Paralysis by Analysis, and Why It’s Okay to be Embarrassed With Your Art

April 23, 2016

 

Have you heard the quote by da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned?” The more that artists understand that ’final art’ is not ever really finished but you simply stop making decisions about how the piece progresses, the more they’ll enjoy the process.

In Art College, my teacher would hand out creative briefs for assignments with several due dates. The verbal idea was due one day, sketches due on another day, and then, a date for the final art.

There they are.

The two words feared by every artist I know: final art.  For most of us, it’s nerve-racking enough to tackle an intimidating project but to also call it ‘final art’ is compounding the pressure. I used to hear a little voice ask me, “You call this final? This is the best you can do? It really can’t get any better than this? Calling it final art is just cruel.” Artists are perfectionists. We’re never satisfied.

When I started to understand that by making firm decisions at a thoughtful but consistent pace, I would eventually get to that finished piece on time. However, as a student, I needed to learn to accept that sometimes I’ll think what I made was great. And sometimes I’ll hate it.

When I entered the workplace, I discovered art directors and production managers wanted projects done very fast. Having 3 weeks to do an assignment suddenly seemed like crazy talk. Everything seemed like it was due in less than a week. Sometimes sooner!

Creatives who wrestle with procrastination over starting a project, I urge you to consider what Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIN said about creating products: “If you’re not embarrassed by your first product launch then you waited too long.”

I’m not saying artists should do crappy work. It’s our nature to strive for perfection. Think of the saying “You’re only as good as your last piece” as more like: “If your latest piece sucks, you’ll get another chance tomorrow.”
  
Finishing art is nothing more than making a series of decisions.

When creating artwork, it’s easy to be indecisive in the early stages. I find it productive to make quick, well-informed design decisions as you go. Have faith that the sum total of these decisions will result in a successful piece. Accept that often times it’s a roll of the dice. That’s the nature of art. It’s subjective. It will depend on your client’s or audience’s personal tastes. Learn to enjoy the process. Consider it an adrenaline rush. But remember, clients hire you because they like what you’ve done in the past, so have faith in your track record.

Fargo Book Cover - Demo

One of the assignments in my upcoming hand-lettering online course is designed to get people comfortable working at a very fast pace. Working fast is good practice. Just like doing sprints is good physical training for an athlete to perform well on game day, this exercise is designed to condition your skills for peak performance on a real commission.

The assignment is to adapt a favorite TV series to a book jacket in an appropriate hand-lettered style. I ask that the students pick a show they’re familiar with and have an intimate understanding of the story and characters, so they can better explain the design choices. The deadline is 24 hrs. Size 7.25 x 10.75

Then there's a twist. After they turn it in, we do a group critique on how it could be better and they have another week. The point is to see what you can do in a very short time frame. Sometimes the first pass is better than the revised.

I’ll do one here as a demonstration. I’m starting at 8pm.

Decision #1: I chose Fargo. It’s easy to get hung up at this stage because there are so many high-quality shows on cable. Here’s what was on my list: Last Man On Earth, Crazy X-Girlfriend, Game of Thrones, Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, and House of Cards.

I’ve got 20 hrs left. Plenty of time.

Decision #2: I knew I wanted to make the letters represent an object from the show. I thought of using textures from the character’s police wardrobe. Guns and violence are abundant in this story. Snow is almost always present and plays a big role. There is a state cop vs. county cop visual dynamic that I could potentially use. There is loads of blood, and even a UFO. There is no shortage of visual eye candy with this show’s creator, Noah Hawley. Hmmmm. I’ll get some shut-eye to firm up a decision.

The next morning, I realize  sleep took up a lot of my schedule. But sleeping is important to the creative process. I believe a lot of our creative decisions are being made while we sleep.  

13 hrs remaining.


I thought about the butcher character and how much he and his wife have to do with the plot, but I decided to use the Gerhardt family property as a location. There are specific tall, skinny trees that are in almost every exterior shot. A lot of dramatic stuff happens in the wood around the Gerhardt cabin. At this point, I’m excited and confident the piece will be amazing. I could be wrong. Trees? Really? Aww, let’s go for it. Trees it is.

Decision #3: What style of typeface? Serif, sans serif, script or not? I thought about going with script because of the juxtaposition, but sans serif would be the obvious choice for depicting these kinds of trees. Time to decide. I’ll go with sans serif. Am I right? We’ll see. I’m not sure. Remember, making art is like gambling.

Decision #4: I haven’t made a single sketch yet. Gotta decide on limited color, line, and texture. I need to collect the right visual reference. A lot of micro-decisions are made here so it’s better to jump in and hit the white page with my pen. But I’m hungry. Never work on an empty stomach. I’ve got to get some lunch. It’s noon. Nobody is working right now anyway. Yeah, let’s get some lunch. The restaurant across the street makes a mean quesadilla.

Decision #5: After lunch I get my reference. Let’s do this!

 

6 hrs left.


As I was in knee deep in the execution stage, I had a completely different idea. I wanted to draw the word FARGO in the middle of a steak as if it were the white grizzle. I knew I should have gone with the butcher idea!! But it was too late and I had to push through for the sake of this experiment. At least I have the other idea if I want to revisit the assignment at a later date.

Below is my thumbnail sketch and the final art.

Your turn! I’d love to see what you come up with. Send me your results and let’s discuss!

 

 

 

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