Be Creative Every Day
The fact that Quitter’s Day—a faux holiday marking the abandonment of New Year’s resolutions—is on January 12 should tell you everything. Our best intentions for a new start, a lifestyle change, or a blue-sky goal don’t even make it two weeks past the stroke of midnight. That's because not doing something is a lot easier than doing something. This hard truth is only exacerbated when the “something” is creative, personal, and challenging. Novelist John Updike once admitted that not writing is a lot more pleasurable than writing, and if he gave himself half a chance to experience that sedentary bliss he might never have written again. So instead, he wrote every day.
Every. Damn. Day.
For creative people, New Year’s resolutions often take the form of a daily creative practice, called Daily Drawing or Project 365. Maybe that was your 2019 resolution, and maybe you fell out of that habit a while back. It's been a busy year! However, it's not too late.
We talked to several people who have a daily creative practice, and they agree that the benefits—new ideas, new energy, the accountability that comes with sharing the results on social media—are worth the time and effort. They have tips for how you can work a daily creative exercise into your life. Yes, starting now, in the middle of the year. There's no rule a project like this has to begin (or begin again) on January 1.
As you’ll see, some of these artists didn't expect to finish an entire year of daily creativity, while others have to stop and think when they actually started as projects pass the 10-year mark. Like them, you don’t need to start with a strict calendar—just the desire to stretch, grow, and improve.
PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING IT WORK
People who pursue a creative daily challenge differ in backgrounds and disciplines, but there are marked similarities when it comes to inspiration and motivation.
“I had been working as a designer for a few years and I felt like I needed to do something that would push me to create content that I liked. For myself,” says Cuban-born artist Magdiel Lopez. “And that’s how I got into it. Just trying to stay sharp. Not only in technique and execution, but with creative ideas.”
For Lopez, it all started with an old camera…and a distinct lack of distractions. “I was always drawing when I was a kid,” he says. “And my mom had an old camera, so I would take photos. We lived in Cuba so I didn’t have TV or internet. I was just playing and drawing all the time.” Introduced to Adobe Photoshop at age 13, Lopez learned how to navigate the tools by trying to recreate book covers from his father’s collection. Lopez and his family moved to Texas when he was 15; by 16, he had landed his first paying graphic design gig creating album covers.
Music was instrumental to artist, illustrator, graphic designer, and 365 project participant Diego Rodriguez too. Growing up in Madrid, he found his medium in the form of music videos. “In Spain it was all MTV,” says Rodriguez. “I was such a big fan of music videos, they connected to my passion for filmmaking and music.” At 16, he got a job at a local television station and was introduced to Photoshop. Rodriguez admits he learned the program in fits and starts, but when someone at the network needed a DVD cover designed, he volunteered and a career was born.
His reasons for starting a 365 Project in January of 2019 echo those of many artists who take up this mantle. “I felt like my creativity was stuck in the same place of comfort. Monotonous,” says Rodriquez. “I felt like I wasn’t advancing creatively. I felt like my style was a bit stuck in the past. I needed something different. Something that motivates me to have a new energy.”
For Lopez and Rodriguez, daily art projects help keep their creative edges sharp—what Lopez calls “being creatively renewed every day”—but for designers Luanne Seymour and Pascal Campion, they are more. They become a lifeline for creative energy being pushed aside as responsibilities mount and job titles change. “I had this job as a creative director,” says Seymour, who worked at Adobe's San Jose office before relocating to Washington. “I was managing a bunch of people doing all of these creative things instead of doing them myself. I really wanted to make something, so I started a project where I would post a photograph every day—I guess it was a little like a New Year’s resolution.” This was four years ago, and Seymour has kept it up ever since.
Like Seymour, Campion laughs when asked about his “365” Project. “It’s been a lot longer than 365 days,” he says. “I’ve been doing it for 15 years.” Raised in France but now living in the Bay Area, Campion started out as a designer and animator for children’s video game manufacturer LeapFrog. Like Seymour, he found his day-to-day job responsibilities left little room for creativity. “It was cool work, but zero art work at all for me,” he says. “So I started coming into work early every morning to sketch. And that’s how I started. It was never meant to be anything more than to get some creative stuff going.”
