Saturday, May 28, 2016

Twenty–Five Tips For Preserving Your Joy In The Studio


Equine realism is a tough taskmaster, isn't it? It sets imposing bars to jump, and we're obliged to leap over them. It's fraught with mistakes, frustration, trepidation, and perhaps even disillusionment as we run our fastest to clear those hurdles. That said, however, it's also full of excitement, satisfaction, anticipation, gumption, and triumph! And it can be filled with joy. A lot of it.

So how do we minimize the negative and amplify the positive, especially when it seems we have so much stacked against us? This discussion will explore twenty–five ways to do just that, tactics that preserve our happiness and push the bad stuff into the background. We want to protect and cultivate such things because they encourage us to reach farther with confidence and moxy, taking our work to new heights of accomplishment.

Brass Tacks Of Feeling Better About It All

Everyone approaches their art differently just as everyone interprets enjoyment differently, too. A crazy challenge may be a thrill for one artist while it's an unpleasant obstacle for another. We each have our own thresholds, and that's fine. Yet these ideas can apply to near everyone, in every situation, because they're so basic. And because they're so fundamental, they have the potential to change our way of thinking about our art altogether.

So let's go!

Make each piece an exploration rather than a means to an end. When we turn our work into that of discovery, we can surprise ourselves in what we can do. Seek to glean new insights from research and reference photos, strive to learn new techniques and ideas, think about turning each piece into a safari of new interpretations of anatomy and pigment. Turning each new project into a learning experience rather than "this has to be perfect or I'm a failure" serves to foster our ability to achieve more far better. So try it. As a friend wisely said, "Each piece is practice for the next."  

Stop beating yourself over the head with what you think you can't do and start focusing on what you can. Identify and amplify the positive points of your work. Think about why they're your strong points, and how they got that way. Valuable insights into your growth lie within your positives, so learn from them. We also start to adopt a more positive, proactive attitude of our work in response because we aren't so focused on the negatives. Sure—it's important to amend our problem areas, but don't allow them to overwhelm you. Remember you have talent!

Adopt a proactive attitude. When we don't take up the reins of our own development, we feel helpless, frustrated, and lost. We're at the whim of what we don't know rather than what we do. Yet when we take charge—when we dive into research, experimentation, and dedication—we become empowered. We find that anatomy and biomechanics aren't so hard. We learn that color genetics is learnable and we can apply them effectively in pigment. We discover the points that make for quality workmanship are attainable. We just have to change our perspective, change the way we approach such topics. When we have a "can do" attitude, everything is within our grasp. And when we learn the facts for ourselves, we absorb them much better and can apply them to our work far more effectively. 

Accept that you'll make mistakes. Truth be told, our brains are wired to learn from mistakes. That's how we improve and grow. If we got everything right from the get–go, sure, that would be nice, but we wouldn't have learned anything. We wouldn't have earned anything. Things would become boring rather quickly, wouldn't they? Mistakes really are our partner in really learning to grasp the issues at play when we sculpt or paint a realistic equine piece. They lead to deeper understandings being our doorway to true mastery of the subject, so embrace them. Learn to not make them again, and expect to make new mistakes. Our learning stacks and stacks, and this is exactly how we improve.

Stop comparing your work to the work of other artists. It's easy to fall into this trap, and it's usually one that heaps on the discouragement. Instead, become competitive with yourself. Only you know how you process information best, and only you know how to best track your development, especially when you get proactive about it. The thing is, the world out there is full of misinformation and misinterpretations that can sidetrack you. And many people who seem like they know their stuff really don't. Don't let the noise distract you. Get on with the business of minding your own work and developing ways to pinpoint your progress. When we stop trying to be like someone else we learn to become more like ourselves, and that lends originality and our true "voice" to our work. In turn, that promotes the diversity and depth of our arts, and that's always a good thing! Besides, you'll feel much better about your progress when you set your own goals and achieve them in your own time. 

