Why an artist needs a sledgehammer

A Slow Dream - digital illustration by Celandine - detail

A Slow Dream – digital illustration by Celandine – detail

I don’t know about you, but my to-do list is getting longer and longer.

It’s not just that I keep coming up with new things to put on it, it’s that I don’t manage to complete all the things that are already sitting there.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about why this happens. The tasks on my list are not gargantuan or unfathomable. It’s not ‘Build rocket’, ‘Fly to Mars’, ‘Find alien life’, ‘Win Nobel prize’. It’s pretty common stuff. ‘Finish new artwork’. ‘Decide on website layout’. ‘Update Behance profile’. These shouldn’t be impossible to achieve. Why do I keep shuffling them around instead of ticking them off the list?

I came up with a couple of reasons.

One – I suck at saying ‘no’ to things. Everything sounds like a good idea. ‘How about I make an animated GIF showing my work process on this piece? That will be a fun addition to its Behance project page!’ Sure, it’s fun to make process GIFs; it’s fun to look at them too. Except that sucker takes about half an hour to make. I could have probably spent that half hour more effectively.

Here, you be the judge.

A Slow Dream by Celandine - process GIF

A Slow Dream by Celandine – process GIF

Two – I hide from the tough tasks. Earlier this year I bought the domain name celandinedesign.com, with the intention of setting up a professional-looking website. I wasn’t careful when choosing my first domain registrar, and by the time I realized their terms sucked I was trapped in Customer Service Hell. Switching registrars turned out to be a two-month process, with a lot of e-mail writing, waiting, chat helpline contacting, more waiting, fiddling with domain settings, and then even more bloody waiting. Once it was done I felt so drained by the process that I then proceeded to completely ignore my new baby website and new domain name. Why? The task of actually deciding what pieces to upload, in what exact layout, felt insurmountable. A new website is effectively a blank page – you have to make every – single – decision, from heading font size to page layouts to image format to navigation menu item order, and all of these have to somehow represent your brand in a consistent and professional way.

Obviously the answer is to hide under the carpet.

I finally came out of hiding tonight, made some progress, and I’m hoping to have a new site to share with everyone in a few more weeks. If it doesn’t show up by then, feel free to peek under the carpet again and try to shoo me out with a broomstick.

Three – So many things are booooring. Anyone who has ever uploaded artwork to Print on Demand sites like Society 6 or Redbubble knows the infinite tedium of formatting artwork to fit the various product requirements. I know that regular updating is the key to success on PoD sites, because it keeps you visible and gives the people who follow you there something new to be excited about. But that doesn’t make it any less boooooooring. Sorting out old files and clearing up disk space when you start to run out is superbly boring. Keeping resource files in order and making sure your downloads folder isn’t a giant Forest of Mystery Downloads is exceptionally and thoroughly boring. It’s also crucial if you ever intend to use any of the resources you’re collecting. I’m sure there are a couple of new species of digital life forming primitive civilizations in the depths of my downloads folder.

Four – I’m under the illusion that my current busy schedule is somehow a temporary thing, and new time slots will become available in the future. This is the pinnacle of naïveté. Natural sciences teach us that obligations, like gas, expand to take up all available space. Time will not spontaneously become available. If you want to insert something new into your schedule, you have to bludgeon it in there with a sledgehammer. If you think the new thing is worth it, just pick the tiniest sliver of free time and start using it to do the new thing. Then miraculously you’ll find other things moving aside a little to accommodate the new addition. It’s literally the only way I’ve ever discovered of finding time for something new I want to try.

What stops you from completing the items on your to-do list? What helps you get stuff done? Let me know in the comments! 

If you’d like to learn more about my creative process on the piece from the GIF, sign up for my cute monthly newsletter! Tomorrow I’ll be publishing the final third chapter of a detailed process tutorial explaining step by step all the work that went into it. It won’t be posted anywhere else, so if you’re interested, this is your chance 🙂 I’ll include links to the previous two chapters too. 


11 thoughts on “Why an artist needs a sledgehammer

  1. Hee, that sounds familiar! Especially the illusion that there will be more time – tomorrow, next week, next month…

    My newest thing that is working for the moment is to decide what I actually really want to do and really need to do. Adjusting goals so that you can take a bit longer reaching them helps. Opening up time to go for a walk, to play with the kids, to sit down for an evening with friends and family have all turned into essential items on my list, instead of being the things that get brushed aside. And then fulfilling the responsibilities of Business 1 (‘the day job’) are kept, as far as possible, within school hours (yeah, they leak into evenings and weekends now and then, but now and then is fine – all the time isn’t).

    And then evenings, weekends and early mornings can be devoted to design time. There’s nowhere near as much of it as I want there to be, which means I have stepped back from competitions (I may do one now and then, if it really really calls out to me, or has some totally and utterly amazing prize; otherwise I ignore them), course/challenge assignments that don’t call out to me, POD sites (for the moment). And I’m concentrating on (1) a specific amount of studio work (where at all possible, picking the briefs/calls for art/commissions that call out to me, rather than trying to do every single one) and (2) personal work – ensuring I devote at least one evening to personal work a week, is essential for peace of mind, frankly.

