So there’s a lot to unpack here. There’s a lot to talk about. I hate lists and I hate tip videos/blogs/shit like this, yet here we are. I’m trying to make a thing, so let’s go. Youtube is awash in “SHOP HACKS” “LIFE HACKS”, there’s an entire channel devoted to things you can do with PVC pipe. There’s one by woodworklife that says, “Don’t be a jerk.” Yeah, ok, that’s pretty good, but not necessarily an original perspective. There’s tons of, dare I say, ENTIRELY TOO MUCH OF, Adam Savage and the geeks at Tested gushing over all kinds of tech and first order of retrieval. The most important things I think Adam has ever said were at a conference for atheists, “drawers are where things go to die,” and “when you’re weathering something think about where it will have been touched or bumped, hide your crimes, and make it look good.” Oh and also, “I love rivets.”
Jimmy Diresta has some pretty original takes on things, and if you’re at all familiar with what he does, some of what I have to say might not seem that revelatory. If you’re not familiar with what he does, for fucks sake, get on the train. There’s another channel called AvE, which can be hit or miss but his video on three rules for troubleshooting is FANTASTIC. There’s a series called “Bits” by Iliketomakestuff, that is really informative for the uninitiated on a number of topics, and he is the champion generalist. I don’t know if you can tell, but I demand a lot of input and process it and remember it and I want to share it with people. While we’re at it, three podcasts I swear by are: Making It (more of Diresta and Bob from Iliketomakestuff,) The Blindboy Podcast, (a flavor all it own, but the moments of insight are enthralling,) and Joe Rogan. Just kidding fuck that guy. He is, to quote a friend, “Alex Jones for that guy who smoked DMT once.” But really, WTF with Marc Maron can be heavy but is majestically insightful and he talks a lot about quitting drinking and stuff.
But back to the point of this. Here’s maybe 10 tips for trying to get your studio sorted out, to get your creativity flowing, and to keep you in the room where you make stuff.
Preface to the tips:
What have we been doing up to now, if this is the preface? Whatever. Here goes.
Figure out what stops you. Figure out what you need. Observe your own behavior. If a thing continues to go wrong, or represents an annoying lack of infrastructure, then fix it. If you trip over something, move it, give it a place, BUILD it a place. If a thing will enable you to do more things, invest in it. If a thing will force you to learn how to use it an more things, invest in it, commit to it. Be on a quest to figure stuff out. Get motivated to move and carry on my wayward son, ya know?
11 studio tips
1. If you like or use a thing a lot, have at least two on hand. I have dozens of the same pens and pencils. I have spare blades, extra sand paper, extra spray paint, super cheap brushes, markers, sharpies all kinds of stuff. I don’t want to be stopped if I’m working and I’m flowing. If a pencil breaks or I drop it or put it down and lose track of it, I’m not held up. This may draw a spurious comparison to my, “Don’t buy stuff until you need it” thing from the art school post, but if you’re doing a thing and moving forward, and you know what you like, it’s good to have back ups because things WILL go wrong. I have multiple drills for multiples purposes, and sometimes I use all three in a row. I don’t have to change bits. I don’t have to change types. I set out on a path, and I can chew through tasks when I need to. Some people love the shit out of shoes, I love .07mm Uniball pens. Deal with it.
2. Just because you don’t use it all the time, doesn’t mean you’ll never need it again. Find ways to stay sharp across multiple platforms, in multiple materials, with multiple machines and processes. It’ll keep you plastic, and get the mental muscles churning in a good way.
3. No matter how much you plan, things will not work out. Sometimes. The sculpture will slip off its armature, your mold will break. Things will break, tear, soak, and sometimes a 32sqft painting falls on a table saw rail and gets a giant hole in it. These are examples of things that have happened in my studio. Suck it up. Have your moment, freak out for a second, then start working on a solution. We’re problem solvers. Let’s solve it. There’s a great moment in One Punch Man where one of the heroes (Genos) is trying to stop a giant meteor from destroying the city, and he shoots a ton of fire at it to no effect. He uses up all his juice in his one go and nothing happens. He doesn’t know what to do next, except apply power, ponders self-destructing, and gives up.
When you’re a hammer everything looks like a nail, right? An older, wiser hero nearby, his name is Bang, says, “When your back is against the wall, the best thing to do is bumble through. The result will be the same.” HOLY CRAP, THANKS, BANG. If a situation seems impossible within your knowledge or experience, the result will be same, do what you can with what you’ve got, try stuff, and see what happens. If you fail, then great, keep trying to figure it out, look for a solution. The only thing that truly makes an obstacle insurmountable is giving up. I mean, Saitama then punches the meteor once, splits it in half and prevents total destruction of the city. The two halves still destroy a huge chunk of the city, and he sort of half-asses it, but total annihilation is averted. Just go watch One Punch Man (IT IS SO GOOD) and covers a lot of ground about training, self-worth, and the importance of feeling excitement about what you’re doing - struggles are good.
