; that trip down memory lane will happen naturally as you draw. By creating a map of your artistic path, you possess those memories and take control of all that’s happened. This becomes a picture of what you’ve been through, versus what you’ve accomplished.

Your path is something to be proud of, and this exercise also shows how unique your journey is as well. By getting increasingly personal, your visualized path may provide a new sense of direction so you can move forward (or backwards, if needed) at your own pace.

P.S. Some check-ins this month and personal accounts will be delayed due to travel. I’ve got quite a few trips this summer, so bear with me!

Mood: air conditioned brains
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: I CONFESS NOTHING!
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: coffee shop white noise
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Originals Season 4
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




MANW Check-In Week 26: YES, ARTISTS PERSIST!

June Make Art Not War

Apologize for missing… Well, June’s updates! I have spent most of the month playing catch up on projects, Pokémon Go, and planning for conventions. Say what you will about Pokémon Go; it has been a lot of fun and we’ve been very motivated to go out, get active, and catch ’em all. That said, I have been shipping projects off to the next stage like crazy, which means more time for my own stuff and a slew of releases that’ll come out this year yet.

For today’s post, I want to talk about tips and tricks to help you persist and continue making art by tossing in some examples of what I did this month. Before I get started, I do want to highlight there’s a huge difference between making, promoting, and selling both your art and yourself as an artist. No two business practices are alike, and this is especially true if your primary income does not come from your creations. That’s okay, and that’s incredibly normal. There are dozens of business models to choose from, and what works for you may not work for someone else.

I understand the tendency or urge to compare yourself to other artists, but I often find that can be very damaging to all involved. Interacting with folks online can produce a slightly skewed view, because often artists present the best sides to themselves in order to avoid upsetting or steering fans away. I have mixed feelings about that, because while making art produces a lot of joy we are still human beings who have thoughts and opinions, good days and bad. I feel the only way to get past envy and jealousy, in particular, is to possess the confidence to be yourself and make more art.

After a while, you will find your own voice and way of doing things that won’t be reliant on anyone else’s approval — within reason. Art often has a lot of collaborative components to it, and knowing how to work and interact with other people is just as important as having the raw skill and talent. Learning how to deal with people is definitely its own job, especially in an era where the barrier between fans and creators is non-existent. Regardless, focusing on your art and establishing boundaries between you, other people, and the work is crucial to being persistent, because many pros produce art on a consistent basis in order to remain financially viable. To do that, you have to find the means to light a fire under your own butt. It’s hard, yes, but not impossible.

Okay, I want to walk you through some additional tips to help you persist!

1. Ask Yourself Why You Make Art. Whether you freewrite for half an hour or meditate on this thought for a while, knowing why you make art (outside of any financial obligations) can be a helpful reminder and gentle nudge to keep at it. I would even go so far as to make a series of definitive statements, and then edit them down to one mantra that you’ll make an art project for. I’m going to put this on my list, too! I often come up with a mantra for certain projects I work on, but beyond “bringing people joy” I haven’t thought about the whys and therefores and hows because being an artist is both something I do and who I am.

2. Identify What’s Bothering You and Get Help if Needed. Oh dear, this is a big ’un and a hard tip to personalize for you. So, I’m going to use myself as an example. I had spent quite a bit of time planning my project load for 2017, to make room for Make Art Not War but also my own projects and initiatives. As much as I did not want to admit it, I was overwhelmed and daunted to push forward on organizing. My beads were organized three or four different ways, and before I could inventory everything I needed to finish sorting through what I had. Ugh! Inspired by a dear friend, I decided to get help and invited someone close to me to tackle sorting with me. What would have taken me six months, due to the emotional baggage that comes from cleaning old messes, we did in two days. Now that I have a good headstart, I’ve been moving forward really quickly and even managed to start a bin for Etsy inventory! Huzzah!