    So, really, for me it’s about cutting the inessential from my to do list – and to do that I had to dig deep to work out what was essential to me. It’s going to be different for everyone.

    • Tasha, cutting the inessential is EXACTLY what it is. I still occasionally fall into the trap of thinking I can do ‘just this one more thing, and just that other one’, and then I realize that yes, I can, at the expense of other things that I wanted to do more. It’s crucial to learn to say no to things you don’t want all that much – both to yourself and to others. It’s arguable which is harder to do.

  2. I waited for that ‘ tomorrow’ for years , but it never came . Though I read and heard thousands of times that, ‘tomorrow never comes’ , I never realised the importance of these golden words . The day I realised , it was too late . I had already wasted years . Even my to do list is so long and seems unattain able . Your fourth point has touched my heart and inspired me again ! Thanks for sharing ! ❤

    • Absolutely – tomorrow never comes. It’s always today, with always the same ton of overwhelming obligations, until you start to take control of it and consciously choose to discard some things and embrace others. But one thing I disagree with – it’s definitely not too late!!! Instead of thinking ‘Oh, what I could have accomplished if I had drawn every day for the last ten years’, think ‘Oh what I could accomplish if, starting today, I draw every day for the next ten years!’ 😀 The answer is, pretty much anything you set your heart on.

  3. Thanks for an interesting article. I would love to follow your classes to learn more about formatting. I just joined RB and uploaded 3 paintings but they just look weird on the products!! I certainly did something wrong. If you could check my page in RB (Yvensonsart) and tell me what was wrong I would be grateful all my life. I promise :))

    Please and thanks!

    Good luck with finding time and thanks for those gorgeous flowers. (Faceb: “Yvenson Florestal Fine Art” and/or “Yvenson Florestal Art” ). I just liked your page :))


    • Dear Yvenson, thanks for the compliments 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the article. Yep, I can see right away what’s wrong – the size of the images you uploaded is too small to allow the images to be printed on the products large enough to cover their surface, while maintaining satisfactory print quality. It’s tricky to understand sizing with digital art. There are two types of dimensions – one is the physical measures we’re used to (cm or inches) and then there is the so called ‘DPI’ (Dots Per Inch), which is basically the ‘density’ or quality of the work. Monitors are suited to working with pixels and a piece set at 72 dpi (meaning that one inch of artwork is composed of 72 individual pixels) shows up looking great on your computer screen. But printing requires a much greater file density/ quality, so usually files made for printing – on paper or products – are set to 300 DPI. What you need to do is scan your artwork into the computer at a higher resolution (set the scanner to 300 or even 600 dpi if it can handle it), and upload a relatively large version to Redbubble. It will work much better. Let me know if anything goes wrong again and I can try to help further.

  4. Dear Lidija,

    Many thanks (and I mean it:))) taking the time to write to me and thanks for liking my landscape painting in FB. You gave me some real useful information ❤

    I will definitely do as you suggest. I don´t know if all the scanners do this kind of job or if I need a special one but I will try as soon as possible. For the moment I am operated in my foot 😦 so I can´t move much but this will be one of my priorities. It will be a graet pleaure to see the result <3. And ofcourse i will let you know 🙂

    Do more or less all the scanners do this kind of high dpi scan (300 or even 600 dpi) or should I go to a special print shop for this?

    Thanks again!!!

    And have a wonderful day!


    • Any normal scanner should be able to do it, I don’t even have a scanner at home so I use my office scanner, it’s the cheapest kind and it works fine. You’ll just have to find the right settings to set the DPI. Let me know how you get on!

  5. Oh boy.. I think lately a sledgehammer wouldn’t be enough (I might need to go find Thor’s hammer).
    My to do list are known to be very, very long, and like you, when I cross off one I already have more two or three to add. I might suffer from your number four and sometimes it ends up messing all my schedules and goals for a week, so what I try to do now is prioritize things on my list and when I’m feeling less motivated I tackle all the little things that I know I will be able to finish in a day.
    Distraction is also a problem. Sometimes I find myself wanting to take a peek at interest, for example, and what was supposed to be five minutes it turns into half an hour, so lately it’s me talking to myself alone saying “inner strength! INNER STRENGTH! Focus!” and I just shut down all internet windows and keep working ahah.

    • hahaahha 🙂 I’m with you on the ‘focus’ part, although it’s a battle I lose sometimes. But letting your mind roam around is good sometimes because in the background you may be processing some design-related things and once you come back to the piece you find a new perspective, and new energy.

      Mjolnir would certainly come in handy!! 😀 I can think of a few other tasks it could also help me with around the house.

      Yeah I also have days when I start from the toughest thing on the list and other days when I can only handle the little ones. That’s ok too. As long as things are getting done, and nothing is being forgotten, I’d say all is well. Perhaps sometimes we expect an unrealistic pace of ourselves.

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