4. Figure yourself out. If you notice while you’re working on something that a cart or a shelf or an organizational system would make what you’re doing easier, finish the thing you’re doing then start planning to not have to deal with this hold up again later. I briefly mentioned this in the preface, but this is all about noticing your own behavior, and assessing your tendencies. If you have a tendency that helps you, then use it. If it gets in your way, or interferes, or goes against a fundamental principle of what you’re trying to accomplish or process you’re following, then maybe stop? My drawing classes come to mind a lot with this example. You’ll learn a lot about yourself, your focus, your interests, and how your day to day profession or thinking affects the kind of work you do. Trained or practiced artists don’t work like CPAs or lawyers who think they know what they’re doing. And I mean, of course the opposite is true. Make sense?
5. Don’t put things away when you’re “done” with them. You’re not done. You’re kidding yourself. You’ve forgotten a step. Or need to redo something. Or mixed that color wrong. Or fucked up that line. Leave em out for a bit. Set up and tear down is a major turn off. It takes you out of the moment and is busy work. Plus cleaning up is lame. It is a space for work. It only needs to be as clean as it needs to be for you to do your work, and mileage may vary. Like everything else in art it goes ITERATIVELY. You try a thing and work towards a best solution. Embrace uncertainty and stuff.
If your stuff is out on the table or at arms reach you can use it. It’s like leaning a guitar in a corner or on a stand, it’s easy to grab play and practice when you don’t have to dig it out of a closet. It’s easier to use things when they’re in your way. The same way it’s easy to get sucked into the TV, or your phone when it’s the nearest thing to you. I hope that sounds familiar.
6. Develop a system that works for you. Artists, like doctors, scientists and engineers, are systemic learners/creators. Each time you make a composition you are creating a system and juggling those elements until that system is complete. It’s a process you’re engaging in, not a task. Tasks have a beginning and an end, a process is tougher to pin down, there’s constant review and a whole psychological component (your cognition and level of education and personality and training and conditioning and history et al). Check back on that iteration vibe I was throwing down in the last point. Some people sketch and beat the shit out of a thing before they start in earnest, with the goal of being able to get in there and execute. I find that sometimes practice makes me too bored to care about the project in the end and I’ll move towards whatever is exciting. Don’t worry though I’ll come back to it. I just have to let it settle in my mind for a bit, and a solution will present itself. Sometimes it takes a long time, sometimes it doesn’t, it can depend on weather and work and what you had for dinner. Find out what system works in the system of your life, and give to it what you can. A little bit over a long time is a lot. I would say, “Ask this guy,” but he died digging a hole through a mountain over the course of 30 years, and probably doesn’t have e-mail on the astral plane, so you can’t.
7. Social media is not that social. I mean, yeah, share stuff, promote your stuff, but having friends over to visit, or better yet, going to art related events or shows, tabling at a show or anything that puts you out next to people talking about what you do and how you do it, has more value than a solid instagram story. Unless you have 12k followers or something. I’m going to be honest: This isn’t something I’m good at. I’m crap at social media most of the time. My friends, (*sad little wave* Hi ) tend to like my things, and usually in about the same proportion. Especially on instagram. I have a broader reach on facebook, but I kind of hate it. I have actually had a lot of good fortune through there, selling work and talking to people and making arrangements. It has lead to real life human interaction sometimes. So, try to gather a community of people that you support and who support you back, it helps with the psychological component I mentioned in the previous tip. You can judge the impact of a post based on the number of responses but if the president does something particularly heinous that day, you might not get the exposure you’re looking for. You’re doomed, just Invite people to come check out your space and your work and encourage them to be honest. “Hey I’m working on this part and I think it sucks, what do you think?” It’s the innocent bystander test. If you say your work does something, and you’re not sure that it does it, (and you probably won’t be, because you’re too close to it,) ask somebody who doesn’t know anything. An innocent by stander. It’s hard to get people to show up though. I haven’t figured it out, but I just wanted to cast doubts, serious ones, on the validity of social media as a substitute for actually calling someone, or texting someone, or saying, “HEY COME OVER I’LL MAKE YOU COFFEE.”