3. Embrace a Mindful Quiet. We are bombarded with news, opinions, brand names, and information every day and, after a while, you hit information overload and you need a break. It’s okay to sit and be quiet for a little while, or meditate with an app like Headspace or Insight Timer. You’d be surprised how a little peace and quiet can work wonders for you. I am a musician by nature, and sensitive to sound. But, I’m also a writer and sensitive to words, too, which often translate as music in my head.

4. Be Gentle With Yourself. Say it with me: “It is okay to make a mistake.” You will screw up, and mistakes are normal! Only you can decide how grevious your error was, what steps you might take to rectify it, and who you need to make peace with or apologize to. It sucks, but you can’t affect anyone else’s actions or responses, unless they want to change. Certainly, fixing other people’s mistakes will add more to your plate that you probably don’t need. Being gentle with yourself, though, also relates to doing anything new. When you’re new, give yourself the opportunity to learn, to fail, and to learn from those mistakes. You got this!

5. Do Three Things That Make You Happy. If you’re already being too hard on yourself, analyzing how to move forward can be really taxing. I cannot stress the importance of doing things that make you happy, because you are a complex being with loads of thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears. It’s okay to be sad, to be frustrated with yourself, and take a break for a little while to get relief to move past it. You know yourself the best, but sometimes you need an excuse to be kind to your inner artist.

I’m sure you have other tips and tricks to help yourself keep at it. Good luck! And, more importantly, make some art!

Mood: Caffeinated.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: SO MANY
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: my Classical Aetherium playlist
Game Last Played: Pokémon Go
Book Last Read: Epic Fantasy anthology
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: Harry Potter marathon
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




Alternate Rules for Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

June 2017 Make Art Not War Challenge

When I started this journey, I did so as a means of prioritizing my art over the things I can’t control. As it turns out, there’s a lot I don’t. I can’t control whether or not the U.S. goes to war. I can’t control the uptick in racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic acts. I can’t control so many “big picture” movements and shake-ups, blow-ups and gaffes. The only thing I can, is me–or so I thought. Sometimes, I do get overwhelmed and I’m finding that is very, very common because life doesn’t stop and start with a headline.

How to cope? There’s a prominent idea that, to be successful, you have to shut off all your emotions and be productive as if you were a robot. That has never been the case for me, and I feel dealing with emotional stress isn’t talked about a lot. This is supposed to be the fun job, the glamorous gig we’re lucky to have. Only, the expression of emotion is something fans do/have/expect in response to our work. Now, I am a fan-turned-creator making works for other fans to respond to, which is one of the reasons why I make art. Emotions are part of being human and they are natural after all. Sometimes, we feel things that are so compelling we have to make art and that vehicle, that physical manifestation of our emotions, is how the artist connects to the audience. Other times, we shut down completely due to a thousand tiny bites, those little cuts that chip away at our confidence. Or, in my case, harassment.

Emotions are important to making art. Forgiving yourself for getting sick, falling into a depression, needing a vacation, etc. is so important, because there are many myths about the suffering artist that are works of fiction for a reason. To suffer, to be happy, to be angry or sad…those emotions are part of who you are and they may not necessarily be reflected in your work. You don’t have to suffer to make good art, and anyone who tells you that probably doesn’t realize this mantra causes you harm. Pain can be a catalyst, but it is not the only emotion we draw upon as artists. The beauty of being human is that we deal with our emotions very differently, and that is something no “one-true-wayism” can ever address. However, feel too many emotions and you can get overwhelmed, shut down, and not make any art because you are reacting to your brain weasels. For artists, this is a danger because there are a lot of reasons not to make art in a culture that struggles to define its value.

The flip side to tapping into your emotions is to veer toward routine. Discipline, which was the foundation for my Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge, is important to making art. It matters because making art consistently is the only way to become successful as (or learn how to be) an artist. You cannot sell what you dream about making. You cannot paint a masterpiece if you’re still learning techniques. I know that can be a hard pill to swallow, but making art has to be our core competency and primary focus as artists. However, like emotions, there is a dark side to too much discipline. When you plot, plan, and form routines, you wind up punishing yourself when your actions don’t satisfy your intent. Maybe, you’re the type of writer who now knows you cannot write every day, for example. That’s okay. As I’ve said before, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, because how you make art folds into figuring out your process. Your process doesn’t always impact the end result, provided you keep at it.

