“Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be.”- Art & Fear
Yesterday afternoon, I found myself lost in a maze of handwritten notes about books I’d enjoyed and was excited to recommend.
Twenty minutes in, an article about Da Vinci piqued my interest, so I moved to the comfy sofa to fully concentrate. An endeavour that culminated in me falling asleep.
Ironically, I’d sat down to share the secrets of avoiding procrastination, mastering time management, boosting art sales, and living a more creative life – but I had gotten distracted.
That said, reading about Leonardo was not only fascinating but enlightening.
Architect, engineer, scientist, sculptor and painter. His first job was as a theatrical producer and set designer, teaching him tricks with perspective that he carried on through into his paintings.
The Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci, Tempera on Gesso, c.1495-1498
Notice the viewpoint and how the angle or perspective of the table top has been shifted very slighlty towards us to reveal more of the surface but still sits comfortably within the composition, I’d never really noticed this before.
If you wanted ideas, he was your man.
Leonardo’s interests were broad, and new subjects compelled him so intensely that he usually left projects unfinished, which meant working with him was a nightmare. Clients would avoid relying on him because he couldn’t be trusted to finish.
“to urge Leonardo the Florentine to finish the work on the Refectory of the Grazie, which he has begun, in order to attend afterwards to the other wall of the Refectory of the Grazie; and that agreements to which he has subscribed by his hand be fulfilled, which shall oblige him to finish the work within the time that shall be agreed upon with him.” From Leonardo by Martin Kemp
He spent most of his time observing nature or pondering on scientific theories. In his defence, he was just getting interested in other more captivating subjects, like how to fly or understanding human anatomy.
Really, he was just being curious, which is making me feel a lot more soothed about my limited attention span.
“In addition to his instinct for discerning patterns across disciplines, Leonardo honed two other traits that aided his scientific pursuits: an omnivorous curiosity, which bordered on the fanatical, and an acute power of observation, which was eerily intense.” – Walter Isaacson, Leonardo Da Vinci
So, after reading (or revisiting) over 20 books in 2023, here is a list of 5 books that have sparked my curiosity and given me some ideas and principles I’ve tried to adopt in my daily routines.
Live a More Creative Life
- The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron
“But do you know how old I will be by the time I learn to really play the piano / act / paint / write a decent play?” Yes . . . the same age you will be if you don’t.”
The Artist’s Way is laid out as a 12-week program to get back in touch with your creative self, with exercises, activities, and insights that help you overcome creative blocks and discover your true potential as an artist. Ever heard of ‘morning pages’? This book will show you how this simple practice can revolutionize your creativity and bring clarity to your life.
I read this book as an art student and can’t remember finishing the whole 12-week course, but I adopted two key practices that I use to this day.
- Morning Pages
- Artists’ Dates
Morning pages are so handy to stop your mind whirring over issues. The practice is to write freehand using a pen and paper, three pages of a train of thought. No editing, no re-reading, no punctuation. Just pure free-flowing words. If you’ve been tied to your keyboard, writing longhand for three pages can seem to take ages.
Your handwriting might not be able to keep up with the speed of your thoughts, but it can be very beneficial. Just getting any ideas, worries, or frustrations down on a page has a really therapeutic effect.
You’re not looking for solutions; you don’t re-read to try and discover your problems; you just write. The process is the cure.
I also love the concept of ‘Artist Dates’.
If you want to feel inspired, you need to book a date with yourself to go to an event, a museum, or a show. Preferably on your own (although I often bend the rules a bit and go with Vanessa)
So check your calendar for the next month. Where are you going to get inspired?
Making a date, actually going to a museum, going to a bookshop, going to these things on your own rather than with friends is the key; otherwise, you tend to end up just going for a coffee….( erm…I can confirm that is mostly true but we still had fun)
Face the fear of creating your art
2. Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (And Rewards of Artmaking) By David Bayles and Ted Orland
“What separates artists from ex-artists is that those who challenge their fears, continue; those who don’t, quit. In large measure becoming an artist consists of learning to accept yourself, which makes your work personal, and in following your own voice, which makes your work distinctive.” – David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear
This book is particularly helpful if you went to art college but haven’t quite fulfilled that potential that you dreamed about whilst quaffing ale in the student union. It looks into the fears we all face – fear of failure, not being good enough, or not being understood. The authors, both artists themselves, share personal stories and advice on their own art journeys.
One key thing that beginners often get hung up on is their own style. If you’re searching for your style and have trouble thinking you’ll never find a unique voice. The exciting thing is that your unique voice is just by being you! Yay.
It’s a short read with motivational insights. The Artist Way is a slower-burn 12-week program; this feels like a little motivational boost when you need it.
“To all viewers but yourself, what matters is the product: the finished artwork. To you, and you alone, what matters is the process.” – David Bayles & Ted Orland, Art & Fear
Make Time for Your Art
How do you control your attention to focus on what matters in a world that’s trying to distract you from living the creative life you dream about?
These next books help you to make time, appreciate the dedication needed for deep artistic work and prevent yourself from becoming distracted from the task at hand.