Adopt a cheerful, positive attitude. When we project a persona of happiness, optimism, and excitement, we attract likeminded folks into our fold. This creates a positive feedback loop that feeds our thrill even more. Such people are often proactive themselves and full of useful information they're all too happy to share, too, and that definitely has its perks! Likewise when we share our own information, we're compelled to research and hone our ideas even more, and all that comes back to inform our work. "Birds of a feather flock together" is absolutely true. Become part of the crowds that move us all forward with a chipper smile and a effervescent twinkle in their eye. If you join enthusiastic people, you become more enthusiastic yourself, and that definitely has too many positives to list!

Learn how to objectively evaluate your work. Learn detachment. When we can pull our emotions out of our own self–critiques, we gain a measure of composure that helps us to pick apart our work with greater clarity and precision. We also dampen the negative reflex feelings we get when we find fault in our work and thus help to thwart discouragement. The truth is that learning how to sculpt or paint more realistically is really about identifying and amending our blindspots, and the thing is: this is a fun process! It's about discovery and surprise! When our brain pings on something it didn't see before, it's exciting! Our brain can become addicted to these pings, and that's a wonderful thing! It also gives us greater anticipation of our next piece, and proves to ourselves that we're capable.

Keep busy. Don't let projects languish. When we let ideas sit and wither, that only works to pile on the sense of being overwhelmed and intimidated. We can get stuck in a cycle that keeps us afraid of even completing the piece at all. And it's okay to have several projects going at once, just think about finishing what you start. Finishing a piece helps to put a period at the end of that chapter and we learn and grow as a result. If we never finish the piece, but keep fiddling with it, all we've ever done and learned from is that one piece, right? What about all the other positions, breeds, and narratives? Each piece has something new to teach us, so tap into that by completing it and then moving on. Determining when we're finished with a piece is also a critical skill to master—it's something that we learn and hone over the years. And unless we finish what we start, we never develop that necessary ability, do we? Stretching towards the finish line is important—yes—but being able to say "I'm done" is equally so.

Learn to discern between consecutive criticism and hate speech. The world is full of opinions, and not all of them are created equal. In fact, a goodly chunk is outright nonsense. And not everyone is out for our best interests. We need to pinpoint who's wrong and who's right, or rather who has a kernel of truth to their comments and who's just blowing hot air. This is where proactive research and detachment come in handy because we can't allow a knee–jerk reaction impede the absorption of a potentially helpful insight. Learning to see our work through different eyes can really help our work become better, but only if we're willing to listen and pick through the morass.

Find new ways to express the equine. The model horse market can become fixated on representational depictions of the equine as it strives to capture archetypes and examples of ideal horses. But the horseworld is full of far more than that, and the equine experience is far richer and more diverse. Always trying to embody "the best" can be challenging—yes—but it can also be boring. But when we embrace the whole spectrum of possibilities, our potential has just exploded exponentially! We start to look for character of structure and oddities of color as we begin to value each individual on his or her own terms rather than our own. We accept that each horse is different—just like us—and that makes our body of work far more honest and interesting. It also keeps us passionate about our art since we've begun to appreciate this animal on much deeper levels. It's exciting to gain a new window through which to perceive this noble animal because it inspires us to welcome whole new interpretations that spice up our repertoire. 

Learn how to defend your work. There will come times when we have to bolster the validity of our work, and being able to do so professionally and cooly is far more important than simply proving ourselves right. We avoid the hot emotions that lead to shrillness and a loss of composure, and that allows us to not have any regrets from a damaged public image, or disappointment in ourselves. We also lend credit to our own work since we can rest on biological facts rather than fervent emotion or mere opinion to prove our point. When we can back our claim with solid evidence rather than some sentiment, we've not only fostered an atmosphere of professionalism, but we've gained greater authority, and that's always a positive thing.

Start a blog or journal your development. Blogging about your practices, accomplishments, and struggles in your studio is a great way to reaffirm your endeavors. When we take the time to write about what we're doing, we learn to accept our challenges and bear hug our achievements in a positive way—one that shares and teaches. This adds depth and new meaning to our journey because it's no longer just about our experience. We also lend value to our creations when people can see all the work that goes into our artistry, and all the hiccups we had to overcome creating it. When we share ourselves with the world, we also humanize ourselves and that's a positive thing when we're up against the intimidation factor of "The Artist."