For these reasons, I am proposing alternate rules to help you customize this template for your needs. I want to reiterate that my challenge is here to help you feel empowered to make your own choices as an artist. I cannot stand over your shoulder and force you to write; I cannot overpower your personal brain weasels; I cannot give you the secret to making art or being successful as an artist. There is no secret other than to sit down and actually do it. Right now. Not five years ago, not three weeks from now, but today.

With that in mind, here’s the original pledge followed by a customization:

Original My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

Alternate My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote five hours a week to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to explore what is blocking me from making art. I can do this by talking to a peer, writing one-to-three pages, or meditating.
  • I pledge to acknowledge and celebrate the projects I’ve completed for Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge.
  • I pledge to evaluate how I’m doing, by checking in bi-weekly. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to review, refine, and reduce distractions, like my time on social media, that are affecting my ability to make art.

As you can see, the new rules shift the focus slightly to incorporate your feelings. There are other customizations as well, because not everyone has the same schedule or means to support the ability to make art. Sometimes, materials are expensive or the allotted time is shifted to account for a family emergency. That’s extraordinarily common, and often I think we forget that the opportunities we have aren’t what everyone else has, too. Further, customizations like this don’t significantly change the challenge goal, what they do is fine-tune the experience to your needs while avoiding extremes. I have total faith that you will customize these rules based on your lifestyle, to make room for making art when you can. Be kind and give yourself some credit!

Lastly, I want to point out that self-evaluation may yield interesting results for you. You might find out you’re suffering from a mild depression. You might recognize that a change in your job or activity levels are impacting your mental-or-physical health. You might notice that you are more isolated than you’ve been in the past, or the political atmosphere is so charged you don’t realize you’re being triggered by current events. I cannot stress the value of self-care enough, and should you find yourself in this position please do not punish yourself for not making art. Your health is so important, and while making art can be cathartic in many ways it is not a replacement for getting the medical help you need.

Be well, and I hope that you are figuring out the next steps on your journey as an artist.

Mood: Moody like the weather. It’s stormy, it’s sunny, it’s rainy in 20 minutes?
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: A solid three.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: Fish tank and Captain Whinypants snoring.
Game Last Played: Pokemon Go
Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: The Originals Season 3.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




MANW: May Recap and PERSISTENCE for June’s Theme!

MANW June 2017

This month was another weird one, and it wasn’t for a lack of concerted effort on my part to resume normality. I was sick for about two and a half weeks, and that put me even further behind than anticipated. I feel terrible about it, and though many things happened outside of my control I am focused like a shark with a laser beam on their head to get all the things done. What I did learn from yet another setback, however, was that every day is a new opportunity to move forward. In this climate, that can be very hard. So many friends and loved ones are anxious about the repeal of the ACA, net neutrality, civil rights protections, reproductive rights, the right to protest… Hell, I’m furious, but feeling All The Bad ThingsTM for an extended period of time is not good for me mentally or physically. Thank you, very much, Pokemon Go for adding a bit of fun to my walks every day for that reason.

As an aside, I cannot stress enough the importance of self-care right now. This is not a politics-as-usual presidency, and I am so, so sorry if you are either at risk or are being harmed right now. If you need permission, let me repeat that you are not selfish if you take care of yourself. That, when coupled with isolationist tactics, is how the assholes manipulate victims. Taking my own advice, for sure, but getting back up on the proverbial horse and celebrating small wins to keep at it. That, dear reader, is what artists do.

Here’s how I did in May:

My Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge pledge:

  • I pledge to devote one hour a day to my original art.
  • If I don’t feel motivated, I pledge to write down the reasons why I wanted to take this challenge for fifteen minutes or one-to-three pages whichever comes first.
  • I pledge to mark down on the calendar whenever I complete a day’s efforts.
  • As the challenge creator, I pledge to create a weekly accountability post every Wednesday beginning on January 9th. Comments will be open. Hashtag #makeartnotwar2017 #manw2017
  • I pledge to check into social media twice a week for personal use, and once a month with my local community of artists and writers.