3. Make Time: How to Focus on What Matters Every Day By Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky
“What Will Be the Highlight of Your Day?
We want you to begin each day by thinking about what you hope will be the bright spot. If, at the end of the day, someone asks you, “What was the highlight of your day?” what do you want your answer to be? When you look back on your day, what activity or accomplishment or moment do you want to savor? That’s your Highlight.
Your Highlight is not the only thing you’ll do each day. After all, most of us can’t ignore our inboxes or say no to our bosses. But choosing a Highlight gives you a chance to be proactive about how you spend your time, instead of letting technology, office defaults, and other people set your agenda.” – Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky
‘Make Time’ is helpful if you’re struggling with finding time for your art. Juggling your schedule with your passions and everything else can roll into one. The authors both used to work at Google, and they have some great frameworks on how to prioritize your day. They also talk about social media and ‘infinity pools’. Apps that can continue to show you an exorbitant amount of things to distract you from what you want to get done.
The two main methods I use from the book are:
- Daily Highlight
- Time Timer
Illustration from: Make Time by Jake Knapp & John Zeratsky
I’ve found the daily highlight is a great way to be able to set a focus for the day that you’re excited about, but you know you can achieve without getiing into the minutiae of the to-do list. It’s also a great way to remember what happens on a daily basis, especially if things are super busy. (Another good method for this is ‘homework for life‘ by Matthew Dicks from the book Storyworthy)
My brothers and sisters often laugh at the other method I use.
It’s a timer.
Meant for and used by kids.
And I love it!
You turn the dial, and the red wedge gets progressively smaller as the timer runs down.
I have it on my desk, and I can quickly glance at how long I’ve been working rather than checking an app on my phone and getting drawn down another path! If you want to draw for 10 minutes, set a timer. See if you can answer your emails in 20 minutes and still have time for painting in the hour; set a timer.
It’s not for everyone; Vanessa often tidied it away when it first arrived because, for her, there was no conceivable reason why anyone would need it. And apart from anything else, it was ruining the look of the new coffee table.
But if you find yourself jumping from task to task and not fully concentrating on what you set out to do, it might be worth a go!
4. Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life by Nir Eyal
You can start to see a theme with my procrastination!
‘Ten-minute rule’. If I find myself wanting to check my phone as a pacification device when I can’t think of anything better to do, I tell myself it’s fine to give in, but not right now, I have to wait just ten minutes.” – Nir Eyal, Indistractable
What I find interesting about Indistractable is the author, Nir Eyal, had previously written a book called ‘Hooked’. In Hooked, Eyal goes through the mechanics of what makes tech and social media apps so irresistible. Indistractable is like the antidote! Giving strategies on how to maintain our focus and achieve what we set out to do.
The biggest takeaway from the book was that it’s actually not usually the external triggers and influences that stop of from doing the things we want to do but internal emotional triggers.
“As is the case with all human behaviour, distraction is just another way our brains attempt to deal with pain. If we accept this fact, it makes sense that the only way to handle distraction is by learning to handle discomfort. If distraction costs us time, then time management is pain management.” – Nir Eyal, Indistractable
How to stay focused, not get distracted and do the hard (uncomfortable) work.
Make More Money with Your Art
5. Good Art Does Not Sell Itself: The Artist’s Definitive Guide to Visibility and Opportunites by Shirley-Ann O’Neill & Laura O’Hare
“Emma explained how she traced the success of her art career back to taking a mentor’s advice in her early career; to actively seek opportunities to share her work no matter how small. An art prize led to an exhibition, which created more exhibitions, and collectors, art critics and media began to notice here work.“- Good Art Does Not Sell Itself – In relation to the work of sculptor Emma Rodgers
This was my most highlighted book of 2023.
It takes courage to show your art and make the decision to come out from your studio into the realm of criticism. This is an amazing book to have by your side.
It’s packed with practical strategies for marketing, building a brand, and finding the right opportunities to showcase your work.
It’s split into 4 sections and each page is like a mini-blog post that you can take advice from.
- Mindset & Habits
- Getting Artwork Ready
- Opportunities to get visible
- Implementation: artist visibility path
The different sections are good for different stages of your work. Some of the ideas on increasing the visibility of your works can help you to stay focused on the long game of creating.
One painting hung in a cafe or posted online can lead to a group show, which can lead to a solo exhibition. Every step is a stepping stone that’s hard to see at the start but builds over time.
Notes on the Quotes: Good Art Does Not Sell Itself
This book is relatable, informative and incredibly useful.
Their insights and recommendations are not only easy to understand but also applicable to real-life situations you find yourself in as an artist. You’ll find yourself nodding along and saying, I can do this! Highly recommended!
I really hope you find one of the ideas or books of interest, because even as a relentless pursuer of new shiny interests and ideas, some of the practices have really stayed with me and helped.
But as with everything, it’s unrealistic to say I’m a changed man, so at this moment, I’m sitting comfortably on the sofa nursing a hot brew, saying it’s ok to go down the odd rabbit hole and fully committing to a few creative ponderings.