Trust in the process
& other lessons from the first 25 days of #The100DayProject
In Making Ideas Happen, Behance founder Scott Belsky assures readers that the best way to get shit done is to “Make Everything A Project!!!!!!!!” (Minus a few exclamation points, but with just as much enthusiasm, I suspect.)
Comedian and overall amazing person Amy Poehler expands on Belsky’s idea in Yes, Please: “You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”
[Insert one more “Just do it”-type reference to really drive the point home.]
Deciding to participate in #The100DayProject was a means of pulling myself out of the creative smolder I had been experiencing since graduating college. Once I left the Design program — more importantly, the community associated with it — I found myself enjoying the act of creating less and less. I told myself that by creating solely to make ends meet, I was taking a break; that I had blazed exhaustively and volatilely through my Junior and Senior years; that I had burned myself long enough to stay lit. With little inspiration to stoke the flame, though, I had allowed my creative embers to cool. The dying coals emitted a smoke that simultaneously warmed and suffocated me.
I don’t know enough about starting (or putting out) fires to continue this analogy. In short:
I had stopped creating for my own enjoyment or self-improvement. And the reason, I learned, was that I had stopped setting goals for myself.
I saw the #The100DayProject as an opportunity to exercise the creative muscles (different analogy, alright) I had let go slack with laziness and low-but-ever-present levels of anxiety.
The week before the project was set to begin, I brought the idea up in a group chat with a few college friends. I suggested a method I had used in previous, shorter-lived challenges: We would compile a numbered list of adjectives and nouns. Every day, we would use a random number generator to select an adjective and an noun. The challenge, then, would be to create something in our chosen medium inspired by the phrase those words created.
My longtime co-conspirator / collaborator Nima and I decided to add another layer to our challenge: Our mediums would complement one another. For each day’s phrase, I would create an illustration and Nima would compose a song. Each of us would also write a brief description of our interpretation of the words. Finally, we would pair the two on Soundcloud, where both Nima’s song and my illustration, which served as the song’s album art, could be uploaded and shared.
We would refer to our collaboration as #100Daysof2, and on April 6, the fun would begin.
The First 25 days
Here are my bullet-point takeaways in all their grueling glory:
1. Trust in the process.
You can only get better by doing more, more, and then some more. The more you do, the more quickly you’ll be able to try new things and determine what’s working / what’s complete garbage.
2. Let your process change.
If I had stayed safe with the simple line-art, I wouldn’t have been able to create more interesting compositions, layering gradients and textures. Creating the illustration for Day 21 was way more playful and complex than creating the one for Day 2.
3. Start small; your first idea is definitely not your best one.
Each day, I created thumbnail sketch for each concepts the words evoked. From the strongest concept — the one I believed would create the most interesting, or most meaningful final product — I created a larger inked drawing.
4. You can have a lot bad ideas before getting to an OK one.
Not every day produces a winner; refer back to #1. With Opinionated Chameleon (Day 15), I knew there was something powerful in speech bubbles, but what?
5. Mastering a process is a reward in itself!
This is what my current process looks like:
1. Getting started: Thumbnail → Sketch → Ink → Photograph.
2. Setting up the file: Desaturate + Contrast in Photoshop → Image Trace in Illustrator → Paste as Smart Object in Photoshop.
3. Going to town post-processing, using variations: Noise 10–15% → Despeckle → Despeckle again → Smart Sharpen (250% : 1px amount : radius).
The post-processing process initially took me between three-four hours to refine; now I can get an illustration to a good place in 1–1.5 hours.
6. Create your own language.
Texture plays a large role in my illustrations — especially since, for the most part, I limit myself to black and white. With this in mind, I tried to be more intentional with my use of texture. For example, what would harder, sparser noise patterns convey versus softer, more concentrated ones?
For me, the difficult part is not the actual doing of the thing; I could mindlessly do something every day for 100 days — hello, majority of my day-to-day existence — without fret. The difficult part is working through the why. Why am I doing this project — one that reaps no monetary and little educational value? What am I hoping to gain from it? Will it be worth it in the end?
Participating in this project has forced me to push some of those existential questions aside. And having Nima as a partner to keep me creatively accountable — to bounce ideas and questions off of, to scoff at the absurdity of creating something for a phrase like “sprinkled butter rolls” — has been crucial.
These first 25 days have not been life-changing. They have, however, been a bit life-enhancing. I’m realizing that these bits of incremental change may be the whole point.
The Next 25 Days
Moving forward, Nima and I decided that we want to change the way we handle each days’ words.
Over the first 25 days, we enjoyed the surprise that came with each pairing — in seeing how our interpretations, blind of the other’s, complimented or contrasted. Our favorite pairings were the songs and illustrations that “fit perfectly”; we delighted in the two components weaving wonderfully together — as if, without explicit communication, Nima and I were creating on adjacent waves. We agreed, though, that we would be much more satisfied with an end product that was intentionally cohesive. After all, this is the goal of collaboration: to work together to create something more interesting, more refined, than we could possibly have alone.
To this point, we’ve decided to informally discuss the day’s words with one another before beginning our separate components. We hope these discussions will lead to a mutual — and more developed — interpretation of the words, and will encourage us to create a truly collaborative product.
Here’s to the next 25 days; to our ever-changing processes and products. The words for the first day of this new chapter are brimming with opportunity: Broken Lightweight. I can’t wait to see what we’ll create — together, for the better.