8. To see an error you have to step back. Often artists mistake ruminating or dwelling on something for actual reflection and introspection. If your thoughts or your work or anything has you caught in a negative feedback loop, you’re doing the analysis part wrong. If you look back and your first thought, (as mine often is,) is, “Man, what a piece of shit I am,” then it might be more effective to say, “Wow, I was a piece of shit in that situation, it’s unfortunate I did that, but I don’t want to be that way anymore and I’m going to take steps to change my thoughts and behaviors.” Just a thought. But maybe do that with a painting or a drawing or a sculpture or a book you’re writing. Step back, and look at it like it’s someone else’. What advice would you give to someone if you were presented with what sits before you? You would be way nicer to them than to yourself, so respect yourself, give credit where credit’s due, then make some decisions and changes. Once the thing you’re making, and your self-worth are not as linked as you imagine them to be, (are you your work? Is your work you? What version of you? It leads to an intense line of questioning) it becomes easier to evaluate and critique your work - and to accept that criticism - and the way you make that work. Want to be more productive? Start looking at your process and thinking about how much you’ve actually invested in what you’re working and go from there. It’s what I’m doing. That and not sleeping. But you do you, ok?
9. A studio can be a lonely place. Working by yourself is a weird thing. There is no “Team” for most artists. The loneliness of making things, can cause your brain to go to weird places that you don’t want it to go, and can be more of a distraction than an actual distraction. I like to listen to podcasts, or put familiar movies on in the background in my studio, to create some chatter. I listen to a lot of music, but sometimes I’m reminded of things I’d rather not think about when I listen to music, and that’s a whole other thing. Or if a machine is really loud, and I can’t hear the music anyway, then why torture my neighbors? My studio is in an attached garage, so if I can feel myself starting to freak out from not having talked to anyone all day, I’ll go inside and maybe make some coffee or eat something or talk to my cats, or my wife or I’ll text someone. It feels like someone is talking to me. Get out of there if it’s not working. Then get back to it when you’re past whatever is going on. A bit of distraction can be a tool of focus when you are cognizant of its role and can resist it.
10. Try to get in there everyday. Not every day in the studio will be revelatory. They can’t all be zingers. In art as in life, the days are comprised of mostly mediocre days, and we tend to remember the worst ones more than the triumphs. The more time you spend in there, the better the chance that you’ll get something going. When you get something going, the chances are better that you’ll feel like you’re having a productive day. Good days make you feel good, and make you want to be in the studio. This flow chart making sense? Stuff happens, things come up, try to overcome the guilt of not being in the studio, it’s a challenge. It can be a miserable slog to sit out a day in the studio because of something as mundane as Thanksgiving or a birthday. Remember you’ve got to try to get some kind of balance, you’ve got to feed your mind and hands with education, relationships, books, movies, INSPIRATION that will find you later while you’re working. Write in a journal, things will come out of it. Make small contributions where you can make them, and results will happen. They will happen slowly, but they’ll happen. You’re laying on your back inside of a ring, inside of a circumference. To expand the ring, you’ve got to put pressure and a bunch of different spots, press too hard in one spot, you get a kink or a break, and you fuck up your ring. Gently push in all directions, and you get a stretch and you build your strength. I guess. I think. This metaphor is dubious, but hopefully you’ve got a visual to work with. This isn’t some positive thinking bullshit either, this is about taking steps, living in the moment, and pushing as hard as you are able.
11. Practice explaining what you do, by thinking about what you’re doing when you’re not doing it. And after you’ve done it. And before you’ve done it. I often make revelatory judgements or have probing thoughts of inquiry about various things, while brushing my teeth, or when I’m looking in the mirror while I’m washing my hands, or when I should be paying attention to something else. Thinking constantly about something, without being obsessed with something, letting it float around in your head until something bubbles up out of the mire while your body is on autopilot, can be a challenge to dinner conversation, but it’ll train your brain. It’ll teach you to organize your thoughts in ways you previously didn’t. It will teach you to play with language, and meaning and context. Complexity will arise. Nuance will arise. Substance will come out of this. All the garbage, all the recycled thoughts, all the bullshit, you’ll learn to filter out. You’ll be smiling to yourself some day because you’ve come up with something you’ve never heard before. And that’s good. Keep doing it. Keep trying.
I’ll be back with 10 more things to know about Art school. And maybe a video about how to sharpen your pencil the crazy way. Or measuring techniques. Or something. There was a whole other part I wrote at the end of this that I forgot about when I save it as a draft two months ago. So, there’s my next post sorted. Look for it … eventually.
Let me know what you think. I love to answer questions, and talk about things, so lets maybe do that?
Hope to hear from you soon, so you can come check out my stuff.