If You Make Artful Things, This Is Essential
I don’t care much for deadlines and due dates. I recognize their necessity, but they always cause stress for me. Even when I don’t procrastinate and stay on track, looming deadlines bug me.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” — Douglas Adams
As a part-time editorial cartoonist, I used to attend board meetings. The editors and writers bounced around ideas for editorial topics. When they settled on one, I’d run off to craft a cartoon about it.
Sometimes I got lucky and cartoon ideas abounded. Most of the time, I struggled. The harder I doodled, worked on graphic metaphors and associations, the less I came up with. Each glance at the clock filled me with anxious urgency.
When a decent idea finally came to me, I often had little time left to draw the cartoon. Other days, I was blessed early on with a great idea, but struggled with the drawing.
Either way, it was the deadline that interrupted my creative flow.
But it was also something else.
Plenty of smiles and laughs
My best cartoon work always seemed to happen at my full-time job in law enforcement. Whether doodling cartoons on my lunch break, or leaving comics on the squad room grease board, the resulting artwork fetched plenty of smiles and laughs.
For the longest time, I figured that the reason my police cartoons were eaiser to make was because I didn’t have the stress of deadlines.
I also recognized that the cartoons were funnier because they were about my police colleagues. They were more personal than newspaper cartoons about politics. All I had to do was make fun of the silly things my co-workers did.
In time, I came to realize that there was one essential ingredient that made my police cartoons more special. More successful.
The essential ingredient was joy.
The fact of the matter was that during my breaks, I was usually relaxed. My coworkers were always doing funny things, and I found a lot of joy in drawing cartoons about them and their exploits.
While I liked the challenge of drawing political cartoons, they didn’t bring me the same kind of joy as the more personal, work related cartoons.
One of my favorite times to draw cartoons was on grave yard shift, during my lunch break. I lived in town and would often go home for a snack. Then I’d sit down, in the quiet of my home studio, and craft carefree cartoons about work.
They were often my best cartoons.
The expression of a man’s joy
I just started reading Elbert Hubbard’s 14 volume series “Little Journeys- To the Homes of the Great.”
In the autobiographical introduction, Hubbard notes:
“Art is the expression of man’s joy in his work, and all the joy and love that you can weave into a fabric comes out again and belongs to the individual who has the soul to appreciate it.”
There are many essential things to making quality artwork. You must master the basics and attain a level of proficiency in your work. You should move past influences and allow your unique style and voice to emerge.
However, I’ve come to appreciate that, if you’re going to make artful things, there ought to be joy in the work.
This doesn’t mean the work will be easy. Even joyful work can be difficult.
I’m sure Michelangelo had his challenges carving David and painting the Sistine Chapel, but you don’t bring work like that into the world without joy in your heart.
Elbert Hubbard wrote:
“When you read a beautiful poem that makes your heart throb with gladness and gratitude, you are simply partaking of the emotion that the author felt when he wrote it. To possess a piece of work that the workman made in joyous animation is a source of joy to the possessor.”
Check out the video below. It’s about a violin maker who clearly experiences joy in his work.
Spitting in that deadline’s eye
Routines and deadlines, difficult as they are, are important. In many ways, they are lifelines to success. Without them, left to our own devices, procrastination tends to flourish.
So how do we reconcile the necessity of deadlines with their dampening effect on experiencing joy in our creative work? The answer is a bit paradoxical.
“…a deadline should not prevent you from writing, but writing will help prevent you from missing your deadline. Then write a word. Then remind yourself of that again. And then write another and hey, look at you! You’re spitting in that deadline’s eye.”
― Courtney Summers
The very discipline of creating habits and routines makes it easier for us to tap into our creative joy. Even when working under a deadline.
Setting the conditions for creative work is important. For example, I stage my studio/office so that all my creative tools are readily available. My laptop and iPad Pro are always charging on my desk. My easel is on the wall, with paints and palette ready to go.
I get up early each day. I walk the dogs, grab some coffee and go into my studio. Early morning quiet time is conducive to creative work. There are no interruptions. Even when I’m working under deadlines, the familiar routine makes it easier for me to experience joy in my work. Sometimes soft music helps, too.
Set your soul free
Elbert Hubbard created an entire arts and crafts community in East Aurora, Erie County, New York. Known as Roycroft Shop, it attracted artisans, artists and writers. It also served as a private printing press.
Hubbard promoted the collection of handmade books and, as an exponent of William Morris, was one of the first to encourage the craftsman’s movement in the United States.
Hubbard recognized the importance of art in our lives. The need for artful creation. Now more than ever, in this age of digitization and automated work, we must make time for creative expression.
As Hubbard wrote:
“You can not get joy from feeding things all day into a machine. You must let the man work with hand and brain, and then out of the joy of this marriage of hand and brain, beauty will be born. It tells of a desire for harmony, peace, beauty, wholeness — holiness.”
Do yourself a favor. Make creative expression a priority in your life. Whether you’re a writer, painter, sculptor, crafter, musician, etc.
Carve out a regular pocket of time. A habit and routine where you can escape to your artful creativity. This will afford the best conditions to conjure joy in your art.
You don’t have to get up at dawn and have a home studio. Early on in my police career, my studio was the break room at the police department. Every morning at 3AM, I’d take my lunch break and draw cartoons.
Whatever environment and time works best for you, establish your own ritual for creating art. Doing so will make it easier to find joy in your work.
You’ll set your soul free and find greater fulfillment in life. I know I have.
Before you go
I’m John P. Weiss. Get on my free email list here for the latest artwork and writing. No spam, always free, privacy respected.