May 2017 Challenge Recap

  • I had no capacity whatsoever to make art when I was sick. I did do some lettering this month, and revisited some original stories. But, I was preoccupied because I was falling behind on my obligations and paying gigs come first.
  • I didn’t have a problem with motivation, but I did get very frustrated when I couldn’t satisfy it.
  • Another month where tracking didn’t happen. This time, I didn’t track those efforts because guilt started to set in when I didn’t make art. This, dear reader, is why I feel that “making art every day” or “write every day” mantras can be harmful. It’s something I need to think about going forward.
  • Social media time was managed, and I opted to extend my social media sabbatical. I feel very strongly that silence is helping me recover faster, and retain my focus.

Could I control being sick? No, no I couldn’t. That doesn’t stop the brain weasels from taking over, and given the intensity of emotions I felt during this time I am chalking May up to a lesson learned. Maybe, my goal for this Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge has more to do with making art as a priority as opposed to making art every day.

This observation is interesting to me, because I don’t want to pull back so much on the idea that actually sitting down and doing the work isn’t the only way to move forward in your career. But, it’s giving me a dimension to think about, that making art is the goal and if, despite all your best efforts, you just can’t right then and there…that doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It just means that you need to keep at it. (Hence, this month’s theme!)

JOY and other Monthly Themes Recap

Now that we’re in June, I’d like to take a moment and share the monthly themes we’ve had so far. They are:

  • PLAY – January’s theme was designed to kick off a year of making art!
  • ORGANIZE – February was all about getting those art supplies and files in order, to make room for all the new stuff we’ll make.
  • PLANT – March was focused on small, manageable goals that will help seed a future of making art.
  • SPEED – In April, I proposed that speedy sketches, stitches, and quick writing exercises can help unblock your creativity. Fun!
  • JOY – May’s theme was simple, and I plotted this as a reminder that it’s important to have fun. If you don’t truly enjoy what you’re doing, then you’ll eventually stop making art.

May’s JOY theme was fun, and it reminded me what I love doing. Making art absolutely makes me happy, but I feel that needs to happen in a safe space. What and where that space is will be unique to you, but it’s definitely something to think about. With that in mind, I’m ready to share June’s theme!

New Theme for June! PERSISTENCE

Very simply, June’s theme is PERSISTENCE. Yes, I’ve fallen down a few times. I’m assuming you have, too. This is what it means to be a human making art, as opposed to a robot producing art on an assembly line. If you kinda sorta participated in January but abandoned it like your other New Year’s Resolutions, then I encourage you to think about joining in again. I am not asking you for anything other than to show up, put your butt in the chair, and start writing or knitting or painting, etc. for this month. You can do it!

Feeling defeated? I cannot stress this enough: shit happens. It especially happens to artists, and often we draw upon those emotions–joy, anger, fear–to make art. The fan will be hit, and that’s guaranteed. What matters is that you get back up after you fall down, and keep making art. I have faith that you will join me. That, more than anything, is the reason why I tell you about what I’m going through. If you’re experiencing a bump in the road, you are not alone!

Mood: Is hairball a mood? My cats are full of them.
Caffeinated Beverages Consumed: Three-ish.
Work-Out Minutes Logged Yesterday: Hunting Pokemon
In My Ears: Blissful silence.
Game Last Played: Pokemon Go
Book Last Read: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora
Movie/TV Show Last Viewed: La Belle et la Bete.
Latest Artistic Project: Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge and Rules
Latest Releases: In Volo’s Wake for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Unknown Armies Books 1-3, and Kobold Guide to Gamemastering.
Current State of Projects: Read my latest project update. New project update coming when I get time.




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Monica Valentinelli > Make Art Not War 2017 Challenge

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