Likewise, starting a journal about our journey has a similar effect. It lends perspective when we record our undertakings, and when we can go back and read earlier entries to see that we're indeed making progress. Remembering that we're making baby–steps teaches us that while our progress may seem invisible in the short run, we're making huge leaps when we view it in the long run. It also makes for a lovely record of our growth for posterity, something that may be of interest to our children or a collector later in life.

Share what you know. Becoming a teacher is far more beneficial for you than it is for those learning from you! In order to teach, you really have to know your nuts, and that compels you to dive into research, application, and study even more, which comes back to improve your own portfolio. It helps to solidify your own convictions and ideas, and that begins to show in your work, too. Plus, by bringing others into our knowledge base, we create enthusiastic positive energy, and that spurs us to stretch further while it inspires others to share what they know, creating another positive feedback loop. So write books, articles, blog posts, tape videos, and do demos, host workshops and classes, and encourage and support beginners. Be that beacon, that depository of information that helps others achieve their potential. You'll be better for it, as will the rest of us!

Go on regular field trips. Working in the studio is a solitary experience, and it's easy to become separated from our subject as a result. So when we can reintroduce ourselves to the animal that can't help but to reinvigorate our creative juices! So get out there and be with horses! Remember their quirkiness, their beauty, their aroma, their sounds, and their slick, smooth coats and velvety muzzles. The horse is truly the biggest positive influence in our lives, with his big heart and gracious nature, so nuzzle your face into his neck. Truly, there's no more healing thing for us than a horse, so let him comfort you, and lead you to new ideas for your work.

Find your muse. Sure—we sculpt realistic horses so obviously the animal is our muse. But he may not be the only one! Perhaps we're also inspired by books, movies, music, museums, nature, or what have you. The well of our creativity is a mysterious thing, so find those things that keep it spilling over and indulge them. Inspiration comes in many forms, from many sources, so don't narrow your source to just one. Keep your inspirational well brimming with all its potentiality, and you'll find yourself at no shortage of ideas. 

Exercise. Creating our art is typically a stationary endeavor. We have to sit or stand for long periods to do what we do. But our brain is rejuvenated by getting our blood pumping and getting oxygenated. So go out for a walk. Go for a bike ride. Maybe even jog a couple of miles. Go riding. Stretch. Do some yoga. Get some time in the sun. Get your breath puffing and your muscles warmed up. This kind of stimulation only works to help us buckle down as well as inspire good time management skills and healthy habits.

Eat right and stay hydrated. Our art depends on our health; otherwise we get sick and studio work can grind to a halt. Or if we slog through it despite feeling unwell, we won't be very happy doing it, will we? And much of our health has to do what we shovel into our mouths as bad eating habits can drag us down, and not drinking enough pure water can make us feel sluggish and sick. So attend to your health! We want you to be as creative as you can, for as long as you can so fuel your creativity with a healthy diet.

Get plenty of sleep. Likewise, science is proving that getting enough quality sleep is an underpinning of our wellbeing. So get it! No amount of coffee is going to compensate for a lack of quality sleep. And much of our mastery depends on quality sleep as our memory processes information while we slumber. This is why we often gain better insights and understandings after a good rest. Indeed, the adage, "sleep on it" is truer than we might think! And when we sleep well, our minds stay sharp, our energy levels stay up, and our enthusiasm stays charged, things that definitely contribute to a happier experience in the studio.

Open up the studio for some fresh air. Letting in the sounds, smells, and sensations of nature just outside our walls can go far in making our studio time more enjoyable. Perhaps a nice breeze wafts through to caress our cheek, bringing in the aroma of flowers or pine trees to tantalize our senses. Indeed, our studios can become stuffy or full of chemical fumes, and fresh air renews our senses as well as our attention and emotional responses. It also causes us to pause and "smell the roses." And it's just darned pleasant to boot. Creating art is a tactile, sensory experience, so don't overlook what an open window and a nice day can do! 

Automate tedious tasks. Running our own art business is loaded with paperwork and busy work, and for an artist who'd rather be creating, such things can cause eye rolls and procrastination. So find ways to take the tedium out of it such as automating or delegating work where you can. Many bookkeeping programs can be run on your computer, and even do the shuttling of bills into your different itemized categories as well as the math automatically (such as with Quickbooks Online®). Hire out tax form completion and bookkeeping to professionals, and hire an agent to take care of advertising and making inroads into new connections and opportunities for your work. Rethink payment options to remove excess record keeping and policing of customers, like terminating time payments or deposits. Adopt the philosophy, "If it's not ready to ship, it's not ready to sell." Anywhere you can KISS, do it. All it means is more time for your creativity!

