Dino News & Staying Motivated

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mom print
“Let Go and Let God” print, December 2014.


Before I get started on my main blog post, all about motivation (or lack thereof), I just had some great news to share: I’ve completed illustrations on the Tryceratops book! This is probably old news to some, but I haven’t officially posted the announcement on my blog yet. I will keep posting updates, but for now, the book is in the pipeline for release in Spring 2015! Red Heart Books just published “Magdalena’s Picnic,” and has one more book to publish before it’s our turn.

Sample spread from the book: “Sometimes they hear music that makes them want to dance.”


So this morning, I listened to Ira Glass talk to me about creativity (here).  Ira told me something I really needed to hear:

“There’s a gap that for the first couple years you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s trying to be good. It has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game…is still killer. And your taste is good enough that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase [and] quit…Everybody goes through that. The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap…and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.”

I have been struggling since the illustrator’s conference to stay motivated and keep producing work. I even went through eight weeks of “The Artist’s Way” (Julie Cameron), a book designed to unblock artists through a 12-week course. Admittedly, I didn’t finish. I decided to exit the “lecture hall” early, because the course (to me) felt dated and like it was designed for artists that have been knocked down their whole lives by disappointed parents and naysayers. I’ve always had support, in childhood and adulthood, to pursue my creative career, so some of the exercises seemed unnecessary to me (for example, chapters devoted to identifying the “crazy makers,” critics, and “shaming” you’ve experienced and writing pages of affirmations to build up your confidence again).

However, there were plenty of take-aways and affirmations that were like mini-revelations, ones which I’ve written and posted in my studio. One affirmation mirrors Ira Glass, and I find it to be particularly comforting:  “I’ll take care of the quantity, and god will take care of the quality.” I also really love one definition of “god” Julie Cameron gives: “Good Orderly Direction” (which I believe is rooted in AA). To me, these affirmations mean I just have to “show up” to my studio and do the footwork, and in good time, I’ll get there. I’ll “close the gap” and find my work not so disappointing, but tasteful. “Good orderly direction” is the benevolent force of the universe that keeps things on track. This is always how I’ve always viewed “god,” so for me, it works.

And how do I get there? By doing the footwork. Ah, there’s the rub. I’m definitely an assignment-driven woman, and when there’s an MCAD course or a writer asking about the progress on his book, I’ll churn work out. Even gifts for others are hugely motivational: I spent Christmas doing watercolor paintings and prints for my family, and an unexpected Valentine’s Day commission had me at the block again. I can do these projects in 2 or 3 days, because there’s a deadline and somebody is watching me. But with projects like “Monster Mall,” I’m vacillating between watercolor painting or digital painting, and spending time researching how to create the perfect color palette in photoshop rather than just jumping in.

ellie illustration
Mash up of characters from Tomie dePaola’s children’s book “The Knight and the Dragon,” a watercolor painting for my sister, a librarian and bibliophile.


laura print
A Valentine’s Day block print in “Adventure Time” style, commissioned by my other sister.

I suppose we all know the answer. I can hear you already! Put yourself on a deadline so you’re producing a volume of work. Ok, ok!  I’ve done it before — After taking Children’s Book Illustration with Carrie Hartman at MCAD, I created my own syllabus for “Children’s Book Illustration II,” and I stuck to it, mainly. I think I did 8/12 weeks. 🙂    

So, what do you think? Are you a creative who is feeling the gentle nudge of winter to pull you back under the covers and hibernate? Do you need a syllabus? Or some kind of challenge to keep you motivated?  One friend posted on Facebook a few weeks back that he’d be “running 10 miles, writing 10 pages, or some mixture of the two adding up to 10,” every week, Sun-Sat. Sounds good to me. I’m off to write my syllabus.