TIPS, TRICKS, AND MOTIVATION
Being able to attack Day 222 with the same enthusiasm as Day 2 may be too much to ask, but projects like this are indeed marathons that test each artist’s commitment and provide ample opportunity to rely on technical tricks and shorthand to get them through. “I remember starting without even thinking about it,” says Lopez. “And by day 10 or 15, I was done with it. I was like, ‘No, I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s not a good idea’.” He eventually realized that that was the whole challenge, to find that discipline when it’s so easy to give up. “The reward is a lot greater than the effort,” he says.
Lopez, who leans heavily on Photoshop’s Wind filter and the Illustrator Mesh Tool, recommends a good slump breaker: Go into Photoshop and try every distortion filter, one by one. “Sometimes you try one and it’s not great, but then you apply it a second time and it looks amazing. Play with them. Then you’ll have new tools in your toolbox.”
Being adaptable is key not just for long-term success, but also to overcome the hiccups and roadblocks that have nothing to do with a creative slump. Campion once had to deal with a broken computer that lost all of his Flash animation tools. “So I got Photoshop, and I had to relearn how to draw entirely. Going from vector to bitmap was night and day. But it forced me to relearn things and really think about my images.”
Seymour’s love of photography was an excellent entry into the post-a-day world—phone cameras make spontaneous photography and instant posting relatively easy—but still found she could benefit from some extra technical trickery. “I often create a vignette in post-processing with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom,” she explains. “It focuses the eye on the subject matter and subdues background crud in a candid or street photography shot. Also, if the colors in the candid are ugly but the subject matter is good, I turn it into a black and white image in Lightroom.” But that extra work means extra time, something a veteran daily artist highly values. Seymour began noticing a lot of drop outs among her Facebook groups related to ongoing projects and chalked it up to unmanaged expectations. “Life interrupts everything,” she says. “For some people it got too hard. People picked projects that were too hard to sustain.”
As for Rodriguez, sometimes you need tools simply to make more tools. “I use the Adobe Capture app a lot for creating color palettes from nature and places I visit,” he says. “It’s an amazing tool that I think any creative should use for taking inspiration from anywhere.” Unlike the others, Rodriguez’s goal isn’t always to create post-worthy work. He’s found his own personal loophole…and source of continuing innovation.
“My statement was to create something new every day, not to post something new every day. So some days, I’m not creating a post, I’m creating resources: assets, textures, color palettes. I can use them later. It’s like creating your own library.”
Artistic freedom without deadlines runs the risk of becoming meandering self-indulgence, and all of these artists agree that without social media as both platform and audience, they never would have pursued anything like these challenges.
“It keeps me accountable,” says Seymour. “And I don’t even have that many followers! But the weird thing is that I’ve noticed people are interested. They want the next installment. So that provides enough pressure to not slack off, which I need.”
Lopez is also thankful for the “social pressure,” and welcomes it. “I think it’s a good thing to get people you admire or close friends involved in the idea that you’re going to do this every day,” he says. It’s even bled into his work. “I called the tenth poster I did '10-Q,’ which is the name of a quarterly report companies do to check on your progress on projects, and that helped me start looking at what I had done already and put pressure on myself to do more.”
Fan support and the pressure of delivery aside, these projects—whether they last one year or 15—become an archive, a resource, and a calling card that has unforeseen consequences. Campion found himself doing animation work for the likes of Disney, Dreamworks, and Nick Jr. because his sketch-a-day work was discovered. “The sketches are not my job,” he says. “But they have become my portfolio.” You’d think that would add additional, unneeded pressure, but Campion has evolved a thick skin thanks to years in the advertising world doing commercials. “I used to look for that approval, but after a while I got tired of it,” he says. “There was a period where I felt I was too reliant on people’s feedback. I would be afraid of certain drawings because I thought it wouldn’t get any likes. But I realized how silly it was. It took away from what I wanted to do, which was draw for the fun of it.” Experience, he says, gives one that kind of perspective after awhile.
“My emotions tell me I suck, but my brain tells me I don’t. So I always rely on my brain for that.”
So forget New Year’s resolutions, and don’t even bother to open your 2019 calendar. Get started (or get back to it!), and keep us updated on your progress and help encourage others in the comments section below. Your new year starts now.
Hero image by Pascal Campion