After graduating from art school in 2012, I stopped making art. For six years. That was extremely unusual for me, as I’d been marking up paper since I was a toddler and the longest I’d ever gone without drawing was about nine months. So a long stretch of inactivity, especially at a point in my late 20s and early 30s when I finally started feeling capable of creating art worth sharing with the world, was unusual. And honestly, kind of painful.
There’s a lot of reasons behind why I stopped, and I will dig into those at some point in a separate article. But more relevant than why I stopped are the reasons why, and how, I started again.
The most important thing for me to say upfront is that I believe every artist has one particular vision to share with the world. There are exceptions to this, but generally speaking, a natural creator has one way of making art that is unique to that person and his or her experiences in life. The further the artist moves from that unique creative approach, the less interesting the person’s art becomes.
If you’ve been through an academic art program, that may sound contrary to what you were taught, and as an artist, you may fundamentally disagree with that statement. (For example, my professors regularly encouraged me to stop making the art that came naturally to me and instead do something that I disliked and had no experience or skill in.) But after half a lifetime of creating — and not creating — art and watching other artists and musicians fall apart once they stray from the art they love making, I stand by my belief that artists have one great vision to share through their creative process.
That said, I completely lost belief in the value of my personal vision, and without it, I lost all interest in creating.
A New Start
Into my life came a book called How to Sell Your Art Online, written by Cory Huff and given to me by a very close friend who believed in my art through all the years I didn’t. Because I wasn’t making anything at the time, the book sat on my shelf for a year or more before I seriously began reading it. When I finally did, I learned about Jolie Guillebeau and her decision to create 100 small paintings in 100 days and make each one available for sale. (Incidentally, her decision to do this was motivated by a desire to break out of a long creative slump following art school.)
I had already been tentatively drawing again for a few months, even taking select commissions for t-shirt designs and album covers, and I was looking for something to really push myself on to find myself creatively again. Already feeling inspired by Huff’s writing and his practical approach to building a viable art career, the 100 day project resonated strongly with me and I committed myself to embarking on the same project with my drawings.
As with Guillebeau, I chose to start the drawings at $1 on day one and increase the price of each new one by $1. So on day 20, that day’s drawing would be $20, etc.
That means that in the early going I was essentially giving away the art. Obviously, the primary reason for this undertaking was not financial gain. The point was to publicly hold myself accountable to drawing every single day and making the art accessible to those who enjoyed it. I wanted to share the results, for better or worse, and through the scope of that public eye assess the value of what I was creating and my role as an artist in the world.
The low asking price essentially meant there was no risk on my part and no pressure on the creative process. I could experiment. I could learn. Most importantly, I could fail. By setting the price low, there was nothing to lose.
In many ways, this was my penance. It was a way of letting go of all the ideas that had plagued me about the value of visual art. It allowed me to simply make and share images until I found a way to create something that felt truly valuable to me again, and by extension, valuable to other people. Any sales that came from it would be immensely appreciated, and would be incentive for me to continue making the drawings publicly available. Through it all, however, the underlying goal was to push myself creatively and “catch up” after years away from the creative process.
Finding Myself Again
Many of the artist friends I’ve had in life would associate me with a dark, surrealistic style of drawing and painting, an approach that is half rooted in automatic drawing and is strongly influenced by metal and industrial music, comic books, and the macabre in general.
The work I made in art school varied from dense line drawings packed with hellish imagery to expressive ink paintings that swirled like misty shadows to form suggestions of figures and landscapes. Yet at the start of my everydays, I was putting out lighthearted images based on fantasy tropes (such as goblins and ogres) and presented with a flair for cartooning.
I was excited to dive back into dark surrealism, but I told myself not to force it. In the early stages of this 100 day project, I was more interested in cleaning out the pipes creatively, so to speak, and allowing ideas to flow without interference on my part. After all, a huge obstacle in my creative process in the years after art school was overthinking the results. Everything I made I criticized so thoroughly and so harshly that I rejected its value as art and decided it wasn’t worth sharing with the world.
So the goblins and robots and dwarf warriors continued. I enjoyed making them, and the early ones I made available sold quickly, which was exciting. However, by the time I hit Everyday 021 – Sentries, a drawing depicting a pair of androids in a Terminator-esque rubble pile, I realized the drawings had run their course. It took a few days to fully sink in, and a handful of similar images followed. But subconsciously, it had already become clear it was time for a change.
Instead of simply re-drawing the image, I found myself digging back into paintings from HR Giger and images of industrial machinery, all while listening to ’80s underground metal and using these influences to inform the imagery. These are all things that had interested and excited me since I was a kid and had traditionally been involved with my inspiration for drawing, and I found they were once again powerful motivators.
As I worked on the drawing, a spark of who I used to be as an artist flickered inside me. It was small at first, but as the vision for the drawing emerged in my mind and my pencil began moving faster to fulfill that vision, that spark grew stronger and brighter until I couldn’t deny that something special was happening.
25 days into my 100 day project, I started to feel like myself as a creative person again for the first time in almost seven years. And it felt amazing.
How a 100 Day Project Revived My Creativity will continue with Part 2. In the meantime, join me on my creative journey through my everyday drawings. If you’d like regular updates and discounts for original artwork and prints, please subscribe to the bulletin.
My everyday drawings are available for sale in my Big Cartel shop each morning at 11 am EST.