General Wisdom for artists No. 7

7. Get away from the computer!

I can haz things I should be doing

I’m typing this up on a computer. I ought to admit that straight away, you’re reading this on a computer too, unless you printed it out, which I know you didn’t!

Computers are great, everyone knows that. If it wasn’t for the digital age I wouldn’t be the artist I am today. I’d probably be doing some menial job I hate because I lacked the knowledge and the drive to follow my self-indulgent dreams. The internet told me how to be an illustrator and Photoshop allowed me to undo my mistakes, posting my work online has allowed me to work for people who value what I do.

Our lives would be considerably worse without computers. Obviously there’s the helicopter game, that’s good, there’s twitter supposedly causing the Arab spring uprising and Google maps helping Al Qaeda militants coordinate attacks and there’s lolcats and solitaire and all the other things making everyone’s lives immeasurably better.

So I don’t want to appear hysterical with this- but if you want to get things done you need to get away from the computer.

At least for the planning stages. Anything you can do just fine without a computer, you should. A good old pencil and sketchbook is perfect for getting down and refining ideas before you ever need to do any digital work.

You’ve probably heard this before, it’s not revolutionary information, but I thought I could say the same thing everyone else has been saying and once you’ve read it enough it may just sink it.

It’s precisely the same reasons that computers make us happy that they also hinder our plans and consequently make us unhappy in the long term. There’s just too many possibilities, too many directions we can inadvertently move away from what we started off doing. Because we rely on our computers to do everything from playing music, watching films and chatting with friends it becomes extremely difficult to maintain focus on our work- which is is vital for artist and especially for freelancers.

Facebook is the obvious example of contemporary digital time wasting. It’s a site full of tripe with links to more tripe. You can go on there for just a second with the aim of checking to see if someone has replied to a message and find yourself spirited away to some faraway website you don’t really care about.

In much the same way that if you click on any of the links I included above then you won’t ever finish reading this I imagine, you’ll be too busy giggling at cats. In fact, I expect the majority of people who see this post will never reach the bottom, they might mean to “read it later” but they wont. I wouldn’t.

But Facebook is only the most commonly vilified of time-wasting methods. Facebook is designed to distract so it can generate ad revenue, and conveniently enough we humans actively seek distraction! We don’t even need social media sites to do that.

Just think of all the things your fancy modern computer can do. How many of them are what you actually want to get done today? 

Just be aware that when you’ve been working on something a while, something meaningful and valuable perhaps- your brain will start seeking distraction, just a little break, and all the shiny icons on your screen will start to look oh so tempting!

Maybe not facebook, or twitter or even tumblr this time- maybe you’ll just check the news, that won’t take long right? But just think how even clicking the internet browser opens up all the different possibilities to be distracted. Supposing like mine your browser is covered with links to all your favourite pages- which you can see instantly with a single click- but you ignore them all to just quickly glance at BBC news? You spend ten minutes reading articles you’ll have forgotten about in a day or two, and then you wonder whether people are talking about this news article on facebook? Or maybe you could load up your instant messenger program and talk to a friend instead? Or maybe since you’re having a break and you’ve lost your focus you may as well play a video game?

I could go, but I’m just wasting your time as well really. if you’ve read this far, congratulations! Such focus! You must be over 30 at least.

The long and short of it all is this: use your computer when you need to use it for working, or when you allow yourself dedicated time to relax, but always be aware that because it’s so easy to NOT work- your brain will probably manage it.

Because we can’t afford a computer and a room for every task, here’s a few tips to get the most productivity out of your multi-task distraction-box.

  1. Have web browsers closed whenever possible.
  2. Consider making a new account on that doesn’t have access to games or things you don’t need.
  3. Unplug/disconnect from the internet so it becomes more effort to use it.
  4. Be aware that not all time is equal- If you play first you’ll not have then energy to work later- playing is easier than working.
  5. Get as far as you can with your work using analogue means- trust me, sketch books are the future!

General Wisdom for Artists No. 5

5. Be informed, be organised, be inspired.

In my experience creativity is fed by new experiences and new ideas. So, for us artists it makes sense that if we want to be more creative, we should open our minds to as many potential sources of inspiration as possible, and when something clicks- we should grab it! Here’s a few methods that have worked for me:

1 Be informed by the work of other artists.

This one is a no-brainer perhaps. For many of us the reason we chose to become artists is because we were inspired by the work of someone we saw when we were younger, and now with the information overload culture of the digital age it’s easier than ever to be swamped with amazing and inspiring artwork. What I would suggest to you is to whenever you see a picture that you feel can teach you something-  you grab a copy of it and put it in a folder on your computer. Once you’ve got a few images have a look through them and study what it is you admire about them so much. What can you learn from them and apply in your own work?

2. Be informed by your own boring life- make notes.

Yes I wrote boring, but I’m of the opinion that great ideas are not delivered from heaven in  golden envelopes accompanied by fanfares and cherubs- more often than not the best ideas are accompanied by showers or bowel movements.  When you’re out and about and some fleeting event or idea makes you smile; record it. It doesn’t matter what it is, every trivial little idea can be mixed up with another one and combined to make something else. Ideas are conducive to more ideas and all these little ideas are the fuel we burn to create artwork! I suggest getting a tiny little notepad or sketchbook and a little pen so you never have to be without a means to record stuff.

3. Be informed by your own boring life- Observe

You can do this almost any time, anywhere, all you have to do is look at something and ask yourself “why does it look like that?” Why did the designer make it that way? if I was going to draw my own version what would I do differently. Or why is the light reacting that way on it’s surface, what am I actually seeing? Internal questions like this encourage you to actually understand something in detail so that when you come to create you have an internal knowledge base to fall back on rather than needing to simply copy something like a camera.

4. Inform your artwork: gather some reference

Similar to point no.1: Have a folder on your computer where you save every potential reference picture that may prove useful later. Have sub-folders within that folder to organise all the different reference photos you’ll end up with, one for animals, one for landscapes, people etc…

I should point out here of course that common sense applies when using other people’s photos. Don’t ever directly copy someone else’s photo and try to pass it off as your own original piece, but don’t be scared to study different photos to inform your own work. Credit those who offer their photos for artists to use and ask only for accreditation in return, it’s not such a big deal.

Brain Lift revamped

I’ve just put the finishing touches (again) on my latest effort. It’s a revamped version of an older picture that I simply couldn’t keep my hands off. The idea is too good surely?

If you like it so much you’d like a print of it, say for example you’re a neuroscientist and have a neglected looking empty patch on your lab wall; you can purchase prints of it over on deviantART.