Explore different interpretations of the equine. Equine realism is a tight focus to work in, especially for the creative mind full of ideas and the desire to express in more forms. So don't limit it! Explore your creativity outside of equine realism with full gusto! Perhaps abstract, impressionistic, or highly stylized work also entices you, so dive in! You can apply what you already know to it, and, interestingly, these excursions come back to inform your realistic work, too. Venturing into other interpretations makes your portfolio fresh and varied as well, and keeps your collectors interested and curious to boot. It's fun, too. And being able to express other interpretations demonstrates true mastery of the equine form, and that can validate your talents.

Visit art museums and go on studio tours. Similarly, it's easy to develop a myopic view of art, sequestered away in our studios, diligently creating equine realism time and again. But there's lots more to art than that! Getting ourselves into art museums refreshes our senses by reminding us of different art out there. Perhaps a museum is hosting a special focus on an artist, time period, or type of work. Maybe they're showcasing a specific subject or method. Whatever it is, visiting art museums keeps our minds expanded and reaffirms our own dedication to our chosen art form.

On that note, if your area offers a studio tour circuit, go! It's a blast to visit the studios of other artists, learning from their setups and processes, and enjoying their work. Meeting them, chatting and learning commonalities, reaffirms your own dedication to your craft. And it's a lot of fun!

Work in more than one form or media. Typically our ability to sculpt realistic equines has more applications than simply full–body work. Bust, bas–relief, mosaic, plaques, medallion work, tiles, and various giftware items can be an effective additional expression of our talents. This offers more options for our collectors, and often at more affordable prices, and it piques our interest with all the diversity they promise. They also offer new challenges with fresh design ideas, narratives, and motifs, and that definitely adds fun and novelty into our creative cookings.

On that note, explore different media, too. Not everything has to be in resin or ceramic. We can switch between the two, or do both with many of our works. There's also bronze and glasswork at our fingertips, so think about those as well. And if we understand the hierarchy of media, we may be opening our work to conventional art shows, adding a whole new layer of potential with our work. Venturing into venues other than equine collectibles is exciting and completely within your means to explore. 

Welcome chaos. Creativity is messy and often unpredictable, going in all manner of pathways. So don't try to fight itembrace it! Chaos is your friend. If a particular piece is giving you trouble then, switch to another one rather than getting into a creative fight and disrupting your creative groove. In fact, it's typical for the creative mind to have many projects going on at once so feed that energy!

Our learning curve isn't a straight line either, but full of stops and starts, loops, and even careening sideways. There's no neat progression. So don't be too married to your project objectives, but keep them fluid and flexible. While you might not have learned exactly what you wanted to on a certain piece, you probably learned something else valuable so appreciate that without getting hung up on "but I didn't…"

This also means don't be married to a certain way your piece was "supposed" to turn out. Haven't we all experienced the piece telling us what it wanted, rather than what we wanted? And it turns out the better for it, doesn't it? Creativity has its own prerogatives, so accept them with a happy heart and simply immerse yourself in being creative.

Remember why you do what you do. Above all, keeping that flame burning hot in your belly is the best way to keep you enthused and exploring. You love horses, and that inspiration runs deep in your gut. It gets you into the studio, creative, and anxious to get to work. It compels you to research and study. It inspires you to reach for more and stretch beyond what you think capable. He connects you to other artists and to collectors with a shared devotion. And he reminds you that you're in this because it's fun and satisfying. Creating art is a joyful experience, and being able to express this majestic animal is an honor, an adventure, and a pleasure! Remember all our work really is about revering him, and that alone can keep us happy and eager.


When we first start with our art, everything is fresh and new. We have such big ideas and big dreams! Then as we work over the years, perhaps some of that fizzles as we become jaded and maybe a little cynical. Indulge this enough and our sense of wonder can erode as we give in to more negative or ambivalent emotions. This is a dangerous place to be for an artist working in equine realism. We can't forget that we work in a tightly–focused art form with fixed boundaries and high demands. There isn't a whole lot of room for creative excursions so we have to generate our own curiosity and zeal. If we don't, we can sink even lower into disenchantment and perhaps even boredom. And unless we bolster the energy needed to meet its high standards, our work will begin to slide as we lose our ability to care enough.

We want to avoid that. We want to maintain our enthusiasm and sense of awe and exploration to keep us in that constant "learner" mindset, that frame of mind where everything is unique, unfamiliar, and worthy of our zeal. We want to have the spirit to stretch and stretch and stretch until we think our talents will burst, and then we unexpectedly surprise ourselves with what we've accomplished. We need that sense of astonishment in ourselves to prompt us ever forward with fervor and dedication. We crave that lightbulb moment when clarity bursts into our process and we realize we've made a big leap forwards, renewing our devotion to this art form all over again. Most of all, we do best with that sense of elation in our efforts as each stroke of the tool or paintbrush fulfills a heartfelt need to create and express.  

Joy shouldn't be drained out of our creativity. Indeed, it's where our creativity derives! Joy spawns it, fuels it, and carries us over the rough spots to new heights of success. Take joy out of the equation, and everything else collapses, doesn't it? Therefore we should act in ways that preserve and amplify our joy if we wish to maintain a satisfying studio experience. Doing so isn't hard, in fact, it's a lot of fun! Indeed, all these ideas lead to discovery, intensifying of interest, and a reminder of what's really important in our art shenanigans. We become more engaged in everything we do, and that amplifies the sense of a "job well done" at the end of the day as we lay our head on our pillow at night, anticipating all the good stuff all over again tomorrow. This is true contentment in our creative appetites, one that will feed our passions indefinitely and keep us hungry for more.  

But it can take work at times. Sometimes feeding our joy is something we have to consciously do because we all experience its ebbs and flows. It comes to us in different degrees and in different ways with each piece, and learning how to keep it roaring and blazing despite this is as much of our process as technique. On one hand, feeding our joy is partially about working, staying productive, something essential for a working artist. It's also about staying engaged, keeping our passion attuned to our piece, and our interest level up. 

But distilled down, joy is really about love—the love of what we do, how we do it, and why. In a sense, we need to fall in love with each piece we work on to soak in that heady brew of abandon and release. We need to go to bed at night dreaming about the piece then waking up the next morning anxious to get back at it again. Then time spent immersed in our art is a kind of euphoria, a sweet addiction fulfilled. When we've hit this sweet spot, we're doing it right, we have our joy meter topping out and burying the needle!

Learn to do this naturally and unconsciously and it's a sure bet our time in our studio will be full of elation. Our dedication will be renewed each morning and reaffirmed each night. Our art will flow from us, as natural as breathing, and the hiccups we experience will simply be learning experiences rather than insurmountable disasters. Each accomplishment will be like fireworks, and each discovery will be more magical than even the best conjurer can muster. As it should be. This is where we need to be when we work. And even if we aren't there right now, or feel ourselves sliding, we can still work to attain it again. Sometimes our joy needs a little help to usher forth because—hey—we all have bad days. Even bad months. So embrace and protect your sense of joy in your studio how ever you can. It's as much a part of you and your work as your ability to hold a sculpting tool or paintbrush. 

Joy to an artist is like a heartbeat—steady, nourishing, life–giving, and pumping strong. Give it the room and means it needs to flow steady through you and into your art, and in return it'll give a sense of spiritual completion as you work, a feeling that spills out into the rest of your life. Learn to maintain this flow, and we live our lives in a state of perpetual delight, creating yet another positive feedback loop for our art work. So do yourself a favor: attend to your joy in your studio. Don't regard it as a passive component to your work, but an integral and basic one, one that lies at the very foundation of all your efforts. Give it its due attention and it'll reward you with magic, enthusiasm, serenity, satisfaction, and an eagerness for more more more! And for an artist, what's more joyful than that?   

So until next time…jumpstart your joy!

"There is no greater joy than that of feeling oneself a creator. The triumph of life is expressed by creation."
~ Henri Bergson

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